Dance defies expectations
Based on the novel by John MacKay, Richie Adams' The Road Dance, avoids the melodramatic approach that material such as this is usually rendered in. Taking a more grounded approach, he creates a genuinely moving film, one that benefits greatly from the fierce performances of the cast and a degree of realism that prevents it from slipping into sensationalism.
The time is 1916, the place is a village on the Scottish Isle of Lewis. Life is hard, but most in this tiny hamlet seem content with their lot in life, even Kirsty Macleod (Hermione Corfield), who toils away on her family's small plot of land with her mother, Mairi (Morven Christie), and her sister, Annie (Ali Fumiko Whitney). Beautiful and smart, Kirsty has no shortage of potential suitors, but she has her eye on Murdo (Will Fletcher), an openly sensitive young man who reads poetry and seems to have his feet planted more firmly on the ground. A sort of courting begins between them. However, a conscription edict of all able young men is issued, plunging their lives into turmoil.
The night before the young men are to be shipped to the front, love is declared and promises are made between Kirsty and Murdo. However, tragedy strikes when she wanders down by the sea where she is raped by an unseen assailant. Shame prevents her from speaking of the incident and when she discovers she is with a child, the lengths she undertakes to cover it up are extreme. Of course, this can't continue, and ultimately Mairi and Annie take a hand in saving Kirsty.
To be sure, there will be some who object to the film's third act as the secrets that are exposed and coincidences that occur test the credulity of the story. Be that as it may, the events that unfold adhere to the logic set up by the narrative, so it isn't as if Adams isn't springing something out of left field. That being said, the film's final scene is a bit hard to swallow.
In the end though, it's the conviction of the performers that makes it all work. Carrying most of the burden is Corfield, who is outstanding. The actor channels Kirsty's despair in a way that cuts straight to your heart. You simply can't take your eyes off her, her conviction in the role a force to be reckoned with. Realizing this young woman initially as a confused victim and developing her into mature survivor, Corfield's work proves the linchpin of this handsome production. Dance manages to defy expectations, eschewing genre conventions to deliver a rich, moving portrait of perseverance. Available through Video-on-Demand.
Foxx and Jones elevate Burial
Maggie Betts' The Burial is one of the better examples of this David vs. Goliath story, a fact-based recounting of a hardworking businessman who finds himself in dire straits, makes a deal with the devil and ultimately finds his entire life's work in jeopardy. Nothing new here, but with Oscar winners Jamie Foxx and Tommy Lee Jones on board to carry the narrative load, this feature proves well worth watching.
Jeremiah O'Keefe (Jones) has worked hard to grow his family business. He owns eight funeral homes, yet a couple of bad business decisions have put him in danger of losing it all. At the suggestion of his lawyer, Mike Allred (Alan Ruck), he contacts the Loewen Group, a vast enterprise that owns more than 1,100 funeral homes. Its CEO, Ray Loewen (Bill Camp), makes no bones about the mercenary approach his business takes in turning a profit, and while this doesn't sit well with O'Keefe, he reluctantly agrees to sell three of his properties to him.
Of course, everything goes sideways, and O'Keefe is forced to file a breach of contract suit. However, a young lawyer he's been consulting, Hal Dockins (Mamoudou Athie), thinks they should take a different approach. He wants to bring personal injury attorney Willie Gary (Foxx) on board. Flashy, brash and having appeared on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, he's known for getting the largest settlements possible for his clients. Though the litigator is reluctant to get on board, as his firm does not specialize in contract law, he ultimately sees its potential and takes it on.
Foxx and Jones' screen personae are well-established, and films of this sort depend on leaning into and exploiting these qualities. Foxx takes Gary's flamboyant approach and runs with it, delivering three electrifying moments, one in church and two in the courtroom, that capture the man's effective grandstanding approach. Meanwhile, Jones' quiet strength and potential volatility runs throughout, providing O'Keefe with a stoicism that is a nice counterpoint to his co-star's outsized turn.
And while we know how the film will turn out, the friendship that develops between Gary and O'Keefe is what elevates it above others of its ilk. Unlikely bedfellows, the bond these two develop due to their similar backgrounds and united sense of purpose proves to be the most satisfying aspect of the film. Foxx and Jones excel in their scenes together, the actors effectively subtle in portraying the men's initial weariness and ultimate camaraderie. The courtroom scenes are fun and cathartic, but it's the model of friendship The Burial contains that makes it worthwhile. Streaming on Amazon Prime.
Killer a totally rad horror, time travel parody
I had a great deal of fun with Nahnatchka Khan's Totally Killer, and I imagine most people my age will. However, if you didn't live through 1980s, you might not appreciate it as much as those who lived through "the decade of decadence." This time travel, horror parody drops the viewer right into that era. If you know nothing about Devo, Gordon Gecko or Atari, you're likely to be as lost as Sam Beckett in the time-space continuum. Still, a delightful turn from Kiernan Shipka may keep you hooked, the young actor bringing the right amount of snark and irony to the film.
The setting is the New England town of North Vernon where a series of killings took place 35 years earlier. It seems three 16-year-olds were each stabbed 16 times, the assailant's identity hidden under a grotesque Max Headroom-like mask. Never apprehended, the murderer's presence looms over the community. Now, it seems as though he's returned, attacking and slaying Pam Hughes (Julie Bowen), who was best friends with the other three victims in high school.
Obviously, this turns her daughter Jamie's (Shipka) world upside down. However, as fate and screenwriters David Matalon, Sasha Perl-Raver and Jen D'Angelo would have it, our young heroine inadvertently steps into a carnival attraction that's been converted into a time machine by her friend Amelia (Kelcey Mawema), while she's being chased by the killer. Sure enough, it takes her back to 1987 on the eve of the first slayings.
One clever bit trips on the heels of another as we witness Jamie's culture shock. She's aghast at the wonton cruelty of dodgeball in gym class, can't believe how lax everyone is with their personal information and frowns throughout at the casual bullying that takes place. However, meeting her mean girl mother (Olivia Holt) and himbo father (Charlie Gillespie) as teens is what proves truly shocking. Jamie's reaction to their and their peers' promiscuous nature is continuous and never gets old, her 2023 outlook on relationships running counter to her folks' more free-wheeling approach.
Jamie's efforts to prevent the initial three killings, surprisingly, prove ineffective, yet that doesn't mean that a tragic ending is assured. Where there's time travel, there's a way, and how everything turns out is inspired. Briskly told and enthusiastically rendered, Killer's ironic gaze at the 80s, as well as the slasher genre, is an unexpected delight, a genuine treat among the plethora of genre entries that inundate viewers this time of year. Streaming on Amazon Prime.