Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko might be the cult film of the new millennium.
The young auteur’s moody opus struggled to find an audience amid a post-9/11 climate that apparently had little patience for the film's head-scratching, reality-shifting narrative and apocalyptic overtones — it received a limited theatrical release about a month after the terrorist attacks and quickly faded from view.
Released on DVD and VHS (remember that format?) in March 2002, Donnie Darko steadily amassed a hardcore following that geeked out on the film’s ability to yield wildly different interpretations (perfect for repeat viewings and pot-smoking emo kids), its deft re-creation of the late 1980s (ahh, Tears for Fears) and its effectively creepy tone.
Eight years and a failed follow-up (the ambitious but fascinatingly incoherent Southland Tales) later, and Kelly is back with The Box, another mind-bending thriller that centers on a rather simple ethical conundrum: Would you agree to let someone you don’t know die in exchange for $1 million? Given Kelly’s bumpy career trajectory, it’s already a triumph of sorts that The Box has actually garnered a wide release, a feat neither of his previous films were able to achieve.
The question now centers on why Warner Bros. didn’t screen it in advance of its Friday opening date, a tactic typically saved for fare that critics are likely to trash.
A cult film of another sort makes its Cincinnati debut Nov. 8 at the 20th Century Theatre in Oakley. Screening as part of a fundraiser for the 2010 Oxford International Film Festival, The Room, a low-budget melodrama about a love triangle from aspiring filmmaker Tommy Wiseau, has been called everything from the worst film ever made to the Citizen Kane of bad movies. (The film’s trailer brings to mind an overripe episode of Guiding Light with the production values of cable-access show.) The evening gets underway at 6 p.m. with a pair of locally produced horror films, Kiss of the Vampire and Zombie Cult Massacre, and concludes with Wiseau’s burgeoning, if unintentionally campy, cult classic. Tickets are $25; $20 for SOFA members. For more information, go to bscreaming.mediaprowess.com.
THE BOX — Richard Kelly, the guy behind the cult-ratified Donnie Darko and the gonzo Southland Tales, is back with another mind-bending thriller, this one centering on a married couple (Cameron Diaz and James Marsden) in the midst of an ethical dilemma. The ever-compelling Frank Langella co-stars. (Opens wide today.) — Jason Gargano (Rated PG-13.) Not screened for review
A CHRISTMAS CAROL — Robert Zemeckis' remake of Charles Dickens’ classic follows on the heels of The Polar Express and Beowulf and strives to bring real human three-dimensional aspects to the characters, ideally to move us beyond videogame-styled computer generated images. But Zemeckis and his crew have struggled to fully render soulful eyes complete with an intangible sense of movement behind the reflective surfaces. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide today.) — tt stern-enzi (Rated PG.) Grade: C
COCO BEFORE CHANEL — Coco Before Chanel is like La Vie En Rose without the self-destructive bent. Edith Piaf (Marion Cotillard) and Gabrielle Chanel (Audrey Tautou) are street urchins, original old-school hustlers who survive by their seemingly meager charms and their wiles, both feminine and performative. The main difference that separates these two women is that while Piaf had a more addictive and obsessive element to her personality, Gabrielle is so tightly focused that she’s like a needle pulling thread, stitching together a life hemmed by inevitability. (Read full review here.) (Opens today at Mariemont Theatre.) — tts (Rated PG-13.) Grade: B-
THE FOURTH KIND — Presumably playing off of Steven Spielberg’s 1977 sci-fi staple Close Encounters of the Third Kind, this horror thriller from director Olatunde Osunsanmi offers a fourth encounter: alien abduction. Milla Jovovich is the psychotherapist who attempts to diagnose the supernatural happenings, which seem to be presented via both “real” and “re-created” footage. Ace character actors Elias Koteas and Will Patton also appear. (Opens wide today.) — JG (Rated PG-13.) Review coming soon.
MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS — Director Grant Heslov and screenwriter Peter Straughan adapt Jon Ronson’s nonfiction book, turning Ronson into reporter Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor), who heads to the Middle East in 2003 to cover the Iraq War. Instead, he finds Lyn Cassady (George Clooney), who was part of a 1980s military program launched by idealistic Vietnam veteran Bill Django (Jeff Bridges) to develop “Jedi Warriors” — soldiers with psychic abilities. (Read full review here.) (Opens today at Esquire Theatre.) — Scott Renshaw (Rated R.) Grade: C
NEW YORK, I LOVE YOU — Inspired as an American reply to his earlier story-collage movie Paris, je t'aime, producer Emmanuel Benbihy extends his anthology oeuvre with another collection of directors contributing a story set in a particular urban environment. Like Paris je t'aime, New York, I Love You unrolls as a hit-and-miss proposition of weighing each (would-be) charming vignette against the last one in succession. (Read full review here.) (Opens today at Esquire Theatre.) — Cole Smithey (Rated R.) Grade: C-