Fall Films- The Return of Great Filmmaking

Believe me, I’ve got nothing personally against Michael Bay, Gore Verbinski or Judd Upatow; these are all capable directors whose summer movies I’ve enjoyed and, in some cases (especially concerning Mr. Upatow) have all-out loved. On the other hand, we all know that summer movies are, for the most part, cinematic junk food intended to reach the widest (or dumbest) audience possible, with presentation and quality not nescessarily being even steven or factors of concern. Yes, “Braveheart”, “Do the Right Thing”, and “The Sixth Sense” were summer movies, but then, so were “Smokey and the Bandit”, “Judge Dredd”, “Hudson Hawk”, “Problem Child” parts one AND two, and all three movies with the words “Fast” and “Furious” in the title. Lets face it, with few exceptions, May through August is primetime for big, dumb movies that are better at creating cinematic carnival rides than an actual narrative. This can be fun, but really, how many times do you really want to go back to “Jurassic Park” (or, for that matter, watch Will Smith zap aliens or see Mike Myers say “Yeah, Baby!” for the 47th time)? Hollywood seems to think that the only important, worthwhile, award-winning, thoughtful, long-lasting, potential classics that they make are the ones that open between October 1st and January 1st. They’re usually right, by the way. Not since “Gladiator” has a summer movie won the Best Picture Oscar, and “The Silence of the Lambs” is still one of the few to open on Valentine’s Day, then win the top Academy Award in March…of the following YEAR (those Academy voters don’t seem to remember movies that opened before Halloween, for some reason)!

This year, the fall movie season (even moreso than the year before it) has such a thrilling line-up of directors who are the best in the world and many of them have been out of the spotlight for years, while one (who is rightfully considered one of the greatest American filmmakers of all time) is releasing his first movie in a decade! If you can’t wait for “Fred Claus”, “Alvin and the Chipmunks” and “Alien vs. Predator: Requiem”, then go back to the mall and set your headphones to Radio Disney- this article is not for you. For the rest of us, here’s a few reasons to be excited about the next couple of months at the local cinema.


The last film made by Francis Ford Coppola was “The Rainmaker”, a well-crafted legal drama from a John Grisham book (remember when all America read were his novels?). His latest is an eccentric indie (starring the forever underrated Tim Roth) that is said to be his most radical, personal and uncompromised film since “The Conversation”. The trailer looks thrilling and, for a change, doesn’t spoil ANY of the plot, while demonstrating that Coppola is still a gifted visualist. I’d love to overhear Francis and Sophia during dinnertime:
Francis: I didn’t care much for “Marie Antoniette”!
Sophia: Oh yeah? Well, “Jack” sucked!
Francis: Nice job on “Lost in Translation”, though…
Sophia: Thanks!
Francis: and “Virgin Suicides” was good, too!
Sophia: Thanks, Poppa. And you too, on “Apocalypse Now”, “The Conversation”, “Bram Stoker’s Dracula”, “Tucker- The Mand and His Dream”, “The Cotton Club”, “Finian’s Rainbow”, “One from the Heart”, “The Rain People”, “The Outsiders”, “Peggy Sue Got Married”, “Dementia 13”, “Rumble Fish”, “Gardens of Stone” and “The Godfather” parts one and two!
Francis: You know what else rocks tha Coppola crib?
Sophia: What’s that, Big Poppa?
Francis: “The Godfather Part III”!
Sophia: Aw, Hellz Yeah!
(They high five one another)
Sophia: Too bad about “Captain Eo”, though.
(long, sad pause)
Francis: Yeah, too bad.

This is Paul Thomas Anderson’s first film since his brilliant and much-hated “Punch-Drunk Love” (to everyone who dissed “Punch-Drunk” but made “Click” an Oscar-nominated blockbuster: a t.v. playing around the clock airings of “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry” awaits you in Hades). Whether you found “Boogie Nights” extraordinary or overrated, Anderson’s films have proven to be fearless, American originals. This is also the man who made “Magnolia” and “Hard Eight”. His latest, starring the seldom seen Daniel Day-Lewis (who only comes out of retirement for scripts that knock his socks off…like this one) is a gory period epic with a heartfelt center.

Speaking of gory period epics with a sweet center, we also have the latest from the never dull Tim Burton, who takes on Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway musical. Imagine for a second a (hopefully) R-rated, ultra-violent black comedy with gothic visuals, grisly laughs and a cast that includes Johnny Depp, Sascha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter…now picture them SINGING! The word is that the film’s soundtrack is sensational and that Depp & Crew not only carry the film’s song-heavy load but that the decision by Warner Brothers to release the film around Oscar time is not coincidental. Watch your back, “Hairspray”!

For every one “disposable” Woody Allen film made during the past 30 years, there’s the cluster of masterpieces that include “Crimes and Misdemeanors”, “Mighty Aphrodite”, “Hannah and Her Sisters”, “Bullets Over Broadway”, “Manhatten”, “Another Woman”, “The Purple Rose of Cairo”, “Shadows and Fog”, “Zelig”, “Manhatten Murder Mystery” and “Match Point”, with the latter being one of the best films of 2005, as well as a terrific, stunningly dark thriller. Allen’s latest, starring Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell, is said to be as dark as “Match Point” and another return to form (as apposed to the forgetably fluffy “Scoop”). People who write Allen off as a has-been look like idiots every time he randomly pulls another classic out of his hat.

Last year, the long-awaited, long-delayed, said to be “troubled” film by Darren Aronofsky called “The Fountain” premiered in November; it polarized audiences (who essentially abandoned it after one week), gave critics a cinematic punching bag and vanished for six months before it emerged again on DVD as a growing cult item. A year later, the long-delayed, eagerly awaited new film by “Donnie Darko” director Richard Kelly, another visionary filmmaker, finally sees the light of day, after bad festival reviews and extremely mixed word of mouth. I, for one, can’t wait. If you haven’t read the three graphic novels that tie into the film, you may want to pick them up tonight- the film contains episodes “IV”, “V” and “VI” (ala “Star Wars”), while the graphic novels cover parts “I-III” of the overall story. Reading the published works won’t spoil the story, but prepares you for the numerous characters, hugely ambitious concepts and utterly nutty narrative that the film offers. Reading the graphic novels (which are equal parts great, bizarre and baffling) has me excited about the plot, which will alienate some and thrill others. Whether “Southland Tales” ends up a masterpiece or a complete disaster, like “The Fountain”, it is unlikely that anyone who sees it will ever forget it.

Of all the topical, hard-hitting, heavy-handed, politically charged movies dealing with the war in Iraq that are coming out this fall, Robert Redford’s new film has me the most excited. Redford, an actor with a deservedly legendary status and the overseer of the Sundance Film Festival, is a gifted filmmaker (see “Quiz Show” or “A River Runs Through It” if you don’t believe me). The screenplay for this one is reportedly sharp and affecting, with the kind of barbed dialogue you usually only hear in a smart Broadway stage drama (the trailer doesn’t do justice to the film’s scope and smarts). In addition to Redford (who stars as well as directs), you also have Meryl Streep (whose appearences in genuinely bad films are rare), Michael Pena (the scene stealer from “World Trade Center” and “Crash”) and, the film’s wild card, Tom Cruise; everyone who has written off “Tom Kat” because of stupid sound bites (made by him and the press who hates him), don’t forget that this guy is a MAJOR American actor. If the words “Tom Cruise” immediately make you think of “Mission Impossible”, “Top Gun”, “Days of Thunder” “War of the Worlds”, and “Cocktail”, then yeah, the arguement that The Guy Just Plays Himself holds up. However, his work in “Magnolia”, “Rain Man”, “Born on the 4th of July”, “Eyes Wide Shut”, “Minority Report”, “Jerry Maguire”, “The Color of Money” “Interview With the Vampire” are all the proof needed that this is a great actor with great taste (who else do you know has worked with Steven Spielberg, Rob Reiner, Stanley Kubrick, P.T. Anderson, Barry Levinson, Michael Mann, Cameron Crowe, Oliver Stone AND Martin Scorsese, to name a few, during the last twenty years?!). His new role in “Lions For Lambs” looks provocative and unsympathetic: I’m there.

Speaking of Rob Reiner, here’s a guy with a filmography in serious need of an uplift; after “This is Spinal Tap”, “The Sure Thing”, “Stand By Me”, “The Princess Bride”, “When Harry Met Sally…”, “Misery”, and “A Few Good Men” (all terrific movies), he made a huge flop called “North” (the less said, the better). He redeemed himself with “The American President”, but the next slew of movies (“Ghosts of Mississippi”, “The Story of Us”, “Alex & Emma” and “Rumor Has It…”) were expensive flops and (aside from “Ghosts of Mississippi”), they were all bad. Now, reuniting with Jack Nicholson for the first time since “A Few Good Men” and pairing him with Morgan Freeman, Reiner looks to be on the upward spiral for the first time this century, and good for him- this underrated filmmaker has talent to burn and deserves another shot. Nicholson and Freeman are said to have great chemistry, the trailer looks heartfelt and funny, Jack’s instincts haven’t failed him in a decade and this could be the sleeper of the Christmas season.

Faithful listeners of the Screen Geeks Radio Show know all too well how I feel about this one; back in January, it was my #1 I-Can’t-Wait-to-See-It pick of the year, and Robert Zemeckis, who gets more respect as an innovative effects miracle worker than as the filmmaking powerhouse that he is, hasn’t let me down yet. The 20 minutes of footage I saw in 3-D at Comic Con were both stunning and baffling; the unfinished footage was stunning but uneven and I wondered who this ultra-violent, erotic, all-CGI wonder is for: the same audience as “Fred Claus’ or the rowdier crowd who made “300” a hit? I still find it distracting that Angelina Jolie’s character looks EXACTLY like her real self, while Ray Winstone, voicing the title character, looks nothing like the gruff “Departed” co-star (however, notice I’m not complaining about Jolie’s peekaboo, pixelated nude scenes). I predict this will open big, then drop hard as kids run screaming from theaters (in 3-D or not) from scenes that even a hardened, desensitized filmgoer like myself found a hair extreme. Let the ankle biters waste their money on Vince Vaughn dancing to Elvis, while more adventurous audiences get Crispin Glover as Grendel (the casting choice of the year), Anthony Hopkins waxing poetic as Hrothgar, and more eye-popping visuals than a month of “Halo 3”. Whether it shines or stinks, there isn’t anything else out there like this for miles.

Dear. Ridley Scott,
I must say, I was quite dissapointed with “A Good Year”. You bravely took on a genre that you’ve never been associated with (romantic comedy) and cast Russell Crowe in a role most would assign to Hugh Grant and NOT the actor formally known as Maximus. Like all of your movies, “A Good Year” was visually beautiful, created a world all of it’s own and was never hard on the eyes, but, shockingly, I was terribly bored. I have stood by you faithfully, through the flops that no one remembers but I loved (“Someone to Watch Over Me” and “1492- Conquest of Paradise”), the hit that everyone loved that should’ve been a flop (“Hannibal”), the ones that no one saw until they became cult classics (“Legend”, “Blade Runner” and “Matchstick Men”) and the ones that Just Frickin’ Rule (“Alien”, “Gladiator”, “Thelma & Louise”, “Black Rain”, “The Duellist” and “Black Hawk Down”). Please, don’t ever make another movie like “A Good Year” again. It made me want to cry like a white-haired Replicant. Sincerely,
Barry Wurst

Dear Barry Wurst,
You whiny little (edited) (edited). Perhaps you would’ve enjoyed “A Good Year” had it contained sword-weilding, chest-bursting unicorns who blow up diesel fuel trucks, suffer from Obessive Compulsive Disorder and plug Daryl Hannah in the face. You would’ve LOVED that, wouldn’t you, you stupid yankee wanker? Excuse me for wanting to show a little RANGE, for crying out loud! Oh well, you’ll probably LOVE my next film, which stars Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington. It’s a period dramatic thriller, sprinkled with action, about one of the most infamous criminals of the latter 20th century. This movie will kick your ass sideways all the way into next tuesday. There, that should shut you up for a while!
And No, I Won’t Make Another Alien Movie, So Stop Asking,
Ridley Scott

It stars Casey Affleck (a solid actor who’s on a roll this year) and Michelle Monaghan (the sexy wonder from “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang”) as a team of detectives. Its based on a great, gritty novel by Dennis Lehane (the author of “Mystic River”). Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman co-star, as do the great (and little seen) Amy Madigan and John Ashton. John Toll filmed it, the trailer makes it look fantastic…hmm, I wonder who directed it…let’s go check…WHAT?!?! Now for the kicker: Ben Affleck, a talented actor who took the lead in too many bad movies, continues his comeback tour that began last year. His return-to-form supporting role in the otherwise forgetable “Hollywoodland” reminded us that he can convey depth as an actor. His directorial debut will likely silence his obnoxious detractors once and for all. The word is that his film is top notch, thoughtful and devastating. It’s time to move on from the “Gigli” jokes and remember that Affleck can act (just see “Chasing Amy”, “Changing Lanes”, “Boiler Room” and “Bounce” if you don’t believe me) and write (“Good Will Hunting”) quite well. If “Gone Baby Gone” is as good as they say, America may forget that he was ever “Daredevil” and, instead, welcome a new filmmaker to the playground.

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Barry Wurst

Barry Wurst II is a senior editor & film critic at MAUIWatch. He writes film reviews for a local Maui publication and taught film classes at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs (UCCS). Wurst also co-hosted podcasts for Screengeeks.com and has been published in Bright Lights Film Journal and in other film-related websites. He is currently featured in the new MAUIWatch Podcast- The NERDWatch.

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