They are almost here. Fall movies. With school back in session and summer coming to end, it’s time to put tentpole extravaganzas in the rearview and move on to the season where film studios, both big and small, usher to theatres a smattering of prestige pictures, as well as more remakes and sequels, the return of the Muppets, and a preacher who conducts sermons with a machine gun. As our Monday Morning Critic, Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz, puts it, this fall has a Murderers’ Row of impressive-looking releases, specifically a two-week window this December.
But today I’ll be looking at the month of September.
Fall gets off to a great stop with a double shot of low-rent horror shenanigans. Do yourself a favor and just bypass both Apollo 18 and Shark Night 3D this weekend. The first takes the found footage concept to outer space. The latter is Piranha but with sharks. The only credence that Shark Night has is that it was directed by stunt coordinator turned director David L. Ellis who gave us two Final Destination flicks and that movie that was partly written by fan participation. Because why bother with a PG-13 Snakes on the Plane if Samuel L. Jackson isn’t allowed to say motherf—ing.
Opening on less than 600 screens is Seven Days in Utopia, which reunites Get Low co-stars Robert Duvall and Lucas Black. Black plays a golfer who, after a disastrous debut on the pro circuit, finds himself stranded in the town of Utopia, Tex. So basically Doc Hollywood meets The Legend of Bagger Vance. Oscar winner Melissa Leo co-stars.
Pick of the Week: Seven Days in Utopia
This weekend audiences will be forced to choose between a night with Nick Swarsdon, a testosterone sandwich consisting of Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton, or an outbreak movie featuring Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, and Cowboy Cur…uh, Laurence Fishburne.
To paraphrase Bill Murray in What About Bob? there are two kinds of people in this world – those that like Nick Swardson and those who don’t. Frankly, I don’t get his humor, but arriving on the scene with Grandma’s Boy in 2006, the guy has been a utility player in the Adam Sandler camp for years. Now in his first lead comic role, Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star, he plays a Midwesterner who moves out to Hollywood to follow in his parents’ footsteps – and become a porn star. I think when our ancestors talked about heading west this isn’t what they had in mind. Having already watched the South Park guys yuck it up in Orgazmo, I expect more of the same. At the very least, it means Stephen Dorff and Christina Ricci are still getting work. And then there’s Don Johnson who has the best name in the comedy, Miles Deep4.
With the growing popularity of Mixed Martial Arts due to organizations like Ultimate Fighting Championship the time is right for Hollywood to capitalize. There have been attempts in the past to showcase the world of MMA (see David Mamet’s Redbelt - just ignore Never Back Down), but with the release of Warrior mainstream audiences will get an opportunity to be introduced to the sport, even though the film is more about the broken relationship of two brothers (Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton). Gavin O’Connor’s (Miracle) film has already drawn comparisons to Rocky and The Fighter, and Nick Nolte’s performance as the once-alcoholic father could nab the troubled-with-the-law actor a supporting nomination.
Is it too much to assume that Contagion is the unofficial sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes? If you saw that blockbuster hit you know that besides James Franco getting outacted by a motion-capture ape, you know Franco’s cure for Alzheimer’s became a deadly virus. And what is Contagion – an action-thriller about a deadly disease. Steven Soderbergh’s ensemble piece includes Oscar winners Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, and Gwyneth Paltrow, plus Bryan Cranston, Jude Law, and Laurence Fishburne. You would think that for a film about a deadly outbreak that affects mankind, the casting director could have added some more diversity to the cast. The advertisements for this are mixed – from spoiling the death of an actor named above, plus the poorly edited portion of Damon’s frantic response. Still, older audiences are most likely going to make this feature the one they see since The Help.
Pick of the Week: Warrior
Arriving this weekend is a film that I’ve been pumping up ever since its fantastic showing at the Cannes Film Festival.
Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive almost looks too good to be true. An ardent fan of the source material (James Sallis’ novel), the film explores the life of a Hollywood stunt performer who moonlights as a wheelman for snatch and grab jobs. When he discovers that a contract has been put on him after a heist gone wrong he goes into overdrive. Ryan Gosling stars as “Driver,” and he’s joined by Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks, Ron Perlman, and Albert Brooks playing against type as the heavy. Originally, the film was going to be a $60 million production directed by Neil Marshall (The Descent) and starring Hugh Jackman. Instead, it is a stripped-down $13 million thriller that is a homage to ‘80s action dripping in neon. Particularly the earlier films of Michael Mann and William Friedkin’s To Live and Die in L.A.
Still trying to prove that there is life after Sex and the City, Mrs. Ferris Bueller (Sarah Jessica Parker) stars in I Don’t Know How She Does It - a comedy whose title could act as a metaphor for the actress ability to still get lead roles. For director Douglas McGrath it is his first film since 2006’s Infamous (aka Capote Light). Before that his last comedy was the little-seen 2000 release Company Man. IDKHSDI is the latest comedy that mined its material from chick-lit. If The Nanny Diaries taught us anything it’s that not every hit book for women should be made into a movie. But since there’s no stopping the inevitable, here we have SJP as a finance executive who is a breadwinner for her husband (Greg Kinnear) and two kids. Sacrificing her motherly duties for a career there will most likely be that moment where SJP comes to grip with the situation, thanks to Pierce Brosnan as the wise executive figure.
Disney is offering a revival of The Lion King in theaters, this time in 3D! Better see it in theaters quick before it’s gone…and is released on Blu-ray a few weeks later. Sticking with the letter “R” sees a remake of Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs. Another pointless remake that originally left critics divided when it was first released in 1971. Banned in the U.K. where it was shot and granted an X rating in the U.S., the film was released in the middle of Dustin Hoffman’s impressive acting streak. As for this remake, it’ll probably be easily digestible for thrill seekers who enjoy seeing a married couple terrorized by locals and simulated rape.
Three years after his Oscar-winning Milk, Gus Van Sant returns to the directing chair with Restless, an offbeat drama starring Jane Eyre’s Mia Wasikowska as a terminally ill teenage girl who falls for a boy who likes to attend funerals and their encounters with a ghost of a Japanese kamikaze pilot from the Second World War. Had Blythe Danner been cast in Mia’s role I would have said that this was the second coming of Harold & Maude.
Pick of the Week: Drive
In a weekend of heavy new releases (in terms of quantity), Jason Statham and Taylor Lautner will wage war for action superiority with competing flicks, Hollywood wants you to spend money on Moneyball, Kevin Smith wants audiences to remember that he’s still around, a dolphin needs help swimming, and Gerard Butler dishes out Hail Marys with machine gun blasts.
So Abduction directed by Boyz N the Hood filmmaker turned director-for-hire John Singleton has a misleading title and stars everyone’s favorite big bad wolf, Taylor Lautner. Um, okay. Now Killer Elite, on the other hand, has the preeminent action star, Jason Statham, Oscar winner Robert De Niro, and Clive Owen as the villain who rocks a ‘80s ‘stache. Clear winner in badassness is Killer Elite.
In the battle of preachers, Kevin Smith’s Red State sees a preacher (Michael Parks) lead a group of zealots to murder for Jesus. However, Machine Gun Preacher has Gerard Butler as a born-again former drug addict who fights to protect Sudanese orphans. Sorry, Kevin, but your first and only foray into the horror genre is no match for MGP, which has one of the coolest movie titles of the year.
As much as director Bennett Miller would like us to think that Moneyball is not a baseball movie, the fact that the movie’s subject revolves around baseball, specifically the Oakland Athletics of the 1990s, it’s hard to not call it a “baseball movie.” But outside its baseball setting, it’s about two men (played by Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill) who challenged a system of doing business and ruffled a lot of feathers along the way.
Trying to muscle penguins out of Hollywood you have Dolphin Tale. Based on the true story of a bottlenose dolphin named Winter who loses her tail off the Florida coast in 2005, the film is sure to have plenty of moments that make kids and parents go “Awwww.” Morgan Freeman, who narrated March of the Penguins, plays a prosthetics expert who helps Harry Connick Jr’s marine biologist.
Also getting limited releases this weekend are the film festival favorite Thunder Soul (read our review) and Puncture, a legal thriller based on a true story. Chris Evans stars as a personal injury lawyer with drug dependency issues who takes on a case involving a nurse who gets pricked by a contaminated needle. It’s got a David vs. Goliath legal battle, plus a pharmaceutical conspiracy, and Chris Evans goes shirtless – unlike Matthew McConaughey in The Lincoln Lawyer.
Pick of the Week: Machine Gun Preacher
The last weekend of September tries to tickle your funny bone with two restricted comedies, a psychological thriller, and a feature that is the Bible-thumping equivalent to a Tyler Perry movie.
Cowboys & Aliens may have been a bust for Daniel Craig, but he looks to rebound with Dream House, a psychological thriller about a couple (his on-screen wife is played by real-life wife Rachel Weisz) who move with their daughters into a quaint New England home that holds a deep, dark secret. Considering that it’s had to undergo some reshoots, and the less than impressive performance of Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark be afraid, be very afraid.
Showing a commitment to his craft, Joseph Gordon-Levitt shaves his head on camera for the buddy comedy 50/50 (previously titled I’m With Cancer). For Seth Rogen, who co-stars and produces the comedy, the movie is based on his friendship with Will Reiser, who was diagnosed with spinal cancer at the age of 25. Hopefully, the comedy doesn’t overstay its welcome like Judd Apatow’s Funny People, which also tackled cancer.
Anna Faris, who should be getting the roles offered to Katherine Heigl, finds her own ugly truth about life in What’s Your Number?, a comedy where she reevaluates her past relationships only to discover that her previous lovers went on to have better lives while she’s still stuck in neutral. Helping her in her quest to parry down her list of past loves is a real Captain America type of guy, Chris Evans.
From the filmmaker that showed us how to face the giants and be fireproof comes his latest geared toward evangelical Christians, Courageous. Outside of The Passion of the Christ and The Chronicles of Narnia the common moviegoer would have a difficult time naming off some popular (or infamous) Christian-themed movies. But Alex Kendrick has managed to carve quite the niche in the Christian film market, much like Tyler Perry and his movies for African Americans. This time he explores how a group of cops try to be better fathers.
Arriving in limited release are sophomore efforts from directors Jeff Nichols and Kenneth Lonergan. Nichols’ 2008 debut, Shotgun Stories, was revered by the likes of Roger Ebert who called it “a great discovery.” With Take Shelter, Nichols reunites with star Michael Shannon in a story about a man who is plagued by a series of apocalyptic visions and he questions whether to shelter his family from the approaching storm or from himself. Lonergan’s Margaret finally sees the light of day after originally being scheduled for release in 2007. Lonergan essentially held his movie about a high school student (Anna Paquin) who may have caused a bus accident in Manhattan hostage from Fox Searchlight as he struggled to create a final cut. The fact that he failed to take advice from Thelma Schoonmaker, who has edited all of Martin Scorsese’s films since Raging Bull, should tell you something right there.
Pick of the Week: What’s Your Number?