Wednesday, July 24, 2024

‘Fancy Dance’ (2023)

Can Lily Gladstone do no wrong? Her recent triumvirate of work, “The Unknown Country” (2022), “Killers of the Flower Moon” (2023, for which she was Oscar nominated), and this film have been unerring. “Fancy Dance” is something of the flip side of Taylor Sheridan’s riveting “Wind River” (2017) in putting a female perspective on missing and murdered indigenous people. There are no white saviors here, but plenty of bad actors who use their light skin tone and societal position to bully and coerce, and worse. Gladstone plays Jax, a member of the Seneca-Cayuga Nation in Oklahoma. Her mother’s gone, her sister’s been missing for two weeks and in the interim she’s taking charge of her 13-year-old niece Roki (Isabel Deroy-Olson), hoping that mom resurfaces and takes her to an upcoming powwow in Tulsa where they are the defending mother-daughter champs. Things shift quickly as Child Protective Services swoops in and give custody of Roki to Jax’s white father, Frank (a dutiful Shea Whigham) and his second wife (Audrey Wasilewski). Turns out Jax has a record – dealing and petty larceny, done mostly to put food on the table. Frank’s not an unsympathetic guy, but it’s been some time since he’s been on the “rez,” and promptly kiboshes the prospect of the powwow, which leads to Jax “kidnapping” Roki. Not the wisest of ideas. An Amber Alert goes out, which underscores the fact that a child gone missing has the FBI jumping right in, but one native woman’s been missing two weeks and they won’t even crack a file. Gladstone’s every bit as on point here as she was in “Flower Moon,” and audiences will sit up and take notice of Deroy-Olson. Her nuanced performance as precocious teen missing her mom and coming of age faster than she wants to is a sheer revelation. The chemistry between Roki and Jax is deep and soulful, steeped in blood, social situation and a way of life. Another great add to the cast is Ryan Begay as JJ, Jax’s brother and lone reservation law enforcement, who tries to hold the FBI at a stick’s distance to give Jax a chance. Beyond that, one has to admire Wasilewski for taking on the thankless role of clueless white entitlement as a step-nana trying to assuage disappointment over a missed powwow with a pair of ballerina shoes and the promise of lessons. “Fancy Dance” marks the feature debut of Erica Tremblay, a member of the Seneca-Cayuga Nation and a creator of the series “Reservation Dogs.” Look for more from her and Deroy-Olson, because it will come. On AppleTV+. 

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‘Sound of Hope: The Story of Possum Trot’ (2024)

Joshua Weigel’s real-life story (co-written with wife Rebekah) is an inspirational portrait, no doubt: It’s about a small-town Texas church where the parishioners take it upon themselves to adopt nearly 80 children from abusive foster care situations. Though a testament to the community’s compassionate resolve, it’s also squarely monotone and limited in lens. Set in the mid-1990s, the film checks in with the Rev. WC Martin (Demetrius Grosse) and his wife, Donna (Nika King), residents of the titular East Texas podunk, who have two children, the youngest afflicted with a deep developmental disorder that makes him challenging to care for. No matter, one day, after the son launches into an inconsolable tantrum, Donna has a spiritual stirring and decides to add to her flock through adoption. The exact catalyst is unclear, but with WC reluctantly aboard, Donna initiates an adoption. Matters take a turn when a social worker steers the couple toward foster care children living in unhealthy conditions. As the film depicts it, the ripple effect from the Martins’ act of kindness through the church’s Christian community is sweeping. Mistreated youths land in better homes, and hope teems. With high production values, solid performances and winning cinematography from Benji Bakshi (“Dragged Across Concrete”), “Sound of Hope” is a clear cut above a Lifetime fairy tale, but not far off in construct – which should come as little surprise, as it’s doled out from Angel Studios, the conservative Christian-values outfit behind the 2023 surprise box-office smashes “Sound of Freedom” and “Cabrini.” You can’t argue with the achievements of the film’s real-life subjects, but you can take pause at the spoon-fed pablum. At AMC Assembly Row 12, 395 Artisan Way, Assembly Square, Somerville.

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‘Arcadian’ (2024)

The film’s title stems from the Greek word for utopia, which has been achieved as much as one can in a post-apocalyptic world atop an Irish hillside after a virus or alien invasion – or both – have caused the collapse of the world. Holed up in one countryside farmhouse is the resolute Paul (Nicolas Cage, not all that Irish) and his teen sons, hunky Thomas (Maxwell Jenkins) and Joseph (Jaeden Martell, “Knives Out,” “It”), the nerdy intellectual. At night something comes a-scratching at the door. One doesn’t go out after dark. What’s out there? A cheap hodgepodge that’s one part the invaders from the “Quiet Place” series with a big snapping maw and three parts werewolf – hackneyed, to be sure, and somehow the beasts can’t bust through a pine door but can tunnel under a house? Yet the sheep seem to roam the fields without much worry, and the standoffish Rose clan down the way seem to be living large. Their daughter, a red-haired lass named Charolette (Sadie Soverall), draws Thomas’ eye, yet their inclination to help a fellow human is short to zero, and they’ll wave a gun in your face, or worse, should you linger too long. There’s a riveting post-fall scenario in here that “It Comes at Night” (2017) did a much better job at setting up and orchestrating on a small budget; filmmaker Benjamin Brewer and writer Mike Nilon (a producer on the self-deprecating Cage comedy “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent”) want to leap into “Howling” territory without learning to growl first. (Tom Meek) On Amazon Prime Video.