Indie Focus: Real-life adventure tale in ‘The Rescue’
Hello! I’m Mark Olsen. Welcome to another edition of your regular field guide to a world of Only Good Movies.
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This week sees the opening of “No Time to Die,” the latest mega-budget entry in the venerable James Bond franchise. Aside from being billed as the final outing by actor Daniel Craig in the role, the new film is also intriguing for the fact that it is directed and co-written by Cary Joji Fukunaga. (Phoebe Waller-Bridge has a credit on the screenplay as well.) The filmmaker — who got his start with the Sundance prize winner “Sin Nombre” before moving on to “Jane Eyre” and “Beasts of No Nation,” as well as TV’s “True Detective” — brings a distinctive energy to the film, a sophisticated blend of action and emotions.
In a review for The Times, Jessica Kiang addressed the pressure the movie faces to assist in bringing audiences back en masse to theaters. She wrote: “Every new Bond movie is a referendum. Not just on the ongoing viability of a franchise that has been part of the cinematic landscape for six decades — fading in and out of relevance, moving through cycles of creakiness, campiness and classiness — but also on the vitality of old-model popular cinema, which is threatened now as never before. If the release of ‘No Time to Die’ marks a widespread return to the cinema, it will be nicely fitting that it’s Bond, a gentleman franchise in a world of whippersnappers, holding the door open on the way in. And then reminding us, on the way out, that every farewell is also a hello, and every time to die is a time to be reborn.”
I explored what Fukunaga brought to the franchise: an unexpected emphasis on relationships, emotions and drama that plays well against the action and is a fitting send-off for Craig’s Bond. As Craig himself said, “You’re always struggling with Bond movies, as any movies of this size, of getting that balance right. You’ve got to have action, you’ve got to have locations. … [But] we had a kind of a heartbeat in the movie, and he didn’t shy away from any of that. He was as much into that as he was into the explosions.”
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Directed by the “Free Solo” team of Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, “The Rescue” relives the 2018 news story in which two middle-aged British divers ended up leading the worldwide effort to save 12 young soccer players and their coach after they became trapped in a network of Thai caves that rapidly flooded. Playing out as a gripping action thriller, the movie utilizes interviews, news footage and bracing reenactments. The movie is now in limited release.
For The Times, Justin Chang wrote, “No less than in their Oscar-winning, vertigo-inducing mountain-climber documentary, ‘Free Solo,’ Vasarhelyi and Chin show a deep affinity for daredevil minds, and here they achieve another sly balance of extreme-sports primer and oddball psychological profile. Their conclusion, articulated by many of the divers themselves, is that this particular hobby thrives especially among athletes of a lonelier, more introverted bent, the kind who would find the lower depths not isolating or terrifying but liberating. … ‘The Rescue’ is a gripping, unsurprisingly moving early account, one that emphasizes the pluck and ingenuity of its heroes and the resilience and beauty of its survivors. To say that it feels necessarily incomplete is to acknowledge the extraordinary and extraordinarily multifaceted story it has to tell.”
Amy Kaufman has a story on the film coming soon. As John Volanthen, one of the rescue divers said, “I hope we don’t come across as too odd. But perhaps we are a strange bunch with a strange hobby but something in common, and I think the film shows that. ... It does require a certain kind of person who is able to get knocked down, get back up again and carry on. And also perhaps to be prepared to suffer a certain level of discomfort that many would choose not to. I always say there’s a big difference between being uncomfortable and in danger. Lots of the people that were involved in the rescue are very good at understanding a certain situation as just uncomfortable — and that might not be pleasant, but it’s not a reason to stop or turn round. Whereas understanding that line where danger starts is a very important trait, perhaps.”
For the New York Times, Jessica Kiang wrote, “Vasarhelyi and Chin have meticulously assembled contemporary footage — much of it never seen before — alongside talking-head interviews and subtle re-enactments, spliced so seamlessly into the main flow that you scarcely register their artificiality. The presentation is so smooth (right until the blatant best-original-song-baiting dirge that plays over the closing credits) that it somewhat glosses over the film’s omissions and makes palatable its defiantly outsider perspective. … Mostly, though, there is a laudable absence of sentimentality, which means the emotive moments really land, such as when Rick first finds the children, all alive and alert. It’s an eventuality so incredibly unlikely that all he can do is repeat the single word ‘believe,’ and whether it’s an exhortation to accept the possibility of miracles or to have faith in the power of human perseverance is no matter: after ‘The Rescue,’ believe, you will.”
For Variety, Tomris Laffly wrote, “Through ‘The Rescue,’ Chin and Vasarhelyi generously assemble the pieces of the puzzle that adds up to this unbelievable operation. The result is a rousing film that celebrates humanity at its most selfless and ethically motivated, one that is guided by sharp directorial instincts and dextrous editing by Bob Eisenhardt. … It’s truly breathtaking stuff, watching a massive group of diverse professionals set all notions of fear and self-interest aside and unite around a common goal. In today’s increasingly individualistic world divided by superficial differences, witnessing this profound miracle feels like receiving an overdue supply of oxygen.”
Directed and co-written by Valdimar Jóhannsson in his feature debut, “Lamb” is an oddball domestic horror fable. Noomi Rapace stars as Maria, who lives on a remote Icelandic farm with her husband and the two somehow begin to raise a newborn lamb as if it were their child. As the lamb comes to seem more human, their connection only grows. Once Maria’s brother-in-law arrives, their family tranquility is threatened and things grow more complicated. The movie is playing now in theaters.
For The Times, Katie Walsh wrote, “Fans of genre cinema, including Rapace’s roles as an action heroine, or the brand of arthouse horror for which the film’s distributor, A24, is known, may be expecting something a bit more intense from ‘Lamb,’ which is mostly a quiet family drama. It’s a different register for Rapace, who remains controlled, with a few explosions of emotion. But she is present and instinctual, imbuing Maria with a steely but soft power: decisive, persuasive and feminine. … The film is broken into three chapters, and by the time it comes to its end there’s the startling realization that there is potentially much more to come, something even more bloody and terrifying — but those are tales better left for another day.”
For a story publishing soon, Sonaiya Kelley spoke to Jóhannsson and Rapace, who attempted to explain the movie, or at least Rapace’s little half-animal co-star.
“She’s very much a vehicle and a canvas,” Rapace explained. “She’s the blank space you fill with what you need her to be. She’s a perfect balance where it’s enough for people to connect with her but she doesn’t have too much of her own personality.”
“Yeah, you as an audience [member] have to create her by yourself,” said Jóhannsson. “Some people think she’s evil in the beginning or think she’s planning to do something, but other people just love her right away when they see her and think she’s very cute.”
For the New York Times, Jeanette Catsoulis wrote, “Slow-moving and inarguably nutty, ‘Lamb’ nevertheless wields its atavistic power with the straightest of faces, helped in no small measure by an Oscar-worthy cast of farm animals. … Relishing the wild beauty of the location, the fantastic cinematographer Eli Arenson eyes foggy fields and frightened horses with unruffled awe. When he turns his camera on Ada (an impressive blend of actors, animals, puppetry and CGI), the sight is at once ludicrous and strangely touching. After all, doesn’t every parent think their child is perfect?
For Vulture, Alison Willmore wrote, “‘Lamb’ isn’t a horror movie. It’s more like a fairy tale, with all the darkness that most fairy tales have before they’re tidied up for contemporary consumption. ... Even in this outpost of domestication and agriculture and mankind’s dominance over the land and the elements, nature is not so easily claimed. But it’s not a point that the movie seems to feel all that passionately about. By the time the final act rolls around, ‘Lamb’ approaches the idea that there’s a price that must be paid with a shrugging diffidence rather than impending doom. It’s such an underwhelming conclusion to a film with such a compelling start. You might start to wonder if the taciturn nature of the project is less a stylistic choice and more an indication that it just doesn’t have that much to say.”
The feature debut as writer-director from longtime actor Fran Kanz, “Mass” is an intense drama about two couples who meet to talk through their feelings in the aftermath of a school shooting. One couple (Martha Plimpton, Jason Isaacs) lost a son in the incident; the other (Ann Dowd, Reed Birney) also lost their son, who was also the shooter. The film is playing now in limited release.
For The Times, Justin Chang wrote, “Kranz, a longtime actor making a startlingly assured shift into feature filmmaking, appears to have little interest in the tidy assignment of blame, though myriad possible causes — bad parents, school bullies, violent video games, easily accessible firearms — are summarily raised in passing. What fascinates the director, and clearly also fascinates his four outstanding lead actors, is the possibility of grace in a seemingly impossible, inconsolable situation. With considerable intelligence and disarming moral seriousness, they confront the question of whether forgiveness and understanding can be honestly extended or received, and whether healing can ever be more than an abstract concept.”
Carlos Aguilar spoke to Kranz, Plimpton and Dowd about the intense, timely drama. Dowd discussed how she deals with portraying such emotionally dark material when she said, “Acting isn’t about suffering, you know. It doesn’t serve the character or the piece. It’s something else that happens that allows you to live in that space, honestly, and that happened for all of us. We trusted one another. We had laughing sessions. And then we were able to go back to the place where we knew we needed to be.”
For the New York Times, Teo Bugbee wrote, “The writer and director Fran Kranz stages this congregation like a play. The actors are seated across from each other in a single room, and the camera work is minimal, alternating between close-ups. The dialogue limits the amount of knowledge the audience is given about how or why the central horror took place. This measured approach allows the feelings that flicker across the faces of the movie’s veteran cast to register not only as markers of marvelous acting — though there is plenty of that to spare — but as events with the power to propel the introspective plot. … The movie lacks the gut punch of live theater, the thrill or discomfort of watching people show their feelings in real time. But as cinema, it demonstrates the effectiveness of simplicity. A well-written script and an exemplary cast can still produce a movie worth watching.”
For IndieWire, David Ehrlich wrote, “A single-location drama about four people sitting in a sterile church anteroom and discussing — at length, and in real-time — the unequally shared tragedy that split their lives down the middle, ‘Mass’ is so anti-cinematic at every turn that it almost comes as a surprise that it wasn’t adapted from a play or shot during COVID. And yet, at no point does this sobering and worthwhile feature debut from actor Fran Kanz (‘The Cabin in the Woods’) feel like it shouldn’t have been a movie, or that it could’ve been anything else. … It’s a difficult but absorbingly intimate film about what happens to the soul of a country where indiscriminate death has been allowed to become a part of life, and how the survivors work to share the burden that all of them have to carry for someone else’s sins.”
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