Thus ends October. Not just a collection of movies that left theaters way too soon (e.g. The Walk), but also home to some of the worst box office weekends in recent years. In one week alone, we got two of the all-time lowest grossing wide release openers (Rock the Kasbah and Jem and the Holograms). November, at least seems like it could be slightly better- at least for major releases. And don’t forget, Star Wars is but a month and a half way.
NOVEMBER 6, 2015
The Big: SPECTRE
Sure, there’s The Peanuts Movie , which actually seems to be doing a fantastic job of honoring its respectable past instead of following the unfortunate path of other modern day children reboots like Alvin and the Chipmunks and The Smurfs– both of which featured embarrassingly out-of-date pop culture references and horrid flavor-of-the-hour pop music soundtracks. But, who cares, this week is all about SPECTRE (at least for the all-important male action-oriented demographic). Casino Royale breathed fresh life into the 007 franchise (even though everyone forgot about that films’ successor Quantum of Solace) and Skyfall solidified a Bond chapter to the upper echelon of the spy game. The return of Skyfall director Sam Mendes and writers John Logan and Neal Purvis and actor Daniel Craig further evince this reboots dedication to consistency and a continuity that simultaneously honor the franchise’s history while utilizing the modern trends of filmmaking to great effect. Even on a technical level, Bond’s globe trotting adventures have never looked better- Let the Right One In‘s Hoyte van Hoytema is stepping in for Skyfall‘s Roger Deakins as cinematographer. Early reviews are positive and with the re-introduction of Bond’s greatest nemesis, SPECTRE will hopefully be one of the strongest films this winter.
The Small: TRUMBO
Following a career that includes the Austin Powers trilogy and Dinner for Schmucks, director Jay Roach has slowly gravitated towards drama (e.g. the HBO movie Game Change), which culminates in Trumbo. Starring TV’s beloved Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) as blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, the movie looks at his career in Hollywood, his subsequent fall as Communism fear swept the nation and stained his even more subsequent successes (Trumbo wrote the screenplay for classic Roman Holiday using a front). Movies like this are often a tough rope to walk. Writers can sometimes go a bit far within socially conscious period pieces by try to liken everything to modern day struggles or by deifying the subject to the point where they lose their humanity and become more symbol than man. Hopefully, Trumbo manages to navigate those murky waters. On its face- a remarkable 81% Rotten Tomatoes score and 7/10 Metacritic score- indicates yes, but the critic blurbs make the film seem a bit too message oriented (with some positive comments making this movie seem like devolves into a trite “Bash Republicans!” sentiment). But Cranston is getting universal acclaim and the story itself is worth telling; we can only hope it’s told well enough.
The Smallers: BROOKLYN and SPOTLIGHT
With Oscar season looming, there will be other smaller-scaled films worth keeping an eye on most weeks…The Smallers, so to speak. This week, we have Brooklyn and Spotlight. Currently sitting with an outstanding 100% on Rotten Tomatoes (with an equally impressive 8.5/10 Metacritic score), Brooklyn is a period piece directed by John Crowley (Closed Circuit) and written by High Fidelty and About a Boy author Nick Hornby (who also penned the screenplays for An Education and Wild). The film stars an acclaim-garnering Saoirse Ronan (a young Oscar nominee for the 2007 period film Atonement) as Ellis Lacey, an Ireland native who immigrates to New York and ends up torn between her mother and adopted lands.
Already considered an Oscar favorite for Best Picture, Spotlight has an all-star cast of indie veterans (including Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, and Liev Schrieber, among many many others). However, unlike last month’s disappointing Truth, this true-life journalism movie (about the Pulitzer Prize winning Boston Globe’s investigation of child molestation throughout the Catholic church) is getting enough critical buzz to make it worth a look. Moreover, it’s directed and written by Win Win’s Tom McCarthy and might be the most remarkable follow-up to a catastrophic movie (in this case his Adam Sandler-starring The Cobbler, a movie so bad you felt bad for Adam Sandler) since Ang Lee came back from 2003’s The Hulk with 2005’s Brokeback Mountain.
NOVEMBER 13, 2015
Midway between SPECTRE and the final Hunger Games? Let’s call November 13 a bye week; the major studios certainly did.
The Big: THE 33? LOVE THE COOPERS? MY ALL-AMERICAN?
It’s hard to know what would be considered the big movie of this week since all three seem like they could be played simultaneously on Video On Demand. The 33 is a based-on-a-true-story movie about the 2010 incident when 33 miners became trapped in a Chilean mine for over 30 days. With a cast including Antonio Bandaras, Oscar Núñez, Lou Diamond Philllips, and Rodrigo Santoro, the film has already been released in some Spanish-speaking territories (despite being an English-language movie), but its reviews have been mixed-to-negative.
Love the Coopers is the latest in the long line of relatively inoffensive PG-13 ensemble family movies (like The Family Stone and The Big Wedding, both of which starred Diane Keaton, who also appears in this one). Generally released in time for the holidays, these movies tend to be mostly the same – a bunch of mostly likable actors interacting as fantastically bland characters where the drama never gets beyond the stress level of a burnt roast.
And My All-American is another Christian-themed football movie, but it’s important to note that last month’s Woodlawn has been financially successful.
The Small: BY THE SEA
Angelina Jolie attempts to be a director…again, and this time tries to utilize paparazzi power. She wrote the film, directed it, and stars in it with husband Brad Pitt! For a film being released in two weeks with such strong star power, it’s surprising how little information is available about it. For some movies, secrecy is a virtue. For others, the silence can seem to be burying something. We shall soon see where By the Sea falls. For any small movie, this dearth of materials would raise a few eyebrows. There seems to just be a teaser, but no other advertisements or other marketing material. It doesn’t even have a plot description on Wikipedia (though IMDB helps). Also, when was the last time an erotic thriller actually hit? I guess The Tourist, the Angelina Jolie/Johnny Depp vehicle that did more than 75% of its business overseas. So maybe she has something with this tale. Of course, with the release date being so close and the film being barely a blip on anyone’s radar (there aren’t even any advanced reviews, though it will open AFI Fest), I’ll be surprised if they don’t move its premiere to an undisclosed future time. Then again, this is a bye week so they might as well toss it out there before we get to….
NOVEMBER 20, 2015
The Big: THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY, PART 2
This concluding chapter to The Hunger Games saga brings a close to the tale of Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen, Donald Sutherland’s President Nefarious, and those two love interests of hers – nerdy guy and Thor’s non-Loki brother. The series had its lowest domestic gross yet with Mockingjay, Part 1 ($337 million compared to the other two topping $420 million), but it’s hard to deny the impact this series has had. Its success has forced us to endure cheap retreads such as The Maze Runner and the Vergents, but it has also established one of the few female heroines that people actually like. This film will be a resounding success obviously, but it will be interesting to see if this will reel more people in or if the series wore out its welcome by going for a foursome when a trilogy would have sufficed. Also or note, isn’t disappointing that this is probably the last time we’ll get to see fresh Philip Seymour Hoffman?
Other major films coming out this week include Secret in Their Eyes, a remake of the Oscar-winning 2009 Spanish film of the same name starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Julia Roberts and Nicole Kidman and The Night Before, the latest Seth Rogen comedy pairing him for a second time with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and for the first time with Anthony “The Falcon” Mackie. “Dirty” Christmas comedies often don’t make much headway (e.g. A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas), but Rogen has proven himself as mostly good luck with blue movies like these (as opposed to mom-friendlier movies like his Barbara Streisand collaboration The Road Trip). While going up against the final Hunger Games movie might seem like a problem, it’s important to remember that This is the End held its own pretty admirably against Man of Steel.
The Small: LEGEND
Already released in Europe, Legend is most notable for having Tom Hardy in two lead roles- twin brothers/British gangsters Ronald and Reggie Kray. The film, much like this year’s earlier Black Mass, is yet another gangster period piece (this one set in 1950’s and 1960’s London), which can probably be read as yet another example of the impact Goodfellas has had on our cinematic culture. The film’s reviews have been slightly positive (61% positive and 5.9/10 Metacritic score), but Tom Hardy is one of the best actors working today and seeing him tackle two roles simultaneously in a genre that’s easy to fall into is practically certainly worth viewing.
The Smaller: CAROL
Another major Oscar contender (what’s with all these Oscar contenders having one-word titles?), Carol is this year’s genuinely appreciated older/younger woman love story (sorry Freeheld). Based on The Price of Salt by The Talented Mr. Ripley author Patricia Highsmith, this 1950’s-set movie (another 1950’s feature?) has a decent pedigree with director Todd Haynes (I’m Not There), theater scribe Phyllis Nagy, and stars Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett. It has already established its awards potential on the festival circuit by not only being nominated for the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, but also earning Mara a shared Best Actress award (with Emmanuelle Bercot in Mon roi) at the annual celebration of cinema. Meanwhile, Blanchett has earned a nomination for Best Actress at the Gotham Independent Film Awards.
NOVEMBER 27, 2015
The Big: VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN
Okay, Victor Frankenstein isn’t the biggest movie of the week (that honor goes to Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur simply because Pixar). It’s not even the second biggest movie of the week (that honor goes to Creed, the Rocky-sequel/spinoff that has Stallone continuing to atone for his work in the 1980’s and 1990’s). But Victor Frankenstein has to be at least #3 right?
Directed by Paul McGuigan (Gangster No. 1, Lucky Number Slevin, various episodes of Sherlock) and written by Josh Trank-defender Max Landis, Victor Frankenstein … I can’t say it looks particularly good, but it looks like it might be fun. Starring James McAvoy as Doctor F. and Daniel Radcliffe as his assistant Igor, this film focuses on their relationship as the good doctor becomes the Modern Prometheus. The most remarkable thing is that this movie actually seems to want to have a good time. It’s bright and colorful, Professor X and Harry Potter have a good rapport, and it has jokes (including an homage to Young Frankenstein). Coming off of utterly terrible, morose takes on classic monsters with movies like I, Frankenstein, The Last Witch Hunter, and Dracula Untold, a movie that forgoes broodiness for brotherhood becomes a novelty in and of itself. Sure, the trailer devolving into action shlock is a bit disheartening but maybe it has more to it than CGI explosions. But probably not.
The Small: THE DANISH GIRL
Could Eddie Redmayne pull a Tom Hanks or a Spencer Tracy and win two consecutive Best Actor Oscars? He’s certainly trying with this week’s biggest limited release, The Danish Girl. Redmayne stars as transgender pioneer Einar Wegener/Lili Elbe, and the movie covers Lili’s tumultuous relationship with wife Gerda (Alicia Vikander, 2015’s omnipresent ingenue). The movie itself bears all the markings of an Oscar bait-y feature – period piece, relevant social issue (gender identity), Academy Award-winning director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech), and Europe. However, The Danish Girl has only gotten mostly passable reviews- a high 81% on Rotten Tomatoes mixed with a mediocre 6.3/10 Metacritic score. Regardless, it seems like the most high profile of the LGBT-centered Oscar movies arriving thus far this year (sorry again, Freeheld).
So that’s November. Have you gotten your Star Wars tickets yet?