More Movies in Brief: 2/3/14

Due to a plethora of unforeseen tech issues and only having one person in the office at the end of the week, we neglected to mention several of this past weekend’s theatrical releases that you should catch up with if you have the time (and a couple of decidedly lesser success).

"Rhymes For Young Ghouls"Day 08Photo: Jan Thijs 2012

First and foremost on your must see list should be Jeff Barnaby’s debut feature Rhymes For Young Ghouls. His genre-bending family drama, dark comedy, and revenge thriller pulls no punches, telling the story of a young woman (played by (Canadian Screen Award Best Actress nominee Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs) fighting for her sanity and survival while living a bleak, drug funded life on a Quebec First Nation reservation in the late 70s. It has some messier moments, but those moments feel like part of the film’s fabric, only underscoring just how the institution of residential schooling has infected and adversely affected the lives of everyone in and around the system. It’s one of the best Canadian debuts in years; a taut, fast paced, and brutally realistic feeling bit of work.

Three Night Stand

Also Canadian and just as interesting in different ways is the un-romantic indie comedy Three Night Stand, from actor and filmmaker Pat Kiely. This tale of a married couple (Being Human co-stars Sam Huntington and Meaghan Rath) who take off for a romantic weekend in Quebec ski country, only to find their bed and breakfast is owned and operated by the one ex-girlfriend (Emmanuelle Chriqui) the husband has never gotten over. There’s quite a bit going on, and there’s always a sense that Kiely might lose control over his comedy of errors at any moment, but it stays consistently on track by always being funny without ever resorting to cheap, forced gags just to get laughs. The cast and the film’s sense of comedic realism take it further and to more interesting places than one might expect.

12 O Clock Boys

For those in the mood for a great documentary, the first exceptional one of 2014 came out this past Friday (despite having played several festivals last year). In Lotfy Nathan’s stunningly photographed and narratively nuanced and balanced 12 O’Clock Boys, the first time feature director follows a 13 year old inner city kid named Pug over the course of three years to document his desire to become the latest member of Baltimore’s infamous titular biker gang, known for taking to the streets en masse every weekend, much to the chagrin of local law enforcement and some residents. Getting deep into the heart of the organization without condemning or condoning the actions of these wheelmen, Nathan not only chronicles one young boy gaining a perhaps unhealthy level of confidence, but also how a city can create an organization like the 12 O’ Clock Boys. Come for the intriguing balance of politics, sociology, and human drama, and stay for the gloriously photographed cycle stuntwork.

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At Middleton

As for the adult romantic comedy At Middleton, it’s an okay time waster with nothing really wrong with it, but nothing all that memorable, either. Utilizing the underrated talents of stars Andy Garcia and Vera Farmiga to the fullest, first time feature director Adam Rodgers applies the Richard Linklater Before Trilogy template of two people crushing on each other over a limited period of time. As parents who ditch their kids in the middle of a university tour, Garcia and Farmiga are the perfectly blend of dorky and ambitious, often rising above a screenplay gimmick that too often confines the characters to a very specific set of character beats and moments that the rest of the film can’t fully wiggle out of.

Brightest Star

Finally, there’s the malformed, but not entirely meritless indie break-up dramedy Brightest Star. Chris Lowell delivers a solid leading performance (alongside solid cameos from the likes of Alison Janney and Clark Gregg) in yet another tale of a young man and budding astronomist dumped by his girlfriend on a journey of personal, professional, and emotional discovery. So malleable and unshaped that the main character doesn’t even have a name, writer and director Maggie Kiley has clearly studied the Sundance playbook, peppering the film with pseudointellectual exchanges that aren’t deeper than surface level philosophy and a poppy soundtrack. It’s okay and harmless, but this story and template need to be retired sometime soon. Just because a film can be made easy and cheap doesn’t mean it necessarily should be. Its heart is in the right place, though. It’s pretty hard to dislike even when occasionally rolling one’s eyes at its contrivance.

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