The fall movie season begins with the end, as the said-to-be-semi-retiring Steven Soderbergh unleashes his contribution to apocalyptic cinema (every director, it seems, eventually makes an Earth-in-freefall movie). A killer virus is storming through the A-list, who will survive, and what will be left of, Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard (continuing an impressive run in Hollywood productions), and Laurence Fishburne? (No need to inquire about Gwyneth Paltrow, who’s toast halfway through the trailer, unless she comes back as a zombie.) Expect as much suspense as Soderbergh can muster as half the cast coughs and spasms and the other half stares into computer screens and worries. —Bob Cashill[youtube id=”4sYSyuuLk5g” width=”600″ height=”350″]
“Ryan Gosling is hot” is what we’ve been hearing since the actor ab-bed up for Crazy, Stupid, Love. this summer. When even my 69-year-old mother is saying it, however, it’s clear this actor’s actor (his resume is leaner than his tummy) is poised to break big. Hard to say if this, umm, “vehicle,” will do it for him, however; it’s kind of a tribute to 70s neo-noir flops and cult items like The Last Run and Vanishing Point, which haven’t accumulated much audience traction over the decades. But Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn is a critics’ darling who can’t be far from spearheading a superhero franchise, the ever-watchable Albert Brooks is the heavy, and if Mom goes to see it a $200 million gross is in the bag. —Bob Cashill
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The Weird World of Blowfly
What’s that you say? You’ve never heard of Blowfly? Well, that’s sort of the point of this documentary, which tells the strange tale of Miami cult hero Clarence Reid, whose outlandish costumes and hilariously profane lyrics belie some serious soul. The Weird part of the title is the obvious hook here, and Reid has plenty of that to offer — but come prepared for a look at the talented songwriter who penned hits for Betty Wright, Gwen McCrae, and KC and the Sunshine Band, among others. –Jeff Giles[youtube id=”UCOBGotTMmM” width=”600″ height=”350″]
“Straw Dogs is a semi-perfect film to remake,” Rod Lurie told Popdose. “It can be Americanized and modernized, and it can be made one’s own.” Two-and-a-half years later we’ll see if he’s correct, as the latest litmus test for the commercial and artistic viability of remakes hits screens. Transposing Sam Peckinpah’s sordid saga of revenge from England in the Vietnam era to the American South in our own collapsing time shouldn’t be too hard, there’s no shortage of gnarly character actors (hello, James Woods!) for the protagonist to man-trap, and True Blood’s Alexander Skarsgard has the right insidious appeal as an object of attraction/repulsion for an embattled husband and wife looking for a little peace and quiet. Forget the shadow that the original casts over v.2, though; that they’re played by the fairly nondescript James Marsden and Kate Bosworth may compromise Lurie’s desire for “a big and lively piece of entertainment.” —Bob Cashill[youtube id=”jc2WepwFcWE” width=”600″ height=”350″]
Pearl Jam Twenty
They haven’t had a platinum album or Top 40 single in the States for over a decade, but 2011 is still Pearl Jam’s year. As we approach grunge’s 20th birthday, who better to fête than the one band that stayed together, plugging along on its own terms, while just about everyone else in its peer group died, broke up, or sold out? Pearl Jam Twenty, directed by longtime fan Cameron Crowe, is part of the yearlong bash being thrown to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the band’s hugely successful debut album, and it promises to be more than your average rock doc — if only because it has Crowe at the helm, and because Pearl Jam has rarely engaged in the sort of backward-glancing navel-gazing that projects like this always entail. Kids of the ’90s, grab your Singles soundtracks and get ready to feel very old. —Jeff Giles[youtube id=”oSp1YVGqw1Y” width=”600″ height=”350″]
A Bird of the Air
“A parrot and a librarian upend the well-ordered life of a solitary man,” reads the film synopsis, and if those words trigger an instant scramble for the “eject” button, well, we sympathize. But we’re including it here because A Bird of the Air boasts the final screen performance of avian Hollywood legend Oscar the Parrot, whose long list of credits includes Fantasy Island and Home Alone 3. May you fly far from shitty scripts in the afterlife, Oscar. –Jeff Giles[youtube id=”vh1miEdFxAo” width=”600″ height=”350″]
There appear to be two different movies packed into Moneyball. There’s the nuts-and-bolts story of Billy Beane’s largely successful tenure as GM of the Oakland Athletics, a small-market team that has managed to compete with the big boys (financially speaking) of Major League Baseball despite a routinely low payroll. This is the part that will have fantasy baseball geeks and Bob Costas drooling, but it’s not really enough for a compelling drama, is it? Not even with Brad Pitt in the lead role.
To balance this out there’s the other half of Moneyball, which focuses on Beane’s professional and personal hardships as he tries to turn Oakland into a winning franchise. It’s hard to imagine anyone who looks like Brad Pitt can be considered a plucky underdog, but we’re asked to believe it here. I can’t quite shake the feeling that this film looks to be a serious version of Major League, but with a screenwriting co-credit to Aaron Sorkin I’d be foolish to dismiss Moneyball outright. — Chris Holmes[youtube id=”AiAHlZVgXjk” width=”600″ height=”350″]
Red State has already provoked a swath of controversy, but that’s not surprising coming from director Kevin Smith. The film, his first horror flick, diverges from his regular milieu often referred to as Jim Jarmusch’s Revenge of the Nerds, or as Smith himself classifies it: dick and fart comedies.
Not that I don’t expect at least a couple characters to start saying some greasy gas-passing jokes, but in this case, they will have their heads lopped off at the punchlines. The film is about a fundamentalist church that lures horny teens in with the promise of sexual trysts and then…well, it’s a horror film, right? I expect it to be on par with Eli Roth’s Hostel more than anything else, which might not be a good thing for Smith. Films like the Scream revival, the Saw series and the recent Final Destination romp have been on the outs with the moviegoing public lately, and of all the times for Smith to change up his modus operandi, this might not be the best.
Speaking of being on the outs, this film is self-financed; the first since Smith’s Clerks debut, and it is partially because of a falling out with longtime supporter Harvey Weinstein. Their once-strong relationship was strained after the failure of Smith’s previous Zack and Miri Make A Porno. After making Red State, Smith proposed an auction for distribution rights at Sundance, screened the film, then announced he was self-releasing it. Some saw this as a reaction to poor results on the parts of distributors. Others felt it was a dog-and-pony-show staged by Smith for publicity. Either way, publicity was garnered, but the consensus is that it was for the shenanigans, not for any merit found in the film.
Supporting this belief is the fact that the film didn’t stay in the self-distribution realm for very long; instead, it will be distributed by Lionsgate. The final question will be whether Smith has found new life another genre, or whether this was much a-bloody-do about nothing. –Dw. Dunphy[youtube id=”uJ1v6oFHefc” width=”600″ height=”350″]
These days, director Jonathan Levine is arguably best known for the way his horror flick All the Boys Love Mandy Lane has twisted in release limbo for the last five years, but he’s also a fairly adept hand with dramedies, as he proved with The Wackness. Levine returned to that territory with 50/50, which uses a semi-autobiographical script from screenwriter Will Reiser to tell the story of a twentysomething guy (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) whose life is turned upside down after he receives an out-of-the-blue cancer diagnosis. Oh, and by the way, his dad has Alzheimer’s. It sounds like a recipe for bleak drama, but with a tagline like “it takes a pair to beat the odds” — and Seth Rogen in the supporting cast — this looks like a good old-fashioned pitch-black comedy. –Jeff Giles[youtube id=”TJ90H5HCgCw” width=”600″ height=”350″]
Yes, it’s another goddamn haunted house movie. But this one has a fairly impeccable pedigree, with a cast that includes Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz, and Naomi Watts — and it was directed by six-time Academy Award nominee Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot, In the Name of the Father). That hasn’t prevented rumors of trouble behind the scenes — including Craig and Weisz reportedly refusing to promote the film, and Sheridan losing control of the final cut — but who needs high art when you have creepy kids standing in front of Garden State wallpaper? –Jeff Giles[youtube id=”nIeMYPfnST0″ width=”600″ height=”350″]
Tucker & Dale vs. Evil
The information for this movie states that “Tucker & Dale vs Evil is a hilariously gory, good-spirited horror comedy, doing for killer rednecks what Shaun of the Dead did for zombies. This makes me both excited and apprehensive. You see, I’m a big fan of Shaun, and the last movie I saw that was compared to it was Dead and Breakfast, which I thought was so horrible that I would’ve taken it back to the store if I could have.
The plot synopsis says that “Tucker and Dale are two best friends on vacation at their dilapidated mountain house, who are mistaken for murderous backwoods hillbillies by a group of obnoxious, preppy college kids.” The students are so clumsy and stupid that, because of their fear of the two rednecks, they end up killing themselves with everything from a protruding tree branch to a woodchipper.
Going by the trailer, this really does look like a lot of fun. I just hope that the trailer doesn’t give away all the good parts (although the 100% score currently on the Rotten Tomatoes site is certainly encouraging). In fact, even though this isn’t going to be in theaters until later this month, you can already rent the movie on iTunes or Amazon (which I’m seriously considering doing myself!) –Tony Redman[youtube id=”j0hJSCqqIs4″ width=”600″ height=”350″]
I’ve been looking forward to Take Shelter’s release since its premiere at Sundance earlier this year, mostly because I’m obsessed with Michael Shannon, its Oscar-nominated star, but also because it just looks like a fantastic film. Shannon plays Curtis LaForche, a chief at an Ohio sand-mining company who, along with his seamstress wife (Jessica Chastain), struggles to provide for their young, deaf daughter, Hannah (Tova Stewart). When Curtis begins having dreams about an apocalyptic storm, he starts obsessively building a storm shelter in his family’s backyard, eliciting concern from his wife and friends and causing him to question whether or not the terrifying dreams signify the coming of a real storm or the onset of an inherited mental illness.
Early reviews of the film, the second from writer/director Jeff Nichols, have applauded it as a brilliant psychological thriller and have heaped generous praise upon Shannon’s performance. It won the Fresci Prize and the Critics’ Week Prize at the Cannes Film Festival and will screen at the Toronto International Film Festival before its limited theatrical release on September 30. If I were a betting woman, I’d say that Take Shelter, and its star, stand a good chance at getting a fair amount of nominations come award season. –Kelly Stitzel[youtube id=”I5U4TtYpKIc” width=”600″ height=”350″]