By Neil Pedley
At the multiplex this week, we have some pre-Halloween gothic fancy, films about the two things guaranteed to start a fight in any elevator religion and politics and a little music from Nick and Norah and Jonathan Demme’s infinite playlists.
“Allah Made Me Funny”
When Albert Brooks went looking for comedy in the Muslim world, he perhaps didn’t consider that it was alive and well inside our shores. Filmmaker Andrea Kalin picked up her camera and hit the road with Muslim American stand-up comics Azhar Usman, Mo Amer and Preacher Moss, who started the tour in 2004 to combat the negative stereotypes associated with their faith by sharing their unique brand of humor. The film intersperses their routines with personal vignettes that show how the comedians employ laughter as a tool of information to entertain, to educate and to show that a good mother-in-law gag simply knows no boundaries.
Opens in limited release.
“An American Carol”
He might have been pretty quiet this election cycle, but there are still those out there who believe Michael Moore to be a disingenuous, self-promoting, hypocritical windbag and those include people who do like his movies. Produced and directed by David Zucker of “Airplane” (yay!) and the “Scary Movie” sequels (well, not so much), this unabashedly zany slap in the face of the anti-everything crowd stars Chris Farley’s younger brother Kevin as Michael Malone, an activist filmmaker campaigning to abolish the Fourth of July when he is visited by the spirits of America’s past (Jon Voight, Kelsey Grammer and Trace Adkins). The question remains whether this could possibly do any more damage to Moore than the documentarian’s poorly received foray into comedy, “Canadian Bacon.”
Winner of the dramatic directing award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, this spare directorial debut might not seem like the work of a visual effects designer who helped create Gotham City for “Batman Forever,” but writer/director Lance Hammer captures an equally vast portrait of the Mississippi Delta in this tale of a fractured family rocked by tragedy and trying to make ends meet. Tarra Riggs, Micheal J. Smith Sr. and JimMyron Ross star as the trio forced to confront their mutual resentment as they struggle to piece their shattered lives back together.
Opens in New York; opens in limited release on October 17th.
“Beverly Hills Chihuahua”
In a world where animators have cornered the kiddie market with big green ogres and trundling dust busters, it seems as though the once mighty talking animal picture might be all but dead. Yet leave it up to Disney to create a renaissance in the anthropomorphic genre with the tale of an all-too-literal rich bitch named Chloe (voiced by Drew Barrymore, perhaps because Paris Hilton wasn’t available), who takes one wrong turn on Rodeo Drive and finds herself alone on the streets of Mexico. George Lopez voices Papi, a streetwise Chihuahua smitten with the pampered pooch who assembles a crack team of four-legged friends to save the day. Andy Garcia, Paul Rodriguez and Cheech Marin round out the voice cast. We’re just thanking our lucky stars we don’t have to watch the trailer again… or watch other people watch the trailer again.
The fact that Nobel Prize-winning author JosÃ© Saramago spent much of the last decade turning down offers to adapt his 1995 post-modernist novel for the screen before finally settling on writer Don McKellar and director Fernando Meirelles should’ve only inspired confidence and rightly so as Meirelles’ career output thus far has exhibited more layers than a wedding cake. Then the film premiered at Cannes where it wasn’t exactly a hit with the critics. Now, minus the film’s original narration from co-star Danny Glover, audiences will see for themselves the drama starring Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo as a married couple trapped as part of a mass quarantine in the wake of an unexplained outbreak of blindness. As panic begins to take hold and supplies run short, the delicate situation begins to unravel as various factions vie for power.
“Flash of Genius”
Combining the two things America is most fond of underdogs and suing people longtime producer and first-time director Marc Abraham chronicles the heart wrenching true story of engineer Robert W. Kearns and his bitter legal battle with the automobile industry after he learns they’ve stolen his invention of the intermittent windshield wiper. Greg Kinnear plays Bob Kearns, the earnest engineer who comes to discover that when it rains, it pours his marriage collapses and he slowly descends into bankruptcy during the many years of litigation that followed. Lauren Graham and Alan Alda co-star.
“How to Lose Friends and Alienate People”
Simon Pegg looks to bounce back from the mixed comedic bag of “Run Fatboy Run” with this loose adaptation of Toby Young’s memoir of the same name that detailed his disastrous five-year excursion to the U.S. as a contributing editor of Vanity Fair. All names have been changed to protect the innocent, or at least keep open the career options of anyone associated with the film, so Toby has been rechristened Sidney Young, a bungling pond hopper lured with a job offer by Jeff Bridges’ high-flying publishing executive to the bright lights of the Big Apple where he finds the Devil apparently isn’t so discerning over his outfit. Kirsten Dunst, Gillian Anderson and Megan Fox make the transition a little harder for Pegg’s Sidney in the feature debut from frequent “Curb Your Enthusiasm” director Robert B. Weide.
With the arrival of October, matters once again turn to the macabre, the diabolical becomes the delightful, and first-time writer/director Chaz Thorne delivers this black as coal comedy from the great white wilderness up north. If Napoleon Dynamite spent less time practicing dance moves and more time killing people, he might look a lot like Oliver Zinck (“Undelcared”‘s Jay Baruchel), a nerdy ne’er-do-well who inherits his estranged father’s failing funeral home. With bills piling up a lot faster than bodies, Oliver is railroaded into a diabolical scheme by his girlfriend/embalmer Roberta (Rose Byrne) to take a more pro-active approach to start rolling in the dough.
Opens in limited release.
“Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist”
Long before MySpace, the ritualistic making of the mix tape was the quintessential way to use other people’s poetry to define your own individuality. Armed with a soundtrack full of buzz bands such as Vampire Weekend and We Are Scientists, “Raising Victor Vargas” director Peter Sollett is putting his spin on the teen comedy. Michael Cera, the supreme master of the awkward pause, and Kat Dennings star as the titular duo that is forced into an evening together in pursuit of a secret concert of their favorite band when their exes (Jay Baruchel, Alexis Dziena) rear their no-so-ugly heads. Other familiar faces spotted throughout the night include John Cho, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Seth Meyers, Andy Samberg and Devendra Banhart.
Political satirist and known atheist Bill Maher unleashes himself on unsuspecting members of the public to religious officials and scholars in an effort to establish what makes the divine and raptured tick. Accompanied by “Borat” director Larry Charles, who knows a thing or two about ambushing people, Maher travels everywhere from the Vatican to Jerusalem to Washington D.C. asking people to expound their religious beliefs and then ponders aloud why they’re likely wrong.
“Rachel Getting Married”
Described by director Jonathan Demme as a salute to the organized chaos of the late, great Robert Altman, this fragile, handheld portrait of familial dysfunction and squabbling siblings once again shows that nothing brings about despair like a wedding. Rosemarie DeWitt is Rachel, the overlooked eldest daughter who is thrilled to finally have a big day all to herself until the arrival of her jittery, maladjusted sister Kym, straight from rehab, threatens to steal the limelight. Anne Hathaway dirties up her porcelain good looks to play Kym, while Debra Winger and Demme regular Bill Irwin co-star as the exasperated parents caught in the middle, not to mention the five or six musical acts Demme booked to play at the ceremony, including Robyn Hitchcock.
Opens in New York and Los Angeles.
[Photo: “Allah Made Me Funny,” Truly Indie, 2008]