November is a time to give thanks … that Hollywood is taking a break from spandex-wearing, world-saving superheroes and turning out films you’re not embarrassed to say you’ve seen. The deadline for Academy Award consideration is next month—so you’ll notice that just as the leaves and landscapes are turning darker, so too are the films. Here’s some of what’s stuffing the November cinematic goose:
November 7 (National Release dates)
Interstellar – Guess what? They’ve discovered a wormhole in outer space allowing Matthew McConaughey to travel to different dimensions. Or at least director Christopher Nolan would have you believe that with this, his latest film. Maybe in that other reality McConaughey can find the missing plot from Nolan’s previous Inception. McConaughey and his fellow astronauts must find a new planet for the hungry and beleaguered people of Earth who could be wiped out by massive dust storms. The film features an all-star cast including Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, and Michael Caine.
The Theory of Everything – Speaking of quantum physics, Eddie Redmayne plays genius scientist Stephen Hawking (author of A Brief History of Time) in this biopic exploring his early life, specifically his courtship and marriage to his first wife Jane. Yes, first wife … the one he abandoned for his nurse. Even British intellectuals can really be dogs sometimes.
Big Hero 6 – The latest Disney animated feature and based on the Marvel Comics superhero series. A band of unlikely human and robotic underdogs join forces to save the world from a masked villain. And it’s only the merest coincidence that Disney bought Marvel 5 years ago
Dumb and Dumber To – Just in case you’ve spent 20 breathless years waiting for a sequel to 1994’s Dumber and Dumber, you can now exhale. The Farrelly Brothers are back with Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels as two really stupid friends on a cross-country road trip trying to … hell, does it matter? Life is about the journey, not so much the destination.
Foxcatcher – Major Oscar bait based on the true story of John du Pont (one of the du Ponts) who, in 1996, shot and killed his protégé/wrestler Dave Schultz, brother of Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz. Steve Carell is du Pont, Mark Ruffalo is David, Channing Tatum is Dave. Directed by Bennett (Moneyball) Miller and written by Dan (Capote) Futterman. Somebody’s wrestling an Oscar out of this.
The Homesman – Tommy Lee Jones adapted and directed this Western in which he plays a claim jumper helping Hilary Swank cross the prairie on an important mission. Am I crazy or did these two already make this film a couple of times before? Also starring Grace Gummer (and her mother Meryl Streep), Miranda Otto, John Lithgow and Tim Blake Nelson.
Rosewater – The directorial debut of talk show host Jon Stewart—based on the true story of a journalist on assignment in Iran who’s captured and tortured because of an interview he did on Stewart’s “The Daily Show.” Starring Gael Garcia Bernal.
Extraterrestrial – Usually in a Hollywood film when a group of kids go away to a cabin in the woods, they end up being chased by a serial killer. Surprise! This time they get abducted by aliens. Oh and be warned; there’s a “probe” scene as well.
Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 –When last we left Katniss Everdeen she was being chased by He Who Must Not Be Named up the side of Mount Doom where she was headed to destroy magic rings given to her by Edward and Jacob. Or something. I think I might have missed an episode. Julianne Moore joins a returning cast featuring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman.”
The Imitation Game – Current cinema It Boy Benedict Cumberbatch stars in this British biopic about Alan Turing, the man who invented computer science and by breaking the German Enigma Code brought WWII to an early close. Instead of being lauded as a war hero, Turing met a far different end.
Penguins of Madagascar – And here comes Cumberbatch again playing another spy, this time he’s a penguin in this animated film about a group covert birds out to save the world! Also featuring the voice talents of Ken Jeong, John Malkovich and, God help us, Werner Herzog.
Local Independent Screens
Why Don’t You Play in Hell? – 2013 film written and directed by Japanese master Shion Sono about a movie crew who get caught up in a yakuza clan feud. Well, it beats teenagers getting probed by aliens.
Björk: Biophilia – It’s been a while since we’ve all had a Björk fix, so here’s a concert film of the Swedish nightingale singing selections from her newest release with visuals provided by internationally known designers
Happy Valley – A documentary by Amir Bar-Lev chronicling life in State College, PA a year after Jerry Sandusky was convicted of child sexual abuse; featuring interviews with several of the key players in that horrible ordeal.
Breathless – The 1960 Nouvelle Vague classic. Jean-Luc Godard directs a script by François Truffaut in which Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg play respectively a French thief and his American girlfriend. In addition to the drama the film showcases what French people do in the movies; fall in love and smoke cigarettes.
Taxi Driver – Robert DeNiro stars as Travis Bickle in this legendary film directed by Martin Scorsese about American malaise in New York City during the 70’s. Also starring Jodi Foster, Cybill Shepherd and Peter Boyle. “Are you talkin’ to me?”
Time Bandits – Terry Gilliam’s comedy about a troupe of little people hop-skipping their way through history. With John Cleese, Sean Connery, Shelley Duvall, Michael Palin and Ralph Richardson.
Three Rivers Film Festival (November 7 -21)
Now in it’s 33rd year, this annual festival features new work, restored classics, American, foreign and just about any kind of film you can imagine. There’s 65 entries showing in four venues. Here are some brief highlights:
Beloved Sisters – German film about philosopher Friedrich Schiller romancing two sisters. I told you, some men are real dogs … even German intellectuals.
Escobar: Paradise Lost – Josh (Hunger Games) Hutcherson stars as a surfer who, while visiting Columbia, meets and falls in love with the beautiful Maria. There’s just one problem – her uncle is drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, played by a scene-stealing Benicio del Toro.
Homemakers – Shot in Pittsburgh and featuring several local actors, it’s the story of a young woman who inherits an old family house in the ‘Burgh and comes here to fix it up. Chaos ensues. And just wait till she tries to navigate the West End Circle.
Human Capital – A thriller about three families thrown together by a car accident. Italy’s official entry for Best Foreign Language Oscar.
The Son of the Sheik – Released in 1926 just after the death of its star Rudolph Valentino and a follow up to his earlier blockbuster. The screening of this restored silent film will feature a live musical performance by Boston’s Alloy Orchestra, who created a score for the film.
Ted Hoover is a Pittsburgh-based writer and critic.