Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Three on the Outside. Limiting long shots outside of Hollywood.

There are a couple of tastes every movie lover should work to acquire, subtitled foreign films and Independent limited releases. Both categories present their own unique challenge.

Foreign films deserve to be heard in their native language. Aside from the fact that you won't get distracted by voices that don't match facial movement or a vocal tone that seems to be resonating from a different body (which it is), there is a rhythm and cadence to speech that, in any language, adds meaning.

Though you don't understand the words, you'll find yourself grasping intent, need, desire and any number of nuances from delivery. Then consider that these are trained actors you are watching, and give credit to their performances to adjust pronunciation, pitch and tonality to add meaning to their words. All elements that are doomed to be mismatched in a dubbed film. Trust me, you'll get used to reading the text and not miss anything in the story far more quickly than you may think.

Future posts on Moviedozer will feature new foreign films and documentaries. The category we'll spotlight today is Independent limited releases.

A constantly blurring and evolving label, "Independent" reflects films that may be made by a band of renegade film students, a scrappy shoe-string budget start-up, or a billionaire's vanity project in a portfolio of content ownership investments (we're talking about you Mark Cuban). The commonality to all of these sources of Independent films is that they can be hard to see. Seems crazy that entertainment media designed for consumption, and judged as successful or unsuccessful by the numbers of tickets it sells, can be so damn difficult to find in a theater. But unless you have access to LA's or NYC's streets on a regular basis (or a small handful of other international cities), seeking out and appreciating independent film on a real movie theater screen is at best a challenging scavenger hunt. Be forever thankful for the proliferation of home video and digital downloads.

Now and then on the pages of Moviedozer, I'll feature a few independents on the horizon that may or may not be worth finding. Whether at your favorite independent movie house or a more sophisticated multiplex, finding independent releases can also be a true treasure hunt. This will be the first of a series of posts called "Three on the Outside", highlighting three current films that aren't in the mainstream of Hollywood, but offer a hint of potential or stir a bit of curiosity. Here are three that have my attention...

Hitchcock (Fox Searchlight Pictures, directed by Sacha Gervasi) An inside glimpse at the famous director seems like a movie that should have already been made. The interesting angle employed here is to focus on Hitchcock while he was making, and fighting to get made, one of his legendary classics, Psycho. Independent films often tread the line of being big hollywood films without the benefit of mega budgets and splashy ad campaigns. The benefit to the film maker is the small "art film" appeal for the actors. Thus Hitchcock boasts an A-list roster of talent including Danny Huston, Toni Collette, Jessica Biel, Scarlett Johansson, Helen Mirren (as Mrs. Hitchcock), and Anthony Hopkins in the title role. Big studios likely thought box-office appeal might be limited to fans of the director and his films, but this release also has awards consideration written all over it. Currently in limited release.

In Our Nature (Cinedigm, directed by Brian Savelson) Independent films often pull together casts that feel more like a repertory company than a one-shot group of movie actors. When the chemistry is right, simple stories can be elevated to storytelling art. Limited shooting locations, small scale sets and a focus on dialogue rather than action become assets rather than limitations. These modest productions can also become a place for directors, writers and actors to stretch. Subsequently, the moviegoer may be treated to a group of artists in exactly the right environment to hone their craft. The trailer for In Our Nature suggests that those elements are used to great effect. A charged story presents itself in a confined location that forces confrontation. The cast is free to work with pointed, yet natural dialogue toward revelations about each of their characters. Led here by the very appealing John Slattery (of Mad Men fame) with support from Jena Malone, Zach Gilford and Gabrielle Union, In Our Nature points out the inherent nature of Independent film to present the potential for great ensemble performances. Scheduled limited release on December 7th.

Any Day Now (Music Box Films, directed by Travis Fine) A hallmark of Independent films is often a great story that, because of its subject, may limit its broad appeal. Some of the best are inspired by real life, as is the case with Any Day Now. These are often small, personal stories that are emotionally gripping and sometimes controversial. That combination can add up to a real strength in independent film, a stellar star performance by a lead or supporting actor. In this case, that performance looks to be coming from Alan Cummings who plays one half of a gay couple fighting to adopt an abandoned teen with Down syndrome. Supporting roles feel strong in the trailer sequences as well, particularly Garret Dillahunt and Isaac Leyva as the Down syndrome teen. Fortunately, these are perfect films to catch on video if first run theaters aren't nearby. They also are often the films that will stay with you long after watching, and that you may find yourself recommending to other movie loving friends. Scheduled limited release on December 14th.

Broadening your exposure to movies you might not usually see can add immensely to understanding and enjoying cinematic art. As in discovering a favorite wine, a willingness to sample the unfamiliar and the hard to find may open doors to movies you might have otherwise missed completely. A shame as there may very well be a few true treasures out there. Let us know if you find one.

All release dates are for the US. Poster art is curtesy of their respective studios with thanks to IMPawards.com.

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