Wednesday, December 5, 2012

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

Art-House Dramas:

Deadfall (Stefan Ruzowitzky) – Crime Thriller – Dec 7
Summary: A brother and sister rob a tribal casino and murder a cop during their escape. Taking refuge in a small town near the Canadian boarder in the dead of winter, they plan their boarder crossing. However, things become complicated when the sister falls for a local, as the cops close in. Filmmakers: Austrian director Stefan Ruzowitzky had an international hit with his Holocaust film The Counterfeiters (which is very good). Deadfall makes his first American film. He is working with composer Marco Beltrami (Trouble with the Curve), cinematographer Shane Hurlbut (Terminator Salvation) and production designer Paul D. Austerberry (The Three Musketeers). Cast: Eric Bana, Olivia Wilde and Charlie Hunnam star, with Sissy Spacek, Kris Kristofferson, Kate Mara, and Treat Williams in support. Expectations: Deadfall looks like a fairly standard thriller, but it has a good cast, which should make it (more) entertaining. The film has played to mixed reviews on the festival circuit. But, again, the cast and quality director probably make this worth a rental for fans of thrillers. Trailer: Here.

On the Road (Walter Salles) – Drama – Dec 21
Summary: A young writer Sal Paradise decides to take a cross-country trip with a recent friend, the free-spirited Dean Moriarty, and his girl, Marylou. The journey is filled with new experiences, raw emotions and eye opening realities for Sal. Filmmakers: Brazilian director Walter Salles is acclaimed for his fantastic foreign-language films Central Station and The Motorcycle Diaries. Returning to America for his new film On the Road, adapting Jack Kerouac’s classic novel, Salles’s first American film Dark Water is also his worst. He is working with composer Gustavo Santaolalla (Babel), cinematographer Eric Gautier and production designer Carlos Conti (Gautier and Conti are frequent collaborators with Salles). Cast: This has a phenomenal group of actors. Sam Riley, Garrett Hedlund and Kristen Stewart star with supporting work from Amy Adams, Kirsten Dunst, Viggo Mortensen, Steve Buscemi, Elisabeth Moss, Terrence Howard, and Alice Braga. Expectations: Just like Dark Water, On the Road (even though it is an indie film) continues Salles’s trend of making lesser work in the States. The film has played to mixed reviews after a number of festival screenings. Critics applaud the performances but call the overall film a mess (though to Salles defense, the novel is touted to be very difficult to adapt). Personally, I am still looking forward to renting it, as I like many of the actors and think there will be numerous great moments, even if ultimately the film does not work as a whole. Trailer: Here.

Not Fade Away (David Chase) – Drama – Dec 21
Summary: A group of friends in 1960s New Jersey form a band with the dream of making it big. Filmmakers: Writer-director David Chase makes his feature debut with Not Fade Away. While he has worked on a few TV projects, he is highly esteemed solely for creating The Sopranos (one of TV’s greatest dramas). He is working with cinematographer Eigil Bryld (In Bruges) and production designer Ford Wheeler (Let Me In). Cast: The young cast is mostly made up of unknown actors, however Jack Huston (Boardwalk Empire), John Magaro and Bella Heathcote (Dark Shadows) are poised for breakthroughs in Hollywood. James Gandolfini, Brad Garrett, Christopher McDonald, and Isiah Whitlock Jr. feature in support. Expectations: Not Fade Away (which shares its name with the series finale of Angel, completely irrelevant, but the Angel episode Not Fade Away is brilliant and worth mentioning) has played to mixed reviews on the festival circuit, but many critics are applauding the young actors. This is probably worth renting for fans of David Chase and his musical tastes (showcased throughout The Sopranos). Trailer: Here.

Amour (Michael Haneke) – Drama – Dec 21
Summary: George and Anne are retired music teachers in their eighties. Their daughter, a musician, lives abroad. Their relationship is severely tested after Anne has a stroke. Filmmakers: German auteur Michael Haneke has had a string of critically acclaimed hits that have crossed over to the States, including recent films Cache (Hidden) and The White Ribbon. He is working with brilliant cinematographer Darius Khondji (Midnight in Paris) and production designer Jean-Vincent Puzos (Lord of War). Cast: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva and Isabelle Huppert star. Expectations: Amour won the top prize at 2012’s Cannes Film Festival, and many are calling it Haneke’s best film (in a very prestigious career). It also has a good chance of being nominated for a number of Oscars, including Best Picture. This is a must for fans of strong performances and good small dramas. Trailer: Here.

Art-House Comedies:

Hyde Park on Hudson (Roger Michell) – History Dramedy – Dec 7
Summary: The King and Queen of England made their first ever trip to America in 1939 to urge the President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, for aid in their struggles with Germany (in the early days on WWII). The meeting took place in upstate New York at Hyde Park on Hudson. FDR also had a rumored love affair with his distant cousin Margaret Stuckley during the weekend. Filmmakers: British director Roger Michell is the English equivalent to a Hollywood director in the States (just churns out decent work, but usually nothing special). He has made a number of films, some broad comedies like Notting Hill and Morning Glory, a thriller Changing Lanes, and dramas Enduring Love and Venus (which is probably his best). He is working with cinematographer Lol Crawley (Four Lions), composer Jeremy Sams (frequent collaborator with Michell) and production designer Simon Bowles (Eden Lake). Cast: Bill Murray and Laura Linney star, with Olivia Williams, Olivia Colman and Samuel West in support. Expectations: Hyde Park on Hudson was initially thought of as a potential Oscar contender, especially in the acting categories (Bill Murray and Laura Linney). However, now that the film has played at a few festivals to mixed reviews, it is no longer a factor for the Oscars (but may get some acting nominations in the comedy section of the Golden Globes, maybe). Really, if Bill Murray were not in this, I probably would just skip it altogether. Maybe it is worth renting for those interested in the period (a companion piece to The King’s Speech, W.E., Battle of Britain, Mrs. Miniver, Hope and Glory, and The Gathering Storm, and probably more). Trailer: Here.

Lay the Favorite (Stephen Frears) – Comedy – Dec 7
Summary: Beth is a Las Vegas cocktail waitress. However, things start to get better for her when she finds a place with a local gambler Dink – and she is somewhat of a gambling prodigy. But with all good things, she gets in over her head and things spin out of control (based on a true story). Filmmakers: British director Stephen Frears is somewhat of an enigma. He has made fantastic films like Dangerous Liaisons, The Grifters, High Fidelity, Dirty Pretty Things, and The Queen (though, I am less enamored with it that most), but he also has made a lot of bad films, especially recently. He is working with writer D.V. DeVincentis (who co-wrote Grosse Pointe Blank and High Fidelity with Steve Pink and John Cusack), composer James Seymour Brett, cinematographer Michael McDonough (Winter’s Bone), and production designer Dan Davis (The Oranges). Cast: Rebecca Hall stars, with co-stars Bruce Willis, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Joshua Jackson. Vince Vaughn, Laura Prepon, Corbin Bernsen, Joel Murray, John Carroll Lynch, and Frank Grillo feature in support. Expectations: While Lay the Favorite looks funny and has a great cast (I particularly enjoy Rebecca Hall’s work – she is playing something totally different to her normal characters in this), it has been delayed a few times (not a good sign) and has not been met with positive buzz from advanced screenings. In all likeliness, it is not good. But, maybe it is worth renting for the actors (at least, that is my reason). Trailer: Here.

Summary: Dolly is supposed to get married to Owen, but she has fallen for Joseph and does not know what to do (yes, it is that kind of movie). Filmmakers: Writer-director Donald Rice makes his feature debut. He is working with composer Michael Price (Sherlock), cinematographer John Lee and production designer Anna Lavelle. Cast: The film stars Felicity Jones, who is still looking to truly breakthrough (Like Crazy certainly got her more indie work however) in the States (while she is sort of a bigger star in her native Britain). It features Elizabeth McGovern, Mackenzie Crook and Luke Treadaway (who is a potential rising star), among others, in support. Expectations: Cheerful Weather for the Wedding looks like a decent romantic dramedy, full of British wit and the brooding romance melodrama of today’s indie films. Felicity Jones generally has enough charisma and talent to carry a film and make it worth renting at least (particularly for fans of the genre). That said, it also does not strike me as being anything new or noteworthy. Skipping it or watching it probably does not matter in the scheme of 2012’s movie landscape. Trailer: Here.

Save the Date (Michael Mohan) – Romantic Comedy – Dec 14
Summary: Sarah and Beth are sisters in different types of romantic relationships who constantly argue about which one is right. However, Sarah may have found the right guy, finally. Meanwhile, Beth is trying to plan her wedding (possibly the worst plot summary I have ever written, and I am not even going to change it – not bratty at all). Filmmakers: Writer-director Michael Mohan is back with his second feature (but this time with actors people have maybe heard of). His first feature (which no one saw, as it had not real theatrical run) was One Too Many Mornings. He is working with many of the same people as his first, including composer Hrishikesh Hirway, cinematographer Elisha Christian and production designers Cindy Chao and Michele Yu (Christian, Chao and Yu have also been working on Joss Whedon’s upcoming indie projects: Much Ado About Nothing and In Your Eyes). Cast: The film stars Lizzy Caplan, and co-stars Alison Brie, Martin Starr, Mark Webber, and Geoffrey Arend. Expectations: Save the Date looks funny, and has an awesome cast (what more can you ask for from a film like this really). As a fan of comedies, particularly romantic comedies (of which, indie rom-coms/romantic dramedies have been so much better lately than Hollywood’s output in the genre), I am looking forward to seeing this a lot. Should you be so inclined, you can stream it on Amazon now here before its small theatrical run. Trailer: Here.

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