This summer movie season. Yeesh.
Between high-profile disasters ("Suicide Squad"), predictable pratfalls ("Ben-Hur") and sequels that no asked for (anyone remember "Alice Through the Looking Glass"?), there was something for everybody – if that something you were looking for was grating disappointment. Even the few highlights ("The Nice Guys," "Popstar") were dimmed by the fact that nobody saw them.
But hey, you know what they say about hope and eternal springing, so we turn our eyes toward the fall and Serious Movie Season. From sci-fi thrillers and wizarding returns to the latest projects from Clint, Ang Lee, Zemeckis, Gibson and Beatty (wait, really?! Gibson and Beatty!?), the fall actually has something for everything – if that something is promising material.
Here are the movies that’ll get you out of the chill and into a bucket of popcorn this fall.
From its subject matter – Nat Turner and his 1831 slave revolt – to its wild Sundance reception and record purchase to early Oscar predictions to even simply its bold history-reclaiming title, "The Birth of a Nation" has constantly gotten people talking. But starting around a month ago, that conversation turned deeply ugly. The story is now about writer-director-star Nate Parker, a rape trial from his – as well as his co-writer's – past with immensely tragic aftershocks and difficult questions about how we separate the art from the artist. What was once a must-see now has people debating if they should morally see it at all.
I saw the movie out at Sundance back in January. While flawed and far in the shadow of "12 Years a Slave," it’s a powerful, fiery and passionate telling of an essential part of American history. But that movie is gone now. The lens is irreparably cracked and stained, and many – from casual viewers to the Oscar voters it assumed it would have, come awards time – will have an impossible time trying to see the film through the pain inflicted by its creators' alleged past choices.
In what appears to be the horror movie version of the "How Do You Do, Fellow Kids?" meme, "Friend Request" follows a high school student who unfriends the wrong creepy girl at school and ends up haunted by her ghost code. Not kidding; if the trailer for what I now insist on calling "Drag Me to HTM-Hell" is accurate, the creepy girl’s ghost reincarnates into demonic coding. The Skype call is coming from inside the house!
There might be some cheap thrills to be had here; heck, I was already happily surprised by one social media thriller this year, "Nerve." And hey, the director’s last name is Verhoeven! Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to share any DNA with the "Total Recall" and "Robocop" director, so when it comes to horrors about kids haunted by social media specters, we’ll probably be fine sticking with the kinda genius "Unfriended."
(Editor's note: In case a horror movie about a haunted Facebook profile didn't sound promising enough, "Friend Request" has been quietly delayed until next month on Nov. 18, where it'll be pummeled to death at the box office by "Fantastic Beasts.")
A dark and twisty murder mystery based on a best-selling book with an unreliable female narrator? If only there was some sort of alliterative title for such a story about a girl who has gone. Hmm … nothing’s coming to mind.
Anyways, "Gone Girl 2: Electric Boogaloo" jokes aside, "The Girl on the Train" looks very solid with the resume to back it up. Emily Blunt ("Edge of Tomorrow") is always a compelling actress, and this role seems to have plenty of meat for her to gnaw on – perhaps enough to merit her first Oscar nomination. And in case you wanted another scene-thief from a Tom Cruise movie, Rebecca Ferguson from "Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation" is here too. Tate Taylor ("The Help") is behind the camera, so we probably won’t get something as deviously sleek as Fincher's "Gone Girl," but if we can get a mystery just as satisfyingly smart and twisted, it’ll be hard to pass on a ticket to ride.
I struggle to relate to a movie called "Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life," a peppy and imaginative-looking kids film starring TV comedy scene-stealers like Andy Daly, Retta and Adam Pally. Others might relate to the story of a young awkward teenager trying to rebel against his principal’s ridiculous authoritarian rules and becoming a hero of freedom among the students. But not me. As one who was a completely awesome and not-at-all awkward scrawny kid in middle school and definitely wasn’t a total dork class clown who weighed maybe 50 pounds soaking wet, my middle school years were perfect and wonderful, and no, that smell definitely isn’t me burning all photo evidence of me in braces and wearing massive Rec Specs sports glasses.
Everything in "The Accountant" would seem to add up to something special. You’ve got a strong cast – headed by Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick and J.K. Simmons with John Lithgow providing some supporting role color – a generally solid director in Gavin O’Connor ("Warrior") and an intriguingly ominous Radiohead-scored trailer hinting at the story of a mathematics savant tangling with some shady dealings.
But there’s also something about about "The Accountant" that makes me wonder: Is this a silly movie? Is Ben Affleck as a mannered and potentially murderous savant who manages to always hide his face from hidden cameras … kind of goofy? Maybe it’s just that Jeffrey Tambor appears to give business advice from what looks like a prison, making me expect to hear him say, "There’s always money in the banana stand." Either way, I’m looking forward to "The Accountant" ... but I’m also prepared for it to possibly be this year’s "Black Mass."
Don’t be fooled by the posters and previews for "Kevin Hart: What Now?" that make the movie look like either an apocalyptic actioner or a spy spoof: "What Now" is a stand-up comedy special. So if you’re looking for a blockbuster, look elsewhere. However, if you’re looking for a chance to see the wildly popular funnyman bringing his crazed comedic persona on stage, this special will likely do the trick.
Alfonso Cuaron directed one of the best 3-D experiences to grace modern cinema in "Gravity," one of the best Harry Potter movies with "Prisoner of Azkaban" (don’t @ me) and one of the best movies made this century period with "Children of Men." So yeah, no pressure following in your father’s footsteps, Jonas Cuaron.
Judging by the trailer for his directorial debut "Desierto," a thriller about an immigrant being chased around the U.S./Mexico border by a murderous gun-toting patriot, the younger Cuaron definitely seems to have his father’s immaculate sense of tension and mind for intense setpiece moments, as the short clip is already one of the more stressful things you’ll watch this year. Let’s ignore the clunky dialogue for now – the painfully on-the-nose line "Welcome to the land of the free," is somehow the clip’s most torturous moment – and savor what otherwise looks like a tight little thrill ride.
Halloween this year brings out one of the cinema’s most terrifying, sinister, blood-curdling creations: Madea. It’s been three years since Tyler Perry’s signature character hit the big screen, but like a zombie, what was once dead has horrifically returned to life, shuffling and shambling toward its audience and eager to devour their once-active brains. And apparently we have Chris Rock to blame, as a toss-off joke in his otherwise good "Top Five" gave Tyler Perry the idea for "Boo!" So thanks a lot, Chris; I revoke a full star off my previous three-star review of that movie!
Anyways, Madea is back, watching over some kids on Halloween, when ghosts, ghouls and zombies attack, waiting to be knocked back into the afterlife by sassy retorts from a man in drag. Every generation gets the Ernest it deserves.
A Madea movie AND a faith-based movie on the same day. A real trick-or-trick set of Halloween options this year, Hollywood.
Once again, there has not yet been a single recommendable religious film in this recent spat. I think we are reaching a point, however, where the audience’s demands for quality-made entertainment have finally surpassed their desire to simply be recognized.
Perhaps "I’m Not Ashamed" could prove me right. It’s got some quite-powerful source material, adapting the journals of Rachel Joy Scott, the 1996 Columbine student who was shot and killed during the school shooting because of her faith. It’s also a story, though, that could easily feel exploitative of a real tragedy if not told with a thoughtful and deft touch. Hopefully its creators are taking that careful and caring approach (*looks at IMDB page and sees several "Duck Dynasty" stars on the cast list*). Another prayer trip around the rosary it is!
The first "Jack Reacher" film wasn’t a huge hit ($80 million on a $60 million budget for a Christmas release), wasn’t particularly beloved by fans of the Lee Child novels (Cruise didn’t fit the part), hasn’t been remembered all that well by the general public and, worst of all, helped introduce Jai Courtney into the world. So, of course, the only logical thing to do would be to make a sequel.
In this second chapter, our punchy protagonist (Tom Cruise) heads back to his old military stomping grounds only to be framed along with a friend (Cobie Smulders) for an old homicide case. One assumes attitude and punches will be two of his major counter-arguments. The original film is no failure – the action scenes are solid, practical-heavy highlights – but it’s also no classic crying out for a second installment, and losing original director Christopher McQuarrie to anonymous Oscar bait artist Edward Zwick doesn’t inspire confidence. Hopefully it’ll be a perfect little B-movie antidote to the sensory overload of the summer spectacles and portentousness of the fall’s prestige pics. Or maybe Cruise will end up wishing he took the subtitle’s advice.
"Keeping Up with the Joneses" … wait, is that really how you spell Joneses? That can’t be right. Anyways, where was I? Yes, "Keeping Up with the Joneses," starring Zach Galifianakis … hold on, he looks quite slimmed down in this. And where’s the rest of the beard? I am unsettled.
Sorry if I’m getting distracted, but there’s just not much huge interest in this comedy about two bored suburbanites who discover their new couple next door (Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot) are spies — like "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" if it followed their pesky and very confused neighbors instead. The trailer’s low on big laughs, and despite the talented Greg Mottola ("Superbad," "Adventureland") behind the camera, the footage itself looks a little cheap and limp. But hey, save the good jokes for the actual movie, I say. Plus, a movie starring Don Draper and Wonder Woman is too attractive and too alliterative to ignore. I think I just talked myself into seeing this, but I couldn’t be sure; I wasn’t really paying attention.
An unnecessary sequel to a bad horror movie based on a board game should be the kind of thing that has me quietly muttering about the state of Hollywood while drinking my sadness away. On the other hand, "Ouija: Origin of Evil" might actually look … good? Yes, the trailer has some silliness in it – guys, the little girl’s rubber-jawed possessed face is nowhere near as creepy as you think it is – but simply moving it back to the ’70s instantly gives it more character than its generic predecessor. Plus, the director is Mike Flanagan, who previously did the crafty little horror flick "Oculus." Of all the horrors headed our way this Halloween, this looks like the only option worth screaming about.
After all the spoofing and all of the technological advances since its release, it’s easy to forget "The Ring" is actually a really good horror movie, one almost literally dripping with dread and atmosphere that oozes out of the screen and earns its chills.
Unfortunately, none of those compliments can be passed along to "Rings," which is only scary in that it looks exactly like the loud, silly and no longer relevant sequel you’ve feared. Maybe there’s something craftier and creepier in the whole product we’re not seeing in the way-too-revealing trailer. But overall, "Rings" needs to do much more than update from VHS to webcam to feel interesting and fresh again – having Samara ridiculously and just plain confusingly bring down an airplane only makes me yearn to watch the evil tape by comparison.
(Editor's note: Adding to my growing list of concerns about "Rings," the movie's been delayed all the way until Feb. 3 next year. This is not its first shelving; in fact, the horror sequel was originally supposed to come out in 2015. Always a good sign when a studio desperately wants to keep a movie away from audiences as long as possible.)
I know what you’re thinking: After hearing about sequels to "Jack Reacher," "The Ring" and "Ouija" – and surviving a summer with the likes of "TMNT 2," "Alice in Wonderland 2" and "Ice Age 5" – what we really need is another sequel nobody asked for. Well, "Inferno" is here to answer your sarcastic sequel prayers!
I suppose this is as good a time as any to admit that I actually like "The Da Vinci Code" and "Angels & Demons" movies. I like the operatic dread. I like the scenic, legacy-rich locales. I like the silly insta-puzzle solving and ridiculous adventure plotting. I like that Tom Hanks’ mane in the first film makes me giggle. So put me on board for another adventure with everyone’s favorite Jeopardy contestant as he attempts to stop a terrorist attack (with the excellent Felicity Jones in tow this time) by solving cryptic puzzles that really would seem to be a needless and counterproductive hassle for a highly motivated terrorist organization, I imagine.