Questionable Harvest: September 2016 Movie Preview

M: Five Fridays, and a whole bunch of wide releases makes for a lot of movies to talk to you all about this month!

C: Some of them even look pretty exciting.

E: Life turns serious in September: back to school, back to so called grown-up movies.  Popcorn is out, drama is in!

M: More that they’re leaving the popcorn for the start of the new TV season… which we’ll get to in a week or two.

E: I find myself in the weird position of asking first what’s wrong with these movies, and second how the November and December releases can possibly be any better.

C: I don’t know why you’d say that.

M: Because she’s E. And because Hollywood tends to suck at spacing out good releases.

E: Because this isn’t my first September, sis. Glance over our September previews from 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012 and 2011 and you’ll see almost no movies that you’ll remember; a few minor hits, a few critically acclaimed flicks, a few Halloween themed flicks, and one best picture nominee.  This year’s slate looks far more promising than that, which honestly weirds me out a little. Are we seeing a change in release patterns, or are these movies less promising than they appear?

C: Every year a few good films come out in September. It’s usually the ones that aren’t big enough for summer or the holidays, but aren’t arty enough to be Oscar favorites.

September 2 – The Light Between Oceans, Morgan, The 9th Life of Louis Drax, Naam Hai Akira

September 9Sully, When The Bough Breaks, Before I Wake, The Disappointments Room, The Wild Life, For The Love of Spock

September 16Snowden, Bridget Jones’ Baby, Hillsong – Let Hope Rise, Blair Witch, The Good Neighbor

September 23The Magnificent Seven, Storks, Queen of Katwe, The Dressmaker, Goat, The Lovers & The Despot

September 30Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Deepwater Horizon, Masterminds, American Honey, Denial

September 2nd

The Light Between Oceans (wide)

E: 2016 Oscar couple Michael Fassbender (nominee) and Alicia Vikander (winner) star as turn of the century lighthouse keepers who long for a child.  Their prayers are answered when a little girl washes up on shore in a basket.  Have we learned nothing from the story of Moses?  Children have parents, people.  It’s not that hard to figure out.

M: Um, that’s not the lesson I took away from the story of Moses.

E: Well, but it’s an important one from the perspective of the adoptive parents, isn’t it?  It turned out to be pretty significant back in ancient Egypt.  Of course, a year later their idyll comes tumbling down when they find that the little girl is probably Rachel Weisz’ daughter, but don’t want to return her to her biological family.

M: The trailer does look heart-wrenching. The couple that desperately wants a child, then rescues one from the sea. Raises her, only to discover years later a widow who thinks she lost her husband and daughter of the same age at sea at the same time they found her. The dilemma of what constitutes a parent, and who has what rights drives the story.

C: Since this is set around 1920, it’s worth mentioning that L.M. Montgomery has a short story, “The Dream-Child,” published in 1920 in the Further Chronicles of Avonlea collection, about a couple who live on a remote harbor; after their baby dies, the wife becomes unhinged by grief, but eventually an unknown child washes up on shore in a small boat and they take the baby as their own, restoring the wife’s sanity. It has a happier ending, since the husband eventually finds out the baby was unwanted, but pretty similar all the same, huh?

M: Sounds better to me.

E: I admit to being a little puzzled by this; the film is based on a best seller, the writer-director Derek Cianfrance scored an Oscar nomination for his leading lady in Blue Valentine, the cast is stellar, the filming is gorgeous.  So why is it opening in the graveyard of September?

C: It certainly looks depressing enough to be an Oscar contender, so I don’t know.

E: Here’s another thing we know about the movie and Cianfrance: he’s good at matching up actors.  First Eva Mendes and Ryan Gosling in Beyond the Pines, and now Vikander and Fassbender.  So even if no one else likes the movie (early reviews aren’t particularly promising) somebody got something out of it.

Morgan (wide)

M: Unfortunately, this is not a mockumentary about what happened to Morgan Grimes after Chuck went off the air.

E: How delightful would that have been?  Alas, no.  This is some sort of robot horror flick involving AI and Kate Mara, playing an investigator sent to evaluate said robot after it “made a mistake” – which is to say, presumably killed her/its entire scientific team.

M: Not a robot, the ever-present “next step in evolution.”

C: Despite the presence of the talented Kate Mara, Paul Giamatti, and of course Toby Jones playing yet another mad scientist character, this looks like very standard horror fare: the bio-engineered young woman Morgan, grown from “synthetic DNA,” turns out to have superpowers and an evil streak, and hunts down the scientists who, of course, work in a Gothic mansion. Because that is just typical contemporary R&D corporate architecture.

M: Duh, all the cool R&D facilities are in creepy old mansions. Anyway, watching the trailer all I could think was that this is a remake of Species, but genetic engineering replacing the alien-human hybrid. Oh, and without the copious amounts of nudity.

E: Because duh.  Sex and death; so many horror films are a heightened combination of the two.

The 9th Life of Louis Drax (limited)

M: Whoa. Jamie Dornan stars in this good-kind-of-creepy flick about a kid, the titular Louis Drax, who sort of survives, after being declared dead for 2 hours, then reviving into a coma, a fall from a cliff. Sarah Gadon and Aaron Paul play his parents, and Oliver Platt the pseudo-scientist who helps doctor Dornan try to tap into the boy’s memories to figure out what happened.

C: Is it just me, or does this look like a Fringe episode without the agents?

M: Yes! I was thinking that, and that it was reminding me of some of the science fiction-y coma/near death/post-death thrillers of the late 80’s and early 90’s like Dead Again and Flatliners (which coincidentally also starred Platt), or a B-movie starring Tom Berringer that I can’t remember the name of. Looked it up… Shattered. I’m definitely intrigued.

E: Maybe? I’d love it if it were more Fringe-y; it seems like more overblown noir to me. There are plenty of questions, certainly. Can Dornan really mind-meld with his patient? Is the angelic-looking mother a femme fatale, blaming her husband for pushing Louis over the cliff but really guilty herself?  As Dornan falls for her, my suspicions about her and her idyllic nuclear family go through the roof.  Whose reality are we really seeing?  Oh, and we haven’t mentioned, but there’s some sort of sludge monster, too.

M: Hmmm, I don’t recall seeing a sludge monster. Will have to re-watch the trailer.

E: Oh, it’s there all right.  What I’m not sure of is whether it’s actually there, if you know what I mean.  Is it real, or a nightmare?

C: Yeah, I don’t know if that will turn out to be metaphoric or something — the kid’s repressed fears and memories manifesting — but if not, it looks almost Stranger Things-y, like he’s run into something dark and unexplained while in his coma. But obviously, this is the kind of movie where the less you know, the better!

M: Good point, maybe I won’t re-watch the trailer!

Naam Hai Akira (limited)

C: For starters, this is a Bollywood movie, and seems to be coming out in the U.S. under the title “Akira.” Which is sort of confusing given that there’s an iconic manga and anime called that.

M: When I first saw this listed in the “coming soon” sections, the poster only had Akira on it, and that definitely confused me, especially since there’s been a lot of talk lately of a live-action remake of the anime cult classic.

E: Indeed. So in case you were wondering, we’ve used the full title so there’s no confusion.  Now, I quite like the start of this preview, where Akira, a humble college student just starting out in the big city of Mumbai, demolishes the gang of bullies who decide she’s easy pickings.

M: That was fun, and definitely tone-setting.

E: I’m less sure when she gets accidentally pulled into a police corruption plot.  They try to kill her, she ends up drugged in a mental institution, but don’t count this girl out!  Very fun looking in an old-school-Jackie-Chan kind of way — a rollicking popcorn movie, silly and entertaining with martial arts thrills.

M: Not sure about Jackie Chan, as it didn’t look as comedic as his work, but I definitely know what you mean.

E: The thing I really don’t like, actually, are the graphics and sounds effects of the trailer, in which mimic loud blood splatter.

M: Considering I’m reading this fresh off our off-line discussion where you thought a picture of C’s dog showed her laying on a pillow covered with blood splatter (it certainly didn’t), I’m really cracking up right now. It must be getting close to October if you’ve got blood splatter on your brain.

E: No one’s going to find that story as funny as you, bro.

M: When has that ever stopped me?

C: Never.

E: But am I wrong?

M: No, not at all, I wasn’t arguing that.

E: As long as you’re willing to admit that. Now, there’s lots of kung fu violence in the trailer, but nothing gory except the sounds.  It’s  not going to be a Quentin Tarantino joint (I pray) so why pretend?

M: I’ve never seen one, maybe it’s a Bollywood action movie thing? Kind of like the BAM! and POW! stuff from the old Adam West Batman TV series.

September 9th

Sully (wide)

E: Okay, now this looks amazing, and I am yet again wondering why it’s premiering in September.

M: I agree that it looks intense, but it’s the kind of thing that might not play well in December, is too grave for the popcorn-y Thanksgiving season, and not bloody enough for October. I feel like this is a studio trying to play it right for a change, and hit the market at the right time.

E: I disagree — this is a perfect December release — but it’s more effort than I can spare to analyze the pattern of this studios releases that closely.

M: Eastwood had a hit in January (usually a graveyard) with American Sniper, and has had duds in December. I think he’s pushing for less competitive months to give his movies the best chance.

E: Hmm.  Interesting theory.  American Sniper actually premiered in December to limited release (or it wouldn’t have been Oscar eligible), and I don’t think directors get a say over the release schedule.  It still makes more sense that the movie is bad, or someone thinks it is, but I’d rather your theory be true.  Anyway.

M: Yes, anyway. Let’s move on.

E: This story of the aftermath of the “Miracle on the Hudson” (where the airline tries to pin the blame for the near-crash onto heroic pilot Sully) ought to be the film that puts Tom Hanks back on Oscar’s shortlist.  But films that are taken seriously for awards usually don’t show up in theaters before mid-October.

C: See now, that’s interesting, because I saw the trailer for this in theaters and came away kind of annoyed. Like, why besmirch the memory of a guy everyone remembers as a hero by dredging up the fact that the airline cast doubt on his sobriety and whether his miraculous water landing was even necessary?

M: My initial reaction was the same! However, after watching the trailer a second time, having thought through the process and realizing that of course the airline would do an investigation into a plane ending up “on” the Hudson River, I just enjoyed how good it looks.

C: Also, this seems way too much like Denzel Washington’s recent turn as an airplane pilot in a similar (but fictional) situation in 2012’s Flight. Basing it on a real story doesn’t distinguish it so much as make it uncomfortable, at least to me.

E: Hmm. Interesting.  There’s a movie we discuss later that I have that reaction to, so I get it. I loved Flight, totally to my surprise, but I can see why it would both seem similar and also seem like an unpleasant incident to bring up.  But maybe it’s good not to let the airlines get away with being so awful?  Good to know Sully was vindicated?  Good to be generally disillusioned?  I don’t know.

M: So, I think the thing that really draws the parallel to Flight is the question about Sully drinking. However, I hope that that’s only thrown in for dramatic effect, because that’s not something that was ever, at least to my recollection, part of the story of the true events. As for the airline “being so awful,” maybe this comes from experience in my job having to review processes and procedures when things go wrong, but take step back for a second. If it were your kids’ school, and a bus ended up in the river, even if the driver was heroic and saved all the kids lives, wouldn’t you want a thorough investigation into what happened, so that it wouldn’t happen again in the future? You’d need to talk to the hero, at least just to make sure that they did everything correctly.

C: I guess the trailer just makes it seem more nasty and aggressive than “talking”?

M: Well, there I agree.

E: Of course there should be an investigation, but it does really sound like the airline would have been more comfortable blaming pilot error than anything else, and they tried to achieve that result despite the truth.  Anyway.  If Clint Eastwood hadn’t made his “they didn’t call it racism” comments so recently, I’d say the movie’s release date was retribution for his outspoken politics/craziness. Or maybe the studios just don’t think Eastwood and Hanks sell anymore?  Hanks certainly has had a bunch of well-made misses of late.  Hologram for the King totally slipped off the map, and Bridge of Spies was one of the most underrated films of last year.

C: Yeah, well, he’s also got that new Da Vinci Code movie. Hollywood isn’t done with him as an action star, despite his increasingly grandfatherly vibe.

E: Ugh.  Give me Sully — even if they’re just sullying Sully’s rep — any day.

M: Or perhaps they’re solidifying it.

When The Bough Breaks (wide)

C: Is there really not already a movie called that? In fact, now that I’ve looked it up, there are two, including a 1947 adoption drama that seems to share a few basic elements with this story. And a pretty good Star Trek: TNG episode. But this is somehow the first horror movie.

E: That kind of surprises me: I can’t help thinking of The Hand That Rocks The Cradle when I see this title.  It’s exactly that same innocent/ominous foreboding note.  Which, once I saw the trailer, was clearly not an accident.

M: Yeah, this has the feel of THTRTC, and almost every Lifetime movie ever made. No thanks.

C: Horror movies, and especially trailers, love using sweet children’s songs in a creepy way…

M: …Horror movies, and Avengers sequels…

E: …or as “nostalgia piano” in a million other sequels…

C: …but in my opinion there’s nothing not creepy about this particular nursery rhyme, even in its original context of singing a baby to sleep. Why is the baby in the treetop to begin with???

E: Hell yes. I’ve always wondered that, too.  Who puts a baby in a tree, and what were they thinking?

M: Totally. Always been creepy. Not Ring-Around-The-Rosy level dark, but creepy.

C: And way more on the surface than that one!

E:  Speaking of obvious creepiness, Morris Chestnut and Regina Hall pick out a young woman (Jaz Sinclair) to be their gestational surrogate, and invite her to live with them during the pregnancy in their posh house.

M: Because she was being abused by her boyfriend.

E:  Yes, poor sweet thing.  She seems perfect, but of course what she really wants is to take the wife’s place.

M: Or just to sleep with Morris. And terrorize them. And keep the baby. Or kill it. Or blackmail them. It’s not clear what, exactly, but whatever it is, it’s not good. Pass!

Before I Wake (wide)

C: Speaking of the exact same phenomenon — innocent child stuff that’s a bit alarming — this is, you guessed it, another horror movie. A couple (Kate Bosworth and Thomas Jane) takes in a foster child after the death of their only son at a similar age. What are all the ways this could turn nightmarish? Will the parents be evil? Will the foster child be evil? Will the ghost of the dead son be evil? It actually turns out to be none of those, surprisingly, but a more literal sort of nightmare.

M: Yes, the not evil foster child has supernatural abilities that he has no control over… his dreams come to life. Unfortunately, so do his nightmares. Looks like not a typical slasher flick, and the foster parents look genuinely concerned with helping the boy, which is a bit of a twist. Not by any stretch the worst looking horror trailer I’ve seen.

E: Talk about damning something with faint praise.

M: Given our usual bias against horror, it was intended to be a strong praise.

The Disappointments Room (wide)

C: Would you believe this is another horror movie?


C: Utterly shocking, I know. And not just that, but another one about a couple with a kid. This time it’s Kate Beckinsale, looking rather plastic-surgeried to me, playing opposite Mel Raido (who?) as her husband and Duncan Joiner as their son.

E: The blond hair certainly helps give her a Barbie-vibe.

M: You guys being mean girls about a *slightly* aging actress’ looks seems really out of character to me. Let’s focus on the film?

C: They move into a creepy house which she starts to believe has a secret room, or is she crazy? I will probably never know.

M: I think it has a secret room (the room that leads to it looks very The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe-y), and she appears to be crazy, too. Like, legitimate mental health issues crazy, especially since the trailer starts with them talking about new beginnings (Who moves into a creepy old house with mystery rooms for their “new beginning”? Come on people!), and throws a “mom, don’t go crazy again” line in. Now, the trailer was, for once, smart by not showing a “jump-out” scene after she opens the door, but this seems more suspenseful than truly horror to me. Not that I’ll likely ever see it either, but I’m at least a little interested.

E: I have no interest in ever finding out.  I would agree with your assessment, though, M — there is a real room (her husband sees the door), they’ve bought a ridiculous house to help her get over being somehow sick in the past, and she could be legit mentally ill.  On the other hand, maybe she’s really seeing things other people can’t.

C: This isn’t our genre, readers. You know this.

The Wild Life (wide)

E: Computer-animated flick about what happens when a man is ship-wrecked on an island run by talking animals.

M: Not just any man, Robinson Crusoe. Though, there’s no sign of Friday. Though, they do get invaded by pirates, and an evil cat (redundant, I know).

E: It looks cute, but not overwhelmingly impressive given the great competition.

M: Agreed. It looks like things like Shark Tale, Over The Hedge or The Nut Job and those other lesser quality rip offs of big animated hits.

E: Exactly.  Very much second tier.

M: That might be insulting second tiers.

C: Ouch! But… hard to disagree. How much competition is there at this moment in time in the area of children’s movies, though? Of course, people can still go see Kubo and the Two Strings

M: Which looks fantastic!

E: The Secret Life of Pets is still in theaters, too. And Pete’s Dragon.

M: I’ve heard good things about the latter.

C: Ah, okay. I’m also a little puzzled by the premise of this, presented as wacky, that “before this man landed, the island was ruled by animals!” Does “ruled by animals” somehow mean something different than “animals lived there, like all places, almost”?

E: Maybe that these are wacky, anthropomorphic animals?  Steampunk animals, even?

M: Steampunk, no, sadly. Anthropomorphic, yes, definitely. Like, talking to each other, working as a team across species lines… very multicultural. And yet, very bland.

For The Love of Spock (limited)

M: In a weekend with a glut of wide releases, I am FAR AND AWAY most excited about this limited release documentary about Leonard Nimoy, brought to us by his son, and the people he worked with and inspired.

C: Awww. Sounds like I might weep, but would enjoy it. I just saw Star Trek Beyond (which I highly recommend!) and they pay a touching tribute to Nimoy in that film. (Though sadly, Anton Yelchin’s presence is even more heart-wrenching.)

E: Oh.  That almost makes me feel better about missing it in theaters; what a horrible tragedy and horrible waste that was.

M: Glad to hear that’s better than the promotional material made it look!

C: Way better, and definitely much closer to what I think of as “the real Star Trek feel” than the previous two movies (enjoyable enough action flicks as they were).

M: Really makes me wonder why they tried to sell it as “Fast and Furious in Space.” Anyway.

C: Yes, anyway! This documentary!

E: I can’t say I’m more excited about this than Sully, but I certainly have a lot love for Spock.  And desire to see this documentary once it’s on TV or video.

M: Well, I certainly won’t see it in theaters, but I’m not likely to end up seeing Sully in the theater either. So, I’m sticking with being most excited about this.

September 16th

Snowden (wide)

E: I am shocked, shocked, to find Oliver Stone helming a movie about an infamous figure in American politics.  Shocked, I say.

M: Especially one where conspiracies may be involved! He’s usually so closed-minded to things like that!

E: Actually, maybe what I’m most surprised about is that Stone is actually making a movie now.  How long has it been?  And it’s got a great cast — Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the lead, Shailene Woodley, Melissa Leo, Tom Wilkinson, Rhys Ifans, Zachary Quinto.

M: And, in what is now a rare dramatic role, Nic Cage.

E: A dubious distinction. I’m not super interested (although I’m not even sure I can say why — maybe because it’s been so long since Stone made a good movie?) but I won’t count out that it’ll be good.

M: Really? My concerns with Stone aside, I am SOOO interested in both Snowden’s story, and the overarching story of this. I find it odd that there was so much hubbub over the Bush administration getting “after-the-fact” warrants for wiretapping known terrorists, yet the warrantless video/phone tapping of literally everyone and everything went by with little fanfare. I am so interested to see the story of the whistle-blower, even if it’s the ever-questionable Stone telling it.

E: I frankly find it weird that he’s not universally acknowledged as a hero.  Maybe that’s why I’m not super interested in the movie, because I don’t so much see the other side to it.

C: You might if you watch John Oliver’s fairly recent interview of Snowden… Also, he asks people on the street who Snowden is and what he did, and almost no one understands it or gets it right, so the audience for this film isn’t generally as informed as you may be. Oh, but — fond as I am of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, he doesn’t look too much like Edward Snowden. Unlike, say, my husband.

E: Would that stop you from seeing a movie if it otherwise interested you?

C: Of course not, just saying. They could’ve at least lightened his hair.

M: Ha! I do think that Mr. C looks far more like Snowden. However, JGL is one of my absolute favorites at the moment, and I have a lot of faith in him to become the character despite the looks. More, in fact, than I had for the extremely talented Michael Fassbender trying to become Steve Jobs, who he looks absolutely nothing like.

E: I wasn’t overly thrilled with that movie, but Fassbender was impressive as Jobs.  It’s certainly a trade off, though, looking for a great and bankable actor who also looks like a current historical figure.  I can see why that would be more of an issue for you, C, since you live with a Snowden-look-alike.  Sort of like when you go out to dinner and think, bah, I could have made this dish better at home.

C: Ha! But in fact, Mr. C is much more handsome.

M: We’ll leave that area to you. 🙂 Now, the bigger question I have is about Stone and the timing of this. Stone’s been consistently liberal throughout his career. However, the obvious parallels-yet-contrasts to the Clinton email scandal (Snowden: shedding light on corruption and hubris, became a hunted outlaw; Clinton: corrupt, negligent and full of hubris, potentially becoming President) and the movie coming within weeks of the election, doesn’t seem like something a good liberal would do. I wonder if there’s not something else going on there.

E: Ugh.  So not taking that bait.  I’ll leave the conspiracy theories to Stone.

C: I’m not sure it even makes sense to say that drawing more attention to internet scandals could somehow help Clinton. Plus, this movie doubtless started production a couple years ago. But can we not derail too far into political conspiracies? The people, they read us for the quibbling about entertainment!

M: While it is about the movie, I’ll move on.

Bridget Jones’ Baby (wide)

E: Um.  Well.  I hope that this is good?  Bridget manages to get knocked up, either by her ex (weep!) Mark Darcy, played by the marvelous Colin Firth, and handsome American McDreamy Patrick Dempsey.

C: Sorry but nope nope nope. I’m just sad this exists. Because I liked the first one.

E: Why wouldn’t you?  It was wonderful.  Now it just feels sad that Bridget is still so messed up.  I’m somewhat cracked up to see Firth in this position again after Mama Mia, so at least there’s that?

M: I, on the other hand, have no affinity for the original or the book, so I have no interest in this. Well, maybe a little bit, but only to rubber-neck at Renee Zellweger’s horrible plastic surgery, that as best I can tell was her attempt to look like JK Rowling.

C: It is really strange. At least she’s semi-recognizable as the same individual in this trailer, unlike in some photos I’ve seen of her post-surgery/ies.

Hillsong – Let Hope Rise (wide)

E: I hate to be negative, but at best I’d just buy the album.  I’m not much into concert films; watching a concert can never give you the same feeling as being in the crowd at a show.  I like Hillsong, but this isn’t my thing.

C: We’ve discussed this before. Somewhere out there, there’s an audience for concert films, because they just keep makin’ em. Who, though??? I mean, presumably this one will try to drum up church group business.

M: So, I don’t know what trailers you guys have watched, but this is a documentary, not a concert video. It’s very much behind the scenes, not only of where Hillsong came from, but of who they are, what inspires them, what challenges them, and most importantly why they do what they do.

E: Pretty sure anyone who’s heard of the Australian Christian band already know why they do what they do — not that it isn’t worth hearing, of course.  Okay, yes, it’s more in the vein of Rattle and Hum than many other concert films, with interviews, studio and behind the scenes footage, but it still feels very concert-focused.

M: I am SURE that it is intended to be evangelical, and that they made it to try to reach more people for Christ. I’ll definitely see this. I may not see it in a theater, but I know people who will.

C: Hm. It’s really hard for me to imagine someone going to see this who isn’t already Christian, but okay.

Blair Witch (wide)

E: Yawn.

M: Oh, well isn’t this lovely.

E: I actually saw the original in the theater — shocking, considering that I hate both horror flicks and shaky hand cam — and it was relatively interesting and original for its day.  It sounds like technically this is only the third film in the series, but there are so many similar offerings and ancillary materials that it just feels lame.

M: Not surprisingly, I’ve never seen the original, or the sequel, so I can’t compare.

C: It was innovative in a way that would seem mundane today, I think — but probably still nauseating to the weak-stomached. I only saw bits and pieces, actually.

M: Most of what I saw in the trailer just looked hokey and gimmicky. Then I saw all the promotional quotes like “Scariest movie ever,” “A new beginning for horror films,” and stuff like that, and became even less scared as the trailer went on. I don’t know, maybe if you’re into movies that try to make you feel as uncomfortable as possible while in your seat, or make you jump out of it, you’ll love this. I just found it annoying.

C: I feel like they could have made the title more distinguishable.

The Good Neighbor (limited)

E: Why is this title so ominous?

M: Because it’s a suspense/thriller?

E: How is it that we understand immediately that the good neighbor is not good?

M: Because we’re introduced to this in flashbacks from a very serious looking trial? Or just because we know storytelling?

C: Dude, she mean the title, just on its own.

E: Yes, that. In itself it’s ominous. Yet another reason that The Good Wife was a bad name for a great TV show.

C: Not to mention that, just in the last ten years, we’ve had films called The Good Shepherd, The Good Dinosaur, and The Good Lie. Probably others. It’s almost as tired as the “A ___ Man” title trope.

E: So true.  A Serious ManA Single ManA Man Who Needs A New Title.

M: As we’ve stated many times, Hollywood is known far more for copycatting than for creativity.

E: Anyway,  this film.  You have James Caan, the creepy old neighbor, and then you have heartless high school A/V experts Keir Gilchrist and Logan Miller, who are convinced that they’ll become famous by bugging their neighbor’s house and bamboozling him into believing that it’s haunted with a series of Scoobie Doo-worthy pranks.  But why doesn’t he react?  What’s he hiding in his basement?  And what’s going on with the frame story, which shows us a trial and bloody photographs?

C: I’m sorry but the phrase “heartless high school A/V experts” is intrinsically hilarious.

M: I agree. The “Rear Window for the digital age,” and “Would make Hitchcock proud” quotes displayed in the trailer did get me a little, though. I love Hitchcock and Rear Window, so there’s that. And Caan can be really good at times. This might be a Netflixer for me.

E: Naw.  There’s horror going on in the old guy’s basement.  Maybe it’s even really haunted, which is why the fake haunting doesn’t phase him.  Either way, it looks over the line for me.

September 23rd

The Magnificent Seven (wide)

E: How did I miss that this movie was being remade?

C: I don’t know, because posters and such have been everywhere, seriously. Featuring Chris Pratt. Because it was 100% inevitable that he would end up in a Western. Thanks to this marketing campaign, though, I actually didn’t know that the film stars Denzel Washington.

M: I heard it was being remade a long time ago, then kind of forgot about it. I did know Denzel was in it, though.

C: To be honest, I feel like Westerns aren’t made for me, to an even greater degree than most Hollywood movies. I don’t expect this to be an exception.

E: Is it because you’re a woman?  Or in favor of law and gun control? Or, wait, maybe it’s just that you like to bathe.

M: All valid questions. Except the last one. 😉

E: Well, you know, everyone in a Western has to be covered with grime.  It’s an unwritten rule.

M: Seriously, though, I’ve always been mixed on Westerns. Dad has always been a big Western fan, but I think part of that comes from the era in which he was raised. Nowadays there haven’t been many good Westerns, and even the ones that have been considered good have been a mixed bag in my opinion.

E: It’s so true.  They’re not exactly making High Noons these days.

M: You need the classic elements of righting injustice, standing up for the little guy, and stuff like that. Actually, now that I’m thinking about it, I realized something. The old era of Westerns? Those same movies are today’s superhero movies. Your Marvel and DC cinematic universes. Captain America is today’s Wyatt Earp. Robert Downey, Jr. the new Clint Eastwood, Chris Hemsworth the new John Wayne.

C: Hmmm… except the Marvels don’t take themselves quite so seriously, and have a little wider appeal. But I take your point.

E: I had a professor in college — a classics professor, actually — who used to argue that both Homer’s Odyssey and Star Trek were westerns.  It’s all the same story being told in different forms, of course. Joseph Campbell, the hero’s journey, the journey home, the journey into the unknown…

M: I agree about Trek, especially TOS. Not so sure about the Odyssey.

C: Yeah, that’s not the newest idea exactly. Speaking of recycling…

E: Anyway.

M: As for this specific western, I’m probably alone of the three of us on this, but I think it looks like it could be fun.

E: Actually you’re not.  I think it’s hard to guess from the trailer just how well the film marries Chris Pratt’s snarky tone with Denzel Washington’s earnest endeavor in protecting a town and helping a young widow (Haley Bennett) avenge her husband’s murder, but if it walks the line well enough, it could be entertaining.

M: Quick concern. I really hope there isn’t a Bennett-Pratt romance sub-plot. I’m not convinced from the trailer that there won’t be, though.

Storks (wide)

E: Yet another in the series of cute-looking animated movies from the last few months, Storks tells the story of the conglomeration of storks which has given up delivering babies for other packages, and a girl they raised after forgetting to deliver her at the appropriate time.  There’s also a baby involved, even though that’s not supposed to be the storks’ business anymore.  And airplanes.  And talking birds.

C: Wait, you mean other than the storks? Because I had definitely been assuming the protagonists of this movie could talk.

E: I do. The storks talk.  There are other birds, and they also talk.  On cellphones, even.  And intercoms. To each other and to the girl, Tulip…

M: …who tries to help three different species of flightless fowl “achieve their dreams” with the use of jetpacks.

E: We know one thing: there won’t be any trouble finding fifteen animated movies necessary to make a sufficient nominating pool to have five Oscars nominees this year. Norm of the North, Rachet & Klank, Kung Fu Panda 3, Zootopia, The Angry Birds Movie, Finding Dory, Secret Life of Pets, Ice Age 47, Kubo and the Two Strings,  Sausage Party, The Wild Life Trolls, Sing and Moana in the fall… the list keeps going on and on.  Often the Academy has to turn to foreign production to get this done, but they won’t have to this year.

C: Admittedly I have not seen most of those, but I’m still gonna go ahead and say Zootopia will be robbed if it doesn’t win. That movie was so darn good, not to mention saying something real, beyond the usual “believe in yourself” message.

M: Yes, it clearly says that cooking and dealing meth is bad, and will eventually get you in trouble, even if you’re in a position of power. I liked that message.

E: What?

M: I had to have it pointed out to me, but the sheep (Doug) making the night howler drug that turned the predators “primal” was basically straight out of Breaking Bad, as was his set up with containment suits and propane tanks and stuff.

E: Let’s talk around him, sis.  I was just thinking that about Zootopia, actually — mostly because I just got our copy back from friends who said they watched it 9 times.  Zootopia is amazing, but so was Finding Dory, and I have high hopes for Moana (music by Lin-Manuel Miranda!) too.  And Kubo, actually. So who knows: animated feature could be a real fight.

M: I think we can all agree that Storks will not be giving Zootopia or Dory a run for their Oscar money. However, it does look kinda cute, with its screw-up-son-of-the-stork-tycoon-tries-to-deliver-a-baby-to-a-sad-single-child-family plotline.

Queen of Katwe (limited)

C: I saw this advertised during the Olympics and ran to look it up. Amusingly, it’s being advertised as a sports movie and co-produced by ESPN, despite being about… chess.

M: Well, if that’s how we’re classifying things, then Searching for Bobby Fischer is one of my favorite sports movies!

E: You know, I was about to snark that obviously it was mine — but there are actually a lot of sports movies I love.  Chariots of Fire. Rudy. Bend it Like Beckham. The Natural.  Bull Burham. The Bad News Bears.

C: Somehow I think M was kidding, E.

M: Only a little bit, I do love Searching For Bobby Fischer.

E: Anyhoo, C sent us the preview for this some weeks ago, and all three Quibbling Siblings gushed over the prototypical Disney underdog story of a poor young girl who turns out to be a chess prodigy, a film inspired by the real life of Phiona Mutesi, who rose from the Katwe slum in Uganda to be a candidate for chess Master.

C: Okay, so you know how every time they make a movie about some gross real-life Wall Street billionaire, war profiteer, or confidence man, I’m like, “Why can’t they tell true stories that are inherently interesting and deserve the attention?”

E: Yep.

M: Are you referring specifically to last month’s War Dogs? If not you should be.

C: I definitely said something like that at the time. This movie, though, is proof that at least they sometimes get it right! The trailer for Hidden Figures (coming in January) also aired during the Olympics and got more attention, but I’m excited about both.

M: Me too, that looks good as well!

E: I agree wholeheartedly.  I’m very interested in Hidden Figures, and in this.  Luminous Oscar winner Lupita N’yongo (in what appears to finally be her first substantive role since 2013’s Twelve Years a Slave) and the magnificent David Oyelowo star as Mutesi’s mother and coach, with Ugandan newcomer Madina Nalwanga as Phiona.

C: Yeah, talk about a dynamic duo in the major supporting roles!

E: I’m livid, frankly, that it took this long to get N’yongo in a real role.

M: Um, she had a significant role in only the biggest domestic box office hit ever…

E: Okay, sure, I’m glad she voiced a significant featured character in The Force Awakens, and that she’s going to get a featured role in Black Panther, but the girl deserves her own films.  Where we can actually see her. So thank you Disney, and keep it up!

The Dressmaker (limited)

E: I swear we’ve previewed this before.

C: Yes, we did.

M: Really? It’s not even the least bit familiar to me. At least, the specifics aren’t. It does bear similarities to a bunch of other Kate Winslet period pieces, though.

C: Maybe E and I just talked about it a lot! It came out last year in Australia and was a big box office hit there, so it’s very late getting here.

E: Kate Winslet stars as a fabulous London designer who returns to her dusty Outback village to bring a little glamour into the lives of the hygiene-challenged locals, who in addition to be bedraggled and dirty also believe she committed a murder years ago.  Turning the situation around seems like a tall order. Along the way, she strikes  up a romance with Liam Hemsworth.  Which seems totally possible, even though she’s practically old enough to be his mother. Because she’s Kate.

C: 14 years older, which would barely register were the genders reversed.

E: Oh, I don’t know. I usually notice.

M: I think perhaps you’re forgetting our repeated conversations, like this one, on the topic when the genders are reversed, and how we always notice.

C: We notice, yes, but my point — as we said in all those conversations — is that it’s very, very common.

E: I’m particularly cracked up by the point when Hemsworth comments “I think you came back for me” or something like that — because seriously, he’d have been a child when she left.

M: He says something like “You’re either running from something *OR* you came back for me.” But besides that, I think they’re playing off Kate as younger than her real age, and contemporaries with young Liam.

E: They must be, I agree.  On a totally different note, the practical side of me wonders how any of these people can afford these fabrics.  Or keep them clean.

M: Pretty sure she’s providing the fabrics out of her assumed wealth.

E: Again, you’d think this could be a bigger hit if they put it out in a month when more people go to the movies.  This might be the kind of movie that has it’s real life as a rental, though.

Goat (limited)

E: Now this is more what I expect what from September: Nick Jonas vehicles.

C: Sigh.

E: Well, actually, that said, this movie wants to be more serious and shocking than that; it’s about the “goats” or pledges at fraternities during hell week.  And is pretty much a revolting-looking horror the whole way through.  The partying that lures the boys in looks incredibly sexist and nearly as offensive to me as the eventual brutal hazing.

C: So you mean, it’s uncomfortably realistic? It’s actually hard to tell from the trailer whether this movie is condemnatory of the violence and toxic masculinity it depicts or not, and reviews also seem divided.

E: That’s totally my question.

M: Um, no, no it’s not. This movie is DEFINITELY intended to condemn frats and pledging. The whole drunken partying? Maybe, maybe not.

E: M, that’s what we’re saying.  Obviously it condemns the hazing.  But the partying that lures the boys in?  That looks gross to us, but like you I can’t tell if the movie agrees.

M: Ok, the first part of that wasn’t clear to me. Good. That said, there is zero doubt in my mind that it’s painting the Greek system in as bad a light as possible. Which is not enough for me to want to watch this, but is at least interesting and a different spin on this than, say, any and every Jonah Hill movie.

C: Good point. Also… James Franco is in this. This college movie. James Franco, who is 38.

M: Seriously, what’s up with that? It’s like they included part of Old School. And they might have gotten away with it with someone less recognizable than Franco, but who were they trying to fool?

E: Maybe themselves, into thinking that it’s not creepy for a 38-year-old to party with college kids?

C: I don’t know. As established, I don’t think they’re going for “not creepy” here. Still.

The Lovers & The Despot (limited)

E: M, was it you or My Movie-Going Friend who introduced me to the bizarre story of the Korean movie star and her director husband who were kidnapped by Kim Jun Il and forced to make movies for him?

M: It must have been MMGF, because it wasn’t me. However, I may have told you about the fantastic book The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson, which the trailer for this documentary made me think of.

C: This is an utterly strange, fascinating story which definitely has the makings of a strong film.

E: I need to see this one for sure.

M: I don’t know if I’ll go as far as “need,” but I’m definitely intrigued. Especially after reading that book, which is kind of like Forrest Gump set in Kim Jong Il’s North Korea. I’m willing to bet that two of the sub-plots in it were at least influenced by this real story. Such a strange place, North Korea.

September 30th

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (wide)

E: Again with a best selling novel as a springboard, and a huge name director (Tim Burton)! This seems like it ought to be a blockbuster.  For once I think there’s an obvious answer, though: it’s the perfect movie to lead into October.

C: It’s more surprising that it’s not opening in October, Burton’s native month.

E: But it gives people the whole month to enjoy something with a spooky, Halloween-y theme.

M: Also it’s only missing being officially October by a few hours, really. As such, most of it’s theatrical run will be in October, so as E points out, it does make sense.

C: Anyway, this book made a huge splash in children’s literature circles a few years ago, and though a movie adaptation was probably inevitable, I was a little surprised as I thought the book was more of a cerebral, critical success.

M: So, you’re implying that cerebral books can’t become movies?

E: I certainly won’t say that — Moneyball is the single best picture nominee to come out of September during the run of our previews, and that was based on an dense non-fiction book about statistics driven baseball, something that certainly felt too cerebral to turn into a feature film.  Improbably, it worked.

C: I guess I just didn’t know, based on what I’d heard, that it had that sort of popcorny mass appeal. Then again, another recent children’s lit critical darling, A Monster Calls, is also coming to theaters soon, and that’s definitely neither fun nor popcorny.

M: I’m not sure Tim Burton, who has enough sway to make whatever he wants, cares about being popcorny.

E: I’m weirdly disappointed that there’s color in the trailer and posters; I wanted it to retain the creepy sepia tone of the book covers.

M: Huh, this is a case where not being familiar with the books definitely made a difference! Knowing it was Burton, and Burton coming off of the Alice movies, I was disappointed because I actually expected more vibrant colors than what we got.

E: On the other hand, I think that sepia tone deceived me a little, in that I expected the book to be unremitting horror and didn’t read it.  The film, at least, doesn’t look like that at all.  There’s a monster, yes, which threatens Miss Peregrine’s haven for “peculiars” or, as Professor X would have it, gifted individuals, but also lots of cute floating and peculiarities.  It’s mutants in the Victorian era!

C: Right, it’s not at all horror. Supposedly the author was inspired by a series of photographs that seem to depict supernatural or abnormal children (floating, multiple heads, etc.), but were in real life early experiments in trick photography.

E: I knew that much.

M: I did not.

C: In the story, however, the children are really “peculiar” and live hidden away from the world in the titular home. Very whimsical, but I don’t know if it’s as much of an adrenaline-fueled action/adventure as this trailer makes the movie out to be.

M: Oh, I thought the trailer looked more like “discovery of world” type stuff until the very end of it, so maybe Burton strikes the right balance?

E: I certainly hope so.  I would really, really like this to be good.  In addition to Burton’s name, the film’s stars intrigue me: Asa Butterfield, of Ender’s Game and Hugo, and Penny Dreadful‘s Eva Green.

M: I know I’ve said this before, but I think Butterfield is very good, so he’s a definite plus in my book.

Deepwater Horizon (wide)

M: The New England Patriots have already watched this film, in a training camp team-bonding exercise devised by brilliant head coach Bill Belicheck.

E: Really?  Um, that’s nice?

M: Right, because you only ever stick to the specifics, Miss Sepia-tones and blood splatter.

E: Hey. Those things are totally relevant.

M: How about co-star off-screen romances?

E: Very relevant!

C: You guys both have a weird notion of “relevant.” Let’s get to the actual film.

E: Now, Mr. E and I saw this preview before Florence Foster Jenkins, looked at each other, and said “Bobby Shatford redux.”

M: For those less familiar (especially less familiar than Mr, E, who played in a band with Shatford’s brother) that’s Marky Mark’s character from The Perfect Storm.

E: Seems like Wahlberg has a penchant for aquatic disaster films, no?

M: Wahlburg’s penchant appears to be for aquatic disasters based on true stories, no less. This one is about the oil rig that went boom in the Gulf of Mexico a few years back, and the story of the fearless crew that worked together to get out alive.

E: It looks good enough.  I think I’d have been happier seeing this than Florence Foster Jenkins.

M: Oh no, FFJ looked good, apparently it was not?

E: Oh, it was.  Beautifully acted, deeply human, definitely in the hunt for Oscar nods for both Streep and (for the first time ever) Hugh Grant — but it also made me really sad.  I don’t deal well with humiliation humor, for one thing, and then it’s also a really complicated look at an unusual marriage.

C: Oh, well, that’s a bummer. I have mixed feelings about making a movie about the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history, with a huge negative impact for thousands of people as well as animals and ecosystems along the Gulf, and making it into a heroic action picture that only focuses on the explosion. But I guess that’s Hollywood.

M: I think this looks good, and we don’t know how they deal with the environmental impact yet, so I’ll withhold judgement there. The trailer, which intersperses Wahlberg at home with wife Kate Hudson and their adorable 10 year old daughter going over her school project on daddy’s job with scenes of the pending and then happening disaster on the rig.

E: It does look like a good action movie.  Maybe a little generic, but good.

M: Also stars Gina Rodriguez, Kurt Russell and John Malkovich.

Masterminds (wide)

M: A goofy-looking bumbling heist comedy starring, um, tell me if you’ve heard this list before, Kristin Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones. Since this isn’t Ghostbusters, the Melissa McCarthy role is filled by Zach Galifianakis. Also involved are Owen Wilson and Jason Sudekis. Unfortunately, outside of the line “they have plan. Not a very good plan” I didn’t find much of anything in this to be funny, which considering the cast is too bad.

C: I like those actresses way better than I like those actors, with the maybe-exception of Owen Wilson.

M: Agreed!

E: Yes.  And, okay, the cast overlaps a lot, but the dynamics between the characters are totally different.

M: Really? I didn’t notice that, captain obvious.

E: *AHEM* Dim-witted dreamer Zach drives an armored car, until new partner Kristin Wiig and her maybe-boyfriend Owen Wilson convince him that they should rob it.  Turns out rich Wilson (who appears to be married to McKinnon) is setting Zach up for the fall, with Leslie Jones as the pursuing cop and Sudekis as an assassin (?), but Zach doesn’t want to go quietly.  Or something like that.

M: Quick clarification, I think it’s Galifianakis’ and McKinnon’s characters who are married.

C: Weirdly, every part of that description (except the names) sounds like it could be a drama.

E:  Nope, definitely a broad, broad comedy. And, actually, I thought some of it looked pretty funny. I don’t generally love films where the humor resides in the characters being unbelievably stupid, but Leslie Jones made me chortle.

M: And she’s had one hell of a summer, between Ghostbusters and the olympics!

American Honey (limited)

E: Shia LaBeouf.  What else is there to say?

M: Run away?

C: How about, “oh yeah, ‘American ___’ — there’s the title trope that’s even more overused than ‘The Good ___’ or basically any other?”

E: So true!

M: Excellent point, C.

E: But this film perplexes me.  When I see the review lines saying “optimistic and just plain beautiful” I can’t help wondering whether they saw entirely different footage than what appears in the trailer, in which a girl joins a group of itinerant salespeople/hookers/criminals on a road trip.  The group is lead, obviously, by LaBeouf and a girl in a confederate flag bikini.

M: The “optimistic” part of that line killed me. NOTHING about this looks optimistic. The rest of that review line, “a film for this generation,” really worried me. I really hope that “this generation” is not a bunch of Shia LeBeouf fans who want to wander aimlessly robbing people and pimping themselves out. Gah.

E: I hope there is no such generation.  Is there?  Can there be throngs of twenty-somethings and teens out there saying, this is the song of my soul?  This is the poetry that speaks to my inmost being?

C: I’m not in my twenties anymore, but I seriously doubt it!

Denial (limited)

E: Funnily enough I was just reading about the difference between the libel laws in the US and UK, and here we have a classic case in point: an American professor who called out a Holocaust denier is sued by him and so has to prove in court that the Holocaust actually happened.

M: In 1994. Because, you know, 50 years after the fact, anything, even something as hideous as the holocaust, isn’t easy to prove.

E: This sort of pisses me off as a story.

M: I think it’s supposed to, sis.

E: Not like that. Why give these fringe lunatics that much press?  Even if it turns into a sort of uplifting drama, I don’t think I can get behind it.  Kind of like “woman proves sky is blue.”  As she says in the film, not all opinions are equal.

M: You probably don’t want my opinion, then, but I think it’s more of an allegory. The primary use of the word “denier” in arguments now is not for Holocaust denier, but for “Global Warming Denier.”

E: You’re totally right that I don’t; there are plenty of conspiracy theories on the internet without you spinning out another one.  This movie is NOT an allegory.

M: Because, you know, we can’t have differing opinions on a topic that has seriously questionable people on both ends manipulating data in both directions and agree to discuss it civilly, we need to insult and try to turn people that think differently into imbeciles and get people not yet on either side to dismiss them as wack jobs.

C: Can we cut this particular debate off here? I don’t think M is saying that all “denial” is equally valid, or that it’s reasonable to refuse to believe in the murder of approximately six million Jews, and the killing and torture of many, many other people. I do think the “denier” label touches a chord for M because he honestly believes that there are two legitimate scientific sides to the question of whether global climate change is human-caused, and that that opinion doesn’t deserve to be rudely dismissed out of hand.

M: Correct, and that it doesn’t deserve to be lumped in with idiot Holocaust deniers. Thank you C, and let’s move on.

E: Yes, please.

C: What we do know to be true about the movie?

E: The film features Rachel Weisz (again) as the American professor, veteran villain Timothy Spall as the chief Holocaust denier, Tom Wilkinson as Weisz’s lawyer, as well as Sherlock’s Andrew Scott and Mark Gatiss, so it clearly has a great cast working for it.

C: Tim Spall! He’s a favorite of mine, but this is clearly more of a Peter Pettigrew role than a Mr. Venus or Winston Churchill role. Rachel Weisz and Tom Wilkinson are also both brilliant, but honestly, I probably won’t see this. If I see anything in the theater that debuts this month, it’ll probably be Queen of Katwe, not to mention watching The Dressmaker when it co-premiere on Amazon.

E: I’m so hoping that Katwe is both terrific and kid-appropriate (and the with Disney imprint I think at least the latter’s a good bet).  I’d love to take my crew to a film featuring actual humans!  And I have hopes that Sully and Miss Peregrine will be worth seeing, even I’m not sure I’ll be able to get out of the house to see them.

M: Where as my picks, whether it’s for theater or video, would be Katwe, Snowden, Louis Drax, maybe Magnificent Seven and Deepwater, and definitely the docu’s: Spock, Hillsong and Lovers and the Despot. Oh, and of course all the horror flicks, can’t forget those!

C: Woohoooo!




2 comments on “Questionable Harvest: September 2016 Movie Preview

  1. MMGF says:

    Shia LeBeouf’s in a movie? I thought he’d “retired” a couple of years ago. Really, all that comes to MY mind when I hear his name is this.

    • M says:

      Same for me ever since I first saw that a few years ago, that song is brilliant. The only problems with it are that it calls him “Hollywood superstar” (a status I refuse to grant him in my mind) and that he’s actually on board and involved. I feel it would be far more meaningful if he hated it. 😉

      As for him retiring, we can only dream.

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