My Tehran for Sale(now available, Global Film Initiative) “A generation searching for freedom” is the tagline of this firebrand. It centres on Marzieh (Marzieh Vafamehr), an actress whose stage work is banned by the government in her home city of Tehran, the latest in a series of liberty-quashing measures taken by authorities in the region to snuff out dissent. Soon after, she meets an Iranian ex-pat at an underground party who offers to take her back to Australia with him; Marzieh now has a decision to make — stay in her homeland under the thumb of an oppressive moral regime or leave behind everything she’s ever known for a chance at freedom. The film sparked major international controversy after its star was sentenced to one year in prison and 90 lashes for her unsavoury behaviour onscreen (which includes appearing with her head uncovered and attending a party where men and women dance). Her conviction was overturned this past October, but the story is one that’s become all too common in Iran, where hosts of fi lmmakers have been jailed by the government for perceived dissent. My Tehran for Sale is not just an elegantly crafted, well-acted film, but an integral snapshot of cultural unrest.
Mildred Pierce(now available, Warner Home Video) A heavy-hitter at last year’s Emmys, HBO’s five-part miniseries stars Oscar-winner Kate Winslet as a Depression-era housewife who, after separating from her husband, finds herself struggling to balance her own ambitions, a new love interest and two young daughters. It’s based on the classic James M. Cain novel but a far cry from the 1946 Billy Wilder big-screen adaptation. Rather, this one’s a deliberately paced American epic-of-sorts that hits on issues of feminism, class, mothers, daughters and personal desire versus responsibility. In other words, it’s slow-moving, heavily contemplative stuff, but if you’re up for more than just diversion, Todd Haynes’ Mildred Pierce offers a rich, thought-provoking character study with universal themes. Moreover, having netted Emmys for Winslet and co-star Guy Pearce ( L.A. Confidential) as well as strong reviews for Evan Rachel Wood (True Blood, The Ides of March) as Winslet’s elder daughter, the performances alone are worth your time.
Our Idiot Brother(now available, Maple Pictures) It died a quick death in theatres last September but now you’ve got a second chance to pick up this little gem starring the irresistibly charming Paul Rudd (go ahead, try to resist him…see what happens). In this one, he plays a middle-aged hippie named Ned who’s just been paroled after spending some time in prison for selling marijuana to a (uniformed) police officer. It falls to his three sisters to look out for their aimless bro, a task that seems less and less doable by the second, as he invades each of their lives, an aloof, sunny-smiled hurricane of personal destruction. But is Ned’s arrival exactly what they needed? As mentioned, it’s a film that gets by mainly on the charisma of its leading man…but if you were somehow able to prevail over the charm of Rudd, know that he’s backed up by a comic dream team of a supporting cast, including Elizabeth Banks (The 40-Year-Old Virgin), Rashida Jones (I Love You, Man), zooey Deschanel (The New Girl) and Emily Mortimer (Lars and the Real Girl). Don’t even act like you can resist that.
3(February 7, Strand Releasing) Love triangles are a staple of the big and small screen — a guy has to choose between two girls; a girl has to choose between two guys — but normally, the bottom two points on that triangle are connected solely through their shared love of the top point. For instance, Jacob and Edward love Bella but they don’t love each other. Not the case in Tom Tykwer’s 3. Hannah and Simon are a sophisticated German couple who’ve been together for two decades. They’re fairly content but things get complicated when Hannah, unbeknownst to Simon, starts up an affair with a younger man named Adam. Then, they get even more complicated when Simon, unbeknownst to Hannah, does the same...with Adam (yes, that Adam). Lauded as alternately suspenseful, funny, spiritual, cerebral and, by some, distractingly pretentious, 3 is a complicated film to say the least, and a bit of a mixed bag. But an intriguing central set-up, strong performances and uncommon insights into the nature of love and relationships make this a much more interesting triangle than whatever those Twilight kids have going on these days.
Don 2(December 23, Reliance Big Pictures) Shah Rukh Khan returns as a suave crime kingpin with his sights set on total underworld domination. Not content with having all of Asia within his clutches, this time around Don has his eye on another grand prize: Europe. Cruising from India to Malaysia, Switzerland to Germany, the insatiable anti-hero must take down a whole new array of crime syndicates and police forces trying to end his quest for international expansion. Along for the ride are Priyanka Chopra as a femme-fatale type and Om Puri as a lawman. With original director Farhan Akhtar back on board, fans of 2006’s Don can expect another rip-roaring crime drama showcasing everyone’s favourite master criminal in typically world-beating (and did we mention, three-dimensional) form.
Coriolanus(January 20, The Weinstein Company) Actor Ralph Fiennes (Schindler’s List, the Harry Potter films) shows a steady hand in his first go-round behind the camera, bringing this underappreciated character study from William Shakespeare into the modern era. Fiennes stars as the title character — an ambitious Roman general who, after a failed political leads to a bloody riot, is cast out. Embittered, he teams with his sworn enemy Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler) to wreak vengeance on the city that spurned him. Also along for the ride is screen legend Vanessa Redgrave, who’s earned raves for her turn as Coriolanus’ controlling mother and the always-appreciated Brian Cox as Menenius. The legendary prose is untouched, but Fiennes trades in the Roman tunics for camoufl age fatigues, the swords for semiautomatics and the epic Rome of old for wartorn urban landscapes rendered in shaky cam. Whether you’re a bard buff or not, there’s plenty to like here.
The Dirty Picture(December 2, Cinergy Independent Film Services) In the 1980s the Bollywood scene became captivated by the gorgeous young actress Silk Smitha. Starting as a makeup artist, she quickly rose to become an icon of the industry before depression, alcoholism and professional failure took hold, leading to a suspected suicide at age 35. Milan Luthria’s The Dirty Picture covers the tragic beauty’s unlikely fairytale rise, and her equally unbelievable downfall, casting the latter as the result of the loneliness that accompanies rising to such great heights and that cruelest of human affl ictions, unrequited love. Vidya Balan takes on the lead role in this musical drama, which should prove a worthy, unfl inching homage to one of the most beloved and lamented stars in Bollywood history.
*check out our on-on-on exclusive interview with Vidya Balan here.
Butter(March 16, The Weinstein Company) This kooky ensemble comedy takes place in a small Iowa town just like any other, where the people are friendly, the scenery is quaint and everyone’s obsessed with butter…specifically, carving it. The social event of the year is a big festival at which the sleepy denizens of this mid-western berg do battle to see which of them can carve the most impressive butter statue. As we enter the film world, the reigning champion (Modern Family’s Ty Burrell) has just retired, and his wife, played by Jennifer Garner, has designs on making sure the belt doesn’t go too far from home; but a young orphan upstart (Yara Shahidi) with loads of raw talent may just put a crimp in her plans. Also squaring off against Garner is a surprisingly start-studded cast including the suddenly-everywhere Olivia Wilde (Tron: Legacy, House), Alicia Silverstone (Clueless), Ashley Greene (Twilight), Rob Corddry (The Daily Show) and Hugh Jackman.
BY MATTHEW CURRIE / PUBLISHED IN THE 9TH ANNIVERSARY / JANUARY 2012 ISSUE