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He was not jumping on Oprah's couch at the time, but actor and devout Scientologist Tom Cruise reportedly hit the ceiling when he saw Paul Thomas Anderson's new film, The Master. The movie stars Philip Seymour Hoffman as a charismatic intellectual WWII veteran —clearly based on Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard—who launches his own religion in the 1950s.
The film, which opens in Cleveland on Sept. 21, is one of the most hotly anticipated independent releases of the season. "I've loved every one of Anderson's films," says Cleveland cinéaste Dave Huffman. "So I'm anxious to see his slightly veiled take on Scientology."
Films that are controversial and challenging, like the recently opened Compliance, are of particular interest to Huffman, who previews upcoming films as part of his job as marketing director for Cleveland Cinemas. Other fall releases on Huffman's must-see list include: Looper , which opens Sept. 28, ("I'm a sucker for smart time-travel sci-fi"); the adolescent coming-of-age story The Perks of Being a Wallflower ("I've heard nothing but good things about it"); the comedy Seven Psychopaths ("I love In Bruges, and the trailer for Martin McDonagh's new comedy looks hilarious"); How to Survive a Plague ("Excellent doc about the ACT UP activist group during the early years of the AIDS epidemic and a contender for this year's Best Documentary Oscar); the crime thriller Killing Them Softly ("I'll go wherever Andrew Dominik, the director of Chopper and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, wants to take me"); and the adaptation of David Mitchell's novel Cloud Atlas ("The Wachowski brothers and Tom Tykwer team up to direct a film version of a seemingly unfilmable book; it will either be a total mess or one of the most interesting films of the year").
Here are more highlights of the upcoming season in independent, foreign and alternative film, by venue.
Opening Sept. 21: In the gritty End of Watch, Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña are police officers marked for death after confiscating money and weapons from a drug cartel. Clint Eastwood returns as an aging baseball scout who takes his daughter (Amy Adams) on one last recruiting trip in Trouble With the Curve.
Opening Sept. 28: The French film Chicken With Plums (Poulet aux prunes) concerns a famous violinist who loses his will to live after his wife breaks his beloved violin. Kenyon College in Ohio was the filming site of Liberal Arts, about a 30-something man (Zac Efron) who falls for a college student. Judi Dench, Keira Knightly, Kenneth Branagh, Colin Firth, Lily Tomlin and Jason Alexander are among the stars who appear in Stars in Shorts, a collection of short films.
Opening Oct. 5: In his first film in since the 2009 Life During Wartime, Todd Solondz brings his deliciously depressive worldview to Dark Horse, about two thirtyish misfits who fall in love and get married. Susan Fromke's Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Health Care examines the problems and inequities of the for-profit U.S. health care system and proposes solutions. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is Stephen Chbosky's adaptation of his novel about an awkward adolescent boy who is taken under the wing of two other high school misfits. The Indian film The Kite is Prashant Bhargava's lovely, naturalistic drama about a Delhi businessman who returns to Ahmedabad for an annual kite festival, igniting family conflicts.
Opening Oct. 12: Colin Farrell is a struggling screenwriter who runs afoul of L.A. criminals when his oddball friends kidnap a gangster's beloved Shih Tzu in Martin McDonagh's Seven Psychopaths. David France's documentary How to Survive a Plague chronicles the struggles of two AIDS activist groups.
Opening Nov. 9: Keira Knightley stars in her third Joe Wright-directed film, a glossy adaptation of Anna Karenina. Playwright Tom Stoppard wrote the adaptation.
Opening Dec. 9: Bill Murray as FDR? Yes, Murray wheels about convincingly enough as the 32nd president in Hyde Park on Hudson, which dramatizes the visit of the King and Queen of England to the home of Franklin and Eleanor on the eve of World War II.
Opening Dec. 25: No one has ever made a good film version of The Great Gatsby. What are the odds that the flamboyant Baz Luhrman (Moulin Rouge!) can do it? Not good, but his cast is definitely interesting: Leonardo DiCaprio as the social-climbing Jay Gatsby, Carey Mulligan as his love interest, Daisy, and Tobey McGuire as the observer Nick Carraway.
Dates to be announced: The Paperboy, an adaptation of Pete Dexter's novel about a reporter who returns to his Florida hometown to investigate a case involving a death row inmate, starring Matthew McConaughey, Zac Efron and Nicole Kidman; The Inbetweeners Movie, the film version of a popular British sitcom about the raunchy antics of a group of high school friends; The Loneliest Planet, a thriller starring Gael Garcia Bernal, about a guide who takes a couple on a twisted backpacking trip
September: In the French comic thriller Nobody Else But You, or Poupoupidou (20th), a crime novelist investigates the apparent suicide of a model who believed she was the reincarnation of Marilyn Monroe. Damsels in Distress (20th & 21st) Whit Stilman's first film in 13 years, is about four perky coeds who set out to civilize their barbaric frat-boy classmates.
The life of Alma Mahler, who was married not only to composer Gustav Mahler but also to Bauhaus architect Walter Gropius and writer Franz Werfel, has long fascinated writers and filmmakers. The German period fantasia Mahler on the Couch (21st) has Gustav seeking Freudian analysis from Sigmund himself after discovering his wife's affair with Gropius.
The death in July of 91-year-old Chris Marker, the elusive French multimedia artist, sparked renewed interest in his films. The best-known is his 1962 short La Jettée (22nd), a time-warp sci-fi tale about a man haunted by a childhood memory. It's paired with Jean-Luc Godard's My Life to Live (Vivre Sa Vie), an episodic 1962 film about a young Parisian woman's descent into prostitution.
Japan's greatest living animator, Hayao Miyazaki, is the subject of a seven-film retrospective this fall. His Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (22nd & 23rd) is a post-apocalyptic sci-fi epic in which a young princess must stop warring clans from destroying the Valley of the Wind. Cleveland Institute of Art graduate Alison O'Daniel will answer questions after the screening of her surrealistic film Night Sky (26th), about two women wandering the desert who find a portal to a parallel world.
China Heavyweight (27th & 28th) is the new documentary by Yung Chang, director of the beautiful 2007 doc Up the Yangtze. This one tells the story of two rural teenagers recruited to train for the country's Olympic team. Come Back Africa (29th & 30th), shot secretly in South Africa in 1959, follows the struggles of a Zulu family under apartheid. It launched singer Miriam Makeba to international fame. Porco Rosso, or The Red Pig (30th), is a Miyazaki rarity that chronicles the adventures of a WWI pilot-turned-pig battling sky pirates over the Adriatic Sea.
October: The Alloy Orchestra, which specializes in accompanying silent films, will provide live soundtracks for two 1920s Soviet silents, the expressionistic The Overcoat and the acclaimed avant-garde "city symphony" Man With a Movie Camera (4th).
Two classics return in 35mm prints, the way they were meant to be seen: Francois Truffaut's memorable ménage à trois Jules and Jim (5th & 6th) and Jean Renoir's celebrated WWI antiwar drama Grand Illusion (6th & 7th). Another classic, Max Ophuls' 1953 The Earrings of Madame De... (12th & 13th) is a lavish tale of adultery in fin de siècle France
Jacques Tati's gag-filled 1967 Playtime (20th), shown in conjunction with the opening of the Museum of Contemporary Art's new building, finds Monsieur Hulot trapped in a maze of modernist buildings on the outskirts of Paris.
A young girl battles sky pirates in Miyazaki's animated aerial adventure Castle in the Sky (6th & 7th); and the Cuban zombie movie Juan of the Dead (11th & 14th) makes an encore.
David Lynch fans will have an opportunity to see three of the surrealist director's films: Dune (11th & 12th), his adaptation of Frank Herbert's sci-fi novel that was trashed by critics but embraced by viewers; Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (19th & 21st), the mesmerizing prequel to Lynch's cult TV series; and Lost Highway (25th & 26th), a nightmarish neo-noir mystery starring Bill Pullman as a jazz saxophonist who goes to jail for a murder he can't remember committing, and becomes his own doppelganger.
André Téchiné's Venice-set film Unforgivable (13th & 14th) is about a French crime writer who hires a female private eye to spy on his beautiful companion; she turns out to be his companion's ex-lover. Miyazaki's Oscar-winning animated Spirited Away (13th & 14th) is about a 10-year-old girl transported to the spirit realm.
"A superior, and way grosser, version of The Hangover" is how the Village Voice described Klown (screening on the 16th at the Capitol), a raunchy Danish comedy. The estimable Daniel Autueil stars in and directs The Well-Digger's Daughter (20th & 21st), a remake of Marcel Pagnol's 1940 film about a widower in rural Provence who throws the eldest of his five daughters out of the house when she becomes pregnant.
Avant-garde filmmaker Leighton Pierce appears at a special showing of his 16mm films Glass and 50 Feet of String (22nd). David Weisman and Bill Weber's stirring documentary We Were Here (25th & 26th), chronicles the devastation of the San Francisco gay community by the AIDS virus.
The anarchic 1966 film Daisies (27th & 28th), banned by the Czech communist government, is a dadaist satire that follows two bored young women who commit pranks against modern consumer society. Yasuijiro Ozu's highly regarded 1953 Tokyo Story (27th & 28th) is about an elderly couple whose visit to their children is a burden to their busy offspring. And the Miyazaki series concludes with the mythological, ecological epic Princess Mononoke (27th & 28th).
Cleveland Museum of Art
September: W.G. Sebald, author of The Rings of Saturn, is the subject of a British literary essay film, Patience (After Sebald) (19th). The title of Paul Williams Still Alive (21st)) is a riposte to the common belief that the diminutive '70s songwriter is dead. The guy is still around, having conquered addiction, and talks about his life in Stephen Kessler's documentary. Wayne White, set designer for Pee-wee's Playhouse, painter and video director, is the subject of Neil Berkeley's fun doc Beauty Is Embarrassing (28th).
October: 5 Broken Cameras (5th & 7th) chronicles a Palestinian villager's efforts to record his nonviolent resistance to Israeli army oppression. Booker Wright, a black waiter in the South who spoke his mind about race relations in a 1965 TV documentary, paid a terrible price for his candor. The stirring tale is told in Booker's Place: A Mississippi Story (12th), directed by Raymond De Felitta, whose father made the original NBC documentary.
A 13-year legal struggle over an Egon Schiele painting is chronicled in Portrait of Wally (14th). The combatants are some of the world's top museums and a Jewish family that claims the painting was stolen from them by the Nazis. The satirical documentary Kumaré (19th & 21st) tells the story of a New Jersey man — the filmmaker, Vikram Gandhi – who passed himself off as a spiritual guru in Arizona. Noted avant-garde filmmaker Leighton Pierce appears (24th) to present and discuss nine of his recent digital videos.
Robert Altman believed that the 1988 11-part miniseries Tanner '88, which dramatized the presidential campaign of liberal Democrat Jack Tanner (Michael Murphy), was his "most creative work." CMA will show the series in three-part installments (3rd, 10th & 7th), followed by the 2004 sequel, Tanner on Tanner (31st). And in Stella Days (26th & 28th), Martin Sheen plays a progressive priest whose efforts to open a cinema in a small Irish town meet strong resistance from the hidebound church. — Pamela Zoslov
Next week: Theater, Hollywood films, fine arts and a comprehensive guide to Halloween and other seasonal events.