Although the actual calendar would beg to differ, the Hollywood summer season officially and mercifully ended last weekend.
Despite having its fair share of turkeys, bombs, and clunkers, fall is when the movie studios trot out their prestige, awards-seeking titles and there are at least a handful that will (hopefully) be worthy of your time and attention.
Score: 3 stars *** out of 4 ****
(R, September 21)
Screened far in advance for the press, “Lizzie” is the latest in a long line of operas, ballets, musicals, TV, and feature films centering on one of the country’s highest-profile unsolved multiple murder cases. In 1892 Massachusetts, businessman Andrew Borden and his second wife were brutally slaughtered by an ax and all evidence indicated Borden’s daughter Lizzie (a chilling Chloe Sevigny) was the culprit. Director Craig William Macneill and writer Bryce Kass construct an out-of-sequence narrative which suggests multiple suspects including Kristen Stewart as an Irish housekeeper (who was also Lizzie’s lover) and another sinister family relative. A slow-burn, deliberately-paced affair, “Lizzie” is an art-house thriller with teeth.
(PG-13, October 12)
Having already ignited a firestorm of controversy, “First Man” focuses on the Apollo 11 NASA mission where Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) became the first man to walk on the Moon. The Canadian-born Gosling and his Oscar-winning French-American “La La Land” director Damien Chazelle made the dicey decision not to include Armstrong’s iconic planting of the U.S. flag on the Moon, sighting the event as a “human” and not a “U.S.” accomplishment. This is an odd and befuddling argument as the U.S. and the Soviet Union were in a “make it to the Moon first” race at the time with the winner enjoying universal bragging rights and all of it smacks of political correctness run amok.
CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?
(R, October 19)
In a career littered with unfunny comedies (“Bridesmaids” being the lone exception), Melissa McCarthy is swinging for the Oscar fences in this fact-based drama from director Marielle Heller (“The Diary of a Teenage Girl”), based on the memoir of the same name by Lee Israel. McCarthy stars as Israel, the scribe of tell-all biographies (including Katherine Hepburn, Tallulah Bankhead, and Estee Lauder) who falls on hard times. By chance Israel comes across an authentic rare document by a deceased famous writer and decides the best way to continue to pay the rent is to forge others like it. Certain to touch on issues such as journalistic ethics, fraud and plain old fashioned right-and-wrong, this could be the artistic watershed moment in McCarthy’s otherwise pedestrian but lucrative career trajectory.
THE FRONT RUNNER
(R, November 7)
Throughout human history nothing has sunk the aspirations of politicians more so than their own easily avoidable, self-inflicted missteps. Nowhere in modern American times has this been clearer or more obvious than with 1988 Democratic presidential hopeful Gary Hart. In this pitch- black comedy from director Jason Reitman (“Thank You for Smoking,” “Juno,” “Up in the Air”), Hugh Jackman portrays Hart, the Colorado senator who all but had the nomination in the bag until he was caught with his fingers in the metaphorical cookie jar on a boat named “Monkey Business” with a young woman named Donna Rice (Sara Paxton). The always reliable Vera Farmiga co-stars as Hart’s put-upon wife Lee and Reitman regular J.K. Simmons appears as his frustrated PR spin doctor.
(Not yet rated, December 21)
After establishing himself as Will Ferrell’s principal comedic collaborator, writer/director Adam McKay radically switched gears in 2015 with the brilliant Wall Street tome “The Big Short” and he seems intent on becoming fully legit with this even more serious political drama. A barely recognizable Christian Bale stars as Dick Cheney, arguably the most influential U.S. vice president in history. Early buzz indicates McKay is taking a semi-sympathetic approach to Cheney in a manner Oliver Stone did with “Nixon” and “W” but as the final cut isn’t complete and there is no trailer, don’t count on it.
Also on the horizon…
First time director Bradley Cooper’s third remake of “A Star is Born” (October 5) features an unadorned Lady Gaga as the rising talent falling for Cooper’s fading alcoholic rocker and the early festival buzz is beyond positive.
“Hunter Killer” (October 26) includes Gary Oldman and Gerard Butler and is about a rogue Naval officer who has kidnapped the president of Russia.
Despite troubling behind-the-scenes issues during principal photography, “Bohemian Rhapsody” (November 2) – the Queen/Freddie Mercury bio-drama – is garnering raves from festival crowds.
“Mary Queen of Scots” (December 7) has Saoirse Ronan playing the title character butting heads with her cousin Elizabeth I (Margot Robbie) in a battle for the British crown.
“On the Basis of Sex” (December 28) chronicles the early career of future Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Felicity Jones).
Michael Clark has written for over 30 local and national media outlets and is currently the only newspaper-based film critic providing original content in the Atlanta Top 10 media marketplace and he recently co-founded the Atlanta Film Critics Circle. Over the last two decades, Mr. Clark has written over 3,500 movie reviews and film related articles for the Gwinnett Daily Post and is one of the scant few conservative-minded U.S. critics. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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