There must be balance to the cinema universe. This fall, we shall endure The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure, a Technicolor atrocity “Brought to you by the marketing visionary who brought you Thomas the Tank Engine.” And yet, we will be spared marketing visionary Baz Luhrmann’s version of The Great Gatsby—until next year, anyway, by which time maybe it’ll turn out the Mayans were right.
Luckily, we have The Master (opens sometime in early fall) to look forward to. P.T. Anderson’s study of charlatanism concerns a figure that resembles but does not mimic L. Ron Hubbard, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman at his most Wellesian. It promises to be the director’s strangest and most thoroughly solid film. Anderson observes this avuncular but insane priest of a new religion through the eyes of a softheaded, simian pal (Joaquin Phoenix): mascot, drinking buddy and test-rhesus.
More hard drinking occurs in Lawless (opens Aug. 29), John Hillcoat and Nick Cave’s story of bootleggers in 1930s Virginia, adapted from Matt Bondurant’s novel The Wettest County in the World. Hillcoat and Cave’s previous effort, The Proposition, provides fair warning: There will be blood.
Samsara (opens Sept. 7), yet another endorsement of the power of 70mm, is Ron Fricke and Mark Magidson’s wordless follow-up to “tech bad; religion good” Baraka. The globe-trotting feature explores the human condition, looking for the threads that bind.
Won’t Back Down (Sept. 28), examines the glory of union busting through the lens of educational reform. Walden Media (producers of the documentary Waiting for Superman) chronicles a legal takeover of a school from the featherbedding teachers by a mom (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and a determined educator (Viola Davis).
Last Ounce of Courage (Sept. 14) can be summed up easily—his daddy fought the war on terror; his son fights on Jesus’ side in the War Against Christmas. This fragrantly titled right-wing flabbergaster is not to be confused with Rise of the Guardians (Nov. 21), in which an animated Avengers-like team of kid heroes (Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, Jack Frost and the Sandman) go up against a Satanic villain called Pitch.
Similar Christmas/Halloween mashing-up occurs in Frankenweenie (Oct. 5), the CG-cartoon expansion of Tim Burton’s live-action 1984 short. (Burton is even remaking his own work these days.) Hotel Transylvania (Sept. 28) has Dracula (voiced by Adam Sandler) trying to keep his resort for monsters away from mortal eyes.
Personally, I can’t wait to see Killing Them Softly (Oct. 19), not because of the sometimes dreary director Andrew Dominick (Assassination and, far better, Chopper). No, for the story itself: Brad Pitt and Ray Liotta in a New Orleans–transplanted version of the Boston-set 1974 novel Cogan’s Trade, written by ace chronicler of Southie retribution, George V. Higgins (The Friends of Eddie Coyle).
After the highbrow Tom Stoppard–scripted translation of Anna Karenina (September), would you really want to see Heathcliff and Cathy going through it again? Would you, though, if the talented Andrea Arnold (Fish Tank) directed Wuthering Heights (Oct. 19)? James Howson, the nonpro actor playing Heathcliff, was discovered in a dole queue and turned out to have severe personality problems offscreen.
Closer to home in setting is Chasing Mavericks, (Oct. 26) about the friendship between monster-wave surfers on the San Mateo coast, with Gerard Butler as Frosty Hesson and Jonny Weston as Santa Cruz’s own Jay Moriarity.
Two great men—one fictional, one real—dominate November. Dead yet again, 007 (Daniel Craig) comes back to find out who has rendered MI-6 more permeable than usual. The most likely suspect is one Silva (Javier Bardem). Director Sam Mendes threatens to make Skyfall (Nov. 9) a drama of a conflicted agent to give some weight to the thrilling cities and bravura action.
Lincoln (Nov. 16) has Steven Spielberg and writer Tony Kushner collaborating on the subject of the most fascinating man the United States ever produced. Daniel Day-Lewis plays the president, who was as much like Bismarck as he was like Jesus—with Jared Harris as Grant and Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln.
Fall is also monsoon time for film festivals. The ambitious Palo Alto International (Sept. 27–30) boasts the preview of the Bruce Willis/Joseph Gordon-Levitt feature Looper. Director Rian Johnson enjoys most-favored-director status, thanks to Brick and The Brothers Bloom; his time-travel thriller has a criminal mob bending the laws by sending people they want dead back into the past.
The annual San Jose Mariachi festival, now known as ÁVivaFest!, includes a series of “cine y cena” events in mid-September, including Rick Najera’s Taco Shop (shown in conjunction with the arrival of a fleet of taco trucks), Maria Felix in the Golden Age Mexican melodrama Dona Barbara (1943) and the 20th-anniversary screening of Like Water for Chocolate.
The San Jose Short Film Festival plays Oct. 18–21, the weekend right after Morgan Hill’s Poppy Jasper Film Fest (Oct. 11–14). The Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival (Oct. 20–Nov. 18) opens with An Article of Hope, a documentary about Ilan Ramon, the Israeli astronaut killed in the Columbia disaster. His widow, Rona Ramon, will be on hand.
Lastly, the UNAFF festival (Oct. 18–28) brings the Bay Area’s best assortment of documentaries to the area.