By Neil Pedley
This week is something of a nostalgia trip with a period comedy, Freddie Prinze Jr. and a concert documentary about a group of men who, by all the laws of man and nature, should not still be alive and walking around.
“The Flight of the Red Balloon”
After being nominated for the Palme d’Or an incredible five times at Cannes, it’s no wonder that director Hou Hsiao-hsien has become a Francophile. In his first film outside of Asia, the “Three Times” auteur directs the country’s first lady of cinema, Juliette Binoche, in a story about an overburdened mother who receives a much-needed lift from her son’s Chinese nanny (Song Fang) as they turn the City of Lights into a magical playground for the 7-year-old Simon a tribute to Albert Lamorisse’s 1956 short. In French with subtitles.
Opens in limited release.
“Jack and Jill vs. the World”
“Kiss the Bride” director Vanessa Parise corrals a cast of familiar faces to fill out what’s been dubbed by the film’s distributor as “a love story for cynics.” If penning a relationship manifesto together is the new foreplay, then Freddie Prinze Jr. and Taryn Manning are well on their way as a couple who demand complete honesty from each other, only to have one keep a grievous secret with the potential to destroy what they’ve built. Ah, wasn’t life easier when Prinze Jr. only had Matthew Lillard to contend with?
Opens in Los Angeles.
Nominated for every category imaginable at the Awards of the Israeli Film Academy and the winner of a Golden Camera at Cannes, this poetic and reflective tale of three Tel Aviv women attending a wedding is the directorial debut of Israeli actress Shira Geffen and her husband Etgar Keret. The multi-stranded film about chance intersection and the struggle to find affection in an increasingly transient world recently played at the New Directors/New Films festival.
Opens in New York; opens in Los Angeles on April 25
George Clooney takes a vacation from politics and global affairs to produce, direct and star in this screwball comedy about the growing pains of professional football in the 1920s. Clooney plays Dodge Connolly, the rogue captain of the Duluth Bulldogs, who drafts in college-star-turned-war-hero Carter Rutherford (John Krasinski) to bolster his team’s chances, though his plan backfires when Rutherford steals the spotlight and the affections of RenÃ©e Zellweger’s impetuous sports reporter, Lexie Littleton. There should be some authenticity here since “Leatherheads” was written by Sports Illustrated scribes Duncan Brantley and Rick Reilly.
Longtime producer Bernie Goldmann makes his directorial debut, along with co-director and writer Melisa Wallack, on this comedy, which stars Aaron Eckhart as a perpetual doormat who signs up to be a high school mentor but finds himself being given a crash course in self-esteem building by a mischievous schoolboy (Logan Lerman). Though casting of Eckhart as a loser goes against type, finding female leads was even harder as Amanda Peet and Lindsey Lohan left the project over “creative differences” before being replaced by the infinitely easier on the eyes Elizabeth Banks and Jessica Alba, respectively.
Opens in limited release.
“My Blueberry Nights”
This bittersweet tale of a group of strangers whose lives intersect and touch another across the length and breadth of the country opened last year’s Cannes Film Festival, where some critics found it to be middle of the road. Yet the first English language film from Wong Kar-Wai features an all-star ensemble boasting the likes of Jude Law, Natalie Portman, Rachael Weisz, David Strathairn and Grammy-winner Norah Jones as a woman who attempts to find herself after a break-up. Ironically, Darius Khondji’s dreamlike take on the American landscape has been cited as the film’s biggest star, though Kar-Wai originally envisioned shooting “Blueberry” entirely in New York.
Opens in limited release.
Seemingly typecast for years as Hollywood’s female answer to the action hero, Jodie Foster takes great delight in lampooning her image as the capable woman who’s cool under pressure in this endearing fantasy adventure directed by Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett, the husband-and-wife team behind “Little Manhattan.” Foster stars as the reclusive and agoraphobic author behind a series of adventure novels who must help her biggest fan (Abigail Breslin) find her missing father (Gerard Butler) in real life.
From the guys behind “Blades of Glory” and “Dodgeball” comes… this bleak adaptation of the acclaimed horror novel by Scott B. Smith, the Oscar nominated writer behind “The Simple Plan”? While this might sound like another cheap spin on the torture porn riff that has all but killed the American horror film, Sundance alum Carter Smith (no relation) directs indie darlings Jonathan Tucker and Jena Malone from their idyllic Mexican vacation to scout out an ancient Mayan temple, unaware of the evil and malevolent spirits that exist there. Yes, Ben Stiller produces, but this still should be scarier than seeing Derek Zoolander in spandex.
“Sex and Death 101”
The once stable, then crazy, now stable again Winona Ryder reunites with “Heathers” writer Daniel Waters on this dark comedy, which Waters also directed. Simon Baker fills in as Roderick Blank, a man who receives an email detailing every sexual encounter he will ever have. While he weighs the potential fun to be had with the advance knowledge of his conquests, his confusion is compounded when he encounters a mysterious femme fatale (Ryder) who punishes men guilty of crimes against women. Despite this reunion, there remains no official word on the much-touted “Heathers” sequel.
Opens in New York and Los Angeles.
“Shine a Light”
Two of the biggest icons in film and music combine as Martin Scorsese catalogues an unforgettable performance by The Rolling Stones at the Beacon Theater in New York in 2006. Besides having seven of the world’s best cinematographers on hand to capture the riveting musical spectacle by one of the world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll bands, Scorsese also pulls back the curtain to reveal the logistical difficulties, the clash of egos and the staggering amount of planning and forethought that goes into creating such an event. However, as excited as we are to see the Stones, we might suggest that our pal Matt Singer sit this one out.
Opens wide and in IMAX.
Taking home the Golden Bear at the 2007 Berlin Film Festival, this slow-moving, scrupulously detailed portrait of nomadic Mongolian life is the latest film by Chinese director Wang Quanan. Frequent Quanan collaborator Yu Nan stars as the willful young Tuya, who takes it upon herself to search for a new husband who’ll care for her and her current husband, who lost his legs and can no longer support his family. Quanan was so keen on casting his longtime leading lady Nan that even though the film is set in Mongolia, the entire film is in Chinese, Nan’s native tongue.
Opens in limited release.
Writer/director CÃ©line Sciamma gently guides us through the hazy fog of female adolescence in the sensuous coming-of-age story of Anne, Marie and Floriane, three girls who endure a summer in the French suburb of Cergy during the 1960s by sticking close to the municipal swimming pool. Floriane is the attractive star of the synchronized swimming team who lures the awkward Marie in as her confidante, much to the chagrin of Marie’s friend, Anne. The film first premiered at last year’s Cannes Film Festival where it was part of the Un Certain Regard section. In French with Subtitles.
Opens in New York.
[Photo: “Flight of the Red Balloon,” IFC Films, 2007]