I’m sorry, Joey, but you forced my hand: I’m gonna have to file a Motion to Vacate. Yes, you successfully passed a bill at the very last minute to keep the site running so we can meet our basic obligations. But when you took on the job of Editor-in-Chief, you specifically promised us that you would own the libs no matter what. Keeping the site functional doesn’t own the libs. Therefore, the rest of the staff is going to hold a vote to force you out of office.
In the meantime, I, the Interim Editor-in-Chief, will have to keep up the site’s business. First thing’s first: impeachment inqui-no, wait, that has to be tabled, too. First, we need to preview the upcoming releases for October:
THE EXORCIST: BELIEVER – In Theaters October 6
Directed by David Gordon Green
Starring Ellen Burstyn, with Leslie Odom, Jr. and Ann Dowd
What is it about? The parents of two possessed children, desperate for help, contact someone who has had similar experiences.
How am I feelin’ about this one? Shameless plug time: I underwent a project to review and reflect on The Exorcist franchise as an informal Sunday Scaries “trilogy” in the lead-up to this movie’s release:
• The first article was on the original film’s substantial impact on American culture and religion over the last fifty years.
• The final article compared and contrasted the misbegotten Lankester Merrin prequel that resulted in two wildly different versions of the same troubled production, and the even better movie that (sort of) resulted from it.
So now that that’s out of the way, how do I feel about David Gordon Green turning his legacyquel lens on the most infamous demonic possession-themed horror movie franchise of all time? Despite the fact that only one of them was actually any good? And his mark on the Halloween series wasn’t exactly an unqualified success unless you’re only looking at box office returns?
I don’t know, folks. I just don’t see why I should be excited for a movie that just reminds me of the existence of a better movie. Joey was not super-jazzed about this semi-sequel / semi-reboot, giving it kudos for being proficient enough in the tried-and-true mechanics of gross-out scenes and jump scares but not going much further.
Green is free to express his love of classic horror movies all he wants, but you know who else loved classic horror movies? John Carpenter and William Friedkin. You know why they’re horror legends today? Because they didn’t waste their time with sequels to The Monkey’s Paw or The Terror, recreating their same basic stories and trying to tie in some meta-commentary on the fandom of those movies. They drew on those influences to make new movies that captured the imaginations of their generation. We’re getting another The Exorcist, but when are we getting the next The Exorcist? When are we getting a cultural phenomenon that isn’t just trading on nostalgia for an older cultural phenomenon?
ANATOMY OF A FALL – In Limited Release October 13, Releasing Wide… Eventually
Directed by Justine Triet
Starring Sandra Hüller, with Milo Machado-Graner and Swann Arlaud
What is it about? A woman is arrested for the murder of her husband’s death under mysterious circumstances, with the couple’s blind son as the only witness.
How am I feelin’ about this one? Joey got me. Again. Sure, sure, you could argue from a purely numerical standpoint that we technically tied 1-to-1 in our predictions… but no one needs to coddle me. The Palme d’Or is the prize of the most prestigious international film festival in the world, and while I was writing Todd Haynes fan fiction, my boss accurately read the tea leaves and pinned this courtroom drama as the ultimate winner; becoming only the third film directed by a woman to achieve this feat.
And, unlike some other Palme d’Or winners I could name, it seems like the consensus is quite positive across the board for this choice. Joey was fully engrossed by what he described as a thrillingly complex and morally grey legal drama that trusted his intelligence. While I have a lot of problems with the true crime genre, this more thoughtful and ambiguous premise is definitely the kind of movie the genre should be about. No, this isn’t based on a single true crime story – according to director Justine Triet, all of the recent true stories of women on trial for killing their husbands were “too predictable” – but with the number of sensational trials centering toxic relationships we’ve been invited to voyeuristically watch and pass judgment on, it’s pretty easy to see how art imitated real life in this movie about a widower accused of pushing her late husband off a balcony after she reported that he fell off accidentally.
I am especially heartened by the rave reviews for leading lady Sandra Hüller, an actress I’ve been a fan of for a long time. I still, in fact, believe she should have been a Best Actress nominee for Toni Erdmann at the 89th Academy Awards. She’s always been mesmerizing in everything I’ve seen her in; projecting so much intensity from the slightest gestures and expressions. Joey doesn’t have her in the top five in his predictions just yet… but that could change, depending on how much it’s embraced by American audiences. Fingers crossed.
KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON – In Theaters October 20
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Starring Lily Gladstone, with Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro
How am I feelin’ about this one? If you have not read the book Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann, it is one of those historical novels that seems too bizarre and shocking to possibly be true. Not because individuals upholding white supremacy inflicting violence and theft against Native Americans is shocking; that story is, unfortunately, all too common in the annals of United States history. But the sheer scale of this full-blown conspiracy will make your jaw drop.
It all started with a remarkable stroke of luck a century ago, a discovery of a massive amount of oil that turned the previously destitute Osage Tribe in Oklahoma into the richest community per capita in the entire world. Practically overnight, these Native Americans lived in mansions, employed full-time servants, and were able to send their children to the most prestigious European universities. And then… they started dying. Reported as “accidents” at first by their white business partners and surviving spouses, but then, anyone in law enforcement who tried to investigate their deaths was killed under “mysterious” circumstances and “unfortunate accidents,” too. Eventually, the frequency of these deaths became so alarming that the F.B.I. intervened in one of the rare instances of the F.B.I. under J. Edgar Hoover being the good guys.
It’s popular these days to dismiss conspiracy theories because modern conspiracy theorists are such unserious cranks with delusional perceptions of the world. But it should always be remembered that conspiracies do exist, and oftentimes the real ones are far more insidious and terrifying than believing the government puts chemicals in the water that turn the friggin’ frogs gay. The suburbanization of the United States as an attack against public transportation was a real conspiracy. Exxon concealing evidence that fossil fuels contribute to climate change for decades was a real conspiracy. MKUltra, COINTELPRO, and Iran-Contra were all very real conspiracies. And Martin Scorsese’s upcoming epic-length crime thriller adapting Grann’s book is a whopper of a conspiracy that floored Joey.
But unlike Grann’s book, which peels back a criminal plot that seemingly everyone in Oklahoma was in on, Scorsese, screenwriter Eric Roth, and his perpetual leading man Leonardo DiCaprio made the decision to shift the focus of the adaptation away from lead F.B.I. investigator Tom White (played in this film by Academy Award nominee Jesse Plemons) and instead focus on the Osage people who were the targets of this plot; specifically Mollie Burkhart, played by Certain Women’s Lily Gladstone in what is confirmed by the studio itself as the leading part and not a “supporting” role. If Academy voters agree with the festival raves she’s received, she will make history as the first Native American nominated for the Academy Award for Best Lead Actress. Apple Original Films and Paramount Pictures are betting big on this movie despite its massive 3.5-hour runtime; shifting their release plan to open wide in theaters later this month. A consequence of Oppenheimer’s success, maybe?
Either way, I am absolutely looking forward to how Scorsese has adapted this more-horrifying-than-fiction true crime story. However, I do have one request for the theaters and the distributors: I don’t mind super-long runtimes… but can you please bring back intermissions? Just a ten-minute break for audiences to refill their sodas and take a quick bathroom break? Please?
FIVE NIGHTS AT FREDDY’S – In Theaters and On Peacock October 27
Directed by Emma Tammi
Starring Josh Hutcherson, with Matthew Lillard and Elizabeth Lail
What is it about? A troubled security guard begins working at Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza. During his first night on the job, he realizes that the night shift at Freddy’s won’t be so easy to get through.
How am I feelin’ about this one? I’m actually surprised that it’s taken so long for Hollywood to capitalize on this runaway hit video game series that’s almost a full decade old. I never played the games myself, but I’ve always loved the story behind its creation. Apparently, its creator, Scott Cawthon, was burned by stinging criticisms of his first ostensibly family-friendly game. Chipper & Sons Lumber Co. starred anthropomorphic animal characters with glassy eyes and robotic movements that creeped out players. When reading the near-unanimous description of how unsettled they were by his animal character designs, he was initially upset… but then was struck by an idea to just run with it and see how it turned out.
The result was this:
Such a simple point-and-click survival horror game relying on old-school tension and the inherent creepiness of the characters Cawthon initially presented as cute cuddly family-friendly mascots quickly became a smash hit. It was one of the earliest Let’s Play sensations (where someone attaches a webcam to their face while split-screen showing the gameplay footage records and screaming at all the jump scares… I don’t really see the appeal, but it made a lot of millionaires out of video gamer hobbyists) and spawned dozens of sequels, spinoffs, expansions, rip-offs, and parodies over the years.
Will this hook, which very clearly worked like gangbusters for an indie horror game, translate well to the cinema? It’s hard to say. In a weird way, I do appreciate the long winding path this adaptation took to production, ending up at Blumhouse with a modest $25 million budget. I promise you, no matter how this version relying on practical effects and being directed by an up-and-comer turns out, it will be much better than whatever overbudgeted, CGI-dependent slog directed by safely bland studio hack Chris Columbus would have ever been.
But what made the game so popular doesn’t seem very conducive to the mechanics of filmmaking. Which I realize is the fundamental challenge of any video game adaptation, but it seems more pronounced in a single-location first-person perspective indie horror game than something like, say, The Super Mario Bros. Movie. It seems like this is going to come down to whether or not Blumhouse felt comfortable making this a weird B-movie shocker or forcing it to just run through fan service. Here’s hoping it’s the former.
PAIN HUSTLERS – On Netflix October 27
Directed by David Yates
Starring Emily Blunt, with Chris Evans and Andy García
What is it about? Loosely based on a true story, a high school dropout lands a job with a failing pharmaceutical start-up in a yellowing strip mall in Central Florida, where she soon finds herself at the center of a criminal conspiracy with deadly consequences.
How am I feelin’ about this one? I’m sure you all already know why I’d be interested in covering this one, right? There’s really only one person involved in this movie that piques my interest. The trailer honestly did nothing for me, presenting a harrowing account of corporate malfeasance at the heart of the deadliest drug epidemic in American history with the same flippant “What a craaaaaaay-cray story and also hashtag eat the rich, bro!” attitude that made The Big Short an aggravating watch for me.
But I’m still curious about how this will turn out, because of… David Yates. Ah ha! Misdirect! Here you all were assuming I was going to say Emily Blunt! But I am also being totally serious – Yates is a journeyman filmmaker who got locked into the kind of gig that is both a blessing and a curse: starting in 2007, with only a few television miniseries and a single feature film under his belt, he was entrusted with directing every single Harry Potter film starting with Order of the Phoenix and going all the way into Fantastic Beasts: Oh Crap Everyone Hates These Prequel Movies We Need to Wrap These Plotlines Up and End This Early. On the one hand, imagine having the kind of job security in a notoriously insecure career, being guaranteed a steady flow of movies in one of the most popular media franchises in the 21st century, and being paid very well to direct those movies.
That must be a dream come true for a lot of filmmakers who want to do that job for a living. But if you want to be a filmmaker with dreams of artistic achievement, of one day directing something celebrated as a Great Film™ and winning major awards, a gig like that could be a nightmare. David Yates has been stuck with the “Wizarding World” franchise for fifteen years, with only an obscure Tarzan spinoff in between that constant string of movies tied to a single intellectual property. For comparison, in the fifteen years after directing Prisoner of Azkaban, Alfonso Cuarón later went on to direct Children of Men, Gravity, and Roma, winning two Academy Awards for directing the latter two films. Imagine if he’d just done nothing but Harry Potter movies, instead.
Well, now we’re about to find out what Yates is capable of outside of franchise brand maintenance in about three-and-a-half-weeks…
THE HOLDOVERS – In Limited Release October 27, Expanding Wide November 10
Directed by Alexander Payne
Starring Paul Giamatti, with Dominic Sessa and Da’Vine Joy Randolph
What is it about? A disliked Deerfield Academy teacher is put in charge of supervising Angus, a smart and rebellious student unable to journey home for Christmas.
How am I feelin’ about this one? Alexander. Payne. This guy. He’s quite a… vexing filmmaker for me. I liked Election. I thought it was a darkly funny satire of the American public school system and politics in general, though I can’t help but feel icky at a movie that really seems to insist on us hating the overachieving teenage girl who was groomed and sexually abused by an adult teacher. About Schmidt was a decent enough character drama featuring what was, in my estimation, the last truly good Jack Nicholson performance, though I felt pretty uncomfortable with these constant revelations of its main character’s deceased wife being some money-grubbing adulterer (put a pin in that) and the weirdly clumsy ways it made certain characters overtly awful to stack the deck in Warren Schmidt’s favor. Sideways is probably still his best movie, but a part of me wonders how much of that is due to Paul Giamatti and Virginia Madsen’s extraordinary performances, successfully fighting back against Payne’s bad habit of flattening his characters to draw up something more profound and intelligent as a result.
And then he made The Descendants, one of the, no kidding, most vile and reprehensible odes to malignant narcissism I have ever seen in my life. Opening with George Clooney literally yelling at us for believing that fabulously wealthy heirs to valuable Hawaiian real estate live slightly easier lives than most people in the world, the movie devolves into scene after scene of crudely-written hollow impressions of flat characters tipping into cartoonish buffoonery far outside the bounds of even slightly-believable human behavior and scene-level writing that bends over backward at every opportunity to present its main character as always being in the right when, viewed outside of this movie’s specific jerry-rigged phony dramaturgy, he is very clearly behaving like a passive-aggressive douchebag engaging in petty score-settling with his comatose wife.
It is one of the few movies that still makes me angry just thinking about it. Such a morally reprehensible and vindictive script, surely one of the most unforgivable Best Adapted Screenplay winners of all time, with such juvenile wish-fulfillment masquerading as narrative catharsis with character arcs so incoherent they wouldn’t have passed muster in a second-year M.F.A. assignment (Shailene Woodley’s character being the most egregious – she instantly transforms into a completely different character in the middle of a scene).
There’s literally nowhere to go but up from there, but Nebraska wasn’t exactly a huge improvement and it seems like the only thing people appreciate about Downsizing in hindsight is that it was the breakout role of Hong Chau. Which… fair. We love Hong Chau.
So when I see Joey praising The Holdovers as a “return to form” for Payne, for me, whether or not that is good news sort of depends on how far back this “return to form” is referring to. Joey is even predicting Giamatti as a serious threat for his first Best Lead Actor nomination. To Joey’s credit, Payne and Giamatti are reuniting, and their last collaboration saw them both at their very best, and an Academy Award nomination for Giamatti in particular would be a nice apology nod after passing him over for Sideways in one of the Academy’s most egregious omissions of the last twenty years. Also, Da’Vine Joy Randolph was a joyous screen presence in Dolemite Is My Name and I am so happy to see her being handed a plum supporting role getting similarly positive notices.
But I swear, if we find out Paul Hunham is a widower whose late wife cheated on him or ruined his life offscreen, or we finally see Dominic Sessa’s character’s family and they’re a bunch of ridiculously grotesque ogres written solely to strong-arm us into fully taking his side in any dispute he engages against them, I’m going to throw something at the screen.
And with that, here are my concluding remarks as the Interim Editor-in-Chief: