Release Date: September 18 (New York); September 25 (Los Angeles) Director: Amy Berg
From her Oscar-nominated Deliver Us From Evil to the recent An Open Secret, filmmaker Berg has made something of a specialty of exposing how corrupt systems protect monsters. Her latest is well within that tradition, a detailed look at the FLDS church, and how it was used by “prophet” Warren Jeffs to molest and marry multiple underage girls. It’s a tough sit, and the film’s middle section threatens to capsize under the complicated series of overlapping investigations and charges. But Berg wisely returns to the personal anguish of those whom Jeffs and his faithful have harmed — and continue to harm. (Premieres on Showtime October 10.)
Release Date: September 25 Director: Rahmin Bahrani Cast: Michael Shannon, Andrew Garfield, Laura Dern
Shannon has never been better (which is saying something) as a gangster real estate broker in this urgent topical drama from Bahrani (Man Push Cart). Garfield is a desperate construction guy who loses his family home to Shannon before they form an uneasy, unexpected alliance — a deal with the devil, really. Bahrani beautifully dramatizes the conflict: our “hero” does terrible work for incredible reward, and the filmmaker ends up slyly testing the entire concept of empathy for the protagonist. Garfield is very good, reminding us there’s a fine actor hiding under the Spidey suit. But it’s Shannon’s show all the way, particularly in his killer “America doesn’t bail out the losers” speech, which is good drama, good writing, good commentary, and great performance, all at once. Some of the storytelling is overly coincidental and the ending’s a bit too tidy, but overall, this is sharp, intelligent, and infuriating filmmaking.
Finders Keepers Release Date: September 25 Directors: Bryan Carberry, J. Clay Tweel
In the late summer of 2005, a man named Shannon Whisnant bought a grill from an abandoned storage unit in North Carolina. Inside, he found the foot of John Wood, and that’s when, in the words of one observer, the “fuckery and shenanigans” began. The battle over custody of that foot, between the man who’d lost it and the man who somehow thought it was his ticket to worldwide fame, became a worldwide human interest story, the kind of giggling-at-the-hillbillies business that closes out local newscasts. But in this fascinating documentary, directors Carberry and Tweel start from those caricatures and then peel them back to reveal their trials, tragedies, rivalry, and resentments. Some of the filmmaking is a little dodgy (the music cues are way too on-the-nose), but this is nonetheless a riveting story, and a surprisingly insightful examination of the American Dream of fame and fortune.
The Keeping Room
Release Date: September 25 Director: Daniel Barber Cast: Brit Marling, Hailee Steinfeld, Muna Otaru, Sam Worthington, Kyle Soller
Harrowing, tense, and emotionally (and often physically) brutal, this feminist Western with echoes of Straw Dogs is, make no mistake, a bit of an ordeal. But it’s also a thrilling and powerful work, in which a trio of women left behind in the Civil War South are stalked and hunted by a pair of Yankee “boomers” gone rogue. One is played by Worthington, who, come to find out, isn’t a leading man after all; he’s a villain, and a good one. But he’s no match for Marling, who’s simply tremendous as the strongest of the trio (all three women get a chance to shine, and all three step up). Playing long spells without dialogue — including a riveting opening stretch — director Daniel Barber impresses with the elegance and efficiency of his visual storytelling, and the sheer poetry of his images.
Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon
Release Date: September 25 Director: Douglas Tirola
The glory years of the influential humor magazine, and of its key founder Doug Kenney, are highlighted in this informative documentary, which goes from the rag’s modest beginnings and unsteady early issues to its years of acclaim, spinoffs on radio and stage (featuring such soon-to-be-stars as John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Chevy Chase, Christopher Guest, and Bill Murray), and conquering of Hollywood. Director Tirola missteps here and there; the film doesn’t even mention the brand’s degeneration in recent years, and acknowledges some of the more offensive elements of the work without really engaging with it. But if you’re a comedy nerd — and who’s going to see this but comedy nerds? — there’s enough rare footage (videotapes of Lemmings, Radio Hour recording sessions, rehearsals for the stage show) and wisdom from comic legends to make it worth your time.