Monday, March 1, 2010

Mass for Cinephile Shut-Ins: Part Three

Let us commune over all this vague pre-publicity so as to garner faith and hope for a bright cinematic future. And let us also pass invalid judgment.

This is Part Three.

The secret word of the day is: dysfunction.

directed and written by: Todd Solondz
starring: Charlotte Rampling, Allison Janney, Paul Reubens, Shirley Henderson, Ciaran Hinds, Ally Sheedy

Basically: Following the events of 1998's Happiness, family man and pedophile Bill is released from prison and faced with the monumental task of forgiveness.

And We Should Care Because: Todd Solondz knows that misery loves company, and that we the company love laughing uncomfortably alongside it. His last feature Palindromes was similarly a "pseudo-sequel" to his breakthrough Welcome to the Dollhouse, and still managed to take its own oddball and disturbing (ie. hysterical) routes. A new ensemble takes up the varied roles from Happiness, such as Ciaran Hinds re-imagining the part that Dylan Baker made infamous as the dad who subscribes to "family first" ideals and "Teen Beat" magazine. Advanced word has been mixed, but somewhat more favorable than Palindromes and his vastly underrated Storytelling. Though it seems more devoted Solondz fans find plenty to laugh at and feel bad about later, calling it a notable meditation on family and forgiveness.

Status: Can't Miss

Jake Gyllenhaal IS a drug
that fights erectile dysfunction.

directed by: Edward Zwick
written by: Marshall Herskowitz, Edward Zwick, Charles Randolph, Jamie Reidy (novel)
starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, Hank Azaria, Oliver Platt

Basically: The competitive world of pharmaceuticals brings together a salesman for erectile dysfunction with a woman suffering Parkinson's disease and her Prozac-peddling man on the side.

And We Should Care Because: It's a Brokeback Mountain reunion for Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway in this story of power plays in the bedroom and the world of prescription drugs (they never were mutually exclusive). This comedic satire is based on Jamie Reidy's memoir "The Hard Sell" and looks to take on a deceitful industry with a lighter touch, although director Ed Zwick was behind the political thriller and wedding industry nightmare, Blood Diamond. In fact before partners Zwick and Marshall Herskowitz took to pill-popping tales of political hire, they were behind TV classics thirtysomething and My So-Called Life, so it's fair to assume they can handle both sides of the comedy/drama balance (you know Jordan Catalano would be prescribed Adderall if that show were now in production). Beyond that the talk show circuit has given Jake Gyllenhaal many a fruitful discussion of wearing "cock socks" on set, which should test many a Viagra prescription.

Status: Curious

A sunny disposition and other impossible pursuits.

directed by: Don Roos
written by: Don Roos, Ayelet Waldman (novel)
starring: Natalie Portman, Lisa Kudrow, Lauren Ambrose, Scott Cohen

Basically: A troublesome bond with her stepson helps a woman overcome a traumatic loss.

And We Should Care Because: When I last wrote on this film it had the chick-lit diary title 17 Photos of Isabel, and before that Jennifer Lopez was set to star. Dire news that was making this project almost impossible to pursue. Thankfully things seem to be coming together for the latest from writer/director Don Roos, mastermind behind The Opposite of Sex and the always undervalued Happy Endings. Lopez has been graciously replaced with Natalie Portman, Lauren Ambrose is lending her charms, and the true muse of Don Roos, Lisa Kudrow, should guarantee plenty of sardonic strength and support. The film's tone, based on Ayelet Waldman's novel, looks to be more melodramatic and teary-eyed than usual for Roos, possibly playing more to the moods of his plane crash romance, Bounce. It might not be worth all this pursuit, but I still love Lisa Kudrow.

Status: Curious

Money can't buy happiness,
but surely a criminal defense lawyer.

directed by: Gil Cates Jr.
written by: Kent Sublette
starring: Colin Hanks, Ari Graynor, Ann-Margret, Jeffrey Tambor

Basically: A serial killer's luck cashes in when he wins the lottery and finally has an in with the girl of his dreams.

And We Should Care Because: So I worked on the (amazing) crew. So I made the wrong kind of tea for Ann-Margret. So promoting this film seems like a cheap, false ploy. Not so! I'm lucky enough to really believe that the film has all the potential in the world, with a uniquely sick, sweet and satirical tone, and a cast more than ready for the challenge. Colin Hanks seems perfect for the part -- he is suspiciously normal with a dark comic streak. And Ari Graynor (Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist, Whip It, Youth in Revolt) is more than deserving of a showcase with the screentime to match her stellar comedic chops. Then there's the likes of legendary and lovable Ann-Margret as Hank's mother, and Jeffrey Tambor's more serious side. All great people to boot. Don't take my word for it, but your odds are infinitely better than winning the lottery.

Status: Can't Miss

First Michelle Williams lost her dog, Lucy.
Now she's lost the entire Oregon Trail.

directed by: Kelly Reichardt
written by: Jon Raymond
starring: Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Bruce Greenwood, Shirley Henderson

Basically: Three families attempt crossing the Cascade Mountains in 1845 with the help of their guide, Stephen Meeks, whose shortcuts leads them onto a path of desolation, until they meet a Native American wanderer.

And We Should Care Because: Kelly Reichardt's last feature, Wendy and Lucy, used sparseness and subtlety to gain surprising emotional heft, also displaying the nuanced talents of Michelle Williams in the lead. Old Joy likewise found in Reichardt a talent for blending vivid, real world environments with impactful character arcs. This period piece set upon the Oregon Trail similarly takes on a tale of drifters, and of human nature at a cross with the natural landscape. She has a skill for crafting small, personal films that bring about remarkable implications of much greater scale (Wendy and Lucy's lost dog walks with the immense weight of homelessness, poverty and a wayward American dream). Let Kelly Reichardt be our guide. Guaranteed there will be no desolate shortcuts.

Status: Can't Miss

No souls left to take after
the Twilight franchise...

directed and written by: Wes Craven
starring: Shareeka Epps, Max Thieriot, Nick Lashaway, Denzel Whitaker

Basically: A town's legendary serial killer vows to return and kill the seven children born on the day of his death. Sixteen years later the murders commence. Is one of the children responsible, or has the killer made his supernatural return?

And We Should Care Because: Wes Craven's last attempt to write and direct yielded the savvy series highlight and Freddy reinvention, Wes Craven's New Nightmare -- an underrated display of Craven's talent for witty and innovative premise with a signature dark streak. Since then Craven has receded to directorial gigs to the smashing success of Scream and the dismal failures of the studio-hacked, ironically named Cursed, and inevitably declining sequels like Scream 3. True to Craven's career though he's made a genre classic for every mediocre effort, but his auteur works are often his most memorable (The Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, A Nightmare on Elm Street). His premise here recalls both his Nightmare glory days and... Shocker. Things could fall either way. Anybody want to bet these kids use boobytraps to fight their killer? It worked for Nancy Thompson, the Collingwood parents and the Carter Clan. Let's hope it gives us what the Nightmare remake inevitably won't: genuine horror that's genuinely creative.

Status: Curious

Part Four soon!


Prospero said...

I think Craven's over-looked, under-sold, non-horror thriller "Red Eye" was his best film since "Scream." Of course, it could have been Cillian Murphy's dreamy blue eyes...

Adam said...

"Red Eye" is a decent thriller, one that reminds me a bit of the "Scream" series, especially in the staging of the fight and chase scenes toward the end. And Rachel McAdams is a bit of a Neve Campbell type.

I'm really just ready for some dark and vicious Craven again. The goodhearted "Music of the Heart" Craven felt oh so wrong to me, and a bit generic, outside of Streep of course. I'd be more prone to like it if Streep had fended off cannibal children in a music conservatory or underprivileged school.