Monday, July 2, 2012

At the Movies – July 2012 – Part 1: Independent Films

Art-House Dramas:

Farewell, My Queen (Benoit Jacquot) – Drama – Jul 13 [limited]
Summary: During the final days of the French Revolution, the Queen of France Marie Antoinette develops a relationship with one of her readers – this is her story. Filmmakers: French writer-director Benoit Jacquot is known for making decent dramas, his best probably being Tosca or A Single Girl. He is working with composer Bruno Coulais (Coraline), cinematographer Romain Winding and production designer Katia Wyszkop. Cast: The film stars Diane Kruger and Lea Seydoux, with Virginie Ledoyen and Xavier Beauvois in support. Expectations: As a big fan of both Kruger and Ledoyen, I am personally looking forward to this – plus, from what I have seen, the film looks to be excellent aesthetically and stylistically (appealing to my love of great visuals in film). Seydoux is also one of France’s brightest up and comers. She is best known to American audiences through her work in Inglourious Basterds (having a small role in part 1), Robin Hood, Midnight in Paris, and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (her biggest role so far in the States). The film played to mixed reviews at the Cannes Film Festival in May, but should appeal to fans of period dramas (if for nothing more than for the design, costumes and atmosphere). Trailer: Here.

Easy Money (Daniel Espinosa) – Crime Thriller – Jul 13 [limited]
Summary: All coming from very different background and circumstances, JW, Jorge and Mrado get wrapped up in the world of drugs and organized crime in Sweden. Filmmakers: Director Daniel Espinosa had a hit earlier this year in the States with Safe House. This film came out in 2010, and was a critical and commercial hit in Sweden getting him the Safe House gig, and now with the success of that film, this is coming to American cinemas. Cast: The film stars Joel Kinnaman (from The Killing), Matias Varela and Dragomir Mrsic. Expectations: Kinnaman is on the verge of having a breakthrough in Hollywood, which could come with 2013’s Robocop (in which he has the title role). Safe House was fairly well received as an entertaining action thriller in the States; and for those who have seen both, Easy Money is typically credited as the better film. It shares a lot of the same visual and narrative pieces as a typical American gangster film (or crime drama/thriller) and should appeal to fans of the genre. Trailer: Here.

Red Lights (Rodrigo Cortes) – Thriller – Jul 13 [limited]
Summary: Psychologist Margaret Matheson and her assistant Tom study paranormal activity, in many cases disproving frauds. However, when they decide to investigate the world-renowned psychic Simon Silver, their lives are thrown into dangerous disarray. Filmmakers: Writer-director Rodrigo Cortes is coming off a fantastic thriller in Buried, hoping to follow it up with another. He is working again with composer Victor Reyes, while cinematographer Xavi Gimenez (Transsiberian) and production designer Anton Laguna are new to the team. Cast: Sigourney Weaver and Cillian Murphy stars with Robert De Niro, Toby Jones, Elizabeth Olsen, Joely Richardson, and Craig Roberts in support. Expectations: Red Lights looks like a decent thriller – hopefully, however, it will bring something new to a sub-genre(s) (psychological/paranormal thrillers) that is seemingly a bit played out. Despite the great cast and really liking Buried, I am a bit skeptical of this just because of its narrative roots being in paranormal occurrences (and maybe I am the only one that is tired of these films – as they are mostly bad). That said, this should serve as good counterprograming to the blockbusters and crime-thriller that fill up much of the month. Trailer: Here.

Trishna (Michael Wintterbottom) – Drama – Jul 13 [LA/NYC]
Summary: A modern retelling of Tess of the d’Ubervilles set in India, the story is of a tragic relationship between Trishna and Jay – both from different worlds (economically and socially speaking). Filmmakers: Director Michael Winterbottom is one of Britain’s most exciting filmmakers. While his films are not always good, they are always ambitious and interesting (I particularly like The Road to Guantanamo and his Steve Coogan trilogy – 24 Hour Party People, Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story and The Trip). He is working with Indian composer Amit Trivedi, brilliant Japanese composer Shigeru Umebayashi (In the Mood for Love) and frequent collaborators cinematographer Marcel Zyskind and production designer David Bryan. Cast: The film stars Freida Pinto and Riz Ahmed. Expectations: It is somewhat interesting that the only Indian narratives set in India that seem to make it to the States are shot by British filmmakers – I am thinking both of this and Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire (though, I guess there is Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding, but that was 11 years ago). Tess of the d’Urbervilles was done quite well in 2008 by the BBC, but has never had a successful transfer to film. Winterbottom’s films can be quite polarizing, especially his dramas, so it will be interesting to see out this is received. Based on the trailer, it looks potentially good and is probably at the minimum worth a rental for those that like tragic romantic dramas. Trailer: Here.

Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai (Takashi Miike) – Drama – Jul 20 [limited]
Summary: A samurai plots vengeance against the house of a feudal lord after discovering the fate of his ronin son-in-law. Filmmakers: Takashi Miike had a critical hit in the States with his last film 13 Assassins, and is looking to follow up on that goodwill. He is again working with cinematographer Nobuyasu Kita and art director Yuji Hayashida, while composer Ryuichi Sakamoto is new to the team. Cast: Koji Yakusho stars (working again with the director after also starring in 13 Assassins) with Eita and Naoto Takenaka, among others, in support. Expectations: 13 Assassins reestablished Miike for American audiences after his last two breakthrough films came in the early 2000s (Ichi the Killer and a segment of Three… Extremes). It also revitalized the samurai genre. Hara-Kiri looks to be another fantastic samurai picture and well worth checking out for fans of the genre and Japanese cinema. Trailer: Here.

Killer Joe (William Friedkin) – Crime Thriller – Jul 27 [limited]
Summary: Chris is gravely in debt to the wrong people. He desperately needs money. The only option he sees is to collect on his mother’s life insurance policy. So, he hires a hit man – Killer Joe Cooper. Filmmakers: Director William Friedkin is best known for his films from the early 1970s – The French Connection and The Exorcist – lately though, he has not made anything good. He is working with a good group including composer Tyler Bates (Super), cinematographer Caleb Deschanel (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) and production designer Franco-Giacomo Carbone (The Expendables). Cast: The film stars Emile Hirsch, with Matthew McConaughey, Juno Temple, Thomas Haden Church, and Gina Gershon in support. Expectations: Killer Joe is supposed to be part of the Matthew-McConaughey-is-a-good-actor-2012 campaign (along with Mud, Paperboy, and last month’s Magic Mike), as well as being Friedkin’s comeback film (almost thirty years in the making). Personally, I am most interested in seeing Temple’s performance as she is one of my favorite under-the-radar actors right now. The film looks very twisted and demented – and almost like a black comedy. It is definitely worth checking out for fans of that type of film, as this has been playing to critical acclaim on the festival circuit. Trailer: Here.

Art-House Comedies:

Ruby Sparks (Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris) – Romantic Comedy – Jul 25 [limited]
Summary: Calvin is a struggling novelist. One day something strange happens. The character he is writing in his latest novel materializes in real life, and is controlled by his writing to be the perfect girl for him to fall in love with (what could go wrong). Filmmakers: After six years the directors of Little Miss Sunshine Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris are back with a new film (much to the adulation of indie movie fans). They are working with a very good group including composer Nick Urata (Crazy, Stupid, Love.), cinematographer Matthew Libatique (Black Swan) and production designer Judy Becker (Shame). Cast: Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan (who also wrote the film) star with Deborah Ann Woll, Antonio Banderas, Alia Shawkat, Annette Bening, Steve Coogan, Elliott Gould, and Chris Messina in support. Expectations: While I liked Little Miss Sunshine, I feel like I am not as big a fan of it as most people seem to be. That said, I am not anticipating this based on the directors as much as I am for the cast, which has a ton of wonderful potential. Dano and Kazan have great chemistry, and supporting players like Woll, Banderas, Bening, and Coogan should bring a lot to the film as well. Based on what I have seen, the film looks very funny and sort of quirky (like every indie dramedy). I am interested to see where the story goes from “Guy invents his dream girl”. This is probably a must for fans of indie dramedies. Trailer: Here.

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