As the fall festival circuit gets underway, an eclectic mix of films hit theaters this weekend. The critical winner is Penny Lane's documentary "Our Nixon," which pieces together Super 8 footage taken by Richard Nixon's White House aides during his presidency.
Also in the doc arena is Morgan Spurlock's ("Super Size Me") foray into the World of Boy Bands, "One Direction: This Is Us," which has moderately positive reviews, despite what some critics site as the inevitable hyper-glossy, promotional aspects of the Brit pop group of the title.
Drafthouse Films' latest genre item "I Declare War," centering on a group of Capture the Flag-obsessed 12-year-olds whose game-playing becomes unsettlingly violent (as the official synopsis says, "Rocks = Grenades, Trees = Control towers, Sticks = Submachine guns,") is also winning good reviews.
Meanwhile, Brian De Palma's "Passion," starring Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace as a boss and protegee caught up in some psycho-sexual game-playing, is sitting with mostly poor critical reviews, though Indiewire cedes that the film is "a strangely involving exercise in cinematic drama."
Lastly, "The Lifeguard," starring Kristen Bell as a near-thirtysomething who takes a poolside job in the wake of her would-be adult life coming up short, has the worst critical reactions of the weekend, and is floundering with an 8% Rotten on the Tomatometer.
Our Nixon Dir. Penny Lane, USA | Cinedigm | 90% Fresh | A.V. Club: "The results are akin to seeing the Nixon presidency through the eyes of his top aides; it’s as much a portrait of innocence lost as a behind-closed-doors exposé." | Our TOH! review
I Declare War Dir. Jason Lapeyre, Canada | Drafthouse Films | Cast: Aidan Gouveia, Alex Cardillo, Andy Reid, Dyson Fyke, Gage Munroe, Kolton Stewart, Mackenzie Munro, Michael Friend, Siam Yu, Spencer Howes | 76% Fresh | The Dissolve: "I Declare War holds off as long as it can before dumping its emotional payload. Until then, the film gets uncomfortable laughs from the games children play, and play for keeps."
One Direction: This Is Us Dir. Morgan Spurlock, UK | Sony Pictures Releasing | Cast: Harry Styles, Liam Payne, Louis Tomlinson, Niall Horan, Zayn Malik | 71% Fresh | Time Out London: "What’s the opposite of warts-n-all? ‘No warts’ doesn’t even begin to describe Morgan Spurlock’s fly-on-the-wall film about One Direction. No warts, no acne – there’s not even a pimple on the butt of this on-tour portrait of the reality-bred boy popsters."
Passion Dir. Brian De Palma, USA | Entertainment One | Cast: Rachel McAdams, Noomi Rapace | 42% Rotten | Indiewire: "Passion simultaneously parodies its plot while elevating it to a strangely involving exercise in cinematic drama. The filmmaker has either lost control of the material or maintains the same calculation of his protagonists. But the entertainment value associated with that uncertainty is the essence of his career." | Our TOH! Q&A with Brian De Palma
The Lifeguard Dir. Liz W. Garcia, USA | Screen Media Films | Cast: Kristen Bell, Martin Starr, Mamie Gummer, John Finn, Amy Madigan | 8% Rotten | The Hollywood Reporter: "Surprisingly for a writer turned director, the most evident shortcomings with Garcia’s feature originate with the script. With barely any backstory to support them, the characters consistently appear to lack the motivations necessary for their actions."