Autumn at the Movies
With the traditional Oscar-bait races getting an early head start powered by Richard Linklater's "Before Midnight," Ryan Coogler's "Fruitvale Station" and "Lee Daniels' The Butler," it's time to catch up with other early favorites, beginning with promising queer-themed releases.
In Kyle Patrick Alvarez's wickedly funny take on a David Sedaris essay, a book-smart, angelic-faced white boy plans to spend a summer picking apples alongside a young lady he imagines to be his girlfriend. Samuel makes his first mistake when the girl stands him up on the ride out to Oregon. Sedaris fans will relish the opening montage as Samuel is assaulted by a full array of Greyhound bus denizens, from the trash-talking pregnant black woman to the scary tattooed Jesus freak just out of prison.
The freshly out actor Jonathan Groff is adept at channeling a prideful sissy-boy on the verge of hilarious pratfalls with two middle-aged Mr. Wrongs: A dildo-collecting apple plant supervisor and an angry Bible-spouting vet, an Oscar-worthy turn from openly gay Denis O'Hare. (Sept. 20)
Kill Your Darlings
John Krokidas introduces us to America's most glamorous and notorious literary crowd through the backwash of a terrible crime. "Kill Your Darlings" received rich Sundance buzz for moments where young Daniel Radcliffe, as fledgling poet Allen Ginsberg, ingests drugs, masturbates, and has sex with an older man. This may be the movie that finally gets the Beats in focus. (Nov. 1)
As Abby (Robin Weigert), a wealthy lesbian housewife, rides home with her wife and kids in the family bus, she's just been struck in the head at her son's Little League game. The blow becomes a catalyst for a series of huge life changes. Director Stacy Passon presents her emancipated heroine, with all her blazing contradictions, in a memorable debut that's a lesbian companion piece to last year's Ira Sachs-directed "Keep the Lights On." As Passon explained on a Sundance website, "She tells her wife, 'I've had it, I'm going back to work.' And her version of that is to actively source sex. We need to show her at her most vulnerable, when she was filled with rage and jealousy, because some people can have it all, and she couldn't. If you've been sexually abandoned in your life and your marriage, how do you find intimacy again?" (Oct. 4)
Depending on how you see it, Jill Soloway's debut Sundance-heralded feature is either a sassy, edgy, post-feminist comedy or a depressingly familiar report back from the digital wars. In either case, we encounter our beleaguered heroine, Rachel (Kathryn Hahn), sitting in the womb of her van as it glides through an automated car wash. It's a more soothing experience than the conversational combat with her happily married lesbian shrink (finally, a good non-"Glee" part for the talented Jane Lynch) whose mad method is to take up Rachel's time with advice from her own marriage. But then, a therapy session where the client makes guilty allusions to Dafur is a bit screwy from the get-go.
Rachel is married to a "nice" Jewish guy, Jeff (Josh Radnor), whose job it is to inflict new phone apps on the world. Their union is rounded out by a curly-haired four-year-old son. Rachel is drifting towards trouble with the other married gals from her JCC. That trouble arrives in the person of a skinny blonde waif, McKenna (Juno Temple, turning into this generation's vessel for the loopy turns once the province of Karen Black or Goldie Hawn). In "adopting" McKenna, whom she meets at a lap-dancing sex club, Rachel is at least unconsciously deciding to detonate her smothering, sexless marriage. The scene that will determine whether this one's for you has Rachel in a women's-night-out wine party screeching that her precious personal photos are locked away in "the cloud." The women boast that their 20s are for sleeping around, with their parents paying for the inevitable abortions. Rachel asks if anyone cares to imagine what her aborted kid might look like if one had lived. Meanwhile, McKenna has invaded Jeff's all-boys poker night with comic brio. This is a must-see for fans of Mike White's satirical ickfest "Chuck and Buck." Soloway has the chops to render an old Woody Allen gag about a psychiatrist bursting into tears. (Sept. 6)
Marta Cunningham captures the story behind the 2008 classroom shooting death of California queer teen Larry King by classmate Brandon McInerney. "Brandon was 14 years old when he committed the crime, he was looking at 53 years to life without the chance of parole, and I thought, 'That's not right.' It's not right to kill somebody in the middle of English class, but is it right for him to be tried as an adult?"
"Boys Don't Cry" director Kimberly Peirce returns with a different spin on Brian De Palma's durable high school revenge camp-fest, based on early Stephen King. Newcomer Chloe Grace Moretz's bid to rattle prom night is complemented by Julianne Moore's latest bad-mom turn. (Oct. 4)
Romeo and Juliet
British pretty boy Douglas Booth (from BBC-TV's Boy George bio-pic "Worried about the Boy") is the news from Italian director Carlo Carlei's update on Shakespeare's tragic lovers. The trailer indicates a more traditional approach than Baz Lurhmann's 1996 Leo pop fest.
Quebec's Denis Villeneuve (2010's "Incendiaries") hatches a star-strewn child abduction thriller that has a frantic dad (Hugh Jackman) turning vigilante when a local cop (Jake Gyllenhaal) lets a low-IQ suspicious drifter (Paul Dano) off the hook in the disappearance of his young daughter. This one takes us down a rabbit hole of angst, paranoia and torture, with actors who won't hesitate to sacrifice their bodies for the story. (Sept. 20)
"I used to say I was a 260 lb. Woody Allen. You can make that 295 lb. now." The shock that James Gandolfini is dead at 51 is temporarily relieved by the arrival of one of his last jobs, a smart new opposites attract/empty nester rom-com from Nicole Holofcener. Albert has a decidedly non-cute party meet with masseuse Eva (Seinfeld survivor Julia Louis-Dreyfus). The attraction blossoms until the fickle finger of fate plops a beautiful poet down on Eva's table, Albert's still-bitter nag of an ex (Catherine Keener). Gandolfini's scenes overflow with a radiant humanity that renders his loss all the more painful.
America's grand old doc guy Frederick Wiseman trains his camera on an institution, UC Berkeley, that's been educating and perplexing since the heady days of the 1960s Free Speech movement. Wiseman's 40th feature explores the hypothesis I mulled over as a kid when the middle-class school system that saved me failed my younger siblings. Wiseman tells the NY Times that the budget cuts destabilizing the flagship campus were no accident. "There's a political agenda behind that, to dumb people down. Because if you don't study the humanities and you don't have technical education, you're not going to know about all the questions connected with the Enlightenment or free speech or representative government."
12 Years a Slave
British auteur Steve McQueen directs John Ridley's script based on a first-person account of 19th-century freeman Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), cruelly enslaved by the worst kind of Bible-thumping master (curiously, there's some IMDB chat that Michael Fassbender is way too sexy to play such a brute). McQueen, who directed a riveting account of the prison hunger strike death of the IRA's Bobby Sands (Fassbender), delivers a devastating take on the sorriest chapter in American history. A sublime supporting cast includes Brad Pitt, Paul Giamatti and Paul Dano. (Nov. 1)
The Trials of Muhammad Ali
Bill Siegel manages to find new angles on the bigger-than-life pop star who is perhaps the 60s' most obvious hero. Beginning with an international satellite TV broadcast that finds a bullying TV producer denouncing an oddly silent Ali, Siegel depicts the enormous stakes when the US government attempts to imprison a black athletic hero who refused military induction. Siegel deftly intros the players: from the white business group sponsoring the teenage Cassius Clay to the Black Muslim leaders who educate and support Muhammad Ali through the rigors of the pro boxing spotlight, to an obscure Supreme Court clerk who altered history. (Oct. 25)
A pop star from the literary division, J.D. Salinger is showcased in a much-anticipated oral history from Shane Salerno. Noting the WWII traumas experienced by Salinger as recorded in a companion book by Salerno and David Shields, NY Times critic Michiko Kakutani describes a celebrity writer "whose life was a slow-motion suicide mission,' a man who never recovered from the horrors of wartime combat and the soul-shaking sight of a Nazi death camp filled with burned and smoldering corpses. Salinger, they argue, tried to grapple with his post-traumatic stress disorder first with art and later with religion. 'The war broke him as a man and made him a great artist; religion offered him postwar spiritual solace and killed his art.'" Ironically, this ambitious film concerns a reclusive star whose iconic hero, Holden Caulfield, declares, "If there's one thing I hate, it's the movies." (Sept. 13)