Monday, August 29, 2011

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

Art-House Dramas:

Tanner Hall (Francesca Gregorini & Tatiana von Furstenberg) – Drama – Sep 9 [limited]
Summary: The film is about four teenage girls who attend an all-girls boarding school in New England. It is a coming-of-age story. Filmmakers: Co-directors Francesca Gregorini and Tatiana von Furstenberg make their directorial debut and are working with indie and TV composer Roger Neill (Beginners), indie cinematographer Brian Rigney Hubbard and TV production designer Ray Kluga (Royal Pains). Cast: The cast features a few great young actresses as it co-stars Rooney Mara, Georgia King, Amy Ferguson, and Brie Larson. Tom Everett Scott, Chris Kattan and Amy Sedaris feature is support. Expectations: This was made in 2009 and had trouble finding distribution (I assume the big push behind rising star Rooney Mara is why it has distribution now). It was an official selection of the 2009 Toronto Film Festival, but has not done too well with critics. However, there is no denying the talent of the young cast members. Maybe this is worth renting. Check out the trailer

Restless (Gus Van Sant) – Romance – Sep 16 [LA/NYC]
Summary: The film is about a terminally ill young girl who falls for odd boy who likes to attend funerals. He is also friends with a ghost, who is a Japanese kamikaze pilot from WWII. Filmmakers: Director Gus Van Sant is a filmmaker who could have (and would have) succeeded in Hollywood, but instead decided to focus on making indie films with non-professional actors and fresh faces, films like Elephant and Paranoid Park. But he has now returned to making higher profile indie films with this and 2008’s Milk. He has an excellent crew with composer Danny Elfman (scored Good Will Hunting for Van Sant), cinematographer Harris Savides (shot Milk for Van Sant) and production designer Anne Ross (Lost in Translation). Uber-producers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer as well as Howard’s daughter Bryce Dallas Howard are producing. Cast: The cast is also fantastic with Mia Wasikowska and Henry Hopper starring and supporting work from Jane Adams, Schuyler Fisk and Ryo Kase. Expectations: Howard and Grazer certainly hope that this is an Oscar (long-shot) and Independent Spirit Award nominee (much more likely). Van Sant is a good director and Wasikowska is a great emerging talent, thus I have high expectations for Restless. It has performed well on the festival circuit and was on the Cannes shortlist. I think this will be a good quirky indie romance, and probably on the sad side. Check out the trailer.

Killer Elite (Gary McKendry) – Action – Sep 23
Summary: The film is about a retired British Elite SAS member who gets back into the action when his mentor is taken hostage. Filmmakers: Director Gary McKendry is making his directorial debut and he has a fitting crew with a score from the band Pale 3 (Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek), cinematography from action D.P. Simon Duggan (I, Robot) and Alain Duplantier (Anything for Her) and production design from action specialist Michelle McGahey (The Matrix, as the art director). Cast: While this is a Jason Statham action vehicle, the rest of the cast is great for the genre with Robert De Niro, Clive Owen, Yvonne Strahovski, Dominic Purcell, Ben Mendelsohn, and Adewale Akinnuoye-Abaje. Expectations: Killer Elite looks like a fun action film, and we all know what to expect from a Statham movie going in. I think it is interesting that with this cast the film had to go the indie route to get financing and distribution. I suspect this will do better on the rental market and overseas than in the U.S. box office (I will certainly be renting it). Check out the trailer.

Take Shelter (Jeff Nichols) – Drama – Sep 30 [limited]
Summary: The film is about a man who is having apocalyptic visions, interfering with his family life. He is not sure if he needs to keep his family safe from himself or an impending disaster. Filmmakers: Indie writer-director Jeff Nichols is back with his second feature. His first, Shotgun Stories, showed his talent for drama. He has a good indie crew with composer David Wingo (who works with David Gordon Green a lot), cinematographer Adam Stone (shot Shotgun Stories for Nichols) and production designer Chad Keith. Cast: With Michael Shannon starring (also starred in Shotgun Stories) and Jessica Chastain co-starring, the leads in the film are top-notch. It also features supporting work from Katy Mixon, Kathy Baker, Shea Whigham, and Ray McKinnon. Expectations: Take Shelter has been receiving rave reviews from the festival circuit and Shannon is a favorite for an Oscar nod.  Though it is early, this might be the indie darling of the year (taking away a lot of the thunder from The Tree of Life). It won a critics award at Cannes and was nominated for Best Film at Sundance. I expect this to be a good drama with excellent performances. Check out the trailer. Review.

Margaret (Kenneth Lonergan) – Drama – Sep 30 [limited]
Summary: The film is about Lisa Cohen, a young woman who witnesses a bus accident. She is caught up in the aftermath when questions of whether it was intentional or not threaten to throw many people’s lives into further chaos. Filmmakers: Writer-director Kenneth Lonergan returns to make his second film (his first was the well received You Can Count on Me). He has also had some success as a writer with screenplays for Analyze This and Gangs of New York under his belt. He is working with super producer Scott Rudin, British indie cinematographer Ryszard Lenczewski (he is Polish, but shoots a lot of indie British stuff) and production designer Dan Leigh (who is also designing this month’s Warrior). Cast: The cast is quite good with Anna Paquin starring, Matt Damon co-starring and supporting work from Mark Ruffalo, Allison Janney, Matthew Broderick, Kieran Culkin, Krysten Ritter, Jean Reno, Olivia Thirlby, and Rosemarie DeWitt. Expectations: Margaret was filmed in 2005, so why has it taken six years to see a release? Well, Lonergan’s cut was three hours and Fox Searchlight wanted it to be two hours. Many editors tackled the problem (including some of the industry’s best like Thelma Schoonmaker). An ugly legal battle ensued, and here we are in 2011 with a 149 minute cut. There certainly is a black cloud over the film which may kill all awards potential, but that does not discount the fact that there is a lot of talent involved. I am looking forward to seeing it. Check out the trailer.

Art-House Comedies:

Summary: The film is about a group of 30-year-old friends that always go to an end-of-the-school-year party at one friend’s summer home. But when his parents decided to sell the house, the friends decide to have one last hurrah – an orgy (and why not). Filmmakers: Co-writers and directors Alex Gregory and Peter Huyck are accomplished comedy writers (working on the Late Show with David Letterman, The Larry Sanders Show, Frasier, and King of the Hill) but make their directorial debut. They are working with a decent crew with indie composer Jon Sadoff (The Romantics) and TV cinematographer John Thomas (Gossip Girl) and production designer Alan Hook (Dawson’s Creek). Cast: Jason Sudeikis stars and it has a great mix of comedians in support with Lindsay Sloane, Lucy Punch, Leslie Bibb, Tyler Labine, Lake Bell, David Koechner, Don Johnson, Martin Starr, Rhys Coiro, and Will Forte. Expectations: While the trailer is not great, the film has been getting good reviews from advanced screenings. Bell, Labine, Starr, and Sudeikis are all comedic actors I enjoy and thusly I am looking forward to renting this. There are not too many good indie straight-up comedies (though this year produced Cedar Rapids), but this has potential to be very funny. Check out the trailer.

Tucker & Dale vs Evil (Eli Craig) – Horror Comedy – Sep 30 [limited]
Summary: The film is about Tucker and Dale. They are vacation at their decrepit mountain cabin. Suddenly, they seem to be attacked by preppy college students who keep accidentally killing themselves. Filmmakers: Writer-director Eli Craig makes his feature debut and is working with TV cinematographer David Geddes and production designer John Blackie. Cast: It stars two very funny people in Tyler Labine and Alan Tudyk and features Katrina Bowden. Expectations: Craig has twisted the horror genre (specifically, the ‘cabin in the woods’ sub-genre) in a very funny and interesting way, having the college kids thinking that Tucker and Dale are hillbilly killers, while they think the kids are some sort of Satanist suicide cult. This is a must for fans of low-budget horror comedies, as it looks fantastic. Check out the trailer.

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