September Flashforward Films:
Most Anticipated: Tusk (Rotten Tomatoes: 42%), A Walk Among Tombstones (66%), This is Where I Leave You (43%), The Maze Runner (62%).
Least Anticipated: The Equalizer (60%).
September at the box office was largely forgettable. Neither memorably great nor memorably terrible, the month slipped by with little notice. Instead of commenting on that bore of a month, let’s press on and look ahead at what figures to be a great October.
OCTOBER’S MOST ANTICIPATED FILMS:
1. Gone GirlRelease Date: October 3, 2014 Director: David Fincher (Alien 3, Seven, Fight Club, Panic Room, Lords of Dogtown, Zodiac, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) Seriously, all of those movies. Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Missi Pyle, Kim Dickens, Tyler Perry
After being left for dead in the early 2000’s following a run of remarkably inept films including Reindeer Games (2000), Pearl Harbor (2001), Paycheck (2003), Daredevil (2003) and Gigli (2003), Ben Affleck has been on an even more remarkable hotstreak. While today’s praise is justified, yesterday’s criticism is equally fair. It is staggering just how quickly and forcefully Affleck sullied his filmography. Gigli was one of the most aggressively unwatchable films I have ever seen. This year I have repeatedly berated Winter’s Tale but I don’t think that disgrace starring Colin Farrell, Jessica Brown Findlay, and Russell Crowe can touch the sheer power of awfullness generated by the trio of Ben Affleck, Jennifer Lopez, and Al Pacino. But as horrid as Affleck’s past was, his recent streak, capped off by Argo, nearly makes up for old gaffes. Even better for Gone Girl is David Fincher’s remarkable run as a director. Unlike that of his newest lead, Fincher’s entire career has been exemplary yet only recently has he begun to receive the praise he deserves. With Affleck 3.0 starring, David Fincher directing, a great supporting cast filling out the roster and strong source material, Gone Girl should be one of the year’s best.
2. FuryRelease Date: October 17, 2014 Director: David Ayer (Harsh Times, End of Watch) Starring: Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Jon Bernthal, Michael Peña, Jason Isaacs, and Scott Eastwood One of the few highly anticipated films remaining on this year’s calendar stars Brad Pitt as Wardaddy, a Sherman Tank commander in World War II Europe. There has been a wide range of quality amongst the countless WWII based media churned out over the last ten to twenty years. On one end we have classics like Saving Private Ryan and HBO’s Band of Brothers series. But on the other side we have the likes of Valkyrie and the inexplicable Pearl Harbor which reaches near-Braveheart levels of contempt for historical accuracy. (Honestly, what can we expect from a movie directed by Michael Bay, produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and starring Josh Hartnett, Kate Beckinsale and pre-Hollywoodland Ben Affleck?) All signs seem to indicate that Fury will join that first group and that the well-rounded and deceptively strong cast will deliver one of the more memorable additions to a busy genre (the most recent quality edition being Pitt’s 2009 film, the indefinable Inglourious Bastards).
3. The Judge
Release Date: October 10, 2014
Director: David Dobkin
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, Vincent D’Onofrio, Billy Bob Thornton, Vera Farmiga, Dax Shepard
By now we are all familiar with the story of a cold and overbearing father and the distant, damaged son he raises. A recent personal favorite was the dynamic between Joel McHale and his father on “Community.” In The Judge, Robert Downey Jr stars as a successful, big-city lawyer (sort of like McHale’s Jeff Winger except for the “successful” bit) who returns to his small hometown following the death of his mother and must deal with her loss while simultaneously dredging up old issues with his father. The film plays out an atypical version of the typical story arc in which the beleaguered son must come to his father’s aid despite year’s of tension. At first glance the film’s story appears predictable and familiar as we have seen similar stories exercised many times. But in this case repetition is understandable as father-son dynamics like these are compelling. Watching the parts played out with Downey Jr. and Duvall in lead roles is a welcome treat.
4. Dear White People
Release Date: October 17, 2014
Director: Justin Simien
Starring: Tyler James Williams, Tessa Thompson, Teyonah Parris, Brandon P Bell, Kyle Gallner, Brittany Curran, Dennis Haysbert, Marque Richardson
Justin Simien’s festival darling explores identity and stereotype in the current landscape of American culture, a so called “post-Obama” culture. The film earned widely positive reviews as well as inevitable criticism. A film with this content deserves a viewing before having judgements cast. There is nothing worse than a debate about a film contested by people who haven’t even seen the film in question.
WORST TROJAN HORSE:
The Good Lie
Release Date: October 3, 2014
Director: Phillipe Falardeau
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Corey Stoll, Thad Luckinbill, Sarah Baker, Sharon Conley, Maria Howell
(Please allow me to make a Straw Man out of this movie which I have not seen. Full disclosure, The Good Lie has already begun to receive positive reviews):
Reese Witherspoon’s newest film features her in a role that approximates Sandra Bullock’s Academy Award winning performance in The Blind Side. The film focuses on Witherspoon and her efforts to help four Sudanese refugees who escaped from their country during the Second Sudanese Civil War. You aren’t likely to find many people who would argue against increased awareness of the atrocities committed during that two-decade long conflict. But the problem with The Good Lie, and movies like it, is that it shines light in the wrong places. Instead of focusing on those in need, the film appears to focus on those willing to come to their aid. Witherspoon is initially reluctant to help the men and is naive to their problems but as the film progresses she undergoes a transformation of conscience. While the intent is fair, the film’s transformation is poorly chosen. A scene in the trailer shows one of the Sudanese men asking if there are dangerous animals in the suburban area Witherspoon brings them. The seemingly innocent humor brought on by this exchange is damaging to the film’s stated cause as it highlights the differences between the men and their new caretakers. But demonstrating their similarities is a better vehicle for the film’s subject matter. The reality is that what happened in Sudan, or variations of it, has happened hundreds of times in the past and will unfortunately will occur again. It is not a problem of an isolated “other” group. Not all films need to be journalistic endeavors but it would be nice to see less self-congratulating. Part of the problem is in casting Witherspoon who, like Bullock and Don Cheadle in Hotel Rwanda, demands screen time due to star power and for the sake of narrative. 12 Years a Slave provided a counter-example to this trend as our main protagonist is himself subject to the film’s injustice (although, as I explained in my review of last year’s Academy Award winner for Best Picture, Solomon himself does have some aspects of “otherness” given his education and background as a freeman). Life is Beautiful is another good example. Unfortunarely, there are many more examples of films that focus on an individual or group not directly affected by the film’s featured injustice (The Blind Side, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, etc). This trend, continued in The Good Lie, is not likely to change any time soon.
(NOTE: I have debated this topic in the past, both on this site and on those of fellow bloggers. The most common argument I hear in defense of these films is that using Witherspoon, and likewise Bullock and other stars, gives us an emotional connection into the film. And this point is valid. It is difficult for the majority Americans to truly relate to Michael Oher’s story presented in The Blind Side or to the Sudanese Lost Boys portrayted in The Good Lie. While the presence of these stars gives us a character with whom we can relate, it can distract from the issues the films ostensibly claim to fight. Certainly there are worse examples of this misused star-power and misguided Hollywood intentions but most films don’t receive the attention of The Good Lie and certainly not the level of buzz generated by The Blind Side)
Release Date: October 24, 2014
Director: David Leitch and Chad Stahelski
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Alfie Allen, Jason Isaacs, Bridget Moynahan, Adrianne Palicki, Willem Dafoe
John Wick continues the consistent redressing of a tired genre and stars an increasingly tiring actor. The trailer for Keanu Reeves’ newest film opens with a puppy licking Keanu awake. What follows is three minutes of explosions, gag-inducing one-liners, and Keanu Reeves in his unenviable element of deadpan deliveries. Overused, stock plot points are spoon-fed to us (“That dog was the last gift of my dying wife.” Cue kiss on the forehead in a hospital bed) and pieced together haphazardly like an inpatient child tackling his first jigsaw puzzle. With The Equalizer released a few weeks ago it hasn’t even been that long since a reluctant-but-surprisingly-deadly-assassin movie debuted. At this point, Keanu needs a career bump more than The Equalizer‘s Denzel Washington. Part of me still roots for the actor. He has plenty of good credits under his belt with just as many flops. And I can’t decide if he is a terrible actor or a so-so actor with minimal range. It’s not surprising that his next move after 47 Ronin would be a safe action movie with minimal acting required. But after all the flops and awkwardness, I wish Keanu would have stayed asleep.
2014 Overall List:
Most Anticipated Film of 2014: X-Men: Days of Future Past.
Least Anticipated Film of 2014: Winter’s Tale.
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