This is a very strong weekend for indies and docs. In the land of wide releases, James Wan's frightener "The Conjuring" is receiving praise, but other titles are floundering.
In the indie arena, Joshua Oppenheimer's "The Act of Killing" is an artful examination of genocide in Indonesia where filmmakers ask a group of former Indonesian death squad leaders to reenact a series of mass murders done upon those who dissented government authority in the 1960s. While there are some wincingly comic moments, this wildly colorful doc is dead-serious, deeply disturbing and, like a bloody car wreck, hard to look away from. Bring a strong stomach. Another doc in limited release is a gripping piece of investigative journalism, Gabriela Cowperthwaite's "Blackfish," about SeaWorld's captivity of orca whales and the lethal consequences that have arisen.
Meanwhile, the new film by "Funny Ha Ha" director and voice-of-the-millennials Andrew Bujalski hits Film Forum in New York before expanding in coming weeks. Raw and ragged, and shot on analog video, "Computer Chess" is a 1980s-set period piece that blends elements of fiction and faux-documentary as it follows a group of awkward nerds at a chess convention over the course of a weekend, where they face off against artificially intelligent opponents. Far from the mumbling, twentysomething angst of "Funny Ha Ha" and "Mutual Appreciation," Bujalski's new film is a deadpan comedy that reprises the filmmaker's verite style but is wholly original and uncomfortably funny on its own terms.
The well-reviewed, elegant horror film "The Conjuring" directed by Wan ("Insidious") also hits theaters this weekend. Critics are praising this throwback to old-school, '70s domestic horror as well as the performance of the recently Emmy-nominated Vera Farmiga.
Though reviews are lackluster across the board, we recommend Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn's "Drive" followup "Only God Forgives," in theaters and on VOD this weekend. More cult film and camp exercise than emotionally charged action thriller -- as was "Drive," which also starred Ryan Gosling as a nondescript existential anti-hero -- "Only God" oozes with menace and mood as it sets up a spaghetti western premise in Thailand and quickly blows it to bits. Though Gosling remains almost mute throughout the film, it is Kristin Scott Thomas' flamboyant, trashy performance as a Donatella Versace-like crime ring matriarch that makes the film compelling beyond its style-over-substance sensibility.
Kristen Wiig leads the cast of the dismally panned indie "Girl Most Likely," from the Springer Berman and Pulcini team that brought us the wonderful "American Splendor" in 2003 but who haven't received the accolades of that film since.
Ryan Reynolds has a double bill with the DreamWorks/Fox animated film "Turbo" and Universal's 3-D supernatural buddy cop action flick "R.I.P.D." alongside Jeff Bridges. But the fate of "R.I.P.D." hangs in the balance. The good news? The $130 million film is directed by Robert Schwentke, who helmed the original hit "RED" but not its sequel, out this weekend. But the bad news is that this looks like a mix between "Men in Black" and "Heaven Can Wait," another buddy movie which we've already seen done well and with women this summer in "The Heat." The review embargo (not even trade reviews are out) on "R.I.P.D." is indicative how afraid Universal might be. Tracking is weak, as this is expected to be another costly dud. Given the failure of 2011's "Green Lantern," among others, Ryan Reynolds is not failsafe box office gold and there's speculation that his "Turbo" might be a disappointment too, though one can hardly call an actor's voice to task for not carrying marquee appeal.
Finally, the Retired and Extremely Dangerous secret agents of "RED" return in "RED 2." Reviews for this star-studded sequel aren't as favorable as they were for the 2010 film, which racked up $200 million worldwide on a budget of $58 million. Hype and a strong cast including Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren and Mary-Louise Parker should bring in fans of the original and some fresh faces.
Trailers after the jump.
The Act of Killing Dirs. Joshua Oppenheimer, Christine Cynn, UK | Drafthouse Films | 100% Fresh | Village Voice: "More terrifying than any horror film, and more intellectually adventurous than just about any 2013 release so far, 'The Act of Killing' is a major achievement." | Our TOH! review and behind-the-scenes story.
Blackfish Dir. Gabriela Cowperthwaite, USA | Magnolia Pictures | 94% Fresh | The Dissolve: "Taken as a whole, 'Blackfish' does an admirable job of preaching without force-feeding, seamlessly blending opinion with reportage, and addressing its central issues from enough angles to make a series of end-runs around dubious viewers. | Our TOH! review.
Computer Chess Dir. Andrew Bujalski, USA | Kino Lorber | Cast: Wiley Wiggins, Patrick Riester, Myles Paige | 93% Fresh | The AV Club: "What’s more, it’s fun, generating pleasure not from canned jokes or clichéd plot twists but simply from a sense of unhindered freedom."
The Conjuring Dir. James Wan, USA | New Line Cinema | 83% Fresh | Cast: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston | Salon.com: "Horror buffs will find [it] a highly satisfying, well-crafted film in a classical mode, with plenty of scares and very little gore."
Only God Forgives Dir. Nicolas Winding Refn, France, Denmark | RADiUS-TWC | Cast: Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas | 42% Fresh | The Guardian: "'Only God Forgives' will, understandably, have people running for the exits, and running for the hills. It is very violent, but Winding Refn's bizarre infernal creation, an entire created world of fear, really is gripping." | Our TOH! Q&A and Cannes review roundup.
Turbo Dir. David Soren, USA | Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Paul Giamatti, Luis Guzman, Maya Rudolph, Michael Pena, Samuel L. Jackson, Bill Hader | 65% Fresh | New York Magazine: "In the end, 'Turbo' is an unambitious movie about a very ambitious character, but it has an infectious sense of fun. Don’t expect too much from it, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised."
RED 2 Dir. Dean Parisot, USA | Summit Entertainment | Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, Mary-Louise Parker, Catherine Zeta-Jones, John Malkovich | 47% Fresh | The Hollywood Reporter: "Not that it isn’t entertaining, but the film's premise is certainly well past its 'use by' date, resulting in another passably palatable sequel distinguished by a lack of narrative and stylistic coherence that could potentially underpin a really viable franchise."
R.I.P.D. Dir. Robert Schwentke, USA | Universal | Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Bacon, Mary-Louise Parker | 15% Rotten | USA Today: "Perhaps there was a clever germ of an idea here, but the
five credited writers didn't develop characters, scenarios or rules in this
sci-fi world well enough to engage the audience."
Girl Most Likely Dirs. Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini, USA | Lionsgate | Cast: Kristen Wiig, Annette Bening, Darren Criss, Matt Dillon | 18% Fresh | Slant: "This is where wit and comic timing go to die; every joke is dated, shopworn, and tiresomely bland. It's difficult to imagine anybody involved with this project having real, honest conviction in the quality of the material."