Tuesday, September 30, 2014

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

Kill the Messenger – Mystery/Thriller Drama – Oct 10
Plot Summary: Based on a true story, Gary Webb is an investigative journalist who uncovers something very troubling: the CIA is not only arming Contra rebels in Nicaragua, they are also importing cocaine into California. Webb decides to pursue the story only to find himself the target of a vicious smear campaign aimed at completely destroying his life. Key Filmmakers Involved: Director Michael Cuesta, composer Nathan Johnson, and cinematographer Sean Bobbitt. Actors Involved: Jeremy Renner, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Michael Sheen, Ray Liotta, Robert Patrick, Andy Garcia, Paz Vega, Michael K. Williams, Barry Pepper, Oliver Platt, Rosemarie DeWitt, and Tim Blake Nelson. Quality Potential: High/Medium. Kill the Messenger has a very interesting story and a great cast. Director Michael Cuesta is a fantastic television director (doing great work on Six Feet Under, Dexter, and Homeland). What is odd, however, is that the film has not been screened at any of the big Fall film festivals seemingly indicating that Focus Features does not quite believe it to be a potential Oscar powerhouse (even though it looks a bit like one on paper). In any case, the film should be worth checking out in some form. It sort of reminds me of one of my favorite films: JFK. Trailer: Here.

Camp X-Ray – Drama – Oct 17
Plot Summary: Pvt. Amy Cole is newly assigned to Guantanamo Bay. At first she tries to do her job, but the place begins to wear her down; however, she finds some happiness when she befriends a man who has been imprisoned there for eight years. Key Filmmakers Involved: Writer-director Peter Sattler. Actors Involved: Kristen Stewart, Peyman Moaadi, and John Carroll Lynch. Quality Potential: Medium. Camp X-Ray looks like a very good character drama, creating a friendship between two very unlikely participants. The film also showcases the idea that people are all similar once you strip away the politics, religion, and social pressures. On a personal level, under different circumstances, enemies might be the best of friends. Peter Sattler makes his feature debut, coming from a background graphic design and storyboarding. Camp X-Ray will also give Kristen Stewart a chance to remind people that she is actually a fairly good actress (putting the stink of the Twilight films behind her). Trailer: Here.

Young Ones – Action/Drama Sci-Fi – Oct 17
Plot Summary: In the near future, the Earth has all but run out of water. In this wasteland, a teenage boy struggles to survive and protect his family. Key Filmmakers Involved: Writer-director Jake Paltrow and composer Nathan Johnson. Actors Involved: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Michael Shannon, Nicholas Hoult, and Elle Fanning. Quality Potential: Medium/Low. Young Ones looks like a decent bleak post-apocalyptic sci-fi drama, and it features a very good cast. Jake Paltrow has proved himself to be an adequate television director; this is his second feature. For most people, I think this is probably one to skip, but for fans of narratives set in wastelands this may be worth a rental. Trailer: Here.

White Bird in a Blizzard – Drama/Thriller – Oct 24
Plot Summary: Kat Conner is just a normal teenage girl in 1988, but her whole life is blown-up when her mother suddenly disappears. Key Filmmakers Involved: Writer-director Gregg Araki. Actors Involved: Shailene Woodley, Eva Green, Christopher Meloni, Thomas Jane, Gabourey Sidibe, Shiloh Fernandez, and Angela Bassett. Quality Potential: Medium/Low. White Bird in a Blizzard looks very much like Gregg Araki’s other work – unblushing in its approach the social, emotional, and sexuality of teenagers, struggling to find their place in the world. Although he has been making films since the 1990s, he has only more recently found a bigger audience (though still relatively small overall) with films like Mysterious Skin (his best film), Smiley Face, and Kaboom. He has assembled a strong cast and this does have some breakout potential as Shailene Woodley is on a big time hot streak in 2014. Yet, Araki’s style is probably still too different to really crossover into mainstream appeal. Trailer: Here.

Nightcrawler – Drama – Oct 31
Plot Summary: Lou Bloom is desperate for a job. He finds just what he is looking for when he discovers the world of freelance crime journalism. Key Filmmakers Involved: Writer-director Dan Gilroy, composer James Newton Howard, and brilliant cinematographer Robert Elswit. Actors Involved: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton, and Riz Ahmed. Quality Potential: High. Nightcrawler debuted on the festival scene in September to rave reviews. It has made a place for itself in the Oscar conversation for Best Film and Best Actor. It is a strong gritty character drama lead by Jake Gyllenhaal’s best performance to date. Dan Gilroy has been around Hollywood for a while now as a screenwriter (The Fall is probably his best work), but he has certainly turned some heads with his debut behind the camera. What also makes the film very interesting is its willingness to attack the current state of news broadcasting/journalism (which is abhorrently sensationalized). Trailer: Here.

Horns – Drama/Fantasy Horror – Oct 31
Plot Summary: Ig Perrish is the prime suspect after his girlfriend is mysteriously murdered. He maintains his innocence, but everyone in town believes him to be guilty. Suddenly, he awakens one morning to find that he is starting to grow horns, becoming the devil that everyone believes him to be. Now, he must find out who did kill his girlfriend to clear his name. Key Filmmakers Involved: Director Alexandre Aja. Actors Involved: Daniel Radcliffe, Juno Temple, Heather Graham, Max Minghella, Kelli Garner, James Remar, Joe Anderson, and David Morse. Quality Potential: Medium/Low. Alexandre Aja has made a number of horror films; most of them are terrible save for maybe High Tension. Horns looks to be his best film, lead by a great performance by Daniel Radcliffe (who is having a good year with this film and the fun indie rom-com What If). Radcliffe and Juno Temple are fantastic young actors and Horns has a refreshingly different story. As far as horror films go, Horns might be one of the best of the year. Trailer: Here.

Art-House Comedies:

Laggies – Romantic Comedy – Oct 24

Plot Summary: Megan just does not want to grow up. When her boyfriend proposes to her, she flees, seeking refuge with a teenage girl (who she just met), unwilling to face her own future. As this is a rom-com of sorts (or an indie take on the genre), we know she will meet a new guy who gets her out of her funk – but it is the journey that will be the fun part. Key Filmmakers Involved: Director Lynn Shelton. Actors Involved: Keira Knightley, Chloe Grace Moretz, Sam Rockwell, Gretchen Mol, Ellie Kemper, Kaitlyn Dever, Mark Webber, and Jeff Garlin. Quality Potential: High/Medium. Laggies is one of the films I am most interested in seeing in October. It looks like a great romantic comedy (a genre I love), which Lynn Shelton should do some fun things with (her film Your Sister’s Sister is also quite good). Plus, the cast is fantastic (filled with top notch actors and comedians). Trailer: Here.

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