Seasons Change

September 02, 2007
A thought by James Berardinelli

September is a transition month all around. In the Southern hemisphere, it announces the arrival of spring and all that the season promises. In the North, it's back to school and time to get ready for the cooler weather ahead. In Hollywood, it's time to switch gears from mind-numbing blockbusters to the prestige fare the accompanies the end-of-the-year award drive. Although Oscar season doesn't really begin until October, that doesn't stop studios from trying to sneak in a few "high class" offerings before summer's last month draws to a close.

September's first full weekend brings an eclectic group of offerings that provides something for nearly everyone. The highest profile film of the weekend is either the Western 3:10 to Yuma (an effective remake of the 1957 film, starring Christian Bale and Russell Crowe) or the action/comedy movie Shoot 'Em Up, which promises a glimpse into what things might have been like had Clive Owen taken over the 007 role instead of Daniel Craig. Fierce People is one of those indie films that has lingered forever on shelves before finally being dumped into theaters by Lionsgate. Finally, John Turturro has become so disillusioned with the distribution prospects for his delightfully quirky musical Romance and Cigarettes that he's putting it out himself. The cast is incredible: Susan Sarandon, James Gandolfini, Kate Winslet, Christopher Walken... And if you love Tom Jones, this isn't to be missed - especially Walken's take on "Delilah." (The four minute clip can be found on YouTube.)

The Toronto Film Festival dominates the rest of the September schedule, even for those who aren't going anywhere near Ontario. 10 of the 15 films I'll be reviewing over the last three weeks of September will be playing at the festival. The exceptions: September 21st's Good Luck Chuck, whose primary selling point seems to be a view of Jessica Alba in a bathing suit, and Trade, about the sex trafficking industry, and three of September 28th's four significant releases. As for the others...

September 14 is a busy day. Across the Universe opens, although it's unclear whose cut this is. Reportedly, Julie Taymor had the movie (which features a soundtrack dominated by Beatles songs) taken out of her control to be re-cut by the producers. So what will actually end up on screen is anyone's guess. The Brave One is Jodie Foster's stab at a Best Actress nomination - she plays a radio talk show host who is brutally beaten and, as a result, takes to carrying a gun and putting herself in situations where it's advisable to use it. It's more intense and intelligent than Kevin Bacon's recent Death Sentence, although there are some thematic similarities. In the Valley of Elah is Paul Haggis' follow-up to 2006's Best Picture, Crash. Eastern Promises is the latest for Canadian auteur David Cronenberg - re-teamed with Viggo Mortensen, he takes us into the underworld of the Russian mafia. King of California features a loopy Michael Douglas as a modern-day treasure hunter. Finally, there's Silk - maybe. The dark drama about a French silkworm collector was supposed to open on September 14 but I saw a recent press release that indicates it may be delayed (although that may only be the case in certain markets). So, if you're a big Kiera Knightley fan, you may have to wait a while for this one.

September 21 provides us with what may be the longest title of the year: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. It's the second Western to be released this month, which is something that hasn't happened in a long time. Into the Wild is Sean Penn's 2 1/2 hour telling of the true story of a rich guy who gives up all his possessions to go walkabout in Alaska. The Jane Austen Bookclub threatens a high does of estrogen, although it's really less about Ms. Austen and her novels than it is about the soap opera-ish lives of those who talk about her writings.

For September 28, we have Game Plan, which appears to be the Rock doing his version of Kindergarten Cop (big action hero in family friendly comedy - hey, it worked for Arnold). Feast of Love is a romantic drama in which nearly every female under 40 shows more than would be deemed appropriate in a family friendly movie. It's a perfectly fine motion picture, but it will not be counted among director Robert Benton's best. The Kingdom is a crime procedural/thriller that plunks Jamie Foxx and his musketeers into Saudi Arabia immediately following a terrorist attack. Finally, there's Ang Lee's Lust, Caution, the WWII espionage thriller that was nailed by the MPAA with an "NC-17" for too much sex and nudity. Probably one pelvic thrust too many.

So, if you're looking for action, your best bet this month is either Shoot 'Em Up or The Kingdom. Chick flick of the period is unquestionably The Jane Austen Book Club. Feel-bad selection for September: Trade. Idiot comedy: Good Luck Chuck (not that there are many candidates - September is light on humor). Of them all, however, the one I'm most looking forward to is Lust, Caution. If it lives up to its advance billing it will be gorgeous, complex, and hot - all of which are good things.