The empty nest looms like the existential void in "The Kids Grow Up," documentarian Doug Block's latest examination of the mysteries of the family. Having explored his parents' marriage in "51 Birch Street," here he focuses his lens at even shorter range as he suffers through the final year at home for his college-bound only child.
For those who can get past his self-involvement, "Kids" strikes more than a few deep chords. Block wears his neuroses so guilelessly on his sleeve and organizes his material with such skill, that what might have been insufferable navel-gazing attains poignancy.
The director has been filming his daughter, Lucy, since she was a pint-size living-room ballerina. As she prepares for school on the opposite side of the country and becomes involved in her first serious relationship, Block feels shut out, even as the camera gives him certain license. Lucy and his wife, Marjorie — both preternaturally discerning — are active participants as much as they are raw material. Still, Lucy grows increasingly exasperated with his negotiated intrusions, the eye-rolling giving way to tears.
Drawing upon a lifetime of footage of Lucy as well as home movies of himself as a child, Block and his masterful editor, Maeve O'Boyle, find resonant rhyming images. Block struggles to accept the limits of intimacy while his wife points out, with Zen clarity, the difference between love and attachment. Most affectingly, the filmmaker shows that however many moments he records and "captures," many more are lost in the unstoppable rush of time.
"The Kids Grow Up." No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes. At Laemmle's Sunset 5, West Hollywood.
Playing a Marine expelled from the service for violating the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, actress Dreya Weber is compelling and utterly convincing in writer-director Ned Farr's "A Marine Story." Weber and Farr, her husband, previously collaborated on "The Gymnast," which also was a hit on the festival circuit.
Devastated over her fate, Weber's Alexandra Everett heads for her home outside a small central California town where the local sheriff suggests she coach Saffron (Paris Pickard), a trouble-prone young woman, for boot camp. Alex savors the challenge, though Saffron's drug dealing boyfriend complicates things.
The film is powerful enough as it depicts Alex's attempts to rebuild her life in the wake of being forced from a career she loves and the fearless way she confronts the setbacks she encounters.
Sustained by Weber's strong presence, "A Marine Story" overcomes some flaws in continuity and superficial characterizations to drive home its underlying message about the injustice of "don't ask, don't tell" and the way the controversial policy deprives the military of born leaders. A worthy endeavor.
"A Marine Story." Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes. At the Sunset 5, West Hollywood.
On April 8, 2000, Mark Hogancamp was so badly beaten outside a bar in Kingston, N.Y., that his own mother did not recognize him. After nine days in a coma and 40 days in the hospital, his Medicaid coverage ran out, leaving him to use only his own resources to recover his identity.
Living alone in a rural area, Hogancamp, a sweet-natured, articulate man, created a fantasy land called Marwencol, a war-torn World War II-era town in Belgium that he built in miniature and populated with dolls. Marwencol is the scene of fierce fighting but it contains an oasis, a bar run by Hogancamp, where enemies lay down arms and enjoy themselves, a raft of attractive barmaids serving them libations. Every action that takes place in the town is staged — and photographed — with loving attention to detail, and it's the discovery of those photos that gives Hogancamp a means to return to the real world.
Watching "Marwencol," Jeff Malmberg's probing documentary on Hogancamp's undertaking, is an exhilarating, utterly unique experience. The film isn't standard man-triumphing-over-adversity-fare, though that is the essence of the story. It is rather a celebration of the transformative power of art in coping with so many of the challenges people face — healthcare problems, post-traumatic disorders, alternative lifestyles.
When Hogancamp's work is discovered and becomes the subject of a Manhattan gallery exhibition, complete with Marwencol on display, a question surfaces about whether Hogancamp will want to start regarding his work as art rather than therapy — or whether he can find a way to reconcile the two.
The film offers a tentative answer to that central query, prompting Hogancamp to reveal what provoked his attack, a revelation that adds an entirely unexpected dimension to "Marwencol." One thing seems certain: Regardless of whatever path Hogancamp takes from now on, his life is unlikely to remain unchanged.
"Marwencol." Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 23 minutes. At the Nuart, West Los Angeles.
The story of a young Muslim forever changed by radicals is one well-established on the news pages, but the micro-budgeted indie film "The Taqwacores" boasts a different take on this narrative.
Based on a cult novel by an American named Michael Muhammad Knight who converted to Islam, it drops wide-eyed Yusef (Bobby Naderi), a Pakistani engineering student studying in Buffalo, N.Y., into a house of Muslim punks whose piousness doesn't preclude their right to party, pray and rip out offending pages of the Koran.
Leading the charge to draw in "the new guy" is mohawked, sexually rapacious friend to all rejects Jehangir (Dominic Rains), while the house's resident fundamentalist Umar (Nav Mann) works himself into fits of rage — just not the cool, punk kind — at the slightest breach of orthodoxy.
As a misfit-centric slap at religious conformity, the story's premise couldn't be more primed for trenchant social comedy, but screenwriter Knight and director Eyad Zahra opt for maintaining a thin veneer of tiresome obnoxiousness over exploring the contours of an emotionally complicated subculture.
A profanity-spewing lesbian in a burka, for instance, is a sight gag, not a character. It's hard to say which classification the filmmakers intended, though.
"The Taqwacores." No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 23 minutes. At Laemmle's Sunset 5, West Hollywood; and Edwards University Town Center 6, Irvine.