Looking for something different than what the local cineplex is offering? Disappointed that your local art house closed or is on the other side of town? Here are three recent indie releases that may whet your appetite.
Toni Collette headlines as Ellie, a rock journalist whose days of breaking bands and writing about things that matter are long past her. These days, Ellie spends her time hanging the local Seattle bars, scoring free drinks, and bedding any young stud that plays a guitar. Her time coasting through life comes to an end when her editor (Oliver Platt) hands Ellie an ultimatum to write about her long lost boyfriend, or lose her job.
When Ellie was in her twenties, she was in a relationship with Matthew Smith, a Kurt Cobain type cult hero who got so famous he couldn’t handle his fame. So Matthew dropped out of sight. Some believed he jumped to his death, while others insist they see him every now and then performing in small Washington bars. He left without even saying goodbye to Ellie and she’s been picking up the pieces of her broken heart ever since.
With great reluctance, Ellie begins an investigative journey to uncover whether the Matthew rumors are true. She recruits a stuffy old friend, Charlie (a droll Thomas Haden Church) to help her out. A dot com billionaire, Charlie is game as long as he can document their trip on video (he’s just taken a documentary film class). Along the way, Ellie beds and betrays a rising new musician (played by The Blacklist’s Ryan Eggold) and Charlie gets married to a former prostitute. The plot may sound like something you’ve seen before, but the way the story flows so easily, and the superb performances by Eggold, Haden Church and especially Collette make this a worthwhile movie to look up. Director Megan Griffiths (who also directed the nice film, The Off Hours) does some excellent work and manages to keep one hell of a surprise for the end of the movie. It’s rare that I go “Holy crap,” when a character is revealed, but Lucky Them did just that to me.
This period piece is set in the years leading up to World War I. Friedrich (Richard Madden, Game of Thrones) is an ambitious, poor young engineer whose work ethic impresses his boss, a middle aged steel tycoon named Hoffmeister (the always wonderful Alan Rickman). Soon, Friedrich becomes Hoffmeister’s right hand man. When Hoffmeister becomes gravely ill, he is confined to his large country mansion to do all of his business. The only man he trusts to deliver the news from the city in Friedrich. It is at this large estate that Friedrich meets Hoffmeister’s young wife, Charlotte (Rebecca Hall, The Town). As soon as these two young, gorgeous people lay eyes on each other, you know that they’re bound to fall in love. However, both remain honorable to Hoffmeister, even as they grow closer and he becomes sicker.
A Promise was directed by famed French director Patrice Leconte (Ridicule, Monsieur Hire), from a script he co-wrote with Jérôme Tonnerre. It is based on the novel, Journey Into the Past by Stefan Zweig. The structure of the film is divided into two narratives, with Friedrich’s point of view front and center through the first half. When Hoffmeister sends Friedrich to South America to supervise a business venture (it’s not ever clear whether this is a vindictive action, or because Hoffmeister only trusts Friedrich), the film shifts and is told through Charlotte’s voice. Friedrich is barely seen throughout this part of the movie, as the war breaks out and he gets stuck overseas. All three lead performances are excellent, especially Hall, who brings such joy and love to Charlotte, you never question why both men fall in love with her.
The film is just 95 minutes long, which I found interesting. I typically associate costume dramas like this with the leisurely pace of an Ivory/Merchant film. However, Leconte keeps the action moving, never letting the camera linger too long on a face or a scene last too long. I actually wish he would have slowed the film down on occasion. Likewise, his use of sudden zoom ins and shaky cam felt out of place with what was happening on screen. Nevertheless, I believe that the story and acting more than make up for the film techniques that I found distracting.
What do you get when you place American Pie in a time loop plot like Groundhog Day. You might get a complete mess, which is what I expected when I started Premature. Instead, I laughed my ass off, as writer/director Dan Beers found a way to invigorate the stale teen/sex comedy genre, at least for one film.
Newcomer John Karna stars as Rob, a high school student who wakes up after a nocturnal emission, his covers off, dressed only in his underwear. Yes, the big wet spot is visible. His mom walks in and is mortified. Thus begins the day he’ll relive over and over until he can uncover the mistake he made that will lift this ejaculation curse. Did I mention that Rob’s day starts over each time he has an orgasm? Like I said, this is a SEX comedy.
Rob has a big interview this day. He’s meeting with a rep from Georgetown (played by Alan Tudyk, who kills in the performance) who could decide his college future. Someone else who kills in this film is Craig Roberts, one of my favorite young actors. Perhaps you saw Submarine or The First Time? If not, check those out. Roberts was also in the Seth Rogen hit, Neighbors, in a minor, important role. Luckily, in Premature he has the all-important role of Rob’s best friend, Stanley. This means he gets most of the best lines and practically steals the film. Fortunately, Karna is his equal and they play great on screen together.
Besides the college interview, Rob passes up a chance to watch a spelling bee with his cute best friend, Gabby (Katie Findlay) in order to score with the dim witted, albeit hot, Angela (Carlson Young). It’s after his first encounter with Angela that Rob has his first premature incident and begins reliving the day. As with any movie of this type (okay, I can only think of one other, Edge of Tomorrow), half the fun is watching the same incidents happen, each with a new twist.
There are the volleyball bullies carrying water guns full of piss, the cars that come from nowhere to hit Rob on his bike, and Rob’s interactions with Gaby’s weird brother, a uni-browed genius named Arthur (Adam Reigler). The reason behind Rob’s repeating day is finally resolved by the the film’s third act and Rob winds up with the girl he should (who do you think?).
The script and direction are quick and funny; Beers does a great job with the material. He’s blessed with a remarkable cast that really sells the movie. As stupid and ridiculous as the movie is, not once did I think that any of the actors were “above” being in the film. I always find that if I want to watch a film again, especially a comedy, then the movie is legit. I can’t wait to watch Premature again.