Tuesday, February 4, 2014

At the Movies – February 2014 – Part 1: Independent Films

Art-House Dramas:

The Wind Rises (Hayao Miyazaki) – Animation Drama – Feb 21
Plot Summary: The film looks into the life of Jiro Horikoshi, a man who designed Japanese fighter planes (like the Mitsubishi A6M Zero) during WWII. Filmmakers: The Wind Rises is apparently legendary Japanese animator and storyteller Hayao Miyaki’s last film (unless he decides to come back and make another film, of course). He is known for such brilliant works as My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and Howl’s Moving Castle. Miyaki is again working with frequent collaborator composer Joe Hisaishi. Cast: The English version voice cast includes: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, Mae Whitman, Jennifer Grey, Stanley Tucci, Elijah Wood, John Krasinski, William H. Macy, Mandy Patinkin, Darren Criss, Werner Herzog, and Martin Short. Expectations:  The Wind Rises is nominated for Best Animated Feature at this year’s Academy Awards. It was the favorite among critics in 2013, but it faces stiff competition for the Oscar from Frozen (which I loved). This is of course a must-see for fans of wonderful animated features as Miyaki is a master. This film is a bit different, however, as it is not a fantasy (like his past work) but rather a biography drama of a real person in Japanese history. Trailer: Here.

Welcome to Yesterday (Dean Israelite) – Sci-Fi Thriller – Feb 28
Plot Summary: Things start to get out of control for a group of teenage friends when they discover the plans to a time machine, construct it, and use it to alter their lives. Filmmakers: This marks the feature debut of director Dean Israelite. He is working with cinematographer Matthew J. Lloyd (Robot & Frank). Cast: The ensemble features fresh faces including: Sofa Black-D’Elia, Jonny Weston, Ginny Gardner, Katie Garfield, Sam Lerner, Allen Evangelista, Michelle DeFraites, and Patrick Johnson. Expectations: Welcome to Yesterday is yet another cheaply made found-footage style narrative. Most of these films are terrible and not worth your time; however, there have also been a few good ones as well: Chronicle and Project X come to mind. Welcome to Yesterday looks interesting. It very well might be a decent thriller. It is probably worth checking out via Netflix (assuming it does turn out to be good). Trailer: Here.

Art-House Comedies:

Vampire Academy (Mark Waters) – Horror Comedy – Feb 7
Plot Summary: There is feud stretching back multiple generations between the Moroi (peaceful, mortal vampires) and the Strigoi (bloodthirsty, immortal vampires). Rose Hathaway is a Dhampir (half human/vampire), a guardian of the Moroi. She is tasked with protecting the Moroi Princess Vasilia Dragomir as they attend St. Vladimir’s Academy (a high school) from Strigoi attack. Filmmakers: Director Mark Waters seems like a good fit for this, as he has a good background in teen comedies, such as: Freaky Friday and Mean Girls. He is working with composer Rolfe Kent (who also scored Mean Girls for Waters), cinematographer Tony Pierce-Roberts (Underworld), and production designer Frank Walsh (who is also working as the art director on 2014’s Maleficent). Cast: Zoey Deutch and Lucy Fry star, with Danila Kozlovsky, Gabriel Byrne, Dominic Sherwood, Olga Kurylenko, Sarah Hyland, Cameron Monaghan, Claire Foy, and Joely Richardson in support. Expectations: Vampire Academy is clearly yet another attempt to capitalize on the potential of the young adult market (specifically the Twilight fan base) with a teen fantasy comedy/drama/romance series based on a popular series of books (not surprisingly, a series I have never heard of, but that was true of Twilight, The Hunger Games, and pretty much every other YA book series too). There seems to be a lot of excitement and anticipation for this film on a few movie blogs, but I have not seen much mainstream marketing. I have a feeling this might just exist as a cult film with limited mainstream crossover potential. Instead of going big budget right off the bat with an unproven franchise, the producers have opted to test the market with a relatively inexpensive film. Not a bad idea. This does not look like a film that should interest me (and I am kind of sick of weird vampire stories), but at the same time it looks kind of fun too and it is nice to see that this is more on the comedy side than yet another overly melodramatic fantasy drama. Trailer: Here.

Lust for Love (Anton King) – Romantic Comedy – Feb 7
Plot Summary: Astor has always had a crush on Mila. Finally he gets a chance to woo her, but his inexperience with women gets in the way. Distraught, he seeks help from Cali (Mila’s former best friend) to teach him how to properly court women with the aim of winning Mila back (but, this being a rom-com, Cali and Astor will likely develop feelings too making things complicated). Filmmakers: This marks the feature debut of writer-director Anton King. He is working with composer Darren Morze, cinematographer Adam Bricker, and production designer Rachel Payne. Cast: The film is a Dollhouse reunion of sorts. It stars Fran Kranz and Dichen Lachman (who is also a producer on the film), while featuring Beau Garrett, Caitlin Stasey, Enver Gjokaj, Miracle Laurie, Felicia Day, and Maurissa Tancharoen in support. Kranz, Lachman, Gjokaj, Laurie, and Day were all on Dollhouse together, and Tancharoen co-wrote a number of episodes. Expectations: Lust for Love will be available On-Demand February 7th, which is how many indie films are being distributed these days – straight to the internet. It looks like a great little romantic comedy, a genre I have always loved despite its awful mishandling for the most part over the last couple decades. As one of the few fans of Dollhouse, I am excited to see these actors all work together again, as they did have great chemistry on the show. I think this is definitely one to check out On-Demand or on Netflix for fans of the genre. Trailer: Here.

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