By Neil Pedley
Halloween week offsets some of the recent nice with a little bit of nasty that duly chucks the blood around. Kevin Smith’s also back, along with a culture clash rom-com and an eclectic mix of docs.
“Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father”
As anyone who’s seen this documentary as it’s collected audience awards on the festival circuit can attest, the less one knows, the better — but if we must, composer and filmmaker Kurt Kuenne channels his grief over the murder of his best friend Andrew Bagby into a cinematic celebration of Bagby’s life so that his son might have something of the father he will never know. Inviting loved ones to share memories and experiences, Kuenne assembles this memorial to his friend’s memory while Andrew’s parents enter into a bitter custody dispute with their son’s murderer, who’s out on bail in Canada awaiting extradition to the U.S.
Opens in New York; opens in Los Angeles on November 7th.
Inspired by any one of a hundred nauseating Daily Mail headlines that have recently shaken Britain’s stuffy image to its very foundations, writer/director James Watkins trades in the traditionally American terror of backwoods-dwelling hillbillies for the more prevalent English menace of teenage tearaways. Michael Fassbender and Kelly Reilly star as a suburban couple on an idyllic weekend getaway where they are inexplicably tormented by a vicious gang of malevolent minors (including Shane Meadows’s regular Thomas Turgoose) in a savage game of cat and mouse.
Opens in limited release.
“The First Basket”
Although nearly a decade has passed since a Jewish basketball player last competed in the NBA, debut filmmaker David Vyorst’s comprehensive documentary details the pivotal role Jewish immigrants played in the early years of professional basketball. Blending archival footage with insider anecdotes from surviving former all-stars, Vyorst charts the impact Jewish players had on the league that would eventually become the NBA and how much the game affected the lives of second-generation immigrants from Eastern Europe who viewed it as a cornerstone of their identities as Americans.
Opens in New York; opens in Los Angeles on November 14th.
“The Haunting of Molly Hartley”
Cinema has a proud tradition of reflecting the myriad of hallway horrors contained within the seventh level of Hell that is high school — the awkwardness of puberty, the awakening of sexuality, the cruelty of parents and peers — though you’re unlikely to find a more quite outrageous metaphor for teen angst than the one purported by this debut from TV producer-turned-director Mickey Liddell. “The Riches”‘s Shannon Marie Woodward makes her big screen debut as the new girl on campus fleeing a satanic cult determined to celebrate her upcoming 18th birthday in style by offering up her soul as sacrifice to the Dark Lord. It’s expected that co-star Chace Crawford (“Gossip Girl”) will help her, having picked up a thing or two from starring in “The Covenant.”
As the centerpiece in a ritual dating back thousands of years, the torero, or the bullfighter, is an iconic figure in Spanish society, celebrated as both an exceptional athlete and an accomplished performer. Though times have changed, as this documentary from Stephen Higgins and Nina Gilden Seavey duly notes, there still are those who pursue perfection in the sport, including David Fandila, a matador nicknamed “El Fandi,” who steps up his bid to secure the top spot in the world rankings at a time when more and more Spaniards view the sport as an exercise in cruelty and question its role in modern Spanish society.
Opens in New York.
“The Other End of the Line”
Produced by one of the American film industry’s most prominent Indians (Ashok Amritraj) and penned by Tracey Jackson, whose last film was the similarly cross-cultural satire “The Guru,” this intercontinental romantic comedy continues Bollywood’s inroads into Hollywood. Shriya Saran stars as Priya, a lonely credit card call center worker in Bangalore who travels to San Francisco to hook up with a stranger (Jesse Metcalfe) whose complaints about fraudulent charges blossoms into a more amorous connection. The Internet age might make the idea of a telephone romance seem positively quaint, but DTV director James Dodson is hoping this culture clash will be his ticket to the party.
Opens in limited release.
British visual effects artist Toby Wilkins makes the jump to director with this minimalist, single location shocker that cleaned up recently at this year’s L.A. Screamfest, spiking no less than six awards including best picture. Paulo Costanzo and Jill Wagner star as Seth and Poppy, a young couple carjacked by an ex-con and his junkie girlfriend (Shea Whigham and Rachel Kerbs, respectively). Fleeing along a deserted highway, the unfortunate foursome find themselves marooned inside a remote gas station and must work together to survive as a bloodthirsty parasitic creature lurks in the shadows and lays siege to the building. Hard to believe there was once a time when being carjacked at gunpoint would have been more than enough.
Opens in limited release.
“Zack and Miri Make a Porno”
The last time Kevin Smith tried anything beyond recycling the same old shtick with “Jersey Girl,” the now-defunct Bennifer factor sank the film like an anchor chained to a rubber duck. Out of New Jersey (and his comfort zone) and into Pittsburgh, Smith drafts the quite busy Elizabeth Banks and comedy’s man of the hour Seth Rogen to play the titular lifelong best friends on the verge of bankruptcy who slowly fall for one another while trying to figure the best way to bump uglies for practical, financial considerations, without falling for one another. The film’s eclectic supporting cast has Smith regulars Jason Mewes and Jeff Anderson mingling with real porn stars, past and present, Traci Lords and Katie Morgan, in a film that played like gangbusters at last month’s Fantastic Fest in Austin.
[Photo: “Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father,” Oscilloscope Pictures, 2008]