Many gripping documentaries take the viewer to unexpected places with a first-hand, behind-the-scenes vantage point. That is exactly the case with Dr. and director Ryan McGarry's debut film, "Code Black." It immerses us in Los Angeles County Hospital's emergency room, specifically the lauded C-Booth trauma center, and the E.R.'s move in 2009 to the new L.A. County hospital.
In the age of cookie-cutter movies, along comes "Frank," as direct, atypical and surprising as its one word title. Who would imagine that a major star, Michael Fassbender, would play with a dissonant band--sound and personalities--all the while with a paper-mâché head completely hiding his features on and off stage? But that's the scene in "Frank."
When I saw the title of the film "Video Games: The Movie," I thought, "Well, finally a documentary about what most Hollywood movies have become, perhaps even an insightful, analytical dissection of recent blockbusters." Nope, truth lies with the title. "Video Games: The Movie" chronicles and surveys the history of games and gaming from its earliest years to today.
In the opening seconds of writer/director John Michael McDonagh's thought-provoking and unexpectedly funny "Calvary," words attributed to Saint Augustine appear: "Do not despair. One of the thieves was saved." Seconds later, text adds, "Do not presume. One of the thieves was damned." "Calvary" thereby announces its bifurcated agenda.
In Aaron Katz and Martha Stephens' meandering, plotless film "Land Ho!" with paid plane tickets, Mitch snookers his ex-brother-in-law Colin into accompanying him to Iceland. The country provides irresistibly beautiful backdrops--waterfalls, geysers, glaciers and misty landscapes. Mitch adds his boorish, sexist, and unpleasantly assertive self, transforming this road movie from engaging to exasperating.
Just when I thought Hollywood's mega-budget, special effects extravaganzas couldn't get any more elaborate or impressive, here comes "Guardians of the Galaxy" to, quite happily I must say, exceed expectations. Credit to native St. Louisan James Gunn, scriptwriter and director of one of the most wild and wonderful rides through Marvel Comics heaven.
Without sentimental indulgence, directors Andrew Droz Palermo and Tracy Droz Tragos profile three teenage boys in their documentary "Rich Hill." Set in rural Missouri towns, primarily Rich Hill of the title and Thayer, the three families' impoverished circumstances severely restrict the boys' options. The picture that emerges is no less heartbreaking for the restraint shown throughout the film.
Writer/director Woody Allen's "Magic in the Moonlight" begins on stage in 1928 Berlin. Magician Wei Ling Soo makes an elephant disappear, saws a woman in half, stands one moment stage right and quickly reappears stage left. It's all good fun until Wei Ling, Stanley, hears from his brother about a mystic named Sophie.
"I Origins" requires and rewards patience. Screenwriter/director Mike Cahill takes a scientific premise and pursues it as a serious interrogation. This fits the central, systematic research into the origins of the visual eye, the title complementing this with I, the first person pronoun, thereby suggesting finding the source of one, the physical eye, reveals critical insight into the other.
"Evergreen: The Road to Legalization" fulfills the promise of its title. In an information-packed 86 minutes, this documentary charts Washington State's thorny path to what we now know was a successful campaign to legalize marijuana use. Of course, the legalization issue has figured in the news often, but producer/director Riley Morton analytically lays out its multifaceted complexity.