The Post’s critics highlight original movies that are being streamed and made available on demand. Here are this week’s picks.
THE SHORT GAME
You don’t need to like golf to like — perhaps even to love — “The Short Game,” Josh Greenbaum’s delightful new documentary about a group of 7 and 8-year-old links prodigies competing in the 2012 U.S. Kids Golf World Championship in Pinehurst, N.C. Like the school-age competitive dancers of “Mad Hot Ballroom” and the orthographically adept spelling-bee whizzes of “Spellbound,” the eight charming junior golfers profiled in Greenbaum’s film — who hail from China, the Philippines, France, South Africa and the United States — transcend the narrow boundaries of the sport at which they excel.
You don’t even have to know how to play the game. One little girl, Sky Sudberry of Texas, will explain it all for you, in a cute little on-camera tutorial about the meaning of such terms as birdies, bogeys, eagles and the like.
Yes, these kids eat, breathe and sleep golf, but the film is ultimately about learning such life skills as how to lose (or win) with grace, as well as how to overcome disabilities. One young golfer, Filipino Jed Dy, nicknamed the Jedi Master, is a high-functioning autistic. Other players, such as Amari Avery — known as the Tigress, for the birthday she shares with Tiger Woods, as well as for her killer instinct — struggles to control her emotions. But then again, so does her dad.
The film mixes interviews and behind-the-scenes footage with frequent slow motion shots from the competition that make the action surprisingly exciting, even for people who, like me, normally find televised golf boring. It also helps that the film’s subjects are, for the most part, absolute dolls, even if some might stray to just this side of obnoxiousness once or twice. For instance, tennis star Anna Kournikova’s little brother Allan, who dreams of running an elite golf resort some day, sounds a teeny bit cocky at times. But he could probably also beat the pants off of many grown-up golfers, so he’s allowed a little hubris.
Greenbaum doesn’t filter out tantrums or instances of stage parenting, but the film is structured for suspense, not public humiliation, wringing surprising emotion out of the tournament’s ups, downs and upsets.
“The Short Game,” Netflix’s first foray into original documentary programming, won the audience award for Best Documentary Feature at this past spring’s South By Southwest Film Festival. It’s no wonder, given the complex and crowd-pleasing appeal of its pint-sized participants. -- M.O.
PG. Contains some crude language. 99 minutes. Available via Netflix.
ALL THAT I AM
Beyond the deceptively straightforward narrative of Carlos Puga’s drama “All That I Am,” there’s a lot to mull over in the form of complex and unwieldy themes about family dynamics.
The film follows three siblings, focusing most closely on 27-year-old Christian, played by former “Girls” star Christopher Abbott. He has a raging case of middle child syndrome and can’t seem to get his life together since tragedy struck years earlier, when the trio’s mother died of cancer shortly after their father abandoned the family.
Christian dulls his pain with drugs while attempting to make those around him as miserable as he is. This rarely works with the happy-go-lucky youngest sibling, successful children’s book writer Win (Dan Bittner). Their older sister, the put-upon Susan (played by the great Gaby Hoffmann), doesn’t need a nudge toward the darkness. She lives in the family home with her daughter and tries to take up the mantle of family matriarch (including a martyr complex) by convening the clan each year on their mother’s birthday.
It’s just before one such reunion that their father returns with promises of explaining everything. The siblings hadn’t exactly been close-knit prior to this surprise visit, and their stark differences and latent animosity become all the more apparent.
The anger and revelations don’t approach the cataclysmic levels of another upcoming drama about family dysfunction, “August: Osage County.” But even in its relative quietude, “All That I Am” has a peculiar pull on the audience, despite Christian turning into more of a monstrous misanthrope.
In fact, it can be difficult to relate to most of the characters as their flaws deepen and multiply. Regardless of its less-than-likable characters, the movie succeeds at examining the way people can define themselves or explain away shortcomings using family as a scapegoat. -- S.M.
Unrated. Contains strong language, mature themes and drug use. 82 minutes. Available via iTunes and on-demand cable.
LE JOLI MAI and FAR FROM VIETNAM
Chris Marker, who died last year at the age of 91, might be best known to American audiences as the guy who made the film that 1995’s “12 Monkeys” was based on. Far more importantly, Marker was the master of the essay film, that discursive, deeply personal cinematic form that, with the exception of artists like Jem Cohen and Thom Andersen, has almost disappeared from view in recent years.
Two Marker gems are now available on demand, giving a new generation of viewers a chance to marvel at Marker’s deft control of sound and image. In the 1963 film “Le Joli Mai” (“The Lovely Month of May”), Marker and co-director Pierre Lhomme ramble through Paris shortly after the cease-fire that ended France’s war in Algeria, stopping to talk with shopkeepers, stock market employees, homemakers, inventors and north African immigrants to glean their thoughts on everything from the future to immigration to the role that luck plays in their lives. Narrated with earthy sonority by Simone Signoret, “Le Joli Mai” is less a travelogue of a great city than an homage to its unromanticized working class, the “sum of solitudes,” that makes its streets thrum and hum with fresh possibility every morning.
Marker enlisted a group of French New Wave filmmakers to make “Far From Vietnam” (1967), a stunning, vibrantly hued omnibus of short anti-war films by the likes of Agns Varda, Jean-Luc Godard, Alain Resnais and Marker himself. Unabashedly didactic (the film announces that it was “made in solidarity with the Vietnamese people in their struggle against aggression” and features a long, credulous interview with Fidel Castro), “Far From Vietnam” is a formal and visual masterpiece, juxtaposing scenes of raucous political unrest in the United States with the almost bucolic lushness of Vietnam.
Among the transfixing film’s most arresting sequences is a visit with the widow of Norman Morrison, who had recently set himself on fire outside the Pentagon in protest against the war. “Far From Vietnam” is as poetic as it is polemical and, like “Le Joli Mai,” acts as a subtle but deeply moving gauge of social and political history. And, in a piquant case of cinematic serendipity, that’s Tom Paxton we hear and briefly see in “Far From Vietnam,” the real-life version of the fictionalized character in “Inside Llewyn Davis,” opening Friday. -- A.H.
“Le Joli Mai” (unrated, 146 minutes, in French with subtitles) and “Far From Vietnam” (unrated, 117 minutes, in French with subtitles) are available on iTunes and Amazon Instant. “Far From Vietnam” contains disturbing images of wartime violence.