A baker's dozen North American Indies to watch for
A beautifully constructed heartfelt first feature that asks what makes a life worth living. Like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, dancer Romi (Abigail Spencer) hits bottom despite the love of family and friends. In the course of the movie, we learn what brought her to this moment. Expect uniformly good acting from an ensemble cast including Cheyenne Jackson as Romi’s best friend. At the 2015 Los Angeles Film Festival, writer, producer and director Daniela Amavia talked about how she and her collaborators worked this low-budget miracle.
A couple falls for each other over the course of one magical night in Hong Kong. It’s director Emily Ting’s Irresistible multi-cultural twist on Before Sunrise. Read our review of the Los Angeles Film Festival screening here. In theaters February 12, 2016
Echo Lake Written and directed by Jody McVeigh-Schultz, Echo Lake is also about someone at a crossroads. Thirty-year-old Will Baxter (Sam Zvibleman) isn’t the most goal oriented guy around and the relationship with his girlfriend reaches a breaking point. He retreats (literally) to a family cabin in the Sierras. Some quirky characters show up as well as a dog. McVeigh-Schultz has a good grasp of the male psyche especially those who have gotten off the success track. The gorgeous cinematography is by Andrew Rydzewski. It was well received at the 2015 Dances With Films Festival
Directed by Will Slocombe, The Escort is Pretty Woman for the 21st Century, sharp and sexy with a heart. Michael Doneger is believable as Mitch, a failed journalist and sex addict. When he meets the titular escort Natalie (Lyndsy Fonseca), he thinks he can combine business with pleasure by writing an exposé that’ll get him back in the good graces of a magazine editor. Mitch’s rich dad is another source of anxiety. It gets even stickier when he tries to pass off Natalie as his fiancé. Available for streaming and on dvd.
Hostile Border (formerly Pocha: Manifest Destiny)
Written by Kaitlin McLaughlin and directed by Michael Dwyer, Hostile Border won the Audience Award at the 2015 Los Angeles Film Festival. Claudia (Veronica Sixtos) is a small time crook deported to a homeland she no longer knows. Suddenly, she’s a pocha, a Mexican who can’t speak Spanish and who’s forgotten her roots, The rural landscape seems unspoiled but crime has arrived here, as well. The padrone is an English-speaking thug named Ricky (Roberto Urbina) who takes a shine to the newcomer. His offer of a way home comes with a price. Veronica Sixtos is magnificent as Claudia the pocha. In Theaters March 11, 2016
Writer and director Marc Meyers’ take on a young man/middle-aged woman love affair. Meyers is a master craftsman and the acting is first-rate. As the emotionally distressed musician Travis, Matt McGorry [Orange is the New Black] brings self-effacing charm and passion to the role. As I told her at the Los Angeles Film Festival screening, Amy Hargreaves [Blue Ruin (2013)] is our generation’s Jill Clayburgh [An Unmarried Woman (1978]. She’s simply magnificent as the married but unfulfilled Ellen.
Written and directed by the team of Eduardo Maytorena and Wayne Mitchell, Soledad is a surprising Cinderella story with a Latino ex-con named Victor (Jesse Celedon) who’s now working as a limo driver. When he picks up Raquel (Montana Gillis) on the way to her prom, his tough life gets even tougher. Soledad (named for the California prison) received a Grand Jury Award Honorable Mention at the 2015 Dances With Films Festival. An engaging, naturalistic drama with plenty of humor, action and plot payoffs, it’s well deserving of a release of some type.
Surviving Me: The Nine Circles of Sophie
Written and directed by Leah Yananton, Surviving Me delighted audiences at the 2015 Hollywood Film Festival. Sophie (Christine Ryndak) is a college junior majoring in classics. Her social life revolves around a sweet “kind of” boyfriend (Vincent Piazza) and a best girlfriend Kiera (director Yananton) who adores her. However, when the brilliant Professor Slateman (Frederick Lehne) starts to comment favorably on her work, she’s flattered and more. As he begins to seduce her with his intellect, their conversations are both erudite and witty as is Yananton’s screenplay, in general. Watch for veteran Yugoslav actress Mira Furlan, as the professor’s wife Jacqueline, who nearly steals the movie.
There is a New World Somewhere
Writer and director Li Lu’s emotional road movie has received well deserved accolades on the festival circuit. What begins as yet another Brooklyn hipster chick flick, abruptly swifts gears when failed artist Sylvia (Agnes Bruckner) leaves New York behind. Back in Texas for her best friend’s wedding, she meets fast talking Esteban (Maurice Compte). Once again evading responsibility, Sylvia hits the road with him in a 1970s Gran Torino. Read our review of the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival screening here.
With a dense plot influenced by hard-boiled detective fiction, Too Late is also reminiscent of moody neo-noir classics like Cutter’s Way (1981). As he said at the Los Angeles Film Festival, writer and director Dennis Hauck only wanted one actor for the part of his LA private eye, Mel Sampson. He pursued John Hawkes until he finally got his man. Hawkes has the kind of lived-in face that leading men used to have and it can convey so much. A later day Phillip Marlowe, Mel is tracking a killer or killers from the hillside enclaves of the elite down to the strip clubs where he’s the most at home. Shot in a series of long takes on 35mm film by Bill Fernandez, Too Late keeps the past alive in more ways than one. In Theaters exclusively on 35mm beginning in March.
What if somebody finally told Donald Trump “you’re fired!” And suppose at the same time the stock market crashed, his wife got pregnant and the only job available on short notice was at a waffle house. It could happen and did when financier James Adams lost his job on Wall Street and wound up waiting tables at a 24-hour diner. The physical labor and ground floor look at what makes a business successful becomes his Jedi training. Brothers Eshom and Ian Neims adapted Adams’ memoir and turned it into a moving and wildly entertaining comedy. As Adams told us at The Hollywood Film Festival, his story is crazy but true. Waffle Street stars James Lafferty [Underground] as Jimmy, the washed up hedge fund manager and Julie Gonzalo as his wife, Becky. A wonderfully diverse cast plays Jimmy’s fellow restaurant workers including Danny Glover as the grill master. Filmed in Utah by Johnny Derango [Quantum Theory].
Writer and director Oliver Thompson’s auspicious début has won two Best Feature awards on the festival circuit and deservedly so. The audience was riveted when I saw it at the 2015 Dances with Films. Welcome to Happiness is like a dream that stays with you long after you’ve woken up. Twenty-something children’s book author Woody (Kyle Gallner) is fresh out of ideas. His female editor Priscilla (Paget Brewster) is on his back. When he moves into a new apartment, depressed and despondent people who make him look chipper by comparison, begin showing up unannounced. They’re looking for a gateway out of their misery and it just might be in Woody’s flat. Screens next in January at the Idyllwild International Festival of Cinema 2016
Written and directed by Frank Hall Green, the multiple award winner stars Bruce Greenwood as Rene Bartlett, a man trying to regain his spiritual center on a solitary journey through the Alaska’s Denali National Park. An unwanted encounter with incorrigible teen runaway Mackenzie (Ella Purnell) changes all of that. Exquisitely photographed by Hillary Spera, Wildlike immerses viewers in Alaska’s harsh natural splendor as Rene and surrogate daughter Mackenzie look to find a way back home. Available for streaming.