Premiering at the 2013 Seattle International Film Festival, “Teddy Bears” enjoyed a festival tour before Tribeca Film picked it up for distribution, changing the title to “The Big Ask” in the process. The fickle desert of Joshua Tree serves as the ideal backdrop to the (somewhat) true story of a man (David Krumholtz) who surprises his friends during their vacation with his nervous breakdown in the form of an indecent proposal. I reviewed the film when it played at SIFF and it was one of my top picks from the festival that year. I was pleased to hear that “The Big Ask” would reach a larger audience thanks to its V.O.D. release on June 30th. I recently caught up with co-directors/married couple, Thomas Beatty and Rebecca Fishman, at their home in Los Angeles where they were still adjusting to having a new human baby on top of promoting what they consider their first-born, a feature film.

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As you may or may not know, the Seattle International Film Festival is the largest film festival in the world. This year, they screened 435 features and short films from around the globe. As you can imagine, it’s impossible to see everything, so I try my best to curate my personal program wisely. Unfortunately, even an awful film can have a great idea at its core so I am sometimes duped by a promising synopsis. Thankfully, my dance card contained way more great films than stinkers this time around. Here are the best and worst of the 20 or so films I squeezed into the festival’s month-long run:


“The Babadook” – This Australian export, akin to “Rosemary’s Baby”, is one of the best horror films I’ve seen in years. It tells the story of a widowed mother who questions her own sanity when her behaviorally impaired son becomes obsessed with a morbid children’s book that mysteriously appears on his book shelf. Supernatural though it may be, “The Babadook” also hauntingly examines grief in the face of senseless tragedy. Try not to watch it right before bed.


“Happy Christmas” – Joe Swanberg is one of the founders of Mumblecore, and with every new film, he makes a better case for genre MVP. If you liked “Drinking Buddies”, you will certainly love “Happy Christmas”, which stars versatile minx Anna Kendrick as a hot mess who gifts her brother and his burgeoning family with her post-breakup meltdown during the Christmas holiday. Swanberg also stars alongside his real life baby and the long-underutilized Melanie Lynskey (“Heavenly Creatures”, “Foreign Correspondents”) as a writer who has put her career on the back burner in order to stay at home with their son.


“In Order of Disappearance” – Comparisons to “Fargo” extend beyond the prevalence of snow, in this Norwegian film from director Hans Petter Moland. Star Stellan Skarsgaard channels Liam Neeson in this humor-speckled revenge drama in which an unassuming snowplow driver systematically hunts down the men responsible for murdering his son.


“Mood Indigo” – However you stand on the work of French director Michel Gondry (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”), you have to admit that he is always innovating. His latest film is his most experimental yet. It’s “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse”-meets-“Synechdoche, NY” aesthetic left the entire theater in a surreal daze, as if they had sprinkled shroom dust on the popcorn. It’s not his masterpiece, but it is required viewing for anyone who is remotely interested in experimental cinema.

“Night Moves” – Kelly Reichardt is a true cinematic auteur and her latest film induces a lingering performance from Jesse Eisenberg as one third of a trio of eco-terrorists (alongside Dakota Fanning and Peter Skarsgaard) who are blindsided when they fail to consider the full implications of their actions.


“Skeleton Twins” – Bill Hader and Kristin Wiig are unbelievably brilliant in this black comedy about estranged twins who begrudgingly reunite following simultaneous suicide attempts. It’s entirely possible that this movie would be completely devoid of humor (and sympathetic characters) without the two leads. But because it’s Hader and Wiig (quite possibly the most natural comedic actors on the planet.), you love them and want them to be happy despite their self-destructive idiocy.


“Obvious Child” – I saw this at another festival but I really can’t say enough nice things about Jenny Slate’s killer multi-layered performance in the funniest romantic dramedy about abortion in recent memory.



“Alex of Venice” – I hate to put Chris Messina’s directorial debut in this category, because it’s a masterwork in comparison to my other two Worst of Fest choices, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s not a very good film. Messina attempts Cassavetes vérité, but the hackneyed dialog betrays him. Performances by Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Don Johnson (going for a late-career dramatic turn a la Tony Danza) are as good as they can be under the circumstances.


“Another” – A large part of me just wants to forget I ever saw this movie. And in time, I’m sure I will. But I am compelled to put out one more warning to stay the hell away from this amateurish, nonsensical, misogynistic pile of poop. It’s not so bad it’s good. It’s just SO BAD.

“Zombeavers”– The title is absolutely the best thing about this failed attempt at b-movie camp. If you like relentless entendres about hairy vaginas, you still won’t like this movie.




“An Afternoon with Laura Dern” – I thoroughly enjoyed this professionally moderated Q&A with one of my favorite actresses following her receipt of SIFF’s Outstanding Achievement in Acting Award. In addition to her immense talent, Dern is lighthearted, humble and as savvy about film as she is enthusiastic. A screening of David Lynch’s “Wild at Heart” followed the Q&A, featuring one of Dern’s most memorable roles as the sweetly rebellious and philosophical Lula Fortune.


“To Be Takei” – From sci-fi cult hero to nerd national treasure, George Takei has reinvented himself numerous times throughout his career. Jennifer Kroot paints a respectful portrait of a relentlessly optimistic and talented man who has used his charm to advance the LGBT equality movement.

“Venus in Fur” – Roman Polanski’s latest is a compelling, if on the nose, portrait of a self-obsessed director and playwright who doesn’t realize he’s met his match in a seemingly naïve actress auditioning for the lead role in his adaptation of the Leopold von Sacher-Masoch novel. Hyper meta though it is, (it’s a play within a play about a novel within a novel), the story still manages to be fairly straightforward and accessibly clever.


“Willow Creek” – Accurately described by many (including writer/director Bobcat Goldthwaite) as “The Blair Sasquatch Project”, this found footage horror film surpasses its predecessor with compelling characters and story structure, but falters at the very end.



Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood”, swept the Golden Space Needle awards, earning accolades for best director, best actress (Patricia Arquette) and best damn film period. Alan Hicks took home Best Documentary with “Keep on Keepin’ on”; an account of jazz legend Clark Terry’s mentoring of blind piano prodigy Justin Kaulflin. Cody Blue Snider’s “Fool’s Day” took home the award for Best Short.

SIFF is a film festival marathon. It’s exhausting and occasionally painful, but ultimately very rewarding. Thank you to SIFF for another great fest. Time to catch up on my DVR and then start training for next year!

Originally published on (now defunct).


Rated R
97 minutes


Megan Griffiths’ most commercial film to date, the acclaimed director departs from the weightiness of her previous work (“Eden,” “The Off Hours”) with “Lucky Them”. Part indie darling, part wacky road trip movie, it’s not nearly as authentic as her earlier films. But it’s at least engaging enough to keep you watching, if only to learn the resolution of the story’s core mystery.

Toni Collette effortlessly slips into the role of Ellie Klug, a mid-forties rock journalist who is experiencing a rut in all aspects of her life. Ellie is short on necessary cash for her potentially career-saving investigation into a 10-year-old cold case: the disappearance of Matthew Smith, an iconic Seattle musician and Kurt Cobain/Elliott Smith hybrid. The story carries extra weight for Ellie because she was in a serious relationship with Smith at the time of his disappearance and she has been unable to fully process the loss.

The film’s other prominent character is Charlie (Thomas Hayden Church), a former boyfriend and eccentric wealthy layabout who attaches himself to Ellie after a chance reunion. Charlie agrees to fund her mission provided she allows him to turn it into a documentary.

Meanwhile, Ellie feebly resists a relationship with a cute, younger street musician on the brink of stardom (Ryan Eggold). It’s his singer-songwriter aesthetic that also makes up the film’s largely ignorable soundtrack.

The story is reportedly semi-autobiographical for co-writer Emily Wachtel. Though, with several implausible plot points, perhaps it’s not autobiographical enough. For starters, do people like Ellie really still exist? She writes for what must be the last independent print music rag in the country. Her editor (Oliver Platt) is so convinced of the story’s revitalizing properties that he threatens to fire her if she refuses to take the assignment. The failing magazine is responsible for Ellie’s sole income, yet she somehow makes enough money to live alone in an apartment in the middle of one of the most expensive cities in the country and seems to enjoy a vibrant night life.

Though Collette and Hayden Church manage to imbue their characters with their natural charisma, on paper, they are tropes. Ellie is the self-destructive control freak that is afraid to open up. Charlie, with his freewheeling attitude and emotional candor, acts as Ellie’s foil. Initially, he is the wisecracking sidekick who eventually reveals a deep soul, thereby teaching Ellie to feel ways about things. It’s a relatively entertaining story, but the character development errs on the side of heavy-handed.

If you can get past these shortcomings, you will likely enjoy the rest of the film. Griffiths is a talented director with a distinctive knack for finding locations with character. She does a terrific job of capturing the true Seattle scenester vibe, avoiding shots of the Space Needle and fish throwing.

The bottom line is that based on her resume, I expected more from Griffiths. I hope that in the future she sticks with the more vérité tone of “The Off Hours” and steers clear of this Cameron Crowe, Hallmark hipster territory.

Originally published on


83 minutes


Ryan Worsley’s debut documentary lovingly profiles a now defunct Seattle bar and night club called “The Funhouse.” But her film is more than just a scrapbook. It also explores how much a place like that means to the community that embraces it and critiques the morality of gentrification which often means the death of DIY institutions.

As “Razing the Bar” illustrates, the Funhouse was more than just the divey rock and roll bar that dared to stare down Paul Allen’s Experience Music Project in tourist-laden Seattle Center. To the uninitiated, it was “the scary clown bar,” but to a group of entertainment misfits, it was a hangout, a home and an incubator. You didn’t have to be fully formed to play there, and for many young bands, it was the “first show that mattered” thanks to receptive audiences and a talented and fair booker who always made sure his acts ended the night with dollars in their pocket and a place to crash.

That booker, Brian Foss, is also the protagonist of the story. To many, the Funhouse was Foss. Worsley makes this clear through interviews with Funhouse alumni, peppering their anecdotes with photo collages, old show footage and scores it with the music of the bands who played there. One former patron calls it the Punk Rock Cheers, which perfectly sums up how much it meant to so many people.

The story of the Funhouse extends beyond the local scene. Every great city needs a place like the Funhouse, an indispensable part of the underground entertainment scene. Regardless, the building was sold in 2012 and razed to make way for luxury apartments, an all-too-common story in many burgeoning cities. Seattle is one of the fastest growing cities in America, so it makes sense that these new transplants would need somewhere to live. But the tragedy is that it is at the expense of the spirit of the city, which makes it a unique and desirable place to live in the first place.

As one interviewee points out, many of the musicians celebrated in the EMP would have relied on a place like the Funhouse to showcase their early work. Little by little, we lose the small venues where the next Kurt Cobain could play. Many credit the Funhouse to the current Cabaret and Vaudeville revival.

The Funhouse wasn’t just a springboard for acts. One of Foss’ apprentices started there at a very rough time in her life. Today, she holds a prominent position at Austin City Limits, one she never would have been considered for as a drug-addled runaway.

Despite the inevitable destruction, “Razing the Bar” does have a happy ending. The communities that formed at the Funhouse are still as active and close-knit as ever. Foss also continues to book shows for two like-minded clubs around town. He’ll carry the torch as long as he can. The Funhouse may be gone, but the spirit lives on in all those who touched its sticky floors.

Originally published on (now defunct).


103 minutes


The core emotion of every time manipulation story is regret. Knowing and having influence over your future is one of humanity’s greatest unattainable desires which is why time travel movies are generally so compelling. The machine in “Time Lapse” does not allow for travel, but it does provide foresight, taking a photo once per day that depicts a moment 24 hours in the future. Bradley King’s low-budget debut uses a simple set-up and a claustrophobic setting to debate the existence of fate and explore what desperate people would do with this power.

Finn, Jasper and Callie are financially struggling young people who manage a cluster of ground floor apartments. When the owner of the complex asks them to check in on their unusually rent-tardy elderly neighbor (John Rhys-Davies in a voice and photo cameo), they are alarmed to discover a wall full of Polaroids taken through their living room window. Most of them are of past events, but some of them are of things that clearly haven’t happened yet. From his journal, they learn that the machine predicted what the scientist interpreted as his own death, and, in his last entry, he resolved to prevent it. So when they find his burnt-to-a-crisp body in a storage unit, they take it as a sign that they must not deviate from the events in the photos, lest they meet the same fate.

At first, the photos depict life improvements: Future Jasper sends himself dog track results and future Finn, suffering from painter’s block, is able to plagiarize his own work thanks to an easel conveniently set up in front of the prophetic window. But when the images in the photo take a dark turn, the trio believe they are slaves to fate, and their bond is inevitably torn apart by suspicion, jealousy and greed.

While “Time Lapse” is by no means perfect, King and screenwriter B.D. Cooper manage to make an absorbing movie about time manipulation without special effects, a la “Primer” and “Safety Not Guaranteed”. It’s a tad ostentatious at times. Some of the acting falters and I’m not sure the time logic completely scans. But despite the film’s shortcomings, you want to stick around to see it all play out. Besides, I don’t know about you but speaking as someone with a Flux Capacitor tattoo, I am ordained to watch every movie about time travel. It’s inevitable.

Originally published on  (now defunct).


90 minutes


We all have our baggage. But that doesn’t mean we have to let it weigh us down. Just ask George Takei. He came to fame via his role as Sulu in the Star Trek franchise but has since reinvented himself several times over, first as an aspiring politician and most recently a gay rights activist and playwright. His activism stems well beyond equality for sexual orientation. He’s also a spokesperson for universal love and acceptance and seeing the humor in everything. He has spread his relentless optimism to over 7 million Facebook followers, not to mention comic con attendees the world over. Jennifer M. Kroot’s documentary profiles the life and achievements of this undeniably charming man and explores just why it’s so awesome “To Be Takei.”

What’s George got to be so happy about? Well, for starters, he’s alive and well. Having spent part of his childhood imprisoned in American internment camps for U.S. citizens of Japanese descent (thanks to a shameful decision by Roosevelt following the bombing of Pearl Harbor) he appreciates the little things. He’s got a loving, supportive husband and partner of 25 years named Brad, who also keeps the show running behind the scenes, handling the dirty work so that Takei can remain upbeat and affable.

Surprisingly, not everyone loves George. Of course, there are all the anti-gay politicians who look terribly foolish whenever they attempt to engage him in an equality debate. More puzzling is the animosity from his former colleague, William Shatner. Shatner waffles between denying a personal relationship with Takei (despite having worked on 6 movies and 3 seasons of television) and acting hurt because he (erroneously) believes he was left off the invite list for George and Brad’s wedding. Another thing Shatner is weirdly sore about: Sulu’s character getting a promotion to Captain in “Star Trek VI.”

Because of his positive attitude, Takei has very few regrets in life, though one of them is listening to his agent early in his career and taking stereotypical Asian roles to “further his career.” He also regrets having blamed his father for extending their stay in the camps by refusing to sign an entrapping “Loyalty Letter” to the U.S.

Though Takei never had the chance to apologize to his father before he died, he was able to exorcise his regret through an original musical about the internment camps called “Allegiance.” He sang to his father every night on stage during its successful run in San Diego and later on Broadway.

Despite a slightly meandering structure, “To Be Takei” is a highly entertaining and moving portrait. Like Takei himself, it doesn’t dwell in the negative. It covers all the trying times in his life. But just when your eyes start to sting, the levity returns. Takei’s philosophy is simple. “It takes an optimistic attitude to get over something like internment and be able to achieve things… you determine your own destiny.” Mission accomplished, Captain.

Originally published on (now defunct).



85 minutes


Did you guys know that the word “beaver” doesn’t just refer to the forest animal? It can also be a euphemism for female genitalia! It’s true. And Jordan Rubin’s first feature film won’t let you forget it. If you love single entendres, boobs and gore and don’t consider characters or plot important, you are going to love “Zombeavers.”

Just to be clear, as a long-time fan of Troma movies and schlocky horror in general, I am the target audience for this movie. But it fails to live up to its premise, which could have been successfully executed one of two ways: Either the movie is fun because it’s completely earnest, or it works because it’s self-aware enough to be clever. “Zombeavers” is neither clever nor earnest. Rubin wears his influences on his sleeve (“Evil Dead,” “Critters,” “Sharknado”) but it seems like the only thing he took away from those movies were boobs and gore. Those are some of the ingredients that make it work. But he left out the cerebral baking powder. The humor is fratty and juvenile at best, and creepy uncle inappropriate at worst. The beaver jokes vacillate from lame to rapey. In light of recent events, it’s hard to find any humor in that.

But it’s not just the beaver/vagina jokes that fall flat. It’s nearly every joke, save one or two about beaver behavior that weren’t enough to save the movie. The best thing about “Zombeavers,” besides the title, is the hilariously grotesque beaver puppets and the practical effects carnage they inflict. But we spend too much time with the archetypical human characters. You don’t always have to relate to the characters in a horror movie, but they should be endearing in some way. Otherwise, it just feels like torture waiting for them to die.

I suppose the absolute perfection that is Joss Whedon’s “Cabin in the Woods” may have ruined all future cabin-set horror films. But “Zombeavers” didn’t stand a chance. Rubin seems to have assumed that his concept would float the movie so he slacked on the follow-through. He decided he could just fill in the blanks like some kind of b-movie Mad Libs. And you know what? There is a market for that paint-by-numbers crap too. But I expected more from a film festival selection.

Originally published on (now defunct).


80 minutes


I have a huge amount of respect for Bobcat Goldthwait as a filmmaker. With films like “Sleeping Dogs Lie” and “World’s Greatest Dad,” he has always been able to find both the humor and horror in real life. That’s why I was slightly disappointed by his first attempt at making a true horror film. “Willow Creek” is basically “The Blair Sasquatch Project,” but unlike the film it borrows from liberally, the ending falls flat.

Putting a practical spin on the found footage genre, Goldthwait frames “Willow Creek” as a documentary shoot gone wrong. Jim (Bryce Johnson) is the instigator, fulfilling a childhood dream to one-up the famously blurry Patterson-Gimlin film with cold, hard photographic evidence of the existence of Sasquatch, aka Bigfoot. Though Jim calls himself a believer, he approaches the project with a sense of humor and whimsy, enjoying the many tourist traps of the town of Willow Creek with his patient but wholly incredulous girlfriend, Kelly (Alexie Gilmore).

The first half of the film is very nearly an actual documentary because the town and its inhabitants really exist. As far as any of these people know, Jim and Kelly are genuine. Hell, the town economy thrives on tourists enjoying the myriad Bigfoot themed businesses, murals and wood carved statues. Jim interviews believers and skeptics alike and eventually get directions to the exact Patterson-Gimlin film site from a full time Cryptozoologist.

As a sort of ironic foreshadowing, Jim and Kelly manage to piss off a couple of locals with their breezy attitude about the subject. The Bigfoot Jim seeks is the cuddly “Harry and the Hendersons” variety. The locals who believe see Sasquatch as wild, dangerous animals to be feared and respected along with the rest of the wilderness’ inhabitants. Smug city folk like Jim and Kelly are precisely the sort to become preparedness cautionary tales. But Johnson and Gilmore also make Jim and Kelly genuinely amusing and likeable people. You certainly don’t want anything bad to happen to them, even if they seem like they’re asking for it.

The horror kicks in, as it often does, when they encounter a menacing redneck, who warns them to turn back. They are disturbed but undeterred, defiantly finding a back way into the woods to follow the miles long, unmarked route to the film site. What follows is mostly auditory horror, which Goldthwait nails, interspersed with authentic relationship drama. There is a particularly long take (19 minutes) which covers both at once and miraculously manages to keep the tension alive the entire time. But Goldthwait inevitably must commit to the veracity of the monster and it is here that he fails. I don’t want to spoil the ending for you, but trust me when I say it doesn’t live up to the preceding film. It’s definitely worth watching and it’s impressive what Goldthwait and his two leads were able to accomplish with what couldn’t have been much more than a $100 budget and a weekend. But the ending is too abrupt and indecisive to make it a truly great film.

Originally published on (now defunct).



On Saturday, May 17th, the Seattle International Film Festival awarded Laura Dern their Outstanding Achievement in Acting Award at the celebrated Egyptian Theatre. She appeared genuinely thrilled to accept what looked like a tentacle wrapped around a sparkly party hat from her old friend Eddie Vedder. Family in tow, Vedder delivered his lengthy, rambling introduction dressed as a dad at a PTA meeting. He mixed metaphors like a college party cocktail, comparing her career to a painter’s palette and to his own vocation. (“I’m in a band,” he helpfully exposited.) He described her performances as “classic albums” and attempted to highlight her dedication to the craft with an anecdote about how Dern became emancipated at age 12, not to separate from her revered parents, but so that she could work longer hours on “Ladies and Gentlemen… The Fabulous Stains.” (Dern later remarked that the 4 months she spent in Vancouver with the Sex Pistols turned her off drugs for life). “Laura Dern,” Vedder concluded. “She can play.”

And with that, the theatre darkened and we were treated to a lovingly curated highlight reel, beginning with a clip of Amy Jellicoe’s epic meltdown on HBO’s original series, “Enlightened.” This 10-minute scene was shot in one take and it perfectly illustrates Dern’s intensity and commitment to a character. “I will bury you, motherfucker!” she screamed after forcing an elevator door open with her bare hands. It was the ideal introduction to a retrospective of diverse characters ranging from rebellious youth to morally ambiguous women to self-righteous head-cases and a couple of mainstream roles in between.

Dern seemed somewhat unprepared for the reel, saying that she hadn’t revisited many of her characters in a long time. She remarked that her children, also present, were not yet allowed to see a large chunk of her body of work (possibly a response to the trauma of having “seen [her] father’s head roll down a staircase” in “The Exorcist” when she was a little girl). However she admitted that they were no strangers to their mother’s potty mouth. Regardless, neither they nor the Vedders would stay for the post-Q & A screening of the family unfriendly, “Wild at Heart.”

The Q & A moderator was Elvis Mitchell, host of NPR’s film personality interview show, “The Treatment.” Mitchell conducted the interview in his customary conversational manner. Dern was excited to share her stories and methods, and to discuss film in general. In addition to her parents, actors Diane Ladd and Bruce Dern, she named Lucille Ball as her hero (which makes perfect sense in light of her signature cry face). When she’s working, she isn’t concerned about her appearance because glamor is the enemy of authenticity. This approach to acting comes from her parents, who told her, “An actor’s job is to transform.”

She cited her children as her greatest source of inspiration, observing, “Just when you think you can guide someone, they end up guiding you… you have to let your kids define their own life experience.”

Of course, she is also highly influenced by the tremendous directing talent she’s worked with over the years, including Alexander Payne (“Citizen Ruth”) and the incomparable David Lynch (“Blue Velvet,” “Inland Empire”). Lynch looks for loyalties over performances, often conducting interviews in lieu of auditions. He insists that his actors be “perfectly authentic,” which is likely challenging considering his frequently fanciful narratives.

His most fanciful narrative to date was his most recent film, “Inland Empire.” Dern recalled his pitch to her: “You’re gonna star in my next movie… And there’s no script… And you’re gonna play all the characters in the movie.” (Incidentally, Dern does an excellent David Lynch impression.) Despite the lack of information about the story, Dern delivers a series of incredible performances that make enduring the intimidating running time (180 minutes) worth the effort.

Tired of dealing with studios, Lynch funded “Inland Empire” completely out of pocket. He had no trouble coming up with the production money, but was frustrated with the seemingly mandatory expense of film promotion. In protest, Lynch’s entire publicity campaign for the film was to sit on Hollywood Blvd with a cow on a leash and a sign that read, “Laura Dern for Best Actress.” Of course, people took videos of the stunt and it went viral, thus eliminating the need for traditional promotion.

Dern fits well into Lynch’s mode because she’s also an insatiable risk taker. “If other people say you shouldn’t do it,” she remarked, “I like to do it.”

After the Q & A, the die-hard audience members stuck around for a screening of David Lynch’s “Wild at Heart” (1990), starring Dern, Nicholas Cage, Diane Ladd and a delightful assortment of Lynch regulars. This warped take on “The Wizard of Oz” is a highly quotable love story set in the darkest time line. It’s also meant for the big screen, allowing the viscera to pop and Lynch’s meticulous sound editing to envelop you. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon.

Originally published on (now defunct).


113 minutes


A truly great director is capable of putting their signature stamp on films that tackle a wide variety of subjects. By that measure, Kelly Reichardt (Wendy & Lucy,” “Meek’s Cutoff,” “Old Joy”) belongs alongside such auteurs as Werner Herzog, Spike Jonze, Richard Linklater and Joe Swanberg with her captivating minimalist dramas. Her latest, “Night Moves,” is among her best. It tells a tale of crime and punishment for 3 Oregon-based eco-terrorists, played with comparable intensity by Peter Sarsgaard, Dakota Fanning and Jesse Eisenberg. We are given very little back story regarding who these people are and what brought them together, but Reichardt trusts both her actors and her audience to fill in the blanks through sparse, loaded dialog and long, silent close-ups. It’s not just smart filmmaking; it’s visual poetry.

Eisenberg has already received many accolades for his brooding characters. But his portrayal of Josh, the quiet, morally-assured environmental radical, makes “The Social Network” look like community theatre. You can see his wheels turning with every, barely modified facial expression. You’re not exactly on his side, but you can’t take your eyes off of him (and neither can the camera).

Dena (Dakota Fanning) is a young idealist rebelling against her yuppie upbringing. She’s smart and quick with a retort for everyone who doubts her capabilities. Dena and Josh meet up with Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard) at his forest dwelling to carry out their mission. Harmon is an ex-Marine who questions everything but his own ideology. He’s barely joking when he tells them, “Don’t trust the raccoons.” With their individual skill-sets, the trio forms an Environmental A-Team. They carry out each detail of their plan with extreme caution, knowing they only have one shot. We don’t necessarily want them to succeed, but we care about what happens to them. We share their anxiety.

The first half of the film is about pulling off the mission but part 2 is no less harrowing. When the deed is done, there is no relief or sense of accomplishment. Their reservations simply shift. It’s important to note that “Night Moves” is not a political film. Characters make passing remarks that resemble a political debate, but for the most part, Reichardt doesn’t take sides. Instead, she presents a character study in what happens when people have their dearly held convictions blown wide open because they failed to see the big picture or consider other perspectives. They start to question their own beliefs and their trust in each other. It’s a white-knuckled slow ride through mental unraveling and an absolute must-see film.

Originally published on (now defunct).