Death NoteandDeath Note: The Last Name. A young aspiring lawyer in Tokyo with the totally awesome name of Light Yagami (Battle Royale star Tatsuya Fujiwara) finds a mysterious book that brings death upon anyone whose name is written in it. I know what you're thinking: A creepy drowned girl with black hair over her face shows up to kill them, right? No. This is based on an anime, which in turn was based on a comic book—so a huge, crazy-looking CG demon gets in on the action. Meanwhile, Light tries to use the book for good by writing the names of criminals down, which ends up attracting the attention of the world's greatest detective, who's simply known as "L" (Ken'ichi Matsuyama). Their battle of wits continues in the sequel and a forthcoming third installment. Live-action adaptations of anime can be an acquired taste—without Hollywood budgets, anything involving supernatural demons can be cheesy as hell (see the live-action Devilman movie), though it can also be epic (Wicked City). They're never, ever boring, though.
Dante's Inferno. Dante Alighieri's journey through the underworld to find his long-lost love is re-imagined in a Hell that looks a whole lot like present-day America, as rendered in what appear to be hand-drawn cardboard puppets. Dermot Mulroney voices Dante, with James Cromwell as his guide, Virgil; the movie was created by SoCal artist Sandow Birk, filmmaker Sean Meredith, and Beakman's World star Paul Zaloom, who also happens to be an alumnus of the renowned Bread and Puppet Theater in Vermont. The three previously collaborated on a mock-doc based on Birk's paintings about a civil war between LA and San Francisco, but this looks a great deal more ambitious. It may just be a gimmick film that gets tiresome after the first 10 minutes or so, or it may be groundbreaking. Either way, it looks like no other movie this year.
Fat Stupid Rabbit. How can you not love that title? Better yet, how can you resist a movie about overweight, middle-aged, alcoholic Russian actors who play animals and inanimate objects all day in a children's theater? Slava Ross' film is so under-the-radar that IMDB doesn't even have an entry on it—or him—as of this writing.
The Artfusion Experiment. Tattoo artist Paul Booth directs this documentary about collaborative creations by tattoo artists, on the body and on canvas, and the attempt to legitimize the art form with gallery exhibitions. As a proud Inked-American, I've always respected the customizers of the human canvas, but those of you who aren't convinced probably need to check this out.
Komaneko—The Curious Cat. A stop-motion animated film about a stop-motion animator . . . who just happens to be a Japanese stuffed cat. Shorts featuring Komaneko have already shown up on YouTube, so you can get a sense of what you're in for. The last time I took a chance on a bizarre Japanese animated film about a cat, it turned out to be the mind-blowing Tamala 2010, still unavailable on U.S. DVD or at any of the Asian-import stores I've been to. Looking forward to saying hello to this kitty.
The Restless(Joong Chun). In Korea, during the Shilla Dynasty, a young man (Joon-Ho Hur) joins the official royal demon-hunting squad and ends up in the midheaven, a place for souls who have died but have not yet been reincarnated. There, he must . . . Aw, hell with it; look, if you're not sold on the movie by now, you're never gonna be.
Exiled (Fong Juk). One of the few big-name Hong Kong action directors not to have moved to Hollywood, Johnny To isn't as well-known on these shores as he ought to be, except among film geeks. This crime thriller is set in Macau in 1998, shortly before Portuguese rule ended and Chinese began, with various criminals scrambling to make some last-minute scores and hitmen trying to get the job done before the more hardline Communists crack down. Leonardo DiCaprio is apparently attached to a possible American remake that's almost certain to be inferior, so catch the real deal while you can.
Twice Upon a Time. Thankfully, not another fractured fairy-tale Shrek rip-off, as the title might imply, but rather, a romantic comedy from France. Why should you care? Because the leads are Charlotte Rampling and Jean Rochefort, who are both amazing talents. Or maybe because it's refreshing to see a romantic comedy that involves full-grown adults for a change. Rochefort plays a director, Rampling an actress; once a glamorous couple, they haven't seen each other in 30 years. Hijinks ensue. Mature hijinks, naturally.
Bad Boys of Summer. Baseball might just be the second-most boring game in the world (top honors go to cricket, which is like the extended director's-cut version of baseball), but documentaries about prisoners doing stuff are always golden. From Shakespeare Behind Bars to The Wildest Show in the South, nonfiction flicks about the wacky extracurricular activities of convicted crooks always hit the spot, for some reason. So even though the activity here is baseball (don't be hatin', Angels fans—at least you'll never have to compete with me for good tickets), the fact that the term "batting cage" takes on a whole new meaning in San Quentin is enough to take me out to this particular ball game.
The King of Kong. A bunch of dorks try to break the world-record high score for Donkey Kong. True story. I'm soooo there.
Son of Rambow: A Home Movie. Garth Jennings, director of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, gets more personal with this '80s tale of a young boy (Bill Milner) from a sheltered, religious family and his friendship with a more-worldly schoolmate (Will Poulter) who exposes him to the joys of Sylvester Stallone movies. Together, they film an unofficial sequel, Son of Rambo, which gains a cult following and forces them to confront the unforeseen problems of popularity. Kids I knew in the '80s played at being Jedi or superheroes—who wanted to be Stallone? I'm curious, and hope the film will reveal all.
I also hope not to have to see any of the following . . .
Finding Kraftland. A father and son bond and learn the meaning of life while going to theme parks and collecting Disney merchandise. It's a documentary. Why?
For Right or Wrong. A documentary about how cool snowboarding is. I don't doubt it, but I already saw First Descent, and if a snowboarding movie made by Mountain Dew Films can't excite me, I'm not expecting this one to, either.
Revolution Green. I know biodiesel is a good thing. I agree that dependence on oil is bad. I just don't want to see a whole movie about it.
The Sandlot: Heading Home. Who among you has ever said to yourself, "You know, what I'd really like to see is a sequel to The Sandlot"? Anybody? Did you also hope that it would involve a time-travel gimmick for a framing device? Wish granted. Enjoy. I'll be at the bar.
Eye of the Dolphin. A 14 year-old-girl (Lizzie McGuire's Carly Schroeder) learns how to communicate with dolphins. Poor dolphins.
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Moondance Alexander. A teenage girl (Kay Panabaker) finds a lost pony and tries to train it to be a champion jumper. Arguably more constructive than swimming with dolphins.
Speed Dating. I've done actual speed dating. All the women I met were elementary-school teachers and women's-rights lawyers. Every one of them turned me down—both times. Maybe my condescension toward movies about teenage girls and their animal chums was the deal-breaker.
Love and Dance (Siper Hatzi-Russi). Sort of like Mad Hot Ballroom, but in Russian—kids learn self-esteem by taking ballroom-dance classes. Can't we just give them Ritalin instead?
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