Monday, September 29, 2014

Indie Movie Preview: October 2014

After a brief, end-of-summer hiatus in September, it's time to gear up for the films hitting theaters this fall! We're smack in the middle of festival season, and that means a whole new spread of exciting indies to feast on--or, if you're not careful, the risk of drowning in the sheer excess of mediocre content also floating around in the mix. As always, my goal is to help sift out the gems from the junk. Sadly, not all of them get released where I live, so if you happen to watch any of them, do comment below with your own reviews and I'll live vicariously through you. That said, here are my picks for must-see October releases...

Gone Girl
Release Date: October 3
Director: David Fincher
Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry

What’s the story? When Nick Dunne’s wife Amy vanishes on their fifth wedding anniversary, he initiates a town-wide search party and enlists the help of detectives.  But when the details surrounding her disappearance grow increasingly murky, speculations of murder grow, with Nick himself becoming the prime suspect.

My take: Whatever the term is for the movie equivalent of a book that you just can’t put down, that’s what Gone Girl needs to be, no questions asked. Taking on Gillian Flynn’s 2012 international best seller (8.5 million copies is no joke) that captivated even the thriller-averse likes of me, director David Fincher had his work cut out for him to convert the gripping page-turner into an equally enthralling film.  I confess, I initially resented the casting choice of Ben Affleck as the leading role (really, couldn't they have gone with someone less mainstream?), but on subsequent reflection, he’s actually pretty perfect for the clean-cut, morally ambiguous, husband-in-distress whom you want desperately to trust. After months of anticipation for the film, I’m in equal parts nervous and psyched to see if Fincher's version can satisfy a story so many of us have long visualized in our own minds. 

Release Date: October 10
Starring: Miles Teller, J.K Simmons, Paul Reiser, Melissa Benoist

What’s the story? Determined not to succumb to the mediocre career that was his father’s fate, talented young drummer Andrew Neyman enrolls in a prestigious music school to hone his craft. But, mentored by an instructor whose merciless teaching methods often spill into abuse, Andrew finds himself pushed to the edge of the deep end, straddling the line between perfectionism and insanity.

My take: Thanks to my interest level in the Divergent series (read: nonexistent) in which he recently had a part, my only exposure to Miles Teller thus far has been his turn as Ren MacCormack’s goofy sidekick Willard in 2011’s Footloose. While that was fun and all, I’m looking forward to seeing him reveal his range as a laser-focused drumming prodigy here, a leading role that’s earned him resounding praise at Whiplash’s showings at Sundance and Cannes earlier this year.  Watching him berated & bullied, even slapped, in the trailer by a cutthroat J.K Simmons, is enough to make one wince in both sympathy and horror. With its fairly straightforward story, Whiplash’s success seems to rest on its impact as a performance-driven film depicting the ugly side of ambition.

Dear White People
Release Date: October 17
Director: Justin Simien
Starring: Tyler James Williams, Tessa Thompson, Teyonah Parris, Brandon P Bell

What’s the story? Student activist Samantha takes to her campus radio show to call out racial stereotypes. As she broadcasts her views against the diversification of a traditionally all-black dorm, her life intersects with three other individuals on campus navigating, criticizing, even exploiting the culture of university race relations.

My take: Judging from the steady flow of snarky quips dished out by lead character Samantha in the trailer (i.e. “the minimum requirement of black friends needed to not seem racist has just been raised to two. Sorry, your weed man Tyrone doesn’t count”), debutant director Justin Simien’s feature comedy is primed to simultaneously shock, amuse, and make us think. And judging from its “Audience Award” at the San Francisco International Film Festival and “Breakthrough Talent Award” at Sundance, among others, Simien’s no-holds-barred satire of the politics of race has evidently struck a chord with viewers. I love the idea of a film that’s brave enough to take an often sensitive and polarizing issue and uses its volatile energy to appeal to our collective senses of humor. I’ll be watching this both as entertainment and as a study on one brave individual’s unique approach to address a 21st century society in which racial prejudice and stereotyping is still far from obsolete.

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Release Date: October 17
Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Starring: Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, Amy Ryan

What’s the story? Adapted from Raymond Carver’s stage play What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, Birdman follows an aging, has-been celebrity once celebrated as a on-screen superhero, as he attempts to reclaim his fame, career, and dissolving family by starring in a Broadway play.

My take: I admit, the oversized CGI birds in the trailer make me nervous as to just how bizarre things are going to get in this film. However, Birdman, for all its hints at being some sort of enigmatic and supernatural satire, nonetheless looks to be a fascinating critique of the fickle and unforgiving film industry, as well as a poignant story of one man’s battle to remain relevant in a world that seems to have moved on. Plus, there is just no way I’m not watching a movie that’s earned a 9.0 rating on IMDB, is made by the guy who gave us Babel, is already vibrating with Oscar buzz, and has Emma Stone and Edward Norton and Zach Galafianakis in it. Lots to look forward to here.

Men, Women & Children
Director: Jason Reitman
Release Date: October 17
Starring: Rosemarie DeWitt, Jennifer Garner, Judy Greer, Dean Norris, Adam Sandler, Ansel Elgort, Kaitlyn Dever

What’s the story? High school teens and adults struggle to maintain their relationships, both with others and themselves, in the face of the Internet’s ever-expanding power and contemporary society’s alarming tendency to live out most of our lives online.

My take: Like many, I was automatically intrigued by Men, Women & Children’s trailer: a dialogue-free, no-voiceover compilation of scenes contextualized only by mysterious, sometimes suggestive text messages exchanged by the characters. While unusual for a preview, it’s a clever way for director Jason Reitman to set the tone of this novel-turned-film. Tapping into a phenomenon that has become commonplace in our everyday lives, he shines a glaring light in the promo itself onto the irony of our increased digital interactions resulting in diluted real-life intimacy and a greater sense of loneliness. If so much can be established in a two-minute trailer, imagine how it all plays out in the full-fledged feature. We’ve seen cinematic explorations of hitting a technology saturation point in films like Her and Transcendence, but Jason Reitman’s unique way of infusing humor with darkness—not to mention the eclectic ensemble cast he’s assembled—will hopefully lend Men, Women & Children a compelling perspective.