By Neil Pedley
While Steve Carell and Mike Myers face off at the multiplexes this week, indie theaters fight back with a wide range of quirk, including a meter maid romance, a doc on balloon animals and a horror flick about killer hair extensions.
“Brick Lane” in London’s East End might be just a relatively short jaunt down the M1 from Salford, but it’s still a million miles (and a decade) away from the careful multi-ethnic empathy of another film that dealt with south Asian refugees in England, the 1970s-set “East is East.” This story follows 18-year-old Nazneem (Tannishtha Chatterjee), who steps off a plane from Bangladesh and into an arranged marriage with middle-aged Chanu (Satish Kaushik). Bored and lonely, she’s forced to question her beliefs when the charismatic and secular Karim (Christopher Simpson) knocks on her door. Director Sarah Gavron landed herself a BAFTA nomination for this adaptation of Monica Ali’s somewhat controversial novel, which enraged local Bangladeshi residents with what they considered to be an unsophisticated portrayal of their culture, so much so that when production came to town, the locals forced the film’s producers to relocate.
Opens in limited release.
Parking attendants are the target of a very special kind of hatred, the type normally reserved for child murderers or people who gloat about their tofu consumption. Yet writer/director Cecilia Miniucchi’s debut feature bravely contradicts the widely accepted notion that meter maids are incapable of any human emotion beyond malevolence that they need love, too. Kind but lonely Claire (Samantha Morton) enters into a darkly sardonic relationship with Jay (Jason Patric), who uses parking tickets as a way to vent his anger issues, and the two begin a caustic dance of courtship on the road to mutual redemption.
Opens in limited release.
“Exte – Hair Extensions”
While the idea of murderous hair extensions might sound like every emo kid’s wet dream, the realization that their fake locks target the head they sit upon might dampen enthusiasm somewhat. Acclaimed Japanese director Sion Sono (“Suicide Club”) nabbed the Horror Jury Prize at the last year’s Fantastic Fest in Austin for this dark and creepy tale of beauty-gone-bad that braids empowerment, pastiche and parody. Ren Osugi stars as the misogynist morgue attendant with a hair fetish who leaves work one night with a desecrated corpse that sprouts a never-ending possessed mane that he peddles to the local salon.
Opens in limited release.
With the likes of Austin Powers, and more recently, “O.S.S. 117” spy Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath trying to assault the box office as if it were a volcanic island fortress lair, the cold war spy spoof is veering dangerously close to cookie-cutter territory. Yet Maxwell Smart has returned in this update of the 1960s TV series with Steve Carell filling in for the late Don Adams as the overeager, painfully inept data CONTROL analyst who is teamed with Anne Hathaway’s Agent 99 to battle the crime ring KAOS after every other agent is compromised. The exclusion of the show’s original creators, Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, have ruffled the feathers of a few purists, but Warner Bros. is trying to entice the faithful and the fresh with an eight-minute clip freely available on iTunes.
“Kit Kittredge: An American Girl“
Having served as executive producer on the three preceding made-for-television movies, Julia Roberts and her Red Om Films Company once again give their stamp of approval to the first big screen adventure based on the popular doll series. None other than “Little Miss Sunshine”‘s Abigail Breslin stars in the title role as a resourceful 10-year-old growing up during the Depression who longs to be a big time news reporter. Joan Cusack, Chris O’Donnell and Julia Ormond fill out the supporting cast for the film, which was directed by “Mansfield Park” helmer Patricia Rozema and written by Ann Peacock, of “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.”
Opens in limited release; opens wide on July 2nd.
“The Love Guru”
Before he gave a national audience their first glimpse of relationship guru Pitka on the season finale of “American Idol,” Mike Myers had been fairly secretive about his plans other than workshopping his latest creation in New York. With his first original live action character since “Austin Powers,” Myers stars as a shaman of the heart who’s hired to reconcile hockey star Darren Roanoke (Romany Malco) and his wife before it interferes with Roanoke and the Maple Leaves’ shot at the Stanley Cup. Jessica Alba, Justin Timberlake and naturally, Myers’ Mini-Me Verne Troyer all show up to help Myers do for marriage counselors what fellow “SNL” alum Adam Sandler recently did for Mossad-agents-turned-hair-stylists.
“Twisted: A Balloonamentary”
Naomi Greenfield and Sara Taksler met in 2003 at St. Louis’ Washington University and bonded over balloon animals. Four years later, they premiered their first documentary at the SXSW Film Festival, which takes a look at that staple of preschool parties, the balloon artist. Toting their camera to the annual Twist and Shout balloon artist convention, they discover helium-filled art that’s not necessarily for the whole family and meet a few really unfortunately named people along the way (trailer park escapee Vera Stalker, John Holmes oh dear, oh dear).
Opens in New York.
[Photo: “Brick Lane,” Sony Pictures Classics, 2007]