Monthly Preview: October 2014

calendar2BEHOLD! The grand plunder of cinematic treasure that is October. We have a terrific, wide-ranging bunch of movies on the calendar this month, featuring one of my favorite directors, and a ton of great acting talent. No matter what your tastes are, I’m sure you’ll find something to enjoy at the movie theater over the next thirty-one days.

Gone Girl: David Fincher has been a favorite filmmaker of mine for some time now, and any new project from him is something I can get excited about. And early word about the film’s twisted deconstruction of both marriage and news media sounds like exactly the sort of bitter commentary that Fincher excels at. Furthermore, I’m excited to see Ben Affleck remind people that he is a good actor before he becomes Batman, and to see Rosamund Pike get a chance to prove herself as a lead actress. Throw in what I’m sure is another great Reznor/Ross score, and I’m more than sold on this movie.

Stretch: While Fincher has been an A-list director for some time, I feel that Joe Carnahan has yet to get the respect he deserves. This is probably because his truly great work like Narc and The Grey ends up being overshadowed by the likes of Smokin’ Aces and this film, which might be dismissed as Tarantino-lite. All of that is too bad, because not only do I like the measured and dark approach of the former films, but Carnahan has a very specific anarchist energy in films like Stretch that is less derivative than many people think. Stretch looks like a wild ride with several out-of-the-box performances from some underrated performers, and should be a fun VOD experience for a lazy weekend afternoon.

Automata: And speaking of VOD, that is also where you can find this ambitious little film, starring Antonio Banderas (an actor who I haven’t seen in a movie for some time). While Automata does seem very derivative of movies like I, Robot and Ghost in the Shell, it’s the sort of story that I’m willing to watch under any circumstance, and familiar or not it looks like a well-executed example of the genre. And they clearly accomplished a lot with a non-studio budget, as the effects look great here. Should be a fun time if nothing else.

Whiplash: Miles Teller has burst on the scene over the last few years with some terrific independent performances, and even with projects like That Awkward Moment and Divergent on his resume, he’s clearly marked himself as a talent to watch. That apparently continues with Whiplash, which with or without Teller looks like a terrific film. The inimitable JK Simmons looks fearsome in this as well, another in a long line of great roles for him. The moment I was sold on this film is the line in the trailer, “The two most hurtful words in the English language are ‘good job.’” It looks like a challenging ode to the drive to create art, and I’m sure it will speak to anyone who’s ever aspired to do so.

Birdman: If you watched the above trailer and are not at least intrigued as hell by this movie, then you might just be insane. The opportunity for Michael Keaton to riff off his past playing Batman could easily be a vanity project, but in the hands of Inarittu it’s become this head-spinning phantasmagoria that is playing well outside any easily-defined box. And aside from the visual insanity, the terrific cast should certainly help bolster Keaton, who’s been on the sidelines for far too long. This is one of several movies this month that could end up on my Favorite Movies list this year, but could also suffer backlash from all the early rave reviews. Fingers crossed the latter isn’t the case.

Fury: I’ve developed a weird fascination with David Ayer’s career, which is more surprising when I remember I don’t actually like most of his movies to begin with (Sabotage, which was released earlier this year, came close to working for me and then failed to stick the landing). But Fury seems like the closest thing to a safe bet that he’s produced since the script to Training Day. A solid cast, an uncommon premise and what looks to be an uncompromising perspective on war should result in an intense and interesting movie, and a different sort of film than most of the others I’ll be seeing this time of year.

Young Ones: Post-apocalyptic westerns seem to be making a slight comeback, including The Rover earlier this year and the return of Mad Max next May. This sharp-looking effort from Jake Paltrow (yeah, brother of Gwyneth) seems to be a good entry in the category, and more markedly scifi than its 2014 predecessor. A good cast, low-key special effects and a contrast between broad dystopian allegory and intimate emotional beats give this film all the elements for success. Like several others this month, VOD seems to be in the cards, so don’t let geography or showtimes thwart you here.

White Bird in a Blizzard: I’ve only seen one Gregg Araki film (Doom Generation) but his reputation certainly precedes him. From what I know about this film, it seems like the sort of project that allows a left-field auteur an opportunity to produce something more accessible, while still staying true to his offbeat voice. And when that voice is aided by the likes of rising star Shailene Woodley and always-committed Eva Green, you could easily end up with something distinct and powerful. While Araki’s track record would also suggest there’s a good chance this could be muddled and nonsensical, what I’ve seen suggests a film tapping into something primal and universal in a fascinatingly unconventional fashion, and that’s something worth keeping an eye on.

Nightcrawler: The word about town is that Jake Gyllenhaal is a monster in this, and anytime you put out a performance that evokes the name “Travis Bickle” you’ve probably done something right. Placing that promising suggestion at the center of a Network-esque neo-noir look at the ethics of crime news only raises the stakes further. Nightcrawler (right down to the unintentionally X-men-suggesting title) is my cup of tea in a lot of ways, and also seems to represent another opportunity to step outside of his comfort zone and do something different as an actor. Gyllenhaal is turning into the sort of performer that clearly deserves more mainstream appreciation, even though it’s clear that such appreciation could only come from dulling his edges. Nightcrawler looks to be another feather in his ambitious hat.

Horns: The premise of Joe Hill’s book has always intrigued me, and the only solace I can take from not reading it yet is that I don’t know what to expect from the film. Similarly, I have yet to see an Alexandre Aja film, though from what my gorehound friends tell me he’s a great filmmaker with the right project in his hands. With all of this hypothetical greatness in front of me, it helps that the known greatness of Daniel Radcliffe is the centerpiece of this crazy-looking film, and it’s good to see the guy who played That Wizard take yet another step towards cementing himself as a fully-realized performer in his own right. The movie looks like a fun and perverse bit of entertainment just in time for Halloween, and I can’t wait to wrap up the month with some enjoyable high-concept sin.

A few years ago, Jason Reitman was a director on the rise, but with Men Women Children he seems to have yet another subpar effort (one that has garnered comparisons to the 2005 Crash, no less) but I’m still curious if nothing else; Jeremy Renner remains an underrated talent, the story of Gary Webb is intriguing and infuriating, and Kill the Messenger seems like a perfectly solid combination of those elements; The Book of Life looks like a sweet, fun movie, and one that could easily end up surprising me (that terrific voice cast certainly doesn’t hurt); Laggies looks like an engaging showcase for Keira Knightley and Chloe Moretz, even if it looks predictable as hell; and one late showcomer to my attention is John Wick, which got some great reviews from Fantastic Fest recently and looks simple but badass, a nice continuation of this year’s glut of throwback pulp actioners.

And lo, with the spoils of October safe and secure, let us venture onward to November, with an opening weekend to die for.

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