Encapsulated Movie Reviews – Ten New Indie Titles

Since those top lists of ten are always popular columns, why not attach such a number to my weekly indie roundup?  Yup, I’m tenaciously tackling a triumphant ten smaller cinematic flicks to give smaller film fare lovers a much needed critical head’s up.  Tales of angry moms and their big billboards, curious teen gals with something up their sleeve, a couple whose distance equals death, the cutthroat arena of business mixed with a virus, life and love L.A. style, the consequences of morality on Wall Street, the angst and aspirations of an adolescent girl, a skilled driver with more to lose than his license, a new bride who’s been put through the ringer and a husband and wife looking to rekindle the passion all make up the subjects of the movies dissected in this edition of Encapsulated Movie Reviews.  Check out the succinct opinions on Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Thumper, Radius, Mayhem, It Happened In L.A., The Price, Lady Bird, Wheelman, A Bride For Rip Van Winkle and Amanda & Jack Go Glamping all below!

(Fox Searchlight Pictures)

With the bold and beautiful Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, his third notable feature, writer/director Martin McDonagh finally finds a comfortable film place within his world of cinematic chaos.  Not that the wares of his previous work aren’t riddled with envelope pushing ideas – In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths have some delicious moments – but there’s a match of caustic subject matter and McDonaugh’s unbridled style that makes this one a five-star home run.  So while the ads make the film out to be merely a dark comedy, and it does contain a ton of savory dark zingers ala Francis McDormand’s mother on a mission, there’s so much more beneath the surface.  Drama (love the bits involving Woody Harrelson’s sullen sheriff), comedy (Sam Rockwell plays a pitch perfect hothead doofus!), horror (the dark events that precede the film are as haunting as they come) and suspense (will McDormand’s billboards and actions prove successful?) all run equally rampant here and makes for an all-over-the-place film experience that feels so right – sometimes a good movie mix-up is the best medicine.

(The Orchard)

The hardest thing about talking about the ever-effective Thumper is, well, not talking about it.  Meaning there are some very sharp and unpredictable twists and turns that elevate the film well beyond the surface story stuff, but knowing them would indeed ruin the experience.  What I would say is that the film revolves around the world of teens and drugs, where the characters that inhabit the world within, lovingly laid out by helmer Jordan Ross, are not all they appear to be.  To that end the entire cast – from Daniel Webber’s naïve teen to Lena Headey’s no-nonsense adult heavy – all give authentic turns that make Thumper feel frighteningly real.  But it’s the leading lady of the piece Eliza Taylor that proves to be the films swan song.  Playing the curious new kid on the block Kat, Taylor delivers a thoughtful and layered piece of captivating character work impressive for someone so young – can’t wait to see what she does next.

(Epic Pictures)

A clever take on virus flicks, Radius unfolds like a complex cinematic flower.  And while little money and so-so acting could have been a kneecapping factor here, it’s the inventive and impressive story (what if anyone who came within fifty feet of you died instantly?!) and staging (a murder mystery within a sci-fi setting – savory!) that takes center stage and saves the film from bargain bin banishment.  An impressive idea that never lets its low budget bog it down, Radius proves that creativity over cash can work.

(RLJ Entertainment Films)

While I loved the idea and unbridled eye-candy prowess of Joe Lynch’s insane inspired outing Mayhem, there’s nevertheless a slight fun factor missing here.  Not that Lynch nor the films’ unbridled tale of an animal instinct virus released within an already cutthroat office building provides a shortage of visceral visuals (there’s blood and gore galore!), clever characters (loved Dallas Roberts emotionless HR dude The Reaper!) and boardroom backstabbing that tops the similar The Belko Experiment, but like a great piece of meat with a bland taste this one is just missing that cinematic something.

(The Orchard)

A very familiar idea of exploring the lives of ho-hum 30-something couples all within an L.A. setting is sincerely saved by its captivating actors.  Not that writer/director Michelle Morgan’s feature debut isn’t without it’s own charms, but it’s the characters that inhabit the films flawed world that shine bright.  Morgan herself as a passion seeking obsessive, Jorma Taccone as her sad sack significant other, Dree Hemingway (always amazing!) as her confused friend, Kentucker Audley as Hemingway’s smitten cousin and especially Margarita Levieva as a sassy no-nonsense call girl add ample life to an already done-to-death idea – a decent cast makes a difference.

(Orion Pictures / Samuel Goldwyn Films)

The Price is once again a morality play set within the walls of Wall Street that we have seen a million times, but it’s careful execution and dedicated cast help it rise slightly above the fray.  So amidst the familiar film tales of insider trading that came before it, it’s the personal story side of fine lead actor Aml Ameen’s struggling character both in life (the scenes with his mom, sister and father – Michael Hyatt, Hope Olaide Wilson and Souleymane Sy Savane respectively – are heartbreaking) and love (his chemistry with Lucy Griffiths is off the charts!) that pays the dramatic fees to keep The Price in the green.


A simple slice of life, Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut is a movie that’s surprisingly mundane.  Not that there aren’t a few scenes of gold, especially between lead teen with quirky angst Saoirse Ronan and her emotional mother Laurie Metcalf, but there’s simply nothing special in this coming-of-age teen tale we’ve seen before.  (There’s even the whole go with the popular crowd and back to the shunned friend aspect!)  Uninspired in its staging, style and story, Lady Bird is a stale saga that doesn’t soar.


Besides the surprisingly affecting sequel The Purge: Anarchy, I feel like nobody has been able to use the coarse feature charms of Frank Grillo in the just right way.  Wheelman in concept seems like just the right vehicle – a tale that infuses the narrative of Locke and the everyman tough guy angle of The Transporter.  But the film gets way too bogged down in its clever staging (see the driving Grillo dangle multiple conversations and dire situations all at once!) and outside exposition to let Grillo and his caustic cool take the lead.  A scenario that could have been savory, Wheelman doesn’t trust its driver.


Clocking in at an almost three hour run time, the lengthy Japanese import A Bride For Rip Van Winkle feels a lot like three films squeezed vigorously into one.  There’s a tale of a girl looking to get married no matter what the costs, the introduction of investigating infidelity that doesn’t quite go as planned and then a strange co-dependent marriage of two women that ends in tragedy.  And while all of the above does eventually connect the long haul to get there proves to be one arduous odyssey.  There’s way too much movie minutiae going on to make any part of the films’ journey truly impactful, so even when the main plot is eventually revealed the viewer has already tuned out.  Proving quantity doesn’t always equal quality, this unready bride has butterflies.

(Gravitas Ventures)

A tale of a couple trying to save their ailing marriage by heading to a farm retreat mixed with a bad Three’s Company like farce element leaves little room for enjoyment.  Characters are either cardboard cutouts (Adan Canto’s six-pack sporting Nate is the epitome of slick!) or over-the-top (June Squibb shows up as, surprise, surprise, a sassy elder!) and lead David Arquette looks like he’d rather be anywhere else.  The only slight saving grace is the earnest work by Arquette’s better half Amy Acker, but like a real relationship this movie marriage can’t be saved by one person alone.




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.

1 Response to “Encapsulated Movie Reviews – Ten New Indie Titles”

  1. Aaron Neuwirth

    I’ll let our shared love for Three Billboards (best of the year!) outweigh your (incorrect 😉 ) thoughts on Lady Bird! And yeah, Wheelman had promise but wasn’t very good.