A lot of people put all their cinematic hopes in the summer blockbuster basket, but summer fare is often so homogenous that by the end of August we’re hungry for anything other than comic book movies, sci-fi epics or overblown comedies with huge budgets and miniscule humor. Taking a look at the fall calendar it’s hard not to notice that the movies being released give us many reasons to get our hopes up about what’s coming down the pipeline.
It’s been almost ten years since Fight Club electrified screens in 1999. Though not a huge box office draw, David Fincher’s movie blew up in video and DVD and quickly became a cult classic. The movie was an extremely faithful and entertaining adaptation of the book by Chuck Palahniuk, and now Choke has come along as the long-awaited follow up to that first Palahniuk-based film. It stars Sam Rockwell as a man who cheats people out of money by allowing them to “save” him when he fakes choking on meat at restaurants. Strangely, these people then send him checks and money in the mail out of some misplaced sense of spiritual connection. His character, the improbably named Victor Mancini, works as a historical re-enactor, donning wigs, waistcoats and other funny pieces of Victorian wardrobe, as he pursues an obsessive addiction to sex. The book isn’t as strong a novel as Fight Club (none of his other novels are; Palahniuk seems to have peaked early), but the trailer gives us hope that the movie will be a very raunchy, funny affair.
6. Humboldt County
Here’s a movie that should answer all those questions anyone might have about the hows and wheres of pot farming on the west coast. Peter (played by Jeremy Strong), a flunked medical student, sleeps with a ramblin’ woman named Bogart (Fairuza Balk) and hitches a ride with her to Humboldt County, and thus a title is born. Bogart disappears and leaves Peter with her pot-farming family, and drama and comedy ensue. This movie looks like fun for a couple of reasons. First of all, it addresses the issue of pot production in America, and the many resources wasted in prosecuting and disrupting legal operations (California has a law that legalizes specific growers with a permit to produce marijuana for people with a medical need for it, though this doesn’t stop law enforcement from shutting down these operations when they feel like it). Secondly, Jeremy Strong has a Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate thing going on; the humor in this film looks like it will be character and situation driven, rather than dependent on a huge budget and huge stars (Tropic Thunder) which is always an inadequate substitute for real comedy. Frances Conroy and Brad Dourif (who hasn’t had a part to sink his teeth into since the hard-bitten HBO drama Deadwood) should help make this movie a nice change of pace from the predictable Stiller and Apatow material.
5. Body of Lies
I’m a reasonably big Ridley Scott fan. Blade Runner and Alien are high on my list of favorite films. But I’ll be the first to admit it: American Gangster was a disappointment. Not a huge disappointment, but it left something to be desired. A stronger character from Russell Crowe, maybe; a villain less carbon-copied from Training Day from Denzel Washington, perhaps. Whatever it was, I have high hopes for Scott’s upcoming international thriller/political drama Body of Lies. The pairing of Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe (donning a questionable cropped gray wig) is one we’ve not seen before. Yes, it’s yet another film plopped down in the politically relevant middle east, and yes, DiCaprio has a history of biting off more than he can chew, but this looks like something well suited to all parties involved. Scott is best when he’s able to be visual, and the action-packed nature of the story – something to do with an ex-journalist taking orders from a CIA agent in order to find someone from Al Qaeda somewhere in Jordan (I find the details are never terribly important in these kinds of films) – will make sure the film doesn’t get bogged down in international musings on power and justice and truth. Just give me two guys who hate each other and must destroy each other or be destroyed, throw chaotic bad guys into the mix, and set them in motion. That’s my idea of a cool film.
4. Burn After Reading
It looks like the Coen Brothers have had their share of brooding darkness, at least for the time being. After the onslaught of awards they won for No Country for Old Men, it appears they’re ready to step back from the shadows, at least long enough to give Brad Pitt a really horrible haircut and John Malkovich a part. Burn After Reading takes a pair of not-terribly-bright fitness instructors who come into possession of a CIA agent’s memoirs and follows their attempts to take advantage of said agent. The trailers for the film feel like a return to their more classic comedies, like Raising Arizona and The Hudsucker Proxy, even if they don’t gleam with the brilliance of The Big Lebowski. No one does odd-ball characters like the Coen Brothers, and no one constructs as elaborately bizarre plots. They’ve been pretty hit-or-miss this decade, producing flubs like The Ladykillers and Intolerable Cruelty and The Man Who Wasn’t There. But I’m putting my money on Burn After Reading taking us back to the wacky, uber-original Coen Brothers that I long ago came to know and love.
3. Righteous Kill
For everyone who grew up loving Michael Mann’s 1995 Heat, director Jon Avnet’s Righteous Kill is an exciting prospect. A lot can go wrong with this: we have two American cinematic legends who both tend to chew up the scenery and/or slip into mannerisms and personas that are familiar to the point of being unintended parodies of themselves. We now expect De Niro to mumble and squint and frown while tilting his tough-guy chin at us; we expect Pacino to go ape-shit every time he gets bored in the scene. It’s up to these guys – ‘cause god knows Avnet’s not going to be able to reign them in – to keep themselves from, well, being themselves. This could be the last time Pacino and De Niro share the screen (though I’m not convinced either of them were ever actually in the same shot at any point in Heat) so Righteous Kill needs to be memorable. A forgettable movie with both Pacino and De Niro will long be remembered as an unforgivable failure.
2. Quantum of Solace
Not much needs to be said about the next Daniel Craig Bond film. Director Marc Forster has to live up to Martin Campbell’s Casino Royale, and the Quantum Of Solace trailer suggests that he will do just that. Assuming this movie meets expectations, Solace could be the biggest film to hit cineplexes this fall. At this point the box office is Bond’s to lose.
Appaloosa does not have the biggest budget of this fall’s line up. It doesn’t have the biggest movie stars. And it certainly doesn’t have the coolest effects. Here’s what it’s got: Ed Harris, one of America’s most unsung, but most talented, actors; Viggo Mortensen, who proved with A History of Violence and Eastern Promises that he is American cinema’s badass laureate (whether America knows it or not); and perhaps the coolest tagline – ever: “Feelings get you killed.” Is Harris, who also directed and helped write Appaloosa, the first guy to resurrect the western as a modern, raw, untamed and brutally violent animal? No. That honor goes to Clint Eastwood. But westerns are few and far between these days, and usually enjoy mixed success. 3:10 to Yuma was a solid effort, though it didn’t win over most people who weren’t already western fans. Appaloosa has the potential for broader appeal. Harris and Mortensen play mercenary police hired to help a town suffering under the wrathful fist of a local rancher played by Jeremy Irons, and they incur his wrath when they kill three of his cronies in the act of preventing a crime. It’s the classic scenario, straight out of Seven Samurai (or The Magnificent Seven), only this time minus five. Good versus evil; venality versus justice. The inherent simplicity of this film, I expect, will be part and parcel of its greatness. Thank goodness this (potentially) awesome film won’t be overshadowed by some bloated blockbuster starring Seth Rogen. All hail Ed Harris and his posse of cowboys; fall is here and so are some sweet new films.