Tag Archives: C+

THEM THAT FOLLOW

Producer: Bradley Gallo, Michael A. Helfant, Gerard Butler, Alan Siegel and Danielle Robinson
Director: Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage
Writer: Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage
Stars: Alice Englert, Walton Goggins, Olivia Colman, Jim Galligan, Thomas MannKaitlyn Dever, Lewis Pullman, Annie Tedesco, Erik Andrews, Catherine Albers and Katherine Deboer
Studio: Greenwich Entertainment

C+

There may be no absolute rules of screenwriting, but one that comes close is never to have a character say to someone leaving after an argument, “You walk out that door, you don’t come back—you understand me?” Yet that’s precisely the cliché yelled by Lemuel (Walton Goggins), a preacher in a small community somewhere in the Appalachians, to his daughter Mara (Alice Englert) toward the end of Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage’s debut film.

But despite that depressing miscalculation, “Them That Follow” is an intrinsically interesting film for one basic reason: Lemuel’s congregation is a fundamentalist sect that applies literally the words of Mark 16:18 “They will take up snakes in their hands, and be unharmed.” The preacher at this little ramshackle church with the white neon cross out front is a snake-handler whose followers, including Mara, also raise the rattlers toward the rafters as a sign of their absolute commitment. Of course it’s a dangerous, potentially fatal, practice, which is why the community is tucked away far from the prying eyes of the law.

Among the congregants are laid-back shepherd Zeke and his ferocious wife Hope (Jim Gaffigan and Olivia Colman), but their son, affable Augie (Thomas Mann) has fallen away from the faith, if he ever had it. He and Mara have been best friends since childhood—a friendship that has deepened significantly over the years, as it turns out. But Lemuel has decided that his daughter’s hand will go to Garrett (Lewis Pullman), an intense young man whose dedication to the church appears to be unwavering.

The love triangle is at the center of what little plot there is. Mara has a secret, and when Augie finds out about it, he returns to the church to prove his faith in the prescribed way. Of course, it does not go well, and his parents and the rest of the congregation believe that only their prayers, combined with his own belief, can save him—a sentiment the suffering Augie does not share: he asks to be taken to a hospital, a sure sign he is not a true believer. Zeke and Hope ultimately reach the same conclusion, but perhaps too late. Meanwhile Garrett learns Mara’s secret, and does not handle the revelation well. It ruptures his relationship with Lemuel, and Mara finally takes a stand for herself; thus that misguided line of his.

“Them That Follows” presents a vision of a deeply insular world most viewers will barely understand, let alone sympathize with. But it doesn’t treat its characters contemptuously, and it boasts some powerful performances, particularly from Colman, who effortlessly dominates every scene she’s in (along with the other actors around her). Goggins, who also played a preacher, though of a very different stripe, on “Justified,” is as intense as ever, and Mann carries off his callow nice-boy persona effectively, as well as a prolonged suffering sequence that gives him the chance to show off a more dramatic side. Pullman makes a suitably unlikable sort. There are plenty of snakes, too, some hoisted into the air, others writhing in the sun or over people’s bodies. Their wranglers did a fine job.

As the central figure around whom the story swirls, Englert registers Mara’s generally submissive attitude effectively, but she’s hampered by the slow, gloomy approach favored by Poulson and Savage, along with their editor Joshua Raymond Lee, which keeps her mostly in so recessive a mode that it’s difficult to read her character emotionally. Kaitlyn Dever, as Mara’s sad, lonely friend Dilly, is rather more expressive. The bleak atmosphere of the stifling community is well captured in Carmen Navis’ drab production design and Brett Jutkiewicz’s slate-gray cinematography, while Garth Stevenson contributes an appropriately brooding score.

“Them That Follow”—a pretty clumsy title, both grammatically and in terms of conveying what the film is about—creates an absorbing portrait of a strange religious world, but stumbles in terms of narrative and pacing.

DORA AND THE LOST CITY OF GOLD

Producer: Kristin Burr
Director: James Bobin
Writer: Nicholas Stoller and Matthew Robinson
Stars: Isabel Monor, Eugenio Derbez, Michael Pena, Eva Longoria, Adriana Barraza, Jeff Wahlberg, Nicholas Coombe, Madeleine Madden, Adriana Varraza, Temuera Morrison, Q'Orianka Kilcher, Christopher Kirby, Isela Vega and Danny Trejo
Studio: Paramount Pictures

C+

There’s a brief sequence in which this live-action, though heavily CGI, updating of the long-running “Dora the Explorer” TV series reverts to its 2D-animation roots —the characters have a passing hallucinatory experience, thanks to some strange pink jungle vegetation. For fans of the program it will serve as a cheerily nostalgic reminder of what once was, but it’s only a momentary blip in what’s (despite a substantial budget) otherwise a tame kidflick not appreciably better than the sort of thing regularly made nowadays for the Disney Channel or Nickelodeon (the latter of which, of course. is one of the producers, having made the series).

The screenplay by Nicholas Stoller and Matthew Robinson begins with a prologue featuring Dora (Madelyn Miranda) at her traditional age of seven, gamboling about the Peruvian forest with her cousin and best pal Diego (Malachi Barton). Unfortunately, Diego and his parents are about to leave for Los Angeles, while Dora will be left to explore along with her blue monkey Boots and her backpack, which is a silent partner here.

Ten years elapse, and Dora’s (now Isabela Moner) parents Elena and Cole (Eva Longoria and Michael Peña) decide that she should now move to L.A. for high school while they search for a legendary lost city. In California her constant good spirits and peculiar ways make her an odd duck among the other students, embarrassing Diego (Jeff Wahlberg) to no end, and her academic brilliance irritates the class mean girl Sammy (Madeleine Madden). The only student who will have anything to do with her is dweeb outcast Randy (Nicholas Coombe). This part of the picture plays like standard-issue contemporary high school fare.

The real plot kicks in when Dora, Diego, Sammy and Randy are abducted while on a field trip, locked in shipping carton and flown back to South America. Happily they are rescued at the airport by Alejandro (Eugenio Derbez), who introduces himself as a professor and friend of Dora’s parents and helps them escape to the jungle. Their abductors, he explains, are trying to locate Dora’s parents, who are on the verge of finding the city. They must get to them first. Luckily a CGI version of Boots shows up to help them out of scrapes along the way.

Thus begins a series of chases, escapes, and setbacks, among them episodes involving quicksand, underwater caverns, and a series of devices to protect the lost city from interlopers (as well as a major betrayal). None, however, comes across as truly dangerous or threatening; the bad-guys may glower and scowl, and the city’s mystical defenders are a stern lot, but there’s no real sense of menace to any of the obstacles that Dora and her companions must face and overcome.

In fact, the makers seem more interested in how the youngsters bond over the course of their journey. Sammy naturally mellows—one of those sequences involving poop that are inevitable in family movies nowadays plays a role in altering her standoffish attitude—and before it all ends she and Diego have become an item. In fact the movie closes with an ensemble dance that seems equally obligatory in such cable-ready fare: just think of “High School Musical.”

The leads all seem just a bit mature for the ages of their characters, but they’re a likable bunch overall, though, presumably encouraged by director James Bobin, Moner overdoes the enthusiasm. That’s hardly noticeable, however, as long as Derbez is around. He mugs so ferociously, with his bugged-out eyes, wacky banter and frantic slapstick, that he’s virtually a live-action cartoon figure. (Peña is a close second, though Longoria is much more reserved, as if in apology.) Speaking of which, the CGI Boots works nicely, though a similarly crafted version of the series’ Swiper the fox, here a part of the villainous crew, is less engaging.

On the technical side, production designer Dan Hennah goes for a garish look that accentuates the far-from-realistic sets, and cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe opts for bright visuals that amplify that approach. Editor Mark Everson tries hard to keep things moving, though the result might have worked better at ninety minutes rather than more than a hundred; very young kids whom parents bring along with their tween siblings, at whom the movie is really pitched, might very well get restless. The score by John Debney and Germaine Franco is insistent, to say the least.

One of the points repeated made by Dora is that she and her parents, unlike the villains she faces, are not treasure hunters who want to steal artifacts and gold for their own profit, but explorers whose motives are altruistic. In a way the movie follows suit. Nice and inoffensive, it promotes good messages of friendship and respect for the past; but like “Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase,” another updating of an iconic young heroine that appeared earlier this year, its good-natured blandness will probably not be enough to start the hoped-for franchise.

It will doubtless become a staple on the various Nick channels, though.