September Cinema Preview: Climbing Everest, Driving Lessons, and an Internship

I hate to be the first one to tell you but summer’s over. The kids are back in school, people are back from vacation and you’ll throw out your back looking for those damn storm windows up in the attic.

Hollywood’s getting out it’s fall fixtures as well. The superheroes have clocked out and the “serious” films are beginning to start turning up on our screens. Here’s a peek at what’s on the horizon. Movies are listed by national release dates along with a selection from local independent houses.

September 4

A Walk in the Woods – Robert Redford stars as a famous travel writer who, having spent the last 20 years in England, returns to America with plans to retire. But before he settles into that rocking chair, he’s got one more adventure up his sleeve; a hike along, the 2,200 miles of the Appalachian Trail. Understandably everyone around him declines his offer to join the trek … which forces him to reconnect with an old friend from his school days; a pack of trouble played by Nick Nolte who agrees to accompany him for reasons not entirely to do with enjoying the great outdoors. Nolte’s bad news from the get-go and the walk takes many unexpected twists and turns. Emma Thompson, Mary Steenburgen, Kristen Schaal and Nick Offerman also star.

 

Before We Go – I guess that saving the world as Captain America just isn’t enough for some people, so Chris Evans has directed his first movie. Such an undertaking would, for a newbie, seem rather daunting, so it’s understandable he’d opt for a project that wasn’t too demanding. Before We Go is a rom-com about two strangers who meet cute and fall in love. (See, I told you.) Alice Eve plays an art dealer who misses her train back to Boston and gets stuck in New York. Evans is a down-on-his luck street musician who takes pity on Eve and decides to help her get back home. They travel from the Big Apple to Bean Town and you’ll never guess what happens along the way.

September 11

The Visit – There’s probably a cautionary tale for all of us in the story of director/writer M. Night Shyamalan. With a sonic boom he exploded into all of our lives with The Sixth Sense. (“I see dead people.”) Not merely the flavor of a month, Shyamalan, according to just about everyone, was on his way to becoming flavor of the millennium.

And then his subsequent films started turning up: Unbreakable, Signs, The Village, Lady in the Water … all bringing increasingly louder howls of derisive scorn. Things got really ugly when he paid someone to write a book about his script for Lady. The movie got panned and the book got savaged; partly because much of it was about how brilliant he was. His career was finally announced as D.O.A. following the release of After Earth – the pseudo-Scientology vanity sci-fi pic starring Will Smith and his son Jaden. Nobody, the thinking went, could ever recover from that debacle.

Except here he comes again with The Visit. It’s all twists and surprises so I can’t really tell you anything except to say it involves grandparents and grandchildren and things get dark and scary. Shyamalan has brought back dead things before, let’s see if he can resurrect his career.

 

Sleeping With Other People – The latest installment in the current fad of R-rated rom-coms. In this one Jason Sudeikis plays a serial womanizer and Alison Brie a compulsive cheater who, naturally, meet outside a sex addiction clinic. Actually they re-meet since they dated in college several years ago. They’ve ruined most of the relationships in their lives since neither can keep it in their pants for any length of time, but they’re now on the road to recovery and decide to begin a platonic relationship – they can’t cheat on each other if they’re not together in a sexual way.

It doesn’t make sense to me either, but Natasha Lyonne, Amanda Peet and Adam Scott are along for the ride. If writer/director Leslye Headland can get the proper blending of tone, it could be a quirky, funny movie.

September 18

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials – So you finally got the kids off to school and just as you settle into the big comfy chair, you hear the cry that’s haunted parents since the beginning of time.  “I’m bored!”  So why not take them to catch the second installment of this young adult sci-fi series.  The franchise is based on the popular novels by James Dashner set in a post-apocalyptic dystopia (is there any other kind?) about a bunch of teenage boys who, under the control of a group known as “World in Catastrophe: KIllzone Experiment Department” (a.k.a. WICKED) are forced to run through a giant maze while being hunted by evil thugs. At the end of the first movie they escaped from the maze and now, in this sequel, they find themselves lost in a vast desert (known as “The Scorch”) and need to find a way out of there.  Meanwhile they’re being pursued by more henchmen from WICKED and they soon discover that some of them are being mind-controlled so they can’t even trust each other!

Kinda makes you long for the simplicity of Harry Potter.

September 25

The Intern – Have you been wondering what Nancy Meyer’s been up to recently? This writer/director is the purveyor of a certain sort of picture which might best be described as “Troubles in Suburbia.” Her titles include It’s Complicated, in which Meryl Streep had to choose between Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin, all the while running a muffin shop; Something’s Got to Give in which Diane Keaton had to decide between Jack Nicholson and Keanu Reeves, all the while tending her successful playwriting career and The Holiday in which Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet swap gorgeous homes and start dating Jude Law and Jack Black. Well here she comes again with The Intern. Robert DeNiro plays the title character, a businessman so bored with his retirement that he agrees to intern at a new online fashion start-up, run by Anne Hathaway. No, they don’t fall in love, thank God (if it was a Woody Allen film, they would) but Bob goes from intern to mentor and helps Anne sort out her chaotic business and even more chaotic love life. Rene Russo, Adam DeVine and Andrew Rannells co-star.

 

Everest – There’s very little I dislike in this world more than cold weather … so the chances of finding me at Everest are slim to none. But if action movies set 29,029 feet above sea level are your thing, you’ll probably love it.

It’s based on the true story of an expedition in 1996 to scale Mount Everest. Two groups ascended the mountain from different sides – unfortunately both got caught in a blizzard resulting in the deaths of eight climbers. More than six books written by participants in the climb have been published and a few movies, TV movies and documentaries have been made concerning the incident.

Writers William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy have combed through all of them, and more, to create a screenplay of that fateful climb in a film directed by Baltasar Kormákur. Jake Gyllenhaal, Keira Knightley, Robin Wright, Josh Brolin, Sam Worthington, Jason Clarke and Emily Watson star.

And if you’re looking for me, I’ll be at home under a sun lamp.

 

Stonewall – This could possibly be the most explosive film of the fall. For those of you who don’t know – the Stonewall was a slightly seedy gay bar in Manhattan. In June of 1969 local police raided the joint (standard practice back then) with the usual plan of arresting everyone inside. The patrons had a different idea – for the first time they fought back, got the police barricaded inside the bar and tried to set it on fire. The confrontation led to three days of rioting in Lower Manhattan and is considered the birth of the “Gay Power” movement. (The Pride celebrations every year commemorate those riots.) Roland Emmerich directs from a script by Jon Robin Baitz about the days and weeks leading up to the rebellion … so you’re going to have a lot of actors running around in 60’s fashions and wigs fighting the police. But that’s not the explosive part – the Stonewall bar was, in large part, a refuge for what we now know as the Transgender community, and the riots were led by transgender people of color. Unfortunately the filmmakers released a trailer for the movie showing the riots being led by young, white men. Uh oh! Already there’s a national boycott and folks are on edge about the finished product. If Emmerich and company have white-washed and de-trans-ed the rebellion, it could get messy.

Hollywood Theater

Z for Zachariah – Here’s a little independent film that’s been generating a lot of positive buzz. Adapted by Nissar Modi from a novel by Robert C. O’Brien and directed by Craig Zobel, Z is set at the end of civilization. The only two people left are Ann and Loomis, played by Margot Robbie and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Originally strangers to one another, they’ve managed to find their way into a tenuous, delicate relationship as they wait for the end together. Trouble shows up in the form of Caleb, played by a charmingly manipulative Chris Pine. The film, among other things, is a parable about the Garden of Eden … and Pine is the snake. Z focuses less on the sci-fi elements of the story and delves instead into the unstable triangle formed by three very human characters. (September 4-9)

 

Goodnight Mommy – An Austrian horror film sure to become an instant cult classic. Lukas and Elias Schwarz, twins in real life, play 10-year-old twins living in the isolation of the Austrian countryside. Daddy’s no where to be seen and Mommy’s been in the hospital, having facial reconstructive surgery. When she arrives home, her head wrapped in bandages, she looks more like the Mummy than Mommy. But she’s changed in manner as well and soon the boys begin to wonder if she really in their loving mother or a menacing outsider. And when the bandages finally come off, writer/directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz (nephew and aunt in real life) take off the gloves and the question of just who is menacing whom comes with a fatal answer. (September 25–October 1)

Manor Theatre

Learning to Drive – This movie has got “Oscar Bait” written all over it. Patricia Clarkson plays a big time New York book editor who, like most big time New York book editors in movies, is so career obsessed she doesn’t notice that her marriage is falling apart. When it does she decides she needs to become more self-reliant and signs up for driving lessons. Enter Ben Kingsley as her driving instructor with troubles of his own. He is an Indian Sikh who is about to enter into an arranged marriage with a woman he’s never met. Patricia starts falling apart emotionally during her driving lessons but Ben’s there to help her get it together. And she helps him make some big life decisions. Directed by Isabel Coixet and written by Sarah Kernochan. (Opens September 25)

 

Rosenwald – Never heard of Julius Rosenwald? Well you should have and this documentary by Aviva Kempner will help you with your education … which would make him very happy since education was one of Jule’s big concerns. Rosenwald was the son of an immigrant peddler who eventually ended up becoming a partner in and running the Sears Roebuck company. But retail was the very least of what Rosenwald did. In what must have be seen as a decidedly unusual partnership in the early 1900’s, he teamed up with Booker T. Washington and build more than 5,400 schools in the South for African-American communities. His foundation, the Rosenwald Fund, supported such artists as Marian Anderson, Woody Guthrie, Langston Hughes and Gordon Parks. And he did all of this before his death in 1932. Featured in the documentary are interviews with the late civil rights activist Julian Bond, Congressman John Lewis, Cokie Roberts, Maya Angelou (who was a Rosenwald school alum) and director George C. Wolfe (Opens September 25)

Pittsburgh Filmmakers

Best of Enemies – William F. Buckley Jr., father of the modern day conservative movement, was the founder of the political magazine the National Review and longtime host of the highly influential PBS show Firing Line. Buckley believed in God, law and order, and a hierarchical political and cultural system ruled by the intellectual elites. Gore Vidal was certainly an intellectual elite, but there any similarity ends. He was born into a famous family and had made his name writing scandalous books about sexual, social and religious “transgressors” — The City and the Pillar and Myra Breckinridge to name a few. He was a relentless liberal who could be every bit as venomous and vicious as Buckley … and the two men hated each other like crazy. So wasn’t it clever for ABC News in 1968 to hire Buckley and Vidal to engage in a series of debates set around the Republican and Democratic conventions. The debates began on a lofty level but eventually devolved into a protracted series of erudite mudslinging that, in the view of directors Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville, began the collapse of meaningful political debate in our country. This documentary explores the debates, ABC’s own motivations and the politics of the time. (Opens September 11. Regent Square.)

 

Queen of Earth – A small indie film from writer/director Alex Ross Perry. Perry’s earlier film Listen Up Philip, featured Elisabeth Moss as a jilted girlfriend. Those two must have got on like a house afire because Perry has created for Moss a role in Queen of Earth which, if marketed properly, could possibly garner her an Oscar nomination. She plays Catherine, an urban hipster who, after suffering through some life-changing upheavals flees to the country for peace and quiet. Unfortunately she’s brought her troubles with her and her bucolic rest turns out to be a descent into emotional collapse. (Opens September 18. Harris Theater.)

Row House Cinema

Night of the Living Dead – Just in time for Halloween! The original! The zombie movie that’s the father of all zombie movies. George A. Romero’s 1968 modern horror classic, shot in Evans City, PA, is about a world where the dead are coming back to life to chomp on the guts of the living. Meanwhile the living seem determined to get themselves killed as soon as possible. Romero’s film set the standard for all horror films yet to come and has been preserved in the National Film Registry for it’s “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” place in film history. But here’s my question; I’ve spent a lot of time in Evans City and I still can’t figure out how to tell the difference between the zombies and the humans. Just kidding! (September 18-24)

 

Wonder Boys – Every year the city of Pittsburgh should get a check from Michael Chabon. Back in the 80’s he went to Pitt and worked at Jay’s Bookstall in Oakland. (Remember Jay’s Books? Remember books?) So he left town but took a piece of us with him and placed two of his biggest sellers in the land of the Golden Triangle: The Mysteries of Pittsburgh and Wonder Boys. We deserve a cut of the profits! In lieu of actual payment, we could all see the 2000 film adaptation of Wonder Boys, directed by Curtis Hanson and shot in Pittsburgh. Michael Douglas plays an extravagantly eccentric writer/professor making everyone’s life miserable, including his mistress played by local-girl-made-good Frances McDormand, Robert Downey, Jr. as his endlessly patient editor and Tobey Maguire, a writing student who may have just written the next big thing. By turns funny, sad and charming, Wonder Boys also features Katie Holmes, Rip Torn, Richard Thomas and many more. (September 18-24)

Ted Hoover is a Pittsburgh-based writer and critic.