Movies: Some good Indies starting to appear. The Dark Horse, Elvis and Nixon and the Invitation

The Dark Horse

The Dark Horse is difficult to watch but totally worth it. It is the true story of a bi-polar Maori Chess player named Genesis Potini who is released from a mental institution to his brother Ariki’s care. His brother is a gang leader who is about to induct his somewhat reluctant 14-year-old son Mana into the gang. Ariki, concerned that Genesis will interfere in his son’s induction to the gang kicks him out and Genesis wanders around homeless looking for something meaningful to do. He finds hope with a group of disenfranchised youth who he teaches chess to and gets them motivated to attend a regional chess tournament.

The Dark Horse shows us a side of New Zealand that we don’t normally see – it certainly is not the world of the Lord of the Rings with the majestic mountains and beautiful vistas. It is the reality of an indigenous people living in slums with a large gang population not unlike the Native Americans and Inuit in North America. The Maori actor Cliff Curtis who plays Genesis is quite extraordinary in this role. He brings such depth of emotion as he plays the struggling chess player who had every obstacle thrown against him during his life but ultimately became the saving grace for a number of at-risk kids who he mentored.

This is a great story and a gripping movie. It is playing at a handful of art houses but I suspect it will be available on ITunes soon. It is worth hunting around for. It has been running between 98 and 100% on Rotten Tomatoes and deserves every bit of that unbelievable score.

Elvis and Nixon

This nifty little Indie premiered this past week at Tribeca and hit several hundred theaters this weekend. I anticipate wider distribution in the next few weeks.  It chronicles the famous meeting in 1970 between Elvis and Nixon – too personalities at the opposite end of the spectrum. The meeting was before Nixon taped all of his conversations so no official record of it exists except for a photograph, which is the most requested photo in the National Archives.Elvis went to the White House in order to get an official “badge” that would allow him to do undercover work for the government busting up drug dealers.  I know – totally preposterous, but totally true.

Michael Shannon and Kevin Spacey do fantastic jobs as Presley and Nixon respectively. They capture perfectly the underlying personalities and idiosyncrasies of each of these icons. The movie is only 87 minutes long and moves quickly. It is really funny, really well done and the audience at my theater was engaged and laughing out loud throughout the movie. Elvis and Nixon gives a glimpse back into a simpler and safer time – one in which the most renown musician of his era could walk around Washington DC with no body guards and stroll up to the White House (likely armed to the teeth) and leave a note for the President of the United States. It leaves you thinking that you’d give anything to have been a fly on the wall at that meeting – it must have been completely amazing.  In the meantime, this movie will hold you over with a plausible description of what it could have been like.

The Invitation

The Invitation premiered at SxSW and then was in art theaters for about a week. It is now on iTunes (and maybe other services) where I caught it this weekend.  I can count on one hand the number of “Mystery/Thriller” movies I have seen. They really aren’t my thing. This one got a lot of great reviews, however, and good movies are scarce this time of year so I rented it. From the moment it started, it was just scary/creepy.

A group of people gets together at a house for dinner. Most of them were close friends before the now divorced main characters (Will and Eden) lost their son. The friends had not really spent time together for the last couple of years.  The dinner takes place at Eden and her now boyfriend’s house, which is the same house where Will and Eden used to live with their son. Everything is a bit awkward and strange before two new people (friends of Eden’s boyfriend) come and it turns out the four of them are part of a cult like group that is called “The Invitation” and they start to glorify the experience.  The tension starts to build right away and Will senses something seriously wrong but backs off after a couple of red herrings.

The acting is very good in this small but terrifying Indie.   The ending is as twisty as you’ll ever get. I can’t believe anyone saw it coming. This is a master class in suspense and if you like this genre, you won’t be disappointed.


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