By Dan Krovich
June is the heart of the summer movie season, but this year in particular June seems to be in an indie frame of mind. There are, of course, the independent films trying to find their box office niche, but there are also wide releases that have the feel of independent fare, and even a couple pure blockbusters that have some indie roots.
Howl's Moving Castle
One thing that the Best Animated Feature Film category in the Oscars accomplished was to give more exposure to Hayao Miyazaki. The U.S. box office for Spirited Away topped eight figures, a vast improvement over Princess Mononoke, and perhaps now Howl's Moving Castle is primed to build on that momentum. With any animation that's not CGI having a hard time finding a toe-hold recently, there’s a niche that’s waiting to be filled by films from the independent and foreign world.
March of the Penguins
Microcosmos did it with bugs and other creatures that live in meadows and ponds. Then Winged Migration became a box office hit with birds. Now March of the Penguins tries to repeat that success with, well penguins. It wasn't long that nature documentaries were solely the realm of PBS or The Discovery Channel or Animal Planet, but with the general emergence of documentaries as a viable box office option, these docs are finding success on the big screen. The film follows a year in the life of Emperor penguins through migration, mating, and the hatching of and caring for new young. With narration by Morgan Freeman and the inherent cuteness of penguins, it should be a nice family friendly movie that adults can enjoy with their kids.
Me and You and Everyone We Know
Performance artist Miranda July makes her feature film debut with Me and You and Everyone We Know, which she wrote, directed and stars in. The film was an award winner at Cannes, and with its collection of quirky characters has drawn comparisons to the films of two Andersons (Wes and Paul Thomas) as well as to a couple of indie hits from last summer (Garden State and Napoleon Dynamite). While whether it can replicate the success of those films remains to be seen, Me and You and Everyone We Know definitely announces a new talent to keep an eye on and the film by July is one to see in June.
My Summer of Love
Pawel Pawlikowski's story of the relationship between a working class tomboy and a boarding school student was a multiple nominee at the British Independent Film Awards, though it was skunked by Vera Drake. It did manage to win the award for Best British Film at the BAFTAs in a bit of an upset, however. The tackling of the relationship between two young women has drawn favorable comparisons to Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures, which combined with the universal praise for the performance of the two young leads only adds to the film's promise.
Sally Potter (director of Orlando) takes on cultural, religious, sexual, and political issues in the wake of 9/11 through the passionate affair between an Irish-American scientist (She, played by Joan Allen) and a Lebanese doctor (He, played by Simon Abkarian). As she abandons her husband to embark on worldwide journey with her new lover, their affair becomes a representation of the quest to build understanding between the Western World and the Middle East. And have I mentioned that the two characters speak in rhyming couplets? Yes looks to provide something different and challenging among the June releases.
Wide Release Indies
It’s not an uncommon pattern. A French movie gets released in France and then goes on the international festival circuit before getting picked up by a North American distributor. A couple of years later the distributor opens the film in the U.S. Of course, that release is usually very limited before making its way slowly across the country. Lion's Gate is going to give High Tension the wide release treatment, however. Subtitles will be less of a hindrance for a slasher horror film and the trailers and commercials give no hint that the film is in a foreign language. American horror films have been able to do decent business this year even though they’ve been uniformly god-awful, so perhaps an above average French horror film will do the trick.
Land of the Dead
With the resurrection of the zombie genre (thank you, Danny Boyle) and the success of the remake of Dawn of the Dead, a continuation of the seminal zombie series seems like the next logical step. Universal turned to the man that invented the genre to make the fourth film in his "Dead" series. It’s a bit of a new world for the zombie movie with the young guns taking some creative license with the rules that Romero established, so there is some question as to how his vision will fit into this brave new world.
Lords of Dogtown
Written by documentary filmmaker Stacy Peralta (based on his documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys) and directed by Catherine Hardwicke (a production designer who made her directorial debut with the controversial DV feature Thirteen), Lords of Dogtown doesn't fit the normal pedigree of a major studio release. The autobiographical film chronicles Peralta and his friends who revolutionized the world of skateboarding in the 1970s, giving birth to what has gone on to become a major athletic and cultural phenomenon. Even with the popularity of skateboarding and other X-game sports, it's uncertain how much today’s teenagers care about the sport’s history. The recognizable names in the cast are in more of the supporting roles, which will also make it a more difficult sell, but it's nice to see a studio taking on a project like this one.
What was once the most powerful comic book movie franchise fell on hard times at the hands of Joel Schumaker, and was left potentially for dead. Turns out that it was just sleeping, and the plan to revive it involved going back to the beginning and in a move that has proved successful for other comic book movies, raiding the talent of the indie film world. Christopher Nolan (director of the indie hit Memento and the even better, but underseen Following) was tapped to direct the latest edition of the Batman franchise, and Christian Bale (more known for his roles in indie films than blockbusters) dons the batsuit. Even the supporting cast has an indie bent to it. The trailer looks promising, and the series has gotten its buzz back. If the movie delivers, look for Batman to take its place back on top of the comic book hill.
Mr. and Mrs. Smith
With a big budget and even bigger box office stars, there's no doubt that Mr. and Mrs. Smith was conceived to be a blockbuster. And then unexpected developments involving the costars ratcheted up the media frenzy even further. Still, director Doug Liman still has roots in the indie world with films such as Swingers and Go before he made a successful transition to Hollywood with The Bourne Identity. It's Liman's presence (as opposed to, say, McG or Rob Cohen) that gives the film some hope to be more than just a cynical Hollywood bean-counter tentpole.
Michael Bentley's June Preview
Marty Doskins's June Preview
John Hamann's June Preview
John Seal's June Preview