Fall Arts Preview 2017: Films to watch for

Sequels, originals, supernovas, gems and bombs.

The fall harvest of films, all ripened 'til ready for release, promises a wide variety of topics and genres. There are more than a few sequels, some originals, big bloated supernovas, small nuanced human interactions, occasional gems and many inevitable bombs. Omitting such likely blockbusters as Terminator 2 in 3D: Judgment Day (Aug. 25), Justice League (Nov. 17), Star Wars Episode VII: Last Jedi (Dec. 15) and Six Billion Dollar Man (Dec. 22), here are a dozen titles that sound intriguing as we look ahead to fall and early winter.

Ben's top three picks (with a tie for third place)

click to enlarge Smithsonian model of the mother ship in Close Encounters of the Third Kind - Andrew Magill via Wikimedia Commons/CC
Andrew Magill via Wikimedia Commons/CC
Smithsonian model of the mother ship in Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Close Encounters of the Third Kind Here is a true Hollywood classic — certainly among Steven Spielberg's finest — fully worthy of its 40th anniversary re-release recognition. It demands to be seen again on the Big Screen in all its glory. The release was announced on World UFO Day back in July, and now just in time for our cosmological interest in total solar eclipses, this 40-year-old film has hardly aged at all. Let us thank our lucky stars that it’s a re-release and not a bombastic, off-the-rails, CGI-engorged remake. There are aliens out there for sure, but that revelation is one of awe-inspiring wonder told within a human context. Starring a young Richard Dreyfuss (just two years after Jaws), Teri Garr, Melinda Dillon, Bob Balaban and Francois Truffaut, the film was released by Columbia in 1977; subsequent generations probably haven't ever seen the big-screen version, so here's your chance. This exploration of unidentified flying objects and extra-terrestrial intelligence was certainly deserving of its Academy Awards in Best Cinematography and Best Sound Effects Editing. PG. Sept. 1 re-release; official opening Nov. 16. Sony Pictures.

Call Me By Your Name Based on a stirring novel of the same title by Andre Aciman, here is a bittersweet coming-of-age tale as a young Italian boy discovers love and betrayal in the summer of 1983. Written by James Ivory and directed by Luca Guadagnino with a knowing, understated approach, the film stars Timothee Chalamet as a boy living with his American-Italian family who welcome a visiting older academic from America played by Armie Hammer. Over the course of a summer of music, food and romance, the two slowly fall in love. No explicit sex, but the chemistry is apparently enough to incinerate the lab. The novel leaves the reader breathless. I hope this movie has the same effect. R. Nov. 24. Sony Pictures.

click to enlarge Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford in Blade Runner 2049. - Gage Skidmore via Flickr/CC
Gage Skidmore via Flickr/CC
Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford in Blade Runner 2049.

Blade Runner 2049 My most anticipated film of the year is the sequel to Ridley Scott’s seminal 1982 classic Blade Runner. Directed by Quebeçois Denis Villeneuve, this film takes place 30 years after the original and stars Ryan Gosling, who goes in search of the missing Deckard (reprised by Harrison Ford). For the uninitiated, blade runners are members of a special elite police corps who hunt down and kill escaped replicants. They’re still searching and killing 30 years later in this dystopian world that makes Handmaid’s Tale look like Little House on the Prairie. Expect a full frontal assault on your senses — visual and aural effects should be spectacular. R. Oct. 6. Warner Bros.

click to enlarge Queen Victoria and Indian clerk Abdul Karim - Hills and Saunders via Wikimedia Commons/CC
Hills and Saunders via Wikimedia Commons/CC
Queen Victoria and Indian clerk Abdul Karim

Victoria and Abdul Judi Dench channels Queen Victoria, reprising her role from Mrs. Brown. Like that film, this one is also based on a true story — her charming (albeit unlikely) and emotionally tinged relationship with an Indian clerk named Abdul Karim. Ali Fazal plays Abdul in a cast that also includes Olivia Williams, Michael Gambon, Eddie Izzard (as Bertie, Prince of Wales), Tim Pigott-Smith and Simon Callow. With direction by Stephen Frears, this looks to be the story of a dour queen who learns some lessons in humanity from the foreign visitor who has come to help celebrate her Golden Jubilee. Soon to be Best Friends Forever, she confesses to him, “I am cantankerous, greedy, fat. I am perhaps, disagreeably, attached to power.”  She had him at cantankerous. PG-13. Sept. 22; Oct. 6 at Tampa Theatre. Working Title Films/BBC Films.

Other films on the radar

click to enlarge "The Tulip Folly" by Jean-Leon Gerome - The Walters Art Museum via Wikimedia Commons/CC
The Walters Art Museum via Wikimedia Commons/CC
"The Tulip Folly" by Jean-Leon Gerome

Tulip Fever This film has been in the can for over a year, but the production company has had delay after delay in its release, multiple trailers but as, of yet, no movie. That’s a bad sign, portending mediocrity. Still, I remain hopeful. After all, the screenplay is by the inestimable Tom Stoppard and is directed by Justin Chadwick (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom and The Other Boleyn Girl). Cast includes Alicia Vikander (Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in The Danish Girl), Christoph Waltz, Dane DeHaan, Zack Galifianakis, Judi Dench, and Tom Hollander. Set in 17th-century Amsterdam in the midst of a febrile economy based on tulip bulbs — with all those beautiful vistas of water, bridges, windmills and fields of tulips waving in the wind — a married woman begins a passionate affair with the painter hired to paint her portrait. The lovers gamble on a booming market for bulbs as a way to raise money to run away together. What could go wrong with that plan? R. August 25, but may be delayed to Sept. 1. Weinstein Co.

9/11 Already beset by controversy as to the POV and to the inauthentic, offensive approach to this American horror story, this movie is directed by Martin Guigul and stars Charlie Sheen, Whoopi Goldberg, Luis Guzman, Gina Gershon and many others (including Jacqueline Bissett and Bruce Davison). Like Hitchcock’s Lifeboat, this film is a study in claustrophobia where much of the action is confined to the 6’x7’ space of the elevator car while all hell is breaking lose. Maybe the greatest offense is the casting of Charlie Sheen as one of the five people trapped in the World Trade Center’s North Tower elevator who must work together to save themselves. The trailer features a grotesque, slow-mo, weightless floating effect of the bodies as the elevator car plummets down the shaft. It would not surprise me if this film were not released on Sept. 8, or maybe never released at all, though it’s oddly scheduled for a Sept. 9 release in Japan. Extremely tasteless and incredibly unnecessary for sure, so we predict a likely DOA, box office turkey. R. Sept. 8. Black Bear Studios.

Rebel in the Rye Directed by Danny Strong (also one of the writers who wrote the biography on which this film is based), this is a biopic of celebrated author and recluse J.D. Salinger, who gained worldwide fame for his 1945 novel of adolescent angst, The Catcher in the Rye. Nicholas Hoult plays the author alongside Zoey Deutch (as Oona O’Neill), Kevin Spacey, Lucy Boynton, Sarah Paulson and Victor Garber. The film follows Salinger as he struggles to find his voice, pursues a love affair with a famed socialite, fights in World War II, and returns home to write his famous novel, leading to overnight fame and his subsequent hermetically sealed life. Once again a movie about a writer features lots of cigarettes, booze and staring into the middle distance over a manual Royal typewriter. Thus is greatness born. Let’s hope the writers Strong and Slawenski managed to achieve a semblance of Salinger’s own terse acidity as revealed in such lines as “You take somebody that cries their goddam eyes out over phony stuff in the movies, and nine times out of ten they’re mean bastards at heart.” Viewers be cautioned. PG-13. Sept. 15 release. Black Label Media.

click to enlarge Vincent Van Gogh's "Farmhouse in Provence" - Public domain
Public domain
Vincent Van Gogh's "Farmhouse in Provence"

Loving Vincent This is not just an artist’s biopic featuring the troubled Vincent Van Gogh, but the first-ever fully-painted biographical animated film. Each of the 65,000 frames is an oil painting on canvas, using the same techniques as Van Gogh, now created by a team of over 100 painters. The Polish Film Institute retrained professional oil painters to become painting animators, and much of the film was funded through a Kickstarter campaign. Written and directed by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman, the film stars Douglas Booth as Van Gogh and Saoirse Ronan, Jerome Flynn, Helen McCrory and Chris O’Dowd. The movie explores the life and mysterious death of this great artist and promises to be visually stunning and a poignant, loving look at a man whose creativity and madness were in uneasy and tumultuous co-existence. PG-13. Sept 22; tentative at Tampa Theatre before it closes for upgrades in November BreakThru Films/Trademark Films.

Murder on the Orient Express I know, I know. In 1974, I thought I would never need to see this Agatha Christie story again. What could improve on Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot, plus John Gielgud, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Sean Connery, Vanessa Redgrave and so forth? How about this 2017 version with Kenneth Branagh, the director, playing Hercule Poirot, plus Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Michelle Pfeiffer and so forth? Thirteen strangers stranded on a train are questioned by the greatest, in his estimation, detective of all times. Big, beautiful, stylish crime drama is all you need to know as you sink back into the upholstered seating and enjoy your JujuBes and Raisinets along with the mystery and glamor. But I fear empty calories and a sugar-glazed, morning-after remorse. Not yet rated. Nov. 10. 20th Century Fox.

Darkest Hour Blood, toil, tears and sweat, once again, as the second film of the year portrays Winston Churchill (the other called simply Churchill with Brian Cox), this time with Gary Oldman under heavy prosthetics giving a magisterial, cigar-chomping performance as the British Prime Minister fighting the Nazis. This could well be Oldman’s path to an Oscar. Directed by Joe Wright (Pride & Prejudice, Atonement, Anna Karenina), the cast also includes Lily James, Ben Mendelsohn, Stephen Dillane and Kristin Scott Thomas. Churchill’s darkest hour is not just the threat of the Nazis but from an unprepared public, skeptical king and internecine warfare within his own political party. As long as Churchill is considered the Greatest Briton, there will be movies made about him. PG-13. Nov. 22. Focus Features.

The Greatest Showman Yes, just in time for Christmas, and a musical to boot, so if you like neither Christmas nor musicals, this won’t be for you. Hugh Jackman stars as P.T. Barnum, the original humbug, showbiz visionary, and creator of the iconic circus that bore his name. Here he sings and dances in that brilliant, effortless and effervescent Jackman style, his first musical since Les Miserables in 2012. Directed by newcomer Michael Gracey, a former visual effects supervisor, so the special effects here should be especially noteworthy. It also stars Zac Efron, Rebecca Ferguson (as Jenny Lind) and Michelle Williams (as Charity Barnum). Music and lyrics by Justin Paul and Benj Pasek, the Oscar-winning lyricists of La La Land, and already the internet is filled with Greatest Showman earworms. Listen at your own risk. This movie will either be heartwarming and charming, or cheesy and gooey. Likely both. Not yet rated. Dec. 25. 20th Century Fox.

The Commuter Director Jaume Collet-Serra gives us a British-American thriller crime drama about a businessman caught up in a criminal conspiracy during his daily commute home, starring Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Sam Neill, Elizabeth McGovern and Jonathan Banks. It’s another movie about innocents on a train (Girl on a Train, Murder on the Orient Express), this time a commuting insurance salesman (Liam Neeson as an insurance salesman — WTF? What's next? John Cena as a used car salesman? Dwayne Johnson as a call center rep?) who gets sucked into mystery and intrigue, working against the clock to solve a puzzle (not crossword), with life and death stakes for himself and fellow passengers. Should bring cheer and comfort to all our fellow commuters mindlessly fingering their smart phones and fidget spinners. PG-13. Jan. 12. Ombra Films/StudioCanal.


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Ben Wiley

%{[ data-embed-type="image" data-embed-id="59a99bae38ab46e8230492c5" data-embed-element="span" data-embed-size="640w" contenteditable="false" ]}%Ben Wiley is a retired professor of FILM and LITERATURE at St. Petersburg College. He also was on staff in the Study Abroad Office at University of South Florida as statewide...
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