Encapsulated Movie Reviews – Nine New Indie Titles

It seems super strange but also super wonderful to me that week to week there’s no shortage of smaller film fare to check out.  (Shame to those who say there’s not that many films being released these days!)  This week sees a crop of nine new cinematic hopefuls for those with a hankering for flicks off the beaten path.  Tales of music fandom gone awry and romantic, a park ranger who takes his job a tad too seriously, the return of the smallest killing machines, an strange school with an ulterior motive, the ups and downs of struggling family life, a brother and sister that attract disaster, a young man having a rough time letting go of a dead friend, a return to the scene of The Cove and a sheltered girl who makes a troubled new friend make up the stories in this edition of Encapsulated Movie Reviews.  Check out the critical skinny on Juliet, Naked, The Ranger, Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich, Down A Dark Hall, We The AnimalsDr. Brinks & Dr. Brinks, Show Yourself, A Whale Of A Tale and Porcupine Lake below.

(Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions)

Even amidst a seemingly on the surface sitcom premise about a couple breaking up over a boyfriend’s obsession with a long lost musician only to then have the girlfriend begin to date said musician, there’s nevertheless some wonderfully poignant and engaging moments within Juliet, Naked.  Not that The IT Crowd alum Chris O’Dowd doesn’t provide prerequisite laughs as the oblivious and self-involved boyfriend, but there’s such a captivating honest chemistry quality to the scenes between Rose Byrne and fallen musical idol Ethan Hawke that at times it feels like we’re getting a fourth helping of Linklater’s Before series.  Much deeper than it looks, Juliet, Naked goes way beyond being merely skin deep.

(Glass Eye Pix/Hood River Entertainment)

What could have been yet another ‘watch out for the killer’ flick involving an insane forest ranger with an affinity for both the rules of the woods and bloody mayhem, in the hands of helmer Jenn Wexler actually turns out to be something a little more meaningful.  There are of course thrills and kills (Jeremy Holm’s demented Ranger loves a good arterial blood spray!) and homages to horror work of the past (pangs of Return of the Living Dead follow this films youthful malcontents!), but with her lead gal Chloe Levine (last seen in the five-star must-see flick The Transfiguration!) Wexler creates such a complex, compelling and at times even contradictory heroine that we never quite know her motivations or next move – in other words a character worth watching.

(RLJE Films)

Having been a so-so fan of the old original Charles Band films (I was more of a Trancers man myself!) on which this new flick carries on the killer puppets from hell tradition, I found myself waxing nostalgia about this new outing – both good and bad.  On the up side it was interesting to see the pint-size mayhem gang back together, plus there’s a nifty new story spin in the form of the Blade doll being found by comic-book geek Thomas Lennon (let the convention bells ring!) and there’s enough quirky characters via the likes of icons Barbara Crampton and Michael Paré that provide more than enough of an over-the-top ham-fisted vibe the flick needs.  (Plus having the wonderful wacko Udo Kier as the ringleader early on is a stroke of genius!)  Down side is the puppet carnage is as bad and lame as it ever was, only here it’s more magnified with an updated story and style mixed with the same awful 80’s effects and the result is a glaring reminder of why these films were relegated to the VHS bargain bin in the first place.  Even with a modern spin, this B-movie cinema cheddar still tastes the same.

(Lionsgate Premiere)

While a tad unfocused and biting off way more story than it can chew, there are some nuggets of ghost story gold within Down A Dark Hall.  Be it the colorful cast of girls who are confined to the films’ setting of a mysterious and dark boarding school (AnnaSofia Robb as the sassy Kit, Victoria Moroles as the rebellious Veronica and Orphan alum Isabelle Fuhrman as the inquisitive Izzy!), the questionable teachers (love Uma Thurman’s uptight Madame Duret and Rebecca Front’s no nonsense Mrs. Olonsky!) or even the use of an almost Victorian era style mansion for maximum creepy setting vibe, there’s some nifty notables here.  Problem is story wise Hall gets overly complicated and begins to shed some of it’s scary skin in favor of plethora of unneeded plot – sometimes just being in a dark place is more than enough to give the viewer the willies.

(The Orchard)

Tough subject matter told with an artistic visual sensibility, We The Animals is a difficult flick to maneuver through.  Meaning even though the film elevates the somber story with everything from whimsical drawings come to life to inspired visual flights of fancy, this tale of a broken husband and wife and their three little boys trying to hold it together is a difficult roe to hoe.  (Watching kids get into adult things they shouldn’t is a tough watch to say the least.)  An unflinching film that’s at least honest in it’s depiction of family life under the worst of circumstances, We The Animals is a story some might not want to see.

(Gravitas Ventures)

As a film Dr. Brinks & Dr. Brinks feels like a series of decent scenes strung together that never quite reach their full potential.  Meaning even though there are some interesting pairings (on-screen brother and sister Kristin Slaysman and Scott Rodgers make a memorable caustic comedic duo!), memorable deadpan turns (Roger Guenveur Smith nails it as their wry lawyer!) and provocative story turns (were their recently deceased parents as saintly as they seemed?), this one never quite feels like a single cohesive outing.  The Skeleton Twins without the poignancy or dramatic power, this movie doctor is in need of more story schooling.  (Poster gets an A+ though!)

(Summer Hill Films)

While harboring a premise worthy of exploration, Show Yourself is hardly a horror film.  Following Ben Hethcoat’s Travis as he tries to put the ashes and his angst ridden memories of his friend Paul to rest in a rural woods area feels more like a dramatic tale of letting go than a frightful forest flick.  Not that there aren’t a few creepy bits (the whole shadow on the tent thing is a tad unsettling!) and memorable morbid moments (the whole ‘behind you’ thing goes for the jugular here!), but this one feels like scares were added to an already rich dramatic stew just for show.

(Fine Line Media)

Taking off from where the five-star Academy-Award winning doc The Cove left off, A Whale Of A Tale feels like an unneeded follow up that should have been a DVD extra.  Meaning The Cove mixed an animal rights abuses story with some savvy and sophisticated storytelling for a flick that got people to care.  A Whale Of A Tale tries to dig deeper into the Taiji dolphin slaughter by this time also getting the side of the Japanese folks who inhabit the small fishing town, but their previously unheard excuses of history and tradition never make for a compelling argument and ultimately only reinforce the views so aptly presented in The Cove.  Not to mention that simply as a doc, this one never rises above the basic National Geographic fray and altogether fails to address the elephant in the room – can human beings be better?

(Breaking Glass Pictures)

There’s not a ton of new ground within Porcupine Lake that sees a sheltered girl making friends one summer with a teen from the wrong side of the tracks.  (Insert flawed family, stealing and sexual frankness here!)  But strangely the film is carried by one half of the friendship duo, namely babe in the woods Bea played by the talented young Charlotte Salisbury. Her captivating turn and story arc within Porcupine Lake is so absorbing, so layered and so wonderfully thought out that it saves all elements seen and heard before.  For a film that could have been another forgotten coming of age flick, it’s Salisbury’s earnest sweetness that ultimately saves Porcupine Lake from downing.





I'm a passionate and opinionated film critic/movie journalist with over 20 years of experience in writing about film - now exclusively for WhySoBlu.com. Previous sites include nine years at Starpulse.com where I created Forgotten Friday Flick back in 2011, before that as Senior Entertainment Editor for The213.net and 213 Magazine, as well as a staff writer for JoBlo.com. My other love is doing cool events for the regular guy with my company Flicks For Fans alongside my friend, partner and Joblo.com writer James "Jimmy O" Oster. Check us out at www.Facebook.com/FlicksForFans.

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