Though there’s only one big, marquee title hitting the new release shelf this week, it’s a very strong Tuesday for smaller, indie titles — from big names in smaller movies to a micro-budget indie that totally sticks.
Felt : Jason Banker’s powerfully unnerving feature is a superhero origin story turned on its head, shined through the prism of an indie drama about an assault survivor. Protagonist Amy (Amy Everson, who co-wrote) is pulled out of her post-traumatic depression by her artistic pursuits and a seemingly good guy; when one fails, the other steps in. But that’s all plot mechanics, setup, and payoff; the real draw here is the offhand way Felt puts across the everyday insidiousness of rape culture and male privilege, without stopping to make big speeches or score easy points. It’s a challenging movie, and an unforgettable one. (No extras.)
Mad Max: Fury Road : Though it offers plenty of opportunities to show off your home theater system, there’s no question that something’s lost in taking George Miller’s action masterpiece from the movie theater to the living room — the scope, the visceral experience, etc. But the more intimate setting allows greater focus on the picture’s smaller pleasures: the wit of the compositions, the artfulness of the fades, the deliberateness of the color temperatures, the startling skill with which Miller imparts information visually (with something like silent movie efficiency). And in light of the deserved discussion of its action wizardry, it’s easy to forget how thankfully weird this movie is, from the nightmare imagery to the whirligig camerawork to the goddamn fire guitar. It’s the kind of thrill-ride movie you fear will fade with repetition, but no worries; it plays just as well on second viewing, and (I’m anticipating), third and fourth too. (Includes featurettes and deleted scenes.)
The D Train : Writer/directors Jarrad Paul and Andrew Mogel and delightfully game stars Jack Black and James Marsden push the bromance trope into firmly bi-curious territory with this slightly unbalanced and frequently uproarious story of an average Joe high school reunion organizer (Black) and the BMOC (Marsden) he tries to lure into attending. Both find the heart underneath what could’ve been dim “types,” while Kathryn Hahn’s work as Black’s wife is (as usual) priceless. Darkly funny and surprisingly sensitive, with a welcome resistance to cheap shots. (Includes gag reel and deleted scenes.)
Boulevard : Robin Williams’ final live-action performance is a testament to his considerable skills — it’s a modest, low-key, lived-in performance, and director Dito Montiel builds a film that matches it. Williams plays a long-closeted gay man who unexpectedly finds himself drawn into a tender relationship with a young hustler; Kathy Baker is every bit his equal as the spouse who doesn’t know, but knows. Director Montiel and writer Douglas Soesbe shade in the details of his life with nimble delicacy, finding the tension between the sadness of his world unraveling and the simultaneous joy of his self-discovery. (No extras.)
The Harvest : It comes advertised as director John McNaughton’s first feature in nearly 15 years; it’s also his first horror film since making his breakthrough in the late 1980s with the unforgettable Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. But for much of its first half, The Harvest doesn’t seem like horror at all — it’s a combination domestic drama and coming-of-age movie, albeit one where the nasty wife and mother (Samantha Morton) isn’t given much in the way of motivation. And then comes the big reveal, where things make a lot more sense, and a get a lot more creepy. It’s a turn that somehow works, in spite of its fundamental silliness, and much of that is thanks to the ground-level playing of Watson and Michael Shannon, whose behavioral performances put across the strain of their marriage (all second guesses and loaded silences) with mussy shrewdness. She gets more cartoonish as she goes, but the tension and turns of the climax really sing, resulting in a wildly unpredictable and genuinely effective thriller. (Includes audio commentary and trailer.)