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Opening This Week: Ladyboys, sex addicts, Spike Lee

By Neil Pedley If the old maxim "What I really want to do is direct"...

09222008_amazingtruthaboutqueenraquela.jpgBy Neil Pedley

If the old maxim “What I really want to do is direct” still holds true, this week’s releases confirm that the filmmaking game is more open than ever. Anyone can have a crack at it; actors, teachers, digital artists, preachers. Perhaps you should have a go yourself. Hell, if Paul W.S. Anderson can get work doing it…

“The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela”
Offering up the most unlikely fairytale you’re ever likely to see, Icelandic filmmaker Olaf de Fleur Johannesson draws on his documentary background with this endearing low-budget, semi-improvised Cinderella story. As a young Filipino lady-boy, the spunky, pre-op sex worker Raquela longs to be the belle of the ball as she trawls the Internet looking for love. When an American suitor pledges to be her Prince Charming and proposes a meeting in France, Raquela departs for her long-awaited date with destiny under the glittering Paris skyline.
Opens in New York and Los Angeles.

“Choke”
Fans of cult literary icon Chuck Palahniuk’s singular brand of nihilistic satire have had to wait ten years since “Fight Club” for someone else confident enough to adapt his work to the screen. Enter career bit-parting-thespian-turned-writer/director Clark Gregg to offer his take on Palahniuk’s incendiary prose. Sam Rockwell is Victor Mancini, a listless colonial theme park worker who kills time by attending sex addict anonymous meetings and conning restaurant patrons out of a Heimlich maneuver and sympathy money with fake choking fits. Visits to his dementia-addled mother (Anjelica Huston) and his growing attraction to her attending doctor (Kelly MacDonald) threaten to break Victor out of his quarterlife malaise.
Opens in limited release.

“Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun”
Already adapted into a 1971 film directed by the author and subsequently immortalized by Metallica in the video for their 1989 hit single “One,” Dalton Trumbo’s harrowing anti-war novel has served as a rallying cry for pacifists for almost 70 years. Miles away from “The O.C.,” Benjamin McKenzie slips into the role of Joe Bonham, a young American soldier entombed in his own body after an artillery shell robs him of his limbs and his senses in a filmed performance of Bradley Rand Smith’s adaptation of the novel for the stage.
Opens in New York.

“Eagle Eye”
Based on an idea from Steven Spielberg (whose last idea involving Shia LaBeouf might not have been that original), the team behind “Disturbia” reunites for this post-9/11 thriller full of panic and paranoia. LaBeouf and Michelle Monaghan star as two strangers who find themselves elaborately framed as terrorists by a vast, malevolent and seemingly all-powerful entity that blackmails them into acting as pawns in an assassination plot. Rosario Dawson and Billy Bob Thornton play the government agents who are tracking their every move — boy, that “Disturbia” gang sure must like surveillance.
Opens wide and in select IMAX theaters.

“Fireproof”
Let no one accuse Alex Kendrick of not practicing what he preaches. He may be the pastor of the Sherwood Baptist Church in Georgia, but Kendrick also produced, co-wrote, directed and stars with Kirk Cameron in this romantic drama about a firefighter (Cameron) whose marriage is collapsing when his son hands him a book called “The Love Dare” and challenges his father to commit to the 40-day test it proposes. Leaving no product placement stone unturned, Kendrick and his twin brother Stephen actually wrote the book in real life.
Opens in limited release.

“Forever Strong”
Despite the fact that it’s basically a harder-hitting version of American football that doesn’t use all that girly padding nor grind to a shuddering halt every other minute, rugby’s followed by most US sports fans about as closely as they would women’s professional tiddlywinks. Slow-motioning his way towards closing this gap in the sports movie market, director Ryan Little offers his take on the underdog tale with a drama following
Rick Penning (Sean Faris), an embittered young player whose rift with his demanding, championship-winning coach/father lands him a spell in juvenile detention after a DUI where he is offered the chance to suit up against the team coached by his old man.
Opens in limited release.

“Humboldt County”
A self-described throwback to the unfettered American films of the ’70s, this debut from first-time writing/directing team Darren Grodsky and Danny Jacobs is a character driven serenade to counterculture and the spirit of independence. Making a rare appearance these days, Tinseltown’s former First Goth Fairuza Balk stars as Bogart, a jazz-singing drifter who coaxes disillusioned medical student Peter (Jeremy Strong) into a road trip that leaves him stranded in a reclusive community of marijuana growers who have chosen to shun the rat race and live peacefully amongst the giant Redwoods of northern California.
Opens in New York and Los Angeles.

“The Lucky Ones”
With his breakthrough film “The Illusionist,” writer/director Neil Burger conjured up a genre-bending romantic drama, but he’ll likely need all the magic he can get to make this marriage of “Coming Home” and “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” not get lost in the steady stream of war-themed films to invade multiplexes in the past year. Tim Robbins, Rachel McAdams and Michael Peña star as three soldiers who return from Iraq, all irrevocably altered by the current conflict in some way, who reluctantly decide to share a seriocomic road trip when a blackout cancels their flights home.
Opens in limited release.

“Miracle at St. Anna”
After publicly calling out Clint Eastwood for failing to represent African Americans in his films, specifically Eastwood’s “Flags”-”Letters” doubleheader, Spike Lee delivers his own WWII epic chronicling the role of the 92nd Buffalo Soldier Division in the Italian campaign. James McBride adapts from his own acclaimed novel about a postal clerk who inexplicably shoots a customer and, while awaiting trial, recounts his role as one of four African-American soldiers stationed in Tuscany, trapped in a small village behind enemy lines. Derek Luke, Michael Ealy, Laz Alonso and Omar Benson Miller are all a part of the platoon in Lee’s passion project.
Opens wide.

“Nights in Rodanthe”
Matters of the heart are at the heart of the matter in stage director George C. Wolfe’s move to the big screen — a strongly cast adaptation of “Message in a Bottle” author Nicholas Sparks’ romantic page-turner. Diane Lane stars as Adrienne, a woman seeking refuge from her turbulent marriage and resentful children at a tiny inn on the coast of North Carolina where she encounters Paul (Richard Gere), a troubled surgeon suffering from a crisis of conscience. Stranded together by an approaching storm, events are set in motion that force Adrienne to decide if her future lies with Paul or her remorseful husband (Christopher Meloni). James Franco, Viola Davis and Mae Whitman bring the hankies.
Opens wide.

“Obscene”
As a lifelong anti-establishment mischief-maker, legendary publishing guru and founder of Grove Press Barney Rosset spent his career as a thorn in the side of those pushing for censorship in America, leading the charge to overturn obscenity bans on such works as “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” and Henry Miller’s “Tropic of Cancer.” Amidst some frank and revealing interviews with the man himself, first-time filmmakers Neil Ortenberg and Daniel O’Connor chart his landmark litigation battles and assemble a panel of culture commentators from Erica Jong to John Waters to discuss his legacy as a champion of First Amendment rights.
Opens in New York.

“Shoot on Sight”
Earning itself a limited theatrical run, Indian director Jag Mundhra’s latest offering is a movie-of-the-week dramatization of the investigation into the controversial shooting of Brazilian national Jean Charles de Menezes, an electrician who was killed by British police when he was mistaken for a suspected suicide bomber in the wake of the 2005 London transport bombings. Brian Cox stars as Daniel Tennant, the police chief pressured into delivering a politically favorable outcome to the inquiry and duly dangles promotion in front of Commander Tariq Ali (Naseeruddin Shah) to see that one arrives. But internal distrust of Ali, a Muslim, threatens to derail the investigation and puts his faith to the test.
Opens in limited release.

“Smother”
Longtime digital effects artist-turned-writer/director Vince Di Meglio again partners with co-scripter Tim Rasmussen to follow their painfully unfunny Robin Williams vehicle “License to Wed” with another variation on that theme which sees a young couple’s bliss disrupted by an eccentric, interfering authority figure. (One might assume co-star and “Chuck and Buck” scribe Mike White gave the duo notes.) Dax Shepard of “Punk’d” fame does his best Zach Braff impression as the awkward Noah Cooper, whose neurosis over impending parenthood with wife Clare (Liv Tyler), is played out when his overbearing mother (Diane Keaton) arrives for a visit and seemingly intends to never leave.
Opens in limited release.

“Whaledreamers”
Inspired by an underwater encounter with a dolphin on a research trip to Ireland and propelled by a whale call ceremony performed by the indigenous Mirning tribe of South Australia, British actor-turned-director Kim Kindersley’s cinematic call for harmony between man and nature has been 15 years in the making, having taken him across five continents. Narrated by Jack Thompson with guest appearances from the likes of John Hurt, Pierce Brosnan, and Geoffrey Rush, Kindersley chronicles the threats to the Mirning tribe’s way of life and their return from the brink of extinction in a fast-disappearing part of the world.
Opens in limited release.

[Photo: "The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela," here! Films, 2008]




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