Every Tuesday, The Post's critics highlight original movies that are being streamed and made available on demand. Here are this week's picks.
BIG STAR: NOTHING CAN HURT ME
The hippie-era slang term “heavy,” meaning intensely good, comes up more than once to describe the band whose music and personnel are the focus of the thorough and enthusiastic documentary “Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me.” It’s probably an accurate assessment, seeing as all three of the band’s 1970s albums made it onto Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the greatest albums of all time. But the other other sense of the word — dark and somewhat painful — also applies, and not just because Big Star, although beloved by critics, was making, for most of its existence, the best music that nobody listened to.
All that changed about 10 or 15 years after the band’s 1972 debut, “No. 1 Record,” came out. In the mid-1980s, Big Star and its front man, Alex Chilton, experienced a surge of re-appreciation, thanks largely to the promotion of such hipster fans as the members of R.E.M. (whose bassist Mike Mills appears in the film, along with musicians Matthew Sweet, Robyn Hitchcock, Alex Taylor and many others.) Taylor, of the electronic pop band Hot Chip, captures the paradox of Big Star’s sound by describing it as both “melancholic” and “exuberant,” which pretty well sums up both the music and the film.
Chilton, who as a teenager had a hit as the singer of the Box Tops’ 1967 “The Letter,” is the best-known member of Big Star, thanks in no small part to the Replacements’ 1987 musical homage, “Alex Chilton.” But documentarians Drew DeNicola and Olivia Mori also examine the influence of Big Star founder Chris Bell, who left the band after its first album and eventually died, at 27, but whose enduring impact is examined by a parade of pop-music movers and shakers. His relationship with Chilton, who died in 2010, is compared — and not without reason — to that of John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
At times, “Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me” can get a little insider-y, especially if you’re uncool enough to have never heard of the band, or if you still don’t know that the Bangles’ popular “September Gurls” was a cover of a Big Star song by Chilton. (And no, it wasn’t a hit for them.) This movie is more for converts than neophytes.
But if you’re already a believer, it’s like going to church — one with the world’s most awesome choir and a sermon that’s at once uplifting and a little bit sad. -- M.O.
PG-13. 113 minutes. Contains drug references and brief crude language. Screening Friday, Saturday and Sunday at AFI Silver Theatre. Also available on iTunes, Amazon Instant and major cable on-demand services.
With such films as “My Effortless Brilliance,” “Humpday” and “Your Sister’s Sister” to her credit, Seattle filmmaker Lynn Shelton has earned a reputation for intimate, deeply observational slices of life that lay bare the most vulnerable truths of human relationships, simultaneously mining them for maximum pathos and humor.
With “Touchy Feely,” Shelton is still on her game, even if she’s working on an even smaller canvas than usual. The story — of a brother and sister involved in far different realms of the healing arts — doesn’t feel as fleshed out as Shelton’s best work. But even her sketches are more textured and emotionally rewarding than most of the over-processed dreck that gets thrown at multiplex screens every weekend.
Rosemarie DeWitt plays Abby, a gifted massage therapist who enjoys a liberated physical relationship with her bicycling boyfriend, Jesse (Scoot McNairy), and a spontaneous, intuitive approach to life.
Paul (Josh Pais), her uptight brother, is a dentist, quietly working on his senior citizen patients with the help of his daughter, Jenny (Ellen Page), who quietly longs to leave the safe cocoon he’s woven for both of them. Graced by consistently engaging performances, “Touchy Feely” transpires over a brief period when, for reasons both vague and explicit, Abby and Paul experience personal and professional breakdowns and breakthroughs — in Paul’s case, involving the funniest Reiki massage session ever captured on film.
Pais, who resembles Mike White at his sad-sackiest, approaches that scene with crouching physical humor, finding an able foil in Allison Janney as an uninhibited practitioner named Bronwyn. In a diametrically different role than her equally amusing turn in “The Way, Way Back,” Janney dons angel-winged kimonos and hip glasses to play the one person in “Touchy Feely” who isn’t afraid of honesty, even at its most transgressive (and illegal).
At least for a while. Eventually several truths come to light in “Touchy Feely” that send the protagonists on paths toward what looks like happiness. Then again, one person is missing in the film’s final, comforting tableau, suggesting that Shelton may be a sucker for a reassuring ending, but she’s too knowing to settle for anything too pat. -- A.H.
Skunk is the unfortunate name for the adorable child protagonist at the center of “Broken.” The lovable whippersnapper, played by Eloise Laurence, seems inspired by Scout from “To Kill a Mockingbird”: She is a little bit of a tomboy and a little bit of a troublemaker, and she does a lot of growing up over the course of the 91-minute film.
It all starts when she witnesses her neighbor, Bob (Rory Kinnear), a bullying single father of three monstrous girls, unleash his fury and fists on another neighbor, Rick, who is mentally impaired. One of Bob’s hellions claimed Rick forced himself on her, and her father believes the tale; even when a trip to the doctor reveals that his daughter is a virgin, he doesn’t blame her.
The dysfunctional family serves as the perfect foil to Skunk’s. She and her brother are also being raised by a single dad (played wonderfully by Tim Roth), a lawyer who challenges his daughter’s headstrong tendencies while worrying over her Type I diabetes.
Many other story lines swirl, although the movie never feels overcrowded. The girl’s nanny, Kasia (Zana Marjanovic), is getting tired of waiting for a proposal from Mike (Cillian Murphy); Skunk is starting at a new school and she worries a bully might stick her head in a toilet; the girl also starts her first relationship.
“Broken,” a promising first effort from Rufus Norris, is told in fragments, which often unfold out of order. Norris pays close attention to details and the effect is riveting. He zooms in on Skunk’s nightly insulin checks and drops of water falling from a freshly-washed car. There are so many quiet moments amid the sometimes funny, occasionally sweet and often explosive plot.
Things gets a bit heavy-handed towards the end with an unexpected swerve into melodrama. But an endearing portrait of a father-daughter relationship manages to prevail over the overwrought final act. -- S.M.
Previously: 'The Canyons,' 'Robert Williams: Mr. Bitchin''