With three months left in the year, Oscar-caliber movies and big budget adventures are finally, albeit slowly, making their way into the multiplexes. October is a nice appetizer with its mix of bigger and smaller films to prime us for the holiday movie season with films like Spectre, Star Wars and Star Wars. So let’s take a look at what’ll take us through Halloween.
OCTOBER 2, 2015
The Big: THE MARTIAN
The Martian – It seems like a ridiculously long time since a legitimate “must see” big release film has hit movie theaters (was the last one Ant-Man?), but The Martian appears to be a welcome kickoff to 2015’s final quarter. The Martian surprisingly seems like a faithful retelling of the best-selling book by Andy Weir. The novel used a terrific blend of science and humor to tell about the survival of Shanghaied-on-Mars astronaut Mark Watney, and the movie thankfully looks to be taking its cues from its source material. Despite lead actor Matt Damon not being known for comedy and director Ridley Scott being on somewhat of a cold streak, The Martian could be a welcome change for both of them. Moreover, if it follows the suspenseful intelligence of the book at least somewhat, it will be a welcome change from every other big budget tentpole that avoids physics at all costs.
The Little: THE WALK
The Walk – Sneaking in just under the wire (no pun intended), The Walk came out on September 30 in IMAX locations with plans to expand throughout the month. The Walk (about Philippe Petit’s tightrope walk between the Twin Towers) had a remarkable vertigo-inducing teaser that made it seem like this fictionalized retelling of the subject of the documentary Man on Wire (available on Netflix Instant) might have a unique style that suits the remarkable tale. Director Robert Zemeckis is a director who can successfully pull off human dramas (e.g. Flight) and effects-driven spectaculars (e.g. A Christmas Carol) so a combination of the two (much like the plane crash in Flight), could lead to a fascinating movie-going experience. Now that’s remarkable. One week with two special effects-centric movies that will hopefully put the emphasis on character rather than CGI.
OCTOBER 9, 2015
The Big: PAN
Pan – Finally, the story that everyone’s been waiting for – the dark, tragedy-laced origin of Peter Pan, that’s actually the origin story of Captain Hook, that’s actually the origin story of Blackbeard, that’s actually apparently none of these things. This movie seems like a remnant of an older time, back when all of our mythological heroes and icons needed a tragic backstory – even Street Fighter‘s Chun Li. However, we are slowly moving past that trend (though The Amazing Spider-Man and Fantastic Four are among its victims), but some fallout still remains. Directed by Atonement‘s Joe Wright, Pan was postponed from a prime summer slot, and the mostly negative early reviews are making it clearer why. A tonal mess, a landscape muddled by too much CGI, and an all around unappealing concept all combine to make this another Warner Brothers’ fractured fairy tale misstep similar to this year’s Jupiter Ascending.
The Little: STEVE JOBS
Steve Jobs – An Academy Award-winning director (Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire), an Academy Award-winning screenwriter (Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network), and arguably the best actor working today (Michael Fassbender), Steve Jobs is a film anticipated by those who like, dislike, and is apathetic towards its titular subject. As time has passed since the Apple founder died, it’s a positive thing that some of his less admirable qualities have come to light, and that we’re learning more about the real person rather than relying than the epic mythos he built up around himself. The type of iconography that had people sobbing in the streets at news of his passing. This year’s documentary Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine is yet another interesting look at the figure. We’ve come a long way since Ashton Kutcher stepped into Inspiration Field.
OCTOBER 16, 2015
The Big: CRIMSON PEAK and BRIDGE OF SPIES and GOOSEBUMPS
Crimson Peak – October 16 brings with it three moderately big movies. Neither Crimson Peak, Goosebumps, nor Bridge of Spies rise to the level of a mass audience must see, but they each appeal to vastly different audience sectors, which makes this an interesting week. , The most interesting of the week, Guillermo Del Toro‘s latest Crimson Peak seems bolstered by the Pan’s Labyrinth/Pacific Rim director’s remarkable flair for visuals and good cast. Its tone seems closer to an atmospheric horror drama than a straight out horror movie, which is a welcome change from most big release horror movies. However, its gothic (in the Edgar Allan Poe sense) sensibilities and period-setting might make it a harder sell for horror audiences who seem primarily drawn towards lower-budgeted, found footage fare.
Bridge of Spies – While Crimson is my pick of the week, it would be a disservice not to mention the two other big movies. Bridge of Spies seems to be the annual, high quality drama for older audiences. These tend to be good films but rarely rise to the level of great film, despite usually having a terrific pedigree. Bridge of Spies is no exception. However, it’s been awhile since a Spielberg movie rose to the level of greatness – they generally have wonderful production values but lack the emotional component necessary to truly connect (Lincoln worked mostly because of Daniel Day Lewis, though I am fond of Munich, which this seems closest in spirit to). Movies written by-but-not-directed by the Coen Brothers (e.g. Gambit, Unbroken) haven’t done the best service to their inimitable brand. And the beloved Tom Hanks continues his trend of picking quality vehicles that simultaneously seem personal (e.g. Saving Mr. Banks and Captain Philips) yet lack the true intimacy of most smaller independent features. While the subject matter seems interesting, let’s hope this Cold War drama skews closer to the amazing Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy than the bland The Good Shepherd.
Goosebumps – Finally, Goosebumps has interesting potential. I have no idea how popular the book series still is, but the casting of Jack Black as author RL Stine could either work to its advantage or disadvantage. Although I still mostly like Black’s work (he was quite good in HBO’s The Brink and has proven himself in smaller dramas like Margot at the Wedding and Bernie), Black hasn’t been a viable big screen presence in years. His bombastic persona wore very thin, and his part in the movie might dissuade people simply because they’ve grown to dislike his character. However, if the startling success of Hotel Transylvania 2 has shown us anything, children might like comedy stars who passed their expiration date for grown-ups.
The Little: ROOM
Room – Despite the all-star cast and interesting subject matter of Truth, Room is the movie that is getting most of the early buzz for this week. This drama about a woman who is freed after years of captivity and tries to adjust to her new life stars Brie Larson. With her turn in Short Term 12, Larson earned a significant amount of critical and credibility from the independent film community, and this film again shows her as an actress willing to take challenging, understated roles to great critical acclaim. Much like Blue Valentine‘s Michelle Williams, Larson offers a nice change of pace to actresses who tend to gravitate towards showier roles such as period pieces, biopics, plagued-by-disease, and fighters of social injustice (sorry Freeheld). Next up, Larson continues to hone her craft as one of the best actresses of her generation by playing the female lead in the King Kong reboot, Kong: Skull Island. The film itself has also garnered acclaim as the winner of the People’s Choice Award at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. For an alternative take on the subject, check out Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix.
But what puzzles me is – the filmmakers had to be aware that this film shares a name with one of the worst movies of all time, right?
October 23, 2015
The Big: ROCK THE KASHBAH and BURNT and JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS and THE LAST WITCH HUNTER and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY – THE GHOST DIMENSION
While last week had 3 B-level movies competing for the top spot, this week has 5 C-Level movies going at it. Rock the Kasbah seems the most interesting if only for the virtue of it starring Bill Murray. The Bradley Cooper-starring Burnt also has potential since there’s something appealing about “man at the end of his rope” movies, especially when there’s the “has to pay back gangsters” subplot (complete with scene where he’s punched in the stomach as a warning). Is it cliché? Yes. Do I care? Not really. Plus food porn.
For the younger set, we have Jem and the Holograms. This cinematic reboot of the 1980’s cartoon has already started off on a sour note by eliminating everything that made the original series special. The Vin Diesel-starring The Last Witch Hunter looks a lot closer to to the horrendous I, Frankenstein than probably anyone hoped for. And finally we have stalwart franchise sequel Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension – at least“The Ghost Dimension” is a genuinely cool subtitle.
The Little: SUFFRAGETTE
Almost every year, there is a movie like Suffragette, and the Oscars tend to eat them up. Suffragette is this year’s big female-led social justice film (sorry Freeheld) and it seems to be like all the others in the socially conscious drama subgenre. These films might have good performances and good production values, but they end up being done in by a template script that never breathes humanity into its subjects. Alongside perennial favorites Helena Bonham Carter and Meryl Streep, Suffragette stars Carey Mulligan, Tinsel Town’s erstwhile It Girl. Following her star-making turn in An Education, Mulligan appeared everywhere, big and small movie alike (with major roles in Shame, Wall Street Money Never Sleeps, Drive, etc.) up until The Great Gatsby. However, she has had a bit of a resurgence this year with the art house success Far From the Madding Crowd. And none of this is to disparage her quite successful theater work – for which she earned a Tony Nomination for Best Performance by a Leading Actress this year for her work in Skylight.
OCTOBER 30, 2015
The Big: OUR BRAND IS CRISIS
Our Brand is Crisis – Movies based on popular documentaries are often a mixed bag. This type of adaptation can often be a valuable way to inform people about interesting and important stories. While some viewers might shy away from documentaries, they could become more attracted to the tale when it is presented in an easier-to-digest narrative led by big celebrities that they’ve come to know and accept. However, this tactic usually reduces the topic’s relevance by couching it in a traditional Hollywood narrative where conventional protagonists and villains take center stage over the issues or topics that made the story worth telling in the first place. (Sorry Freeheld).
Although lacking the social injustice element of others in this subgenre, Our Brand is Crisis seems to be another such film suffering from the same problems. Directed by Pineapple Express‘ David Gordon Green and starring Sandra Bullock and Billy Bob Thornton, Crisis is based on a 2005 documentary about how the 2002 Bolivia Presidential Election was “directed” using American campaign tactics. Early reviews have been mixed-at-best (though Sandra Bullock’s performance has been praised), and it seems like this movie might have benefited from adopting a darker satirical edge. Of course without seeing it, it’s difficult to know whether that was what they aimed for and missed short of the mark (similar to what happened with Thank You For Smoking).
The Little: CARTER HIGH
Carter High – What is it about based-on-a-true story, period piece, high school football movies? They never seem to go away, with upcoming films including the faith-based Woodlawn and the faith-based My All American starring Aaron Eckhart. This week’s Carter High, about a 1980’s football program in Dallas, Texas, seems to be placing less emphasis on Jesus as it tells of a football program’s attempt to win a state championship. Not the most novel of ideas, but it’s one that seems to work no matter how many times we get the slo-mo last minute field goal.
So that’s October. It starts off strong with The Martian before steadily descending into movies that would be better off playing on Video on Demand. It does have a slightly better line-up than September, so that’s something. Now onto 007.