Monday, May 03, 2010

Indie Update NYC: Independent Films in May 2010

This month, I'm trying out a new feature. I've noticed that it's easy to get a general overview of mainstream releases for each month, via Fandango, or whatever... but it's hard to get a general feeling for what's happening in the indie theater space. This would be super-valuable, because independent theaters show some of the coolest new releases when they're just hitting big screens, and furthermore, they often schedule screenings of classic films, one-of-a-kind exhibitions, and stuff that you wouldn't want to miss, if you were aware of it. Unfortunately, without a central space to browse all the upcoming screenings at independent theaters, there's simply no easy way to plan your viewings for the month.

So I'm taking the initiative to scour some of the most prolific theaters' web sites and collect their upcoming films for May. I won't list everything... I'm going to try to capture the "interesting" stuff by going for things that are somehow significant. I'll try to write something on every single movie, even if it's a tiny little snippet. If this feature proves to be useful, I'll keep doing it each month. It seems like something our city could use, doesn't it?

Theaters mentioned: Landmark Sunshine Cinema - Film Forum - Angelika New York - IFC Center - Village East Cinema

Indie Happenings in May

Metropolis (Fritz Lang - May 7, Film Forum)
Among the most iconic films in cinema history, Metropolis is the silent saga of a post-apocalyptic caste society built on cruel technocratic principles. This is a movie many of us have only seen on small screens as part of our film studies courses, and seeing it in a cinema - as it was meant to be seen - will add an extra level to our appreciation. Note: if you're a mainstream movie-goer looking to see something outside your comfort zone, skip this one. It's technically and historically interesting, but its early cinema conventions won't jive with your contemporary cinema experience, so it'll probably seem kind of strange and boring.

My Name is Khan (Karan Johar - May 7, Angelika)
A thus far little-seen film drawing on the Bollywood tradition, with reviewers noting its sweeping emotional scope, and its warm and interesting treatment of some of its primary themes: love under the burden of religious conflict, American nationalist paranoia, and personal struggles (in this case, Aspberger's syndrome). Not a perfect film, from what I understand, but quite an emotional journey (partial source: Cinematical)

The Oath (Lauren Poitras - May 7, IFC)
A documentary that apparently plays like a narrative, about a taxi driver in Yemen who used to be deeply involved in Al Quaeda's innerworkings, and whose brother is a Guantanamo Bay inmate. I don't know too much, except what the website says... for instance, that it won a bunch of rather prestigious awards.

Teza (Haile Germina - May 7, Village East)
A film with few reviews, but all of them very strong: an Ethiopian expat returns to his country of origin and struggles with his connection to the homeland, which (from what I gather) evokes both nostalgia and frustration. According to the reviewers, Teza offers a nuanced look at the African American experience, via the diaspora, that's painfully lacking in Hollywood cinema.

Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo (Jessica Oreck - May 12, Film Forum)
A documentary whose elliptical, poetic approach is often noted, covering a topic many of us aren't even remotely aware of: the Japanese obsession with insects and entomology. Most of the press for this film is linked on the film's website itself, so it'll be favorably skewed, but it's from a lot of highly credible sources. Go ahead and check it out.

Best Worst Movie (Michael Stephenson - May 14, Village East)
A documentary about the making of "Troll 2," widely considered one of the worst movies in history, even to the point where it's gained a cult following for that distinction. Best Worst Movie scored well among reviewers, who generally note that its humor, humility, honesty, and demonstrable love for filmmaking bring out the beauty even in an epic filmmaking fail.

Daddy Longlegs (Josh & Bennie Safdie - May 14, IFC)
This sounds like a fairly honest family film about navigating personal relationships and mid-20's life in New York. There's very little press, aside from the Sundance website, which shows the film winning awards at Sundance and Cannes. So far, it sounds good, but a bit generic, perfect fodder for "indie" cinema. If you know more about it, or have seen an insightful review, please post in the comments, Kthx.

Looking for Eric (Ken Loach - May 14, IFC)
A comedic drama about a man living in Manchester, UK whose life is falling apart, and who looks to his football (soccer, for us Americas) idol Eric Cantona. Reviews are positive; they hint at a movie informed by the director's social realism, but with a heightened sense of spontaneity, or amusement, or good nature, or whatever... at any rate, it sounds like a safe, honest, and uplifting film.

Princess Ka’iulani (Mark Forby - May 14, Angelika)
Historical epic about Hawaii's resistance to annexation by the US, focusing on the last heir to the throne, and her valiant but unsuccessful campaign to keep her country's independence. Very little press is available, but the film screened at the Hawaiian International Film Festival and sold out its screening. See also the film's website.

Touching Home (Logan & Noah Miller - May 14, 2010)
I don't know if any critics liked or disliked this film, but it has a hook: it was created by a pair of first-time filmmakers on a desperate quest to honor their recently-deceased father. In pursuit of this goal, they somehow managed to round up a brilliant Oscar-toting crew, including actor Ed Harris, and guide them into creating this dramatic-looking autobiographical movie. Most of the press focuses on this backstory... it's up to us to decide whether the film itself warrants any real interest. This is all gleaned from the film's website.

Cremaster Full Cycle (Matthew Barney - May 19, IFC)
Matthew Barney, Bjork's husband (which in itself should be considered a creative accomplishment), made this series of sweeping, surreal, and visceral art films with grotesque sets and costumes and a hopelessly opaque and elliptical narrative. You've probably heard a lot about it, but if you're like me, you haven't had the opportunity to rent it (it's never really been legally released on DVD), and your curiousity hasn't quite driven you to download the whole ridiculous thing. This is a rare opportunity to see it on a big screen, if you're into that bizarro iconic experimental thing.

Two in the Wave (Emmanuel Laurent - May 19, Film Forum)
A film for the academic cinephile, using original footage to document the relationship between Truffaut and Godard, two giants of French art film. According to Variety, it's a bit uptight, unable to make the cerebral material more accessible to an audience in need of entertainment. Still, for some people out there, it will be an amazing study.

Bad Day at Black Rock (John Sturges - May 21, Film Forum)
A well-regarded 1955 classic, combining tropes of noir and Western, and therefore a good study for appreciation of some current films. Old classics = solid entertainment + cultural substance, as long as you're on board with the early Hollywood pacing and technical conventions.

Solitary Man (Koppelman/Levien - May 21, Angelika)
A comedy-drama about a midlife crisis for Michael Douglas's character... not the fake "I wish I was young again" kind, but the real "Ut oh! My life actually sucks!" kind. Not much press, and not the most fascinating premise, but I can get behind the cast, and Michael Douglas seems like the guy for the part.

Man With a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov - May 25, IFC - with sound editor and filmmaker John Walter)
A 1929 poetic documentary about the Soviet Union, showing different facets of everyday life, intercut with footage of the film being created by the cameramen and editors. For something that sounds so empty, it's an amazingly intelligent, rhythmic, and compelling experience, one of my favorite experimental films of all time... it was created partially with the intention of abandoning all theatrical conventions and creating something akin to "pure filmmaking." It should be an excellent experience on a big screen, and the session with John Walter is an additional selling point, making this screening irresistable, at least to someone with my slightly eccentric cinematic tastes.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (Werner Herzog - May 28, IFC)
Herzog's Nicholas Cage-starring drama about an incredibly corrupt, comically abrasive police officer isn't going to land in his "great films" canon any time soon, but it looks decent for Herzog, and great for Cage. I thought I should mention it, in case you missed it on its first indie-theater run. Herzog is a brilliant filmmaker, and it's worth seeing this just to see what he's been up to.

Breathless (Jean-Luc Godard - May 28, Film Forum)
Godard's unrivaled classic of French New Wave cinema, about a petty criminal modeled after the old films he's spent his life watching, and whose criminal life suddenly becomes serious when he commits murder and turns into a fugitive. His flight leads him into hiding, and into romantic and existential entanglements. It's another film that many of us will only see in classrooms, unless we care enough about cinema history to go to screenings like this.

Coming Home (Hal Ashby - May 28, IFC)
A 1978 movie from Hal Ashby of Harold & Maude fame, this is apparently the story of Vietnam War veterans and their struggles with changing relationships, and with their own relationship to the war that's so fresh in their minds. It sounds like a significant personal drama: great cast, proven director, and multiple awards. Probably deserves some curiosity.

Father of My Children (Mia Hansen-Love - May 28, IFC)
There's not much press on this movie, but the Times Online provides an adequate synopsis: it's a film portraying and critiquing the lives of the French intellectual class, who seem to get by purely on charm and high-minded conversation. This is something that might not interest many people, but should be of some interest at least to film nerds, for whom this lifestyle is often rather romanticized.

Micmacs (Jeunet - May 28, Angelika, New York)
I don't know how good or bad this will be, but the filmmaker is a proven force, having directed the whimsical Amelie, the hallucinogenic City of Lost Children, and the twisted and unnerving Delicattessen. Micmacs appears to be a film involving an eccentric savant (a la Amelie Poulain) finding a home among a band of misfits, and... oh yeah... also in search of revenge against the industrial establishments responsible for his lifelong misfortunes. Should be interesting, to say the least.

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