E: In addition to the usual slate of horror flicks, October usually sees the first salvos of the Oscar season, movies like last year’s Bridge of Spies and The Martian.
M: Ahhh, The Martian. I should definitely re-watch that!
E: Yes you should. It’s some serious good stuff. This year bring us a little wow right out of the gate, but mostly stutters on substance. Decent looking stuff aimed at the tween set, and any horror-loving teens will be happy too.
C: So what will be the memorable films of this month?
M: For my money, Girl On the Train is the only real contender.
C: With that, let’s jump right in.
The Girl On The Train (wide)
E: M and I read this book (partly for an online book group discussion that has yet to take place) and both really enjoyed it. Assuming that’s the right word for a creepy, twisty psychological thriller where you pretty much hate all the characters most of the way through.
M: Yeah, not sure I would have pulled “enjoy” out of the scrabble bag first, but I know what you mean. It was a good read, kept your interest, kept you wanting to know what happened next, and has parts that are, as I put it to E in an earlier discussion, devastatingly well written.
C: On the other hand, I haven’t read it, and feel like I probably should before I see the movie, especially as it’s so twisty.
E: I will say, though, they messed around with casting a bit, changing races and body types in a way that makes the story less impactful. The Pakistani therapist has become a Latino. The fat, slovenly main character has become Emily Blunt (and harsh, even brutal judgments of the character’s looks are a huge part of the book). On the other hand, I do love Emily Blunt.
M: That’s my biggest issue. The main character is supposed to be such a mess that at first no one takes anything she says seriously, and then characters flat out insult her with comments to the effect of: “Did you see my wife? Why would I ever be with someone that looks like her?” or “My standards would never be that low.” As I said when Blunt was cast, no matter how haggard and alcoholic-y they try to make her look (which they do a good job with), that’s not something that she can pull off.
E: Nope. It just isn’t. Sorry, Hollywood; sometimes you have to bite the bullet and cast someone less than stunning in something.
C: I feel like if this got made as a BBC miniseries they’d have done it. Maybe we’ll still get that version some day.
M: I’d watch a BBC miniseries of this for sure. That aside, the story is very good. Both E and I figured out the mystery before the reveal (E before me, but both of us before you’re supposed to), but even when you’ve figured out where it’s going, it does a good job of getting there.
E: So if they do more justice to the story than they do to the visual casting, it could be pretty terrific.
C: Okay, highly relatable title right out of the gate.
M: For almost everyone. Unfortunately, the ties to real life pretty much end there.
E: This is a movie about about an astoundingly cool-looking supposedly “average kid” — seriously, what kid that age has the guts to wear a plaid blazer to school, let alone carry it off?
C: Cher Horowitz? But there was nothing average about her.
M: –or to use that much product in his hair!
E: Anyway, kid defies the autocratic principal at his new school, leading a group of kids in breaking every one of the idiotic school rules. Sure it’s over-the-top silly, but for its kind of movie it looks okay.
M: I’m not sure either “autocratic” or “over-the-top” cover it. A school principal who says that there’s no place for creativity in the school? Who thinks talking and written notes should be against the rules? The rule-breaking does look fun, but the whole premise is so asinine.
C: Yeah, I guess they don’t want kids to get the idea that they should rebel against anything that might actually happen to them in real life.
E: Stars Griffin Gluck as Rafe, and Lauren Graham as his mother.
M: Yeah, and Rafe is such an average kid name.
Birth Of A Nation (wide)
E: Early this year, this re-visioning of the deeply controversial (which is to say, racist) Orson Wells version of Nat Turner’s rebellion set the Sundance Film festival on fire.
C: Ummm, most of that is wrong.
M: Yeah: first, the 1915 version was not Orson Welles, but was one of the first “feature length” movies. But yes, it was massively racist. Second, this isn’t even a re-visioning, it’s a totally and completely different story, with an entirely different purpose.
C: It feels like he should have made it one year earlier, right?
M: Totally, but now will do, it’s not like we’re in a post-racial world yet.
C: So, I would say Nate Parker’s film is a deliberate response to the original, but as M says, definitely not even a slanted remake. The original film is a 1915 silent made by pioneer auteur director D.W. Griffith, and was primarily about the Klu Klux Klan. E’s right, at least, that it was controversial, but mostly because people thought it was horribly racist (even at the time!), but as a film it was hugely groundbreaking in terms of length and technical innovation.
E: Ok, I don’t think that *most* of what I said was wrong, but let’s see if I can get this right. The long-gestating passion project of actor/director Parker, Birth seemed like a shoo-in for a best picture nod if not the prize itself — until someone uncovered a horrific story from Parker’s past, which has embroiled him and college roommate/producer Jean Celestin ever since. It’s absolutely one of those moments where you have to decide whether and how much an artist’s real life should affect how you feel about their work.
M: I hate when personal, non-related events impact the reception of things, regardless of which side of the issue events fall. Judge the movie on its merits. Judge each thing or person on its or their own merits. When Ender’s Game came out it had nothing to do with any political advocacy that the novel’s author Orson Scott Card may or may not have been participating in. When we discuss The Accountant below my take will have nothing to do with Ben Affleck’s political activism. Anyone’s opinion of Brad Pitt’s newest movie should not be impacted by his impending divorce.
E: I mostly agree with that (I’ve always worked really hard to separate the artist from the art) but I do think there are points where an artist’s life bleeds into your consciousness in a way that’s hard to get out.
E: On the one hand, you can’t take financial (and awards-season) gain out of Hollywood mudslinging. When a promising Oscar contender disappears under the weight of slurs (as Zero Dark Thirty and Saving Mr. Banks did), you have to look askance at the motives of the people bringing forward the stories about them. But can you truly ignore the points of influence? This movie features a rape scene. The director stages a gang rape to make the audience feel something.
M: Well, when the outside issues bleeds over into things that are in the film, that’s different. However, Parker’s past scandal isn’t about slavery and race relations, is from 17 years ago and is something for which he was tried and acquitted. While we certainly have issues with prosecution of rape, and while he may or may not have been guilty, he’s now speaking out about and against rape culture and domestic violence, and the scene in the movie is negatively depicting rape. So… it’s complicated, but really shouldn’t derail what looks like an incredibly powerful movie.
E: It’s true, I’ve been able to watch and enjoy some of Allen’s movies, and Roman Polanski’s incredibly moving Pianist.
M: Talk about a basket of deplorables.
E: As for the movie itself, advanced reviews are good though not great. Without this backstory, would the movie be a lock for best picture? Could it take the frontrunner crown from upcoming feel-good musical La La Land? Tough questions.
C: I don’t know. Hollywood waxes and wanes on how much it cares about directors’ (alleged) dark deeds, but Hollywood always loves movies about itself, like La La Land.
M: That didn’t hold up last year with my Trumbo prediction, but that was far more the exception than the rule.
The Great Gilly Hopkins (limited)
E: The seventies classic children’s novel has been updated and brought to the screen, and you know, it doesn’t look too bad. It also looks far more realistic than Middle School. Our local library is promoting the heck out of it.
C: I never read that book. Maybe it fell out of favor in the 80s-90s?
M: We reviewed this back in February when it came out… apparently only in France. As we agreed then, it looks good and the cast is great.
E: It tells the story of an angry tween, abandoned by her mother, who finds comfort in a foster home (headed by Kathy Bates) and under the tutelage of devoted teacher Octavia Spencer. Starring as Gilly is Sophie Nélisse of The Book Thief, with Glenn Close as the grandmother whose appearance threatens to break up Gilly’s fragile, newly found peace.
M: And Julia Stiles as her mom.
Under The Shadow (limited)
E: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. During the Iran-Iraq war, a young mother (whose husband is off at the front) must confront the djinn (malevolent spirit) which guided a missile into her apartment building in order to protect her daughter and their neighbors.
M: Wait, you’ve heard that before? Because, um, I’ve never.
E: Nope, me neither. Refreshing, right?
M: Okay, I totally need to design that sarcasm font. As for refreshing… hell to the no.
C: I’m still confused about what she’s negotiating with the djinn about, if it already bombed her building. But yeah, djinni are pretty uncommon in the thriller scene.
M: The bomb didn’t go off. It looks like it just brought evil with it.
E: If you’re a horror buff and you don’t mind subtitles, this one is winning rave reviews from critics.
M: And looks creepy as all get out.
The Accountant (wide)
E: This Ben Affleck vehicle looks like it’s trying too hard to be the The Professional to me. Actually, more confusingly, it looks like it wants to be The Professional Rain Man. What a weird mashup that is! It seems that Affleck’s character is a savant who “uncooks” the books for crime organizations, and also assassinates people.
M: Yeah, I was going to quibble with The Professional, but your description got better. The thing I can’t wrap my mind around is the idea that Affleck’s character is both the “accountant” and the assassin.
E: Yes! Exactly!
M: And on the spectrum.
E: So peculiar. Someone’s trying too hard to be original, I think.
C: Considering that last year I read a romance novel for research (100% true) about an innocent 19th century girl who worked as a brothel accountant… there’s definitely such a thing as trying to hard!
M: Hahaha, totally. It’s like someone had two ideas for a movie, the autistic mob accountant, and the autistic assassin, and instead of picking one and writing it they combined them both, thinking that’d make it stand out. Which it did, I suppose. Given the stellar cast (Affleck, Anna Kendrick, JK Simmons, John Lithgow, Jeffrey Tambor) are all actors who usually make good choices, it certainly could work, but I’m skeptical.
C: It seems like it ought to be based on a book with that elaborate premise, but nope.
Max Steel (wide)
C: LOL, terrible title alert.
E: True that. So, here’s another interesting hybrid. 20-somethings pretending to be teens: par for the course, right?
M: Far too frequently, yes.
E: But rather oddly, there’s one whose scientist father gave him powers that are going to save the world, and… he gets to dress up like a Mighty Morphing Power Ranger. In other words, all this feels like it’s aimed at 8-year-olds. We talked last month about all the animated movies that have come out in 2016, but I’m surprised at how many live action, family-oriented ones there are this month.
M: You know what surprised me? When I loaded up the trailer, the “commercial” on YouTube before it was the new trailer for Patriot’s Day. Being from Boston, knowing people who run the marathon, it hits very close to home and the trailer makes me well up (it really might be too soon). So, rather than hitting “Skip Ad” I watched it, and was fully planning on coming back here to write how much I’d rather just wait for that, and slamming this one. But, well, I can’t. The trailer for this was good enough that, against my better judgement, I’m interested. It looks like a strange combination between Spider-Man and Flight of the Navigator.
C: You’re right that it does look well-done and possibly even funny, but like E, I’m totally discombobulated by the super tall, super buff, mid-to-late-twenties-looking hero of this. (Even if the actor is early 20s, he is not the type to pass for younger at all.) Why not have a kid star in what is obviously a kid movie? Like, how much more fun would this be with one of those boys from Stranger Things starring instead?
M: So say we all.
Kevin Hart: What Now? (wide)
M: I’m choosing to read the title of this concert movie as if being said by an exasperated parent whose kids won’t leave them alone… “What nooowww???”
C: That feels like the right emotional response.
E: Why, Kevin Hart, why? Actually, I take that back. Obviously he’s going to get out there however he can. I can’t imagine seeing a comedy concert movie in the theaters, but if you like Kevin Hart it could be worth it.
M: The dictionary.com app’s word of the day a few days ago was “potboiler,” a mediocre work of art produced merely for financial gain. This is 100% a potboiler.
C: Ooh, we should definitely resurrect that word, even if I’ve only heard it in the context of short stories before.
M: Yeah, as soon as I saw it I assumed we’d be using it a lot moving forward.
C: As to this film: like we always say about musical concert films, this is made for fans and not really anyone else. It does seem surprising that it’s not direct-to-Netflix, but I guess they think they can make money. Stand-up is pretty hot these days, they say.
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (wide)
M: Oh yay, our second title with a colon in it!
E: And what a prescient subtitle it is. Would that the producers had heeded their own advice and had never gone back to Jack Reacher!
C: Guys, I believe there are about ten books in this series, so settle in for the long haul.
M: We know, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it.
E: Folks I know who’ve read the books have had trouble looking past Tom Cruise’s presence in the lead, playing an extremely tall blond secret agent. That said, it looks like a competent enough super agent thriller, if you don’t flinch when you see Tom Cruise on screen.
M: I haven’t been able to take him seriously in years. And yes, I know that in the earlier discussion in Birth Of A Nation about the off-screen, unrelated news stories about the people involved I said to judge things on their own merit, but let me ‘splain.
E: No, there is too much. Sum up.
M: Thanks Inigo Montoya, I’ll be quick. Cruise rarely, if ever, acts. He plays himself, or a caricature of himself, in just about everything he’s in. For me to get past that horrible acting trait and believe an actor who does that (Cruise, Al Pacino, etc) as a character, I have to be okay with watching that actor. With Pacino I am. But Cruise? I don’t buy him as capable of doing any of the grandiose things his characters are supposed to be the best in the world at, because he’s a total buffoon.
E: Hear hear!
M: And watching this trailer, all it is is Tom-Cruise-Is-A-Badass. If I can’t buy that, the movie doesn’t work. So no matter how good the source material is, I’m out.
C: Somehow Tom-Cruise-Is-A-Badass is, and long has been, an entire industry which appears to make money, so like I suggested above: adjust your expectations.
Ouija: Origin of Evil (wide)
M: Hey look, another title with a colon!
E: Hey, look, another creepy movie about demons possessing a small blond child! Sooo shocking and original.
M: Believe it or not, I struggled to find a trailer for this that was less than 3 minutes long. Seriously, some of them were over 9 minutes! What in this necessitates that long of a trailer?
C: I think that defeats the whole point of a trailer, regardless of what is or isn’t in the film, actually.
E: So, on to the movie… back in the 60’s, Elizabeth Reaser (Twilight) worked as a medium, enlisting her two daughters to help bamboozle clients. All the fun and bright poppy colors leach out of the world once a Ouija board is introduced to the home, allowing malevolent spirits access to youngest daughter Doris, who was just hoping to contact her dearly departed dad.
M: Shouldn’t she, you know, consult her mom, the medium? You know what, forget I asked.
C: I think she’s a fake medium.
M: That’s redundant.
C: Ouija boards, on the other hand, are 100% real and do not involve secretly pushing the little doo-dad, as any girl who ever went to a sleepover can tell you.
E: There’s a lot of hokey-looking jaw stretching and very old-school scampering up stairs when the demon child finally lets loose her reign of terror. Doug Jones plays a sympathetic local priest who attempts to warn everyone (obviously unsuccessfully) that dark forces are at play.
M: Definitely unlike anything that’s ever been seen on the silver screen.
Boo! A Madea Halloween (wide)
M: Here we eschew the colon for an exclamation point! It’s a banner weekend for grammar fans!
E: Wow! Just wow!
C: I love a good exclamation in a movie title, but this really can’t live up to the greatest of all time:
M: To quote E, “Wow! Just wow!” How is it that dad didn’t made us watch that at least 20 times growing up?
E: Good question! So, okay! Are you ready for the plot? There’s a lot of it!
M: Before that, let me just say that Madea is officially in Ernest territory now, if “she” wasn’t already! Okay, on to the plot!
E: Madea and Ernest have always been similarly unappealing to me! Here, Tyler Perry calls up Madea (Tyler Perry) to keep an eye on his teenage daughter as she goes to a Halloween party thrown by horny high school boys!
M: Actually, she’s supposed to prevent her from going! Ugh, why am I even correcting that?
C: Thank you, that makes much more sense!
M: Let’s move on!
E: Yes! Madea and her friends (some of who are also played by Tyler Perry) show up, only for the daughter to set up a fake haunting in the house to drive them away! There also seems to be a horde of zombies in there!
M: I’m waiting for the Madea movie where Tyler Perry plays every character! Or maybe he can enlist Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall and the three of them can play everyone!
E: The all Tyler Perry one can’t be far off! (Well, no! There have to be hot chicks, so that won’t work!) I will say, I was probably more amused by this than any Madea trailer I’ve seen! Take that for whatever it’s worth!
M: Not that that’s a high bar, but… really?!?
Keeping Up With The Joneses (wide)
C: Ugh, I saw a trailer for this last time I went to the movies and it looks so awful. Boring, retread, obnoxious, obvious, and utterly implausible at the same time.
M: I saw the trailer for this in front of The Magnificent Seven (good, by the way, with a great performance by an unrecognizable Vincent D’Onofrio). Joneses looks, and I’m trying to be kind here… poor.
C: That is being kind.
E: Zach Galifianakis and Isla Fisher star as a regular couple (because Isla is so regular) whose envy-inducing new neighbors (John Hamm and Wonder Woman Gal Gadot) turn out to be agents, or spies, or some such crazy thing. Forced wackiness and gunplay ensues.
M: It starts with Galifianakis (not in the same way as Fisher, but not exactly regular himself) and Fisher — a totally believable couple — being suspicious of Hamm and Gadot. So, like any normal couple, they stalk them and break into their house. Which leads (how, the trailer is not clear) to them being recruited to help the super-couple. And messing up in ways that are supposed to be, but aren’t, funny. Talk about a potboiler.
I’m Not Ashamed (wide)
M: Given the subject matter, I maybe shouldn’t be joking during this section, but… I don’t think the makers of Keeping Up With The Joneses wrote the title of this one.
C: Or experience that emotion ever, you mean?
C: Agreed. But, to get back to the very serious topic at hand…
E: Emotional-looking story of Rachel Joy Scott, one of the students murdered at Columbine High, from the standpoint of her faith life.
M: The script was drawn largely from her journals, and looks to present her showing her doubts and insecurities as well as her faith and her good beliefs.
C: I remember when her published diary was tops on many people’s reading lists, along with She Said Yes, the similar story of her schoolmate Cassie Bernall. In some ways it’s incredible there hasn’t been a major motion picture (other than Bowling for Columbine) about the massacre before this. In other ways, it still feels so current — thanks, sadly, to the daily news.
M: So true, and so sad. I’m really hoping this is good. Some of the moments, like interactions with the eventual shooters or standing by while they were bullied, look like they filmmakers are trying to put perspective on the shooting, not just placing blame or glossing over things, which is good.
E: Often proselytizing films feature wooden actors, but I thought lead Masey McLain acquitted herself well.
E: Festival darling Moonlight using three actors to tell the story of Kevin (including American Horror Story‘s Andre Holland) as he struggles with self-identity, sexuality, and the tough streets of Miami.
C: I definitely have read very, very high praise for Moonlight, though it’s clearly the type of movie that festival audiences are more likely to love than wide audiences: artsy, experimental, and most likely depressing as heck. However, it’s certainly likely to appeal to moviegoers whose experience it speaks to, especially given that movies representing intersectionally othered identities are few and far between.
M: Also stars Grammy nominee Janelle Monae, who I know mostly because she sings on “We Are Young” by fun.
C: She’ll be in the upcoming Hidden Figures, which I know we’re all excited about.
C: Oh great, now this. I’ve had so many conversations already about how bad this looks on several levels, that I honestly thought we already reviewed this one.
E: Last month, we got Tom Hanks in awards-bait mode. This month, we get him in soulless action.
M: I wish this was produced by someone named Vizini, so he could say “I just work for Vizini to pay the bills.”
E: The thing is, right, Tom Hanks can’t need to do crap for money, can he?
C: Not unless he has been really, really irresponsible financially during his long and highly profitable career!
M: Ron Howard directed this, and he’s in the same boat. Highly respected, highly paid over his life. So it’s not a potboiler, they must have really wanted to tell this story.
E: Unlike the other Tom we were discussing, I’m always interested in movies starring this guy, and I don’t think I’m alone. He has his pick of directors and projects. It’s depressing. Maybe he just relishes the chance to play a brainy action hero, but I wish he’d waited around for a character who was actually, you know, smart and well written.
C: I am not against the idea of older action heroes (I’m sure we’d all love to see Helen Mirren star in a film like this), but Hanks to me rates so high on affability that I really don’t understand him in the Robert Langdon role, and that only gets worse the more grandpa-like he becomes.
E: I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting any more movies from the Dan Brown franchise, probably because it’s been 7 years since the last film. Or perhaps because, after The DaVinci Code and Angels & Demons, director Ron Howard declined to adapt the unoriginal third book, The Lost Symbol. But nope, here we are again with the fourth book in the series about (as you might expect) Dante’s Inferno. Sigh.
M: Sounds… awesome.
C: No wait — it’s about how the Inferno is really a secret coded prophesy about the apocalypse! Also, I assume, Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar is really the Fibonacci sequence and Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales are directions on how to build a faster-than-light space ship!
M: Come on C, everyone knows that Canterbury Tales are actually directions to building a self-driving plane-car hybrid. How could you make that mistake?
C: So silly of me.
E: Let’s move on, we’ve already spent too much time on this.
M: Fair enough.
E: As before, Hanks’s Robert Langdon is paired with a much younger costar (Felicity Jones, soon to be seen kicking butts and taking names — we hope- – in the first stand alone Star Wars Story, Rogue One) and uses his history and classics training to uncover malfeasance which threatens the world. Yawn.
M: Yawn is right. Even with a Rogue One reference in there I fell asleep reading that two line synopsis.
C: And I am SO grossed out by the casting of Jones (32) opposite Hanks (60). I had to look it up and apparently they are not actually a couple (thank God), but she lusts after him. Obviously.
E: You’ll have to save the world without us in attendance, Tom.
Gimme Danger (limited)
C: Not a concert film: a historical concert film! Basically, right?
E: Right. Indie royalty Jim Jarmusch brings us a documentary on sixties power group the Stooges, placing them in a historical context, bringing us their influences as well as the influence they themselves have had on the American rock scene in the years since. Interviews, concert footage, you name it. If you’re a rock buff, this seems like a great fit.
M: Is this a mockumentary, like This Is Spinal Tap? I’m not familiar with the Stooges, at least by name. Can’t be that much of a power group, nevermind to be “the greatest rock and roll band ever” or to have “reinvented music as we know it” as the trailer claims.
E: Youtube has a ton of songs by them, but I don’t know a single one. Weird because the name sounded familiar. And they turn out to be Iggy Pop’s old band, so it’s definitely not a mockumentary.
M: Well, it should be.
The Eagle Huntress (limited)
C: Poor eagles! Aren’t they endangered enough?
M: Har har. Yer so funny sis!
E: I’ll explain. September ended with the story of an empowered, high achieving young girl from Africa; October ends with a similar story about a Mongolian 13-year-old determined to break into the male dominated tradition of hunting with the titular bird of prey as the weapon of choice.
C: Um, okay, I guess that’s better.
E: The reviews are glowing. So if you’re looking for inspiration rather than horror this weekend (and there are quite a few obscure foreign horror films premiering as well) you should see if this little film is opening at a theater near you. Seems like it would very much worth your time.
M: Not only does it look great on it’s own, but where Mrs M and I have a friend who’s been working (and witnessing) in Mongolia for a couple years now and constantly raving about it, this is something I’ll definitely try to catch on Netflix or Amazon Prime at some point. Certainly before I catch any of the obscure foreign horror movies.
C: And that’s a wrap, folks.