Oof. the summer that could ends with a whimper. And in a summer filled with largely shitty and disappointing tent-poles, which were maligned by critics and fans alike and, despite all this, still one of the highest grossing on record.
Hollywood gets a head start on Halloween season this weekend, literally, with two new entries in long standing franchises and both of them look dreadful. Still, there are some quite interesting choices in limited release, so spend your art-house dollar wisely as we head into the typical late August/early September blues at the box-office (next weekend will be dismal too).
Anyhow, frequent Lee collaborator James Schamus based his screenplay on a true story, but the Woodstock festival director pretty much calls it "nonsense." We saw it at Cannes and found the film to be warmhearted, but without much kick, really. The cast is fantastic with Emile Hirsch, Imelda Staunton, Liev Schreiber, and Eugene Levy costarring. You could probably do a lot worse this weekend; the critics stand at a suitably mixed 52% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
In Limited Release: "The Wrestler" screenwriter and former editor of The Onion, Robert Siegel's directorial debut "Big Fan" arrives today. The film stars the very funny Patton Oswalt in an almost completely dramatic role as the self proclaimed "world's biggest New York Giants fan." We got a chance to see it at the Independent Film Festival of Boston a few months ago and thought it was a strong debut, if a little rough around the edges. Critics liked it a bit more than we did and gave it a 88% RT score overall. Oswalt is quite good and the film harkens back to great 70's dark character studies like "Taxi Driver" and "Scarecrow." Definitely worth a look this weekend if slashers aren't your thing.
The real gem of the limited release set this weekend though is Hirokazu Kore-eda's bittersweet family drama, "Still Walking," which we saw at the Independent Film Festival of Boston earlier this year where it won the Audience Award Winner — which was well deserved as it was easily the best film we saw at that rather strong film festival (and lord TIFF's unmanageable website has nothing on theirs — cheers to the indie festival with a great site). It's essentially about an annual homecoming for a grown-up Japanese man, who comes to visit his elderly parents on the anniversary of his older brothers death from drowning when they were children with his new family. It's about, in many ways, the painful process of leaving the nest but always being reminded that you can never leave home. Resentment and issues raise their heads once the pleasantries are dispensed with. It's very Yasujirō Ozu, in it's minimalism, stillness and emotional honesty through simplicity, but just like the Japanese auteur it is heartbreaking masterclass filmmaking. We're a little embarrassed that we haven't written about this film more as it's one of year's best. BAM in Brooklyn knows what time it is and they are currently starting a retrospective of Kore-eda's work on August 31, that you should definitely check out if you are in the New York area. It has a 100% RT score, but there are only 11 reviews so far. Time Out calls it a touching, yet painful heartrending drama that does so much with so little, a "new classic," and they are very much on-the-mark. It doesn't look like much, but it's tremendous.
Next is "At the Edge of the World" from director Dan Stone. This film chronicles the 2006-2007 campaigns by the Sea Shepard Conservation Society to stop a Japanese whaling fleet near Antarctica. Stone, one of the creators of Animal Planet's "Whale Wars," stayed off the vessels during the campaigns in order to get the suspicious crews to act as natural as possible. A winner of audience and cinematography awards at festivals across the country, it certainly seems worth a look. It has a 100% score on RT, but RT is also a bit weird when it comes to indie releases as that's basically only taking the perspective of six critics so far (no system is perfect, but fyi, we're looking to switch to the more reliable Meta-critic; we've gotten lazy using RT, but many agree its the most McDonald's like of all the aggregators).
Arriving in theaters with zero buzz, other than the geek community clamoring for it, is the the unfunny and obnoxiously dorky-looking "Mystery Team." There is no RT rating score and it has all of one review from Variety that says the "Amateurish presentation seems better suited to DVD or direct download, tapping into the group's viral fanbase, than the bigscreen." Uh, yeah, no shit.
Also in limited release, Michael O. Scott's documentary "The Horse Boy" is the story of a family traveling through Mongolia in search of a mysterious shaman who they believe may be able to help their autistic son.
Good luck out there.