Welcome to October. Cue the week-after-week onslaught of movies vying for Oscar attention. The year-end movie season begins now. If you’ve been paying attention to the notable filmmakers that keep throwing their titles into the race (including Scorsese and Affleck), then you’re aware of how congested the next three months are going to be. Buckle up.
The widest new release of the weekend is an ensemble thriller based on a bestselling book. Just as you can’t judge a book by its cover, you can’t judge a movie by the bestseller status of its source material. The novel may have a large fan base, but the way ‘The Girl on the Train‘ is portrayed on-screen, it’s undeserved. The missing-person murder mystery is a poor man’s ‘Gone Girl’. Without the social commentary or brilliant filmmaking of David Fincher, it’s nothing more than a Lifetime special with a budget. The jumbled-up narrative tells the stories of three women and three men. The one with the most screen time (Emily Blunt) is a depressed mess who somewhat copes thanks to alcohol. She rides a train every day just so she can spy on her ex-husband (Justin Theroux) and the mistress (Rebecca Ferguson) that he divorced her for. Two doors down from her ex, she notices a gorgeous blonde (Haley Bennett) who has a seemingly perfect life. But when she sees the perfect woman cheating with her shrink (Edgar Ramirez), for some reason, she goes into a bender that throws her into stalker mode. When she wakes up from the blackout stupor covered in blood, upon learning that the trophy wife is missing, she starts her own investigation to uncover what happened that night. If you’re into scandal (affairs, murder, alcoholism, abuse, violence against women, the death of children, etc.), and don’t mind screenplays whose tension relies wholly upon lying to the audience, then look no further.
The weekend’s next biggest release is a kids’ movie hoping to sweep in and needlessly fill the void left behind from the ‘Wimpy Kid’ franchise. From the director of ‘Paul Blart: Mall Cop’ comes ‘Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life‘, the first (and possibly only) big-screen adaptation of James Patterson and Chris Tebbets’ book series. The PG comedy is about a kid who decides to fight back against his miserable middle school principal by breaking every school rule, one by one. The only recognizable actor in the cast list is Lauren Graham. Not screened for press, I can’t say how well ‘Middle School’ holds up, but that won’t stop me from proverbially judging this book by its cover.
While studying film history, I watched D.W. Griffith’s three-hour silent epic ‘The Birth of a Nation’. It wasn’t easy, but I made it through. Seeing as how it ended with the Ku Klux Klan saving the day while God looked on with happiness, I figured that the new ‘The Birth of a Nation‘ wasn’t a remake. I was right.
Actor-turned-filmmaker Nate Parker wrote, directed and stars in the Sundance 2016 hit. Set in the time of slavery, the movie tells the story of Nat Turner, an educated, free black preacher who starts a movement and an uprising. Alongside Parker as the leading man, the cast includes Gabrielle Union, Armie Hammer and Jackie Earle Haley. The early Oscar buzz seemed to diminish when news broke of a rape scandal in Parker’s past, but because of a combination of his acquittal and our society no longer caring about celebrities’ actions (see Chris Brown), the film appears to be gaining steam again.
‘The Birth of a Nation’ is the type of movie that would typically start off in limited release. However, Fox Searchlight is blasting it out to more than 2,100 screens this weekend.