Keeping in touch with the indie flicks of the week amidst a sea of year-end movies, there are more movies being watched than at ten film festivals combined. But bound and determined to give our readers the skinny on cinema, I still managed to check out four smaller films this week and the subjects are diverse to say the least. A song and dance film, a doc on the everyman and two horror outings (is this December or Halloween time?!) grace the chopping block below and make up this edition of Encapsulated Movie Reviews. Check out my take on La La Land, The Possession Experiment, Tree Man and Abbey Grace below!
LA LA LAND
With Damien Chazelle following up his arresting film that was Whiplash, La La Land is surprisingly bold. An homage to all the elements that Hollywood loves – grandiose song and dance numbers, a gander at bright lights of tinseltown and the story of underdogs following their dreams – there’s also a grounded reality in the film that could only come from the mind of Chazelle. But of course what makes or breaks his broad stroke work here is chemistry and fortunately after a few films together leads Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling have it in spades. Their connection through fantastical stagings, colorful crooning and quiet moments with a simple shared look is ever-present in every frame. So while not quiet as pitch perfect as his previous five-star masterwork, La La Land shows that the films of Chezelle are no fluke.
THE POSSESSION EXPERIMENT
A good portion of the horror indie The Possession Experiment is definitely decent, beginning with a creepy concept that involves the main character agreeing and seeking his own personal demonic possession for a class experiment. (Way to go for extra credit!) Not to mention that actor Chris Minor plays his curious character with both odd fervor and seemingly strange tone – a bold choice for a leading role. (Plus the opening with a priest collar wearing Bill Moseley is effective stuff too!) Unfortunately the film cannot sustain its unique take to the finish line, borrowing horror cues from both A Nightmare on Elm Street (a hand weapon becomes involved!) and Demon Knight (a little powerful punch to the head anyone?!) to go down the road of typical genre stuff we’ve seen before. Though an experiment with both good and bad results, this outing ultimately possesses assured evil enjoyment.
While I dug the simple and everyman nature of the doc Tree Man, it still felt a tad underwhelming. In it’s desire to tell the tale of one man, the hardworking Francois who leaves his family for the holidays to travel to New York to sell Christmas trees to the locals, the film makes the mistake of bailing on it’s premise and mistakenly jumps around in both subject and tone. The bits with Francois himself are the best of the bunch, but the film feels somewhat stretched when it begins to explore the many other vendors on the same New York streets with lessor effect. Plus there’s a sweet, but melancholy tone to the selfless ‘for his family’ acts of Francois and the people who love him that are then marred by the deepening cynicism of his disenfranchised colleagues out for themselves. A doc that just feels unsure of what it wants to be, Tree Man works best when following the subject of its singular title.
What’s marketed as a creepy ghost kid themed flick turns out to be anything but with Abbey Grace taking a firm everything and kitchen sink approach. And as a result the initial interesting story of disturbed child Abbey Grace haunting the new inhabitants of her hallowed home takes a back burner to familiar killer canines (go Cujo!), unpowerful possessions (a little Paranomal Activity anyone?!), quirky nutjobs (lead man Jacob Hobbs shut in is super annoying!) and shallow characters (Amber Gallaway’s hot and flirty “doctor” must have gotten her degree through the mail!) – none of which holler historic horror.