Joseph Gordon-Levitt in 7500
Not gonna lie, folks: It’s a tricky one dealing with a story built around Islamist terrorist hijackers But first-time feature director Patrick Vollrath—who co-wrote the script with Senad Halilbasic—crafts such a profoundly intense experience that it’s hard to shake. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Tobias Ellis, the first officer on a Berlin-to-Paris flight left alone and wounded to deal with the aftermath when hijackers attempt to storm the cockpit. The opening minutes set the tone of simmering menace captured entirely through security camera footage, with little extraneous dialogue between the flight crew beyond basic prep. Vollrath then makes maximum use of the setting’s confined space and the various potential crisis points—virtually the entire film takes place within the cockpit—and Gordon-Levitt’s minimalist performance evoking a simple man attempting to maintain control in the middle of a horrifying situation. The doubts of one of the hijackers (Omid Memar) over carrying out their plan adds complexity to much of the film’s second half, but it’s hard to make the case that complicated character dynamics are particularly important here. What you’ve got is a no-frills thriller directed with unsettling precision. Available June 19 via Amazon Prime.
Superficially, director Shannon Murphy and writer Rita Kalnejais offer up the stuff of old-school family melodrama, but with a spiky energy that keeps it from feeling maudlin. It’s the story of an Australian teenager named Milla Finlay (Eliza Scanlen) who falls hard for Moses (Toby Wallace), a homeless small-time drug dealer—at the same time that she’s dealing with cancer treatments. The narrative gives nearly equal time to Milla’s parents (Ben Mendelsohn and Essie Davis) as they struggle with the strain Milla’s illness puts on their relationship, and both performances are strong even as their respective stories don’t feel quite fleshed out enough. But despite the somewhat episodic nature of the story—individual segments are even given on-screen chapter names—the messy and complex nature of this first love offers some potent moments, heightened by some beautiful compositions by Murphy, including an image of Scanlen’s face that practically turns it into a heavenly body in eclipse. Even when the plot heads in some of the more predictable directions, Babyteeth
feels more interested in delivering a fully cinematic experience rather than simply emotional catharsis. Available June 19 via VOD.
For They Know Not What They Do ***
Director Daniel Karslake has visited this territory previously, in his 2007 documentary For the Bible Tells Me So
, but he still finds emotionally potent material in the volatile intersection between conservative American Christianity and LGBTQ rights. In a sense, it’s two parallel documentaries intertwined: one of them a story of individual Christian families wrestling with the realization that a family member is gay or transgender, and one a story about fundamentalist Christian anti-LGBTQ sentiment manifesting itself in the political sphere. Karslake is wise enough to understand that no matter how many talking heads he has condemning hateful rhetoric from pulpits and nominally Christian politicians, the soul of For They Know Not What They Do
is in the narratives of those who had to square their understanding of God with their understanding of people they love sharing hard truths about themselves. Not every one of these tales has a happy ending, and Karslake perhaps tugs a bit too blatantly at the heartstrings at times. It’s nonetheless encouraging to be reminded that our national problem isn’t God or the message of Christianity, but with the humans who twist those things to sow messages of fear and divisiveness. Available June 19 via Utah Film Center.
Miss Juneteenth ***
Simple pleasures elevate writer/director Channing Godfrey Peoples’ low-key drama, even when it feels like she might be too willing to underline her points. In Fort Worth, Texas, Turquoise Jones (Nicole Beharie) is raising her 15-year-old daughter Kai (Alexis Chikaeze) mostly on her own, scrimping together a living from jobs at a barbecue joint and applying makeup at a mortuary. But her focus is on pushing Kai to compete in the local Miss Juneteenth pageant that Turquoise herself won 15 years earlier, hoping Kai can benefit from the college scholarship Turquoise never used after getting pregnant. Peoples doesn’t always trust conveying something strictly visually—she cuts from an image of Turquoise in her pageant dress to one of her cleaning a toilet, then immediately has someone say, “I’m always surprised to see a beauty queen cleaning a toilet”—and never quite makes the men in Turquoise’s life fully fleshed-out characters. But Beharie and Chikaeze are both terrific, conveying the usual tensions of a mother/teen daughter relationship with the added strain of financial uncertainty and Turquoise’s almost-desperate desire not to see her daughter make the same mistakes she made. Throw in a vivid sense of community, and Miss Juneteenth
overcomes the script’s bumps to show how different the American Dream looks to poor people of color. Available June 19 via SLFSatHome.org.
My Darling Vivian **1/2
Johnny Cash’s first wife, Vivian Liberto, gets a chance to emerge from the shadows of the famous singer’s biography in a documentary that gives her a face, but not quite enough of a personality. In a narrative told mostly through the recollections of Johnny and Vivian’s four daughters, director Matt Ridddlehoover traces Vivian’s life from her Texas childhood and epistolary courtship with Johnny during his military service, through their often-tempestuous marriage and into her later life with second husband Dick Distin. The film is most compelling at the extreme ends: sharing the thousands of letters Johnny and Vivian wrote to one another before their marriage, and exploring the ways Vivian felt she was being erased from Johnny’s biography because of the high public profile of his second wife, June Carter Cash. Yet despite the copious use of home movies and the daughters’ anecdotes, Vivian too rarely emerges as a unique personality beyond her challenges in dealing with Johnny’s fame and addictions; if her actual voice is heard before the movie’s final moments, it failed to make an impression. When one of Vivian’s daughters closes with “she was an amazing woman, with so many talents and such a thirst for life,” it feels like something we’re simply being told, rather than shown. Available June 19 via SLFSatHome.org.
You Should Have Left ***
Once every decade or so, David Koepp turns out a slick genre movie that makes you wonder why he doesn’t do it more often. Kevin Bacon plays Theo Conroy, a wealthy retired investment banker whose life was turned upside-down by a celebrated case in which he was accused of murdering his wife. Years later, he’s remarried to actress Susanna (Amanda Seyfried) with a 6-year-old daughter (Avery Tiiu Essex), but a vacation to a mysterious mansion in Wales begins exposing cracks in this family’s perfect façade. Koepp’s bag of tricks for a supernatural psychological thriller isn’t exactly revelatory—the jump-scares and even “music building to fake-out jump-scares” come more or less when you expect them—which makes it important that he can bring atmospheric menace to the improbable physics of his haunted-house setting. And he gets the most out of his principal cast members, with Bacon conveying both genuine paternal love and Theo’s darker side, while Seyfried walks a delicate tightrope of Susanna’s superficiality. It feels as though Koepp wants to build the story to something that packs a real emotional wallop rather than just visceral chills—but even if it never quite hits that high note, he still shows he’s got a too-rare popcorn movie skill set. Available June 18 via VOD.