Monthly Preview: September 2015

calendar2This month’s schedule is a microcosm of the classic September lineup, as much so as either of the past two Septembers I’ve previewed. It’s a month full of dark horse films, the sort of movies that don’t fully fall into any particular studio promotional box. For those complaining about how superhero movies are drowning out the serious midrange adult dramas, this is the month to put your money where your mouth is. But even if those sorts of movies aren’t your thing, there are more than enough alternatives to balance them out.

Sleeping With Other People: This one I already saw and discussed briefly when I attended the Tribeca Film Festival in April, and it’s already assumed a position as one of my favorite movies of the year. While I definitely want to see it again to explore my reaction further, I can say without reservation that it is a great movie, one that embraces rom-com tropes while still feeling wholly original and not contrived at all. The secret to Leslye Headland’s success is that she fully commits to the sad and tragic aspects of the story as well as the funny parts; there are some scenes of this movie that are so heavy and impactful that it feels like a straight up drama. The result is a rom-com that is funny but also really heartfelt and strongly romantic to me, and one that I can’t wait to revisit and review in-depth.

Everest: Up to this point, as far as American audiences would be concerned director Baltasar Kormakur is a respectable but unremarkable action movie director, the kind of guy that executes straightforward premises in an inoffensive fashion. But with Everest, Kormakur looks to define his American career more along the lines of his Icelandic efforts, delivering what appears to be a harrowing and character-driven disaster thriller. Working with an absolutely stellar cast, Kormakur’s new film seems to cover both the aspirational celebration of the human spirit and the tense life-and-death struggle with equal time and quality. While ultimately this story will probably play out about the way you might expect, there seems to be a terrific level of technical skill on display here that should elevate (heh) Everest towards being something very good.

Sicario: Pretty much two years ago on the nose, Denis Villeneuve broke into more mainstream American film with the twisted and probably-still-underseen Prisoners, and here he returns to that end of the dramatic spectrum with Sicario. Aided by a top-notch cast and what seems to be more than the requisite amount of tension and violence, Sicario looks to be one of the better contributions to the War on Drugs subset of crime dramas. And if the reviews from Cannes are any indication, Villeneuve and company have not only built a crackling thriller but also a deep thematic exploration of American pseudo-imperialism, something which fits right in with the subject matter but is rarely ever given the appropriate attention within the subgenre. All in all, this one should be tense and hard-hitting, and could be a real sleeper for me as 2015 enters its home stretch.

Cooties: Amid a sea of adult-skewing dramas, one can always use a good schlocky horror-comedy, and from all reports Cooties should fit that bill more than nicely. Featuring the likes of Elijah Wood, Rainn Wilson and Jack McBrayer as teachers fighting off hordes of zombified children, this movie just looks like unrestrained fun, embracing the inherently un-PC concept of adults butchering undead children for maximum insanity. There might also be some sly commentary on the difficult life of teachers or even (dare I hope?) childhood vaccinations, but all of that seems secondary to the sheer ridiculousness of the film, which is probably for the best. This one should be a fun ride in-between moody character studies, and I’m very excited for that.

Some Kind Of Hate: Another awesome-sounding horror film getting a predominantly VOD release this month, Some Kind Of Hate seems like a more serious, emotional experience with a great deal of potential impact to be had. The concept (a guy in a camp for abused kids forges a connection with a girl’s ghost, who begins to torment the camp bullies) sounds like a great way to utilize slasher movie tropes in service of a strong theme, and the imagery on display in that trailer is gorgeous, intense and moody. This looks like it might wind up being a great companion piece to It Follows (tonally speaking more than anything else) which is nothing but good news. This is the sort of genre film that I love, one that builds on the classic language of tropes and archetypes and puts them to unique use. I have really high hopes for this one, and I’m optimistic it will live up to them.

Black Mass: Let’s be honest people: Johnny Depp has sucked for awhile now. Things have been going downhill for him since at least the end of the original Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy — if not from the first Pirates film — with Depp’s two speeds being “Overact Until Everyone’s Eyeballs Bleed” or “Mumble Mumble Snore”. But with Black Mass, it seems like Depp might have actually woken up for once and given a real, committed performance for the first time in a while. Aside from Depp, the cast is stacked, and while the style certainly owes a lot to Scorsese I think that Scott Cooper is a talented enough director that (much like David O Russell with American Hustle) he can make the imitation feel less cheap than others might. I doubt this film will reinvent the wheel in any way but I think it will be a fun ride.

99 Homes: The financial crisis and resulting recession that has wracked America until recently (but now might be back? I don’t know enough about adult stuff) has inspired plenty of films already, but 99 Homes seems like a particularly visceral parable of that time. I’ll be glad to see Andrew Garfield in something that isn’t Spider-Man related, and seeing him going head-to-head with Michael Shannon is more than enough to get my ass in the theater. I’m not familiar with the work of director Ramin Bahrani, but this seems like a particularly impactful and raw introduction to him. Of all the films I’ve seen about the greed of American society lately, this one seems like the most bluntly emotional and human, which is a hugely important perspective to bring to a story like this one.

Stonewall: The legalization of gay marriage in America this past June was a huge cultural achievement, worthy of the celebration that followed and then some. With the release of Stonewall later this month, we should be reminded both of the awful sacrifices that the LGBT community has made in the past and how much of the battle yet remains for them. This film is particularly intriguing for me as it is coming from Roland Emmerich, the action maestro, doing what is undoubtedly his most personal film and the furthest from his comfort zone. It should absolutely be noted that there is already controversy dogging this film, as people in the LGBT community are frustrated by the whitewashing of the movement and characters at the expense of the minority and transgender activists who actually led the Stonewall riot. While that is certainly an issue worth discussing, I still want to see this film, and hope that it will lead to more cinematic explorations of this movement and its forgotten heroes.

Out on VOD this month before an October theatrical release, Addicted To Fresno seems like a solid little indie that will hopefully be a better showcase for Judy Greer and Natasha Lyonne than what most other films have given them; the documentary Peace Officer is supposed to be fantastic, a very timely look at the current nature of American police; Mississippi Grind got solid-yet-unspectacular reviews at Sundance, a well-done throwback gambling drama with a good cast; The Keeping Room looks like a great dramatic situation and a cool feminist twist on Westerns, though it’s also the sort of indie Western I tend to not like as much as I want to; and finally Finders Keepers sounds like a really twisted and distinctive documentary, like the sort of thing Errol Morris started his career with, and that could be very fun.

There’s (one hell of a) September for ya. With these dark horses out of the way, it’s time for legit “Awards Season” to kick off, and whatever you think of the Oscars (they suck) it means a lot of good movies on the horizon. Can’t wait!

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