By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
Maral -- Improbably, some of the most interesting films in the 1990s came from the Islamic Republic of Iran. Clearly, folks in the West aren't the only ones struggling to understand what it means when people live in a 21st-century theocracy. Maral (which is also the name of the virtually mute character around whom the plot revolves) is in the grand tradition of films from cold-war Eastern Europe, where profound observations are made from skewed angles. Here Rezvan, a faded middle-aged woman, has thrown herself into religious fanaticism and ostentatious acts of charity in a desperate attempt to make Hadji, her still-handsome husband, pay attention to her. After an earthquake in another part of the country leaves thousands homeless, Rezvan harasses Hadji into temporarily marrying one of the homeless women -- in order to give her food and shelter. Rezvan envisions a widow, a woman much like herself. Instead, she gets Maral, a 20-year-old beauty. Naturally, Hadji is smitten. Proud of his youthful vigor, he sees in Maral a second chance. Rezvan sees all her chances disappearing. This is a subtle and truthful vision of a simple human relationship in all its complexity. (J.H.)
Meet the Mosaics -- The latest in a seemingly endless line of small-budget indies about struggling rock bands, writer-director Richard Brunton's debut feature is mostly unremarkable but mildly diverting. Brian Groh is almost too credible in the key role of Dave Smoker, an obnoxious self-styled maverick who's obsessed with maintaining his artistic purity. Dave thinks performing in conventional venues, or even having a name for his band, would be selling out. So he and other members of his no-name group give guerrilla-style concerts in parks and on street corners. Dave is more than happy to be subsidized by his live-in girlfriend, Rose (Christine Gonzales). When the band's lead singer decides to seriously pursue a musical career by joining another band, Dave reluctantly enlists a new vocalist: Kate Shaw (Molly O'Brien), a free spirit who's also a clear-eyed pragmatist. Not surprisingly, Dave doesn't immediately embrace her. Despite the abundance of clichés, Meet the Mosaics manages at least one novel twist: Right from the start, Kate identifies herself as a lesbian, and it's no big deal as far as her bandmates are concerned. (J.L.)
Morning -- Writer-director Ami Canaan Mann takes a few unpredictable detours while covering familiar territory in this lightweight but likable comedy-drama. Early scenes are decidedly unpromising, as Mann pushes too hard to establish a philosophical clash between two longtime friends: Trick (Kieran Mulroney), a workaholic executive for a Manhattan ad agency, and Johnny (J.R. Richards), an easygoing, guitar-strumming layabout from Trick's North Carolina hometown. Things get more interesting when Johnny "borrows" Trick's pricey car to drive back to Reidsville. Trick follows, accompanied by Lily (Annabeth Gish), his live-in girlfriend, and King (Steven Schub), their wisecracking neighbor. Unfortunately, Trick and his companions arrive a little too late, after Johnny is killed in an auto mishap that likely isn't an accident. Johnny's relatives are so embarrassed by the apparent suicide, they refuse to approve a public funeral. But Trick and his friends have other ideas. Morning doesn't generate many belly laughs, but it does evoke a few smiles as it proves that, sometimes, the best way to get on with your life is to give someone else a decent burial. (J.L.)
Mr. Rice's Secret -- Onetime glam rocker David Bowie is now old enough to play "the elderly and enigmatic Mr. Rice" in this middling Canadian-made tale of learning to deal with loss; it seems more like a strange after-school special than a theatrical feature. Twelve-year-old Owen, who suffers from a form a cancer, is in remission and denial. Together with his preteen pals, whose girl-free club awards points for the weirdest and riskiest achievements, Owen goes out of his way to shun another boy who's more seriously ill. Naturally, this has to change. The lessons here are doled out with a heavy hand, but Bowie, who appears all too briefly, lights up the screen with his quietly authoritative portrayal of an unworldly neighbor. (J.H.)
Nicolas -- Reportedly the first full-length feature to be shot completely digitally, Peter Shaner's thriller focuses on a young woman who gradually realizes that the man appearing in her dreams is her lover from a past life.
No Man's Land/Hell on Earth -- Niemandsland, Victor Trivas's 1931 German antiwar drama, was long thought to be a "lost film," since most prints were destroyed by Nazi censors after Hitler's rise to power. Newly restored, the film is an allegory about five soldiers from different countries who set aside their differences and refuse to fight each other.
Or Forever Hold Your Peace -- Kenneth August's indie comedy-drama deals with a unique type of wedding-bell blues. After a disastrous rehearsal party, the groom is kidnapped by his best friends, who decide to forcibly "deprogram" him.
Peppermint -- Costas Kapakas's 1999 Greek production is a bittersweet comedy-drama about a man's reunion with his beautiful cousin 30 years after the abrupt end of their high school romance.
Peroxide Passion -- A social-climbing young man is crestfallen when his rich fiancée walks out on him. So he sets out in pursuit of his lost love, accompanied by a kooky performance artist who moonlights as a phone-sex operator. Monty Diamond directed this offbeat indie comedy.