Monday, May 30, 2011

At the Movies – June 2011 – Part 1: Independent Films

Art-House Watch:

Beginners (Mike Mills) – Drama – Jun 3 [limited]
Summary: The film is about Oliver, a young man who is rocked by two pieces of news: first that his elderly father has terminal cancer and second also has a young male lover. And, he meets an interesting and quirky girl who he likes. Filmmakers: Writer-director Mike Mills makes his return to the world of feature films for his second after making a few documentaries (his first feature was Thumbsucker, which was generally liked by critics but not so much by me). Mills has an interesting crew on the film with three composers: Roger Neill (who scores King of the Hill), Dave Palmer (making his film debut) and Brian Reitzell (who is the drummer for the band Air and often works with Sofia Coppola as the music supervisor on her films). Danish cinematographer Kasper Tuxen is shooting the film and Shane Valentino (who worked in the art department on Batman Begins and Somewhere) is doing the production design.  Cast: (For me) however, it is the cast that makes the film the most intriguing. Ewan McGregor stars with Christopher Plummer and Melanie Laurent (who had her American breakthrough in Inglourious Basterds, but is also very good in Paris and has a brief but good scene in The Beat That My Heart Skipped) co-starring (as well as a Jack Russell Terrier that looks like my Mom’s), and Goran Visnjic features in a supporting role. Expectations: The film looks really good – both funny and sad, a bit like real life (not to mention that it has done well among critics on the festival circuit). Check out the trailer. Review.

Submarine (Richard Ayoade) – Romance – Jun 3 [limited]
Summary: The film is about Oliver Tate, a 15-year-old boy with two primary objectives: first (or second depending on the success of the other) to lose his virginity before turning sixteen and second (or first) to nix any chance of his mother getting back together with an ex-lover (who he does not like). Filmmakers: Writer-director Richard Ayoade is well loved as an actor on the UK Channel 4 series The IT Crowd. Submarine marks his feature film debut; he has directed on a few TV series, including a recent episode of Community. Coming from a TV background himself, Ayoade’s crew is composed of craftsmen who also primarily work on TV series with composer Andrew Hewitt, cinematographer Erik Wilson (who worked as a camera operator on Ayoades concert film Arctic Monkeys at the Apollo) and production designer Gary Williamson. Ben Stiller serves as the executive producer and makes a cameo in the film (assumingly as a producer he helped this small British film get distribution in the States). Cast: The cast is headlined by newcomer (at least for audiences in the States) Craig Roberts with Yasmin Paige and Sally Hawkins co-starring, and Paddy Considine, Noah Taylor and Gemma Chan featured in supporting roles. Expectations: The film looks like an artsy (in a good way) and quirky comedy (it reminds me a bit of a tonally darker Wes Anderson film with a little Sofia Coppila thrown in). Critics have liked it a lot on the festival circuit and during its British opening earlier this year. Check out the trailer.

The Troll Hunter (Andre Ovredal) – Adventure – Jun 10 [limited]
Summary: The film is about a group of students in Norway who embark on a mission to investigate a series of mysterious bear killings, only to learn that there are far more dangerous creatures afoot. They come across an enigmatic hunter and decide to follow him, discovering that he is actually hunting trolls (not a spoiler, as it is in the title and trailer). Expectations: (Being that I know little about Norwegian cinema, this director, his crew or the cast, we can skip the usual next section and just go on to) the film looks like it will either be brilliant (along the same lines as Gareth Edwards’s Monsters), B-movie fun or just sort of terrible (the trailer sort of suggests moments of all three). Critics have enjoyed it, but not universally. Check out the trailer.

The Trip (Michael Winterbottom) – Comedy – Jun 10 [limited]
Summary: Edited down from the 172 minutes BBC 2 TV series, the film (107 mins) is about Steve Coogan, who is asked by The Observer to tour U.K.’s finest restaurants. He first envisions a perfect getaway for his girlfriend and himself. But when she backs out, he is left with only his friend (and seemingly arch-nemesis) Rob Brydon to accompany him. Filmmakers: Director Michael Winterbottom (who is a frequent collaborator of Coogan, see 24 Hour Party People for a good example of their work together) is a perfect fit for this film, as it is a pseudo-documentary style comedy with Coogan and Brydon improvising almost all the dialog and scenes. He also directed A Cock and Bull Story, which features the two of them constantly going at each other yet still remaining good friends, it is really funny. Very good cinematographer Ben Smithard is shooting the film (he did excellent work on The Damned United). Expectations: The series is critically acclaimed and the film version has also been heavily praised (but not quite as much as the series; it would be nice if the DVD release has both). The film looks brilliant and hilarious, especially if you like the comedic bickering of Coogan and Brydon (which I do). Check out the trailer.

The Art of Getting By (Gavin Wiesen) – Dramedy – Jun 17 [limited]
Summary: The film is about a kid who never saw the benefit of putting effort into life. Then he meets a girl he likes, and realizes that love is not that easy. Filmmakers: Writer-director Gavin Wiesen makes his feature debut with the film. Wiesen has an indie crew with him featuring composer Alec Puro (who also worked on Wiesen’s short Kill the Day), cinematographer Ben Kutchins (Bomb the System) and production designer Kelly McGehee (Lymelife). Cast: The cast includes a fine array of actors with Freddie Highmore starring, making his debut in a more adult role. Emma Roberts and Michael Angarano co-star rounding out a solid young core, while Elizabeth Reaser, Alicia Silverstone (who needs a good movie on her CV, Clueless being all the way back in 1995), Blair Underwood, Sam Robards, and Rita Wilson highlight the supporting players. Expectations: It looks to be a coming-of-age/young romance story (both of which I am fond of), and a good one at that. New York always makes for a good setting for quirky characters and indie culture. The film received a lot of praise at Sundance among critics. Check out the trailer.

A Better Life (Chris Weitz) – Drama – Jun 24
Summary: The film is about a gardener in East L.A. who struggles to keep his son away from gangs and immigration while trying to provide a better life (wow, just used the movie title in the sentence, kudos). Filmmakers: Director Chris Weitz made About a Boy, a film I really like (co-directing with his brother Paul; together they also made American Pie and Down to Earth, both ok comedies). But since then, his last two outings (New Moon and The Golden Compass) have not been good at all (it sadly seems as though About a Boy might have been just a bright spot). The crew on the film however is excellent with (the hardest working man in Hollywood) composer Alexandre Desplat (who also scored Weitz’s New Moon), cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe (also shot New Moon) and production designer Missy Stewart (Good Will Hunting). Cast: The film stars Demian Bichir (who you probably know from Weeds) and newcomer Jose Julian. Expectations: (Despite what I said about Weitz not making good movies above, other than About a Boy) this potentially looks quite good. Immigration from Mexico, Central and South America is a hot topic (especially in the Southwestern United States) and it will be interesting to see how this film plays to a broader audience. There are a number of films that tackle this subject (including a few great ones like Sin Nombre), but none have truly been breakout hits. Check out the trailer.

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