By Leonard Maltin
There was a time when independent films had such a reserve of good will that followers flocked to them simply because they weren't part of the mainstream. Now the truth can be told: a film isn't worth seeing just because it was made by well-meaning people outside the studio system.
If I seem to be damning some of this month's selections with faint praise, it's only because I don't think they come up to the level of excellence we've seen earlier this year. Call it summer doldrums, if you like.
As always, there are alternatives -- like looking to great films of the past. I was delighted to revisit Alfred Hitchcock's 1935 gem The 39 Steps, starring Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll, in a sparkling new DVD/Blu-ray edition from The Criterion Collection. Not enough attention is paid to Hitchcock's British period these days: those films of the 1930s are quite wonderful, none more so than The 39 Steps, which can easily be described in one word: perfect.
Rashida Jones, from TV's Parks and Recreation, wrote this romantic comedy-drama with Will McCormick and stars with Andy Samberg of Saturday Night Live. They play a couple who love being together but have decided to end their six-year marriage. Needless to say, their breakup doesn't go as smoothly as planned. Fresh and original, and a great showcase for Jones, the film has pearly moments but goes on longer than it should. My full review is posted HERE.
TAKE THIS WALTZ - in theaters and On Demand
The second feature written and directed by actress Sarah Polley is a slow, deliberate but perceptive portrayal of a marriage that's a house of cards, easily blown over when the wife (a glowing Michelle Williams) falls in love with a chance acquaintance (Luke Kirby) who turns out to live right across the street. Seth Rogen turns in an admirably subtle performance as the clueless husband.
Writer-director Todd Solondz (Happiness, Life During Wartime) is the champion of suburban angst, and proves it anew in this vivid portrait of a "loser," played by Jordan Gelber, who blames everyone for his self-inflicted problems -- but, surprisingly, manages to elicit some interest from a woman (mousy Selma Blair). Christopher Walken, Mia Farrow, and Donna Murphy costar in this decidedly odd little film. Click HERE to read more.
YOU'VE BEEN TRUMPED - in theaters
Filmmaker Anthony Baxter chronicles the trials and tribulations of a community in Northeast Scotland where Donald Trump has decided to build a luxury golf course, in spite of the protests of some stubborn locals. This is the same area that was depicted in the much-loved movie Local Hero, which foretells some of the current crisis.
Here is a valentine to French cinema from Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismäki (with cameo appearances by such luminaries as Jean-Pierre Léaud, Truffaut's longtime alter ego, and comedic genius Pierre Étaix). The disarmingly simple story deals with a proud but simple man who shines shoes for a living, and decides to help a young African refugee. Finland's entry for this last year's Foreign Language Oscar is a modest film of great charm. HERE's my review.
Leonard Maltin is the editor of the long-running annual paperback reference Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide (and its companion volume, Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide) and the host of Maltin on Movies on ReelzChannel. He holds court at www.leonardmaltin.com.