The subject matter of this informative and intriguing documentary makes it difficult to watch at times, but also worthwhile. It looks back on an extended period of civil war in Guatemala, specifically focusing on the massacre of villagers by military forces during the 1980s, which led to a massive government cover-up. Many of these details certainly aren’t common knowledge, as director Ryan Suffern coaxes personal details and memories out of both family members still grieving their missing loved ones, and former soldiers who reluctantly participated in the genocide. Although uneven in structure, the powerful result is quietly compassionate while adding some hope amid the heartbreak. (Not rated, 95 minutes).
Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo
While it never really takes off, this documentary makes a worthwhile effort to pay tribute to those behind the scenes of the Apollo space missions and their lasting impact on the American space program. The film offers a straightforward chronicle of life at NASA during the 1960s, through interviews with several flight directors — including Apollo 13 legend Gene Kranz — and other key personnel on the ground. And while rookie director David Fairhead (a veteran editor of space documentaries) makes a persuasive case for their vital roles in the missions, the film’s dry presentation doesn’t provide much new insight nor historical value outside of some compelling anecdotes. (Not rated, 101 minutes).
Abundant brooding and teenage angst rules the day in this woefully predictable Mean Girls ripoff for the social-media age. It takes place at suburban high school, where a nerdy loner (Victoria Justice) is humiliated after a prank by a group of pretty and popular girls, prompting her best friend (Eden Sher) to organize a rebellion of geeks and brainiacs to issue some comeuppance. And she even manages to find a boyfriend (Avan Jogia). This innocuous, mildly amusing wish-fulfillment fantasy comes right off the assembly line of this unfortunate subgenre, destined to bore even the least discriminating teens with its aggressive barrage of clichés and stereotypes. (Rated PG-13, 95 minutes).
A Quiet Passion
This handsomely mounted biopic of famed poet Emily Dickinson embraces the challenge of finding compassion and sympathy in a reclusive and pretentious true-life character. That’s a credit to director Terence Davies (The House of Mirth) and to the performance of Cynthia Nixon as Dickinson, whose immense talent and outspoken views on religion and gender roles made her an American feminist icon, but whose inner demons caused a life of heartache and isolation. The mannered film is deliberately paced but rewards patience as it captures Dickinson’s sardonic wit while chronicling her Deep South upbringing during the Civil War, and melancholy adulthood filled with physical and psychological turmoil. (Rated PG-13, 125 minutes).
Golf aficionados tend to appreciate tradition more than most, yet this biopic of a Scottish father-son duo that helped shape the sport’s early days doesn’t require putting proficiency to be enjoyed. It takes place in the 1860s, when golf was gaining popularity in Britain, and specifically chronicles the volatile relationship between links champion Tom Morris (Peter Mullan) and his talented but headstrong son, Tommy (Jack Lowden). The film’s insights into golf history are modest, and the screenplay is contrived in spots. Yet director Jason Connery (son of Sean) offers an affectionate and convincing period re-creation that supplements the fine performances. So the result scores a birdie. (Rated PG, 112 minutes).