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.


At many points throughout the film, Somersault seems more like an effort in style than a meaty Australian drama in the vein of the best Lee Tamahori and Jane Campion movies. The film is not exactly without an arc, but it meanders its way through the story more than necessary at times. The disillusioned montages and POV shots are beautiful, but they only serve to create effervescence that’s not substantial to the plot. By the end of the movie, during which everything wraps up nicely, there’s nothing to walk away with from these characters.

Heidi (played brilliantly nonetheless) by Abbie Cornish is the disillusioned leader of the cast whom we first meet when she seduces her mothers boyfriend one morning, for what reason we’ll never know. The guy is petty scuzzy to begin with, and instead of brushing her off for the lost young woman that she is, he takes her up on her offer. When they’re interrupted before anything too serious happens, Heidi takes off on her own in the belief that her mother doesn’t want anything to do with her anymore.

She ends up at a sleepy town in the north of Australia where everyone seems to know everyone and newcomers are not generally welcome. Using her unmade-up beauty to her advantage with all the males she comes in contact with, Heidi finds herself sleeping around to get by. Soon she meets a young man that she falls in love with, but he is more concerned with his appearance to his friends than sorting out his feelings for her. There’s also a scene, which is never really expounded on, where he hooks up with another guy in town apparently sorting out whether or not he is gay as well. Why this was thrown into the film is beyond me as it seemed way off cue and took me (comically) by surprise.

Of course, from here you can pretty much predict where the film is going to go and conflict will ensue. Director Cate Shortland’s debut feature doesn’t leave me wanting more from the film, but I look forward to her next project whatever it may be. It’s easy to detect Shortland’s influences and style and she is certainly able to put together the shell for a great work of film, but it’s empty and disposable by the time the credits roll and there are hundreds of coming of age stories out there that will far surpass this throughout the history of film.

Bright Star

Jane Campion has always been one of my favorite directors. Similar in style, but more effortless than Sally Potter and more accessible than Agnès Varda, Campion has hit another power chord of romantic film with Bright Star.

Lunging her audience into the middle of the lives of the film’s characters, it takes a little time, but we are soon hooked on the storyline and slowly developing love story of poet John Keats and his muse Fanny Brawne. Inspired by actual love letters they once shared, their romance is itself poetic and perfect. Yes, the film is riddled with the obviousness of it’s impending route to despair, but as much as Fanny longs to be with Keats we long for her dream to come true.

Campion infuses awesome visual tailoring to the story, employing non-stable camerawork and random cutaways to images of comfort, hope, pleasure and pain. The simple act of Fanny moving her bed against the wall that she shares with Keats (who also moves his bed against the same wall), is touching on levels that never need to be filled out by some expository scene in the film. You don’t need to know what the rest of her body is doing or what her facial expressions are when you are just watching how her fingers lightly run up against and touch the molded, white wall next to her bed. This is truly visual poetry.

With every film Campion’s craft grows stronger and this is a testament to her vision and creativity. One of the only directors I’ve seen who can make a brightly lit film feel so desperately dark, I didn’t even care that this plot has unfolded in multiple other romantic films before. It’s the way we are led through their less-than tumultuous (but still harrowing) time together; led right up to the final scene of the movie where Fanny cracks under the knowledge of her lover’s death. It was all I could do to wish she would find a way to move on, forget it – even killing herself I could have stomached more than watching her zombie-like in the blue woods reciting Keats’ poetry. As she falls slightly out of frame and screen cuts to black, title card fading in to read that Fanny spent most of her remaining days and nights aimlessly wandering the woods, I knew I’d never get over this story. And for once I never want to. Thank you, Jane.