What to Watch in October

October appears to be the month of Hollywood uninspired remakes and throwbacks. Why is it so acceptable in the megabucks film industry to be unoriginal? Anyway, this installment of my “What to Watch” series shows you just how few amazing films are pumping out of the studios these days. Strikethroughs are strongly discouraged viewing.

October 7, 2011

Dirty Girl by Abe Sylvia. An interesting cast rounds out this indie-feeling teen road movie/comedy which was helmed by a former-Cats-dancer-turned-UCLA Film School Grad. I say give it a chance. With tinges of Raising Arizona and Easy A it appears to have a nice balance of comedy and drama.

The Ides of March by George Clooney. Political intrigue Clooney style looks to be light on the politics and heavy on the intrigue. Clooney’s smart-man genre has both stood out and fallen through the cracks in the past, but I’m looking forward to this one. The addition of the of-late, ever-present Ryan Gosling certainly can’t hurt either.

Real Steel by Shawn Levy. So the brilliant movie concept here was to make a film based on that game with the boxing robots 10-year old’s used to play in the 80s? Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Something or Other. What actually bothers me more though is that I’m fairly certain this idea has already been put to celluloid by Spielberg, Scott and/or Cameron at some point in the past 30 years. And while Michael Bay is my favorite summer movie director of the lot, I’m pretty sure any Transformers flick will overshadow this thing to a middle schooler.

Texas Killing Fields by Ami Canaan Mann. Is it wrong to wish you were related to a famous filmmaker? That seems to give a number of young filmmakers in recent years the power to write and direct and actually find backing for their projects. Oddly enough though their projects are many times not nearly as great as someone unrelated to a hit director. So this run-of-the-mill crime drama doesn’t really stand out, but the trailer is relatively taut and looks like it will fit right in between two more movies on Cinemax on a Friday night.

Toast by S. J. Clarkson. Standard British coming-of-age drama with Helena Bonham Carter and Freddie Highmore. Nothing to get to excited about, but it’s bound to be endearing.

The Way by Emilio Estevez. Ok, so we’re back to classic Hollywood nepotism in our October lineup. This time in a film starring Martin Sheen and directed by none other than Emilio Estevez! Interestingly though, even for a real life father and son to play off each other in the film, their acting almost comes across a little subpar. Check out the trailer, it almost feels like their conversation is scripted, when even if it was, you’d think they’d play off each other a little better. Anyway, it’s a cute, typical looking journey film, but nothing career defining.

October 14, 2011

The Big Year by David Frankel. Jack Black, Steve Martin and Owen Wilson as comedic trio in a film about competitive bird watching? Yeah… I’m not really feeling it either. Sounds like a fun rental though!

Footloose by Craig Brewer. It pains me greatly to say that the stellar Brewer, coming off creating some of the best neo-exploitation films of the past ten years, would stoop to the level of a remake – already. In the realm of cult classic dance movies of the 80s, you’d not expect to see Footloose cropping up ahead of that other one… but, alas, here it comes. So kick off your Sunday shoes and get comfy.

The Skin I Live In by Pedro Almodóvar. There’s no way I would miss any new film by this Spanish auteur, but this one just looks gloriously dark, creepy and quite apropos for October. Antonio Banderas, working with Almodóvar for the first time since their last disturbing work together (the 1990 NC-17er Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!), plays a sociopath/plastic surgeon who experiments on women he holds captive in his mansion. And, if you like this film, definitely check out the amazing short by filmmaker Sébastien Rossignol, Le Miroir.

The Thing by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. Watch the red band trailer here. Ok, I admit, I’m kind of a 70s and 80s trashy film nerd, so yeah I love John Carpenter’s The Thing, and while it disheartens me to see that it’s being remade (like everything else lately), I’m a little excited underneath it all to see it in maybe a slicker, gorier version than before. I’ll have to go a little hypocrite here, and say I appreciate the facelift on this schlocky horror gem.

October 21, 2011

Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey by Constance Marks. I really dig personal journey and inspiration documentaries like this, so I may be a little biased here, but I would recommend giving this film a shot.

Father of Invention by Trent Cooper. 2010 holdover and weak comedy about a Kevin Spacey character who is released form white collar prison life and has to shack up with his daughter and work at a Hollywood-type Walmart. Pass.

Margin Call by J. C. Chandor. High drama in the banking and investment world seems to be a theme of a lot of films lately (no surprise), this one is run of the mill and sports a 50/50 cast. This seems a genre better suited to the likes of Oliver Stone and/or David Mamet.

Martha Marcy May Marlene by Sean Durkin. There’s a new Olsen girl in town! Her name’s Elizabeth. From the looks of it, she’s not interested in following in the footsteps of her sisters oeuvre, and instead has debuted her acting career in this indie Sundance word-of-mouther about the titular, multi-personaed girl who is part of a religious cult. See? Now here’s that originality I’ve been looking for!

Paranormal Activity 3 by Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman. The first was relatively captivating, but two sequels since then? Paranormal stuff is better viewed on basic cable when it comes on without knowing after an Anthony Bourdain marathon.

Revenge of the Electric Car by Chris Paine. I can only hope this film makes some waves.

The Three Musketeers by Paul W.S. Anderson. Another unnecessary remake of a perfectly suitable classic. The story is one of those that really looks better in classic film form anyway, so upgrading this one seems a little gratuitous. On the other hand, Paul W.S. Anderson has been known to do some pretty decent action flicks, and the obvious addition of Milla Jovovich is more than welcomed.

October 28, 2011

Anonymous by Roland Emmerich. Summer movie maven Emmerich slows it down for the Fall and tries out Shakespeare instead of catastrophe. Same premise, of course: he wants to turn The Bard on its head (sort of like humanity). Yes, this film is of the position that Shakespeare did not actually write his world-renown plays, and that Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford did. Pleasantly surprised; this appears to be a step up for Emmerich. Rhys Ifans’ and David Thewlis are always great, too.

In Time by Andrew Niccol. No stranger to this sub-genre, director Niccol creates a future where humans are genetically engineered and designed to die at the ripe old age of 25. In the cliched future-film/suspense genre there’s always one individual who breaks away from the mold and goes on the run, chased by whatever futuristic armed and uniformed drones the screenwriter has come up with – and, while this film doesn’t really look any different (despite the unique life-span concept), it does have the gorgeous Olivia Wilde playing a (…wait for it) mom. Commence dirty acronyms… now.

Johnny English Reborn by Oliver Parker. The inimitable Roman Atkinson dusts off the 007-parody character Johnny English and gives it another try after almost a decade.

Like Crazy by Drake Doremus. Director Doremus is a Sundance veteran now, but as I’ve said many times on this blog, don’t see a movie just because it played Sundance. Do, however, see Like Crazy because it’s heartfelt, realistic, humorous and painful all in one – and for me – it’s hits home all too much (but that’s for another blog, another day). This is solid work and great indication of what’s to come from this fledgling filmmaker.

The Rum Diary by Bruce Robinson. Okay, well you’ve got three things to consider here: 1.) Hunter S. Thompson; 2.) Bruce Robinson; 3.) Johnny Depp. Add them all together and you’ve got a winning combination in my mind, however I haven’t seen the film yet, but if Robinson’s cult classics How to Get Ahead in Advertising and Withnail & I are any indication, this film will be witty, effervescent, and full of colorful characters.

Sleeping Beauty by Julia Leigh. In a film “presented by” Jane Campion you can expect the material to be pretty raw and jolting, but Leigh’s film has the eerie, off-kilter presence of Dogtooth and the concept and tone of Eyes Wide Shut. Not to be confused with the children’s story, this is very adult-oriented material. A young college student (Emily Browning) takes a job as a “sleeping beauty” in a venue where men pay to watch her as she sleeps.

Spike Lee Did the Wrong Thing

Spike Lee graced my city with his presence nearly a week ago, and I’m still in disbelief of the lecture that he gave that evening to at least a thousand fresh faced college students, mixed in both gender and race.

As an aspiring filmmaker and a self-proclaimed critic of all things artistic, I was obviously excited to hear his words of wisdom. However, at the end of the evening, he left me uninspired, unmotivated and disenchanted.

In an effervescent entrance, wearing his usual Air Jordan hi-tops, Spike opened with incendiary prodding at local sports teams who he did and didn’t like. After he’d wasted that precious speaking time he later he moved into how Katrina victims have long since been forgotten, and that just because everyone thinks that Mardi Gras happened this year and the Saints won, that New Orleans is all better and everyone is back at home again living their perfect life. On this aspect I agreed with Spike, however disappointed that he could so carelessly jump from antagonization to insinuation, that everyone in his audience had similarly forgotten the atrocity that was Katrina. He is wrong to assume such things.

Finally, he began the diatribe that is his biography (and filmography); at least, up until the film he obviously feels to be the apex of his career: Malcolm X. After that point in the reminiscing on his life/career he said nothing, instead opening up the floor to questions. The few nuggets of useful info I was able to pick up on the business of filmmaking and screenwriting, were trivial and disappointingly useless. Students and other aspiring filmmakers asked questions such as which does he suggest as a filmic medium for upcoming, independent filmmakers: shooting film or digital? His simplistic response: whichever you have access to. Gee, thanks Spike.

What really burned me was the way he treated a question posed by another young individual. “So, why DID Mookie throw the trashcan through the plate-glass window of Sal’s restaurant in Do the Right Thing?” Spike initially responded to this by laughing in dismissal, saying (almost as if he felt belittled), that “it’s not the first time he’s been asked that question,” seethingly following with provoking rhetoric to the young white male, “but, you know who I’ve NEVER been asked that question by?”


Who Spike? An African American? So, what he’s basically saying is it’s okay, and it’s justified for Mookie’s character to react in violence, instigating a riot, because of his friend Ray Raheim’s unjustified death at the hands of white, uniformed NYPD? I’m not saying one shouldn’t feel raw after seeing what was done to Ray Raheim by the police, but is the best reaction one from the gut, or one from the mind? Mookie is the character who seems to be the only person on his block in New York who can get along amicably with any one of the various races or cultures on one of the four corners of his neighborhood. So, when his character reacted in such violence at the end, I must admit I was shocked. A character such as Mookie could have potentially done a lot more good by taking such an injustice up to a media outfit or the proper authorities (and, I know, that’s probably the “white” thing to say in Spike’s eyes), but by inciting a riot in his own neighborhood, all he’s done is essentially aid and abet the problem of racial injustice in America and even the world.

At any rate, I was equally taken aback by Spike’s response to the young man, for Spike basically reassured me that Do the Right Thing is a movie he crafted with more hatred for social stagnancy than with inspiration or hope for social change. I guess I thought that for all the social prowess Spike had shown throughout his filmography (i.e. Jungle Fever, Malcolm X, Mo’ Better Blues), plus the fact that he himself played the character of Mookie, the character I respected the most until the denouement of Do the Right Thing, he would have had a different perspective on this one important social topic: race. Lately, Spike hasn’t propelled me into a frenzy of social clarity with any of his recent films; 25th Hour was memorable, but only in the way that a train wreck on the news is memorable. To me, Craig Brewer is doing more important films on the topic of race, dealing with cinematic portraits of inequality that don’t scream at you like Spike’s, but rather seep into your consciousness from the screen.

Black Snake Moan

In the 1970s exploitation films seemed to take hold of America (maybe even Europe) by surprise. In today’s cinema we don’t often see the exploitation film as a genre-defined “exploitation film,” but rather a “summer movie” or “teen movie.” Unless it’s marketed as being exploitative (i.e. a Tarantino film), this genre is primarily defunct. Until now.

I believe that director Craig Brewer has brought to audiences the first true exploitation film in a long while. Not since the early 80s have I seen anything quite like Black Snake Moan, and honestly, I only hope I can see some more. I think this is an exceptional sign-of-the-times, mainly because a large part of the catalyst to exploitation films becoming so rampant and even popular in the late 60s and throughout the 70s, was the declining state of affairs in the nation and the general wanton outlook of cinema’s primary seat-filling audiences: the youth (a.k.a. the next generation). So have we come full circle?


If Brewer’s Black Snake Moan, had of just been a little scratched on a few frames, or dusty throughout the entire negative, or even missing a scene or two, it would have been a direct throwback to the 1970s exploitation genre.

Black Snake Moan is a film that while taking itself very seriously, also panders to the viewer without remorse. Take for example, the fact that Christina Ricci’s character is a nymphomaniac. At times we are made to feel distaste for her character by the way she knowingly and excitedly flaunts herself through the town, and writhes around immediately after her “steady” boyfriend leaves her to join the war. Then at other times we are made to feel a sorrow or pity for her, finding out the potential root cause(s) for why she has become the way she is, and we are forced to endure her painful flashbacks which consequently ail her now.

Similarly, there is Samuel L. Jackson’s character who with Biblical name and all, pledges to “cure [her] of [her] wickedness,” and we appreciate the fact that he’s a seemingly harmless individual who wants nothing but to help this young woman. However, he leaves her chained to the radiator (the one thing his freshly estranged wife hated the most about their drafty old house) in nothing but a strategically ripped sweatshirt and a pair of white panties. Not to mention he feels the need to bathe her.

So, in typical exploitative fashion, this movie toys with every fiber of decency we choose to acknowledge in ourselves, it wants us to feel conflicted about it, and thereby begs the question, who in this world (or film, anyway) really does anything out of pure, un-ulterior motivated decency? Brewer has shown in the few films that he’s made that he has a special knack for being able to show raw sides of life, the internal conflicts in human beings, and their everyday motivations, all while still producing feature films that are hip, edgy and marketable. That’s the reason to watch Black Snake Moan, and mark my words; this is the beginning of a new era of cinema.