See feature review
. Available Jan. 14 in theaters.
Bright Spark: The Reconciliation of Trevor Southey ***
Artist Nathan Florence dodges at least some of the perils of inserting himself into his own movie, allowing for something that recognizes a unique artistic moment that isn’t really about him. Co-directing with Matt Black, Florence tells the story of artist Trevor Southey, a Mormon convert whose twisty life journey took him from celebrated creator of church-approved work, to excommunicated gay apostate, and possibly back to the fold later in life. The narrative spends a lot of time with Southey’s contemporaries in Utah’s “Art and Belief” movement—Gary Smith, Neil Hadlock and Dennis Smith—with a lot of historical context and first-person accounts of how complex it was to navigate the terrain between being an independent-minded creative person, and doing work that fit the LDS church’s agenda. That material provides Bright Spark
with much of its bite, though it also does result in less time spent on Southey’s own, thornier story. And it feels as though Florence isn’t entirely comfortable with how much to include his own part in Southey’s story, as the two artists become friends and collaborators over the course of this film’s 10-year creation. Ultimately, though, this serves as a unique record of a particular artistic moment in Utah history, one that wrestles with how hard it can be to express faith through art in a way that doesn’t make the faithful a little uneasy. Available Jan. 14 in theaters.
Hotel Transylvania: Transformania **1/2
See feature review
. Available Jan. 14 via Amazon Prime.
[not screened for press]
Another decade, another Ghostface. Available Jan. 14 in theaters.
It’s a tricky bargain you engage in when you hire one great actor to be in your otherwise dumb and forgettable movie. On the one hand, at least there’s something critics can praise if you want a DVD pull-quote; on the other hand, that actor can make everything else look sooooo bad. Soon-to-be-divorced tech millionaire Chris (Cameron Monaghan), now living alone in an isolated mountain mansion, meets a beautiful young woman named Sky (Lilly Krug), whose encounter with Chris may not have been entirely coincidental. The sex-thriller hijinks that ensue in genre specialist David Loughery's script should be fairly obvious even if you’re coming in cold, and director Luis Prieto occasionally creates some actual tension between the humping and the power-drill torture. At least there’s John Malkovich, who shows up far too briefly as Sky’s horny, nutty landlord, wrestling enough weirdness out of his few scenes to at least prove distracting. And that distraction is necessary, since between Monaghan and Krug they can’t generate enough screen presence to give the story any oomph; Krug in particular is like a ceramic doll into which someone has tried to insert the pull-string recording of a femme fatale. The 11th-hour attempt to make Sky complicated and sympathetic is just a reminder that maybe you should consider hiring real actors—like John Malkovich—for the key roles, and not just for the glorified cameos. Available Jan. 14 in theaters and via VOD.
Wild Indian ***
Raw pain percolates from every pore of Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr.’s feature, with such a ferocity that the storytelling shortcomings tend to drift into the background. In a 1980s-set prologue, teenage Ojibwe cousins Makwa (Phoenix Wilson) and Ted-O (Julian Gopal) are involved in the murder of a classmate that they successfully cover up; 30 years later, Makwa has changed his name to Michael (Michael Greyeyes), with a wife (Kate Bosworth) and child, and a career as a successful businessman in California, while Ted-O (Twilight
’s Chaske Spencer) has spent his life in and out of prison. The first act establishes the brutalizing home-life conditions that fill Makwa with such rage, which carries over unchecked into an adult life where he has managed to erase much of his past, while that need to cause pain persists with the self-hatred built into his comment that “we’re the descendants of cowards.” The material focusing on modern-day Michael and his family life feels somehow less authentic than that focused on Ted-O, as Spencer turns in a terrific, seething performance. Corbine’s script is less a scalpel than it is a blunt instrument, capturing the way violence passes from generation to generation, and the true mark of integrating into white society is whether you can get away with murder. Available Jan. 14 via ParkCityFilm.org virtual cinema.