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Summer movies seem to start earlier every year, with “Iron Man 3” rocketing into the box office on May 3, and Baz Luhrmann’s surface reading of “The “Great Gatsby” following closely behind. Hollywood marketing is in full swing and television spots for the big films are already taking up a significant amount of airtime to make sure everyone knows that Johnny Depp is playing Tonto in “The Lone Ranger” and Zack Galifinakis is once again drugging people in Las Vegas in “The Hangover: Part 3.” But not everything is sequels and superheroes —there are some smaller movies that might be a better alternative to the CGI fest promised at the local multiplex. With the help of MES, and a little luck with our local theater offerings, there might be a few really good movies to see.
“Before Midnight” (May 24): The third chapter to Richard Linklater’s quiet love story that started in “Before Sunrise”, “Before Midnight” likely ends the series as it started, with long takes of quiet, deep conversations between interesting, intelligent people. I love these films because they show that a love story is ongoing, a lifelong discovery of another person. Linklater uses close shots of his actors, so that the tiniest of moments—an unseen brush of the hair or slight glance of the eye—tell a story that dialogue alone could never convey. The films bring us into the relationship in way that isn’t seen in more conventional romances. We identify with the characters because the characters are so similar to us. There isn’t any pretense or misdirection, just honesty, realism, and beauty. If you haven’t seen “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset,” make a weekend of seeing all three in order.
“Upstream Color” (June 2 at the Barking Legs Theater): Billed as an experimental science-fiction film, this summer offering by film club Mise En Scenesters will be something altogether different. Those familiar with director Shane Carruth’s complicated time travel film “Primer” know that “Upstream Color” will be a film to be experienced, if only for the conversation that follows. There are plot descriptions online, but film fans would likely be better served knowing nothing about the film at all before viewing. Remember: It’s not always important to understand everything you see in a film, only that you watch with an open mind and allow the film to affect you in an emotional way. Carruth is a brave director, one that isn’t afraid to confuse his audience in order to create a satisfying payoff. “Upstream Color” will likely be a film that allows you to explain and interpret, an artistic jigsaw puzzle that is unlike anything you’d see outside of a film festival.
“Much Ado About Nothing” (June 7): “Much Ado About Nothing” is my second favorite Shakespeare comedy, just edged out by “Twelfth Night,” and this summer it has been adapted for the screen by one of my favorite directors. Joss Whedon rolls out his typical cast of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel,” and “Firefly” alumni to adapt “Much Ado” for the screen. The film is shot in black and white, with occasional splashes of color, making it a modern adaptation with a classic feel that will hopefully be accessible to a wider audience. The previous version with Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh will be tough to beat—Thompson and Branagh were perfectly cast as Benedick and Beatrice. The 1993 film was my first experience with well -done Shakespeare and if Whedon’s is as successful it will be a good time indeed.
“To The Wonder” (June 29 at the Barking Legs Theater): Terrence Malik’s last film, “The Tree of Life,” only came to Chattanooga after it was nominated for an Oscar. Thanks again to Mise En Scenesters, “To the Wonder” is getting a screening here before it becomes award-winning. The film has the distinction of being the last film reviewed by Roger Ebert, and he gave three and a half stars, calling Malik “one of the most romantic and spiritual of filmmakers.” It’s a love story told in images, sparsely plotted, visually stunning and carefully crafted. Malik is not for everyone, as he allows his characters to exist without overt motivation, placing more emphasis on experiences that defy convention. This is a film more for cinephiles than the general public, but anyone interested in seeing something beautiful and elegant is likely to enjoy “To the Wonder.” Beyond that, the showing is an important step for establishing Chattanooga as a haven for independent film.