Capsule reviews for June 22

Beasts of the Southern Wild

There’s an exhilarating originality to this gritty and evocative drama that pays tribute to both childhood innocence and a rural community’s indefatigable spirit. Taking place on the edge of the Louisiana bayou, the story is told through the eyes of Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis), a precocious 6-year-old forced to confront harsh reality when her father (Dwight Henry) becomes very ill just as their dilapidated island shack is almost destroyed by a hurricane. The girl’s resourcefulness is a powerful tool in the hands of rookie filmmaker Benh Zeitlin, who captures the visual texture of a community on the outskirts of civilization. The cast of non-actors, meanwhile, is remarkable. (Rated PG-13, 93 minutes).

 

The Invisible War

Self-respecting females might think twice about entering the military after watching this documentary from director Kirby Dick (This Film is Not Yet Rated) that alleges a widespread pattern of sexual assault and corresponding cover-ups within the U.S. armed forces. Dick’s investigation yields a handful of startling statistics, but the bulk of the film focuses on heartbreaking testimonials from brave female soldiers who tell stories of rape, but also of ridicule when they tried to report it. Dick also has an array of interviews with military bureaucrats who talk about vague policies while ignoring common sense. The film is persuasive and infuriating without leaving much hope for change. (Not rated, 95 minutes).

 

Stella Days

This charming Irish drama features a winning performance by Martin Sheen as a 1950s Catholic priest, passed over for a promotion by the church, whose idea to boost citizen morale in his working-class small town is to build a cinema, which meets with disdain by a group of traditional church-goers including a local politician (Stephen Rea). There’s not much depth to a script that softens many of the potential conflicts in areas such as religious traditionalism and the economic struggles in Ireland at the time. However, Sheen powerfully conveys his character’s crisis of faith and the lightweight film captures its bleak setting and quirky townsfolk. (Not rated, 87 minutes).

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