As we've mentioned in the past, Labor Day weekend is one of the worst on the Hollywood calendar. It's when studios dump their duds, knowing full well that everyone is too busy doing one last barbecue before summer ends. So rather than suffering through The November Man or As Above, So Below, why not treat yourself to a good indie that's playing on demand right now? Below, we've each picked two films that may have fallen through the cracks, but are definitely worth checking out in the relative comfort of your own home.
Coherence. In recent years, the best sci-fi films have come from the indie ranks: Primer, Moon, even Robot & Frank. Add to that list Coherence, which started rolling into theaters back in June, slowing building word-of-mouth due to its mind-bending premise.
If you don't know the twist, I won't ruin it, but here's the setup: Eight friends living in the Bay Area get together for a dinner party the same night as a comet passes overhead, slowly discovering that the celestial event is unexpectedly altering their night. The feature debut of writer-director James Ward Byrkit starts off as a satire on the preciousness and awkwardness of "civilized" social gatherings before shifting into a teasing logic puzzle. Soon after, though, the movie morphs again, becoming a disquieting look at the ways we reinvent ourselves while pining for that cosmic do-over we wish would happen. There are no big names in Coherence's cast, but that works to the movie's advantage: For a film about the mysteries of human behavior, it's best not to recognize any of these faces. [Grierson]
The Dog. The "Dog" of the title is John Wojtowicz, and he is, more than anything else, a New Yorker. He's loud, he's fussy, he's obnoxious, he's pushy, he's hilarious, and he's secretly sort of aware of how full of shit he is, and knows you know it, too—which just makes it all the more fun. He came to fame as the Gravesend bankrobber Al Pacino played in the 1975 film Dog Day Afternoon, but this documentary, 10 years in the making, is only formally about what happened before and after that botched heist. It's really about the brash, almost aggressive unpredictability of life, of how the force of one's man's personality—guy everyone admits is a bit much to deal with, in addition to being runty and annoying—can emerge, through sheer will and shamelessness, along with a surprising dash of heart, as a true, amazing American story.
The movie takes countless turns, but it's never anything but organic: This is a guy with a "small prick" who wants to "fuck everything that moves," who married three different people because he just felt that was the only way to show them all how much he loved them, who was the most incompetent criminal imaginable, who through it all might have had the closest relationship with his patient yet take-no-shit mother. The movie feels like life: You'll see something about you, and everyone you know, in every frame. [Leitch]
Stand Clear of the Closing Doors. What seems at first like an experiment reveals itself to be something much more moving. Ricky is an autistic boy in New York City who, one day, wanders aimlessly into the subway and spends days simply riding the A train, up through Inwood, down to Rockaway Beach, and back and forth and back and forth. Meanwhile, his mother, a Mexican immigrant with a wayward husband and a real pill of a teenage daughter, spends days searching for him while quietly trying to keep her already fragile life together. Meanwhile, Hurricane Sandy crawls ever so closer to the city.
The result is alternately impressionistic during the subway scenes—never has the New York City transit system looked so absorbing and terrifying—and plaintive during the mother's scenes. (It's a heartbreaking performance from unknown newcomer Andrea Suarez Paz.) This is one of those movies that shakes you up with its muted tension, never reaching for effect, constantly leaving you damp with worry. Its final shot is perfection. [Leitch]
The Trip to Italy. It used to be that sequels were the domain of Hollywood blockbusters, but Richard Linklater's Before trilogy has demonstrated that a smart indie story can be worth revisiting at a later date. This one isn't as profound as the Before follow-ups, but it really is funny, and a fine sequel to The Trip, which first found Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon playing exaggerated versions of themselves as they tour incredible restaurants and insult each other.
For all the movie's fabulous locales and sumptuous meals, The Trip to Italy will fit quite comfortably on the small screen, all the better to enjoy Coogan and Brydon's verbal jousting. Director Michael Winterbottom and his cast can't fully recreate the wit and poignancy of the first film, but there's still plenty to chew on here: the challenges of making love last, the difficulties of balancing family and career, the skills required to master the perfect Tom Hardy impression. [Grierson]
Grierson & Leitch is a regular column about the movies. Follow us on Twitter, @griersonleitch.
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