It’s officially fall, which means there are movie releases in spades. September is the turning point from summer to fall, from blockbusters to Oscars hopefuls. Film festivals kick off the season, and within the span of September, four of the world’s biggest — Venice, Telluride, Toronto and New York — all took place. Yet, there’s no need to fret: Film beat reporters Joy Diamond and Dominic Marziali have found a few quieter releases (some streaming, some not) to put on your map.
“The Nowhere Inn”
“The Nowhere Inn” will likely elicit mixed feelings, but one of those feelings will almost certainly be confusion. This mockumentary-style psychological thriller-comedy comes from musicians Annie Clark, AKA St. Vincent, and Carrie Brownstein, half of riot grrrl band Sleater-Kinney, who wrote, produced and starred in the film.
The film follows the duo as they attempt to make a documentary about Clark, but everything gradually descends into madness. Although not without thought, effort and creative merit, some experimental moments in “The Nowhere Inn” feel gratuitous and elementary; many creative decisions seem to have been made for no reason other than to appear quirky and different.
There are certainly redeeming qualities in “The Nowhere Inn.” Not all of the humor lands, but when it does, it’s truly hilarious. Clark and Brownstein, who both have brilliant, likable personas, bring a bright shine throughout the film with only their presence.
The two are, as evidenced through their music, undeniably incredible creatives. Clark and Brownstein’s ambition in tackling a project such as “The Nowhere Inn” was executed with genuine competency. Although difficult to decipher, “The Nowhere Inn” is nonetheless a piece of art that deserves a watch, then maybe a second one.
— Joy Diamond
“The Card Counter”
Paul Schrader is back, but not quite to form. The famed filmmaker puts Oscar Isaac’s talents to work, transforming the unplumbed depths of ex-military interrogator, current gambler William Tell into a fully formed character. “The Card Counter” joins the likes of “The Mauritanian” as a recent, poorly imagined story about America’s war on terror.
Tell’s routine is the same as he shuffles from motel to motel: one night, paid in cash, check out with the early bird. In the meantime, he wraps everything in the room in sheets and heads to the casino to count cards, earning just enough money to keep going.
“The Card Counter” is as drab as Tell’s cycle of casinos. That’s a good thing, in some ways — the film goes in and takes a seat at the blackjack table. Yet, “The Card Counter” may be less disciplined than Tell, who always knows when to leave.
When it comes time to weave in the story’s second strand (a revenge plot), Schrader lags. There are some excellent elements here, such as the immersive city grit reminiscent of Schrader’s earlier “Taxi Driver” script. An old dog does the same trick so well that it’s a treat to see on the big screen.
— Dominic Marziali
Although it had lots of potential, “The Starling” never spread its wings to take flight. The film follows Lilly (Melissa McCarthy), a woman grieving the loss of her infant daughter to SIDS while trying to maintain her relationship with her institutionalized husband, Jack (Chris O’Dowd). While trying to cope alone in an empty home, Lilly makes enemies with a starling who’s nested in her garden and begins conversing with Dr. Larry (Kevin Kline), a therapist turned veterinarian.
The film tries to juggle some very heavy themes — loss, mental health and strained relationships. The creators clearly bit off a little more than they could chew; the film is overly symbolic and excessively sentimental, trying too hard to squeeze every last drop of tear-jerking potential out of itself. “The Starling” completely overuses corny music for similar emotion-evoking purposes, effectively accomplishing the opposite, and it’s all wrapped up too neatly with a bow to be believable or meaningful.
Not all is lost. McCarthy and O’Dowd give great performances, and moments of the dialogue are truly heart-wrenching and effective. However, it’s not enough. The film’s lofty vision is commendable, but in execution, “The Starling” is mediocre at best.
— Joy Diamond
There is a scene in “Worth,” which highlights the lawyers behind the Sept. 11 Victim Compensation Fund, that seems to sum up the film’s quality. For the lawyers to calculate the value of a life under the law, they must determine how many died in the 9/11 attacks. There’s a single shot of the lawyers scanning a wall of fliers posted by the victims’ loved ones. It could have turned into a montage of similar shots — wall after wall, flier after flier — but “Worth” isn’t willing to lean that far into the scale of the tragedy. The film isn’t ready to get particularly creative either, and when the camera cuts away, the moment’s emotion is cut short.
Michael Keaton stars in “Worth” as Kenneth Feinberg, the lawyer appointed Special Master of the fund. His performance in this film is a close neighbor to that in “Spotlight” — the familiar beats, minus the outrage and humanity that elevated the latter. Director Sara Colangelo doesn’t ask him to dig deep in the same way that the single scene doesn’t let itself balloon. Victims revolve through Feinberg’s doors; he’s summoned to dubious meetings with special interests who are supposed to represent the rich, but the message in “Worth” can’t tell up from down. It’s a big job, but at least the film brings in Stanley Tucci to help see it through.
— Dominic Marziali