Join us weekly as Rotten Tomatoes reports on what’s indie features are streaming. From promising releases by new voices to experimental efforts from storied filmmakers – or perhaps the next indie darling to go the distance for end-of-year accolades – we will break it all down for you here each week.
This week for our Indie Fresh List, we have a gripping crime thriller and a pair of sequels; the first is a semiautobiographical tale from writer-director Johanna Hogg, and the second is a prequel follow-up to Zach Snyder’s Army of the Dead. In our Spotlight section, we have a drama examing the human cost and aftermath of a school shooting, about which we chatted with one of the stars, Emmy-winning actress Ann Dowd (The Handmaid Tale).
Writer-director Evan Jackson Leong’s narrative debut follows a female immigrant as she rises through the ranks of a New York crime family while keeping her true motives for sneaking into America a secret. In his first feature since Linsanity, a documentary about NBA star Justin Lin, “Leong adroitly captures both the vulnerability and the menace of a woman who finally takes control of her life after decades of victimization,” writes Justin Lowe of The Hollywood Reporter.
Playing select theaters.
The Souvenir Part II (2021)
Writer-director Johanna Hogg follows up her indie darling The Souvenir with its subsequent planned sequel, The Souvenir Part II. The continuation of this semiautobiographical tale about a young film student’s romance with a charismatic heroin addict once again stars Honor Swinton Byrne as a younger version of Hogg. In Part II we follow “Julie” as she tries to transform the experiences of the first movie into a feature film. The movie-making tale again co-stars Richard Ayoade and Tilda Swinton, with Swinton reprising her role as the on-screen mother to her real-life daughter, and a trio of on-the-rise indie film stars in Harris Dickinson, Charlie Heaton, and Joe Alwyn. Katie Hogan of Filmhounds Magazine writes, “The Souvenir: Part II is a wonder to behold.”
Playing select theaters.
Army of Thieves (2021)
This week, Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead franchise is back on Netflix with a prequel to the zombie heist from earlier this year. Shortly after that first installment debuted to positive reviews and a relatively impressive box office haul, Snyder announced he would continue with various film and television projects, including a prequel. Army of Thieves centers on a group of would-be robbers as they team up to pull off a series of capers stealing from a sinister underworld boss. Matthias Schweighöfer is behind the camera and pulling double duty as lead actor, working off a script penned by Army of the Dead co-writer Shay Hatten. Randy Myers of the San Jose Mercury News wrote, “If you happen to love the Ocean’s films, you’ll want to cozy up with this pleasing diversion that is directed with a breezy touch by the talented Schweighöfer.”
Streaming now on Netflix.
The aftermath of a school shooting takes center stage in Mass. From actor-turned-writer-director Fran Kranz in his feature directorial debut, the film centers on a meeting between four people on opposite sides of the tragedy dealing with similar emotions. As the parents of the shooter and the parents of one of the victims sit down for an extended conversation, the impressive quartet of theater veterans keeps the audience enthralled with their heartwrenching performances. As Amie Simon of Three Imaginary Girls writes, “If there was ever a film that deserved award nominations for everyone, THIS is it.” We recently chatted about the film with one of the four leads, Ann Dowd, who also offered a few hints about what to expect from her Emmy-winning performance as Aunt Lydia on The Handmaid’s Tale next season.
Jacqueline Coley for Rotten Tomatoes: This script is incredible, particularly for a debut. How did you come to the part and what were your first conversations with Fran Kranz about it?
Ann Dowd: The script was sent to me. After reading, two thoughts simultaneously: How could anyone ever turn this down, and can we stay in this level of grief for the time needed to tell the story with the respect it deserves? I did not have a conversation with Fran until we all met for the two-and-a-half-day rehearsal.
RT: How did you approach the portrayal of a woman grieving for a person who some may cast as the ultimate villain?
Dowd: As the mother of this boy, I did not think of him as a villain. She grieves on so many levels: the loss of her son, the lives he took, the number of families whose lives will never be the same, the fact that her son was so deeply in despair that he committed these horrific acts, and then took his own life. As his mother, however did I miss that? And also struggling with this truth: The world may have been better off without him, but I would not have been.
RT: You did not have a ton of rehearsal like most plays do. Do you think it was because you and your castmates had such extensive theater experience you could tackle this herculean effort so quickly?
Dowd: I think the fact that we did not have much rehearsal brought a particular flow to the experience. Because in those two and a half days of rehearsal, we were able to not only achieve clarity with the story and the text but also to establish a very strong trust among us. That was essential. We were all aware of where we needed to go, of what we needed to do, the responsibility involved. There was no question about what we signed up for, only commitment. And yes, our shared experience in the theater was certainly helpful and significant.
RT: Have you met anyone who has lived through or is close to someone who is has lived through a similar situation to the events of the film?
Dowd: Fran and I had the privilege of meeting a mother who lost her daughter at Sandy Hook. She had found her way through to forgiveness. She was extraordinary. Fran and I just wept in her presence.
RT: Lastly, any hints on where we will find Aunt Lydia next season?
Dowd: I wish I knew where Aunt Lydia was going! Actually, I finally learned to just put my trust in the writers’ timeline for her. They know what they are doing! We begin shooting at the end of January. I imagine I’ll have some idea in December.
Mass expanded to additional theaters on Friday.
Thumbnail image by Netflix
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