Isn’t it a bit of good fortune when I can assemble a list of the top five new releases this week without dipping into sludge? After two weeks filled with mediocrity, we are blessed now with five films I can actually recommend as both intriguing and quite possibly very good, at least if word out of festivals like Sundance, Toronto and Edinburgh is to be believed. The only thing is none of them appear to be in wide release, so you’ll just have to make do till Prisoners hits theaters next week.
Top 5 Theatrical Releases
This actually may be my most anticipated film of the fall, particularly I try to keep my excitements in check for more obvious standouts as 12 Years a Slave and Gravity. The story of a Nigerian couple living in Brooklyn who have trouble conceiving a child, the film sounds simple on paper, but even on the surface of the film’s trailers, it has a deep, rich texture unlike anything else I’ve seen this year. Isaach De Bankole is a powerfully empathic actor, as proven by films like Chocolat and No Fear, No Die, but relative newcomer Danai Gurira, best known as Michonne on The Walking Dead, really has the chance to surprise and astonish as the film’s eponymous tentative mother. It has the potential, and word is that it lives fully up to it. (Trailer)
This movie is an astonishing landmark in one of two ways, depending on which source I’ve read is right. It’s either the first Saudi Arabian film ever made or it’s the first female directed Saudi Arabian film, which ought to be no less of an accomplishment. That might be a half-hearted accomplishment if the film itself didn’t match up, and indeed some people don’t believe it does. The film focuses rather sweetly on a girl who confronts cultural expectations in her attempts to buy a bike, appearing as a more guilelessly inspirational triumph-of-spirit than those hoping for subversion might like. However considering the film’s 5+ year production history, many are likely to find Wadjda‘s bright spirit impossible to resist. (Trailer)
Documentaries centered on an existing pop-culture figure are typically difficult to get underneath, often simply conveying the legacy of that figure through interview testimony of those who knew them. That’s all nice and fine, but it doesn’t make for particularly engaging cinema if the form doesn’t add anything to that portrait. Judging on the titular promise of Partly Fiction, not to mention Harry Dean Stanton’s rich cultural identity that few often take the time to consider – his performance in Paris, Texas may rank amongst the all time greats – I’m willing to wager this as a welcome change of pace from the overly explanatory documentary portraits that often plague us. (Trailer)
Fun Fact: This film was supposed to screen at New York Film Festival last year, but I don’t know if it did, since the press screening copy of the film broke less than 15 minutes into it. Not that it would have made any more sense if even seen in its entirety, which is why I frankly cannot wait to see it. If it’s beyond explanation, then it clearly must have some great cinematic worth. That might be the only worth The Last Time I Saw Macao has, which isn’t a dig against it, because just looking at the trailer or any image from the film, it looks absolutely mesmerizing. Even if the film’s IMDb synopsis is vague in its description of “an adventure of discovery of a city have a dialog with the memories of the East built by the codes of the cinema and the literature”, I’ve no doubt it’ll strike some wild chord with viewers. (Trailer)
Much as you can rely on Sundance for light indie comedies that are more aesthetically pleasing and less brazenly offensive than the broader studio comedies, you can also rely on the festival for a wide array of unflinching portraits of crippling American violence. This hit in the same vein as Fruitvale Station did, in telling the story of the infamous 2002 Beltway snipers, but it dealt with much pricklier characters. That certainly makes it bolder than Ryan Coogler’s film, but people would likely be more compelled to see a film about bad things happening to good people than they would towards people being driven towards unspeakable acts such as these. My own doubts stem from the same issues I had with Fruitvale Station, being those of obvious foreshadowing. When a harrowing act is on the horizon, the last thing you should do is overemphasize it. That said, Blue Caprice is very necessary in furthering this year’s many portraits of violence and race. (Trailer)
Also New in Theaters
A while back I had serious hope for this week’s mainstream releases, not least because The Family offers us the rare onscreen appearance of Michelle Pfeiffer, whose career has kind of disappeared somewhere in the last decade. After appearing in films as atrocious as New Year’s Eve, People Like Us and Dark Shadows, I worry we’ll never see her at the peak of her abilities ever again. As for Insidious: Chapter 2, I’ll maintain that it’s not amongst the 10 least necessary sequels of 2013, if only because I’m feeling generous to James Wan after The Conjuring delighted me so. That said, Insidious loses a handle of its craziness as it goes along, and the absence of off-the-ceiling highlight Lin Shaye from Chapter Two makes me wonder what’s the point.
Billy Bob Thornton made a movie, Alabama set 60s dramedy Jayne Mansfield’s Car, though it sadly looks dull to a deathly extent. It’s unfortunate that Kevin Bacon and Robert Duvall are given such boring roles nowadays. Kate Bosworth gets in on the “white people get into native trouble while on vacation” with And While We We Here, which that sub-category of cinema should explain the film’s necessity and value. Last, but actually not least at all is Plush, the latest film from Catherine Hardwicke, director of Thirteen, Twilight and Red Riding Hood, the latter two of which have an almost hilarious fantasy romance quality to them. Plush sees Hardwicke closer to Thirteen’s darkly sexual nature, and there’s certainly a surplus of girls taking their tops off for uninterested guys. I think by now it’s clear that Hardwicke won’t ascend in either indie or mainstream film cultures, but I’m interested to see Plush, if only for my continued stake in Emily Browning’s career. That beguiling turn in Julia Leigh’s Sleeping Beauty couldn’t have been for nothing.