(R; 119 minutes; Electric City): Deep in the forests of the Pacific Northwest isolated from society, a devoted father (Viggo Mortensen) raises his six young children in an unconventional, but extraordinary way. When their mother dies, they are forced to leave their self-created paradise and enter the outside world.
Ben (Mortensen) is the principled, adamantly independent nonconformist who is the film’s title character. Written and directed by Matt Ross – familiar to most viewers as an actor in such TV shows as “Silicon Valley” and “American Horror Story” – “Captain Fantastic” vividly captures Ben’s overpowering influence on his children, who can’t help but come under his implacably demanding spell.
It goes without saying that, for all his efforts to instill self-reliance and fearlessness into his kids, Ben can be a sanctimonious pain and – more dangerously – prone to overlook the risk his survivalist lessons entail. That dualism lies at the heart of “Captain Fantastic,” wherein two sons begin to chafe against their father’s didacticism, and a family crisis sends the whole clan on an antic bus trip to New Mexico. It’s during that journey — punctuated by visits to Ben’s sister and brother-in-law (Kathryn Hahn and Steve Zahn) and a stay with his wife’s parents (Frank Langella and Ann Dowd) — that Ben and the children realize just how alienated they’ve become.
Working with a terrific ensemble of attractive young actors, Ross delivers a nuanced, lived-in, frequently very amusing contribution to an oeuvre that, at a time of discontent with the political and economic status quo, feels perfect both in its timing and its affectionately skeptical tone. “Captain Fantastic” leaves viewers with the cheering, deeply affecting image of a dad whose superpowers lie in simply doing the best that he can.
Contains language and brief graphic nudity. The Washington Post
(Not rated; 104 minutes; Envision Media Arts): Watching Bruce Beresford’s “Mr. Church,” in which Eddie Murphy does a rare dramatic turn as a longtime cook for a Caucasian woman, it’s hard not to be reminded of Beresford’s “Driving Miss Daisy” – and that’s not necessarily a good thing.
Inspired by “a true friendship,” the film begins in circa 1971 Los Angeles, where 10-year-old Charlotte “Charlie” Brooks (Natalie Coughlin, later Britt Robertson) awakens one morning to find Murphy’s Henry Joseph Church whipping up a jazz-accompanied culinary storm. When she tells her mom, Marie (Natascha McElhone) that “there’s a black man in the kitchen cooking eggs,” she learns he was hired by Marie’s late former lover, but what Charlie doesn’t know is that her cancer-stricken mom has been given only six months to live.
Turns out the intensely private Mr. Church’s initial tenure goes well beyond the half-year mark, as he serves as a nurturing father figure for Charlie well into adulthood. What starts off with quirky promise soon falls into a maudlin, blandly predictable rut with a heavy reliance on voice-overs, but those aren’t the film’s biggest issues. There’s a significant cultural difference between the Deep South of “Driving Miss Daisy” and ’70s and ’80s L.A., yet “Mr. Church” feels as if it’s been painted with the same, uneasily patronizing brush.
Somehow Murphy manages to lift his dignified, all-knowing servant character off the page, giving a meticulously composed performance in a vehicle that can’t help but feel superficially repackaged. Los Angeles Times
(PG-13; 81 minutes; Rat-Pac Dune): David F. Sandberg’s excellent horror flick “Lights Out” is a film about common fears and universal phobias; about things that go bump in the night, and exist only in the dark. Built on a clever premise, the film is executed seamlessly. It’s the best expression of a low-budget horror flick: resourceful and smart, where the most charismatic character is the ghoul itself. At a lightning quick 81 minutes, Sandberg creates a thoughtful and very scary world in “Lights Out,” a spooky tale about what happens when the demons in your head come out to play.
Teresa Palmer is Rebecca, a gorgeous, if quick-tempered, goth chick with commitment issues. The one person to whom she is devoted is her baby brother, Martin (Gabriel Bateman), who has been left to contend with their mercurial mother, Sophie (Maria Bello) in the wake of his father’s (Billy Burke) violent death. This spare film cuts right to the chase to maximize prime scares: mom’s got a ghostly friend, Diana, from her days as a teen mental patient, and Diana is a very jealous, very possessive presence. Meddlers in the relationship are dealt with in painful, terrifying ways.
The hook here is that Diana, who during her short and troubled life suffered from a rare condition that made her hyper-sensitive to light, only appears in the dark. Using light as their weapon and protection, Rebecca and Martin try to fight the demon that terrorizes their mother and threatens their lives. Ultimately, the ghoul is inextricably linked to their mother, and the stranglehold it has on her consciousness is unrelenting.
Contains terror throughout, violence including disturbing images, some thematic material and brief drug content. Tribune News Service
Also out Oct. 25