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Cover Story: Blockbusters Be Damned

Twenty largely under-the-radar movies for your summer enjoyment

By Jason Gargano · May 2nd, 2007 · Cover Story
  Away From Her
Lion's Gate Films

Away From Her

Director: Sarah Polley

Cast: Julie Christie, Gordon Pinsent, Olympia Dukakis, Michael Murphy

Lowdown: Young actress-turned-director Polley delivers a surprisingly nuanced portrait of a Canadian man (Pinsent) dealing with his wife's (a stellar Christie) descent into Alzheimer's. This 2006 Toronto Film Festival favorite is the ultimate anti-blockbuster, a penetrating, elegiac film that raises as many questions as it answers. (Opens May 18)

Director: Jonathan King

Cast: Oliver Driver, Nathan Meister, Tammy Davis

Lowdown: This crafty New Zealand horror/thriller import has all the makings of a cult classic: A genetic engineering experiment goes seriously awry, turning hundreds of placid sheep into ruthless killers. Key factoid: Peter Jackson's Weta Workshop contributed Black Sheep's seamless creature effects. Bring on the camp. (Opens June)

Director: Paul Greengrass

Cast: Matt Damon, Julia Stiles, Joan Allen, David Strathairn, Paddy Considine, Edgar Ramirez

Lowdown: Fresh off his Oscar nomination for the shattering United 93, Greengrass returns for the third installment of the Jason Bourne (Damon) films. The antithesis of typically overblown spy thrillers, the series employs wicked smarts and restrained, CGI-free action sequences that are both visceral and believable. And the protagonist is real, too. (Opens Aug. 3)

Director: Zoe Cassavetes

Cast: Parker Posey, Drea de Matteo, Melvil Poupaud, Gena Rowlands

Lowdown: Cassavetes' (yes, the daughter of John Cassavetes and Rowlands) ode to thirtysomething relationship ennui in modern-day Manhattan drew a mixed reception at Sundance. No matter: We'd watch Parker Posey over a bevy of bombastic blockbusters any day of the week. Hal Hartley's mid-career dramas come to mind. Speaking of Hal, Posey also stars in Hartley's upcoming Fay Grim, a quasi-sequel to Henry Fool. (Opens July)

Director: William Friedkin

Cast: Ashley Judd, Harry Connick Jr., Michael Shannon

Lowdown: 71-year-old director Friedkin (The Exorcist) is back with his 19th feature film, a horror/thriller centering on a waitress (Judd) who's hiding from her asshole husband (Connick Jr.) in a bug-infested motel room with a Gulf War vet (Shannon). Early word is that the battle-scarred director has made his best film in two decades, if not more. (Opens May 25)

Director: Dan Klores

Cast: Burt Pugach, Linda Pugach

Lowdown: Crazy love is right. Klores' Sundance-approved documentary tells the true story of lawyer and nightlife lover Burt Pugach, a man who fell so hard for his mistress that when she tried to break it off he hired some thugs to throw acid in her face. Following a 10-year prison sentence, he resumed courting her, which is when the already tabloid-ridden story moved in unexpected, surrealistic directions. (Opens June 1)

Director: Taika Cohen

Cast: Loren Horsley, Jemaine Clement, Craig Hall

Lowdown: A pair of curiously dressed misfits (Horsely and Clement) find love and revenge in this off-kilter New Zealand comedy from acclaimed short film writer/director Cohen.

Echoes of Napolean Dynamite abound, yet Eagle vs. Shark looks loads more endearing and way less contemptuous of its characters. (Opens June)

Director: Judd Apatow

Cast: Seth Rogen, Katherine Heigl, Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann

Lowdown: The 40 Year Old Virgin sidekick Rogen finally gets his first leading role as a single guy (Rogen) who, yes, knocks up a girl (Heigl) during a one-night stand. Writer/director Apatow's follow-up to surprise hit Virgin looks to be one of the few mainstream summer comedies worthy of investigation, largely due to Rogen's unassuming, regular-guy charms and a script that's likely to be as perceptive as it is hilarious. (Opens June 1)

Director: Michael Winterbottom

Cast: Angelina Jolie, Dan Futterman, Will Patton, Irrfan Khan

Lowdown: The wildly versatile and prolific Winterbottom tackles his highest profile project yet, the true-life story of slain journalist Daniel Pearl (Futterman). Jolie plays Pearl's wife, Mariane, who frantically attempts to locate her husband following his abduction while on assignment in Pakistan. The director reportedly employs his usual lo-fi, guerilla filmmaking techniques, an approach that should prove helpful to the often over-manipulated Jolie. (Opens June)

Director: Charles Ferguson

Cast: Campbell Scott (narrator)

Lowdown: Winner of Sundance's Special Jury Prize/Documentary, No End in Sight, in the words of CityBeat film writer Steven Rosen, "... convincingly posited, quite simply and with damning blow-by-blow analysis, that we can't win the Iraq War because stupid President Bush and his arrogently malfeasant advisers have royally screwed it up." Here, here. (Opens June)

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Cast: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Al Pacino, Ellen Barkin, Don Cheadle

Lowdown: Forget its ludicrous plot gymnastics; the Ocean's series is all about Soderbergh's technical wizardry and a glossy, big-named cast having the time of their lives. Infectious, well crafted, entertaining fluff. And how about Pacino? (Opens June 8)

Director: John Carney

Cast: Glen Hansard, Markéta Irglová

Lowdown: An Irish Folk Rock musician (Hansard) starts a relationship -- both personal and professional -- with a Czech pianist (Irglová). (See feature, page 26.) (Opens June 22)

Director: Werner Herzog

Cast: Christian Bale, Steve Zahn, Jeremy Davies

Lowdown: The iconic German filmmaker breaks from his recent documentaries to deliver this Vietnam War story, which is based on his own 1997 documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly. Picked up by MGM at the Toronto Film Festival following the unexpected success of Grizzly Man, Rescue Dawn looks to be Herzog's most accessible film to date, a fact both intriguing and possibly prudent given his penchant for excess. A gaunt-looking Bale, who plays a downed U.S. fighter pilot, headlines a strong cast. (Opens July)

Director: Michael Moore

Cast: Moore and a host of reticent health-care industry types

Lowdown: The controversial muckraker is back following the box-office blazing documentary Fahrenheit 9/11. Very little is known about Moore's latest polemic beyond its tagline: "A comedy about 45 million people with no health care in the richest country on earth." Given the director's polarizing nature, the question is whether anyone will listen. The damning Fahrenheit wasn't enough to stop Dubya's reelection. (Opens June)

Director: Greg Mattola

Cast: Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, Bill Hader, Seth Rogen

Lowdown: The force is strong with this one: Judd Apatow produces, Seth Rogen and Bill Hader write (and act) and the trailer features Van Halen's "Panama," a clear sign that this R-rated teen comedy knows how to, in the immortal words of Jack Black, "bring the rock." And don't forget director Mattola, who finally follows up his hilarious debut feature, 1997's The Daytrippers. (Opens Aug. 17)

Director: Kasi Lemmons

Cast: Don Cheadle, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Martin Sheen, Cedric the Entertainer, Tariji P. Henson

Lowdown: Colorful real-life '60s radio DJ and ex-con "Petey" Greene (Cheadle) gets the big-screen bio-pic treatment in actress-turned-director Lemmons' first feature film in almost a decade. Expect strong interplay between the ever-stellar Cheadle, who sports an impressive afro and a smooth-flowing delivery, and the equally compelling Ejifor, who plays Greene's ambitious station exec boss. (Opens July)

Director: David Wain

Cast: Paul Rudd, Winona Ryder, Jessica Alba, Adam Brody

Lowdown: We're not sure what to think of a slanted comedy that pimps this as its tagline: "10 stories, each inspired by one of the 10 commandments." But how can one resist Ryder acting with a marionette and a cast that also includes the likes of Rudd, Alba, Brody, Justin Theroux, Famke Janssen, Gretchen Mol, Liev Schreiber, Oliver Platt, Michael Ian Black and former Shudder to Think frontman Craig Wedren? Think Krzysztof Kieslowski, but funny. (Opens August)

Director: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo

Cast: Robert Carlyle, Catherine McCormack, Rose Byrne, Harold Perrineau

Lowdown: A sequel to 28 Days Later without star Cillian Murphy or director Danny Boyle? Yeah, we're skeptical, too. But new guy Fresnadillo has a solid track record in Spain. Set, yes, six months after the previous film's infected zombies have bitten the dust, 28 Weeks Later picks up in London where survivor Carlyle is reunited with his two children with the help of the U.S. Army. Any guesses as to what happens next? (Opens May 11)

Director: John Dahl

Cast: Ben Kingsley, Tea Leoni, Bill Pullman, Luke Wilson, Philip Baker Hall

Lowdown: Once upon a time Dahl was a director to watch (Red Rock West and The Last Seduction). Then came Hollywood flops Unforgettable, Joy Ride and The Great Raid. You Kill Me looks to recapture the director's wicked noir edge, telling the story of a hard-drinking Buffalo hitman (Kingsley) who moves to the West Coast to dry out, falling for a mouthy Tea Leoni in the process. Hey, Ben, ya gotta admit that's not the best way to get off the bottle. (Opens June 29)

Director: Adrienne Shelly

Cast: Keri Russell, Nathan Fillion, Cheryl Hines, Jeremy Sisto

Lowdown: A sweet-natured quasi-comedy about an unhappily married waitress/pie crafter (a never better Russell). Writer/director Shelly's swansong -- she was murdered in NYC shortly after filming wrapped -- is the perfect antidote to the Michael Bay flicks of the world: a small, whimsical movie that leaves one charmed instead of battered. (Opens May 25) ©

Away From Her

Black Sheep

Broken Engl



Eagle Vs. Shark



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