August Indie Preview
By Kim Hollis
August 6, 2004

Open Water (Lions Gate)

Based on a true story about two married scuba divers who were left behind by a careless boat crew, Open Water takes the story a step further and speculates about what might have occurred in the aftermath. The consistently lapping waves of a never-ending blue ocean provide the backdrop for a claustrophobic tale that explores fear in all its psychological iterations - most particularly sharks. Distributor Lions Gate is using a guerilla marketing approach that evokes The Blair Witch project. In particular, their advertising the film during the Discovery Channel's Shark Week exhibits a remarkable understanding of the target audience. Writer/director/cinematographer Chris Kentis' film also has the benefit of powerful advance buzz dating all the way back to the 2004 Sundance Film Festival. It's not likely to appeal to horror fans who like their scary movies to be straightforward and bloody, but offers all sorts of potential to viewers who appreciate a good mental freakout.

Code 46 (MGM/UA)

In the not-too-distant future of Michael Winterbottom's Code 46, the world has become a place where our darkest dreams only hibernate. William (Tim Robbins) is an insurance investigator who travels from his Seattle home to Shanghai in the course of one single day to investigate a case of fake papelles. In the context of the Frank Cottrell Boyce's screenplay, these "papelles" are similar to passports or visas in our current society and are a must-have in order to travel in this dystopia. While working to uncover the answer to the mystery, William meets a woman named Maria (Samantha Morton). Despite the fact that he knows she is responsible for the faux papelles, it's a case of love at first sight. To save her from prosecution, he disguises her involvement in the crime and returns to Seattle to his adoring wife and sweet little boy. Maria haunts him, though. Making matters worse is the fact that some irregularities have surfaced in his report, causing William's superior to order him to return to Shanghai. Naturally, he can't wait to see Maria, but in the end, things become much more complicated than William could have dreamed. Winterbottom recently scored an underappreciated indie hit with the wonderful 24 Hour Party People. Look for him to expand his audience with this smart sci-fi flick.

Last Life in the Universe (Palm Pictures)

Last Life in the Universe joins together three remarkable talents from world cinema - director Pen-ek Ratanaruang (Monrak Transistor), actor Asano Tadanobu (Ichi the Killer) and cinematographer Christopher Doyle (The Quiet American, In the Mood for Love). Together, this trio guides this project through elements of Japanese yakuza films and intermeshes them with properties of Thai cinema to create a very real yet magical romance about the cultural bridges we sometimes create within ourselves. The main character, Kenji, is hiding from a mysterious past. He's a solitary Japanese librarian's assistant who is living a quiet existence in Bangkok. Well, it's sort of quiet. Kenji is a bit of a suicide enthusiast who seems to be on a pre-destined course for oblivion. He finds himself returning to the pandemonium of life in a very unusual manner, but the person responsible for his newfound will to keep living is leaving the country in only a few days. Last Life looks to be a very unusual intimation on mortality indeed.

Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism (Cinema Libre distribution)

Already available on DVD through Amazon, Outfoxed became the beneficiary of a theatrical release thanks to Cinema Libre Distribution. The 77-minute documentary scrutinizes Rupert Murdoch's Fox News and explores how the empire has had a significant impact on society primarily due to the fact that the media is controlled by one single man. The film uses interviews with former Fox News producers, reporters, bookers and writers to expose what it's like to work for the conglomerate. These people reveal that they risked their very jobs if they didn't espouse a "right wing" point of view. Additional interviews come from media experts such as David Brock (Media Matters), Jeff Chester (Center for Digital Democracy) and Bob McChesney (Free Press). The documentary has already been a best-seller on the list and has even been the subject of numerous viewing parties. Its theatrical release is slated for such markets as New York City, LA, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

Stander (Newmarket)

The Punisher himself (Thomas Jane) stars as South Africa's most infamous bank robber, Andre Stander. Stander is a policeman working under the Apartheid government until he takes part in various riot patrol massacres and other horrific incidents. Such violence causes him to somehow flip, and he starts working within his police organization to fight against Apartheid and its terrible effect on society. When his activity is discovered and Stander is thrown in jail, he and some inmates join forces and form a notorious band of outlaws. They bust out of prison and cause all sorts of bedlam.

Danny Deckchair (Lions Gate)

This trailers for this British romantic comedy are utterly charming, particularly in their ability to make the Lord of the Rings hottie Miranda Otto utterly engaging. Danny (Rhys Ifans) is unhappy in a relationship with his scheming girlfriend Trudy (Justine Clarke). He escapes the relationship and the horrors of suburbia when he blasts into the sky in a garden chair lifted by helium balloons. He's blown away by a huge thunderstorm to the town of Clarence, landing (literally) in the world of Glenda (Otto), the town's sole parking cop. Back home, the media is obsessed with Danny's disappearance, but he's busy reinventing himself in Clarence. In the process, he discovers that Glenda has real soul mate potential. Will he be discovered or will he continue to live out his idyllic Clarence existence?

The Iron Ladies 2 (Strand Releasing)

This sequel to the surprise hit about a predominately gay volleyball team involves the group's breakup when one of the teammates joins forces with a morally questionable promoter determined to make a mint on the Iron Ladies' previous successes. The team learns of the promoter's plans to offer the team captain position to a notorious homophobe, which leads them to question the wisdom of reuniting in the first place.

Merci Docteur Rey (Regent Releasing)

A story that is reminiscent of an Agatha Christie mystery, Merci Docteur Rey centers around Thomas Beaumont. He's been asked to be involved in an illicit love triangle in order to witness the sexual liaison of a much older man, but instead of seeing a tryst, witnesses his murder. The day after this happens, Thomas' mother, an opera diva, tells him that his long-lost father had been living in Paris, but was murdered the previous night. Needless to say, Thomas realizes that he has witnessed his own father's death. What follows is a whirlwind of strange encounters and a series of cases of mistaken identity.

We Don't Live Here Anymore (Warner Independent Pictures)

Based on two short stories by Andre Dubus, who also wrote the short story In the Bedroom, We Don't Live Here stars Mark Ruffalo, Laura Dern, Peter Krause and Naomi Watts in the story of two separate couples in a New England college town whose lives are interconnected in a web of deceit, passion and ultimately, heartbreak. The film made its debut at the Sundance Film Festival in 2004, where it has received mostly mixed reviews. If the tone and theme are anything like In the Bedroom, the film does promise to be rather divisive.

Bright Young Things (ThinkFilm)

Bright Young Things is the feature film directorial debut for British actor/writer Stephen Fry (Lord Melchett of Blackadder). Fry adapted the screenplay himself from the Evelyn Waugh novel Vile Bodies. The story is set in 1930s London, where the young hero, Adam (Stephen Campbell Moore), needs to find a way to get enough money to marry the gorgeous Nina (Emily Mortimer). His wild, eccentric group of friends is seemingly self-destructing one after another as they try to discover new ways to experience thrills and highs. These wild, partying creatures are known to a captivated press as the Bright Young Things. This film received release nearly a year ago in England and is already available on DVD in that country.

Mean Creek (Paramount Classics)

Rory Culkin stars alongside a group of other up-and-coming young actors in this film about a small Oregon town where both secrets and lies are difficult to hide. Directed and written by Jacob Aaron Estes in his full-length feature debut, the story centers around a crisis that takes place in the lives of its teen characters. It's been compared to a childhood Heart of Darkness and has received significant positive buzz since its debut at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.

Nicotina (Arenas Group)

From the Arenas Group, which specifically focuses on theatrical releases aimed at a Latino audience, Nicotina centers around a group of amateur thieves and a hacker who find their situation converging in one chaotic evening over a fortune in diamonds. The film examines greed and desperation as it explores the addictive possibilities of easy living. The film stars Diego Luna (Y Tú Mamá Tambien, The Terminal) and Rafael Inclán and won six Mexican Ariel Awards.

Red Lights (Wellspring)

Based on a novel by Georges Simenon, Cédric Kahn's Red Lights is a Hitchcockian thriller set during a Parisian summer holiday. Antoine (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) and Hélène (Carole Bouquet) are traveling to pick up their children, who are currently at summer camp. They are driving in only one car out of thousands journeying on the highways to the south of France. Though they begin their trip on a happy note, it's not long before things get tense and Antoine and Hélène start to pick at each other. At one point, Antoine makes Hélène angry by stopping for a drink, and their sniping gets even more intense. He blames her for his drinking. She is thoroughly displeased with him for doing so in the first place. When Antoine stops at another tavern, Hélène tells him she won't be there when he returns. He goes into the bar anyway, and is somehow dismayed to find that she is in fact gone when he comes back. He panics and drives to the train station to try to find her, but she is not there. He is full of dread and drives on, picking up a weird hitchhiker...who might just have had something to do with the circumstances in the first place.

Rosenstrasse (Samuel Goldwyn Films)

Hannah's mother Ruth is acting strangely after the death of her husband, resulting in troubling secrets from Ruth's childhood coming to the surface. These secrets send Hannah over to Berlin to sate her curiosity. She seeks out a 90-year-old woman named Lena Fischer, who had cared for Ruth during WWII. Lena flashes back to 1943, when Jewish husbands were rounded up and kept in a house on a street known as Rosenstrasse. Lena gets together with a group of other wives for a protest, where she meets a seven-year-old girl named Ruth. The film has been occasionally classified a chick flick, which is rather fascinating considering the serious subject matter. Rosenstrasse, which was directed by Margarethe von Trotta, was a nominee for the Golden Lion at the 2003 Venice International Film Festival.

Bright Leaves (First Run Features)

Bright Leaves is an intriguing documentary from Ross McElwee, a native of the tobacco terrain of North Carolina. In fact, his own great-grandfather was the creator of the famous "Bull Durham" brand. North Carolina is the largest tobacco producing state in America, and McElwee's documentary takes a look at the social, economic and psychological aspects of the plant's effect on the residents. The director also looks at the legacy created by his ancestor's work - a fictional film called Bright Leaf from Casablanca helmer Michael Curtiz and big movie star Gary Cooper was purportedly about his great-grandfather's life. It looks very specifically at the legacy one generation passes down to the next.

The Brown Bunny (Wellspring Media)

This film has been more or less the subject of much derision since it appeared at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2003, particularly from Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert. Along with the famed controversy with Ebert, the movie also developed a reputation due to an apparently very graphic sex scene. The Brown Bunny tells the story of a motorcycle racer named Bud (Vincent Gallo, who also wrote and directed). He races Formula II road racing bikes and is just going through the motions of doing laps around the track. Nothing much matters because he's lost the love of his life. He treks across America to get to a race in California, and on the way he will do anything to make the memories of his one true love fade away. To do so, he tries to find a different lover every single day, asking them to accompany on his trip and then dumping them when they agree. In the end, they can't replace Daisy, the only girl he has loved or will ever love, for that matter. Along with Gallo, Chloe Sevigny and Cheryl Tiegs star.

Chooch (Artistic License Films)

Dino Condito (Carmine Famiglietti) is about to see his life take an unexpected turn. When the Queens resident disappoints his softball team by striking out in the bottom of the ninth inning against Hoboken, the other players dub him "the chooch." Dino's cousin Jubilene (Joe Summa) cashes in his savings from his first holy communion so that the two can take a vacation to Cancun. Though Dino had never before considered leaving the solid ground of Queens, they go ahead and set off on the trip, but on the way to the airport, become involved in a mix-up involving a bag of money. When Dino and Jubeline land in Mexico, a pair of thugs kidnap them and leave them in the desert. Dino's old "crew" from Queens, including Dino's pet dachshund, are the duo's only hope. They reunite and make their way to Mexico for the rescue.

Persons of Interest (First Run)

In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, more than 5,000 people were taken into custody by the U.S. Justice Department and held indefinitely. These people, primarily non-U.S. nationals of either South Asian or Middle Eastern origin, were told that they were being detained for purposes of national security. At the same time, any immigrants who happened to be Muslim found themseves subject to arbitrary arrest, secret detention, deportation, or even solitary confinement. Frequently, these "persons of interest" were told that they could have neither legal representation nor contact with their families. During this time, the U.S. government refused to reveal the names or the number of immigrants detained. Persons of Interest is the film that resulted, putting directors Alison Maclean and Tobias Perse in an empty room that serves as prison cell, home and interrogation unit for a number of detainees. The makers of the film have used interviews, letters and family photos to give these heretofore voiceless people the opportunity to tell their side of the story.

L.A. Twister (Indican Pictures)

According to Indican Pictures, L.A. Twister is "a satirical quest for fame, a test of friendship, integrity and love." It tells the story of Ethan (Dodgeball's Tony Daly) and Lenny (Zack Ward - perhaps best known as Scott Farkus from A Christmas Story). Ethan is a dreamer, while Lenny is much more of a player. When Ethan separates from his wife, he moves to L.A. and rooms with his friend Lenny. Both guys are at their worst low point, with Ethan devastated over his breakup and Lenny unable to find an acting gig. Feeling they can't really lose any more, the pair decide to take moviemaking into their own hands. Expect a more detailed review of this film sometime within the next seven days.