Film review roundup: “The Confirmation,” “Trapped,” “Creative Control,” “The Bronze”

A couple of spiky comedies and a documentary about abortion rights highlight the indie offerings this week

“The Confirmation”

 

Once upon a time, Clive Owen seemed to be the sleek new hope of British cinema. From his tuxedoed breakthrough in “Croupier” to those arty BMW short films to playing King Freaking Arthur, for God’s sake, he embodied a crisp, unruffled coolness that would make James Bond proud. For some reason, it never quite took, though, and, after the classic “Children of Men,” he appeared in some rather forgettable thrillers: “The International,” “Duplicity,” “Killer Elite,” et al.

Jaeden Lieberher and Clive Owen in "The Confirmation."

Jaeden Lieberher and Clive Owen in “The Confirmation.”

In recent years, Owen seems to have wisely left dreams of action-hero stardom behind, focusing on more blue-collar gigs such as Guillaume Canet’s “Blood Ties.” In the latest of these, “The Confirmation,” he plays an alcoholic divorcee in Seattle left in charge of his twelve-year-old son for the weekend when his ex-wife (Maria Bello) and her husband (Matthew Modine) head out of town for Catholic couples therapy. The kid, predictably precocious, is played by Jaeden Lieberher, who seems to be the child star of the moment—you may remember him opposite Bill Murray in 2014’s “St. Vincent,” and he’s the juvenile lead in Jeff Nichols’ upcoming, highly anticipated “Midnight Special.”

“The Confirmation” is directed by Bob Nelson, who wrote “Nebraska,” which is also about an irresponsible boozehound’s turbulent relationship with his son. It has some amusing cameos, including Stephen Tobolowsky as a priest and Patton Oswalt as a helpful meth-head. The story is reminiscent of “The Bicycle Thief”—Owen’s deadbeat dad scores a carpentry job, only to find that his tools have been stolen out of the back of his pickup. And he’s been evicted from his apartment. Cue the weekend-long quest to get the tools back, stay off the sauce, and redeem himself in the eyes of his son. (2016, 90 min., rated PG-13) Opens Friday, March 18, at the Laurelhurst Theater. Grade: C+

 

A nurse at Reproductive Health Services clinic in Montgomery, Ala. comforts a patient.

A nurse at Reproductive Health Services clinic in Montgomery, Ala. comforts a patient.

“Trapped”

 

Documentaries don’t get much more timely than this one from director Dawn Porter (“Gideon’s Army”), which takes a sober but impassioned look at an issue that’s sitting before the (depleted) Supreme Court right this minute. The issue is so-called TRAP laws, which stands for Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers. These legislative scalpels are the latest tactic employed by anti-choice forces who have realized they stand little chance of having Roe v. Wade overturned in its entirety. Instead, they’ve focused on state laws that place undue and unnecessary burdens on doctors at women’s reproductive health clinics, forcing them to close down if they can’t meet them.

Porter profiles a number of abortion doctors and clinic workers, all of whom draw on astonishing reservoirs of patience and solicitude whether dealing with frazzled patients, heartless bureaucrats, or hate-spewing anti-choice protestors. Among them are Gloria Gray, the straight-talking owner of a clinic in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Dr. Willie Parker, an abortion doctor who travels through the south performing the procedure in places where there’s no one else to do it.

With an unsensational, boots-on-the-ground approach, “Trapped” offers a compelling look at the day-to-day experience of working to provide reproductive health in a hostile environment. It also shows how these TRAP laws create absurd requirements. One clinic employee provides a tour of all the equipment and medication the facility is required to have on hand, but which never gets used (and, in the case of the meds, has to be thrown out and replaced when it expires). Another doctor points out that one of the most common clauses in TRAP laws requires abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. But most hospitals require a certain number of admissions to retain those privileges, and abortion is such a safe procedure that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to meet that goal. It’s a perfect illustration of the Kafkaesque situation these health care providers find themselves in.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case testing the constitutionality of Texas law HB2 earlier this month, and the case should be decided by June, with some early signals indicating that, especially absent Antonin Scalia, the law will be struck down. But, like everything in the political sphere these days, that’s no sure thing. Either way, “Trapped” is a great opportunity to get up to speed on the latest front in the battle over women’s right to choose. (2016, 83 min., not rated) Opens Friday, March 18 at Cinema 21. Grade: B

 

Reggie Watts and Benjamin Dickinson in "Creative Control."

Reggie Watts and Benjamin Dickinson in “Creative Control.”

“Creative Control”

 

As a satire of Brooklyn hipsters, the advertising industry, and our obsession with personal technology, “Creative Control” targets some pretty low-hanging fruit. Writer-director-star Benjamin Dickinson puts a fresh spin on these topics, though, in a second feature that wears its cinematic influences on its sleeve but manages to retain its own identity.

David (Dickinson) has a well-paying job for a hot marketing firm, a live-in girlfriend who’s a yoga instructor, and a hedonistic fashion photographer for a best friend. So far, so good, right? But, as in the Antonioni movies Dickinson cites as an inspiration, all this sleek materialism fails to fully satisfy him. So when his boss (played by Vice founder Gavin McInnes) assigns him to the account of new client Augmenta (think Google Glass, but actually cool), it doesn’t take long before he’s using the tech specs to create an avatar of his best friend’s girlfriend Sophie, on whom he has developed something of a crush.

David decides to hire “a genius” to explore the capabilities of Augmenta and to help promote it. He goes with comedian Reggie Watts, who provides some of “Creative Control”’s funniest moments playing himself as a Platonically chill pop-culture tech shaman of sorts, one who punctures the self-serving platitudes David and his ilk subsist on. The movie’s shot in chilly black-and-white (another nod to Antonioni) with a couple noteworthy flourishes of color, and the “Minority Report”-esque graphic interface used by Augmenta is something you could easily imagine seeing at the next big Apple product launch.

While it doesn’t have the philosophical subtlety or wounded humanity of Spike Jonze’s “Her,” “Creative Control” still has something to say about the perils of ubiquitous virtual pleasure and marks Dickinson as a filmmaker to watch. (2015, 97 min., rated R) Opens Friday, March 18 at Cinema 21. Grade: B+

 

Melissa Rauch in "The Bronze."

Melissa Rauch in “The Bronze.”

“The Bronze”

 

This foul-mouthed, misanthropic comedy isn’t great by any means, but it’s a fair sight better than a plot outline makes it sound. Melissa Rauch (a regular on TV’s “The Big Bang Theory”) stars—she also wrote the screenplay—as Hope Ann Greggory, a gymnast who overcame injury years ago to earn the U.S. team a third-place finish and who now lords her fifteen minutes of fame over anyone who’ll listen. She’s got the personality of Tonya Harding and the backstory of Kerri Strug.

Hope lives at home with her doormat of a dad (Gary Cole), who works as a mail carrier. (Apparently, the producers of “The Bronze” had a tiny licensing budget: neither “Olympics” or “United States Postal Service,” or their trademarks, appear in the movie.) She seems content to wallow in her faded glory, stealing cash from her dad’s mail truck in order to buy weed behind the local shopping mall.

But when her former coach commits suicide, Hope stands to inherit half a million dollars—if she agrees to coach a fresh-faced up-and-coming gymnast (Haley Lu Richardson). Redemption beckons, but not before Hope gets a chance to hurl invective at her meek assistant “Twitchy” (Thomas Middleditch of HBO’s “Silicon Valley”) and the rival coach with whom she has a sexual past (Sebastian Stan, the Winter Soldier of the Marvel Cinematic Universe).

“The Bronze” played at the Sundance Film Festival in 2015, and I’m not sure why it took so long for it to get a commercial release (the same thing is true of “The Witch”). But for a film that opens with its anti-heroine masturbating to videotapes of her past athletic and contains an uproarious, absurdly gymnastic sex scene, commercial director Bryan Buckley’s feature debut ends up at a warm, fuzzy place without dulling its comedic edge. And that’s a balancing act of which even Hope Ann Greggory would be proud. (2015, 108 min., rated R) Opens Friday, March 18 at multiple Portland theaters. Grade: B

 

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