2014 June Movie Madness: Indie Edition

By on June 8, 2014

So you’ve seen all the blockbusters June has to offer. Or you don’t much care for them in the first place. What’s a self-respecting independent film lover to do? The answer is obvious: do some digging and discover some of what the lower-budget films out there have to offer. Sure, in Alabama you might have to do a little more digging than in other places, but you might just be surprised what you’ll find- especially if you look in the right place.

Here’s a list of the indie movies scheduled to be released in the month of June. Keep in mind the list is subject to change, and there’s no guarantee that the films will make it round to these parts at all, but thanks to things like “on demand” and “same day premieres” on video, there’s always the possibility that they might be more available than you think, even if you might have to stay in to catch them. Just remember: sometimes big things come in small (budgeted) packages!

For example, check out the big names in this indie: Robin Williams, Melissa Leo, Mila Kunis and the biggest little man on “Game of Thrones,” Peter Dinklage, starring in “The Angriest Man in Brooklyn.” It’s about a man (Williams) who’s told by his doctor he has ninety minutes to live (!) and who determines the make the best of it by reconciling with his family and friends everything he can in the decidedly limited amount of time allotted to him. It sounds a bit like an “SNL” sketch, but in this case, the diagnosis is a mistake, naturally, or we’d have a pretty depressing ending to this dark comedy.

Juliette Binoche and Clive Owen battle to see which reigns supreme between "Words & Pictures." Courtesy of imdb.com

Juliette Binoche and Clive Owen battle to see which reigns supreme between “Words & Pictures.”
Courtesy of imdb.com

Big names also populate “Words & Pictures,” starring Oscar-winning actress Juliette Binoche (“The English Patient”) and Oscar nominee Clive Owen (“Children of Men”) as competing teachers out to prove that, respectively, Art or English are the best: hence the title. Will words or pictures prove triumphant? Will these two fall in love? Probably. But the presence of director Fred Schepisi, who did the superlative HBO mini-series “Empire Falls” and “Six Degrees of Separation” might make this better than the average rom-com.

The star power continues with “Lucky Them,” which features Toni Collette (“Little Miss Sunshine”) as a journalist who must confront her past when she’s hired to track down her rocker ex-boyfriend, played by Johnny Depp. Accompanying her is the gifted comedic actor Thomas Hayden Church, of “Sideways” fame. Oliver Platt (TV’s “Fargo”) plays the magazine editor, which sounds about right; and “The Blacklist” co-star Ryan Eggold, who plays an up-and-coming rocker in this quirky road movie that was well-received at various film festivals. (You can get this one presently on demand at Amazon.)

“The Grand Seduction” stars actor Taylor Kitsch, who can’t seem to get a break movie-wise, between the disastrous “John Carter” and the likes of “Savages” and “Battleship.” Though the first two were nowhere near as terrible as their box office would have you believe, to some fans, he will always be best-remembered for his role in the TV show “Friday Night Lights.” Maybe the indie film route will do him better, especially after getting replaced as Gambit by Channing Tatum in the next “X-Men” film. Ouch!

Here, he plays a doctor that a small town in dire straits tries to get to stay so that they can fulfill a factory contract, thus saving the town in the process. Brendan Gleeson, of “Mad Eye” Mooney fame, from the “Harry Potter” series, plays a resident leading the charge to recruit him. Maybe Kitsch will carve out a niche for himself with smaller films like this. Stranger things have happened, but he seems like a solid actor (check him out in the underrated “Lone Survivor”), so the guy could use a break after all the box office casualties.

I love the premise of our next film, “We Are the Best!” which revolves around three girls in 80’s era Stockholm who decide to form a punk band, despite all the naysayers claiming “punk is dead.” We all know punk will never die, so hopefully these young ladies will make a run for it. This one doesn’t feature anyone you ever heard of, but the director Lukas Moodysson, is Swedish royalty, at least in the figurative sense, having done the fantastic “Lilya 4-Ever” and “Together,” both of which are well-worth seeing. That’s enough to pique my interest, all things considered.

Whose starring in their very first indie leading role? You are Jenny Slate! Check tout the "SNL"-vet in "Obvious Child." Courtesy of imdb.com

Whose starring in their very first indie leading role? You are, Jenny Slate! Check out the “SNL”-vet in “Obvious Child.”
Courtesy of imdb.com

Royalty of the internet variety, former “SNL” cast member and “YouTube”-sensation Jenny Slate (don’t miss the adorable “Marcel the Shell” series and “Catherine”) is front and center in “Obvious Child,” about a stand-up comedienne who unexpectedly gets pregnant and has to deal with the consequences as best as she can. Backing her up is an indie dream team that includes David Cross (“Arrested Development”), Gaby Hoffmann (“Girls”), Jake Lacy (“The Office”), Richard Kind (“A Serious Man”), and Polly Draper (“Side Effects”). I’ve always liked Slate, including recent turns on “House of Lies” and “Parks and Recreation,” so it’s cool to see her finally get her shot at headlining one. I’m in, on the strength of her presence alone.

I’m also a big fan of director Ti West, who did two of the more memorable horror movies of the last decade, “House of the Devil,” a homage to early 80’s Satanic Cult movies; and “The Innkeepers,” a nice spin on the haunted house subgenre set in an allegedly-really haunted hotel. Granted, “Cabin Fever 2” was no great shakes, but here’s hoping West continues his hot streak as of late with “The Sacrament,” about a man seeking to rescue his sister from a possibly sinister cult. Is there really any other kind? Though the film adopts the much-ballyhooed “found footage” angle, I’m willing to give West the benefit of the doubt with this one on the strength of the first two.

Next up, is the oddly-titled “Ping Pong Summer,” another film set in the 80’s era with an interesting cast that includes some vets of that period in Lea Thompson (“Back to the Future”) and Susan Sarandon. Plus, comics Amy Sedaris and Judah Friedlander will help bring the funny in this tale of a teen who loves hip-hop and, you guessed it, ping pong. Could this be another “The Way Way Back”? I, for one, wouldn’t mind finding out.

"Agents of SHIELD"-star Clark Gregg goes behind the camera for "Trust Me," with Saxon Sharbino as a rogue child star a la LiLo or Miley, in "Trust Me." Courtesy of imdb.com

“Agents of SHIELD”-star Clark Gregg goes behind the camera for “Trust Me,” with Saxon Sharbino as a rogue child star a la LiLo or Miley, in “Trust Me.”
Courtesy of imdb.com

Another film I’m curious to see is “Trust Me,” written and directed by “Agent of SHIELD”-star Clark Gregg, who leads a gifted cast that includes Felicity Huffman (“Desperate Housewives”), Allison Janney (“Mom”), William H. Macy (“Fargo”), Amanda Peet (“The Good Wife”), Sam Rockwell (“Iron Man 2”), Molly Shannon (“SNL”) and Niecy Nash (“Reno 911”). I’d see it based on the cast alone, but the premise is also intriguing.

Gregg plays a former child star-turned-agent who tries to land an up-and-coming starlet (Saxon Sharbino, of “Touch”) that’s in the LiLo mode, complete with a dysfunctional family. Rockwell plays his rival agent that’s trying to poach the starlet for himself when he finds out she’s in the running for a “Twilight”-type franchise. If done right, this has the potential to be some sharp satire of the Hollywood star-making machine from an insider’s POV.

Next up is “Anna,” from the director of the surprisingly entertaining guilty pleasures “Non-Stop” and “Orphan,” Jorge Dorado. “American Horror Story”-vet Taissa Farmiga stars as a troubled teen that might be suffering from PTSD after a horrific experience- or might have inflicted one herself. Mark Strong (“Low Winter Sun”) plays a psychic of sorts who tries to get into her memories and to the bottom of things. It sounds like a cross between “Inception” and maybe “Gothika.” I like Farmiga, and the director, so I’ll be checking this one out as well.

There’s also “Hellion,” which features “Breaking Bad”-star Aaron Paul and “Natural Born Killer” Juliette Lewis as the father and sister-in-law of a troubled teen who wrestle over custody of the youngest son when the elder son acts out and gets the former sent to live with his aunt. Will absentee father Paul step up and take responsibility for his heavy-metal and motor-cross-loving “Hellion” son? I guess we’ll see. At the very least, this looks like a step up from “Need for Speed” for Paul- not that that’s saying much, admittedly.

Critically acclaimed writer/director David Michôd, best known for “Animal Kingdom” and “Hesher” returns with “The Rover,” about a dystopian future set ten years after a worldwide economic collapse, in which a man sets out to reclaim a stolen possession from some thugs, his beloved car. This Australian effort sounds like an inverted “Road Warrior” and features Guy Pearce (“Memento”), Robert Pattinson (“Twilight”) and Scoot McNairy (“Halt and Catch Fire”). It could be interesting, and I liked the director’s previous efforts, but I’m still a bit gun-shy of anything involving Pattinson after suffering through all those “Twilight” films. (Even “Cosmopolis” and I adore David Cronenberg under normal circumstances.)

 Brenton Thwaites and Olvia Cooke are understandably wary of "The Signal." Courtesy of imdb.com

Brenton Thwaites and Olvia Cooke are understandably wary of “The Signal.”
Courtesy of imdb.com

“The Signal” is another gritty horror movie like “The Sacrament,” this time with a sci-fi twist. The story involves three friends who get drawn to a specific location by a computer genius, who then proceeds to torment them in decidedly unexpected ways. It sounds a bit like “Saw” filtered through a sci-fi premise, but what makes me curious to see it is the cast, which includes Laurence Fishburne (“The Matrix”), horror regular Lin Shaye (“Insidious”), and up-and-coming young stars Olivia Cooke (“Bates Motel”) and Brenton Thwaites (“Maleficent”).

Granted, the latter two were involved in the horror clunkers “The Quiet Ones” and “Oculus,” respectively, but this looks interesting enough to give them the benefit of the doubt, especially with Cooke doing such solid work on “Motel” and Thwaites being in the promising adaptation of “The Giver,” coming later this year. Maybe the second time around will be the horror charm for these two. Lord knows, we could use some solid horror movies this year, as it has been a sad state of affairs as of late.

“Third Person” marks the return of Oscar-winning screenwriter/director Paul Haggis, of “Crash” and “Million Dollar Baby” fame. It features a “Crash”-like structure of three interlocking stories, only this time with a more “Babel”-like approach of different cities as well; in this case, Paris, New York and Rome. The cast is pretty amazing, too, with the ubiquitous James Franco in about his 100th movie this year, and his female counterpart Mila Kunis in her second movie on this list. There’s also Olivia Wilde (“House”), Liam Neeson (“Taken”), Kim Basinger (“8 Mile”), Maria Bello (“History of Violence”) and Adrien Brody (“The Pianist”). I’m in, for the talent alone.

Next, is the latest from controversial director Roman Polanski, “Venus in Fur,” which was inspired in part by the book “Venus in Furs,” which revolves around S&M. It’s also based on a play by David Ives, making this Polanki’s second play adaptation in a row after “Carnage.” The director’s wife and frequent leading lady, Emmanuelle Seigner, stars as an actress looking to convince a director she’s the perfect fit for a part in his upcoming play. Given the relationship between the star and director, this may be a case of art imitating life. But who is the dominant and who is the submissive? I guess we’ll have to see the movie to find out.

Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton and Octavia Spencer are among the denziens of a non-stop train to nowhere in "Snowpiercer." Courtesy of imdb.com

Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton and Octavia Spencer are among the denziens of a non-stop train to nowhere in “Snowpiercer.”
Courtesy of imdb.com

Last but not least is “Snowpiercer,” the latest from provocative “Mother”-filmmaker Joon-ho Bong, perhaps best known for the excellent creature-feature “The Host.” That resume is enough for me to give him the benefit of the doubt for a wacky premise about a global warming experiment gone horribly awry that kills everyone except those aboard a train that travels the globe non-stop, who subsequently are trapped and form a sort of ever-traveling society.

Sounds a bit nutty, but the cast is phenomenal, including erstwhile “Captain America,” Chris Evans, Oscar winner and Alabama native Octavia Spencer (“The Help”), “The Newsroom” star Alison Pill, everyone’s favorite androgynous actress Tilda Swinton (“The Chronicles of Narnia”), Ed Harris (“Apollo 13”) and John Hurt (“Hellboy”). With those people onboard, I’ll be buying a ticket, but hopefully this train will be worth riding on.

Well, that about does it for my preview of June. Lots of interesting prospects, to be sure, and I’m impressed with the level of talent involved in this line-up. Hopefully, the results will be as good as they look. Find out when and if they make it to a theater near you!

Be sure to check out my preview of June’s more big ticket items in my separate article, which can be found here. Thanks for reading!

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About Mark Trammell

Mark Trammell is the resident entertainment critic at UAB, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where he is also a Graduate Student and does a vid-cast movie review show. He is a life-long fan of films and has a pretty whacked-out, all-over-the-place movie collection that would give most sane people pause. He loves horror movies and Disney flicks and isn't entirely sure there is a difference. He one day hopes to put his money where his mouth is and inflict his own perverse vision on society, entirely so that he can tell people who ask: "If you think you can do better, why don't you make a movie yourself?" to shut up.
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