By Steve Greene | Indiewire March 28, 2014 at 12:5PM
These days, the number of indies premiering on a weekly basis can be both thrilling and intimidating. To help sift through the number of new releases (independent or otherwise), we've created a weekend film guide. Below you'll find basic plot, personnel and cinema information for today's fresh offerings.
Here are the films opening theatrically in the U.S. today, Friday, March 28th. Synopses provided by distributor unless listed otherwise.
Director: Seth Fisher
Cast: Seth Fisher, Laila Robins, Mark Blum, Fred Melamed, Brian Cox, Mei Melancon, Nicole Ansari-Cox
Synopsis: "Celebrated playwright, Harold Blumenthal, has passed away after succumbing to cardiac arrest while laughing at his own joke. Now, Harold’s estranged and jealous brother, Saul, must confront his personal hang-ups in order to deliver himself from an epic bout of constipation. Meanwhile, Saul’s wife and son must each grapple with their own personal obstacles through a set of circumstances so improbably ironic they might as well have been lifted from one of Harold’s plays."
Theatrical Release Cities: New York
Get to Know the Filmmaker: You can read a conversation between Fisher and The Playlist's Katie Walsh from last year's Santa Barbara International Film Festival here.
Boys of Abu Ghraib
Director: Luke Moran
Cast: Sara Paxton, Sean Astin, Michael Welch, John Heard, Elijah Kelley, John Robinson, Kristen Rakes, Omid Abtahi, Jermaine Williams, Rick Vargas
Synopsis: "An American soldier deployed at Abu Ghraib finds himself behind the walls of the infamous Hard Site, where he develops a secret friendship with an Iraqi detainee."
Theatrical Release Cities: Los Angeles
Director: Drake Doremus
Cast: Guy Pearce, Felicity Jones, Amy Ryan, Mackenzie Davis, Kyle MacLachlan, Alexandra Wentworth, Lucy Davenport, Hugo Becker, Ben Shenkman, Brendan Dooling, Nicole Patrick, Elise Eberle
Synopsis: "As summer turns to fall, music teacher Keith Reynolds privately reminisces about his days as a starving artist in the city. While his wife, Megan, and daughter, Lauren, look forward to Lauren’s final year of high school, Keith clings to those evenings he’s asked to sub as a cellist with a prestigious Manhattan symphony. When Megan decides the family should host foreign exchange student Sophie, the British high school senior soon rekindles an impetuous aspect of Keith’s personality. [Sundance Film Festival]"
Criticwire Grade Average: B (19 reviews)
When It Premiered: A Sundance 2013 selection, Felicity Jones cracked the top 15 in the Best Lead Performance category of our festival critics poll.
Take ToH's Word For It: "It’s fairly telegraphed from the film’s opening minutes that Sophie’s presence will disrupt life around the sleepy New York suburb where she’s transplanted. And the film boasts a solid visual style and strong performances to at first ignore the inevitable -- and boring -- other plot contrivances clearly at work." - Beth Hanna
Theatrical Release Cities: New York, Chicago, Detroit, East Hanover, Monclair, Kew Gardens, Malverne, Roslyn, Stony Brook, Dallas, Plano (opens in Los Angeles April 4)
Director: Diego Luna
Cast: Rosario Dawson, Gabriel Mann, America Ferrera, Michael Peña, Jacob Vargas, Lisa Brenner, Yancey Arias, Wes Bentley, John Ortiz, John Malkovich
Synopsis: "Cesar Chavez chronicles the birth of a modern American movement led by the famed civil rights leader and labor organizer. Torn between his duties as a husband and father and his commitment to bringing dignity and justice to others, Chavez embraced non-violence as he battled greed and prejudice in his struggle for the rights of farm workers. His triumphant journey is a remarkable testament to the power of one individual's ability to change the system."
Criticwire Grade Average: B- (9 reviews)
Take The Playlist's Word For It: "An intermittently compelling overview of a movement, but only a cursory portrait of a man, 'Cesar Chavez'...is a well-intentioned, respectable and respectful biopic. But the conservative format of the film never goes beyond the kind of paint-by-numbers approach that stultifies so many entries in this genre." - Jessica Kiang
Theatrical Release Cities: Wide.
Finding Vivian Maier
Director: John Maloof & Charlie Siskel
Synopsis: "John Maloof loves forced sales where he can acquire items from an individual’s private estate. One day he makes the astonishing discovery of a box of undeveloped films and negatives that were found in an attic. The material reveals moving moments of ordinary life in America which are reminiscent of the street photography of major artists such as Helen Levitt or Robert Frank. There are a particularly large number of photographs of children, absorbed in play, or staring confidently into the lens. But who was behind the camera? And why were the photographs of Vivian Maier, who died alone at the age of 83, never discovered?" [Berlin International Film Festival]
Criticwire Grade Average: A- (8 reviews)
Theatrical Release Cities: New York and Los Angeles (coming to Chicago on April 4th)
Director: Miriam Kruishoop
Cast: Manny Perez, Angel Amaral, Vivica A. Fox, McKinley Freeman, Richard Cabral, Noel Gugliemi, Paige Hurd, Christianne Christensen, Will Green
Synopsis: "Set against the backdrop of Bush's War on Terror and Barack Obama's rise to presidency, Crosstown follows the story of 14-year-old Angel, an undocumented Latino teen, who struggles to find his place in an increasingly violent world. With the promise of naturalization papers, the US Military presents Angel's family with the opportunity for a brighter future if they send his older brother into the US Army. With his eldest brother gone, Angel is left to the designs of a local street gang, and the family left to deal with the consequences of the choices they have made."
Theatrical Release Cities: New York, Los Angeles and San Diego
Hide Your Smiling Faces
Director: Daniel Patrick Carbone
Cast: Ryan Jones, Nathan Varnson, Colm O'Leary, Thomas Cruz, Christina Starbuck, Chris Kies
Synopsis: "After a neighborhood tragedy, two young brothers — nine-year-old Tommy and 14-year-old Eric — confront changing relationships, the mystery of nature, and their own mortality. A dreamlike portrait of adolescence unfolding over one hot, hazy summer, 'Hide Your Smiling Faces' is a startling debut, exploring rural American life through the distorted lens of youth. [Tribeca Film]"
Criticwire Grade Average: B+ (11 reviews)
Take The Playlist's Word For It: "Featuring two exceptional lead performances from these two boys, first rate beauty-in-ugliness photography and an unusually extraordinary command of tone, Carbone’s picture skillfully articulates the inexpressible; the weird, beautiful struggle that is life." - Rodrigo Perez
Theatrical Release Cities: New York (with Seattle, Grand Rapids and Miami to follow in April)
Directors: Adam Montierth, Mathew Mebane, Donovan Montierth
Cast: Ricky Schroder, Jon Gries, Rick Hoffman, Tatyana Ali, Krista Allen, Jason Spisak, Bart Johnson, Jason Marsden, Curtis Armstrong
Synopsis: "Skip, the nighttime janitor in an Old West theme park, delves into the mysteries surrounding an old locker. His sage supervisor recounts chilling tales that underscore the importance of making the right choice. The recollection includes an aging boxer who is given an opportunity to become a real killing machine, a young man seeking membership in a secret society who experiences an initiation with deadly consequences, a would be suicide shaken to his core by a menacing member of a very special club, and a hit man for hire playing a devious cat and mouse game with three women who have a score to settle. The stories suddenly come into play when Skip makes an unsettling discovery and faces a life-or-death decision of his own."
Theatrical Release Cities: Phoenix; Los Angeles; Toronto; Fort Collins, CO; Mesa, AZ; Daytona Beach, FL; Chino Hills, CA
Mistaken for Strangers
Director: Tom Berninger
Synopsis: "Matt, the lead singer of the critically acclaimed rock band The National, finally finds himself flush with success. His younger brother, Tom, is a loveable slacker - a filmmaker and metal-head still living with his parents in Cincinnati. On the eve of The National's biggest tour to date, Matt invites Tom to work for the band as a roadie, unaware of Tom's plan to film the entire adventure. What starts as a rock documentary soon becomes a surprisingly honest portrait of a charged relationship between two brothers, and the frustration of unfulfilled creative ambitions."
Criticwire Grade Average: B+ (7 reviews)
The Indiewire Opinion: "Berninger generally plays it safe and keeps the proceedings slight, leaving the sense that much has been glossed over. Only the band's continuing popularity makes his journey stand out. Like its director-star, 'Mistaken For Strangers' struggles admirably but can only go so far before letting the established talent win out." - Eric Kohn
Theatrical Release Cities: New York, Cincinnati, San Francisco, Portland, Phoenix, Dallas, Salt Lake City, Spokane. (Go here for more opening dates)
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Cast: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson, Douglas Booth, Anthony Hopkins, Logan Lerman, Ray Winstone, Kevin Durand, Nick Nolte, Mark Margolis, Frank Langella
Synopsis: "Russell Crowe stars as Noah in the film inspired by the epic story of courage, sacrifice and hope."
Criticwire Grade Average: B- (6 reviews)
The Indiewire Opinion: "The director's murky, ill-conceived take on the world's oldest disaster story contains some of the most pristine visuals produced on a mass studio scale in some time. But it's also constantly tethered to a dull, melodramatic series of events out of whack with any traditional interpretation of the material. By turning the monolithic odyssey into a sword-and-sandals showdown with occasionally cosmic tangents, the 137-minute studio venture contains the glimmers of a truly visionary achievement flooded by half-baked ideas." - Eric Kohn
Theatrical Release Cities: Wide
The Raid 2: Berandal
Director: Gareth Evans
Cast: Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian, Arifin Putra, Oka Antara, Tio Pakusodewo, Alex Abbad
Synopsis: "Immediately following the events of the original, The Raid 2 tracks Officer Rama as he is pressured to join an anticorruption task force to guarantee protection for his wife and child. His mission is to get close to a new mob boss, Bangun, by befriending his incarcerated son, Uco. Rama must hunt for information linking Bangun with corruption in the Jakarta Police Department while pursuing a dangerous and personal vendetta that threatens to consume him and bring his mission—and the organized crime syndicate—down around him. [Sundance Film Festival]"
Criticwire Grade Average: A- (19 reviews)
Sundance 2014 Swooning: During the festivities in Park City, here on Indiewire, we published a rave review from Robert Cameron Fowler. The film also appeared on 11 different ballots in the Best Narrative Feature voting after Sundance's close.
Theatrical Release Cities: Wide
Director: Jessica Goldberg
Cast: Krysten Ritter, Brian Geraghty, Madeleine Martin, Logan Huffman
Synopsis: "Amy and Sam meet in bar and fall in love after a night of passion. However, neither may be quite ready for a commitment as Amy, still reeling from her parent’s abandonment and forced to raise two younger siblings, falls apart when Sam disappears without a word, triggering emotions of desertion. Meanwhile, when Sam learns about Amy’s past he is tempted to run. [Woodstock Film Festival]"
You Might Not Have Known: ...that it features a soundtrack from California band The Milk Carton Kids.
Theatrical Release Cities: New York
Road to the Open
Director: Cole Claassen
Cast: Troy McKay, Phillip DeVona, Michelle Gunn, Judd Nelson, Eric Roberts, John Schneider, Amy Lyndon, Bill Parks
Synopsis: "Struggling after the loss of his wife, the future looks bleak for Jerry McDonald. As a single-parent, tennis has become his only semi-social outlet with his eccentric best friend, Miles, who’s working through anger management with the help of his life coach. Reluctantly, Jerry caves to Miles’ pressure to play in a local tournament that could earn them a once in a life-time slot in an exhibition match at a prestigious national tournament, The Open. But they‘ll have to meet the infamous Gollant Brothers who haven’t lost club champions status for a decade. Let the training begin."
Theatrical Release Cities: Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Orlando, Phoenix, Sacramento and Seattle
Director: David Ayer
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sam Worthington, Mireille Enos, Joe Manganiello, Harold Perrineau Jr., Josh Holloway, Terrence Howard, Olivia Williams, Max Martini
Synopsis: "Arnold Schwarzengger leads an elite DEA task force that takes on the world’s deadliest drug cartels. When the team successfully executes a high-stakes raid on a cartel safe house, they think their work is done – until, one-by-one, the ten members mysteriously start to be eliminated."
Criticwire Grade Average: C (4 reviews)
Possible Preview?: For those looking to sample a bit of the Schwarzenegger magic before seeing it in theaters, you can find clips here, here and here.
Theatrical Release Cities: Wide
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