Our weekly independent film roundup focuses on new titles opening this weekend, plus several new distribution deals, and an evocative trailer.
Opening This Weekend
Two independent films opened on Wednesday: Todd Rohal's religious-themed comedy The Catechism Cataclysm, starring Steve Little from Eastbound and Down, and Jonathan Lee's documentary celebrating its title character, Paul Goodman Changed My Life. Six more open today.
Of the new releases, Martha Marcy May Marlene (unofficially, AKA MMMM), directed by T. Sean Durkin, has received a good amount of positive press for the lead performance by Elizabeth Olsen. She plays a young woman who flees from a cult, led by John Hawkes, and seeks refuge with her sister (Sarah Paulson) and brother-in-law (Hugh Dancy). But her family may not be where her heart is, anymore, and she doesn't receive the welcome one might expect. Our own Dave White describes the film as a "nerve-jangling drama," and wrote of Olsen: "It's a star-is-born performance, one that'll eventually drown out the noise of her current tenuous claim to 'fame' as the younger sister of a pair of mega-celebrity former child star twins turned high end fashion designers." Read our interview with Olsen here.
Speaking of celebrity fame, Zack Quinto has drawn considerable attention this week after describing himself as a gay man for the first time in public. Quinto stars in Margin Call, opening tomorrow, and also serves as one of the film's producers. He plays a man of integrity who is working at an investment firm on Wall Street in 2008, just as the economic meltdown begins. "It's as exciting as watching paint dry," says our critic Grae Drake. "In this case, the only story worth paying attention to is the real one." The cast includes Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Paul Bettany, Simon Baker, and Demi Moore.
For more uplifting subject matter, Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey may fit the bill. Directed by Constance Marks and narrated by Whoopi Goldberg, the documentary traces the career of Kevin Clash, who fulfilled a lifelong dream by rising from humble beginnings in Baltimore to become the voice and persona of Elmo on Sesame Street.
Or, perhaps Elevate is more your style. It's a documentary by Anne Buford about the Seeds Academy, a school in Senegal that seeks out students with athletic abilities, but is also interested in developing their academic abilities. The school then helps place their graduates at American schools that offer scholarships. The film follows four young men as to they journey from rural communities to the Seeds Academy, and then onward to the U.S.
Among films that are expanding this weekend, my pick is Jeff Nichols' Take Shelter, which features an amazing performance by the great Michael Shannon, and very good work by Jessica Chastain. They play a married couple with a six-year-old daughter living in a small town in Ohio. Everything seems fine until the husband starts having disturbing nightmares that begin to bleed into their everyday life. Are the dreams his way of dealing with the increasing anxieties he faces? Or is he imagining things? The film leads you places you don't expect to go, and Shannon makes this a "must see."
Three distribution deals of note have been announced in the past week.
Take This Waltz: Sarah Polley's second directorial effort (pictured above), was acquired by Magnolia Pictures, which plans a theatrical release in early summer 2012. The drama revolves around a romantic triangle composed of Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen, and Luke Kirby. Sarah Silverman also stars, making her full-frontal nudity debut. (The Hollywood Reporter)
Roadie: Magnolia Pictures also picked up Michael Cuesta's drama, starring Ron Eldard as a longtime roadie who is fired and returns home to Queens, NY. The film will be available via Magnolia's Ultra VOD program on December 2 before a limited theatrical release on January 6, 2012. (Deadline)
Alps: The new film by Yorgos Lanthimos, the director of the Academy Award-nominated Dogtooth, got picked up by Kino Lorber. A theatrical release is planned for early spring 2012. According to the official description, Alps "revolves around a mysterious underground group that approaches individuals and families that have lost loved ones, offering to impersonate the deceased." (indieWIRE)
Trailer of the Week
Le Havre, written and directed by Finnish art house darling Aki Kaurismäki, opens today in New York and Los Angeles. Described officially as "a political fairy tale that exists somewhere between the reality of contemporary France and the classic cinema of Jean-Pierre Melville and Marcel Carné," the film is set in the titular French harbor city, where a warmhearted shoeshine man provides refuge for a young African man. The film has received generally favorable reviews.
Check out the trailer below; it showcases some nicely-played, low-key humor.