Saturday, October 31, 2009

Netflix It: Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare


Eighties(ish) slasher horror!

Available on Netflix: Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare, directed by Rachel Talalay

Synopsis from AllMovie.com:

The producers insisted that this sixth entry in the Nightmare on Elm Street series marked the last; no points for guessing that additional sequels followed. This time, homicidal wraith Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) decides to extend his reign of terror past Elm Street. His agent-on-earth is his own long-lost daughter Maggie (Lisa Zane, sister of Phantom star Billy Zane). Securing a job as a dream therapist for troubled teens, Maggie is able to "open up" the minds of her patients so that Freddy can exercise his usual bloody prerogative. In a garish, 3-D climax, Freddy himself becomes the victim of the vengeful Maggie. Since what happens in this picture is laid out in the title, we can't possibly be accused of giving the ending away. Watch for cameos from Roseanne and her then-husband Tom Arnold, Alice Cooper, Elinor Donahue, and Johnny Depp, one of the stars of the very first Nightmare.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Netflix It: Twilight


Available on Netflix: Twilight, directed by Catherine Hardwicke

Okay, so it's not a horror movie! But there are vampires. Sort of.

Synopsis from AllMovie.com (on the off chance you haven't already seen the movie):

When Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) reluctantly moved to the perpetually overcast town of Forks, WA, and set out to carve a niche for herself, she assumed it would be one similar to the low-profile social position she held back in Phoenix. First on the list of surprises was the unfamiliar attention from the male population of her new high school; second, the attention from one male in particular: Edward Cullen, Vampire (Robert Pattinson). Before long, the unlikely soul mates find themselves in a passionate relationship with a variety of significant setbacks, including Edward's special-needs diet (he doesn't eat humans, but Bella's scent inspires a nearly impossible to harness bloodlust) and the human girl's mortality. Though things proceed relatively smoothly at first (Edward even introduces Bella to his adoptive vampire family), a visiting vampire clan consisting of James (Cam Gigandet), Victoria (Rachelle Lefevre), and Laurent (Edi Gathegi) catches Bella's unique scent and threatens the young couple's budding, if dangerous, happiness. James, known for his powerful tracking ability, becomes obsessed with making Bella his next victim. Fearing for Bella's safety and that of her loved ones, the Cullens must combine their collective talents in order to stop the highly predatory James before his goal is accomplished.



And I just can't resist:

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Netflix It: The Velvet Vampire


Horror schlocksploitation!

Available on Netflix: The Velvet Vampire, directed by Stephanie Rothman

Synopsis/review from CommunistVampires.com:

They don't make 'em like this anymore.

See, there's this cat who's hanging out at this art gallery, and he meets this artist chick, who invites him and his old lady to her groovy hideaway in the desert. And this cat, he really digs this chick, so one night they make love, not war. But his old lady catches them, and seems she's got a hangup about free love, so she lays a heavy trip on him. Too bad he doesn't listen, 'cause it turns out this chick is a vampire...

Yes, The Velvet Vampire is a product of its time. A vampire film replete with hippie counterculture icons and attitudes. Lee (Michael Blodgett) feels little compunction about committing adultery with Diane (Celeste Yarnall), and when his wife Susan (Sherry Miles) finds out, he answers: "Okay, so we made love. So what's the big deal?" Director Stephanie Rothman (a Roger Corman protégée) herself seems to share Lee's attitude. Susan is miffed at Lee's infidelity, but quickly shrugs it off. At worst, she threatens to "get back" at him by taking a tumble with Diane herself.

...

The counterculture of the 1960s has not worn well with age. Cinema's 1940s noir anti-heroes remain influential and emulated, whereas onscreen hippies often appear silly, even unintentionally hilarious. Yet The Velvet Vampire overcomes its anachronistic milieu, and remains a beautifully haunting film, this despite a low budget and occasionally rough production values. Its erotic dream desert sequences, underscored with "dreamy" acoustic strings, evoke a psychedelic LSD trip.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Netflix It: Office Killer


More horror!

Available on Netflix: Office Killer, directed by Cindy Sherman

Synopsis from AllMovie.com:

Photographer Cindy Sherman, who often uses motifs from exploitation films in her work, pays witty tribute to slasher films in this satiric horror-comedy. Dorine Douglas (Carol Kane) has spent 16 years at the bottom of the totem pole as a copy editor for Constant Consumer magazine when, due to budget cuts, she's downsized into a contract employee and forced to work out of her home. Dorine isn't at all happy about this, and when she's called back into the office to help obnoxious writer Gary (David Thornton) fix a glitch in his computer, she's not at all upset when he's accidentally electrocuted. Dorine brings Gary's corpse home to join her in front of the TV. When pushy publisher Virginia (Barbara Sukowa) orders Dorine and overly ambitious Kim (Molly Ringwald) to salvage Gary's story from his notes, Dorine snaps, and soon Gary has some company in Dorine's increasingly crowded home office. Office Killer also stars Jeanne Tripplehorn and Michael Imperioli as more of Dorine's co-workers.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Netflix It: Pet Sematary



More horror...

Available on Netflix: Pet Sematary, directed by Mary Lambert

Synopsis from AllMovie.com:

A doctor dabbles in magical resurrection with horrific consequences in this supernatural thriller adapted from the novel by Stephen King. When Dr. Louis Creed (Dale Midkiff) and his family move from Chicago to an old farmhouse in rural Maine, their only concern is the busy highway that flanks their new home. Louis' family -- wife Rachel (Denise Crosby), daughter Ellie (Blaze Berdahl), and toddler Gage (Miko Hughes) -- soon meet kindly old duffer Jud Crandall (Fred Gwynne), who introduces them all to the local attractions, including a pet cemetery built on the remains of a Native American burial ground. When Rachel and the kids head off to visit Louis' in-laws, Ellie's cat gets flattened by a truck. Jud counsels Louis to bury it in the old Indian portion of the cemetery; the next day, it returns from the dead, carrying with it the stink of the earth and a decidedly bad attitude. Shortly thereafter, Louis is tempted to use the cemetery's magical powers again when his son suffers a tragic accident. A snarling kitty, it turns out, is nothing compared to the horror of a little boy with no soul and a taste for scalpels. In addition to adapting his own novel for the screen, writer King appeared in a brief cameo as the minister presiding over Gage's funeral. Director Mary Lambert would return with Pet Sematary Two.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Fresh


Showing at Lincoln Center tomorrow: Fresh, directed by Ana Sofia Joanes

Synopsis from Lincoln Center's website:

We are what we eat. We’re also how we grow what we eat. Filmmaker Ana Sofia Joanes takes a close look at the innovative alternatives to industrial food production that have been championed by visionaries from around the country: urban farmer and activist Will Allen, sustainable farmer and entrepreneur Joel Salatin, and Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, among others. Where our current system fails us by contaminating the soil, water, and sometimes the food itself, smaller scale sustainable practices offer a hopeful new vision of healthier land, animals, and, ultimately, people.

You can find more information and more screening dates on the film's website.

Netflix It: Near Dark


The Halloween countdown continues...

Available on Netflix: Near Dark, directed by Kathryn Bigelow

Synopsis from AllMovie.com:

In Kathryn Bigelow's tale of vampires in the American Southwest, the creatures of the night aren't elegant, cloaked aristocrats. They're a gun-toting gang that dresses and acts like a motorcycle gang. Caleb (Adrian Pasdar), a restless young man from a small farm town, meets an alluring drifter named Mae (Jenny Wright). She reveals herself to be a vampire, who "turns" Caleb into one of her kind rather than kill him. But the rest of her "family" is slow to accept the newcomer. The ancient leader, Jesse (Lance Henriksen), and his psychotic henchman Severen (Bill Paxton) lay down the law; Caleb has to carry his own weight or die. However, he can't bring himself to kill. He manages to win the gang's approval when he rescues them from certain death in a daytime gunfight during a spectacular motel shoot-out in which every bullet hole lets in a deadly ray of sunlight. When the vampires threaten Caleb's real family, he's forced to choose between life and death. The film avoids the complex vampire mythology of such films as Interview with the Vampire. Instead, it emphasizes the intense, seductive bond that forms between Caleb and the violent but tightly knit gang.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Netflix It: American Psycho


Available on Netflix: American Psycho, directed by Mary Harron

Maybe not a horror movie, strictly speaking, but it scared the bejeebus out of me.

Synopsis from AllMovie.com:

Bret Easton Ellis' dark and violent satire of America in the 1980s is brought to the screen in this unsettling drama with black comic overtones. Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale), the son of a wealthy Wall Street financier, is pursuing his own lucrative career with his father's firm. Bateman is the prototypical yuppie, obsessed with success, fashion, and style. He is also a serial killer who murders, rapes, and mutilates both strangers and acquaintances without provocation or reason. Donald Kimble (Willem Dafoe), a police detective, questions Bateman about the disappearance of Paul Allen (Jared Leto), whom Patrick murdered several days earlier. As Kimble stays on Bateman's trail, Bateman's mask of studied, distant cool begins to fall apart. American Psycho also features Reese Witherspoon as Bateman's girlfriend, as well as Samantha Mathis, Chloe Sevigny, and Guinevere Turner; the latter also co-authored the screenplay. Controversy followed the production from the start, when speculation that Leonardo Di Caprio would play Bateman sparked concerns that he would lure preteens to an R-rated movie. Di Caprio soon bowed out of the project, and original leading man Bale was reinstated. Later, a group of Toronto residents attempted to block filming in that city after Canadian serial killer Paul Bernardo claimed that Ellis' novel inspired his murder spree.



One last thing, and this is very important: Do not EVER read the book.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Netflix It: Hurt


The Halloween countdown of lady-directed horror movies begins...

Available on Netflix: Hurt, directed by Barbara Stepansky

Synopsis from the movie's website:

There are terrible things happening in the desert. Unexplainable, frightening things. Tragic, inexplicable incidents... ever since she arrived.

The Coltrane family's life has been devastated by an untimely death. Widowed Helen Coltrane (Melora Walters - "Big Love" ), along with her teenage son (Jackson Rathbone - Twilight) and daughter, are given shelter by her reclusive and quirky gun-loving brother-in-law. As they grapple with the reality of their shattered, altered life and twist of fate, coincidence steps in with a seemingly lovely foster child who appears touting a story that Helen's husband had pledged to take her in. And as they do, a macabre story of deception unfolds...

Friday, October 23, 2009

Amelia


Opening this weekend: Amelia, directed by Mira Nair

Synopsis from the film's website:

Amelia stars two-time Academy Award-winner Hilary Swank as Amelia Earhart, the legendary aviatrix and enigmatic symbol of the American free spirit, who was guided by a profound curiosity for everything life had to offer.

Earhart's early aviation triumphs and meteoric rise to fame and fortune were propelled along by her tempestuous partnership and eventual marriage to publisher George Putnam. Bound by mutual ambition, admiration and, ultimately a great love, their bond could not be broken even with her brief passionate affair with Gene Vidal.

Ms. Earhart was the first woman to solo the Atlantic and was the first pilot, man or woman, to fly unaccompanied across the Pacific. In Amelia's attempt to be the first to fly around the world in an equatorial flight. Her life was tragically cut short with her mysterious and untimely disappearance over the South Pacific in 1937.

The Wedding Song


Opening this weekend: The Wedding Song, written and directed by Karin Albou

Synopsis from AllMovie.com:

Two young women find that their differences bring them closer during a difficult time in this drama from writer and director Karin Albou. Nour (Olympe Borval) and Myriam (Lizzie Brochere) grew up in the same neighborhood in Tunis, and as they've grown into adulthood they've stayed close friends, even though Nour is a Muslim and Myriam is Jewish. It's 1942, and Tunis is under occupation by Axis forces, which has made life difficult for both women; the German authorities have prevented Khaled (Najib Oudghiri), Nour's fiancée, from getting a job, forcing them to postpone their wedding, while Myriam's family must pay exorbitant fines for being Jewish, which may lead her into a marriage of convenience to a wealthy physician (Simon Abkarian) many years her senior. While Myriam sees no way out of her desperate situation, Nour finds that the Nazi propaganda circulated throughout the community is piquing her worst suspicions about Jewish stereotypes. But as Nour and Myriam sink deeper into their personal crises, they begin to understand how badly they need one another's support.

Strigoi


Showing at the Austin Film Festival: Strigoi, directed by Faye Jackson

Synopsis from the film's website:

When the villagers killed Constantin Tirescu, they thought it was justice. Vlad Cozma thinks it was murder. Now Constantin thinks pickles might go nice with blood.

Strigoi is a Vampire movie that defies categorization. Shedding a fantastic light on a post-communist Romanian village, the film introduces us to an ancient myth: Strigoi, the souls that rise again after death to seek justice if they’ve been wronged, their appetites intensified by a hunger for blood.

Vlad (Catalin Paraschiv) investigates a mysterious death in his grandfather’s village that raises questions about land ownership in the community. The trail points to ex-communist bully Constantin Tirescu and his wife, but when Vlad confronts them, he discovers that the richest landowners in the village have become real bloodsuckers.

Torey's Distraction


Showing at the Austin Film Festival: Torey's Distraction, directed by Tisha Blood

Synopsis from the film's website:

In 1993, Torey Harrah was born with Apert syndrome: a rare genetic condition marked by a prematurely fused skull – resulting in skeletal mutation, severe craniofacial anomalies and potential lifelong brain damage.

Filmmaker Tisha Blood follows Torey and others like her throughout 10 years – providing an intimate glimpse into the transforming powers of science, family, humor, hope and compassion.

Myna Has Gone


Showing at the Austin Film Festival: Myna Has Gone, directed by Sonia Escolano and Sadrac González

Synopsis from the film's website:

Myna is a young illegal inmigrant woman from an eastern Country that is at war. She works as a home assistant for a marriage and their small son. When the parents go on a trip, Myna has to shoulder all the responsibility for the household and the child since the couple have left their trust in Myna. However, one night, the child has an accident and Myna, who knows that she can be deported if she goes to the hospital, decides to help the child in underground ways.

Houston We Have a Problem


Showing at the Austin Film Festival: Houston – We Have a Problem, directed by Nicole Torre

Synopsis from the film's website:

Houston — We Have a Problem steps inside the energy capital of the world to see the hard truths about oil, from the Texas oilmen themselves. For decades American presidents have cried the woes of our nation’s addiction to foreign oil. Hollow campaign promises project a future that can be independent and sustainable. Yet the truth is, the energy policy of the USA has only been a strategy of defense, not offense. We are fighting a cold war on energy, and both Wall Street and Main Street have no idea what to do. We will see a new form of wildcatting in alternatives, and learn how many oilmen believe that being shackled to cheap oil is only destroying our empire. Many old timers realize that the oil industry must change, advising that it is going to take everything to meet America’s future energy needs.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

In 500 Words or Less


Showing at the Austin Film Festival: In 500 Words or Less, directed by Molly Fowler

Synopsis from the film's website:

Going to college is a rite of passage for many American high school students, but the process can be overwhelming: college fairs, tours, SATs, applications. And then there's the personal essay. How does a seventeen-year old define herself to total strangers when she's only beginning to discover who she really is? And how can she be expected to do it in an essay of 500 words or less? Point Made Films takes you on the journey to college with four very different young people as they spend their last year with their families trying to figure out who they are and who they want to be. Ride Molly's emotional roller coaster as she tries to balance her parents' expectations with her own dreams. Cheer Michael on as he steps out from behind his older sister's Ivy League shadow to discover his own priorities. Encourage Leo to fulfill his mother's American dream while trying to maintain ties to his Dominican heritage. And root for Lindsay as she searches for her next home while the one she's known for 17 years gets turned upside down by illness and loss. In 500 Words or Less serves as a portrait of four of the nearly 1.5 million families who go through this process each year. While race, geography and socio-economic status affected how they got here, their stories converge as they all juggle acceptance, rejection, decision-making and letting go.

Grown in Detroit


Showing at the Austin Film Festival: Grown in Detroit, directed by Mascha Poppenk and Manfred Poppenk

Synopsis from the Austin Film Festival website:

Teen moms becoming urban farmers. Utopia? Not in Detroit. Nature is taking over the city and the new generation is being taught to harvest its profit. The hometown of mass production is turning green once again. In the midst of the city, pregnant teens are being taught agricultural skills at the farm that sits next to their school. Through this process, the girls are learning about the value of independence and planning a better life. “Back to the roots” is a simple yet effective solution for a city that has to start all over again and perhaps a lesson to be learned for the rest of the world.

The film's website is here.

Serious Moonlight


Showing at the Austin Film Festival: Serious Moonlight, directed by Cheryl Hines (and written by Adrienne Shelly)

Synopsis from the movie's website:

Louise (Meg Ryan), a high-powered Manhattan lawyer, is touched when she arrives for the weekend to her family's upstate getaway to find it strewn with rose petals by her husband of 13 years, Ian (Timothy Hutton). Unfortunately... Ian is not expecting Louise, rather his much younger girlfriend (Kristen Bell). In fact, he's actually in the process of writing Louise a letter explaining his intention to leave her for good. An oddly cool Louise has other plans. She takes Ian captive, refusing to release him until he commits to working on their marriage together. When Ian's impatient mistress shows up, not to mention an opportunistic gardener (Justin Long), things start to get seriously complicated. Not merely a war of the sexes, Serious Moonlight is a story of a war of the wills as Ian tries to talk his way out of the situation.

Effi Briest


Showing at the Chicago International Film Festival: Effi Briest, directed by Hermine Huntgeburth

Synopsis from the Chicago International Film Festival website:

In 19th-century Germany, 17-year-old Effi Briest sees her carefree life disappear when her parents marry her off to a man 20 years her senior. To find respite from her dull domestic existence, she begins an affair with a handsome young officer, but their dalliance carries a high cost... This adaptation of the famous novel approaches the classic story through a post-women's-lib lens, allowing it to transcend costume-drama conventions.

Trailer (in German without subtitles):

Made in China


Showing at the Chicago International Film Festival: Made in China, directed by Judi Krant

Synopsis from the film's website:

Slinkys, Pet Rocks, Ant Farms... behind each of those great novelties is the story of a great Novelty Inventor. Made In China is the story of one such inventor.

Johnson, a self-styled novelty inventor from a small town in East Texas, is determined to bring his big idea - "a humorous domestic hygiene product"- to the world. Johnson's journey takes him to the Mecca of the novelty world: China, where anything is possible and everything has its price.

Lost in the backstreets of Shanghai, Johnson discovers that it takes more than a million dollar idea to make it to the big time. It takes guts, determination, and a fist full of sneezing powder.

Speaking of guts and determination, here is an interview with Judi Krant about slipping under the radar to film in China.

Hidden Diary


Showing at the Chicago International Film Festival: Hidden Diary, directed by Julie Lopes-Curval

Synopsis from the Chicago International Film Festival website:

While visiting her parents in France, Audrey discovers her grandmother's diary, the only memento of a woman who abandoned her family. Audrey's search for understanding uncovers a family secret buried under 50 years of silence, and ultimately illuminates her relationship with her own mother (Catherine Deneuve) and the deep, complex bonds between three generations of women.

Mississippi Damned


Showing at the Chicago International Film Festival: Mississippi Damned, directed by Tina Mabry

Synopsis from the film's website:

Wanting to escape was the easy part. Taking place in 1986 and 1998 and based on a true story, three poor, Black kids in rural Mississippi reap the consequences of their family's cycle of abuse, addiction, and violence. They independently struggle to escape their circumstances and must decide whether to confront what's plagued their family for generations or succumb to the same crippling fate, forever damned in Mississippi. Bitterly honest and profoundly subtle, writer/director Tina Mabry successfully captures growing up in a world where possibilities and opportunities seem to die in the face of the suffocating reality of physical and sexual abuse, obsession, and a myriad of destructive compulsions.



Interview with Tina Mabry:

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

I Know a Woman Like That


Showing at the Chicago International Film Festival: I Know a Woman Like That, directed by Elaine Madsen

Synopsis from the film's website:

The documentary I Know a Woman Like That, is being produced by Virginia Madsen and directed by her Emmy Award-winning mother Elaine. In response to a comment she made to Virginia when saddened by the death of a dear friend:

"I hope someday you know a woman like that; so engaged in life, politically, socially, an avid reader, fully aware, with friends of all ages..."

Virginia quickly responded, "I already know a woman like that, Mom."

Thus emerged the apt title for their documentary; when Virginia encouraged her mother "to get behind the camera again." And that's exactly what Elaine is doing.

Their documentary features live interviews with extraordinary women ages 64 to 94. The interviews reveal the full engagement of these women in the arts, athletics, social justice, environmentalism, and high finance. Their unconventional choices, attitudes and discoveries about the opportunities they find at this time in their lives will motivate and inspire people of all ages.

The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond


Showing at the Chicago International Film Festival: The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond, directed by Jodie Markell

Synopsis from AllMovie.com:

A rebellious socialite defies social conventions for a once-in-a-lifetime shot at true love, only to see her hopes for the future shattered after a priceless diamond vanishes into thin air in this romantic drama adapted from a long-lost Tennessee Williams screenplay. Fisher Willow (Bryce Dallas Howard) is the debutant daughter of a wealthy Memphis plantation owner. She harbors a great disdain for the narrow-minded elite who seem to worship the ground her father walks on, and takes great delight in shocking and insulting them whenever the opportunity to do so arises. Shortly after returning from studying overseas, Fisher is swept off her feet by lowly farmhand Jimmy Dobyne (Chris Evans), who works on her father's plantation. His father a hopeless alcoholic and his mother having long since lost her mental capacities, Jimmy seems destined to go nowhere in life until Fisher hires him as her escort for the lavish party season and attempts to pass him off as an upper-class suitor in order to placate her spinster aunt Cornelia (Ann-Margret), who's been placed in charge of the family fortune. When one of Cornelia's priceless diamonds suddenly goes missing, a storm of accusations and betrayals begins to brew, effectively threatening to destroy any hopes that Fisher and Jimmy may have had for a happy future together.

Dear Doctor


Showing at the Chicago International Film Festival: Dear Doctor, directed by Miwa Nishikawa

Synopsis from the Chicago International Film Festival website:

Lies told in the name of love and compassion are the focus of this beautiful psychological drama about a country doctor whose good intentions outstrip his honesty. Universally beloved by his community for his kindness and diligence, he abruptly leaves town one day, throwing it into turmoil. Astonishing secrets about his background soon surface, and the villagers must come to terms with this new knowledge of the man they so admire.

Trailer (no subtitles):

Who's Afraid of the Wolf?


Showing at the Chicago International Film Festival: Who's Afraid of the Wolf?, directed by Maria Procházková

Synopsis from the Chicago International Film Festival website:

In this fantastical fairy tale for all ages, the adults in young Terezka's life have suddenly begun to act oddly. Hushed conversations, a strange new character, and an unwanted revelation convince her that her mother is not who she seems. Terezka's imagination runs wild as she tries to understand the family crisis and wake up from what she hopes is a bad dream.


Girls on the Wall


Showing at the Chicago International Film Festival: Girls on the Wall, directed by Heather Ross

Synopsis from the movie's website:

A group of incarcerated teenage girls get a shot at redemption in a most unlikely form: a musical based on their lives. As they write and stage their play, the girls must re-live their crimes, reclaim their humanity, and take a first step toward breaking free of the prison system.

Meet Whitney (17)—the eyes and ears of Warrenville, and our unexpected heroine. Intimidating, self-isolating, and one of Warrenville’s longest-term inmates, Whitney is infamous for a crime she won’t talk about. Despite herself, she soon emerges as one of the most powerful storytellers in the group. Her writing introduces us to her charming, drug-addled father, a man whose mistakes paved the way to his daughter’s heinous crime. As the performance approaches, Whitney’s growing voice may lead both of them to confront the past and try to move forward.


Rosa (17) is a hot-tempered girl who taunts guards and inmates alike. Released from Warrenville, she returns weeks later after getting nearly killed in a knife fight. With a constant reminder of her temper carved into her throat, she is forced to grapple with the abuse that is the source of her anger.


Christina (18) is a friendly, popular girl whose only crime is running away. Drawn into street life by her mother’s crack habit, she’s spent most of her life in jails and foster placements. When she gets a chance for adoption by a wealthy Christian family, she jumps at it– but can’t reconcile her new upper-middle class life with her loyalty to her mother’s world.

When the girls hit the stage in front of their families, prison staff and utter strangers, hitting the notes isn’t important: it’s their chance to seize their stories and tell them to the world. Given unprecedented access to this juvenile correctional facility by the State of Illinois, the powerful characters of Girls on the Wall will surprise you with their candor, intimacy, and unexpected sense of humor. Together, they illustrate the power of storytelling to make sense of even the darkest pasts.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Claustrophobia


Showing at the Chicago International Film Festival: Claustrophobia, directed by Ivy Ho

Synopsis from the film's Facebook page:

每一天,每間辦公室裡,總有大同小異的故事在上演。辦公室裡頭的人要不鬥個你死我活,要不愛至兩敗俱傷。最令人感到無奈的是,這種愛情故事多麼普通、多麼耳熟能詳!

Um... the Chicago International Film Festival has one in English...

Five coworkers cram into one car for their shared ride home. The tension churning through this tight space instantly intimates the clandestine office romances Claustrophobia will explore. Cleverly piecing together fragments of these often ambiguous relationships, this urbane, naturalistic drama reminds us that physical proximity and intimacy are two vastly different things.

Moon Inside You


Showing at the Chicago Film Festival: Moon Inside You, directed by Diana Fabiánová

Synopsis from the film's website:

Like many other women, Diana has been suffering from problematic periods for years. With every new cycle, the same question arises: "Why the pain and annoyance if I am healthy?"

Her initial innocent curiosity sparks off an emotional voyage to the very roots of femininity and life. Moon Inside You is a fresh look at a taboo that defines the political and social reality of both women and men in a more profound way than society might be willing to admit. Facing the menstrual etiquette with doses of humour and self-irony, the documentary approaches the subject through both personal and collective references, thus challenging our preconceived idea of womanhood.

Cropsey


Showing at the Chicago Film Festival: Cropsey, directed by Barbara Brancaccio & Joshua Zeman

Synopsis from the film's website:

Growing up on Staten Island, filmmakers Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio had often heard the legend of "Cropsey." For the kids in their neighborhood, Cropsey was the escaped mental patient who lived in the old abandoned Willowbrook Mental Institution, who would come out late at night and snatch children off the streets. Sometimes Cropsey had a hook for a hand, other times he wielded a bloody axe, but it didn’t matter, Cropsey was always out there, lurking in the shadows, waiting to get them.

Later as teenagers, the filmmakers assumed Cropsey was just an urban legend: a cautionary tale used to keep them out of those abandoned buildings and stop them from doing all those things that teenagers like to do. That all changed in the summer of 1987 when a 13-year-old girl with Down syndrome, named Jennifer Schweiger, disappeared from their community. That was the summer all the kids from Staten Island discovered that their urban legend was real.

Now as adults Joshua and Barbara have returned to Staten Island to create Cropsey, a feature documentary that delves into the mystery behind Jennifer and four additional missing children. The film also investigates Andre Rand, the real-life boogeyman linked to their disappearances.

Embarking on a mysterious journey into the underbelly of their forgotten borough, these filmmakers uncover a reality that is more terrifying than any urban legend.

Rain


Screening at the Chicago Film Festival: Rain, directed by Maria Govan

Synopsis from the film's website:

One of the first indigenous feature films to come out of the Bahamas, Rain (introducing Renel Brown) steers us away from the simplistic perception of a postcard paradise, instead taking us "over the hill" into the challenged life of a young local girl determined to get to know the mother who abandoned her as a young child.

Rain is a spirited fourteen-year old who, after the death of her grandmother (Irma P. Hall), forgoes the sheltered, simple life of her home on Ragged Island to seek out her estranged mother in the big city of Nassau.

Her dreams of a loving reconciliation are quickly shattered when she meets Glory (Nicki Micheaux), a scarred, proud, guarded woman bearing no resemblance to the mother she had hoped for. Glory's self destructive lifestyle, diminished by drug abuse and prostitution, is rudely awakened by the imminent role of motherhood.

Confronted by unforeseeable trials, Rain's passion for running and deeply rooted spirit brings two allies into her life: an insightful and inspiring track coach and a charming, rebellious teenage neighbor. And in time, Rain's spirit and talent take her to unimaginable heights.

Shot in a style that combines gritty realism, a bold and unforgettable color palette, soulful Bahamian music, and the use of local actors alongside seasoned pros, Rain takes us on a journey into the heart of a child, into the pulse of a country and the spirit of its people.

Motherhood


Opening this weekend: Motherhood, written and directed by Katherine Dieckmann

Synopsis from the film's website:

From writer/director Katherine Dieckmann, the acclaimed filmmaker of Diggers and A Good Baby, comes Motherhood, starring Uma Thurman, Anthony Edwards and Minnie Driver. Shot entirely on location in New York’s West Village, this bittersweet comedy distills the dilemmas of the maternal state (marriage, work, self, and not necessarily in that order) into the trials and tribulations of one pivotal day. Motherhood forms a genre of one – no other movie has dedicated itself in quite this way to probing exactly what it takes to be a mother, with both wry humor and an acute sense of authenticity.

Eliza Welch (Thurman) is a former fiction writer-turned-mom-blogger with her own site, “The Bjorn Identity.” Putting her deeper creative ambitions on hold to raise her two children, Eliza lives and works in two rent-stabilized apartments in a walk-up tenement building smack in the middle of an otherwise upscale Greenwich Village. Eliza’s good-natured but absent-minded husband (Edwards) seems tuned out to his wife’s conflicts, not to mention basic domestic reality, while her best friend Sheila (Minnie Driver) understands this – and Eliza – all too well.

Motherhood takes place in a single day that pushes to the tipping point Eliza’s fundamental fear she’s lost herself. Starting at dawn, her to-do list is daunting: prepare for and throw her daughter’s 6th birthday party, mind her toddler son, battle for a parking space during an epic alternate side parking showdown, navigate playground politics with overbearing moms, and mend a rift with after posting her best friend’s confession on her blog. On top of it all, Eliza decides to enter a contest run by an upscale parenting magazine. All she has to do is write 500 words answering the deceptively simple question, “What Does Motherhood Mean to Me?”

In the process of trying by nightfall to put these thoughts into words that don’t “sound like bad ad copy,” Eliza rediscovers her own voice and realizes what is truly valuable in her life. At once hilarious and poignant, Motherhood looks at the challenges facing mothers everywhere with a keen eye to every slight to a nearly-middle-aged woman’s selfhood – from being called “Ma’am” by condescending twentysomethings to endlessly stooping to pick up toys and a spouse’s dropped socks.

Motherhood is a hymn to the joys and sorrows of raising children, and the necessity of not losing yourself in the process. Thurman’s Eliza is a unique creation, by turns endearing and hysterical, tender and aggrieved. She is ably abetted by Edwards’ subtly layered performance as her distracted spouse, and Driver’s earthy, bemused turn as her closest ally. With remarkably naturalistic performances from its child actors and a roster of colorfully only-in-New-York supporting players, Motherhood is at once powerfully heartfelt and scrupulously real.

Cool thing: from now until November 6, if you buy a ticket to Motherhood in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago or Boston through Fandango, $1 of your purchase will be donated (by whom? I don't know) to Susan G. Komen for the Cure for breast cancer research.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Netflix It: The Virgin Suicides


Available on DVD: The Virgin Suicides, directed by Sofia Coppola

Synopsis from AllMovie.com:

A dark comedy punctuated by moments of drama, The Virgin Suicides explores the emotional underpinnings of a family starting to come apart at the seams in 1970's Midwestern America. The Lisbons seem like an ordinary enough family; Father (James Woods) teaches math at a high school in Michigan, Mother (Kathleen Turner) has a strong religious faith, and they have five teenage daughters, ranging from 13-year-old Cecilia (Hannah Hall) to 17-year-old Therese (Leslie Hayman). However, the Lisbon family's sense of normalcy is shattered when Cecilia falls into a deep depression and attempts suicide. The family is shaken and Mother and Father seek the advice of psychiatrist Dr. Hornicker (Danny DeVito), who suggests the girls should be allowed to socialize more with boys. However, boys soon become a serious problem for Cecilia's sister Lux (Kirsten Dunst). Lux has attracted the eye of a high-school Romeo named Trip (Josh Hartnett), who assures Father of his good intentions. But Cecilia finally makes good on her decision to kill herself, throwing the Lisbons into a panic; and after attending a school dance, Trip seduces and then abandons Lux. The Lisbons pull their daughters out of school, as an emotionally frayed Mother keeps close watch over them. Meanwhile, Lux continues to attract the attentions of the local boys, and she responds with a series of clandestine sexual episodes with random partners as often as she can sneak out of the house. The debut feature from Sofia Coppola (whose father, Francis Ford Coppola, co-produced this film), The Virgin Suicides also features supporting performances from Scott Glenn and Giovanni Ribisi. The film was shown as part of the Directors Fortnight series as the 1999 Cannes Film Festival.

Coco Before Chanel


Now in theaters: Coco Before Chanel, directed by Anne Fontaine

Synopsis from the film's website:

A little girl who is sent with her sister to an orphanage in the heart of France, who waits in vain every Sunday for her father to come for her...

A cabaret performer with a weak voice who sings to an audience of drunken soldiers...

A humble seamstress, who stitches hems at the back of a provincial tailor's shop...

A young, skinny courtesan, to whom protector Etienne Balsan offers a safe haven, amongst the idle and decadent...

A woman in love who knows she will never be anyone's wife, refusing marriage even to Boy Capel, the man who returned her love...

A rebel who finds the conventions of her time oppressive, and instead dresses in her lovers' clothes...

This is the story of Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel, who begins her life as a headstrong orphan, and through an extraordinary journey becomes the legendary couturier who embodied the modern woman and became a timeless symbol of success, freedom and style.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Little Traitor


Opening this weekend: The Little Traitor, directed by Lynn Roth

Synopsis from the film's website:

Based on the novel Panther in the Basement by the world renowned author, Amos Oz, The Little Traitor takes place in 1947 Palestine, just a few months before Israel becomes a state.

Proffy Liebowitz, a militant yet sensitive twelve year old, has grown up under British occupation and wants nothing more than for the occupying British to get out of his land. Proffy and his two friends are always plotting ways to terrorize the British until one evening, while he’s out after curfew; Proffy is seized by Sergeant Dunlop (Alfred Molina).

Instead of arresting him, Sergeant Dunlop escorts him back home and a friendship begins to develop in the following weeks. Proffy starts to consider Dunlop a father figure, as his own father is cold and remote. Dunlop, lonely and poetic, loves the spirited boy and reads the Book of Samuel, Dunlap’s favorite part of the Bible. Proffy helps Dunlap with his Hebrew while Dunlap teaches Proffy difficult English words and provides the fatherly guidance missing in Proffy’s life.

As neighborhood tensions escalate between the British and the underground Jewish rebellion, their relationship becomes increasingly complicated. While Proffy has learned a great deal from his mentor, he is also shunned by his friends for this friendship and thus called a “traitor” by his neighbors and community. The resulting trial and shock that he could have such genuine affection for his “enemy” will change Proffy’s life forever.

New York, I Love You


Opening this weekend: New York, I Love You, directed by a whole bunch of people, including Mira Nair and Natalie Portman

The whole exercise seems a bit myopic (apparently only one of the segments recognizes a city outside Manhattan), so maybe we should not be surprised that of ten directors, just two are women. Still, it could be worse.

Synopsis from the New York Times website:

New York, I Love You is the second installment in a franchise of urban anthology films that began in Paris and is scheduled to touch down soon in Rio, Shanghai, Mumbai and Jerusalem. My own sentimental heart is holding out for Dayton, Ohio. Eventually, like a cinematic version of Google Earth, these movies, the brainchild of the producer Emmanuel Benbihy, will cover every inch of the globe with big-name actors and tiny romantic epiphanies. It may not be a project that will make the world smaller or friendlier — only, perhaps, a bit more precious. Not that the 11 shorts in “New York, I Love You” are all that bad. It’s a nice-looking city, after all, even if the interstitial skyline and traffic montages assembled by Randy Balsmeyer are about as fresh as the postcards on sale in Times Square. Each vignette was shot in two days, and the roster of directing talent includes Mira Nair (“The Namesake” and the forthcoming “Amelia”), Fatih Akin (“Head-On” and “The Edge of Heaven”) and Natalie Portman, making her debut behind the camera. (She also plays a Hasidic diamond broker in Ms. Nair’s contribution.) But in spite of some attempts at human and neighborhood variety, the stories have a self-conscious sameness, as if they were classroom assignments in an undergraduate fiction-writing class.

(Let this lackluster synopsis serve as a warning to web designers for the movie websites: make your own synopses easier to cut and paste! New York, I Love You's own synopsis can be found on its website.)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story


Opening this weekend in New York: Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story, directed by Sarah Townsend

(Somewhat overwrought) synopsis from the movie's website:

Eddie Izzard: Believe - Hilarious and moving by turns, and full of exclusive never-before-seen footage including the famous 'wolves' sketch, his earliest student performances and even street performing riding a unicycle.

The story of one man's triumph over adversity - cameras followed him on a very stressful comeback tour, and caught the story behind some of his best loved material en route.

Prior to his Sexie tour in 2003, he delved into his own life for inspiration. So began an accidental voyage into his past that paralleled his world tour and culminated in a moment of revelation about the source of his relentless drive.

A tale of how tragedy can be turned to laughter by sheer force of will that will inspire and provoke. Not to be missed!

Ravenous


Playing at the New York Film Festival: Ravenous, directed by Antonia Bird

Synopsis from the NYFF website:

Completely mismarketed and misunderstood upon its initial release, Antonia Bird’s wicked horror adventure set in the snowy Sierra Nevadas during the Mexican-American War is a survival story like no other. An army captain (Guy Pearce) is the straight man among a bunch of oddballs at a remote fort, who, one dark night, are regaled with campfire stories of cannibalism by a passing stranger (Robert Carlyle) before all hell breaks loose. With an unforgettable in-your-face score by Michael Nyman and Damon Albarn.

A slightly meatier synopsis from AllMovie.com:

In 1847, many Americans made the journey across our continent in search of gold. Many failed to complete the journey or see their dreams come to light. Capt. John Boyd (Guy Pearce) found his way here thanks to an act of cowardice during the Mexican-American War; he has been banished to a desolate military outpost in California's Sierra Nevada mountains. Upon his arrival, he is greeted by a rag-tag group of soldiers manning the fort: Hart (Jeffrey Jones), the despondent commanding officer; Toffler (Jeremy Davies), the company chaplain; Knox (Stephen Spinella), the drunken doctor; Reich (Neal McDonough), the only real soldier of the group; and Cleaves (David Arquette), the heavily medicated camp cook. One day, Colqhoun (Robert Carlyle) stumbles into their camp. The half-starved Scotsman had been traveling with a group of settlers until they were snowbound. Unable to move forward, they took refuge in a cave, where once they ran out of food, they were forced to resort to cannibalism. Colqhoun barely escaped the madness -- or did he? Boyd and the soldiers hear of the old Indian legend of the Wendigo, which states a man who tastes the flesh of another steals that man's strength, spirit and essence. His hunger, however, will become an unstoppable craving. Like a vampire, the more he eats, the more he wants, and the stronger he will become, with death the only escape from the madness. The soldiers are soon drawn into the frenzy and Boyd is soon left with the choice of eating or being eaten.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Barbe Bleue


Showing at the New York Film Festival: Barbe Bleue, written and directed by Catherine Breillat

Synopsis from the New York Film Festival website:

Boudoir philosopher Catherine Breillat’s bloody chamber piece takes an outrageously deadpan approach to Charles Perrault’s grisly bedtime story about the aristocratic ogre who marries and murders a series of wives. Her Bluebeard is a middle-aged behemoth, easily four times the size of his child bride. The fairytale is acted out in a 16th century setting and explicated, often hilariously, by a contemporary pair of young sisters. The more sexually curious of the two is named Catherine and the movie’s double ending, while not exactly Perrault’s, is pure Breillat. The French director’s idiosyncratic follow-up to her sensuously carnal, literary period piece, The Last Mistress (NYFF 2007), is a perversely chaste and highly personal adaptation of Perrault’s classic fairytale.

Trailer (in French, no subtitles):

Monday, October 12, 2009

Netflix It: Frozen River


Available on DVD: Frozen River, written and directed by Courtney Hunt

Courtney Hunt was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, and Melissa Leo was nominated for one for Best Actress.

Synopsis available on the film's website:

Frozen River
is the story about Ray Eddy, an upstate New York trailer mom, who smuggles illegal immigrants from Canada into the United States over a Mohawk Indian Reservation. Normally a timid and reserved woman, Ray begins smuggling illegal immigrants as the only way to keep her family together after her husband takes off with the family’s down-payment for their new doublewide dream home. In order to make the money in time, Ray teams up with a Mohawk smuggler, Lila Littlewolf, and the two begin making runs across the frozen St. Lawrence River carrying illegal Chinese and Pakistani immigrants in the trunk of Ray’s Dodge Spirit. At the onset, Ray and Lila’s partnership seems doomed to failure as Lila normally doesn’t “work with whites,” but Lila’s eagerness to get her baby son back from her mother-in-law who has “stolen” him, lead Lila and Ray into an uneasy partnership.

At first the money is good and the ice holds. With help from Jimmy, the Mohawk dealer, they make several runs and soon the money for Ray’s doublewide is within her grasp. As quickly as things began to go well, the entire scheme is threatened as the home life of each woman threatens to wreck their plan. T.J., Ray’s 15-year-old son, struggles to take care of the house and hold things together for his younger brother Ricky, while mom is “at work.” And Bernie, Lila’s friend, tries to find her a straight job on the Reservation so that she can get out of smuggling and reclaim her baby son. However, Lila, who lives in a camper, feels she has no realistic way to support him without smuggling and rejects Bernie’s efforts. Finally, with the money she needs almost set aside, Ray and Lila embark on a final run across the river which, if they survive, will set things right. But when the run goes bad, the Quebec police chase the women onto the ice and, with the New York State troopers on the other side of the river, the two women have to make a desperate escape. Trapped on the Reservation, the fate of Lila and Ray is left in the hands of the Tribal Council. With few options left, Ray and Lila’s partnership is tested; they must face the consequences of their actions to survive.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Heretics


Showing at the Museum of Modern Art: The Heretics, directed by Joan Braderman

Synopsis from the MoMA website:

The Heretics reveals the inside story of Heresies, a feminist art collective that was at the epicenter of the 1970s art world in lower Manhattan. Director Joan Braderman, who joined the group in 1971 after moving to New York to become a filmmaker, charts the collective’s story for the first time in a feature-length film, revealing its pivotal role in the “second wave” of the Women’s Movement.

Unlike more traditional documentaries, the film is framed with striking digital motion graphics. Braderman combines intimate interviews with former collective members, archival footage from the 1970s, and documents of the collective—including the journal HERESIES: A Feminist Publication on Art and Politics, published from 1977 to 1992—to put the Heresies in the context of the larger second-wave movement, which was made up of thousands who met in small, private group settings to discuss issues and launch programs and actions relevant to women. The hundreds of Heresies members, now scattered around the globe and working as artists, writers, architects, painters, filmmakers, designers, editors, curators, and teachers, speak intimately about the extraordinary times they shared as they challenged the terms of gender and power and reimagined the lives of generations to come.

The film's website is here, and you can find the trailer in the MoMA link above, but it refuses to embed.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Netflix It: Talk to Me


Available on Netflix: Talk to Me, directed by Kasi Lemmons

Synopsis from the New York Times:

In 1966, when we first meet them, Petey Greene (Don Cheadle) and Dewey Hughes (Chiwetel Ejiofor) present an easy, obvious contrast. Dewey, rising fast in the management ranks of a Washington R&B radio station, favors trim suits and dark ties. When he speaks on the air, listeners are apt to mistake him for a white man. Petey, serving 10 years for armed robbery in a Virginia penitentiary, is a man of an altogether different — and, to Dewey, much lesser — sort. His speech is laced with profanities and put-downs, and he manages to look flashy even in prison, where he accessorizes his state-issued denims with bright red shoes and a flowery neckerchief. Their subsequent friendship, which spans an era of social upheaval and fashion turmoil, is at the center of Talk to Me, Kasi Lemmons’s funny, earnest, affectionate new film. Talk to Me starts out broad and schematic only to surprise you with its subtlety as it unfolds. The result is a movie that offers uplift without phoniness, history without undue didacticism and a fair number of funny, dirty jokes. — A. O. Scott



A clip of the real Petey Greene:

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Araya


Opening at the IFC Center today: Araya, directed by Margot Benacerraf

Synopsis from the film's website:

The restoration of Margot Benacerraf’s brilliant 1959 tone poem Araya, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the film’s first showing at the Cannes Film Festival, will change the face of Latin American film history. Although it shared the Cannes International Critics Prize with Alain Resnais’s Hiroshima, Mon Amour, Araya was never picked up for widespread distribution. Rarely shown, this masterpiece was largely forgotten by the film world. Milestone’s North American theatrical premiere and worldwide release in 2009 will give audiences the chance to rediscover Benacerraf — a powerful and distinctive voice in the history of cinema.

Benacerraf’s film portrays a day in the life of three families living in one of the harshest places on earth — Araya, an arid peninsula in northeastern Venezuela. For 450 years, since its discovery by the Spanish, the region’s salt was manually collected and stacked into glowing white pyramids. Overlooking the area, a 17th-century fortress built to protect against pirate raids stood as a reminder of the days when the mineral was worth as much as gold and great fortunes were made in the salt trade. Benacerraf captures the grueling work of these salineros in breathtaking high-contrast black-and-white images. Her camera gracefully pans and glides to reveal the landscape and the people of the peninsula. All night, the Pereda family toils in the salt marshes. In the morning, the Salaz clan arrives to load and stack the crystals under the hot brutal sun. Down the coastline, the Ortiz family fish and tend their nets, while the youngest member, Carmen, collects seashells and coral. 



When it first premiered, Araya was compared to Robert Flaherty’s Man of Aran and Luchino Visconti’s La terra trema. But according to the filmmaker, the film was never meant to be a documentary — it was meticulously planned as a tone poem — a composition in which cinematography, music, sound and language combine to create a moving and magical exploration of a desolate place and the remarkable people who lived there. Araya is a film of such lasting beauty that Jean Renoir told Benacerraf, “Above all … don’t cut a single image!”


Araya is one of Milestone’s most exciting discoveries, on par with our earlier treasures, Killer of Sheep, The Exiles and especially I Am Cuba with which it shares many qualities: a stunning richness of image, sheer poetry of sound and visuals, and a profound respect for the people of Araya — Araya will have just as pronounced an influence on the next generation of filmmakers.