I missed doing one of these last month – getting back into the rhythms of more-or-less normal life still, I fear little hiccups like this are going to be just one of those things – but as we pivot from the tentative, didn’t-really-count summer movie season into awards-bait period, it feels like it’s going to be important to keep close tabs on what’s coming out, because we’re in for a deluge: two entire years’ worth of prestige pictures crammed into one season. As for whether that’s actually starting quite yet this month… no, not really. But it doesn’t hurt to get back in practice before it does.
A last holdover from popcorn movie season, in the form of our second Marvel movie in just nine weeks: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Whether it’s going to be any good is hard to predict – Disney’s track record with making American versions of Chinese action films is fucking horrible – but I do know that if you tell me that there’s a movie coming out starring both Tony Leung Chiu-wai and Michelle Yeoh, I’m interested pretty much regardless of the content. Which content I understand to be “what if we did ’70s-style kung fu but added lots of CGI”, and I might contend that you should perhaps try not adding that CGI, but I get that it’s not my studio.
And now the proper fall season starts, with the best kind of September picture: a horror movie with enough ambition not to be pure junk, but still fundamentally a grimy little B-picture. Or at least, this is my expectation, given what director James Wan has given us in the past, and his new Malignant is absolutely being sold as more of the same. Wan making movies with menacing-sounding but somewhat opaque adjectives is a good thing, in my experience, and while it’s obviously not worth going in with inflated expectations, this feels like good pre-autumn fun.
The other wide release of note, I guess – I haven’t heard a thing about it and wouldn’t know it existed if not for preparing this post – is Queenpins, starring Kristen Bell and Kirby Howell-Baptiste as two con artists running a scheming involving coupons. That sounds awfully too-cute to me, and very much like the kind of thing where you know within 90 seconds what every beat will be for the rest of the running time, and the fact that I’ve never heard of the co-directors doesn’t fill me with any enthusiasm above and beyond my suspicions of the logline. But hey, that’s what September is for.
Inaugurating awards season, in the traditional “we think this might be a play if the critics come out hard for it, but we’re not going to really invest in a campaign yet” slot: Paul Schrader’s The Card Counter, starring Oscar Isaac and Willem Dafoe, starts out in limited release, and those actors paired with that director at least gets me in the door, though “gambler with haunted past” isn’t doing anything to help.
And here’s another “if the critics come out” awards play, this time with the backing of a big studio, from a director who was once Oscar royalty: Clint Eastwood, all 91 years of him, stars as an old rodeo star in Cry Macho. Eastwood is, as always an automatic “yes” from me, and it helps that he’s coming off an upswing: 2019’s Richard Jewell was his best film in over a decade. This one sounds kind of flat and sentimental, but I am going to remain stubbornly optimistic till I can’t anymore.
Another tentative Oscar play: The Eyes of Tammy Faye, which was already used as the title of a documentary on the same subject, but nobody respects documentaries, alas. This one stars Jessica Chastain and Andrew Garfield as disgraced televangelists Tammy Faye and Jim Bakker, which feels like really damn weird casting to me, and my curiosity is rather badly dampened by the inexplicable appearance of onetime weird comedy genius Michael Showalter in the director’s seat. I will not go so far as to say that my expectations are “low”, but this feels more like “what the hell is this project” to me than “this project looks promising.”
Moving away from awards contenders very firmly, Joe Carnahan directs and co-writes Copshop, an action movie starring Frank Grillo and Gerard Butler, a pairing that feels inevitable without feeling at all enticing, though I confess that for no value of X does “X and Gerard Butler” sound exciting to me. And I do want to give Carnahan the benefit of the doubt. Lastly, the low-key indie immigration drama Blue Bayou is set for wide relase, but I would be very unsurprised if that ceased to be true by the time it comes out; it looks very unassuming in every possible way, and I think it securely meets my rule of thumb that, if it were any good at all, it wouldn’t have this release date. Nor, frankly would it probably co-star Alicia Vikander, whose presence in a movie increasingly feels like a bad sign to me.
Lastly, a limited release that will stubbornly stay limited, but I’m excited: Sono Sion’s Prisoners of the Ghostland, a very divisive title from Sundance 2021 that was one of the few films at that festival I mostly loved, is getting what will undoubtedly be an unsuccessful and confused commercial release. Leap at the chance to see it if you can.
It does feel a little meanspirited to join in the chorus of pre-release hate against Dear Evan Hansen on the grounds that Ben Platt looks too damn old for the role of a socially anxious teenager; Platt seems to have taken this line of criticism very hard. On the other hand, film is a visual medium, and he looks like a middle-aged office manager, and that’s going to make it very hard to take him even the littlest bit seriously as the center of a solemn tale of adolescent social behavior. Anyway, I know almost nothing about the stage musical this was adapted from; it won the Tony for Best Musical a few years back when music writers Pasek & Paul seemed fresh and exciting, and I get the sense now that nobody’s enthusiasm for it lasted much beyond that. And given the wobbly track record of stage-to-screen musicals that are outright masterpieces, there seems to be very little reason to hold out hope for this to be anything but a sludgy slog. But I am open to being taken by surprise, particularly since I am prone to want movies with Julianne Moore and Amy Adams in them to be good (yes, and how’s that working out for me this year?).