By now 2015 is already well underway, so we can discard the conventional wisdom that this is where the year really starts. January and February are becoming fertile grounds for independent and off-kilter mainstream films. There’s no place where blockbuster season begins anymore, so CHAPPiE, Cinderella and Home don’t even get the excitement of feeling like punctuation marks of the season like John Carter and Alice in Wonderland, botched or revolting follies that they were, did. I can’t suspect that none of these will surprise, and Cinderella will be well worth it to see Cate Blanchett sink her teeth into Disney villainy. However it’s the less known territory of this month that’s more intriguing, even if includes no less than 4 genre films about isolated young women from male directors.
Top 10 Films to See in March
Riley Stearns made a very amusing debut on the scene in 2013 with his minimalist short The Cub, about two dreadful parents who unblinkingly send their daughter to be raised by wolves. He… er, follows the trend with Faults, about a young woman, Claire, already indoctrinated into a religious cult, whose parents hire a financially and morally bankrupt cult deprogrammer, failed novelist Ansel Roth, to “save her”. Inarguably more about Ansel’s own subservience to more culturally instated forms of oppression, the psychological thriller predictably turns the tables on him, with Mary Elizabeth Winstead playing his unexpected savior. The twists and turns may not lead us as far down the rabbit hole as we’d like, and Stearns still has some ways to go in creating a palpably claustrophobic screen environment, but he’s a promisingly outside-the-box talent.
I saw this film last June at BAMcinemaFest, and in spite my uncertain attitude in reviewing it, it’s a film that tonally freezes to your skin. About a socially and psychologically isolated woman from Tokyo who thinks she’s discovered buried treasure in the heart of America… from a VHS tape of Joel & Ethan Coen’s Fargo. Talk about cult status being taken significantly too far, but the film never feels like a parody. Its deadpan humor only further isolates its title character, as though fairly ludicrously warped societal standards don’t do that already. It very gradually marinates its viewer in a sense of loneliness and detachment, culminating in a distinct, yet upsetting balance of devastation and fulfillment. I may or may not warm to it on second viewing, but it’s exciting, sleek work regardless.
Dave Boyle’s crime mystery enters 2015 with some vague awards cache in tow, having scored an Independent Spirit Award nomination for the John Cassavetes award. Perhaps its odds were weakened by being the only contender voters hadn’t seen yet, but Man from Reno still looks to capitalize on a genre landscape that’s somewhat shy on mysteries. Following two detectives of sorts, one an elderly sheriff, the other a popular crime novelist, whose paths cross when a mutual, but mutually shortly known, acquaintance ends up dead. The hows and why are kept vague by trailers, though it wouldn’t surprise me if, like nearly all mysteries, it was less about the crime itself than about how the procedural aspects play out. It’d certainly be a very tonally separate caper than last month’s Wild Canaries, though hopefully no less entertaining.
Call Jaume Collet-Serra the newest vulgar auteur to amass a following if you like, but there’s something incredibly skillful about his work, most specifically his collaborations with Liam Neeson. Unknown was a deliciously absurd psychological thriller, and Non-Stop was an excitingly realized suspense action film, thanks to the tight pyrotechnics of Collet-Serra’s form. Besides Collet-Serra’s work being technically sophisticated, though, there’s often unexpectedly complete, if still markedly cartoonish, character work underpinning the genre compulsions. With his latest he advances the previously interior scale of his work unto the canvas of an entire city run by an organized network of crime. Imagine it in the vein of last year’s sublimely silly, yet surprisingly genuine John Wick and you’re not far off.
Six disparate, absurd chapters are joined by a unifying theme. Of Horses and Men veers evidently close to ground recently covered by Argentinian Oscar nominee Wild Tales, though if I may, the dark comic potential feels much more potent here. As always, comparison is unflattering and unnecessary, as both can exist in the same world, even if they depict very politically and environmentally different countries. This Icelandic anthology is set largely on desolate hillsides, each chapter positing the question of whether the men or the horses are more animalistic in nature. For anyone familiar with the term “horse cock”, this allegory for masculinity will seem particularly pointed. It also stands to be rather visually graceful.
Speaking of visual grace, the month’s documentary highlight is a portrait of one sensitive photographer by another sensitive photographer. The only Documentary Feature Oscar nominee not already available to the viewing public, the mix of artists is bound to allow for visual splendor, but I don’t believe that their Salgado or Wenders would stop simply for prettiness. These are men minded about composition and storytelling on a very implicit level, so it’s safe to say that Wenders will probably have much to say about the drive and meaning behind Salgado’s work. However self-reflexive it is remains to be seen, but it’ll be exciting to explore in depth the ideologies behind the images.
“The period suicide rom-com is born,” as critics Guy Lodge put it in his Cannes review of Amour Fou, piquing my intrigue to no end. Obviously Jessica Hausner’s latest comes from more austere descent than When Harry Met Sally, and the humor looks to be of a droll, comtemplative variety. Following 19th century romantic poet Heinrich von Kleist and his suicide pact with a married, but terminally ill, woman, it’s sure to have depths and layers beyond that oversimplified logline. Hausner isn’t styled like Campion, and I wouldn’t expect anything close to Bright Star beyond positively stunning period costume and production design work – frankly, does a film need any more than that? All the same, it’s her distinct voice and how she chooses to juggle light and melancholic tones that has us excited.
Indie horror is quickly becoming a more than reasonable alternative to studio-produced horror. David Robert Mitchell’s follow-up to The Myth of the American Sleepover may be tonally miles off from Jennifer Kent’s cult & critic favorite last year, The Babadook, but they’re both heavily intent on using the medium to convey meaning. Sexual discretion seems to be the focus of It Follows, about a girl who is haunted by a demon that’s been passed to her sexually. This isn’t chamber horror, like Kent’s, but teen horror preoccupied with young sexuality and 80s synthesizers. It’s an exciting move for Mitchel, and I hope he stays on this path of going pleasingly against expectations.
I’m not ever sure what to expect of Don Hertzfeldt’s films. They’re dark in humor, yes, but bizarrely so. Constructed reality is utterly non-existent in his films, which feel stylistically free-form in their experimentation. If the title is anything to go by, World of Tomorrow successfully takes him far beyond the reaches of conventional storytelling, its only logline being that a young girl is taken to the future by her older self. Prepare for existentialism. Expect strange beauty, and equally strange terror. Maybe even expect the best short film since La Jetee? If critics raves are anything to go by, it’ll be utterly fascinating at the very least.
White God is the type of film you stop and stare at because you can hardly believe it exists. A Hungarian film about a single abandoned dog who leads an uprising against humanity, one imagines Kornel Mundruzco didn’t need to make it as hard for himself as he did. There’s no Rise of the Planet of the Apes style digital magic here. Only real dogs wreaking havoc upon Hungary, though one imagines there’s heightened allegorical meaning behind things. I’m always interested in what dimensions can be brought out in animal performances, but I’m even more interested in how far, and how dark, Mundruzco takes this potentially fairy tale premise.
Other March 2015 Releases:
Chappie – March 6
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – March 6
Unfinished Business – March 6
Buzzard – March 6
Grey Gardens (2015 Re-Issue) – March 6
Merchants of Doubt – March 6
Cinderella – March 13
Seymour: An Introduction – March 13
The Divergent Series: Insurgent – March 20
The Gunman – March 20
Danny Collins – March 20
La Sapienza – March 20
Spring – March 20
Get Hard – March 27
Home – March 27
52 Tuesdays – March 27
The Riot Club – March 27
While We’re Young – March 27