Independent films rule the moment

Summer is officially over, and the fall Oscar movie rush is about to begin. But before the studios start trotting out their awards hopefuls, there is a lot in the world of independent film that audiences can catch up on this week.

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Liberty Hall is playing Woody Allen’s latest film, “Blue Jasmine.” Cate Blanchett plays a rich New York socialite forced to move into her sister’s apartment after exposing her cheating husband’s crooked financial dealings. It may not be the feel-good runaway success that “Midnight in Paris” was two years ago, but it’s earned decent reviews and money, especially for a Woody Allen movie.

The Sundance hit “The Kings of Summer” is also at Liberty Hall this week. It’s a coming-of-age tale set in suburban Ohio, where three friends build a makeshift cabin in the woods about a mile and a half from their homes. The three young men are newcomers, while real-life married couple Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally star in supporting roles, as well as Allison Brie of NBC's "Community."

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“Drinking Buddies,” currently playing at the Alamo Drafthouse Mainstreet in Kansas City and on VOD platforms, stars Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson (from Fox’s “New Girl”), Anna Kendrick, and Ron Livingston — but it’s not the broad comedy you might expect from looking at its cast. Instead, it’s a subtly realized film about personal relationships and the complications that arise among a group of friends.

Along with the Duplass brothers and Andrew Bujalski, director Joe Swanberg helped define what became known as the “mumblecore” movement in 2005 with his independent film “Kissing on the Mouth” and 2007’s “Hannah Takes the Stairs.” Mumblecore films aren’t much for production value, and they rely heavily on naturalistic situations and dialogue. While “Drinking Buddies” definitely has the budget to support its character-driven story, it certainly subscribes to the mumblecore aesthetic in the latter category.

Kate (Wilde) and Luke (Johnson) work at a craft brewery in Chicago and have the kind of easy rapport the co-workers often develop, but their romantic feelings for each other are just below the surface. Both of them are in relationships with other people (Kendrick and Livingston), and the situation has the potential to get messy when an attraction develops on that side as well.

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“Drinking Buddies” has an amiable charm, and all of its characters have inherently likable qualities peppered with the kind of annoying quirks that make them feel real. The characters all have a very lived-in quality, and Swanberg’s plot gives us access to some of their own internal decision-making — the stuff that no one else is aware of. Call them dirty little secrets or little white lies, but everyone in the movie has plenty of moments where they are not being honest with someone because of an ulterior motive.

Although he is credited with writing the film, Swanberg had no formal script. The actors were given a general outline of the plot and the story beats for each scene, but the reason the dialogue feels so real is because it was improvised within these parameters. Luckily for the film, its comedically inclined actors (especially Jason Sudeikis in a small supporting role) are able to spice things up while keeping things grounded as well — but be warned, this is not necessarily a comedy.

Despite the fairly obvious setup, “Drinking Buddies” has a couple of surprises up its sleeve, albeit in a very minor key. There’s no big revelations — no conveniences to let its characters off the hook — just a story that works itself out based on the choices its characters make. With its distinctly realistic tone and honest insight into modern relationships, “Drinking Buddies” feels very much like a movie in the “now” moment.

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As part of the International Peace & Conflict Film Festival at KU’s Spencer Museum of Art, “The Green Wave” is showing for free on Oct. 18 at 5 p.m. This 2010 documentary, directed by Ali Samadi Ahadi, uses animated sequences to illustrate the day-to-day blog posts and tweets of Iranian protesters during the Iranian green movement and Mahmud Ahmadinejad’s disputed re-election in June of 2009. This unique narrative device is matched up against interviews with imprisoned activists, revealing a government that’s willing to do anything to squelch the voices of its people.

Oct. 1 is the deadline for short film submissions from all genres into Lawrence’s longest running film festival. The 22nd Harvest of Arts Film Festival will be held Oct. 19 at the new Cider Gallery event space in Lawrence’s burgeoning warehouse district, and is free and open to the public.

There is also no entry fee to submit your short, and in a very cool twist this year, all films will also be screened the day before in a duplicate program at Nahm Auditorium on the University of Central Missouri campus in Warrensburg, Mo.

To enter, email info@harvestofarts.org with the title and length of your film, a download link, and your contact information. For more details, visit harvestofarts.org.

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