As we wind down to year’s end, we find Michael Haneke’s Cannes conqueror fashionably late to the party, while Paramount waited three years to release the Renée Zellweger horror flick “Case 39” and a mere half-century later, audiences will finally see the fruits of an unproduced Tennessee Williams screenplay. Throw in a pair of modern Korean films and you’ve got yourself an exciting way to start the new year.
We can only hope it’s no reflection of quality that this latest volley from the creepy-kid subgenre sat on the shelf for so long that its director, Christian Alvart, had another project (daffy sci-fi chiller “Pandorum”) wrapped, released and mostly ignored before this domestic thriller even made it to our shores. The German helmer’s English-language debut (at least chronologically) has Renée Zellweger playing a kindly social worker who wrestles away the innocuous looking young Lilith (Jodelle Ferland) from seemingly abusive parents, only to discover that the little angel might not be as benevolent as she appears. Ian McShane, who has yet to transfer his small screen authority to movies, co-stars as a creeped-out child therapist.
A huge hit in its native South Korea, Na Hong-jin’s directorial debut centers on a fallen police officer-turned-pimp who must dust off his detective skills when his prostitutes begin to go missing. Kim Yoon-suk stars as the mack daddy who believes he’s stumbled onto the case of a serial killer, but finds little help from his former colleagues. Although it sounds like the kind of film no American studio would touch, Leonardo DiCaprio is said to be eyeing an American remake for Warner Bros.
Opens in New York.
“The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond”
For a first-time feature filmmaker, actress-turned-helmer Jodie Markell couldn’t make her debut with a sturdier piece of material than this recently unearthed screenplay of societal scandal and sexual jealousy penned by the iconic playwright Tennessee Williams. Bryce Dallas Howard ruffles some feathers as the decidedly unwelcome wannabe socialite Fisher Willow, who takes Memphis society by storm when she recruits the cash-strapped son of the help (Chris Evans) to be her arm candy for the social season and silently seethes when her business arrangement with her escort becomes something more right as he falls for another. Ann-Margaret and Ellen Burstyn lend their support to this Southern Gothic throwback that’s been kicking around the festival circuit since premiering in Toronto in 2008.
Opens in New York and Los Angeles.
A poetic portrait of the companionship between a man and his beast of burden, South Korean helmer Chung Ryoul-Lee’s unashamedly simply documentary charts the twilight year in a four-decade long friendship between Choi, an elderly farmer, and his trusty ox, much to the chagrin of his wife, who views the great hulk as something akin to her husband’s idiot college buddy. As Choi spends an inordinate amount of time feeding and grooming his trusty companion, the missus wonders why her 80-year-old husband continues to sweat out a day’s work with an ox when he could easily diminish his workload with a tractor. In Korean with subtitles.
Opens in New York.
“The White Ribbon”
Perhaps a bit narked that his American remake of “Funny Games” went largely unremarked upon, Michael Haneke returned to Germany to cook up this slow-burning exercise in escalating tension and spiraling incident that finally landed the Palme d’Or that had long eluded him. It says much about his brand of moviemaking that this mostly silent, achingly slow study of a rural German village sliding towards the brink — a parable of how ignorance, apathy and base human nature combined to birth the Nazi movement — is one of his more accessible works. In German with subtitles.
Opens in New York and Los Angeles before expanding into limited release on January 22nd.
[Additional photo: “The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond,” Paladin, 2009]