The Hunt (R, 2012, Magnolia)
When six-year-old Klara (Annika Wedderkopp) knocks on Lucas’s (Mads Mikkelsen) door and asks if she can take his dog for a walk as she probably has done numerous times before, it stands to reason that Lucas — a teacher at Klara’s school and her father’s (Thomas Bo Larsen) best friend until a series of innocent communication breakdowns led to her accusing him of extremely indecent behavior toward her — would deny her this time. In a clumsier movie, the mere existence of such a scenario, smack in the middle of the story, would be too preposterous to believe. In the masterfully handled “The Hunt,” it’s simply the gut-turning apex of a broken man gently putting up a wall between himself and a friend who doesn’t understand why his daughter would lie, a town that has its pitchforks sharpened and bared, and a sweet kid who got mad one day, told a fib, and simply doesn’t understand the gravity of that fib and the damage it’s wreaked. That it’s possible not only to not hate Klara, but practically hurt for her as she looks longingly at the dog and walks away is a considerable compliment to “The Hunt,” which takes on an extraordinarily difficult subject and, with extreme grace but without fear, explores a what-if scenario that’s so emotionally loaded as to resemble taboo in the wrong light. Toeing a line that thin and sharp without losing courage is a feat few movies have ever accomplished, and “The Hunt’s” ability to do so without a single flinch makes it one of the year’s best. In Danish with English subtitles.
Extras: Alternate ending, deleted/extended scenes, outtakes, behind-the-scenes feature.
Despicable Me 2 (PG, 2013, Universal)
Former supervillain Gru’s transformation to the light side already was unofficially complete when he became a father of three orphans and an incalculable number of giggling alien-like minions in the first “Despicable Me.” But with his recruitment by the Anti-Villain League to save the world from the clutches of a new evil mastermind, it’s now official — even if that recruitment comes reluctantly, forcefully and with a ton of slapstick applied. With respect to Gru’s conflicted feelings, it’s clear almost immediately, as formidable but undeniably pretty agent Lucy Wilde effectively kidnaps him en route to recruiting him, where “Despicable Me 2” probably is headed. A few minutes later, we have a good idea what the minions’ role in this unfolding calamity will be. “DM2” is, like its predecessor, adherent to formula — so much so that it amusingly acknowledges it at almost the same time it falls into formation. And it can do that, because for the second straight movie, it simply does not matter. On his own, Gru is a terrific character with a bottomless contradictory reserve of sharp wit and childish baggage to carry the movie all by himself. But then there are his kids, who are adorable, brutally honest (in that cute “kids says the darndest things” kind of way) and pretty funny themselves. Then, of course, there are the minions, whose loyalty to Gru runs second only to the relentless temptation to indulge their endless curiosity and react like gibbering, giggling maniacs to pretty much everything that results from that indulgence. In terms of genuinely funny slapstick, the Minions can stand tall next to anybody, real or animated, yet “DM2’s” sharply funny script never feels dependent on that slapstick bailing it out. The two work in perfect, brilliant tandem, and the results are so entertaining that it doesn’t matter if we all know well in advance how the story ends.
Extras: Three new Minion shorts (with a making-of feature), directors commentary, deleted scene, four additional behind-the-scenes features.
Sightseers (NR, 2013, MPI)
Tina’s (Alice Lowe) mother (Eileen Davies) has concerns about her daughter embarking on a caravan holiday with newish boyfriend Chris (Steve Oram), and while we don’t have the full details as to why, her shout of “Murderer!” followed by nothing resembling a denial in return would seem to validate her concerns. That, for folks with any interest in seeing “Sightseers,” is perhaps the best place to get off the spoiler train and go in blind the rest of the way. “Sightseers” doesn’t hold any poignant lessons in store, nor is it a revelation as a character study. It is, simply, a calmly insane dark comedy about a murderer, the girlfriend who may be crazier than he is, a mom whose concern and apathy wage war on the surface of her mind, and what must be one thoroughly baffled little dog. It’s a smartly-written mess, but a mess all the same — the kind of comedy that’s funny not for anything it does, but for the slippery way it lulls you buying into its love story while leaving you to shake your head the whole way. (The ending, without spoiling why, could scarcely be more perfect, either.)
Good ol’ Freda (PG, 2013, Magnolia)
You can’t say you aren’t warned — by the subject herself, in fact, and not merely once. Freda Kelly served as The Beatles’ secretary from the time they were local nobodies until after they broke up, witnessing the formation and rise of one of history’s biggest bands from deep inside the inner circle. Since then, she’s remained as loyal as ever to the band, keeping her story unusually quiet and shunning the temptation to turn her unique role as fan club gatekeeper into a riches and fame. This, regardless of what it looks like, doesn’t change that. “Good ol’ Freda” is made with Kelly’s blessing, she provides the film’s narration and most of its stories, and there’s a hot minute where her daughter understandably wonders aloud why her mom still has to pull 9-to-5 hours doing clerical work while the band she accompanied from beginning to end sits on an empire worth billions. But if Kelly herself wonders the same thing, she never lets on, and if “Freda” ever prodded her for insight, her answer must have been diplomatic enough to not make the film. Kelly doubtlessly has forgotten exponentially more dirt about The Beatles than most outsiders ever uncovered, but the fond recollections she shares with “Freda” — provided primarily as a means of sharing her story with her grandchild than as a grab for attention — are dirt-free and nothing less than completely sweet. Even casual Beatles fans aren’t bound to learn much they didn’t already know, but enjoyed simply as a trip down memory lane with someone who rode shotgun the whole way and loved every minute of it, “Freda” is a light but sweet treat.
Extras: Director/Kelly commentary, screening Q&A, deleted scenes, interview, behind-the-scenes feature, photo gallery.
Touchy Feely (R, 2013, Magnolia)
As alarmingly meek dentist Paul (Josh Pais) stammers about a broken toilet over dinner with his potentially equally fragile daughter Jenny (Ellen Page), “Touchy Feely” enters with a whimper. Some 85 minutes later, following a story about Paul’s practice that runs both parallel and contrary to a story about his sister Abby’s (Rosemarie DeWitt) massage therapy practice, the film exits roughly the same way. In between, “Feely” is a contradiction — a human drama about the literal and figurative human touch, but one whose own touch is so exasperatingly dulled by its own raging timidity that the sheepish beginning marks the peak of a long plateau instead of a step toward something resonant, funny, revelatory or simply lifted by its own pulse. “Feely’s” cast doesn’t sleepwalk through its lines or let down the script by keeping their distance from it. Rather, they simply look stuck inside storylines and characters that give them little breathing room before everything kind of resolves itself as quickly as it unraveled in the first place. Even when technically fulfilled, “Feely” never leaves us feeling the same way — just another completely adequate but fully unremarkable movie that practically begs you to look away while watching and forget you ever saw anything once it’s over.
Extras: Director/DeWitt/Pais commentary, deleted scenes, outtakes, interviews, behind-the-scenes feature.