Superhero Movie Season is in full swing this weekend as "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" starring Andrew Garfield nets multiplexes far and wide. But those who're feeling the tentpole blues can seek solace in three well-reviewed indie offerings: "Ida" and "Belle" hit select cities, while Ti West's found-footage horror "The Sacrament" is now on pre-theatrical VOD. (Trailers below).
Many who grew up on Marvel's "Spider-Man" comic-books don't need to see yet another Spidey swoop through Manhattan's canyons. But the studios are delighted to throw hundreds of millions at these extravaganzas targeted at younger generations and at least in this case, the heartfelt romance between Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield) and Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) relieves the tedium, along with two emotionally desperate villains: Dane DeHaan as dying Harry Osborn and Jamie Foxx as Electro, whose super-charged Times Square should yield the movie a VFX Oscar nomination.
"Ida," Pawel Pawlikowski's tale of a young nun in late 1950s Poland who discovers her Jewish heritage, is one of the most gorgeous films of the year. Shot in black-and-white and incorporating an unusual framing device (Pawlikowski puts his subjects at the bottom corners of the frame, emphasizing the weight of the past hanging over them), the film features pitch-perfect performances from veteran Polish star Agata Kulesza and newcomer Agata Trzebuchowska.
In "The Sacrament," busy horror auteur Ti West rounds up a dream team of mumblecore personalities, with Amy Seimetz, Joe Swanberg, Kentucker Audley and Kate Lyn Sheil starring in this found footage film about a "Vice"-like documentary probe into a cultish utopia. Paradise goes awry, natch, when the journalists are confronted with the charismatic leader, a religious fanatic who holds the keys to a dark underworld just below the placid surface of his Eden Parish.
In limited Fox Searchlight release, BAFTA-winner Amma Asante's "Belle" is based on the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw in her first starring role), the illegitimate mixed race daughter of a navy admiral (Matthew Goode). "Belle" traces Dido's 18th century rise in the aristocracy and the adversity she faces due to her lineage as she falls for a young vicar. The dutiful historic biopic also stars Tom Felton, Tom Wilkinson, Emily Watson and Miranda Richardson.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Dir. Marc Webb, USA | Sony Pictures | Cast: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Dane DeHaan, Paul Giamatti, Chris Cooper, Jamie Foxx, Felicity Jones, Sally Field | 56% Fresh | Wall Street Journal: "How bad is this one ...? Amazingly so. Villainy abounds, but the villains are strident contrivances. Spider-Man flies, but does so dutifully, without joy." | Our interview with Dane DeHaan and VFX profile
Ida Dir. Pawel Pawlikowski, Poland | Music Box Films | Cast: Agata Trzebuchowska, Agata Kulesza, Joanna Kulig, Dawid Ogrodnik | 94% Fresh | The Hollywood Reporter: "This rigorous beautiful black-and-white drama of early-'60s Poland is an art film in the best sense."
The Sacrament Dir. Ti West, USA | Magnet Releasing | Cast: Amy Seimetz, Joe Swanberg, Kate Lyn Sheil, Kentucker Audley | 68% Fresh | Variety: "Purists might insist it isn't horror in the strictest sense, though this slow-burning investigation of unseemly goings-on at a rural Christian commune is frightening in any genre language."
Belle Dir. Amma Asante, UK | Fox Searchlight | Cast: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Tom Wilkinson, Miranda Richardson, Matthew Goode, Emily Watson, Tom Felton | 81% Fresh | EW: "Amma Asante's 'Belle' is like a Jane Austen novel spiked with an extra shot of social conscience."