Do you hear that sound? No, it’s not studio bean counters digging in their office couches for a few extra quarters, wondering what happened to their box office this summer. One of the slowest seasons at theaters in quite some time—despite it being a pretty strong one in terms of quality—has come to a close, but surely that will be forgotten now that it’s time for the fall movie season launch. That sound you hear is actually actors, directors, writers, etc. working on their award acceptance speeches.
And for good reason. We love this time of year, when the big festivals happen (you can follow our Telluride and Venice coverage right now). New great films are discovered left and right. And big, highly anticipated prestige pics finally start getting in front of our eyeballs, so we can decide if they make the grade or not. Before the month even started, though, there was some bad news, especially for horror fans. Eli Roth’s “The Green Inferno,” which would no doubt be on this list (despite Roth’s uneven filmography), was pulled from its September 5th release date. We’ll just have to wait to see when that makes it to theaters. Fear not, though, there are more than enough strong, diverse offerings this month. Please let us know what you’re looking forward to seeing this month.
“No No: A Dockumentary”
Synopsis: A truly warts-and-all documentary about infamous professional baseball player Dock Ellis, who pitched most of his career for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Why is he infamous? When you throw a no hitter (the film’s title is a nod to the common euphemism used when a pitcher throws a full game without giving up a hit) on acid and live to tell the tale, well, you’ve earned a certain level of notoriety.
What You Need To Know: As amazing a story as may exist (give a watch to this wonderful short film, where Ellis explains his recollection of that day on June 12, 1970), he was actually a damn good pitcher and played in his prime as part of perhaps the coolest baseball squad of all time. That ‘70s era Pirates team, winners of the World Series in 1971, was loaded with eclectic talent—Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, Bill Mazeroski and Steve Blass, as well as Ellis—and they were media sweethearts because of their charisma, skills, character and locker room camaraderie. The film does right by Ellis, who died in 2008, by portraying him as a fully fleshed out human being, full of anger, humor and a wild persona. You get the sense he would’ve approved of this fair and balanced portrait. Drew Taylor’s B+ review from Sundance called it “a jazzy, joyful exploration of a man that, if he wasn’t able to actually change the system, was at least happy with giving it the middle finger.”
Release Date: September 5th
“The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them”
Synopsis: Last year at TIFF, this film—about the dissolution of a once intense and loving relationship—premiered in a very different bifurcated version, to solid reviews. The two full-length features, titled (post-colon) as ‘Him’ and ‘Her’ (both are set for a limited arthouse bow in October), followed the story from the perspective on each side of a slowly crumbling relationship. This version, coming a month earlier, meshes elements of both parts into one two-hour film. Got all that?
What You Need To Know: The Weinsteins snatched this up to the tune of $3 million dollars, and they look to be massaging it into a mid-level indie for adults with some awards possibilities. But will it be a true awards player? Will some audiences be confused about the strange but ballsy mutliple releases? Of course, but maybe the tiered release structure will keep it in the public conversation longer. That is, if it crosses over and finds an audience. No doubt some will flock for the talented, dreamy leads, Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy. Writer/director Ned Benson makes his debut with this if-nothing-else clever and ambitious cinematic outing. Oliver Lyttelton caught this version at Cannes, and while he wasn’t as impressed as our reviewer who saw the split films at TIFF, he did mention the film is “absolutely worth watching for the performances alone, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t intrigued to catch the ‘Him’ and ‘Her’ versions down the line too (if nothing else, the whole project should be invaluable to film school lecturers in years to come).”
Release Date: September 12
Synopsis: Based on the Dennis Lehane short story “Animal Rescue,” the film follows Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy), a bartender working at a joint that also moonlights as a drop for money-laundering gangsters. When he uncovers a drop of a different sort, in the form of a battered pit bull puppy that he rescues from certain death, he comes into contact with Nadia (Noomi Rapace), a mysterious woman hiding a dark past.
What You Need To Know: Lehane has risen in the last decade to become one of the premier American authors of a certain crime-inflected mainstream adult thriller. This is the fourth adaptation of his work, after “Mystic River,” “Gone Baby Gone” and “Shutter Island,” all of which were successful financially and critically. This time out, he adapted his own story for his first feature screenplay. With an ace cast (beyond Hardy and Rapace, there’s the late, great James Gandolfini, rising Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts, James Frecheville from “Animal Kingdom” and gifted character actor John Ortiz) and direction from talented Belgian filmmaker Michaël R. Roskam, making his English language debut, the film has many of us around the Playlist water cooler excited. Roskam, who this writer was lucky enough to interview in 2012 for his previous film, the Oscar-nominated “Bullhead” (which starred Schoenaerts and impressed greatly when I reviewed it at the film at Vancouver International Film Festival), is a talent to watch, one who could carve out a strong career. In my “Bullhead” review, I compared Schoenaerts quite favorably to Hardy’s legendary performance in “Bronson.” It’s only fitting the two are in Roskam’s next film, another crime story.
Release Date: September 12th
“A Walk Among the Tombstones”
Synopsis: Former NYPD cop, now private investigator, Matthew Scudder (Liam Neeson) is hired by a drug kingpin to find out who kidnapped and murdered his wife.
What You Need To Know: Neeson continues his string of playing badass shit-kickers in the other crime thriller this month from a talented writer/director. This one’s made by Scott Frank, the filmmaker behind the sadly underseen “The Lookout” with Joseph Gordon-Levitt back in 2007, and who also wrote “Out of Sight,” “Minority Report” and “Get Shorty.” Are we tired of seeing Neeson play this serious, confident, scary badass yet? Most signs point to no. Either way, this one looks more like “The Grey” than “Taken,” so perhaps, and hopefully, there’s a little more substance and depth for Neeson to plumb in between fight scenes.
Release Date: September 19th
Synopsis: A podcaster (Justin Long) who interviews strange and interesting people heads to Canada to meet and chat with Howard Howe (Michael Parks). Howe has some… interesting… plans… in store for—ah fuck it, dude wants to turn him into a freaking walrus.
What You Need To Know: What could you possibly need to know other than the frickin’ Mac Guy is gonna get surgically transformed into a walrus? If you’ve been to a theater recently where this trailer came up, oh boy, the varied and hilarious crowd reactions are pure gold. This writer is always heavily intrigued by any movie that looks to be this divisive that also promises to give us images we’ve flat-out never seen before. But really, we gotta commend writer/director Kevin Smith for stretching here. Like big time. This sounds like a weird movie no matter how you slice it, but knowing it comes from the guy who made “Clerks” and “Chasing Amy” is even more intriguing. Of course, Smith started this new wave of his career with his last effort, the self-financed and distributed “Red State” (this writer called it the most underrated film of 2011). As different, crazy and twitchy as that film was for Smith, “Tusk” just looks way more batshit. We’re hoping for a fun and actually good version of “The Human Centipede.” It can be done. We think.
Release Date: September 19th
Synopsis: A family grieving over the loss of their son, a soldier who died in Afghanistan, is visited by a strange, but seemingly perfect houseguest. David (Dan Stevens, who also appears in “A Walk Among the Tombstones“), a fellow soldier, claims to have been a friend to their son. But he may be more than that too…
What You Need To Know: Director Adam Wingard made the very good “You’re Next,” which, were this a fair and just world, would’ve gotten the audience that flocked to the first ‘Purge’ movie, but sadly it instead came and went with a whimper. It’s streaming on Netflix now, watch it if you like good horror that’s also fun. Wingard, along with collaborator Simon Barrett, has been working hard as an indie horror filmmaker akin to Ti West, though their styles are quite different. Where West loves the slow burn, Wingard likes to amp things up quickly. Most importantly, Wingard shares West’s very clear affection for genre movies, where the nostalgia is thick but the filmmaking is legit. Our own Cory Everett got us salivating at the prospect of this one, which he describes as a “perfect synthesis of Cameron, Carpenter and Cannon Films and one of the most fun films at this year’s Sundance.”
Release Date: September 17th
“20,000 Days on Earth”
Synopsis: Writer. Musician. Weirdo. Australian. Nick Cave is incredibly talented and prolific in so many mediums it makes our head spin. In this appropriately strange documentary, he takes a look at his 20,000th day on the planet.
What You Need To Know: Rodrigo Perez was a fan after catching it at Sundance. In his B+ review, he stated “While the doc should prove essential for Nick Cave fans, it should be inspiring for those interested in the creative process or anyone searching for their muse.” Even more intriguing is that the film sounds like it plays with the doc form, which we tend to appreciate. RP mentioned it’s “far from your ordinary music doc, the film is loosely set in a fictional 24 hours in Cave’s life as he examines his own songwriting process and transforms his music from an unformed sketch to a live show scorcher. It also features hallucinatory interviews and staged sequences with voiceover provided by Cave. Unusual as it may be, it’s the only approach that suits an artist as unique as this one.”
Release Date: September 17th
Synopsis: Based on the memoir by Robyn Davidson of the same name in which she recounts her journey across 1,700 miles of Australian deserts with her dog and four camels.
What You Need To Know: When Oli Lyttelton reviewed the film out of Venice, he opened strong: “Ever since Davidson wrote her 1979 memoir of her eight-month trek across the Australian outback from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean, and the book became an award-winning best-seller around the world, Hollywood has been sniffing around it… Julia Roberts was attached to a version for much of the 1990s… but it finally took the producers of ‘The King’s Speech‘ and the oft-undervalued New York-born, Australian-based director John Curran to get it made. And for many, it’ll have been worth the wait: it’s a very handsome film with a terrific central performance, even if it’s not quite an unqualified triumph.” Mia Wasikowska plays Davidson and Adam Driver plays National Geographic photographer Rick Smolan.
Release Date: September 19th
Synopsis: Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader play twins who each cheat death on the same day after dual but separate suicide attempts. They get together afterwards to sort out what happened to their lives.
What You Need To Know: We’re all for comedians stretching and dipping their toes into drama. So the chance to see Wiig and Hader, both consistently very funny (with even mediocre material), get serious is easily enough to get us to watch this. Cory Everett was lukewarm on the film, calling it “Sundance-by-numbers” (ruh-roh, that’s worrisome). But he did also say the performances really resonate: “[It] proves to be a fine showcase for Wiig and Hader, showing they are both capable of dramatic material… because of their years of work together on ‘Saturday Night Live’, Hader and Wiig have a very credible chemistry as siblings and a shorthand that works well for their characters.” We’re going into this one cautiously optimistic.
Release Date: September 19th
“The Zero Theorem”
Synopsis: A computer hacker (Christoph Waltz) in a very Gilliam-ized future wants to use the titular math problem to find the meaning of existence, or at least prove there is no meaning in existence. But distractions constantly get in the way of his work.
What You Need To Know: Terry Gilliam will always hold our heart, but not always our admiration, for his work. It’s been a rough go the last decade for the former Monty Python animator. When he’s managed to actually get a film in the can, the results have been spotty at best, and downright revolting at worst (cough-“Tideland”-cough). “The Zero Theorem“ does see the man doing his best work since “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” And fans of his science-fiction films, especially “Brazil” and “12 Monkeys,” will probably find things to enjoy here, even with the wonky CGI. It’s by no means perfect, as Oli Lyttelton stated in his Venice review, but the film feels like a “very personal and moving piece of work… It’s not so much a film about a search for meaning, as an embrace of meaninglessness, and it’s fascinating in that respect.”
Release Date: September 19th
Synopsis: A young orphan boy, raised by underground, cave-dwelling, trash collectors, tries to save his friends from an evil exterminator in this stop motion animated film based on the children’s novel “Here Be Monsters” by Alan Snow.
What You Need To Know: Laika is a small animation house and production company based in Portland, Oregon. They’ve been doing really good work, standing out in the crowded, often monochromatic and myopic animation industry, ever since they released Henry Selick’s “Coraline” in 2009. Two years ago, the company’s second production, “ParaNorman,” was another funny, beautifully animated (utilizing a lovely blend of stop motion and CGI) family film that was just strange enough to scare away the kind of audiences that have no qualms forking over money for forgettable Dreamworks Animation sequels and their ilk. “Boxtrolls” looks inventive and full of what we’ve already come to expect from Laika: Good laughs, a few scares, smart storytelling and gorgeous visuals that look and feel tactile.
Release Date: September 26th
Synopsis: A remake of the TV series that ran from 1985-89, this new movie version follows a former black ops commando (Denzel Washington) who faked his own death for a quiet life in Boston, but comes out of his retirement to rescue a young girl and finds himself face-to-face with Russian gangsters.
What You Need To Know: It’s amazing how Denzel’s movies all kind of bleed into each other. Some of that synopsis reads awfully similar to “Man on Fire,” which may or may not be a good thing depending on how you feel about Tony Scott’s late career stylistic button pushing. Also, is it just me, or does he play a cop or some form of authority figure in just about everything? Maybe it’s more fair to compare this to the show that’s being updated. On the IMDB page, the synopsis reads: “A retired intelligence agent turned private detective helps various threatened clients to equalize the odds.” So yeah, sounds updated but mostly faithful. But was the show popular enough to demand a much bigger budgeted film version? When you’re riding a never-ending wave of ’80s nostalgia like we have been in popular culture, that answer is yes. We mostly like Antoine Fuqua as a filmmaker, even if he’s more workmanlike and never made a truly great movie (though he came close with “Training Day”), but we we’re much more intrigued by this project when… get ready for a shock Playlist readers… Nicolas Winding Refn was briefly attached at the helm. Regardless, if Fuqua and Denzel can light up the screen again and deliver a punchy, appropriately updated version of the show, we’d be cool with that.
Release Date: September 26th
Honorable Mention & More:
Just barely missing the cut were two films that have been gathering steam at festivals and making their way to U.S. cinemas this month. “Pride” stands at the top as it’s been getting really strong reviews. But even more intriguing to this writer is “Bird People,” a film that debuted at Cannes, and, by most accounts, takes some strange turns. We’re excited to catch up with both of them.
“Two Night Stand” tries to see if a random hook up can become something more, with Miles Teller and Analeigh Tipton. There’s a lot of impressive talent behind “The Two Faces of January,” not least of which are Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst and Oscar Isaac and the fact it’s adapted from another Patricia Highsmith novel, whose work has translated well to the big screen. James Franco and Kate Hudson are trying to be “Good People” in a crime thriller directed by Henrik Ruben Genz, who made a very good, Coen Brothers-esque dark comedy a few years back called “Terribly Happy.” There’s also “My Old Lady” with the elder statesmen and women cast of Kevin Kline, Maggie Smith and Kristin Scott Thomas.
Other well reviewed indie, arthouse and foreign titles worth looking up include “Lilting,” gross-out coming of age movie “Wetlands,” Sundance doc “The Green Prince,” which gets political and music doc “Take Me to the River, which gets, well, musical, we guess.
Finally, there’s a souped IMAX version of Best Picture-winning “Forrest Gump” coming, so if you really wanted to see that CG feather floating on a giant screen and hear Bubba’s endless shrimp recipes in ultra, extremely loud style, well, you’re in luck. “The Maze Runner” looks like it could be cool, except that it most likely will just be this month’s YA adaptation that looks too similar to “The Hunger Games.” “This is Where I Leave You” has a whole lot of great people in its cast. And “Jimi: All is By My Side” coming out means we can check off the music biopic box for September as well.
Happy movie watching folks!