‘At Any Price’
Filmmaker Rahmin Bahrani (“Man Push Cart,” “Goodbye Solo”) has been keeping the Italian neo-realist flame alive. His perhaps inevitable graduation to name talent benefits from his scrappy shtick, even if that just means bringing a welcome messiness to what would have been boringly slick. Dennis Quaid plays an ethically-challenged seed farmer, Zac Efron his rebellious stock car driver son, and if Bahrani can’t always find a way into their world, he at least shows surprising chops during the race sequences.
‘Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton’
Even before he found true happiness in his latter years, the pioneering avant-garde films of James Broughton are joyous, filled with dancing and celebrations of behaviors considered outre even now. (His beloved “The Bed” features little but polyamourous cavorting in the great outdoors.) Finally receiving his own Great Man documentary, Broughton is capably portrayed as both filmmaker and person, though the two are often interchangeable.
John Slattery does regional indie duty in this sometimes comically miserablist drama, playing a weary Maine construction worker whose bus driver wife (Amy Morton) almost kills a child through accidental neglect. Things turn worse from there, if you can believe it, but Lance Edmonds’ direction gets us into their heads, even as the ceiling is about to collapse. The cinematography from Jody Lee Lipes (“Tiny Furniture,” “Martha Marcy May Marlene”) is predictably gorgeous.
Darren Stein once made “Jawbreaker,” one of too few full-on “Heathers” ripoffs. His latest “Heathers” ripoff fares a bit better. Michael J. Willet plays a shy high schooler who outs himself, only to be seized upon by the most popular girls in school. They all want him as their gay bestie and are crestfallen to discover he’s not into musicals or trash TV. There’s some real bite here, but also its claws aren’t always so sharp; empathy is fine, but no “Heathers” copycat ought to ultimately find one of the popular girls “pretty cool.”
‘Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia’
Filmed shortly before his death last summer, this profile of Gore Vidal tries its best to bottle up a man difficult to pin down: a populist intellectual, rejected by academia and sometimes only tolerated by the mainstream. His clashes with William F. Buckley (“the Marie Antoinette of the right wing,” as per Gore) could get a documentary of their own, but the man’s wit and complexity, and sometime bitterness, shine through.
‘In God We Trust’
Those longing for an entryway into the mind of Bernie Madoff won’t get it in this doc, even with his secretary as its guide. Almost inhumanly decent, she guides us instead through the gruntwork of the investigation into his deeds, which she herself helped steer.
‘Michael H. Profession: Director’
With a title that’s in some ways funnier than his famous Twitter parody account, this look at filmmaker Michael Haneke delves only somewhat into a director who takes delight at pissing people off. There’s a lot to say about his work, which treats both humanity and filmgoers with (albeit mostly earned) suspicion, but the film timidly sticks to the word of the director and his close accomplices. It’s less a deep probe than a montage of old Electronic Press Kits.