This week offers animation from Asia, science fiction from South Africa, horror from Europe and romance on the home continent.
Despite the odd detour to pen such fare as the unpleasant 1993 remake of “The Vanishing,” actor-turned-writer/director Todd Graff has returned time and again to themes of ambitious young performers struggling for recognition. With his follow-up to 2003’s “Camp,” he offers up a plush, pristinely PG tale of a gaggle of Texas high school misfits who congregate under the believe-in-yourself banner to put together a fledgling rock band. “High School Musical” star Vanessa Hudgens co-stars as Sa5m (the 5 is silent), the object of affection for wannabe rock star Will (Gaelan Connell). Aly Michalka, Charlie Saxton and Ryan Donowho fill out the “Breakfast Club”-esque supporting roles.
With what’s surely destined to be one of cinema’s most notable sex scenes, the enthusiastic physical intimacy of 60-something Inge (Ursula Werner) and her 76-year old lover Karl (Horst Westphal) kicks off this gentle romantic drama from German ultra-realist helmer Andreas Dresen. Running contrary to the belief that an intrinsic need for security and stability trumps impulses of lust as one ages, Dresen unfolds a scoreless kitchen sink saga (or should that be bedside table?) of a seamstress drawn to temptation despite more than 30 years of contented marriage to husband Werner (Horst Rehberg). In German with subtitles.
Opens in New York.
With executive producer Peter Jackson’s name all over the ads and a viral marketing campaign cloaked in a “Cloverfield”-like air of mystery amping up the buzz, South African effects artist-turned-director Neill Blomkamp could hardly be better positioned to unleash his directorial debut on salivating audiences. A thinly veiled allegory on the dehumanizing effects of current geo-political polarization, Blomkamp employs a pseudo-documentary technique in marrying sharp satire with a visceral sci-fi setting. The director’s longtime chum Sharlto Copley stars as Wikus van der Merwe, a boastful operative of a multinational corporation tasked with herding a sprawling ghetto full of extraterrestrial refugees to a more remote (read: out of mind) settlement.
Wrapping up its third and final week, DocuWeeks, the annual New York and Los Angeles based theatrical exhibition of doc films for purposes of Oscar qualification, will present weeklong runs of “Living in Emergency: Stories of Doctors Without Borders,” director Mark N. Hopkins’ chronicle of the valiant efforts of four volunteer physicians attempting to bring aid to the war-torn trouble spots of Liberia and The Congo (NY, LA 8/14); and “Saint Misbehavin’: The Wavy Gravy Movie,” Michelle Esrick’s biography that follows nearly 10 years in the life of renowned peace activist, entertainer, and counter-culture icon Wavy Gravy, beginning with Woodstock ’99 (NY, LA 8/14).
Having steadily transformed over several decades from an obscure point of pseudo-intellectual pontification into a globally divisive issue at the forefront of the culture wars, Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker Robert Stone explores the history and evolution of the modern environmental movement. Employing rare archival footage from the genesis in the `60s and `70s combined with modern day science and statistics, Stone pinpoints the turning points of the movement and highlights the pioneers who were instrumental in bringing environmental awareness to the forefront of international debate.
Opens in New York.
“The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard”
Their feature debut, the Seann William Scott comedy “Balls Out: Gary the Tennis Coach” might’ve gone straight to the Wal-Mart bargain bin earlier this year, but co-scripters Adam Stock and Rick Stempson have the backing of Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s Gary Sanchez Productions this time around, meaning they’ll get a chance to impress on the big screen with Jeremy Piven starring as Don Ready, a smooth-talking sales guru hired by a failing auto dealership to spearhead their 4th of July bonanza. Under the direction of “Chappelle’s Show” co-creator Neal Brennan, he is joined by a different kind of entourage including “The Hangover” alums Ed Helms, Ken Jeong and Rob Riggle.
Expanded from his own deeply disturbing 2006 short of the same title, writer/director Paul Solet’s “Grace” is a gory, tongue-in-cheek salute to that most eternally tormented of horror movie staples, the expectant mother. Billed as a “Rosemary’s Baby” imbued with the wry sense of humor of Sam Raimi, “Grace” centers on a recently widowed mother (Jordan Ladd) whose stillborn baby miraculously returns to life with a ravenous and wholly unnatural appetite for blood.
Opens in New York and Los Angeles.
“I’m Gonna Explode”
Hacking off a singular narrative idea from his previous multi-plotted ensemble film, “Drama/Mex,” and sharpening it down to a point, writer/director Gerardo Naranjo offers up a languid teen angst drama down Mexico way. Too energetic to conform and too apathetic to rebel, privileged and dissatisfied adolescent Román (Juan Pablo de Santiago) subsists in a state of self-imposed exile on his father’s roof with kindred spirit Maru (Maria Deschamps), a working class bohemian who indulges Román’s violent, venomous flights of fancy. In Spanish with subtitles.
Opens in New York.