One I discovered quite by accident. Although Snag offers curated lists of recommendations by film experts and can suggest viewing options based on your past preferences and the suggestions of your trusted network of friends, it’s sometimes fun to browse.
That’s how I found “Other Than,” a feature-length anthology of 11 short documentaries around the theme of human diversity. Produced by Real Ideas Studio through a series of small grants, the films range from the heartwarming “Maybe,” which profiles a sweet, young hipster couple who have adopted a crippled dog, to the informative and thought-provoking “Anosmia,” which explores a medical condition in which people lose — or, in some cases, never had — their sense of smell.
It’s like watching a bunch of the most fascinating videos on your Facebook news feed in a single sitting. And only one of them is about an adorable animal.
Although none of the shorts lasts longer than a few minutes, the tone of the offerings ranges from poetic meditation to matter-of-fact reportage. “Me and You,” by filmmakers Heidi Berg and Doron Dor, is such a beautiful exploration of twinship that it almost seems more like a scripted story than a documentary. The same is true of Marcio Reolon and Filipe Matzembacher’s “A Ballet Dialogue,” which offers brief glimpses into the lives of an older gay man and a younger gay man in Brazil, separated by geography and generations.
By contrast, Cathy MacDonald’s “Turangawaewae, a Place to Stand,” which profiles a New Zealand Maori chief who is married to a woman of European descent, is more straightforward; not that “straightforward” means it isn’t capable of great feeling. And Theo Rigby’s “The Caretaker” covers a lot of ground, factual and emotional, in just eight minutes, introducing us to Joesy, an undocumented immigrant from Fiji who works as a home-care provider to a 95-year-old Japanese American woman who was in an internment camp in World War II.
It proves that good — and powerful, even provocative — things often come in small packages. -- M.O.
Unrated. 76 minutes. Contains drug references. “Other Than” is available through Snag Films.
Since making her Oscar-winning screenwriting debut in 2007 with “Juno,” Diablo Cody has been staying true to form, penning tart, observant scripts about young women facing life turning points with equal parts world-weariness and tarnished hope. Cody’s directorial debut, “Paradise,” starring Julianne Hough, doesn’t veer out of Cody’s wheelhouse, which is both its blessing and its curse.
Hough plays Lamb, an innocent Montana 21-year-old whose Christian faith is shaken after a disfiguring plane accident. After scandalizing her home church by angrily questioning God, Lamb pockets her lawsuit money and lights out for Vegas, where she intends to say Yes to life by indulging in “drinking, games of chance, all your basic abominations.”
“Paradise” is something of an anti-“Hangover,” a night-in-the-life in Glitter Gulch during which Lamb ends up making unlikely friends, renewing her ideals and finding life’s true meaning, like a latter-day Dorothy. Although Russell Brand and Octavia Spencer give the film pleasant jolts as a lecherous bartender and jaded saloon singer, respectively, “Paradise” nonetheless suffers from a fatal lack of energy and Hough’s flat, affectless delivery (depressed doesn’t have to mean catatonic).
“Paradise” is spiked with Cody’s signature snappy lines, some of which are genuinely funny, such as when Spencer’s character explains the “magical Negro” archetype to a wide-eyed Lamb. But for the most part it seems little more than a wan TV movie with some extra production values, proof that sometimes what happens in Vegas should stay there. -- A.H.
PG-13. 97 minutes. Contains sexual material, some profanity and thematic elements. Available on DirecTV on demand.
The work environment in this case is the Asteroid Management Initiative, a fictional, dilapidated and underfunded section of the Department of Defense that deals exclusively with zapping meteors before they can wreak havoc on mankind. The rock jocks find the majority of the work deathly boring, and spend their days and nights ribbing each other, reading magazines or having profound conversations about the myriad uses of a certain expletive.
The movie, written and directed by Paul Seetachitt, looks at one particularly eventful night shift. The mopey John (Andrew Bowen) has been called in to work unexpectedly, which jeopardizes his relationship with his son. So he’s mostly checked out while his co-workers try to prove their worth in light of a visit from a bureaucratic efficiency expert who wants to replace them with machines. It takes a conversation with an Earth-dwelling alien named Smoking Jesus and a very real emergency to awaken John from his stupor.
There are plenty of amusing tongue-in-cheek touches, including slow claps and soaring music in the wacky climax. And Felicia Day nails it as Alison, the type-A suck-up. The understated moments are the most successful, so the dominance of one character, the nasty, annoying and overly crude Seth (Justin Chon), weighs down the movie’s light spirit. Gerry Bednob’s character, Tom, similarly relies on aimed-to-shock material, but proves only that crassness doesn’t necessarily equate to comedy.
If saving the planet is the aim, this ragtag bunch doesn’t seem like the best bet. But for a little bit of entertainment? You could do worse. -- S.M.
Previously: 'Jug Face,' 'Jack Irish'