Thinking Outside the Multiplex: National Edition (December 24, 2010 – January 5, 2011)

by MIKE MACCOLLUM

“National Edition” catch-up continues- and finishes out 2010 and moves into 2011- with the feature films that opened in the US between December 24, 2010, and January 5, 2011 (plus one straggler from December 22 that I would have covered in the last column, if I had been able to read my tiny, scribbled notes correctly). The films run the gamut from Academy Award nominees to titles that few American filmgoers will have heard of, or will see.

(And if you are looking for The Way Back below, you won’t find it there, since we don’t include detailed information on films that opened in limited release, but later went into wide release in US theaters. Instead, I’ll just note parenthetically that Peter Weir’s film first was released in America on December 29 at the Covina 30 in Covina, CA.)

The Illusionist is the only movie covered this week that I’ve managed to see so far, by the way; I liked in, even though it had a trailer that led me to expect a movie that was more comedic than it actually was. Of the others, I want to see Biutiful, Blue Valentine, Another Year, Hadewijch, The Sound of Insects and The Red Chapel– but at the top of the list is The Strange Case of Angelica, which was made by a writer/director who was born in 1908. (And no, that isn’t a typo- Manoel de Oliveira really was over 100 when he made this film….)

DECEMBER 22

DOCUMENTARIES

The Sound of Insects- Record of a Mummy

Summary (official): A profound inquiry into the art of representation, Peter Liechti’s The Sound of Insects probes the ever-elusive and mystifying line between life and death. The film also blurs the line between documentary and fiction. A hunter in a remote corner of the Austrian wilderness, makes the horrifying discovery of a desiccated human corpse in a makeshift tent deep in the forest. Who was this person? Why did he die? The dead body releases its secrets in a day-by-day account fusing fiction and reality in an unsettling, highly sensory narrative. Based on the Japanese novel by Shimada Masahiko, which in turn is based on fact… (More)

Director: Peter Liechti

English-language version narrated by: Peter Mettler, Doraine Green

Language: English

Release information: Opened at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City.

Other links: Page for the film on the director’s site

DECEMBER 24

AMERICAN INDEPENDENTS (AND OTHERWISE)

Oy Vey! My Son Is Gay!

Genre: Comedy

Plot synopsis (official): Oy Vey! My Son Is Gay! is the story of the Hirsch’s, a Jewish family living in the North Shore of Long Island, where every Friday night Shirley Hirsch (Lainie Kazan) invites another “perfect” girl for Shabbat dinner in hopes that her son, Nelson (John Lloyd Young), will marry a nice Jewish girl. When Shirley and Martin (Saul Rubinek) once again set him up on a date, Nelson reveals that he is already seeing someone. Shirley and Martin are thrilled and can’t wait to meet the lucky lady… (More)

Director: Evgeny Afineevsky

Cast: Lainie Kazan, Saul Rubinek, Vincent Pastore, John Lloyd Young, Jai Rodriguez, Bruce Vilanch, Shelly Burch, Alexandra Mamaliger, Carmen Electra

Release information: Opened at the Lennox Town Center 24 in Columbus, OH.

FILMS FROM AROUND THE WORLD

Hadewijch

Genre: Drama

Plot synopsis (official): Hadewijch, a novice nun, shocks the mother superior of her convent with her ecstatic blind faith, and is kicked out of the order. Hadewijch becomes Celine again, a young Parisian girl and daughter of a diplomat, and is led down dangerous paths in the real world, balancing between grace and madness in her rage and passionate love for God.

Director: Bruno Dumont

Cast: Julie Sokolowski, Karl Sarafidis, Yassine Salime, David Dewaele, Brigitte Mayeux-Clerget, Michelle Ardenne

Languages: French, Arabic

Release information: Opened at the IFC Center in New York City.

Other links: Official French site (in English)

**********

If You Are the One 2

Genre: Romantic comedy

Plot synopsis (official): After coming back from Hokkaido, Japan, Xiaoxiao has made up her mind not to love her former boyfriend Fang anymore. In fact, she has given up on loving anyone at all. But she is fundamentally conflicted about her complicated relationship with Qin Fen: no matter how hard she tries, she just can’t make herself fall in love with him. Qin, for his part, already has plans for a huge proposal at the most extraordinary place – the Great Wall. But it seems he still got a long way to go into Xiaoxiao’s heart…

Director: Feng Xiaogang

Cast: Ge You, Shu Qi, Sun Honglei, Yao Chen, An Yixuan, Liao Fan

Language: Mandarin Chinese

Release information: Opened on thirteen US screens- seven in California, three in New York, and one each in Maryland, New Jersey, and Massachusetts.

Additional information: I have read several reviews/reports online that call the director “China’s Spielberg”- or words to that effect- since a number of his films have been huge blockbusters in China.

DECEMBER 25

FILMS FROM AROUND THE WORLD

The Illusionist

Genres: Drama/Comedy

Plot synopsis (official): THE ILLUSIONIST is a story about two paths that cross. An outdated, aging magician, forced to wander from country to country, city to city and station to station in search of a stage to perform his act meets a young girl at the start of her life’s journey. Alice is a teenage girl with all her capacity for childish wonder still intact. She plays at being a woman without realizing the day to stop pretending is fast approaching. She doesn’t know yet that she loves The Illusionist like she would a father; he already knows that he loves her as he would a daughter. Their destinies will collide, but nothing – not even magic or the power of illusion- can stop the voyage of discovery.

Director: Sylvain Chomet

Voice Cast: Jean-Claude Donda, Eilidh Rankin, Duncan MacNeil, Raymond Mearns, James T. Muir, Tom Urie, Paul Bandey

Language: Well, a voice at the very start of the film introducing the main character’s stage act is in English (at least in the American version)- but otherwise, I don’t think that there really is a language, as such. You hear characters laughing, crying, singing, expressing surprise, and so on- but beyond that, the (limited) verbal communication between characters sounds like an attempt at a “universal language” of sorts, with indistinct/garbled, voice-like sounds conveying the emotions of the characters without using a specific language.

Release information: Opened at the Paris Theatre in New York City.

Additional information: Based on a screenplay by the late Jacques Tati.

Also, The Illusionist was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

Comments: The trailer (or the American one, at least) tries to make you think that this is a comedy- but while there are some funny bits here and there, the overall tone is very melancholic; in fact, this was the most melancholic film I’ve seen in a very long time.

Other links: American press kit

DECEMBER 29

AMERICAN INDEPENDENTS (AND OTHERWISE)

Blue Valentine

Genre: Drama

Plot synopsis (official): Blue Valentine is the story of love found and love lost told in moments past and present. This honest and moving portrait follows Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams who star as Dean and Cindy, a married couple who spend a night away from their daughter in an attempt to save their failing marriage. Juxtaposed with playful scenes that trace their romantic courtship six years prior, Gosling and Williams journey through the brutal heartbreak that comes with fading love and broken promises.

Director: Derek Cianfrance

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams, John Doman, Mike Vogel, Faith Wladyka, Jen Jones, Maryann Plunkett, Ben Shenkman

Release information: Opened at the Arclight Hollywood, The Landmark in Los Angeles, the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas in New York City, and the Angelika Film Center in New York City.

Additional information: Michelle Williams received a Best Actress Academy Award nomination for her work in the film.

Blue Valentine originally was rated NC-17 by the MPAA, but received an R rating on appeal.

FILMS FROM AROUND THE WORLD

Another Year

Genres: Drama/Comedy

Plot synopsis (official): In the Spring, happily married Gerri, a medical counselor, and Tom, a geologist, tend their allotment. They entertain Gerri’s lonely work colleague Mary, who gets very drunk, and bemoans her disastrous love life. Gerri and Tom enjoy a warm relationship with their community lawyer son Joe, aged 30, who reports that although his friends are getting married, he is still without a partner. In the Summer, Ken comes down to London… (More; scroll down)

Director: Mike Leigh

Cast: Jim Broadbent, Lesley Manville, Ruth Sheen, Peter Wight, Oliver Maltman, David Bradley, Karina Fernandez, Martin Savage, Michele Austin, Phil Davis, Stuart McQuarrie, Imelda Staunton, Edna Doré

Release information: Opened at six US theaters- four in California, and two in New York City.

Additional information: The original screenplay for Another Year was nominated for an Academy Award.

**********

Biutiful

Genre: Drama

Plot synopsis (official): Biutiful is a love story between a father and his children. This is the journey of Uxbal, a conflicted man who struggles to reconcile fatherhood, love, spirituality, crime, guilt and mortality amidst the dangerous underworld of modern Barcelona. His livelihood is earned out of bounds, his sacrifices for his children know no bounds… (More)

Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu

Cast: Javier Bardem, Maricel Álvarez, Hanaa Bouchaib, Guillermo Estrella, Eduard Fernández, Cheikh Ndiaye

Language: Spanish

Release information: Opened at the Century City 15 in Century City, CA, and the Sunshine Cinema in New York City.

Additional information: Javier Bardem won the Best Actor Award at the Cannes Film Festival for his performance in Biutiful; he was also nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award for Biutiful- and the film itself was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film.

**********

The Strange Case of Angelica

Genre: Drama

Plot synopsis (official): The new film from master filmmaker Manoel de Oliveira, The Strange Case of Angelica is a magical tale about a young photographer who falls madly in love with a woman he can never have, except in his dreams. Late one night, Isaac is summoned by a wealthy family to take the last photograph of a young bride, Angelica, who mysteriously passed away. Arriving at their estate, Isaac is struck by Angelica’s beauty, but when he looks through his lens, something strange happens – the young woman appears to come to life. From that moment, Isaac will be haunted by Angelica day and night.

Director: Manoel de Oliveira

Cast: Ricardo Trêpa, Pilar López de Ayila, Leonor Silveira, Luís Miguel Cintra, Ana Maria Magalhães, Isabel Ruth, Sara Carinhas, Ricardo Aibéo*, Adelaide Teixeira

(*This actor’s first name appears to be “Carlo” on the film’s US poster, which you can see on the IMDb- but the first name is Ricardo everywhere else, apparently.)

Language: Portuguese

Release information: Opened at the IFC Center in New York City.

Additional information: Writer/director Manoel de Oliveira was born on December 11, 1908, according to the IMDb, and made his first film as director (a short documentary) in 1931.

This film was based on a script originally written by de Oliveira in 1952, per the film’s English-language press kit from the Cannes film festival.

DOCUMENTARIES

The Red Chapel

Summary (official): Winner of the World Cinema Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, Mads Brügger’s documentary follows a trio of Danish comedians as they pretend to be regime sympathizers and mount an absurd variety show in North Korea. Combining the muckracking spirit of Michael Moore with the confrontational comedy of Borat, The Red Chapel is an unconventional, hilarious and damning peek into a totalitarian regime.

Director: Mads Brügger

With: Jacob Nossell; Simon Jul Jørgensen; Mads Brügger

Languages: Danish, Korean, English

Release information: Opened at the IFC Center in New York City.

Additional information: Co-produced by Lars von Trier’s Zentropa Productions.

DECEMBER 30

AMERICAN INDEPENDENTS (AND OTHERWISE)

The Black Tulip

Genre: Drama

Plot synopsis (official): After the Taliban is routed from Afghanistan in early 2001, the Mansouri family seizes the new window of freedom by opening a restaurant called “The Poet’s Corner,” with an open microphone and an inviting platform for all to read poetry, perform music and tell their stories. This newfound hope proves to be fleeting as they struggle to maintain their way of life when encountering opposition from lingering factions of the Taliban… (More)

Director: Sonia Nassery Cole

Cast: Haji Gul Aser; Sonia Nassery Cole; Walid Amini; Somaia Razaye; Hosna Tanha; Karim Jaweed; Sadaf Yarmal; Basir Mujaheed; Shafi Sahel; Jack Scalia; Edoardo Costa

Languages: Dari, Pashto, English, Arabic, Italian

Release information: Opened at the Sunset 5 in West Hollywood.

Additional information: An Afghan/US co-production, per some sources- but director Cole (who lives in the US, according to an article on The Black Tulip in The New York Times) financed the film entirely by herself, per the official site for The Black Tulip.

FILMS FROM AROUND THE WORLD

Finding Mr. Destiny

Genre: Romantic comedy

Plot synopsis (official): A woman named Seo Ji-Woo (Lim Soo-Jung) traveled to India and met her first true love Kim Jong-Ok. Since that time Ji-Woo can’t forget her first love. She then turns the company- whose means literally “Finding Your First True Love Company” to help track down Kim Jong-Ok. Han Gi-Joon (Gong Yoo) started “Finding Your First True Love Company” and he takes on Seo Ji-Woo is the company’s first client. The pair travel all over Korea to find Seo Ji-Woo’s first love and & in the process Han Gi-Joon falls in love with his first client …

Director: Chang You-jeong

Cast: Lim Soo-jung, Gong Yoo, Jeon Ho-jin, Lee Cheong-a

Language: Korean

Release information: Opened with an 11:30 PM showing at the CGV Cinemas in Los Angeles on December 30; regular showings (with six screenings per day) started the next day at the same theater.

Other links: Korean site (with a different trailer)

DECEMBER 31

FILMS FROM AROUND THE WORLD (WITHOUT SUBTITLES)

Kandahar

Language: Malayalam

Release information: Opened at the Movie City 8 in Edison, NJ.

Additional information: According to several sites I found, Kandahar is the first Malayalam-language film for Bollywood (Hindi language) superstar Amitabh Bachchan.

Also, Wikipedia notes that Kandahar is the third film in which Malayalam-language cinema star Mohanlal plays the character “Major Mahadevan”; the other two were Kirtichakra (2006) and Kurukshetra (2008). Like the first two movies, Kandahar was written and directed by Major Ravi.

Comments: And so it is that the last movie given a theatrical release in the US in 2010 is a film that most Americans have never heard of, and will never see.

JANUARY 1, 2011

AMERICAN INDEPENDENTS (AND OTHERWISE)

Friendship Adventures- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic/The Adventures of Chuck and Friends

Genre: Animation

Plot synopsis: Both elements of this combo, according to Wikipedia, are series that have been running on a channel called The Hub (or HubBub) since October 2010- so perhaps both the “My Little Pony” episode and the “Adventures of Chuck and Friends” episodes that were part of this package had already aired on TV before they appeared in theaters. According to the official site for Kidtoons, the distributor of this mini-double-feature (it apparently runs for about an hour, all together), the first half is a “newly imagined Pony Adventure” in which “we learn the five principles of Friendship”- while “Chuck learns about exercise and staying in shape” in the second part.

Director: Donald Kim (for The Adventures of Chuck and Friends, per the IMDb) – and I’m not sure which episode of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic was used for this theatrical release, so I don’t know who directed that one.

Voice Cast: Tara Strong, Ashleigh Bell (for My Little Pony); Gabriel Giammaria (for The Adventures of Chuck and Friends).

Release information: When I checked the site for distributor Kidtoons Films, I found a list of 154 US theaters that show their films. Some of these theaters show the Kidtoons titles throughout the week, while others do so only on weekends- and when I checked the sites for Indiana theaters on the Kidtoons list in late December or early January, I found that only one theater on that list, the Carmike 20 in Fort Wayne, said on its online schedule that they were playing the Pony/Chuck combo on Saturday, January 1; the sites for the other Indiana theaters on the Kidtoons list all said that they were showing the December Kidtoons entry on January 1 instead. I’m assuming that the sites for these theaters were in error, and that they were actually showing the Pony/Chuck combo instead. So- assuming that, and assuming that all of the theaters on the Kidtoons list were actually showing titles from Kidtoons- here is where Friendship Adventures was playing in the US: thirteen screens in New York, twelve screens each in California and Massachusetts, ten theaters each in Texas and Ohio, nine screens in Alabama, eight theaters in Tennessee, seven screens each in Georgia, Michigan, and North Carolina, six screens in Indiana, five theaters in Missouri, four screens each in Florida and Connecticut, three theaters each in Arizona, North Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, Virginia, New Jersey and Rhode Island, two screens each in Idaho, Montana, South Dakota, Minnesota, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania, and one theater each in Washington state, Utah, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, South Carolina, West Virginia, and New Hampshire.

Other links: Pages for Chuck and Friends and My Little Pony on the HubBub network site; site for Kidtoons Films

JANUARY 5

FILMS FROM AROUND THE WORLD

If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle

Genre: Drama

Plot synopsis (official): Silviu has only two weeks left before his release from a hostile juvenile detention center. But when his mother, who abandoned him long ago, returns to take his younger brother away – a brother Silviu raised like a son – those two weeks become an eternity. While his outcries for help fall on deaf ears, he finds himself mercilessly taunted and harassed by the other inmates. And just as Silviu’s frustration evolves into full-throttled aggression, he is introduced to a beautiful social worker that he can only dream of being close to. Faced with a slew of conflicting emotions and wild with desperation, Silviu is driven to a surprising act of defiance as he makes a last grasp for freedom.

Director: Florin Serban

Cast: George Pistereanu, Ada Condeescu, Clara Voda, Mihai Constantin, Marian Bratu, Papan Chilibar, Mihai Svoristeanu, Alexandru Mititelu, Cristian Dumitru, Laurentiu Banescu

Language: Romanian

Release information: Opened at the Film Forum in New York City.

Additional information: If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle was Romania’s official entry in the Best Foreign Language Film category for the Academy Awards this year, but it didn’t receive a nomination in that category.

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