Thursday, September 1, 2011

On the Horizon: September & October

Having forgotten to conjure up a list of must-sees for the first month of the Aug-Oct period, I figured that I could at least pick up the slack by devoting some coverage to September and October. Turns out that the next two months have more than enough in store for several worthwhile trips to the theater.

The Rum Diary dir. Bruce Robinson [October 28th - Wide]
Though it's hard not to hear the words 'rum' and 'Johnny Depp' and not think of Jack Sparrow,The Rum Diary couldn't be any further from Pirates of the Caribbean, location aside. Adapted from Hunter S. Thompson's novel, Bruce Robinson's film follows Paul Kemp (Depp), a writer struggling to find himself while writing for a second-rate newspaper in the Caribbean. The film feels like it's been pushed back over and over (much like John Madden's The Debt), but it seems like 2011 is the year we'll finally get to see this project hit theaters. In addition to boasting a great cast (Depp, Amber Heard, Giovanni Ribisi), the source material promises that, at the very least, it won't be a boring. Let's just hope those delays aren't the bad sign they could easily be interpreted as.

Martha Marcy May Marlene dir. Sean Durkin [October 21st - Limited]
With its fondness for the 13th letter of the alphabet, expect this one to leave theater-goers mixing up the title in any number of combinations. That silliness aside, Sean Durkin's debut, which earned raves at Sundance, has been gaining buzz for months now. In addition to indie sensation John Hawkes (Winter's Bone), the film has earned raves for leading lady Elizabeth Olsen (as in, sister of Mary Kate and Ashley) in the role of a young woman trying to reconnect with her family after breaking away from an abusive cult religion. To say that the footage out there is intriguing is an understatement, and Durkin looks like he could be headed for debut of the year status with this indie breakout.

50/50 dir. Jonathan Levine [September 30th - Wide]
Cancer sin't exactly a word that inspires fits of laughter, but that's exactly what Jonathan Levine is aiming for with 50/50. Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Adam, a 27 year old who tries to beat his cancer diagnosis along with his friend Kyle (Seth Rogen) and therapist (Anna Kendrick). The film has earned surprisingly strong early word of mouth, with heaps of praise being thrown at Levitt and Angelica Huston (as Adam's mother). The subject matter's slightly comedic twist might be uncomfortable for some, but if early reviews are any indication, Levine and co. have managed to navigate the plot with enough sensitivity in order to earn both laughs and tears.

Moneyball dir. Bennett Miller [September 23rd - Wide]
Despite an incredibly dry first trailer, and those snarky commenters labeling the film "Brad Pitt's The Blind Side," Moneyball actually has quite a bit going for it. In addition to the strong cast (Pitt, Jonah Hill, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright), the script was written by Steven Zaillian (Schindler's List) and a little writer named Aaron Sorkin. Then there's Bennett Miller in the director's chair, whose last film was the acclaimed Capote (2005). So even though the baseball-oriented subject matter might not be a draw for many, this one's got credentials in spades, and could be one of the surprise hits of the fall.

Restless dir. Gus van Sant [September 16th - Limited]
I can't decide if I find the whimsical details of Restless intriguingly quirky, or annoying and desperate. The latest from Gus van Sant follows the romance between a terminally ill girl (Mia Wasikowska) and a boy (Henry Hopper) who is visited by the ghost of a Japanese kamikazi pilot. Also, he likes to attend funerals for fun. It would be a lot easier for me to write this one off were it not for the people involved, especially considering some of the less-than-kind reviews it received at Cannes. But van Sant is always worth a look, and Wasikowska has quickly become one of the most promising new talents, so I'm hoping that all of the ingredients here will come together to create something special.

Like Crazy dir. Drake Doremus [October 28th - Limited]
Another Sundance title that I've heard tons about for months, Like Crazy tells the story of a British student (Felicity Jones) who falls for an American (Anton Yelchin), only to be separated from him when her visa expires. Early reviews have generally been positive, calling Doremus' debut a complex and honest depiction of young love, like a college-aged (and less bleak) Blue Valentine. Jones and Yelchin (especially the former) have picked up strong reviews as well, further cementing their statuses as young talents to watch in the coming years.

The Thing dir. Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. [October 14th - Wide]
It may technically be a prequel to the 1982 John Carpenter film, but that hasn't stopped the studio from keeping the title (or the plot, for that matter) from being almost identical. Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World) and Joel Edgerton (Animal Kingdom), this prequel traces the first meeting between an Antarctic research team, and a crashed alien spacecraft (along with its hostile passenger). Early buzz has been positive, claiming that even though the film is uncomfortably close to the Carpenter version, it holds its own in terms of story and scares.

The Ides of March dir. George Clooney [October 7th - Wide]
George Clooney is back in the director's chair, and his latest looks more like Good Night and Good Luck than Leatherheads, which is definitely for the best. Based on Beau Willimon's play (reportedly based on Howard Dean's campaign), the film follows campaign staffer Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling) as he gets a crash course in dirty politics. Boasting a terrific cast which includes Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Marissa Tomei, and Clooney himself, Ides' real draw is Mr. Gosling. A talented actor with a good knack for picking scripts, he's seemed reluctant to fully embrace his star potential until now, which can (hopefully) only mean good things from here on out.

Drive dir. Nicholas Winding Refn [September 16th - Wide]
And speaking of Ryan Gosling, here's yet another star vehicle of his coming out this year, one with solid pre-release buzz firmly in place. Though the story could have easily been another run of the mill project featuring the likes of Jason Statham, Drive has picked up strong reviews, flat out raves even, and managed to win the Best Director prize at Cannes back in May. That's no small feat for a graphically violent crime thriller.

Contagion dir. Steven Soderberg [September 9th - Wide]
This virus thriller from Steven Soderberg may have a star-studded ensemble, but don't expect the big names to get special treatment when it comes to the story. Much like TV shows The Sopranos or Game of Thrones, Contagion's trailer, which boldly lets us know that Gwyneth Paltrow's character dies, very clearly sets up a world where no one is safe. There isn't much early buzz on the project, but what can be found makes one thing clear: Soderberg and co. are striving for a level of realism so graphic that it's left some test screening audiences feeling nauseous. The only worrisome thing about the film is that it was bumped from an October release. It's not as bad of a sign as constant delays, but considering the shift gave the film less time for promote itself, it could be a sign that Warner Bros. doesn't want to spend too much marketing the finished product. Still, Soderberg is a pretty reliable director (not to mention an efficient one), and he's done great work with large casts before (Traffic).

The Skin I Live In dir. Pedro Almodovar [October 14th - Limited]
I can't remember the last time that a film's sheer weirdness has enticed me so much. Without giving away an ounce of concrete plot, the images and trailers for Almodovar's latest have me hooked, and I'm thrilled that the film will be hitting American screens this early. Starring Antonio Banderas, all I've learned (or cared to learn) about Skin is that it's a plastic surgery revenge thriller. That description could easily be a schlock torture porn film from the director of SAW, but this is Almodovar, one of our best living directors. The material itself may be darker than his past few films (although he's always included dark story elements), but the footage is classic Almodovar, with touches of noir, melodrama, camp, and vibrant colors (the man sure knows how to use red). Consider me sold.

Take Shelter dir. Jeff Nichols [September 30th - Limited]
This second feature from Jeff Nichols (Shotgun Stories), has been earning strong reviews, and after re-visiting the trailer, it's easy to see why. The film follows Curtis (Michael Shannon) as he tries to figure out if his dreams about cataclysmic storms are visions, or the onset of schizophrenia. The majority of the trailer has an eerie calm to it, before teasing us with quick glimpses of craziness at the end. All of it, however, is compelling, whether it's as a character study, a pyschological drama, or a thriller. Throw in Shea Whigham (Boardwalk Empire), Jessica Chastain, and Kathy Baker, and you have what very well could be the definitive indie break out film of the year, which is saying a lot.

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