Any Tacoma local is familiar with The Grand Cinema, South Sound’s nonprofit independent theater on Fawcett Avenue. Traditionally, they provide a local space for the community to view both big-budget releases and smaller independent titles alongside each other in harmony. Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus social distancing regulations, The Grand Cinema had to close its doors for the foreseeable future.
However, they aren’t exactly calling it quits just yet. Thanks to the magic of the internet, The Grand Cinema has set up a virtual screening room where users can rent a rotating variety of films. The special selections can be viewed from the comfort of your home or anywhere with an internet connection.
As the resident film critic of the Tacoma Ledger, I’m always on the hunt for new movie options and flicks that might stretch your knowledge or lead you outside of your comfort zone. While most of these choices would qualify as independent movies or smaller-scale releases, they are each worth a watch if you’re willing to take a chance. Here are five recommendations I would pick from the bunch:
Extra Ordinary (2019) — Horror/Comedy, English. d. Mike Ahern & Enda Loughman
A hilarious horror/comedy — with an emphasis on the comedy — this independent film is set in rural Ireland and follows lonely driving instructor Rose, played by hopeful breakout star Maeve Higgins. Following the death of her father, Rose has since retired from her career using her paranormal ability to send rogue spirits into the afterlife. That is, until the one-hit-wonder rock star Christian Winter — played by Will Forte — comes into town and seeks the help of Satan to recapture fame. So it’s up to her and widower Martin Martin — played by Barry Ward — to stop him. Filled with great lines and visual gags, you’re sure to be laughing every minute with this one. Four stars.
And Then We Danced (2019) — Romance/Drama, Georgian. d. Levan Akin
A young male dancer named Marab, played by Levan Gelbakhianai, who aspires to join the prestigious National Georgian Ensemble, is irritated when another male dancer Irakli — played by Bachi Valishvili — arrives to rival him at auditions. But, as their rivalry morphs into friendship and then something more, Merab finds a romantic attraction in him that he never knew before. Set in a deeply Christian environment, the former Russian territory of Georgia, his decision between his career and his heart will have to come to a head. This tender, heartbreaking tale premiered at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival and has won over critics worldwide, despite enduring conservative protests in its native country. Four stars.
Balloon (2018) — Drama/Thriller, German. d. Michael Herbig
This film is based on the incredible true story of two families in East Germany who attempt to escape oppressive communist rule by secretly building a homemade hot air balloon. While it does falter in the sense that not enough context is given to the risk of getting caught nor is enough menace given to the police’s pursuit of the families, this is a tight thriller and historical drama that’s engrossing from beginning to end. Three and a half stars.
Slay The Dragon (2019) — Documentary, English. d. Chris Durrance & Barak Goodman
An educational documentary covering the complex political issue of gerrymandering in an easily digestible fashion. Simply put, gerrymandering is when politicians unfairly determine the lines of their districts, making them easier to win and stay in power. The film covers cases around the United States, but a particular focus is given to activist Katie Fahey and her underdog pursuit to end gerrymandering in her home state of Michigan. Three and a half stars.
The Infiltrators (2019) — Docudrama/Thriller, English & Spanish. d. Cristina Ibarra, & Alex Rivera
An undocumented American/immigrant youth named Marco Saavedro deliberately gets himself thrown into an immigration detention center. Why? To expose the for-profit prison system keeping hundreds of multinational immigrants behind bars without due process. Premiering at the Tacoma Film Festival last year, this special film combines real documentary footage with dramatic reenactments as Marco attempts to get unlawfully imprisoned Claudio Rojas out of prison garb before he’s deported to Argentina. The acting in the reenactment sections isn’t great, but you’re constantly in the atmosphere of being stuck in a detention center with no clear way back home. Three and a half stars.
If interested, you can check out any of these films along with numerous others at The Grand Cinema’s virtual screening room, https://www.grandcinema.com/virtual-screening-room/.