The Eagle Huntress
Director Otto Bell’s documentary plays out like a cool, dramatic adventure film as a young girl aims to be the first eagle hunter in her family. Aisholpan, a 13 year-old Mongolian girl living with her tribe, has always been fascinated with eagles, and wants to become a champion eagle hunter like her father and grandfather (They hunt using eagles to catch game, rather than actually hunting eagles.) The film follows her through initial training, including the capturing of her own baby eagle on a treacherous cliff. This kid isn’t messing around; she really wants this. It’s fascinating watching the eagle acclimate to its new home; you feel a little sorry for it, but its captors feed it well, and it certainly bonds with Aisholpan. It’s an amazing animal, and there’s a lot of joy in simply seeing food going into its mouth. It’s also amazing to see its particular brand of voracious eating going on just inches from the young girl’s face. This kid has a lot of faith in the goodwill of her big bird. Yes, that’s Rey herself, Daisy Ridley, chiming in with the occasional narration. (Her voice was made for this sort of thing.) Parts of the doc feel a little staged, but its overwhelming charm cancels out the phony moments. Aisholpan and her big bird do eventually make it to the eagle festival, with her being the only female participant. It ends with the girl and her eagle going on a winter hunt, and some pretty amazing battles with foxes. I didn’t even know eagle hunting was a thing until I saw this. This is an entertaining nature documentary, and Aisholpan will put a smile on your face.
4 The Eyes of My MotherEver wondered what would happen to your kid if you raised her in the middle of nowhere with no friends and showed her how to perform surgery on decapitated cow heads? Writer-director Nicolas Pesce has and, heck, he’s made a whole damned movie about it. After a really strange guy (Will Brill) visits her farm home and a series of really bad things happen, Francisca (Kika Magalhaes) is left alone with nobody to talk to. Well, actually, she does have a pet, but we won’t go into that right now. Francisca has had very little social interaction over the years, other than with that pet, and she ventures out to see what the outside world is like. As it turns out, it would’ve been much better for a few people if she had chosen to just stay home and watch TV. Shot in black and white and coupled with an effectively eerie score, this is old school horror. Like, early Wes Craven/Tobe Hooper kind of horror. Francisca turns out to be a memorable movie monster in this gothic fairytale, one that will leave you extra cautious about picking up those hitchhikers. Pesce knows what scary is, and he certainly knows how to direct a scary picture. If you don’t like horror films already, I can pretty much guarantee you are going to violently hate this one. It’s nightmare fuel for sure. Pesce has certainly succeeded at what he has set out to do, and that’s to totally freak his audience out. (Available for rent on iTunes, Amazon.com and OnDemand during a limited theatrical release.)
5 LovingWritten and directed by Greg Nichols, this film recounts the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving, a couple whose interracial marriage was ruled illegal by the state of Virginia in 1958, banning them from the state and sending their lives into constant turmoil. Put on probation with the threat of 25 years in prison if they were caught together in Virginia, they were forced to live a good portion of their married life in exile. The movie covers their lives from the time they decide to get married due to Mildred’s pregnancy, through the U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage unconstitutional in 1967. So that’s nine years that two people lived their lives in America as convicted criminals simply for being two consenting adults who married. The law banning interracial marriage was abolished in many other states as a result of the ruling, and the Loving case was used as an argument in last year’s ruling to allow for same sex marriage. Simply put, when it comes to the institution of marriage and what it stands for here in the states, you might not ever find a more historically important couple than Richard and Mildred Loving. Joel Edgerton, who delivered a terrific performance in Midnight Special, also directed by Nichols and released this year, is a sure Oscar contender as Richard. His face is one of constant pain and confusion, as if always saying “Really, you have to be kidding me!” The moments when Richard gets to smile and laugh in the film are like drinking a pitcher of iced water while another is being poured over you on a 110-degree day. Ruth Negga, a relatively unknown actress, is equally wonderful as Mildred, a woman who must sneak the birth of her baby in Virginia under the stress of possible arrest. Like Edgerton, hers is a performance of quiet reserve, made all the more powerful by her expressive face. This is one of 2016’s best films.