Room 237 by Rodney Ascher
A fascinating documentary made up of interviews with several people who claim to have found the secret meanings behind Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. They range from a history of the European slaughter of the Indians to the film serving as Kubrick's admission that he helped the US government forge the footage of the moon landing (he believes we went to the moon, but that we couldn't film it, so the footage presented as real was actually fake). Fun for the conspiracy theorist and for those who tee-hee at such things, Room 237 is mostly fascinating at our human desire to constantly seek deeper meaning - even in place where it might not actually exist (although, some of the theories start to become convincing).
Tower by Kazik Radwanski
A strange, occasionally funny film about a 34-year-old who lives at home with his parents and hopes to one day be an animator (his masterpiece is currently about 13 seconds long) and who clearly has trouble connecting with others. As a debut feature, it's easy to overlook the flaws (largely thanks to a stirringly flat - is that possible? - lead performance by Derek Bogart) and take in its creepiness and off-kilter humor.
Tai Chi 0 by Stephen Fung
The first half of a two-part feature, Tai Chi 0 left several fellow audience members perplexed and frustrated. Thankfully, I knew going in, I was only getting the first half of something, so I was able to take it for what it was - and it was truly a lot of fun with some great action choreography by Sammo Hung. It's about as light-weight as they come, but the style makes for a flurry of visual gags and the credits (appearing throughout the film as characters arrive) are hilarious. The second half, Tai Chi Hero, opens in China in October, so it will likely be presented in the states at the same time (which should alleviate the frustration felt by some of the folks I saw the movie with).
Hellbenders by J.T. Petty
Hellbenders began a day of disappointment. There were moments in the religiously-themed horror flick that were passable, and the story is clever (it's a team of ordained priests and ministers who chase demons by being so sinful they attract them), but the 3-D was utterly unnecessary and some of the performances were too far over the top, even for a genre film.
Shepard & Dark by Treva Wurmfeld
Before Sam Shepard had The Right Stuff and met Jessica Lange, he was married to a young lady named O-Lan and lived with her mother and step-father, Johnny Dark. Shepard and Dark have maintained their friendship for 50 years now and this doc traces that friendship and their archived letters as they attempt to edit them into a book. It's not a bad film, by any means, but I didn't feel let in enough by it. It actually felt like it was simply made for the two of them to enjoy as opposed to the audience.
Burn It Up Djassa by Lonesome Solo
It isn't often one gets to see a film from Ivory Coast. The last one I saw was in 2000 (Ivory Coast did have an Oscar-winning film in 1976 with Black and White in Color). I'm sad to report that this one won't be taking home the Oscar, though. The performances from the non-professional cast were actually the best part of the film; but the structure (the film is narrated by a young man who paid witness to the events surrounding the main character) becomes repetitive to the point of feeling like I'd already seen every scene in the film.
The Sessions by Ben Lewin
It is without doubt that I can tell you that you'll be hearing about The Sessions come Oscar time. With a lead performance by John Hawkes that already has many shouting Oscar and supporting work by Helen Hunt that people are calling brave (nudity = bravery), it will be discussed much. Hawkes plays the last man living in an iron lung. When he reports to his priest that he would like to have sex, the priest gives it his blessing as the young man has only a limited time to live. Hunt plays the sexual surrogate (it was called The Surrogate at Sundance) who teaches him how to make sex happen given his condition. It's a very touching story, but even with all the sex and nudity in the film, it somehow manages to feel rated PG (this will help Fox Searchlight when word of mouth starts to get around - especially with older audiences who might otherwise shy away). But for me, it feels that way, I think, because the whole thing feels "safe" and without edge. Good, for sure - especially the acting - but it's not an all-time classic by any means.