Wild Canaries

Sundance Selects

Unrated

Everybody’s Implicated And Romantically Involved In Delightful Screwball Whodunit

Barri (Sophia Takal) gets the shock of her life the day she walks upstairs to play chess with her neighbor Sylvia (Marylouise Burke) as planned. Entering the unlocked flat when there’s no response to the bell, she finds the infirm octogenarian collapsed on the floor next to her walker.

Although the coroner quickly concludes that Sylvia died of natural causes, it isn’t long before Barri starts to suspect otherwise, much to the frustration of her fiancé, Noah (Lawrence Michael Levine). While he plays down the possibility of foul play, she enlists the assistance of their roommate, Jean (Alia Shawkat), to start snooping around to determine whether anybody might have had a motive to murder the old lady.

As it turns out, Sylvia could have been killed for her life insurance by her son (Kevin Corrigan) with a gambling habit. She also could’ve been knocked off by their cash-strapped landlord (Jason Ritter), given his difficult divorce and her deeply-discounted rent-controlled apartment.

Barri and Jean’s eavesdropping eventually implicates almost everybody else in the building, too, including Noah. He might be cheating on Barri with his ex-girlfriend, Eleanor (Annie Parisse), even though she supposedly came out of the closet following their breakup. That’s little consolation to her current lover Claire (Donnetta Lavinia Grays) who becomes very upset about Eleanor’s crashing on Barri and Noah’s couch, since Jean just happens to be a lesbian.

Written by, directed by and co-starring Lawrence Michael Levine, Wild Canaries is an alternately whimsical and wild screwball whodunit which never expects to be taken very seriously. After all, you’d need a scorecard to keep track not only of the suspects but of the many, messy romantic liaisons.

A delightful diversion that succeeds in spoofing the film noir genre while simultaneously spinning a thoroughly-modern variation on the theme of those classic crime capers.

 

Excellent (3.5 stars)

Running time: 95 minutes

 

 

McFarland, USA

Walt Disney Pictures

Rated PG for violence, mild epithets and mature themes

Disgraced Coach Redeems Self In Overcoming-The-Odds Sports Saga

In the fall of 1987, Jim White (Kevin Costner) was fired as head football coach of a high school team in Boise, Idaho, when he lost his temper and hit one of his players in the face and drew blood. With a wife (Maria Bello) and two young daughters (Morgan Saylor and Elsie Fisher) to support, the hot-headed perfectionist found himself in urgent need of another job.

So, he accepted a demotion to assistant football coach at the public high school in the predominantly-Latino, working-class town of McFarland, California. However, once it became clear on the gridiron that being second-in-command wasn’t working out, the versatile veteran came up with the idea of fielding a cross-country track team instead.

Though initially skeptical, Principal Camillo (Valente Rodriguez) grudgingly agreed, and White immediately started scouting around campus for fleet-footed prospects. As it turned out, many of McFarland High’s Chicano students were already in shape, being accustomed to darting the long distance from the field to the classroom, after picking fruit and vegetables alongside their parents from the crack of dawn.

Upon settling on seven promising protégés, the dilemma yet confronting Coach White was whether or not their cash-strapped clans could afford the luxury of letting them run track in lieu of laboring as farm workers in the wee hours of the morning? If so, the boys might also be afforded an opportunity to expand their horizons, since a standout’s landing an athletic college scholarship was definitely a distinct possibility.

Directed by New Zealand’s Niki Caro (Whale Rider), McFarland, USA is much more than your typical, overcoming-the-odds sports saga, in spite of the fact that it might sound fairly formulaic at first blush. Yes, it’s a classic case of a disgraced coach making the most of a shot at redemption with the help of a motley crew of underestimated underdogs. Nevertheless, this true tale of overcoming-the-odds proves oh so touching because it simultaneously sheds light on the plight of an invisible sector of society, namely, the masses of mostly Mexican immigrants who harvest our produce in obscurity for a mere pittance.

Kevin Costner has never been more endearing than in this outing as a devoted mentor and family man. And he’s surrounded in that endeavor by a talented supporting cast convincing enough to make it easy to forget you’re watching actors, at least until the closing credits roll. That’s when we’re treated to photos of the real-life people just portrayed, plus positive updates about their present lives which serve to validate all the sacrifices made.

Heartwarming!

 

Excellent (4 stars)

In English and Spanish with subtitles

Running time: 129 minutes

 

 

OPENING THIS WEEK

Kam’s Kapsules:

For movies opening March 6, 2015

 

Chappie (R for violence, profanity and brief nudity) Sci-fi thriller set in a futuristic totalitarian state patrolled by repressive police androids where a renegade robot (Sharlto Copley) reprogrammed for good represents the last hope for humanity. With Hugh Jackman, Sigourney Weaver and Dev Patel.

 

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (PG for mild epithets and suggestive material) Dame Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Celia Imrie, Maggie Smith, Penelope Wilton and Dev Patel reprise their roles in this sequel which finds the proprietor (Patel) of India’s preeminent Old Folks Home pursuing his dream of opening another boarding house. Additions to the cast include Richard Gere, Tamsin Grieg and David Strathairn.

 

Unfinished Business (R for risqué sexuality, graphic nudity, profanity and drug use) Buddy comedy revolving around a trio’s (Vince Vaughn, Tom Wilkinson and Dave Franco) business trip gone awry at European ports of call ranging from a fetish convention to a global economic summit. Featuring Jil Funke, David Akinloye and Heidi Philipsen.

 

Bad Asses On The Bayou (R for violence, profanity, sexuality and nudity) Danny Trejo and Danny Glover reprise their roles in this sequel to Bad Ass 2 set in Baton Rouge where the aging tough guys take the law into their own hands to rescue a pal’s (John Amos) daughter kidnapped for ransom (Loni Love). Rob Mello, Sammi Rotibi and Jimmy Bennett.

 

Earth’s Golden Playground (Unrated) Gold Rush documentary highlighting the present-day resurgence of mining among prospectors searching for the mother lode up in the Yukon.

 

Faults (Unrated) Psychological thriller about desperate parents (Beth Grant and Chris Ellis) who hire a disgraced deprogrammer (Leland Orser) to rescue their daughter (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) from the clutches of a mind-controlling cult. With Jon Gries, Nicholas Tucci and Leonard Earl Howze.

 

An Honest Liar (Unrated) Retrospective about magician-turned-skeptic The Amazing Randi’s career spent debunking hoaxes, pseudoscience and claims of paranormal activity. Featuring Alice Cooper, Uri Geller, Penn Jillette, Bill Nye and Michael Edwards.

 

Kidnapping Mr. Heineken (R for pervasive profanity) Fact-based drama recreating the 1983 abduction in Amsterdam of the heir (Anthony Hopkins) to the mammoth beer fortune. Cast includes Sam Worthington, Jim Sturgess and Jemima West.

 

The Lesson (Unrated) Survival saga about a cash-strapped schoolteacher (Margita Gosheva) who resorts to desperate measures to provide for her family. With Ivan Barnev, Ivan Savov, Stefan Denolyubov and Ivanka Bratoeva. (In Bulgarian with subtitles)

 

Merchants Of Doubt (PG-13 for brief profanity) Screen adaptation of Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway’s best-seller of the same name, a cautionary documentary warning about the profusion of pundits-for-hire who create confusion by posing as impartial experts who dispute the conventional wisdom about global warming, pollution and the pharmaceutical industry.

 

October Gale (Unrated) Crime thriller set in a remote cottage on an island where a recently-widowed doctor (Patricia Clarkson) cares for a mysterious stranger (Scott Speedman) who washed ashore with a gunshot wound while trying to evade the shooter (Tim Roth) seeking to finish him off. With Callum Keith Rennie, Aidan Devine, Billy MacLellan and Eric Murdoch.

 

Two Men In Town (R for profanity) Unlikely-buddies drama, set in New Mexico, about the friendship forged between a Muslim ex-con (Forest Whitaker) and his idealistic parole officer (Brenda Blethyn), much to the chagrin of a border town sheriff (Harvey Keitel). Supporting cast includes Luis Guzman, Ellen Burstyn and Dolores Heredia.

 

A Year In Champagne (Unrated) Second installment in alcohol trilogy, and sequel to A Year In Burgundy, explores everything you always ever wanted to know about the bubbly brew from France.

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