Capsule reviews for Sept. 15


Although it’s rough around the edges, this gritty and evocative coming-of-age drama shows promise on both sides of the camera. The title character (Devin Blackmon) is a 13-year-old in rural Arkansas still grieving the recent death of his older brother. So he aspires to join a local street gang while being outwardly hostile to his mother’s live-in boyfriend (Dontrell Bright), before a violent incident hits too close to home. Contrivances threaten to derail the screenplay by rookie director Amman Abbasi, although the film offers a raw yet sincere portrait of adolescence — thanks to expressive newcomer Blackmon — with a firm grasp on its characters and setting. (Not rated, 75 minutes).


In Search of Fellini

Cinephiles should appreciate this nostalgic coming-of-age drama that finds its own modest niche while capturing the spirit of the legendary Italian filmmaker. The story follows a wide-eyed young Cleveland woman (Ksenia Solo) still living at home with her overbearing yet terminally ill mother (Maria Bello). She becomes a Fellini devotee almost by accident, which prompts an impromptu trip to Italy to meet him in his final days. Of course, the resulting adventure becomes more about finding herself, as she navigates an odyssey of strange happenings that recall some Fellini favorites. After a too-cutesy start, the charming film sidesteps cliches and evocatively captures its exotic locales. (Rated R, 93 minutes).


Rat Film

Perhaps the world wasn’t clamoring for a documentary about the history of rat control in Baltimore, but this offbeat cinematic essay from rookie director Theo Anthony is hardly a pest. It uses the titular rodent — and checkered efforts at eradication — to launch a lighthearted exploration of the city’s legacy of urban decay and socioeconomic disparity among its human residents. The scattershot approach makes for an uneven result, although the interviews (with exterminators and others) and archival footage are generally fun and informative. While acknowledging the absurdity in his concept, Anthony channels Werner Herzog by making some compelling big-picture arguments within an amusing if slightly unsettling package. (Not rated, 82 minutes).


The Show

There’s plenty of emotion but precious little sense packed into this acerbic media satire that winds up more heavy-handed than provocative. It follows a jaded reality TV host (Josh Duhamel) whose latest project is a desperate ratings grab by his producer (Famke Janssen), depicting actual suicides for shock value and ostensibly to raise money for victims’ families. As expected, the resulting moral outrage from viewers only feeds its popularity. While effectively expressing some obvious cynicism about hypocrisy in contemporary television, the film can’t grasp the tonal dexterity necessary with such hot-button material, and instead drowns in sanctimony. The cast includes Giancarlo Esposito, who also directed. (Rated R, 104 minutes).


Vengeance: A Love Story

By now, Nicolas Cage can practically sleepwalk through these types of generic vigilante roles. In his latest low-budget revenge thriller, Cage plays a Gulf War veteran and Niagara Falls detective trying to fight the system and clean up the city. He becomes enamored with a single mother (Anna Hutchison) who is brutally raped one night in view of her young daughter (Talitha Bateman). Although the case seems open-and-shut, the resulting investigation encounters interference from a hotshot defense attorney (Don Johnson). Some effectively gritty action sequences, Cage’s tough-guy posturing, and a dorky title can’t elevate an otherwise mundane screenplay adapted from a Joyce Carol Oates novel. (Rated R, 98 minutes).


The Wilde Wedding

An esteemed ensemble cast is squandered in this lackluster romantic comedy about a dysfunctional family of stuffy artistic types that gathers for a wedding on Long Island. Specifically, Eve (Glenn Close) is an actress preparing for her fifth nuptials, this time to a British author (Patrick Stewart). The weekend guests include Eve’s pompous ex-husband (John Malkovich) and various extended family members eager to engage in drunken hookups, resolve past grudges, reveal secrets, and more. The principal actors — along with Stewart’s wig — try to elevate the contrived screenplay by director Damian Harris (Deceived), which features endless bickering between unsympathetic characters within a forced sitcom scenario. (Rated R, 95 minutes).