Wildlike: a “solidly plotted… story with a fine ensemble cast and some gorgeous location cinematography”
a “solidly plotted… story with a fine ensemble cast and some gorgeous location cinematography”

East Bay moviegoers are getting a bit of a raw deal this week: there are two worthwhile new features opening this Friday, both in San Francisco, and neither with playdates currently scheduled for Berkeley or Oakland. Coming at the end of the summer release doldrums, it’s surprising and unfortunate that room couldn’t be found on this side of the Bay for either film, both of which are of more than passing interest.

Wildlike (opening at the 4 Star Theatre on Sept. 25) is the sort of drama in short supply since the 1970s. Reminiscent of 2008’s topnotch road movie Wendy and Lucy, it’s a solidly plotted, character driven story with a fine ensemble cast and some gorgeous location cinematography.

Mackenzie (English newcomer Ella Purnell) is a doe-eyed, kohl-eyed American teenager being dispatched to the care of her Alaskan uncle while her mother undergoes treatment for an unspecified medical problem. Recently widowed, Mom needs peace and quiet; Mackenzie’s absence will, presumably, speed her recovery.

At first, life with Uncle (Brian Geraghty, quite good in a rather thankless role) is pretty swell, the endless mountains and lush forests of Alaska offering freedom and beauty in equal measure. Uncle seems like a nice, Frisbee-playing, gift-giving kinda guy, and Mackenzie soon ditches her protective proto-Goth shield.

Uncle, however, has a problem – he can’t keep his hands to himself. After a series of night time molestings, Mackenzie runs away, embarking on an odyssey across The Last Frontier in the company of middle-aged widower Rene Bartlett (Canadian thesp Bruce Greenwood, excellent as always).

Despite its challenging theme, Wildlike is suitable for anyone over 12; perfect, I believe, for teenagers willing to try something outside their normal comfort zone. Written and directed by Frank Hall Green, it’s only let down by an awful, generic one-sheet promotional poster. Don’t let the mediocre artwork fool you, though – this is an excellent little film.

If you find yourself lingering in Bagdad by the Bay, wend your way to the Balboa to check out Racing Extinction (also opening on Sept. 25), the latest documentary from the folks who produced 2009’s gut-wrenching Oscar winner The Cove. While not quite as dramatic or shocking as its predecessor, Racing Extinction offers its own unique rewards.

The film’s premise – no longer as controversial as it was even ten years ago — is that we’re now in the Anthropocene Era, a time when human activity has badly damaged planet Earth. To make their point, director Louie Psihoyos and friends travel to Hong Kong and Indonesia to document the illicit trade in rare animals, while also reminding viewers that the West’s insatiable consumption of natural resources (and the resultant climate change) threatens to set in motion an irreversible ‘positive feedback’ loop that will accelerate mass extinction.

Thankfully, Racing Extinction is much more than another depressing examination of ecocide. The film suggests alternate pathways and roles artists, photographers, and even ordinary folks such as you and I can take to save the planet. As depressing as it is at times, the film offers a beautiful vision of the future – if only we’re each willing to do just one thing.

Berkeleyside’s film writer John Seal writes a weekly movie recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as well as a column in The Phantom of the Movies’ Videoscope, an old-fashioned paper magazine, published quarterly. Read more from Big Screen Berkeley on Berkeleyside.

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Freelancer John Seal is Berkeleyside’s film critic. A movie connoisseur with a penchant for natty hats who lives in Oakland, John writes a weekly film recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as...