By the Light of the Hunters' Moon

October 07, 2007
A thought by James Berardinelli

For those curious about the title, the Harvest Moon is the first full moon after the Autumnal Equinox. It is usually the October full moon, but this year it happened to occur in late September. The first full moon after the Harvest Moon is the Hunters' Moon. That's usually in November, but this year it's in October. Thus ends the trivia lesson. Hopefully, Jack Horkheimer couldn't have explained it better. (You can pat yourself on the back if you know who Horkheimer is without having to look him up.)

October is a strange movie month - neither feast nor fowl, and sometimes more tricks than treats. The spectacle season of summer is long past and the holiday movies haven't yet made an appearance. With many of the big Oscar guns being held back until November and December, that leaves October wide open for potential surprises. Octobers can be very good or very bad or (most likely) somewhere in between. Last October saw the best film of 2006 released (The Departed). I don't know if 2007 will be able to make the same claim, but there are some good things out there.

The first weekend of October hasn't generated much multiplex heat. The film with the biggest commercial potential, The Heartbreak Kid, has generated buzz as mediocre as its quality. Michael Clayton, on the other hand, is garnering high praise from all corners. It will be interesting to see if this develops into a mainstream success. It's an atypical thriller: slow, thoughtful, and limited in action. It's tough to see more than a handful of under-20s liking this but it could become popular with post-college adults. (It should be noted, however, that a significant portion of Michael Clayton's core audience no longer attends multiplexes.) Finally, opening in limited release with the intent of going wider in the upcoming weeks is Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited. The production will delight Anderson fans and confound everyone else. Marketing it as a comedy is a mistake, however. This movie is not terribly funny, nor is it intended to be. (At least I hope that's the case.)

The biggest release of the month's second weekend is either the historical epic Elizabeth: The Golden Age (a.k.a., Elizabeth II: The Wrath of Philip) or the crime drama We Own the Night. For my money, though, the best film of the week may be Lars and the Real Girl, going into limited release. In it, a guy falls in love with an anatomically correct sex doll. While there's humor to be found in the premise, it's not played strictly for laughs, and that's why it works. Also opening: Control, a bio-pic about Joy Division lead singer Ian Curtis; Kenneth Branagh's re-make of Sleuth, starring Michael Caine and Jude Law with a script by Harold Pinter; and Final Season, a baseball movie that is inexplicably being released in the middle of football season. (Is it trying to capitalize on the baseball playoffs?) Someone should Yari Releasing that baseball movies are supposed to come out during the spring.

October 19 gives us Ben Affleck's directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone. I haven't seen it yet, but I hear it's pretty good. You couldn't tell by the title, which is awful. (Because it's adapted from a novel, however, Affleck was stuck with it.) Things We Lost in the Fire is Halle Berry's attempt to get off the Cuba Gooding Jr. bandwagon to credibility hell (which has now landed him in underwear commercials as the butt of Michael Jordan's jokes) and regain her status as a serious actress. After garbage like Perfect Stranger and Catwoman, she needs to prove something. This is her chance. Rendition is a disappointing drama about an Egyptian American who is detained because of suspected terrorist involvement and sent to a prison outside of the United States so he can be tortured into giving up names. The film cops out when it comes to tackling hard questions and generating real drama. Reservation Road is a story about guilt and vengeance that isn't bad but could have been better. The ending disappoints in a "is that all there is?" way. Finally, there's this year's Halloween vampire movie, 30 Days of Night, which is precisely what you don't want to have when being hunted by the undead.

October wraps with Saw IV. I'm not planning to see it. I watched the first Saw and found it to be entertaining, but I didn't bother with installments two or three. For the most part, I find horror sequels to be wearisome. I have become trapped into seeing every new Halloween - a dispiriting task - and don't want that to happen with another series. The first Saw did what it set out to do; I don't need to see that re-hashed ad nauseum. Counter-programming for the weekend includes Dan in Real Life, which wants to be this year's Little Miss Sunshine (it will have competition in that arena from Juno), and Sidney Lumet's Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, which was favorably received at the Toronto Film Festival.

Once Halloween is past, we'll turn the page and face pilgrims, turkeys, and Vince Vaughn as Fred Claus. I can't wait.