Bracing Novice flawed but compelling
Lauren Hadaway's The Novice is a bracing debut that immediately has the viewer sit up and take notice as she tells its story of a troubled college rower using a unique sensory approach that allows us to see into the mind of its protagonist. It proves to be such a compelling, immersive approach that you're likely to overlook the film's major flaw – that we never find out why our heroine struggles to reach her unattainable goals.
Isabelle Fuhrman is Alex, a college freshman whose intense approach to life is off-putting to everyone she encounters. She sucks the oxygen out of every room she enters and she makes her presence immediately known when she decides to row crew. Her obsessive pursuit of perfection is brilliantly captured by Hadaway, who uses jagged editing as well as intrusive camera placement and sweeping moves to put us in her compulsive shoes. It sucks you in, so much so that you nearly forget that we get little background on the character or any explanation as to what makes her tick. No, it's not a complete movie, but what works is exceptional, so much so I'm eager to see what Hadaway does next. Available via Amazon Prime.
Delayed Daughter a curious outlier
The King's Daughter takes place in 17th century France during the reign of King Louis XIV (Pierce Brosnan). Having survived an assassination attempt and feeling the nation will not survive without him, he charges his scientists with finding the secret of immortality. Wouldn't you know it, he has a quack doctor (Pablo Schreiber) at his disposal who contends that transferring a mermaid's life source during a solar eclipse will do the trick. Fortunately, Louis has a very capable mariner (Benjamin Walker) who promptly captures a mermaid. Oh, and then there's the matter of Marie-Josephe D-Alember (Kaya Scodelario), the king's daughter, who's been brought to court without knowing her parentage. When she finds out about the upcoming mermaid sacrifice, she's not happy.
I'm not sure who this movie is for. Though it has fairy tale elements, it's far too serious for younger viewers, while its sensibility skews too young for teens. This story is more in keeping with animated fare and had this been a Disney production, you can bet the studio would tweak this to perfect consumerist perfection. As it is, in the age of superhero extravaganzas, Daughter is a curious outlier. In theaters.
Mass: Difficult but worthwhile
Though difficult to watch, Fran Kranz's debut Mass is a vital, timely piece of work that will likely leave you angry and frustrated. Taking place in the basement of a church, two sets of parents come together to try to wrap their heads around an unspeakable tragedy. Jay and Gail's (Jason Isaacs and Martha Plimpton) teenage son has been killed in a school shooting; Richard and Linda's (Reed Birney and Ann Dowd) son was the assailant who committed this crime.
What begins as a tentative feeling out of each other morphs into an anger-fueled, grief-filled conversation that leaves none of them satisfied or any closer to understanding the events that will haunt them the rest of their lives. The four principals are outstanding, each using their characters' pain as the foundation for their performances. However, Kranz makes sure things don't devolve into histrionics, the focus being on allowing these four to be heard. Mass is a hard watch, but it's a necessary first step in trying to understand the misplaced anger that's plaguing our youth. Available on Amazon Prime.