Tuesday, May 3, 2011

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

Art-House Watch:

The Beaver (Jodie Foster) – Dramedy – May 6 [limited]
The film is about a troubled man dealing with depression and feeling disconnected completely. As a way to breakthrough his mental block and communicate, he uses a beaver hand-puppet. Now, he must reconnect with his family and succeed at work – only if they can accept his new intricacy. First off, yes this sound insane which is maybe why Mel Gibson seems like the perfect choice to star. Director and co-star Jodie Foster has not been in the director’s seat in about fifteen years, and her first two features are only ok, but this film is ambitious and quirky – and potentially something weird and special. She has a good crew to get her vision across with composer Marcelo Zarvos (Sin Nombre), cinematographer Hagen Bogdanski (The Young Victoria) and production designer Mark Friedberg (The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou). In addition to Gibson and Foster, the film stars to exciting young actors: Jennifer Lawrence (who was brilliant in Winter’s Bone) and Anton Yelchin (who you probably know from 2009’s Star Trek). The film has done reasonably well critically on the festival circuit (but that seems like the target audience much more than the average moviegoer) and should be funny, in the weird quirky sense. Check out the trailer.

Everything Must Go (Dan Rush) – Dramedy – May 6 [limited]
The film is about an alcoholic who relapses losing his wife and job. To make a new start, he decides to hold a yard sale, which opens his life up to new meaningful relationships. Writer-director Dan Rush makes his debut with this film (it is always exciting to see the work of new filmmakers). Rush has assembled a fitting crew for the tone of the film with music by David Torn (The Wackness), The Ventures and Widespread Panic, cinematography by Michael Barrett (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) and production design by Kara Lindstrom, a relative newcomer production design but longtime set decorator (Dear John). Will Ferrell stars bringing his immature slacker persona (and comedy) to sort of a weighty sad role (but one that comedians have played well in the past – like Zach Braff in Garden State or Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love). Rebecca Hall (who makes this film all the more interesting, as she is generally great) and Christopher Jordan Wallace (Biggie’s son) co-star, and Michael Pena, Stephen Root, Laura Dern, and Glenn Howerton round out a great and funny supporting cast. The film has been well received during its festival run, and Ferrell certainly brings a broader appeal to what looks to be a good entry into the summer counter-programming. Check out the trailer. Review.

There Be Dragons (Roland Joffe) – Drama – May 6
The film is about a journalist who investigates a candidate for canonization, for noble service during the horror of the Spanish Civil War. Amidst his examination of the saint, he finds a deep dark devastating connection between his own estranged father and this saint’s life. Director Roland Joffe has made a few excellent films over his career (including: The Killing Fields and The Mission), but has been unable to capture the qualitative success of those films (his first two features, though I like his third film Fat Man and Little Boy as well, but it is not nearly as poignant or tragically beautiful) in his work of the past two decades. He has sort of an odd combination of crew members on the film with composer Stephen Warbeck (Billy Elliot), cinematographer Gabriel Beristain (who primarily shoots Hollywood action films, like Blade II) and production designer Eugenio Zanetti (What Dreams May Come). The film has quite a good under-the-radar cast starring Charlie Cox (Stardust) and Wes Bentley (American Beauty), and featuring supporting work from Dougray Scott, Olga Kurylenko, Jordi Molla, Rodrigo Santoro, Lily Cole, Charles Dance, and Derek Jacobi. Word-of-month from advanced and festival screenings has been good. Critics are calling this finally a return to form for Joffe (though it is not being called as amazing as his first two films). I think it looks quite good, but I really enjoy these types of films (dramas set during times of war). And being a huge fan of The Killing Fields and The Mission, I can only hope Joffe has indeed found his magic once again. Check out the trailer.

Last Night (Massy Tadjedin) – Romance – May 6 [limited]
The film is about a couple, apart for a night and tempted to cheat.  Writer-director-producer Massy Tadjedin makes her directorial debut, having written a couple features previously. She has an excellent crew on the film with composer Clint Mansell (who has done wonderful work lately on Black Swan and Moon), cinematographer Peter Deming (taking a break from horror, he shot the recently released Scream 4) and indie production designer Tim Grimes (The Wrestler). The cast is also top-notch (and the main draw for me) with Keira Knightley, Sam Worthington, Eva Mendes, and Guillaume Canet. The film has done pretty well on the festival circuit with mostly (but not overwhelmingly) positive buzz. It looks to live or die on the performances of its cast, and should make for a good romantic drama (I am eager to see the work of Knightley and the man tempting her Canet, who is a great director as well). Check out the trailer.

Passion Play (Mitch Glazer) – Drama – May 6 [limited]
The film is about a down and out trumpet player, who looks to make a better life when he comes across an angel. She is trapped by a ruthless gangster and the trumpet player decides to risk everything to set her free. Writer Mitch Glazer (who has worked on five ok films, Scrooged being my favorite) makes his directorial debut.  He has quite a good crew on the film with composer Dickon Hinchliffe (who has had a great couple of years with very good scores for Winter’s Bone and Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1980), excellent cinematographer Christopher Doyle (his work with director Kar Wai Wong is brilliant) and production designer Waldemar Kalinowski (currently working on the HBO series Treme). The cast features Academy Award nominees Mickey Rourke and Bill Murray, while also starring Megan Fox and with supporting work from Rhys Ifans. The film looks weird (but not that great), like a lesser David Lynch film (and Rourke has said it is terrible). However, Bill Murray always is wonderful – he plays the gangster in this (last time he played a gangster was in the underrated Mad Dog and Glory, so some of it should be ok). Plus if you do not want to see this in theatres (assuming it even opens in your town), it is available on Blu-ray/DVD and to rent in late May. Check out the trailer.

Hesher (Spencer Susser) – Comedy – May 13 [limited]
The film is about Hesher, a loner who hates the world and everyone in it. He lives a meager life, getting pleasure from smoking cigarettes and fire. Then he meets TJ, a young boy that needs his help after his mother dies tragically. Writer-director Spencer Susser makes his directorial debut with Hesher, coming off the success of his short I Love Sarah Jane. On the film, Susser is working with his brother cinematographer Morgan Susser and production designer Laura Fox (only her third film, but she did do great work on (500) Days of Summer). The cast makes this film quite exciting with Joseph Gordon-Levitt starring and Rainn Wilson, Piper Laurie, Devin Brochu, and Natalie Portman co-starring (she is also a producer on the project; she executively produced No Strings Attached earlier this year). The film looks pretty awesome (the trailer mixed with its Metallica soundtrack is a riot); plus with Wilson, Gordon-Levitt and Portman, this has a ton of potential to be a fantastic quirky indie comedy. Check out the trailer.

Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen) – Romance – May 20 [limited]
The film is about a family that takes a trip to Paris. While in the French capital, they each come to realizations about their lives. Writer-director Woody Allen continues to make a film every year, almost without fail (which is quite remarkable). While entertaining, his last did not live up to the expectations of his fans (though Whatever Works was good, and his Scarlett Johansson trilogy is great – looking at his recent filmography). On this film he is working with wonderful cinematographer Darius Khondji (Seven) and Anne Seibel (this film is her first major feature job as a production designer, but she has done great work as an art director). The film stars Owen Wilson (assumedly playing the Woody Allen type character) and co-stars Rachel McAdams, Michael Sheen and Marion Cotillard. But if that cast were not already good enough, it features supporting work from Adrien Brody, Alison Pill, Kathy Bates, Tom Hiddleston, Carla Bruni, Lea Seydoux, Kurt Fuller, Mimi Kennedy, and the French comedian Gad Elmaleh (who is awesome: see The Valet and Priceless). With such a great cast and Allen’s recent string of funny films (for the most part), this looks to be a good romantic comedy (though, some may have doubts about Owen Wilson as the lead). Check out the trailer. Review.

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