The only thing stranger than Doctor Strange this week is the continued unprecedented amount of cinematic offerings for those with an eye out for alternative moving pictures. (Movies find a way!) From passionate docs about everything from climate change to unbroken human spirit to dramas about coming to terms with baggage past and present (and a little killer Krampus action to boot!) we’re running the genre gamut to provide film fans with a wide range of superhero alternatives. Check out the Encapsulated Movie Reviews of Off The Rails, Keep In Touch, Before The Flood, Dog Eat Dog, My Dead Boyfriend, All Governments Lie: Truth, Deception and The Spirit of I.F. Stone and Krampus Unleashed below!
OFF THE RAILS
(The Film Collaborative)
This utterly inspiring doc about a gent with Asperger’s syndrome whose undying love of trains lands him in jail thirty-two times is a real black mark against all who say passion is dead. Due to bad circumstances in his youth not his fault, Darius McCollum finds himself unhirable by the MTA in New York (his dream job!) and is forced to keep his lifelong love of trains alive by impersonating union workers and thus getting behind the wheel – an illegal offense. But driven by a need, compulsion and unbridled desire to make his dream a reality, Darius braves a hideous amount of prison time (the “Honorable” Carol Berkman shows no mercy – bad karma for you lady!), family issues (on parole he can’t visit his sick mother a few states away and is forced to stay right next to the trains he’s banned from!) and even gives up a relationship (given the option of his gal or trains he picks the latter!) to keep his reason to live alive. It’s an inspiring, amazing and at the same time seemingly sad story that nevertheless speaks to any who dares to defy the odds. Even Hollywood recognizes the magic in the plight (Julia Roberts will helm a film as McCollum’s lawyer!), but real life can’t make the same romantic leap – with Darius still in jail fighting the good fight a happy ending is nowhere in sight.
KEEP IN TOUCH
A thoughtful drama that puts the viewer through emotional ringer (in a good way though!) with a tale of a down and out gent with a fiancé and good future who must start again after an accident he causes changes the course of his life. There’s a ton of powerful work here involving past loves, facing demons and seeking redemption that I won’t ruin, but Director Sam Kretchmar thankfully isn’t afraid to delve deep into material that’s unflinching and real. In fact it’s those times when he tries to release the dramatic pressure with levity that the film falters a pinch (Michael Angelo Covino’s comical character is unneeded!), but thankfully there’s more than enough somber in the story (Ryan Patrick Bachand makes a sublime sad sack!) and captivating characters (Gabbi McPhee’s Jessie is easy to fall in love with!) here to keep anyone with a heart invested. At the end of the day, being a frequently fantastic film, Keep In Touch is a movie that moves you.
BEFORE THE FLOOD
(National Geographic Channel)
What starts off as a seemingly surface piece about star Leonardo DiCaprio trying to throw his two cents into the Climate Control ring actually turns into an effective little doc that enlightens thanks to great staging by The Cove producer Fisher Stevens. It begins with both DiCaprio and others as naysayers questioning his cause and education expertise, but then follows the evidence across the globe and wisely puts it on display for all to see. And while the subject does get a tad bogged down and sanitized at times (the chat with President Obama seems like celebrity lip service by the Commander in Chief!), DiCaprio’s final rousing and surprisingly caustically candid address during the singing ceremony is everyman inspiring indeed.
DOG EAT DOG
A dirty little ditty courtesy of Director Paul Schrader that follows a trio of sleazy ex-cons on a kidnapping job proves to be enjoyable if only for the outrageousness of the quirky lead characters. As three dim bulb criminals, Nic Cage (in full wacko romantic mode!), Willem Dafoe (his first scenes before the credits are pure Wild at Heart’s Bobby Peru – short ribs indeed!) and Christopher Matthew Cook’s (he’s like a more subdued Horace Pinker from Shocker!) tripod of loonies are truly fun to watch, even when their nefarious acts turn uglier. (Changing tone is an ever-present issue here!) Fun if you can get past the foul (there’s not exactly anyone here to root for!), Dog Eat Dog lifts its leg to cinematic conventions and lets loose – for better or for worse.
MY DEAD BOYFRIEND
(Momentum Pictures/Orion Releasing)
Helmed by famed ER doc Anthony Edwards, My Dead Boyfriend definitely has some inspired cinematic choices that show that with the right material Edwards could be a damn good director. Problem is My Dead Boyfriend is a script that’s all over the map, infusing rom-com (see Heather Graham try to balance many men!) with goofy hijinks (Gina Gershon’s Helene is the epitome of over-the-top!), drama (who wants a somber Griffin Dunne?!) and even some out-of-place animation for a flick that’s utterly discombobulating. Pieced together like a jigsaw puzzle that’s forced together with scotch tape, dead is a key word here.
ALL GOVERNMENTS LIE: TRUTH, DECEPTION AND THE SPIRIT OF I.F. STONE
(White Pine Pictures)
Not knowing much about the rock-the-boat journalist named I.F. Stone, this doc provides a fine introduction to the anarchist wordsmith. Trouble is that’s all it is – a mere intro. The rest of the doc chronicles folks doing their own ‘Stone inspired’ acts to call out government lies and untruths who then give the occasional ‘shout out’ to their powerful print predecessor. (Michael Moore even gives props!) What would have made this doc decent – more I.F. Stone.
Making Michael Dougherty’s so-so holiday outing look like a five-star creature feature, Krampus Unleashed is a bit of an embarrassment to the movie monster lore. Bad acting (pervert cousin Troy is a cardboard cutout bully!), bad creature makeup (looks like this sucker came out of the Jim Henson muppet warehouse!) and bad story turns (he’s after a glowing rock!) are front and center. Only an interesting intro (the wild west opening aspect of the story should have kept going throughout!) and gratuitous horror tropes (girls and gore – will they ever learn?!) keep this one from holiday bargain bin hell.