The Post’s critics highlight original movies that are being streamed and made available on demand. Here are this week’s picks.
Following a recent trend that includes Robert Redford in “All Is Lost” and Tom Hardy in “Locke,” Thomas Haden Church delivers a virtually singlehanded performance in “Whitewash,” a sporadically funny drama in which he plays a man plunged into a desperate fight for survival.
This coldly atmospheric film opens with the startling image of a man being run over by a ridiculously tiny snowplow, which turns out to be operated by an inebriated driver named Bruce Landry (Church). After sloppily burying the body, Landry embarks on a drunken escape through the woods, ending up unconscious and hopelessly lost amid a literal and moral thicket, mostly of his own devising.
Through a series of flashbacks, Landry’s circumstances come into clearer focus, especially as details emerge about his relationship with a mysterious man named Paul (Marc Labreche).
“Whitewash,” written and directed by Canadian filmmaker Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais, isn’t strictly a one-man show; Landry has a number of fleeting encounters, both recollected and otherwise, throughout the film. But it’s very much Church’s movie, as Landry’s fragile mental state deteriorates throughout the long Quebec winter, and as the broken-down snowplow assumes its own personality as refuge, confessor and accomplice. Best known for his hilariously deadpan supporting roles in “Sideways” and, most recently, “Heaven Is for Real,” Church makes a respectable bid for leading-man status, handling the bleakness of Landry’s situation as adroitly as its curdled comedy.
“Whitewash” is perfect for anyone longing to hang on to this year’s impossibly long, dark winter. Best to grab a sweater and a hot toddy to enjoy this particular brand of bone-chilling and rough justice. -- A.H.
What first drew my attention to the documentary “Hanna Ranch” was the phrase “produced by Eric Schlosser.” Schlosser’s pedigree — as author of “Fast Food Nation” and commentator in the excellent 2009 doc “Food, Inc.” — suggested that I might enjoy this look at a Colorado cattle ranch known for its progressive environmental operations. (Full disclosure: I have a weakness for such food-and-agriculture-in-crisis docs as “Fed Up,” “King Corn,” “More Than Honey,” “A Place at the Table” and “Super Size Me.”)
But I had no idea that another name featured in the film would keep me so utterly spellbound.
Kirk Hanna, the late proprietor of the ranch that bears his family’s name, was a charismatic commodities broker who became known, in the late 1980s and 1990s, as an “eco-rancher” for his almost evangelical promotion of something called Holistic Resource Management (HRM). The philosophy of sustainable land use tries to balance everything: rain, runoff, bugs, wildlife, sunshine, pasture, manure, people, you name it. As the theory espoused by Hanna goes, raising cattle isn’t bad for the environment, despite what some say. Stop cows from grazing, the thinking goes, and the prairie will ultimately turn into a desert.
Cattle, in other words, are simply doing the job that buffalo once did. We need them, but we also need to think about the future.
Much of the first half of the film deals with Hanna’s championing of the HRM way of life, which for him was more than a dry theory. This made Hanna, who died in 1998, something of a weirdo, both to more traditional ranchers, who didn’t cotton to new-fangled ideas, as well as to ecological activists, who would not expect a cowboy who looked like Tom Selleck to be on their side.
It’s a fascinating tale, told with interviews with Hanna’s family and associates, and illustrated with archival footage and beautiful new cinematography of the prairie.
But at some point “Hanna Ranch” becomes a film about something both larger and smaller than a ranch. I don’t want to spoil the way the film builds drama — yes, drama — but Hanna’s personal story, which involves family squabbles, battles against urban sprawl and his own sense of purpose in the world, eventually takes over from the professional one, creating a narrative with a moral that is not just important, from an ecological standpoint, but also deeply, unexpectedly moving, on a human level.
My advice: Don’t Google anything about this guy. Just watch the movie and let it carry you away. -- M.O.
Unrated. Contains brief obscenity. 73 minutes. Available via Amazon Instant, iTunes, Google Play, the Sony Entertainment Network, Xbox and on-demand cable.
It isn’t uncommon for a teenager to fantasize about ditching school, running away from home and enjoying the freedom of living on her own. But few actually do it, because if answering to mom and dad is trying, supporting oneself is harder.
Laura Dekker is the exception. The Dutch teen started dreaming about becoming the youngest person to sail solo around the world when she was a small child. By 14, the Dutch authorities stepped in to stall her plan, saying any parents who would let their offspring do such a thing shouldn’t be in charge. But the case was dropped, and by 15 Laura was setting sail for the Canary Islands, the first of many stops on her global journey. The documentary “Maidentrip” charts her two-year trip.
The movie is an exceptional coming-of-age story. Jillian Schlesinger is credited with directing the movie, but since Laura would sometimes go weeks alone on open water, she did most of the actual filming. She’s a typical teen in many ways, with her friendship bracelets and hair dye experimentation. When a journalist interviews her, she becomes moody and taciturn, and she berates her mom and sister, who visit her during one of her stints on land. She’s sassy with a slightly mean edge, as only a teenage girl can be.
She talks about being a loner, having no lasting friendships with kids at school; her boat, Guppy, is her closest confidant. And so one of the most rewarding parts of the film is watching her bond with new friends when she reaches port in various seaside cities. She could have traveled the globe more quickly, but she opts for two years in order to spend time in various places and meet people.
The setting is beautiful, of course, with dolphins swimming alongside the boat and stunning sunsets. Yet it’s also brutal. Director Schlesinger keeps things light with cute touches, including an illustrated map that shows Laura’s journey.
At first, a viewer might wonder whether the officials in the Netherlands had a point: What parents would let their kid do such a thing? But Laura turns out to be a force of nature, not to mention an inspiration for people three times her age. -- S.M.
Unrated. Contains strong language. In English and Dutch with subtitles. 82 minutes. Available on Vudu, Amazon Instant and iTunes.
RECENTLY REVIEWED: 'Walk of Shame,' 'Double Play,' 'Gahan Wilson'