“In the Heart of the Sea” opens Friday at Point, Palace, AMC Fitchburg and Sundance. PG-13, 2:02, two stars out of four.
“If I don’t write it, I fear I shall never write again. If I do write it, I fear it won’t be good enough.”
That’s a young Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) agonizing over writing the novel that will be “Moby Dick,” but I wonder if director Ron Howard and screenwriter Charles Leavitt had similar misgivings about making “In the Heart of the Sea.” Technically the film isn’t a straight adaptation of Melville’s novel, but based on the real-life events that supposedly inspired it (made into a nonfiction book of the same name by Nathaniel Philbrick). But the shadow of the whale and of the Great American Novel loom large over a weak screenplay and some stock seafaring characters.
Movies about cults are difficult to pull off well. At some point, we have to understand how right-thinking people would so completely give themselves over to another person’s control. If done well, in a movie like “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” the effect can be insidious and unsettling, making us question if we’d be strong enough to resist under the same circumstances. If not does well, such as in Jonestown-esque “The Sacrament,” you wonder just how these rubes could so willingly march to their own destruction.
Falling somewhere in between is “One-Eyed Girl,” an Australian thriller that’s being released on DVD in the United States under the Dark Sky Films imprint. Dark Sky usually releases straight-up horror films, but “One-Eyed” is psychological horror if anything, a war of wills between two fallen healers. It looks terrific (first-time director Nick Matthews is a former cinematographer) and has some strong performances, but is narratively shaky.
“Oh, come on! How can it be American and International?” — Joel Robinson
The seeming geographical contradiction at the heart of the B-movie kingpin studio known as American International Pictures seems only a minor flaw, especially comparing it against the studio’s long and rich history of getting teenage audiences in the ’50s and ’60s to part with their money by any means necessary. In other words, movies like “Earth Vs. The Spider” and “The Beginning of the End” were perfect fodder for Joel and the ‘bots to riff on on “Mystery Science Theater 3000.”
So, it’s only fair that AIP gets its due on the latest DVD boxed set from Shout! Factory, “Vol. XXXIV.” Not only are all four movies in the set all black-and-white cheesy classics from American International — “Viking Women Vs. The Sea Serpent,” “War of the Colossal Beast,” “The Undead” and “The Sea Creature” — but the primary bonus feature on the set is a full-length 90-minute documentary on the studio called “It Was A Colossal Teenage Movie Machine!”
Pick of the week: “A Very Murray Christmas” — Wes Anderson movies excepted, can Bill Murray just play Bill Murray from now on? While his last couple of movies (“Rock the Casbah,” “St. Vincent”) were underwhelming, Murray is his charming, funny self in this affectionate goof on old celebrity Christmas specials, playing himself snowbound in New York’s Carlyle Hotel and putting on an ad hoc holiday special with the help of Jenny Lewis, Jason Schwartzman, Maya Rudolph — and, oh yeah, Miley Cyrus and George Clooney. It’s a smooth, silly, after-the-kids-are-tucked-in-their-beds kind of holiday special.
If the “FREE” box at an estate sale became possessed by a demon and began to make art, the result might look something like a Quay Brothers short film. The famed brothers work in miniatures, bringing broken dolls and misshapen puppets to chilling life in a pocket universes of rusty gears, peeling paint and dirty mirrors.
“Tangerine” (Netflix) — My full review is here. You might think a film about two transgender prostitutes working the streets of Los Angeles on Christmas Eve might be a bit of a downer, but Sean Baker’s film is bright, kinetic and awfully funny, even as it poignantly shows the power of friendship among those living on the margins of society.