Tuesday, March 4, 2014

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

Art-House Dramas:

Nymphomaniac: Volume I (Lars von Trier) – Drama – Mar 6
Plot Summary: Joe (a woman) is a self-diagnosed nymphomaniac. After being savagely beaten, she is saved by a man who she then recounts her erotic experiences to, feeling the necessary urge to share. Filmmakers: This is the first of two parts of auteur Lars von Trier’s dramatic sexual epic. He is no stranger to work that exists on the fringe, often eliciting very polarizing opinions (among the few people who see his films), but always aesthetically ambitious and artistically engaging. I think that Dogville, Mandalay, and especially Melancholia are very interesting films. Here, Trier is working again with cinematographer Manuel Alberto Claro (whose work on Melancholia is phenomenal) and production designer Simone Grau. Cast: Charlotte Gainsbourg (a frequent collaborator of Trier’s) stars with a supporting ensemble including: Stellan Skarsgard, Stacy Martin, Shia LaBeouf, Christian Slater, Jamie Bell, Uma Thurman, Willem Dafoe, Connie Nielsen, and of course Udo Kier. Expectations: Critics have been very much enamored with Nymphomaniac, as it has played to rave reviews on the festival circuit (as Trier’s films often do); however, thanks to a great marketing campaign, this film might actually be a surprise hit (assuming people actually get over themselves and see this in theaters, which is probably too big an ask). The internet is abuzz with positive sentiment and curiosity about the film. Knowing Trier’s past work, this will likely be a very dark character drama that is unflinching its study of the human soul. Part II comes out in April. Trailer: Here.

Enemy (Denis Villeneuve) – Mystery Thriller – Mar 14 [NYC]
Plot Summary: Leading an unremarkable life, everything is thrown into chaos when a man spots his look-alike in a movie and decides to seek him out (this might be a good companion piece for another 2014 indie film: The Double). Filmmakers: Canadian director Denis Villeneuve is very good at making involving mystery thrillers – Incendies is incredible and last year’s Prisoners is very good as well. He is working with composers Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans, cinematographer Nicolas Bolduc, and production designer Patrice Vermette. Cast: Reteaming with Villeneuve, Jake Gyllenhaal stars with Melanie Laurent (who is generally fantastic), Sarah Gadon (still looking for a breakout role), and Isabella Rossellini in support. Expectations: Enemy has performed well on the festival circuit, critics calling it a solid twisty mystery-thriller that is haunting (and even quite scary). Denis Villeneuve is a great director and he has a strong cast – for me, that is enough to be very interested in seeing this film. Most will need to wait for Blu-ray or catch it online however, as it is not likely to see a wide release in the States. Trailer: Here.

Sabotage (David Ayer) – Action Crime Thriller – Mar 28
Plot Summary: After making the bust of a lifetime, taking down a drug cartel’s safe house, the members of an elite DEA task force find themselves being picked off one by one. A portion of their haul has disappeared, and the cartel thinks they stole it. Filmmakers: Writer-director David Ayer makes really good gritty cop films, be them action films, dramas, and/or thrillers, including: Training Day, Dark Blue, Harsh Times, Street Kings, and End of Watch (the first two he only wrote, while he only directed Street Kings). He is working with composer David Sardy, cinematographer Bruce McCleery, and production designer Devorah Herbert. Cast: The film features a great cast for the genre. Arnold Schwarzenegger stars (which is fantastic), with support from Josh Holloway, Joe Manganiello, Max Martini, Sam Worthington, Mireille Enos, Terrence Howard, Olivia Williams, and Harold Perrineau. Expectations: With Arnold Schwarzenegger starring, Sabotage strikes me as a potentially really cool mixing of the classic 1980s style action film and the more realistic gritty crime stuff Ayer is known for. I grew up on those action films and so there is a nostalgic aspect to their style and stars – a reason I always feel enthusiastic for any new Schwarzenegger film (even though he has not made anything good since 1994’s True Lies, although I do enjoy Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines but I know that it is not good). This film looks potentially like a really good R-rated action film, something we have been lacking lately (Dredd and The Raid are the only two I can recall in the last three years). Trailer: Here.

Art-House Comedies:

Veronica Mars (Rob Thomas) – Mystery – Mar 14
Plot Summary: Taking place some years after the end of the Veronica Mars series, the film picks up with Veronica as a successful lawyer in NYC. She has tried her best to distance herself from her hometown of Neptune (CA) and her past as a teenage sleuth; however, she finds herself pulled back in when her old boyfriend Logan Echolls is accused of murder and he asks for her help. Filmmakers: Rob Thomas is writing and directing the film, making his feature debut. His past experience directing only consists of a few episodes of his own shows (Veronica Mars and Party Down); but, he is the creator of the series/characters so it seems fitting that he is directing. He is working with composer Josh Kramon, cinematographer Ben Kutchins, and production designer Jeff Schoen. Cast: Almost everyone from the series is making an appearance in the film (with many cameos). For those that are unfamiliar, the film stars Kristen Bell (who is also executively producing the film), and features support from Tina Majorino, Chris Lowell, Max Greenfield, Jason Dohring, Francis Capra, Ryan Hansen, Ken Marino, Enrico Colantoni, Percy Daggs III, and Daran Norris. New to the cast are Jerry O’Connell, Jamie Lee Curtis, Justin Long, Martin Starr, and Gaby Hoffmann. Expectations: Veronica Mars is the first film to successful be funded and produced using Kickstarter. It is nice that this film finally got off the ground and made, as the series never really had a sufficient ending (being cancelled at the end of season three). It will also be great to catch up with the characters. The one fear I have is that just because the band is back together does not mean that their new stuff will be good – and really in all likelihood, it probably will not live up to the hype or the series. Film is a much different storytelling medium from television, and Rob Thomas has never made a feature narrative before (his feature experience consists of writing the screenplay for Drive Me Crazy). But again, it will be great to spend a little more time with the characters and get some closure on their stories. Trailer: Here.

Bad Words (Jason Bateman) – Comedy – Mar 28
Plot Summary: As a child Guy Trilby lost the national spelling bee. Now an adult, he has found a loophole allowing him to return to the competition to exact his revenge and win the bee. Filmmakers: Bad Words marks the feature directorial debut of Jason Bateman (who has directed a number of TV episodes). He is working with composer Rolfe Kent, cinematographer Ken Seng, and production designer Shepherd Frankel. Cast: Bateman also stars in the film, and the supporting cast features Kathryn Hahn, Allison Janney, Rachel Harris, Ben Falcone, Philip Baker Hall, and Rohan Chaud. Expectations: Honestly, I have never been a big Jason Bateman fan. I guess I just do not always like the (same) character he plays in everything. Bad Words does sound potentially funny (and should benefit from the ‘R’ rating). It has done quite well with test audiences overall (although, critics have been a bit more mixed). Personally, I think it looks like a rental at best, but again I am not as big a supporter of Bateman’s brand of comedy as most seem to be. Trailer: Here.

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