It’s Trader vs. Trader in the consistently watchable but ultimately off-the-rails dramatic thriller Fair Play (C+), a Sundance sensation written and directed by first-time filmmaker Chloe Domont and debuting on Netflix. Phoebe Dynevor and Alden Ehrenreich portray the compelling central couple secretly dating while working together at a ruthless NYC hedge fund firm managed by a terrifying character played by Eddie Marsan. An unexpected work promotion pushes the lovers’ workplace relationship to the brink while simultaneously shifting the balance of their romantic domestic life. This brisk and buzzy film is gorgeously shot in the contemporary hues and tones of modern Manhattan and spends its running time blurring gender and power lines in an intriguing game of brinksmanship up until the machinations of the plot become fully preposterous. There’s a more subtle story here about gender dynamics in the workplace and a more entertaining erotic thriller afoot begging to break free from the confines of the film structure that’s actually presented. Dynevor is especially effective in her characterization until it seems she is trying to deliver some ludicrous lines and making strange character decisions. Ehrenreich too gives his all but is defeated at times by the words and actions of the script. Side characters have scant development, and it becomes unclear who’s actually the protagonist at times. The film ultimately has less on the mind than it seems at first. Ultimately nobody gets off scot free including the audience.
John Carney’s music-infused films – Once, Begin Again and Sing Street– chronicle lost souls tuning into one another via the art of song, and his latest, Flora and Son (B), sticks close to his finely tuned formula. Eve Hewson and newcomer Orén Kinlan are fabulous as the titular characters, a single mother and a troubled teenager looking for meaning in hardscrabble Dublin. Flora, estranged from her bassist husband (Jack Reynor’s charm makes him hard to hate) and in search of a higher calling, finds a California-based virtual guitar teacher, the roguish and rhythmic Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and soon the central quartet of characters gets its groove back through common craft. Despite the strength of the performances, the story and song quality aren’t quite up to the Carney measure of excellence, and the brisk tale somehow feels awkwardly truncated. Still, the way these characters connect has mountains of magic in it. Full of acerbic wit and Irish sting, Hewson is singular in her role and quite irresistible. She and Gordon-Levitt have undeniable chemistry. It’s now abundantly clear what to expect from a Carney film, and fans of the auteur should have plenty of humor and harmony to enjoy. (Sept. 29 on Apple TV streaming service)
There are many anticipated movies being released in Fall 2023, but these ten stand out because they also feature lauded artists in the director’s seat. Be on the lookout for these feature films by some of the great auteurs, being released in coming months and generating awards season heat:
10. The Holdovers by Alexander Payne (Election, Nebraska) made a splash at the Telluride Film Festival and is expected to release Nov. 10 in theatres everywhere. Set in the early ’70s, this Focus Films dramedy pits a disliked private school teacher (Paul Giamatti, reuniting with his director of Sideways) and a troubled student (Dominic Sessa) against one another over an extended holiday break. Both male leads plus Da’Vine Joy Randolph are being touted for acting awards; and even though Payne didn’t also write the film, his direction is being praised and compared favorably to droll comedies from the ’70s (think Harold & Maude). Many moviegoers are hoping it’s a return to form after Downsizing, which seemingly only I liked!
9. May December by Todd Haynes (Carol, Far from Heaven) is a romantic drama starring Natalie Portman as an actress who travels to the American South to study the life of a woman she is set to portray on film. Julianne Moore plays the subject of a two-decade old tabloid romance that gripped the nation because her character dated someone substantially younger. The talk from the film’s premiere at Cannes Film Festival was that Haynes has once again proven himself one of the best directors of women. It’s the opening night film of the New York Film Festival and is slated for distribution in select theatres Nov. 17 before streaming on Netflix Dec. 1.
8. Priscilla by Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation, On the Rocks) is an American biopic starring Cailee Spaeny as Priscilla Presley and Jacob Elordi as Elvis. Expect Coppola, a master at chronicling the lives of women coming of age, to have a singular take on Priscilla’s memoirs as well as a distinctive soundtrack collaboration by Coppola’s husband Thomas Mars and his band Phoenix with music by the band Sons of Raphael (Elvis music is not featured in the film). After premiering at Venice International Film Festival, this A24 feature is slated for Nov. 3 in theatres.
7. Saltburn by Emerald Fennell is the acerbic director’s sophomore directorial follow-up to Promising Young Woman and caused quite a lot of interest at Telluride leading up to its limited theatrical release Nov. 17 before going wide Nov. 22. This psychological thriller/drama stars Barry Keoghan as a young Oxford University student who becomes infatuated with his aristocratic schoolmate, played by the ubiquitous Jacob Elordi, who invites his classmate for a summer he won’t forget at his eccentric family’s sprawling estate (namesake of the movie). Expect devilish details by this visionary director. Rosamund Pike and Richard E. Grant co-star.
6. All of Us Strangers by Andrew Haigh (45 Years, Weekend) is a romantic fantasy that premiered at Telluride starring Andrew Scott, Paul Mescal, Jamie Bell and Claire Foy. This Searchlight Pictures film is getting an Oscar-qualifying run late this year, with a Dec. 22 release. A chance encounter between those who are living and those who died three decades before provides an unlikely premise for Haigh’s latest journey into the human psyche.
5. Origin by Ava DuVernay (Selma, 13th) is an ambitious biographical drama about a writer played by Aunjanue Ellis grappling with personal tragedy, who embarks on a global exploration of discovery. This Neon film premiered at the Venice festival and is slated for late 2023. It co-stars Jon Bernthal, Vera Farmiga, Blair Underwood and Broadway belter Audra McDonald. Expect multiple story lines across various dimensions of life on earth in this intriguing entry.
4. Boy and the Heron by Hayao Miyazaki (My Neighbor Totoro, Howl’s Moving Castle) is rumored to be the final film by the animation master behind Studio Ghibli. This Japanese fantasy follows a boy who discovers an abandoned tower in his new town and enters a fantastical world with the talking bird of the title. The director draws heavily from his own childhood and explores conflict and loss in this hand-drawn epic slated for theatres Dec. 8 following special preview engagements Nov. 22.
3. The Killer by David Fincher (Fight Club, The Social Network) is a neo-noir action thriller based on a graphic novel series starring a deadpan Michael Fassbender as the titular assassin who gets embroiled in a global manhunt after a hit goes wrong. This too premiered in Venice and has been lauded for its acting and style. It co-stars Arliss Howard and Charles Parness with a small part played by Tilda Swinton. Music by The Smiths is featured prominently. Expect a limited theatrical run Oct. 27 before the film streams Nov. 10 on Netflix.
2. Poor Things by Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster, The Favourite) is a steampunk black comedy fantasy film and all the rage in Venice, capturing that festival’s top prize, the Golden Lion. Emma Stone plays “Bella,” an initially naive woman brought back to life by a scientist, Willem Dafoe. Bella’s desire to learn more about the world takes her across continents in search of equality and liberation. Mark Ruffalo plays her debauched lawyer companion. Expect wry comic highs and imaginative visuals. Stone is said to give her best performance yet. This Searchlight Pictures film also played Telluride and screens at the New York Film Festival among other prestigious competitions before coming to a screen near you Dec. 8.
1. Killers of the Flower Moon by Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street, Goodfellas) is the sixth feature film collaboration between the director and Leonardo DiCaprio and the tenth between the filmmaker and Robert De Niro. Based on the novel of the same name, the story depicts members of the Osage tribe in northeastern Oklahoma murdered under mysterious circumstances in the 1920s, sparking an investigation. DiCaprio plays the nephew of De Niro’s character and courts a Native American woman played by Lily Gladstone, who is said to be the film’s spiritual center. This epic saga premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and has garnered momentum all year. This Apple Original Films/Paramount Pictures production is slated for wide release Oct. 20. Like most of Marty’s works, this promises to be dark and demanding with a three-and-a-half-hour running time. It also features a propulsive score by the late Robbie Robertson and supporting turns by Jesse Plemons and Brendan Fraser. Expect powerhouse acting and a compelling story line that shows the cynical underbelly of America as it pertains to indigenous people.
Not since perpetual screenings of 1975’s cult musical indie The Rocky Horror Picture Show, for which costumed moviegoers with ritualistic call-backs literally bring rice, newspapers, frankfurters, squirt guns and more and break out into “Time Warp” choreography in unison, has a movie theatre event been so poised to prompt audiences into a frenzy of interactivity. I am hereby dubbing Taylor Swift The Eras Tour, the indie concert movie coming October 13, 2023, The Taylor Swiftie Picture Show and bring you some perspective and tips to prepare for the full bejeweled majesty of the interactive experience (and you know I love musicals!)
As most of us were about to let the proverbial month of August slip away like a bottle of wine, it was announced on the last day of that fateful month that footage captured during pop princess and prolific songwriter Taylor Swift’s Los Angeles leg of her record-breaking concert tour was actually a secret movie made outside the Hollywood studio system and would soon screen across the U.S. via AMC Theatres and other multiplexes as a near-three-hour concert movie. Here’s the trailer. What a treat for all those who couldn’t afford the live concert or get the in-demand tickets! But is the singer ready for her close-up? Swift is no stranger to the screen, all the way back to the 2009 Hannah Montana: The Movie days with fellow child star Miley Cyrus. Swift has starred in a documentary about her political awakening and has had small parts in pedigreed movies: I am one of the few cheerleaders of the guilty-pleasure Cats but not of the smarmy drama Amsterdam, although the getaway car sequence toward the beginning will turn some heads. This new Eras concert movie will undoubtedly be the ingenue breakthrough for a woman who has already broken live concert records globally. Based on pre-sales alone, Taylor Swift, already a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, will now be one of the biggest movie stars of the year, and her movie was actually lensed in L.A., it turns out, so maybe it was kinda made in Hollywood. Normally it wouldn’t be good karma to spoil the ending, but many have already followed along and know the set list, but here are ten tips to “Make the friendship bracelets, take the moment and taste it” and enhance your in-theatre experience:
- Costumes are a big part of the experience as fans (self-proclaimed “Swifties!”) sport clothing and accoutrements based on the various “eras” of the country crossover artist’s legendary young career, so whether it’s a glittery heart around the eye as a nod to the Lover album or an homage to the cottage-core of her mid-pandemic works, determine what you’ll wear to the affair.
- Some longtime fans paint a blue “13” on their hands in honor of Taylor’s favorite number (the film even premieres on this “lucky” day!) During the “Fearless” era, Swift scribed the blue 13 on her guitar-strumming hand.
- Friendship bracelet sharing is a thing to add to the communal experience. I found some fun ones on Etsy that I have ready to trade. My favorite has little letters spelling “Starbucks” in honor of a sometimes misunderstood lyric in the song “Blank Spaces.”
- There will be merch, so plan for long lines to snag those commemorative popcorn tubs and tumblers. One to use and one to collect?
- Plan to flash a light to honor the legacy of Taylor Swift’s opera singing grandmother during the emotional song “Marjorie” with lessons from her titular relative.
- There will be more call-backs than there were in Polyester by John Waters (movie with a famous Odorama scratch and sniff card). Plan on chants at the bridge of “Cruel Summer,” a double-clap during “You Belong with Me,” a triple-clap on the beat before “My ex-man brought his new girlfriend” during “Shake It Off,” the audience refrain “1,2,3, Let’s Go, B*tch!” during “Delicate” (right after “You can make me a drink…”) and much more chronicled on sites such as Bustle. There’s even a moment during “Anti-Hero,” when the audience may re-assure the songstress “Taylor, You’ll Be Fine.”
- It’s been a year of female empowerment, with the success of Barbie and all, so expect a loud unison of “F*** the patriarchy!” during the 10-minute song “All Too Well.” As that song is largely believed to be about a relationship with a certain Oscar nominated actor named Jake, you may also see some not-so-flattering homemade t-shirts about the thespian or even the scarf he allegedly never gave back to Taylor after their brief relationship.
- During the song “Bejeweled,” when Taylor sings the word “shimmer,” fans flutter their fingers. You kinda have to study TikTok for some of these!
- There’s a part of the live concert with secret songs surprising nightly audiences, so there are several tunes from the multi-day L.A. stint to choose from – although it doesn’t appear this will be like the movie Clue with different variations of film prints to stimulate multiple trips to the theatre. Those multiple viewings will likely happen for fans anyway!
- Most of all, have fun! There’s a long tradition of movie gimmickry designed to lure fans into movie houses, from 3-D and Cinerama to “The Tingler.” In this case, consider the fans already lured. This is your chance to make the next in-person sensation akin to the sing-along version of The Sound of Music or taking a page out of the customs invented by those Rocky Horror fans who have sung and danced in the aisles for nearly 50 years.
In some cases, tickets are still available for Taylor Swift The Eras Tour, the movie. Good luck to the multiplex ushers and cleaning crews, and pick up after yourself so nobody will say “This is why we can’t have nice things.”
A new movie from a generally sly observer in the director’s chair gives a little bear and a little bull but not enough of either to make a very interesting trip to the zoo. An interlocking ensemble of characters represents the haves and have nots of the modern American economy in Craig Gillespie’s often effective true-life dramedy Dumb Money (B). Paul Dano is a natural as iconoclast Keith Gill, a regular guy with an outrageous YouTube persona urging retail investors to buy and hold ascendant underdog GameStop stocks, setting in motion an epic showdown with entitled hedge fund managers and even seemingly well-meaning technologists who collectively don’t want to see their predictable cash cow of a system upended. Along the way the movie presents effective subplots featuring the likes of America Ferrera and Anthony Ramos as common folks scraping by with the most to gain, but the script doesn’t plumb the depths of their stories enough. Seth Rogen and Nick Offerman are among those playing the aloof elite, although their parts are rarely imbued with the bombast or bluster required to characterize them as full-fledged antagonists. Gillespie vividly captures the zeitgeist of a drifting American culture at the height of the pandemic and certainly generates pockets of pathos amidst all the mercenary mania. The film is most brilliant in the ways it is steeped in the specificity and nomenclature of a grassroots investing class changing the way the Wall Street game is played. It’s at times fascinating and occasionally riveting while rarely amounting to the contemporary classic it could have been.
Packing for Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman’s vision of Theater Camp (B) may involve contraband supplies such as throat coat (for maintaining those satin vocals) or the occasional tear stick (because crying on cue takes real range), but mostly the characters in this mockumentary come equipped for the summer with dry wit. Fresh from this year’s Sundance Film Festival, this comic lark written by the co-directors along with actors Ben Platt and Noah Galvin, showcases faculty and budding performers at the fictional New York State ”AdirondACTS” sleep-away camp. After the program’s indomitable founder (Amy Sedaris) falls into a coma, her clueless “crypto bro” son (Jimmy Tatro) is tasked with keeping the thespian enclave solvent while long-suffering teachers played by Platt and Gordon (both believable in their bickering) endeavor to ensure the end-of-summer musical show must go on. There are some fantastic quips and acts of acerbic comedy, largely featuring Tatro’s character’s basic misunderstanding of the theatre kids. Galvin shines when explaining the rituals of the bohemian Rent kids versus the finger-snapping Fosse friends. Ayo Edebiri is also a supporting VIP as a counselor who lied on her resume but still has to muster up classes on mask theory and fight choreography. There are plenty of sassy sight gags, biting observations and creative asides to reward those who work in the performing arts milieu; tricking kids into being restaurant servers by convincing them it’s an exercise in immersive theater is one of the standout sequences. Other times the tone is too slight to have much bite. The saggy middle act rallies in the finale though, when a show-within-a-show comes brilliantly together. The movie’s creators are clearly caught up in the craft, and it’s all just campy enough to yield a few bonfires of hilarity.
Talk about “formula” racing! Neill Blomkamp’s true life wish fulfillment drama Gran Turismo (B) starts out so color-by-numbers it seems destined to lap endless circles; but polished production values, brisk action and a touching set of mentor/mentee performances lift the film into true crowd-pleasing territory. In fact, it’s the late-breaking sit-down-and-cheer underdog movie of the summer. This is basically a real-life update of ‘80s adventure The Last Starfighter; this go-around the film’s protagonist is obsessed with the titular PlayStation racing simulation game and is recruited into the world of actual professional race car driving. The movie has an ample supply of Top Gun and The Karate Kid tropes stuffed into it too but ultimately finds its own modern lane. Relative newcomer Archie Madekwe gives a winning performance playing real-life hero Jann Mardenborough, and David Harbour is a delight as his grizzled trainer Jack Salter. Less successful is Orlando Bloom in a thankless and underwritten role as the auto executive who hatches the notion of leveraging sim players to become real drivers. Djimon Hounsou and Geri Halliwell spice up their scenes with a few sensitive moments as the hero’s parents, although the plot doesn’t completely explain their sometimes odd detachment. The movie does a good job guiding casual sports fans into its racing milieu with pop-up graphics, and the directorial choices including nose-dives into the action on a variety of international tracks provide a propulsive you-are-there vibe. The movie’s assertion of believing in yourself plus its largely clean content (save for some final act profanity) make it an imminently watchable choice for family viewing.
The cure for superhero fatigue? Cut tie-ins to extraneous characters and multiverses of quantum physics straining credulity, focus on an outsider of humble roots, tell an origin story we haven’t seen before and raise the stakes for a showdown involving characters we enjoy. Basically do what Ángel Manuel Soto’s does in Blue Beetle (B+)! Buoyed by Cobra Kai star Xolo Maridueña as the movie’s charismatic protagonist, Soto tells the story of a working class Mexican-American family in the fictional Palmera City facing a supernatural shock to the system that jettisons them into life as DC Universe warriors. The film is consistently engaging with escalating threats and joyful action abounding. The hero’s family customs and worldview are central to the film’s successful audience engagement, with George Lopez and Belissa Escobedo as comic relief highlights in his close-knit Latino family. Only Susan Sarandon misses the mark with an underdeveloped role as a ruthless baddie. The adventure overstays its welcome a bit, but novel and nostalgic flourishes keep the film fairly fresh. Bobby Krlic’s symphonic score sets a manic mood, and the special effects are competent enough to populate a believable world. Families will enjoy seeing a multigenerational group of likable characters rise to the occasion.
This biographical baseball film has three strikes against it: its acting roster is somewhat inconsistent, it fouls up some of its central notions about the limits of faith and it slides in too many familiar sports movie tropes – but even so, it’s largely a rousing run around the bases of feel-good sentiment. An earnest true-life story of a little-known sports miracle, Jeff Celentano’s The Hill (B-) is equal parts formulaic and inspirational. The central slugger who overcomes a handicap in order to try out for a chance at the big leagues is a real guy from history named Rickey Hill. He’s played effectively as a plucky child by the very talented Jesse Berry and as a twentysomething by Colin Ford, who is likable but not quite as natural. Dennis Quaid portrays his pastor father, who seems a bit world-weary in his stubborn role; the actor is powerful even if he never fully matches the age of his character (mercifully, no Indy 5 de-aging effects were employed). Scott Glenn as the legendary MLB scout and Bonnie Bedelia as the screenplay’s deus ex machina (a.k.a. the Hill family’s truth-telling grandmother) make lively impressions as the even more elder states-folk of the proceedings. The film is photographed in nostalgic tones which undergird its old-fashioned themes as the overprotective dad evokes unswerving devotion to religion as an excuse to forbid his son from a potentially disappointing career in baseball that will likely ruin the frail body behind his brawny batting arm. The script insists pop’s stalwart overprotection is somewhere beyond that of the parents in Footloose or Carrie, which gets far-fetched and tedious. Of course the staunch won’t short-change the launch. Still, when the inspirational sports and emotional moments work their magic, cheers and waterworks spring forth. There are some nice sequences of subtlety early in the film showcasing observant familial and congregational traditions which get mostly jettisoned for the inevitable montage sequences and grand finale. The movie is genial family entertainment and deftly demonstrates the majesty of both belief in a higher power and belief in a disciplined work ethic to field one’s dreams.
This summer’s great wish fulfillment romance is so high stakes, it just might cause an international incident. Taylor Zakhar Perez and Nicholas Galitzine play the U.S. president’s son and a British prince, respectfully, who find themselves falling in love in Matthew López’s winning romcom Red, White & Royal Blue (B+). Considering their roles as high-profile public figures, the young men who Meet Cute at a U.K. wedding party must keep their burgeoning relationship a secret at all costs. The lead actors are dashing and often amusing in their earnest roles, and López grounds the plot with enough political accuracy and contours about making history for one’s culture or community to make the cross-continental complications fairly credible. Strong supporting performances include Uma Thurman as the Texas-accented president and Stephen Fry as a smug member of the monarchy. The film, available on Prime Video, is a triumph of representation and a jolly good time in its own right.
A new film based on a little-known chapter of the Dracula saga proves to be monstrously boring. André Øvredal’s moribund nautical vampire tale The Last Voyage of the Demeter (D+) rarely sets sail into either creative or scary waters as the undead bloodsucker lurks and lunges in equal doses from the cargo hold of a nondescript merchant vessel traveling from Romania to England. The film’s mundane production values, self-conscious narration, cheap-looking creature effects and general lack of specificity about the shipboard whereabouts of this shape-shifting Lil’ Nos(feratu) X mark another low point in Universal’s “revisals” of classic monster pics. The mystery of why Vladdie can’t simply dispatch of the puny crew of imbeciles makes the dramatic dance even more of a transoceanic trance. Only Corey Hawkins as the protagonist, a shipboard MD caring for an unwitting stowaway (Aisling Franciosi) in need of transfusions, demonstrates any discernible pulse in the acting department. There are traces of race politics here, but the characters are too uninteresting to properly embody their arcs. Any teased promise of allegory is more bark than bite. The missed opportunities are countless. Typically pacing in a supernatural thriller is slow for a while to stoke the tension, but this adventure just gets more glacial: a captain’s slog to be sure! Only the film’s ability to elicit unintentional laughs in the final reel provides much of a jump scare surprise.
Organizers of the 20th Annual 168 Film Project are celebrating a new home and a new collaboration with Angel Studios for this year’s faith-based film production competition, with a September 4 deadline for entry. Artists can learn more at www.168film.com and enter at 168film.com/project.
Named for the number of hours in a one-week production, the 168 Film Project last year relocated from California to Georgia, teeing up the 2023 festival to take place near Trilith Studios for the second time. This year the 168 Film Project is collaborating with film distributor Angel Studios.
Members of the 100,000 voter “Angel Guild” will review up to 10 of the 168 Film Project short film entries for potential development, funding and distribution as feature films or TV series.
168 Film Project is a scripture-focused community and proving ground for filmmakers, writers and actors of all levels of experience. 168 Film Project was launched in 2003 in Los Angeles, and the competition has produced more than 1,200 short films at locations all around the world including the feature Final Frequency.
Angel Studios is a leading producer of faith-based content including the recent grassroots hit Sound of Freedom.