Two love triangles and a love... vacation, so to speak, are the subjects of three new films in theaters and On Demand this weekend. We're officially in the dog days of summer. Theaters are vacant a new blockbuster so it's up to you, the wily movie buff, to seek out worthy alternatives. Here are three potential picks:
Z for Zachariah
A Sundance Film Festival hit earlier this year, Z for Zachariah is the second film from talented director Craig Zobel (Compliance). It's based on the young adult novel of the same name about a 16-year-old girl who may be the last person on Earth after nuclear war annihilates the human race. She lives in a pristine valley that has its own weather and she tends to her father's farm.
The film version of the story ages the characters and takes it firmly out of the YA genre. Ann is played by Margot Robbie, who sheds her bombshell looks from Wolf of Wall Street and Focus in a stripped down, impressive performance. She's Eve in the Garden of Eden, a kind, Christian girl who has nothing to do but wait for what's next.
Her world is rocked when she finally sees someone else. She's not alone after all. John Loomis (Ejiofor) managed to survive nuclear winter in a special HazMat suit and has stumbled upon the valley. Ann is hesitant to approach, but the man bathes in a radioactive waterfall and her conscience forces her to warn him. Loomis falls ill and Ann nurses him back to health. The two form a tentative bond and John eventually recovers.
The film turns again when another man shows up in the valley. Caleb (Pine) was a miner and waited out the war deep in a cave. He's more Ann's type, religious and seemingly kind. But Loomis saw Ann first and Caleb's arrival brings newfound, but familiar, tension to the dynamic. It seems humans are still human even at the end of the world. The film deftly explores the primal human urges rippling through social circles by stripping the situation down to its barest elements. What emerges is something authentic. Petty emotions like jealousy find new meaning when something huge is at stake. Does Loomis want to be the father of a new civilization? Wouldn't you?
Grade: B+ (out now in limited release in theaters)
Digging for Fire
Director Joe Swanberg is one of the most prolific directors working today. He's made 12 feature-length films in the past five years, but his work never feels rushed or forced. Like fellow rising star Drake Doremus, Swanberg employs a naturalistic, improv-heavy shooting style and he always manages to coerce worthy performances from his actors. With Digging for Fire, Swanberg has his most talented cast yet.
Jake Johnson and Rosemarie DeWitt star as Tim and Lee. Married with an infant son, they're housesitting for one of Lee's rich clients. They both earn little and money is an issue. But for this weekend anyway, the two are forgetting their troubles and setting out on separate adventures. Lee takes the kid, drops him with her parents, and heads out with friends she never sees. And Tim, alone in a giant mansion, makes a startling discovery. Around the side of the house, he finds a revolver and what appears to be a human bone sticking out of the ground. Lee tells him to ignore it, but you know he won't.
While Lee gets a dose of reality trying to coerce her flaky friend (Lynskey) to come out with her, Tim invites the boys over. Phil (Birbiglia) is the neurotic one, Ray (Rockwell) is nuts, and Billy T (Messina) brings the ladies, Max (Larson) and Alicia (Kendrick). After some initial interest in the gun and bone, the boys settle in for a night of relative debauchery. Ray, Billy, and Alicia mess around in the pool, blow coke, and let loose. But Max wants to help Tim dig. He's looking for something, and the search doesn't look like it's going to end at the bottom of a hole.
What Swanberg subtly unfolds is a love story between two people who aren't even in the same room. Digging for Fire is a celebration of marriage and the idea of home, but in a way you wouldn't expect. Absence may make the heart grow fonder, but the film manages to convey much more than that. Tim might be looking for something he had all along, and Lee might just need to miss it a little bit. On the way, the movie provides big laughs, thanks mainly to Rockwell and the other endearing performances. There's something lovable about this group. It's a film full of and about chemistry.
Grade: B (available On Demand and on Amazon Instant)
She's Funny That Way
Director Peter Bogdanovich's new film is in the grand tradition of old screwball comedies. He's got the prostitute with the heart of gold, goofy accents, and a battle of the sexes. British actress Imogen Poots stars as Izzy, short for Isabella, but her escort name is Glo. All her names are well-worn by the end. Wielding a thick Brooklyn accent, Izzy is shocked when a new client, Arnold Albertson (Wilson), says he'll give her $30,000 to start a new life. She falls for him because of this one act of kindness, but Arnold is gone, out the door.
But the story has only begun, Izzy wants to be an actress, and her first audition is for Arnold's new Broadway play. He's baffled when he sees her. Mainly because his wife, the famous Delta Simmons (Hahn) is his star. But Izzy blows everyone away with her audition and Arnold is forced to cast her. The film unfolds through a series of lies, misunderstandings, and coincidences. Fate seems to be in the cards. As does cliche. The movie overflows with it. It's forged in its black fires, but shockingly, it's weirdly watchable. I found myself laughing a number of times at the stupid cleverness of the characters. A few more notches to the left and we might have had a deadly satire on our hands.
But She's Funny That Way isn't going for the home run. It's hard to read exactly what Bogdanovich is going for with this one, other than letting us know he loves old fashioned stuff. This is a film set in the present that lives in the past. It has moments of Woody Allen-type clarity, but the end vision is sap. What will keep you alive is Hahn, one of the best and most underrated comedic actresses working today. Her work here runs the emotional gamut in such raw, overbearing way, you'll love her. Plus, she's working on the side of righteousness.
Grade: C (available On Demand and on Amazon Instant)