By Neil Pedley
With the fall season’s heavy hitters already starting to make an appearance, this week’s feast of indie offers some calm before the big studio storm. Enjoy it while it lasts.
“Ashes of Time Redux”
Celebrated Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar-wai gathered together lost and damaged footage to painstakingly rework his only martial arts epic, first released in 1994, into a fresh, definitive edition (complete with an all new score from Yo-Yo Ma). With a blindingly colorful palette, Wong paints a looping, stylized portrait of an embittered agent Ouyang Feng (the late Leslie Cheung) who channels the unbearable pain of a broken heart into commissioning bounty hunters to commit acts of vengeance. Tony Leung Ka Fai, Maggie Cheung, Carina Lau and Jacky Cheung round out the still-impressive cast.
Opens in New York and Los Angeles.
“Body of Lies”
In terms of the global espionage thriller, orange is the new grey as Cold War concrete has been ushered out and replaced with the sun-baked sand dunes of the War on Terror. Ridley Scott reunites with his regular muse Russell Crowe, who stars as Ed Hoffman, the CIA suit behind the scenes orchestrating the every move of mobile asset Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio). On the trail of a major terrorist leader, Ferris is tasked with infiltrating the organization with Hoffman as his only link to the outside world. If this all sounds like “The Departed” gone global, it will come as no surprise that “Departed” scripter William Monaghan is the one behind this adaptation of David Ignatius’s novel of the same name.
“Breakfast With Scot”
Based on the novel by Michael Downing, “Breakfast With Scot” is a gay-themed comedy without the forced, flaming flamboyance that usual accompanies the subject — something of a breath of fresh air and a return to roots for French-Canadian director Laurie Lynd. Tom Cavanaugh and Ben Shenkman star as Eric and Sam, a same-sex couple still struggling through issues within their own relationship when they find themselves charged with temporarily taking care of Sam’s brother’s recently deceased ex-girlfriend’s son Scot (Noah Bernett), a rather effeminate 11-year-old who seemingly prefers high heels to hockey skates.
Opens in New York and Los Angeles.
With the election mere weeks away, bit-parting TV thesp turned writer/director Luke Eberl makes his feature debut with this politically charged coming of age tale that features former child star Alex D. Linz as Owen, an idealistic achiever invited into the inner circle of up-and-coming congressman Lawrence Connor (Steven Weber). Once on the inside, Owen finds his elation slowly turning to disenchantment as he comes to realize the harsh realities of the political process when his job on Connor’s campaign as youth spokesman morphs into something else entirely.
Opens in New York.
“City of Ember”
With a resume boasting the likes of “Edward Scissorhands” and “Corpse Bride,” scripter Caroline Thompson must have seemed like the ideal fit to bring author Jeanne Duprau’s gothic-industrial fairy tale to life under the direction of “Monster House” helmer Gil Kenan. From the first of four books, “City of Ember” tells of a vast underground metropolis built to safeguard the remnants of humanity in the wake of an apocalypse. But after 200 years, the gigantic generator at the heart of Ember begins to falter and when panic grips its citizens, two teenagers (Saoirse Ronan and Harry Treadaway) scour the labyrinth for clues that point to a way out of the doomed city. Bill Murray, Tim Robbins and Martin Landau provide support.
Mixing two parts “Remember the Titans” with one part “Finding Forrester” (in addition to stealing the latter’s lead actor), versatile director Gary Fleder returns from a five-year stint on the small screen to helm this true life story of Ernie Davis, the first African-American football player to win the Heisman Trophy. Based on the biography by Robert C. Gallagher, Rob Brown stars as the speedy Syracuse running back, who under the guidance of coach Ben Schwartzwalder (Dennis Quaid) dodged prevalent racism to become a national sensation before his life took a tragic turn off the field.
Given there is no one actually called Dick in the film, you are forgiven for your initial thoughts about this 2008 Sundance selection, but you shouldn’t be misled by the title of this gentle account of a remarkably unorthodox courtship in Marianna Palka’s directorial debut. Jason Ritter stars alongside his real-life girlfriend Palka in this coming together of a damaged video store clerk and a lonely, introverted porno aficionado. Playing out an idiosyncratic back and forth, they look to exorcise their respective issues surrounding sex and commitment as they inch ever so slightly towards something approaching happiness. Charles Durning, Martin Starr, Mark Webber, Katherine Waterston and Tom Arnold co-star.
Opens in Los Angeles; opens in New York and Columbus on October 17th.
After years of diligently detailing the lives of the despairing, the king of kitchen-sink-miserablism, Mike Leigh, is surprising his fans and critics alike with an “anti-miserablist film” that swaps life lessons for life views in this supremely simple, uplifting story of one woman’s irrepressibly positive outlook. Poppy (Sally Hawkins) is a perky primary school teacher whose glass is always half full, even when her bicycle is stolen one day, prompting her to sign up for driving lessons where her irresistible force of optimism meets its opposite immovable object in driving instructor Scott (Eddie Marsan) a beetroot-faced misanthrope whose teaching methods are built around a memory association technique based on Satan’s unholy trinity.
Opens in limited release.
“Nights and Weekends”
“Hannah Takes the Stairs” alums Greta Gerwig and Joe Swanberg reunite only to spend considerable time apart in this no-frills romantic drama co-directed by the duo. Adopting a real-world approach where a relationship isn’t merely a series of dramatic set pieces, the film is a loosely structured, scoreless rendition of a turbulent long-distance love affair showcasing the compromise, the sacrifice and the quiet desperation that exists beneath the passion of any lasting relationship. The same might be said of the film itself, a real test of endurance and commitment filmed over two years in two separate shoots in Chicago and New York.
Opens in New York.
With this Americanized remake of Spanish sleeper hit “[REC],” not to mention “Zombie Diaries” and Romero’s “Diary of the Dead,” 2008 has become the year of the handheld zombie film. But the more disturbing trend to emerge is that while remakes of Japanese horror get A-list stars (Naomi Watts, Jennifer Connolly, Jessica Alba), Spanish remakes get Jennifer Carpenter (TV’s “Dexter”), who plays the peppy news reporter trapped with her cameraman (Steve Harris) in a sealed apartment building where a mysterious virus has been unleashed on the residents. As is customary with films of this ilk, how scary something is supposed to be is directly indicated by how violently the camera shakes as the character holding it runs screaming down a pitch black corridor. It’s a specialty of the Dowdle brothers, whose last film “The Poughkeepsie Tapes” remains unreleased, but scared the crap out of folks who saw it at the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival.
Post-“Revolver,” Brit helmer Guy Ritchie has been struck down with a severe case of the what-have-you-done-for-me-latelys? Indeed, the man once revered for single-handedly revitalizing the done-to-death British gangster film now regularly suffers the indignity of being referred to by the tabloids as simply “Madonna’s husband.” After the disastrous Vegas detour that was “Revolver,” Ritchie returns to his old stomping ground of London with Cockney wide boys violently marauding their way through another trademark pretzel-plotted crime caper. Idris Elba and Gerard Butler star as Mumbles and One Two, petty thieves who run afoul of the Russian mob when they try to get out from under the thumb of Tom Wilkinson’s underworld fixer Lenny Cole.
Opens in New York and Los Angeles; opens wide on October 31st.
[Photo: “Ashes of Time Redux,” Sony Pictures Classics, 2008]