Recently released movies Indie Slate editors like and recommend…

  • Rosewater – We’re Jon Stewart fans, so expectations were high for his cinematic retelling of Newsweek  journalist Maziar Bahari’s detention by the Iranian government as a result of his 2009 on-camera interview with The Daily Show‘s Jason Jones.  Stewart came up with a valiant first outing as a writer-director, but not one we would label as Oscar®-worthy. The film has all the right elements, including sympathetic performances by Gael Garcia Bernal as Bahiar and  Kim Bodnia as the “specialist” (i.e., inquisitor), along with sly comedic touches for which TDS is known, but the 118-day imprisonment sequence was all too real-life in its monotony. Nevertheless, Rosewater is a revealing story worthy of cinematic exposure — on behalf of citizens of Iran who have protested repressive acts by their government and for hundreds of serious journalists around the world unfairly imprisoned for simply reporting the truth.
  • Nightcrawler - Not horror genre per se, but spot on for a Halloween opening. Nonetheless, horror is central in this story about how the fear-mongering “if it bleeds, it leads” mantra obliterates the boundaries of personal and professional morals and ethics in the pursuit of evermore shocking and violent television news coverage. Creepy is a kind word for the character played by Jake Gyllenhaal. His physical presence alone is haunting — minus 30 pounds of muscle mass, bulging eyes, exaggerated brow — reminiscent of Boris Karloff in the original “Mummy” movies. But his portrayal of a young sociopath — whose fanatical desire to make something of himself is matched only by his dislike of people, his lack of empathy and conscience, and his calm, deliberate and literal application of the “laws” of success — is downright scary. Points to Rene Russo for glamming down as the former-on-camera-beauty-now-night-news-director at a local L.A. station, willing to do anything for ratings and maintain a place for herself in the biz. Check out the interview with writer/director Dan Gilroy and producer Tony Gilroy focusing on why and how the movie got made.
  • St. Vincent – I love it when I encounter someone (real or not) who, on the surface is not very likable, but as the layers fall away you discover an authentic human being with whom you connect. This is what it’s like getting to know Bill Murray as the title character in St.Vincent, a man who, it would seem, is anything but. See the film for the sheer joy of Murray’s performance or just because you’re on SFX overload. But this one is really a case study for the low-budget indie: take away the paydays for Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts et al, and the film has all the elements of an independent production — contemporary setting and wardrobe, variety of practical locations (none of which break the budget), strong lensing techniques and production values. Three aspects make it a winner : the delightfully bittersweet story with character and plot turns revealed at just the right beat, authentic and heartfelt performances, and the measured hand of writer/director Theodore Melfi, who honed his skills making commercials, shorts, music vids, and (surprise) indie features.
  • Gone Girl – a tantalizing mystery revealed on multiple planes with dastardly deeds, high suspense, plot twists, key visual elements, irony, humor — this story has it all. Add direction from film master David Fincher and A-level acting from the entire cast, and you’ve got the reason why well-done movies are pure entertainment.  Of course, it helps that the story is based on a best-selling novel, but that’s no guarantee of cinematic success. Rosamund Pike is positively creepy as the “victim,” Ben Affleck suits the role of the flawed but grieving husband/suspect to a “T.” Performances from supporting players Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens, Neil Patrick Harris and Tyler Perry reinforce the utter believability of this convoluted and engrossing film. Indies take note: this is what it takes to make a drama work on screen.
  • The Giver – Stunningly artful cinematography and effects blend seamlessly with script and understated character portrayals. The metaphors weigh heavy at times, but all is forgiven as the narrative hits each beat beautifully and invites the audience to contemplate the human experience — for better or worse — and the  inevitable consequences of eliminating emotion and the ability to choose our actions. Thank you, Jeff Bridges, for persevering and getting this one made.
  • Guardians of the Galaxy – Darn that raccoon! Between him, the alien abduction of Chris Pratt’s character, and the throwback-to-the-hits-of-the-’70s soundtrack, we were hopelessly drawn into the comic book romp. Like everyone else in the theater, we can’t wait for the sequel.
  • Big Men - Rachel Boynton’s fascinating documentary  answers the question: what happens when a group of hungry people discover a massive and exquisitely rare pot of gold (oil) in one of the poorest places on earth?
  • Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon – If Mike Myers hadn’t produced this true-life screen portrait of entertainment manager and film producer Shep Gordon, we wouldn’t have believed Gordon was real. We’re glad Myers did — and that Gordon is super-real.
  • Maleficent - Yes, a studio movie, but with a story and script that touches us all.
  • Chef - Thoroughly enjoyable with a super cast. Despite his day job as a big-budget action director (e.g., Iron Man), multi-hyphenate Jon Favreau can still do it indie-style.
  • The Unknown Known – compelling feature doc by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Errol Morris does an excellent job of getting inside the mind and ego of Donald Rumsfeld, former U.S. Secretary of Defense, veteran politician and principal architect of the Iraq War. Morris’ masterstroke is in juxtaposing historical news reports and quotes from Rumsfeld himself with contemporary interview footage of the man explaining the hows and whys of his career and history as he believes it should be viewed.