Film Listings

Silicon Valley's Culture Calendar for the Coming Season

Intro | Arts | Music | Stage | Classical | Lit | Film

Denzel Washington in this fall's 'Magnificent Seven' reboot: OK. Chris Pratt? Not so much.

Heft, pith and ripeness are what the harvest season's films promise viewers, as the Oscar race begins in earnest. But there's a lot of escapist runoff from the summer as well. Meanwhile, in addition to a string of new releases below, the fall film festivals are imminent: the excellent UNAFF in Palo Alto and elsewhere (Oct. 20-30) promises some 60 documentaries about the state of the world.

War All The Time
Hacksaw Ridge (Nov. 4) For once the "incredible true story" part isn't wrong. In 2004, Cinequest ran The Conscientious Objector, a modestly budgeted documentary about the pacifist Private Desmond Doss. While he refused to carry a weapon in World War II, Doss (here played by Andrew Garfield) proved his rare heroism on the battlefield. What a good Seventh Day Adventist like Mr. Doss would think about Teresa Palmer's nightgown scene in the previews can be guessed. Directed by Mel Gibson (described in the trailer as "the director of Braveheart"). Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk (Nov. 11) Joe Alwyn in Ang Lee's adaptation of Ben Fountain's novel about a returning Iraq war vet asked to take the stage at a Dallas Cowboys game. Tank 432 (November) Nick Gillespie's horror film is set in a sort of anywar/everywar background, as a group of mercenaries hide for cover in a haunted bulldog tank. Arrival (Nov. 11) Colossal alien craft arrive, and the military sends interpreter (Amy Adams) to attempts to speak the tentacled beings' language. It's not an easy task, and the brass starts to think good thoughts about using weapons. Based on Ted Chiang's celebrated sci-fi short, Story of Your Life.

Quasi-Non Fiction
Snowden (Sep. 16) Oliver Stone directs this biopic with Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the whistleblower who showed government data collection was far vaster than it seemed. The excellent Melissa Leo plays Laura Poitras, the journalist Snowden contacted (see Citizenfour before you see this.) Deepwater Horizon (Sep. 30) Mark Wahlberg and Kurt Russell headline Peter Berg's film about the oil platform disaster. Sully (Sep. 9) Clint Eastwood as the director, Tom Hanks as Chesley Sullenberger, the East Bay commercial pilot who made an emergency water landing on the Hudson River after takeoff. A natural movie—what could go wrong? (Perhaps the decision to make it all about the government and the media getting into Sully's grill). Blair Witch (Sep. 16) A new expose based on the horrifying 100 percent true story. Can you prove it didn't happen?

Wacky Killers
Desierto (Oct. 14) If the film is as tight as the previews, we'll have a minimalist thriller of a Mexican migrant (Gael Garcia Bernal) caught in the Sonoran desert. He's pursued by a politically het-up nationalist maniac (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and his kill-trained, if apolitical, dog. The downside: it really looks like a job for Machete. Keeping Up with the Joneses (Oct. 21) Suburban mom and dad (Zach Galifianakis, Isla Fisher) discover that the new arrivals in the neighborhood are Mr. and Mrs. Smith-style. super-spies. Director Greg Mottola has a fine track record (The Daytrippers, Adventureland, Superbad). The Magnificent Seven (Sep. 23) A remake of the 1960s western, in turn a remake of Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai. A besieged frontier town plagued by bandits hires a team of mercenaries. The trailers are aiming for an easygoing po-mo tone, which, in context of a Western, can sometimes look like moral idiocy. The downside (as always) is Chris Pratt; the upside is Denzel Washington reunited with one of his best directors, Antoine Fuqua (Training Day.) The Mechanic: Resurrection (Aug. 26) And speaking of remakes of Charles Bronson movies, the fabulous sequel to the 2011 movie with Jason Statham engineering Wile E. Coyote deathtraps for deserving victims. The Accountant (Oct. 14) What if Rain Man was an international assassin? "He has more in common with Einstein or Mozart (or Ben Affleck) than us!" The autism awareness jigsaw puzzle logo is stolen for titles. Affleck is a pocket protector-wearing bean counter hiding his identity as a rifle-wielding badass.

Superheroes, As Always
Moana (Nov. 23) That Hawaiian Hercules, Maui himself (Duane Johnson) helps a pair of Polynesian teens find those paradisiacal islands by celestial navigation. It's Disney's animated holiday offering. Doctor Strange (Nov. 14) The walker between worlds! The watcher on the thin line between our green world and unimaginable interdimensional chaos! Strange, a surgeon disabled in an accident, is taught the art of astral projection by a nigh-immortal Celtic monk (Tilda Swinton). Strange's antagonist is played by Chiwetel Ejiofor; we can hope that the Balrog-like Dreaded Dormammu is lurking about. Batman: Return of the Caped Crusader (Nov. 14) It's trouble finding the comfortable point between sadism and silliness in adapting comic-book realms, and yet there was a time, 50 years ago, when everyone agreed that Batman was a hero. Voicing this animated adventure: the one and only Adam West and Burt Ward of TV's Batman, with Julie Newmar reprising Catwoman, like God intended. (Streaming Oct. 11)

And: Birth of a Nation
One of the most anticipated films of the year—the story of the Nat Turner slave rebellion. Bad Santa 2 (Nov. 23) The followup to the heartwarming holiday classic, with merry elf (Tony Cox) and perhaps slightly tipsy St. Nick (Billy Bob Thornton), this time in a Canadian winter wonderland. Miss Peregrine's Home for Unusual Children (Sept. 30) is the new Tim Burton, with Eva Green playing the Barbara Steele part as the headmistress of a time and space defying refuge for bizarre kids. I, Daniel Blake (Fall) Cannes-winning newest by Ken Loach about an ailing skilled worker trying to get what's left of his benefits after the latest round of austerity in the U.K.  

Prematurely early Oscar picks

Predicting the Oscars early is a tough call, since the studio's prestige material hasn't been released yet, but there are some indications at this point.

Best Director: Clint Eastwood for Sully, if it is in any shape, with the possibility that Eastwood's recent political pronouncements could peeve the academy. Jeff Nichols' feeling for the American south in Take Shelter and Mudindicates how much of a handle he could have on Loving. That's the story of how the state of Virginia fought against legalizing interracial marriage in 1967, and one could make all due parallels with today's fight to legalize gay marriage. The date-rape allegations hanging over director Nate Parker's Birth of a Nation may keep him out of the running, but the reviews have been almost uniformly thrilled by this account of the rebellion of Nat Turner. Martin Scorsese's newest, Silence, concerns the torture of Christian martyrs in early Japan, so God knows it'll have awards season heft. When the academy isn't castigating itself for its whiteness, as well it should, it frets about not celebrating Christian spiritual films. And it's not as if the new Ben Hur is going home with as many Oscars as the last version of that epic did.  Taika Waititi for Hunt for the Wilderpeople, which may qualify as best foreign film; David Mackenzie for Hell and High Water, Robert Eggers for The Witch, Yorgos Lanthimos for The Lobster, or Matt Ross for Captain Fantastic.

Best Actor: Joel Edgerton in the handkerchief-soaker Loving, all about the Supreme Court decision that overturned the ban on interracial marriage in 1967. If Sully is in any shape, Tom Hanks would be a serious contender; the competence of a silver-haired pilot is exactly the kind of material the academy prefers. Maybe Denzel Washington in Fences, starring in and directing an adaptation of the cherished August Wilson play. Viggo Mortensen in Captain Fantastic or the hangdog Colin Farrell in The Lobster.

Best Actress: Meryl Streep yet again for Florence Foster Jenkins; expect to see Ruth Negga from Loving on the list. Viola Davis in Fences. Sarah Stephens, the young bride of Satan in The Witch. Longshot Hailee Steinfeld in the John Hughes-ish Edge of Seventeen. Laura Linney in Sully.

Best supporting actor: Currently the most likely candidates are Jeff Bridges in Hell and High Water and his polar opposite as a macho, the ducky pianist played by Simon Helberg in Florence Foster Jenkins—with Helberg showing that he's more than just a tedious nerd cliché from the seeming 130,000 seasons of TV's The Big Bang Theory. Chris Pine from Hell and High Water belongs in this category. Don't forget Sam Neill, superb in Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

Best supporting actress: Always the most interesting category because the nominees have a range of styles and types and age groups. Moreover, favorites in this category don't materialize until December, the last month of award season. There's a new Kelly Reichardt film, Certain Women, that I'd like to see before doing any handicapping, but since the veteran actress Jeanne Berlin in Café Society was the voice of wisdom in that film, she may make it to this list.

Best animated film. It would be interesting to see an upset for the luminous Kubo and the Two Strings over the likely winner, Finding Dory; it would be even more unusual if the long-shot of the animated The Little Prince on Netflix won. And it may be that Zootopia—so brilliantly done but released relatively long ago in the spring—would win over all the films mentioned. Was Zootopia too much fun to have any real stature? On the other hand, its message of police/civilian strife certainly has zeitgeist in 2016.

Intro | Arts | Music | Stage | Classical | Lit | Film