Billy Gil graduated from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and has worked for People and Daily Variety. He is the editor of the Pipeline section and IndieFile, both of which highlight independent films on DVD. For IndieFile tips and inquiries, email email@example.com. For inclusion on IndieFile's Feedroom channel, contact Renee Rosado (firstname.lastname@example.org). Follow IndieFile on Twitter, at Twitter.com/IndieFile.
Studio: Music Box
Street date: 3/23
Price/Format: $29.95 DVD
Reserve for purchase
Reserve on Netflix
Séraphine hasn’t made a huge splash on U.S. shores yet, but perhaps that could change with the upcoming Oscar announcements. Let’s look at its pedigree: The film won seven times at the 2009 Cesar Awards (France’s equivalent of the Oscars), including best picture and best actress for star Yolande Moreau (of Amelie and Paris je t’aime). About that performance: Moreau plays Séraphine Louis (aka Séraphine de Senlis) in the true-life account of a housekeeper who began painting at the age of 41, so well that her boss, an art critic and collector of Picasso and other greats, helps her and other outsider artists, so-called “Sacred Heart Painters,” land acclaimed shows in Europe and New York. Glowing reviews and accolades have come from the Los Angeles Times, Roger Ebert and the San Francisco Chronicle, among a whole lot of other places.
A bit about Music Box Films, its distributor: Founded in 2007, Music Box focuses on foreign-language cinema, releasing the popular Tell No One last year. The company is independently owned and operated by the Southport Music Box Corp., which, if it sounds familiar, is because it also owns and operates The Music Box Theatre in Chicago, which screens independent and foreign films. So buying Séraphine also supports a great venue for independent film.
The French film also stars Ulrich Tukur of foreign hit The Lives of Others.
BONUS: Have you seen what classic film was just announced for DVD and Blu-ray Disc this year? Check it out.
Gravitas Ventures and IndiePix will release director Ondi Timoner’s We Live in Public across digital platforms March 1. Ironically, the 2009 Sundance Grand Jury Prize: Documentary winner is a film about the effects of the Internet. A DVD release from IndiePix will follow March 2.
The film took 10 years to make and pulls from 5,000 hours of footage on what to expect as the Internet continuously infiltrates every aspect of human life. Timoner also won the Grand Jury Prize for documentary in 2004 with DiG!, which explored the rivalry between two struggling indie bands, the Brian Jonestown Massacre and the Dandy Warhols — making Timoner the only two-time recipient of the award.
Additionally a five-city theatrical premiere will accompany the film’s March 1 release, hitting Los Angeles, Denver, Chicago, New York and Vancouver, BC. The screenings will be followed by an interactive Q&A event, complete with interaction and performances from celebrities via Twitter, to be simulcast on weliveinpublicthemovie.com, where the film is available at 15% off its list price of $24.95.
Meanwhile, Timoner will be at Sundance this year (taking place Jan. 21-31 in Park City, Utah) as a juror.
“In an increasingly on-demand world, Gravitas Ventures is proud to help bring We Live in Public into tens of millions of homes,” said Nolan Gallagher, founder and CEO of Gravitas.
Speaking of Sundance, send any Sundance news to email@example.com.
Excellent horror throwback The House of the Devil (releasing Feb. 2 from MPI/Dark Sky) has had a most interesting marketing campaign. Most interesting, indeed.
First of all, the folks at MPI created a VHS copy of the film to tie to its style, which is very much in the vein of ’70s and ’80s horror films like Carrie, Tenebre and Rosemary’s Baby.
“We have a soft spot for old soft-box VHS after doing work on our Gorgon label (of such wonderful titles as The Blood Spattered Bride),” says Greg Newman, MPI Media Group EVP of marketing and acquisition. “It’s interesting that in this day where everything is about Blu-ray that VHS can get attention.”
The promotional copies were so effective, getting write-ups in the likes of The Onion, that Newman says they’ve quietly put out some DVD/VHS copies for sale. Oh crap, they’re on sale at Home Media Magazine for $23.99 (list price $34.98) through our deal with Amazon!
“It’s shocking that those have been selling at a pretty brisk pace,” Newman says.
It’s not so shocking — lo-fi is in, duh, Greg. High-def, shmigh-def.
That’s not all the crafty folk at MPI have done. They placed a babysitter ad, like the one in the movie that gets poor Samantha (excellent newcomer Jocelin Donahue) into some deep sh*t, in weeklies in major cities. If you call the number (866/666-8968), you get a very creepy Mr. Ulman on the other line. Just don’t get scared and hang up when he answers “Hello?” as I did.
“It seems as though people are having fun with it and passing it along to their friends,” Newman says of the number, which he estimates has gotten several thousand calls, and which directs callers to a Web site for the film.
MPI also will hold some contests where they give away such goodies as Blu-ray/VHS combo players, the existence of which kind of blows my mind.
Oh yeah, the movie will also be available on regular, boring old DVD at $27.98 and Blu-ray at $34.98.
Although writer/director Cherien Dabis’ Amreeka, out on DVD from Virgil Films at $24.99, tells a Palestinian-American story, don’t confuse it for a dry diatribe on the global state of affairs. Far from it, Amreeka is a warm, hilarious immigrant tale to which, in Dabis’ words, “anyone who’s felt like an outsider can relate.”
“My favorite response has been from the Arab-American community. A number of people have said, ‘I’ve never been prouder to be Arab,’” Dabis says. “That’s a really lovely thing to hear. It’s really humbling.”
Amreeka is loosely based on some of Dabis’ own experience growing up as a Palestinian-American in both Jordan and Ohio. In the film, Mona (played by Nisreen Faour) and her teenage son move to a town in Illinois about an hour and a half outside of Chicago, with her sister and away from the grim state of the West Bank. Mona takes a job flipping burgers at a White Castle, while her son deals with bullies at school.
The irrepressibly spirited Mona was partially inspired by Dabis’ aunt, who moved to the United States from Jordan in 1997.
“I guess it wasn’t really her story that inspired me as much as her attitude and demeanor,” Dabis explains. “She was just so hopeful and optimistic in the face of these great challenges before her. She was a single mom, like Mona, she had a hard time finding work, but she continued to have such trust and faith in people. She ended up having the most unlikely friends because people fell in love with her.”
Most critics have lauded Amreeka, which received a standing ovation at a screening at Sundance, with positive reviews from the likes of Entertainment Weekly, USA Today and The Los Angeles Times. However, some (Time Out New York, The Onion) were less praiseworthy about what Dabis calls the “tried-and-true immigrant story.”
“I feel like it’s also a matter of certain people expecting a certain kind of story to come out of that part of the world,” Dabis says. “To make it that much more universal, I sort of packaged it in the immigrant genre film. [But] it’s told from a unique and fresh perspective.”
That perspective comes in the form of a lighthearted and enjoyable film rather than a didactic one. Amreeka’s messages about respect and open-mindedness come through in humorous episodes rather than an ominous fable.
“Early, [the script] was probably weighted toward these villainous characters, and I sort of had to pull back and realize that there needed to be a balance in order to represent a range of reactions because that’s the truth,” Dabis says. “When my family was ostracized during the first Gulf War, there were people who stuck by us. The thing that’s really nice to show, is how people can come together and stand by you and stick up for you.”
The Amreeka DVD comes with a number of deleted scenes Dabis says she cut in order to make the movie more economical, as well as a short film by Dabis titled “Make a Wish,” about a girl in Jordan trying to make enough money to buy herself a birthday cake, that is similar in tone to Amreeka. Dabis says she wrote the short around the same time and filmed both “Wish” and scenes from Amreeka in Ramallah in the West Bank, using actors and a crew she and her cinematographer trained from the area.
“It was kind of exciting because I felt I was a part of this burgeoning film community in the Palestinian West Bank,” she says.
patton oswalt big fan
Those who have heard his comedy act know Patton Oswalt is one of the best comedians alive, revered by comedy snobs who respond to his out-of-nowhere riffs on KFC Famous Bowls, “The Christmas Shoes” and film producer Robert Evans’ sex escapades. I got the pleasure of seeing him in Los Angeles last year at an amazing, sold-out performance at the Largo Theater with fellow genius comedian Louis C.K.
The comedian gets his most notable lead role (unless you count voicing the rat in Ratatouille) in Big Fan, written and directed by The Wrestler writer Robert D. Siegel in his directorial debut. Big Fan hits DVD Jan. 12 at $26.99, from Vivendi Entertainment.
Oswalt says he doesn’t know if Siegel had him in mind when he wrote the role, but it’s not hard to see why Siegel chose him as New York Giants No. 1 fan Paul Aufiero. Oswalt perfectly encapsulates the kind of manner and lifestyle we associate with extreme fandom — working at a parking garage, living in his mother’s house at age 36 and writing out diatribes to recite on sports call-in shows late at night.
Oswalt, though, doesn’t exactly share his character’s pedigree.
“[Siegel] gave us reign to improvise, certainly, but what he realized very early was that I don’t know anything about sports,” Oswalt admitted. “But the stuff that was more personal, like the stuff between me and Marcia Jean Kurtz (who plays Paul’s mother), he was totally cool about us riffing.”
Some of the scenes between Oswalt and Kurtz are among the film’s most hilarious, with Paul teasing his mother about collecting soy sauce packets and his mother teasing him about never dating anyone, except his hand.
“I had never worked with any of [the cast] before, but they’re all such seasoned pros,” Oswalt says of the cast, which also includes Michael Rapaport and Kevin Corrigan.
Oswalt says he understands Paul’s obsession in terms of other media.
“I tend to get really wrapped up in pop culture ephemera — films, books and stuff like that,” he says. “I certainly understand that motivation and what makes people kind of subvert existence.”
After a string of TV roles — a nine-season run on “The King of Queens,” among them — Oswalt is humble about the reception Big Fan and the role has received.
“It feels great. I certainly didn’t expect it. I didn’t even know if we’d get a release after Sundance,” he says, referring to the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, at which the film premiered and was widely praised. “It got a lot of great reviews, but it didn’t look like we were going to get any kind of distribution. I felt really happy for [Siegel] because I knew the kind of hell he went through. It was just kind of gratifying all around.”
Oswalt’s latest comedy release, My Weakness is Strong, was released in 2009 in a DVD/CD combo pack from WEA/Reprise.
Who gets to go to Sundance? Not most of us. But who needs all that fancy Utah weather when you can watch Sundance films right at home, on demand?
On-demand effort Sundance Selects and Sundance Institute have collaborated to bring films from the 2010 festival to the small screen via “Direct from the Sundance Film Festival,” which will feature three films premiering simultaneously at the festival, which takes place Jan. 21-31 in Park City. How cool is that?
The effort will reach 40 million homes using cable systems from Comcast, Cablevision, Cox and Time Warner as well as satellite provider Direct TV.
“Moving the storytelling of the Sundance Film Festival beyond ten days in Utah remains a top priority for us,” said Sundance Institute founder Robert Redford. “This collaboration with Sundance Selects is a new and important complement to this ongoing goal and is a perfect way to introduce unexpected and refreshing voices to wider audiences simultaneous with the event. I couldn’t be more pleased that these particular films will be available in this way.”
The movies will include Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross’ documentary The Shock Doctrine, available Jan. 28. Bbased on the book by Naomi Klein, the film explores “disaster capitalism” as implemented in countries across the globe over the past 40 years. Sounds timely.
Available Jan. 22 will be Daddy Longlegs, Josh and Benny Safdie’s autobiographical film about parenthood, as well as Daniel Grou’s 7 Days, a gritty film about a surgeon whose daughter is murdered and becomes a torturer to his daughter’s murderer.
The movies will be featured for 30 days on each system’s movies-on-demand channel in a the Sundance Film Festival section.
In other Sundance news, New Video and Zipline Entertainment will release the film Bass Ackwards as a download an on demand Feb. 1, a day after the closing of the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, at which the film will have its world premiere.
The film, executive produced by Mark Duplass (Baghead), will come to DVD in the spring, complete with bonus material exploring the film’s distribution strategy.
“The title, Bass Ackwards, not only describes an offbeat and entertaining film, but also the spirit of the filmmakers who are joining us on this innovative ride,” said Steve Savage, co-president, New Video.
Isn’t 2009, like, so last week? Well, here at IndieFile, I decided I wasn’t quite done with the previous year just yet.
I’m fortunate enough to be able to watch a whole lot of films at Home Media Magazine — some great, some, uh, not. I thought I’d call out some of the better finds I made this year, some of which never, or barely, came to theaters in the United States.
Starring Joaquin Phoenix in one of his best performances, this film about a screw-up who falls for his manipulative neighbor (Gwyneth Paltrow) never got the attention it deserved.
Read the review
In the Loop
An intricate, hilarious British farce about how one media slipup can lead to an international scandal. If the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences felt like nominating more performances in foreign films, Peter Capaldi’s cranky-ass press advisor would surely get a nod.
Read an interview with Capaldi and director Armando Iannuchi
The Vanished Empire
Echoes of Stand by Me, Wes Anderson and The Graduate emanate from this coming-of-age Russian drama about young life on the other side of the Iron Curtain during the 1970s.
Read the review
A flawed but winning film about a deadbeat mom (Michelle Monaghan’s best performance yet) whose carefree ways come to a grinding halt when her son comes to stay with her.
Read the review
Read an interview with Monaghan
There are some films that crush you in the best way possible. Doris Dörrie’s Cherry Blossoms is not sentimental, it’s an expressive and nuanced look at loss and grief.
Read the review
A Woman in Berlin
Most stayed away from this film for its subject matter alone — it’s an account of the alleged rapes of German women when the Red Army moved into Berlin at the end of World War II. But Antichrist this ain’t. The proceedings, tastefully but dramatically shot, are grounded by Nina Hoss’s restrained performance.
Read the review
Herb & Dorothy
Not only is this documentary about too-cute, unconventionally straight-laced contemporary art collectors Herb and Dorothy Vogel, the DVD serves as a lasting sample of the couple’s extraordinary collection.
Read the review
Lake Tahoe is a subtle and memorable film that follows one young man’s trip through trying to find a car part to escape his crappy life. The shots of the stunning Yucatán peninsula area are worth the price.
Read the review
Yes, this is eww-gross horror at its grossest, but it’s also a horror film that actually deals with its insane subject — a zombie woman tied in a basement who is sexually abused by adolescent boys — and the psychological dirt it digs up. And, despite the resurgence of quality horror in 2009 (Drag Me to Hell, Paranormal Activity, The House of the Dead), this is one of the few that took real chances.
Read the review
A really fun TV movie about designer Coco Chanel. No, that’s it. It came out before the film version (starring Audrey Tatou), and I’d guess it’s nearly as good. Plus it has Shirley MacLaine.
Read the review
Oh screw it, here are my top movies and albums too.
Top Movies of 2009
1. Up: This should go down as one of the best family films of all time, an adventure worthy of Indiana Jones with the heart of Frank Capra and nuance to spare. And, judging by conversations I’ve had, I’m not the only “I never cry in movies” person who was f-ing bawling during the first 30 minutes.
2. Precious: If Mo’Nique doesn’t win an Oscar, I quit them.
3. Cherry Blossoms: See above.
4. A Woman in Berlin: See above.
5. Inglourious Basterds: Quentin Tarantino continues the trend of his last two films, Kill Bill and the underrated Death Proof, for following his instincts to the point of occasional indulgence and incoherence, and occasional and unmistakable and unforgettable brilliance. There wasn’t a better movie scene this year than the cat-and-mouse scene at the underground bar in Inglourious Basterds.
6. Bruno: So good, so subversive, so funny and too much for poor widdle Middle America. Fine, go watch more robot movies made for 12-year-olds and come back to this in five years when it achieves cult classic status.
7. A Single Man: Colin Firth gives it his all in Tom Ford’s hyper-stylish directorial debut. The dialogue occasionally falters, but Ford’s eye, and actors, never let up.
8. An Education: An immensely likeable memoir adapted by Nick Hornby into a “Mad Men”-esque style-heavy fantasy. I hear Carey Mulligan is going places.
9. Star Trek: I’ll just defer to my colleague and Trekkie John Latchem on this one, seeing as how he struggles with the question of whether or not to like this sexy update of the musty franchise by J.J. Abrams. Well, Trekkies, I hate “Heroes” and “Lost” and don’t love the “Star Trek” shows, but I think this is a pretty damn well-made popcorn flick. Actually it was the best one we had all year. Deal with it!
10. Adventureland: Yes, I saw The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Broken Embraces and The Fantastic Mr. Fox. But I’d be lying to myself if I didn’t count this absolutely pleasurable teen angst film that puts writer/director Greg Mottola next in line to inherit the late, great John Hughes’ legacy. The fact that it didn’t do so well with either audiences or critics should cement its future cult status. Kristen Stewart and Jesse Eisenberg are so great at being hot and bothered, bored and horny stoners working at a lame amusement park, it almost makes up for Twilight.
IndieFile’s Top 50 Albums of 2009
1. Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavillion
2. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest
3. Dark Was the Night (compilation)
4. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
5. Girls – Girls
6. Blank Dogs – On Both Sides
7. Neon Indian – Psychic Chasms (EP)
8. Flaming Lips – Embryonic
9. The Very Best – Warm Heart of Africa
10. JJ – JJ No. 2
11. Memory Tapes – Seek Magic
12. Fuck Buttons – Tarot Sport
13. The Antlers – Hospice
14. Dum Dum Girls – Dum Dum Girls (EP)
15. Atlas Sound – Logos
16. Awesome New Republic – Hearts
17. The Horrors – Primary Colors
18. Bibio – Ambivalence Ambulence
19. Washed Out – High Times
20. Vivian Girls – Everything Goes Wrong
21. Bat for Lashes – Two Suns
22. Royksopp – Junior
23. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz
24. Abe Vigoda – Reviver (EP)
25. Intelligence – Fake Surfers
26. Times New Viking – Born Again Revisited
27. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
28. Real Estate – Real Estate
29. Sonic Youth – The Eternal
30. Eat Skull – Wild and Inside
31. St. Vincent – Actor
32. Wild Beasts – Two Dancers
33. Karen O and the Kids – Where the Wild Things Are Soundtrack
34. Bear in Heaven – Beast Rest Forth Mouth
35. Major Lazer - Guns Don't Kill People ... Lazers Do
36. Animal Collective – Fall Be Kind (EP)
37. The xx – The xx
38. Yo La Tengo – Popular Songs
39. Fever Ray – Fever Ray
40. Neko Case – Middle Cyclone
41. Akron/Family – Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free
42. Antony and the Johnsons – The Crying Light
43. Raekwon - Only Built 4 Cuban Linx PT II
44. Yacht – See Mystery Lights
45. Mos Def – The Ecstatic
46. Japandroids – Post Nothing
47. Drummer – Feel Good Together
48. Annie – Don’t Stop
49. Shiftless Decay: New Sounds of Detroit (compilation)
50. The Big Pink – A Brief History of Love
Indie movie distributor Film Movement will release documentary MINE, a South by Southwest winner, theatrically the same day it releases the film through iTunes.
MINE explores the relationship between humans and pets against the backdrop of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, as people searched for their pets. They even go into the custody battles that arise over pets. SadOverload.com!
The film first hits theaters in San Francisco as well as iTunes Jan. 8. Theatrical runs in New York and New Orleans will follow as part of a national 20-city U.S. release.
According to Film Movement’s president, Adley Gartenstein, “It has always been important to Film Movement to bring the very best in independent and arthouse film to as wide an audience as possible, without being held prisoner by traditional distribution windows. We are very proud to announce this theatrical day-and-date iTunes movie release and are confident that it will open the door to a successful new arena of film distribution, enabling a wider audience.”
Preorders of MINE are available now through the iTunes store.
Jim Sturgess has been able to quietly descend into Hollywood while retaining a certain underground cool. He’s taken lead roles in such Hollywood films as 21 and Across the Universe, but the versatile actor doesn’t want to take the easy way out. His latest film, 50 Dead Men Walking, occasionally put him in danger as he played real-life Irish operative for the British police, embedded in the IRA, Martin McGartland.
“I wanted to do something more gritty. I think in acting you’re given the ability to do that, to go from the bright lights of Vegas to the gritty streets of Belfast,” he said, referring to the settings of 21 and 50 Dead Men Walking, respectively. “As far as my job was concerned, it was exactly the same [as a bigger Hollywood film] — acting is sort of acting no matter who’s filming. When the film came out, it was another sort of drive and passion to get people to go and see it because I genuinely think it’s a great film. And it’s hard when it doesn’t get the attention that some of the films with more of the machine behind it get.”
So it’s a good thing the film is coming to DVD and Blu-ray Disc Jan. 5 from Phase 4 (both versions are $29.99).
“I think the economic climate is what it is, and when people go to the cinema, they’re more interested in seeing the larger, special-effects films,” Sturgess said. “Hopefully this film will find its life on DVD.”
In the film, based on McGartland’s memoir of the same name, Sturgess plays a young man in Belfast, Ireland who gets by selling stolen goods door-to-door — at the time, jobs were tight. After being arrested by the British police, who occupied the area in a time in which the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) fought them for independence from the United Kingdom, he agrees to join the IRA and become an informant, after his British mentor (played by Ben Kingsley, expertly, of course) promises he’ll save lives — and gives him a car and money he couldn’t easily acquire otherwise.
“When I read the script, I thought it was made up,” Sturgess said. “When I believed it was a work of fiction, I thought it was great story even then.”
Sturgess said he got himself to Belfast to spend as much time there as possible before shooting and learn the difficult, thick Belfast accent and absorb the culture.
“We kind of really immersed ourselves in it,” he said, saying the cast and crew spent 13 to 14 weeks in Belfast. “Even when I spoke to my mom, I was speaking in an Irish accent.”
Sturgess said that it may have been dangerous at times to film in a place still plagued by unrest — at the time of the film’s release, McGartland was still in hiding, after surviving being shot six times in 1999. A camera captured much of the experience of filming there, Sturgess said, some of the footage of which can be found in behind-the-scenes featurettes on the disc.
“While we were filming, I was kind of blissfully unaware,” Sturgess said. “I was in a lot more danger than I was aware of, I think. There were certain areas we filmed in that it was kind of thin ice. … There were times where kids were throwing things at me and shouting obscenities. I remember one kid chucked a stone at my head. That was quite a shock.”
It was a far cry from playing cards in Vegas or singing Beatles songs in Across the Universe, Sturgess said. And, speaking of the Beatles, Sturgess said he hasn’t tried Beatles Rock Band yet.
“I’m hoping to get it for Christmas,” he said.
House of the Devil
Studio: MPI/Dark Sky
Street date: 2/2
Prebook date: 12/22
Price/Format: $27.98 DVD, $34.98 Blu-ray
Reserve for purchase (DVD or Blu-ray)
Reserve on Netflix
2009 turned into something of a return to classic horror films, with the releases of critically lauded studio films such as Drag Me to Hell and Paranormal Activity. But perhaps the most acclaimed and coolest of the bunch was The House of the Devil, a small film that seemingly came out of nowhere to remind us there was life in horror before Saw VI. The film concerns a college girl who takes a babysitting job in a creepy old house and faces unspeakable terror. No, that’s not the most unique set-up on Earth, but director Ti West’s throwback to ’70s and ’80s horror doesn’t need originality to conjure real scares. The discs come with a commentary with West, the producers and the crew; interviews with the cast and crew; deleted scenes, a commentary track with West and star Jocelin Donahue; and a behind-the-scenes featurette.