One film journalist’s stream-of-consciousness cinematic journey through the pandemic, Part 98
By Laurence Lerman / New York City
For me, the ninth month of the year often plays out as a four-week farewell to the summer, a season that has left me a little parched and a little sunburnt, as well as happily content when an evening or two were spent cooling down in an air-conditioned movie theater, with an engaging or at least highly anticipated movie flickering on the screen.
That summery mood frequently holds over into the new month, particularly the first week or two, but the movies, well, they might not be what I’ve been looking for. Or I might not even have heard of them!
Welcome to September, or what the film community lovingly refers to as a dump month.
There are several periods of the year when the American movie industry has lower commercial and critical expectations for its newest theatrical releases. Those times are usually January, February and September, months when domestic audiences are smaller than other months. At these times, studios and distributors “dump” movies they’re not overly excited about into movie houses with little or no fanfare. The streaming era has altered this practice a bit, yes, but there’s a corporate feeling that dropping some of the films on the screen during a dump month is the best way to satisfy contractual obligations to the films’ producers and to get some review quotes and exposure (limited) before their inevitable streaming debuts.
January and February find new movie releases in theaters coming up against the. reality of a consumer base paying off their holiday season debts, staying more physically active to shed those holiday pounds, getting pumped for the NFL playoffs and Super Bowl and more. September, meanwhile, is the month following the biggest season for moviegoers, many of whom are going back to school, paying off tuition fees and just feeling exhausted from a season of regular moviegoing. There are myriad explanations, all ending with the same result: lesser-known movies arriving with less of an identity.
But there are still some tasty goodies out there. I look at early September as a great time to read up on a month of new films that haven’t been getting much pre-release buzz for the simple fact that not enough people know about them.
Let me remedy that now with a look at 10 films hitting theaters coast-to-coast in September. Sure, I’m familiar with some of them and you probably are, too. But that doesn’t stop the sensation of stepping into the celluloid unknown to be very exhilarating. Occasionally.
Peter Von Kant (Sept. 2)
Based on the late German master R.W. Fassbinder’s 1972 arthouse classic The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, France’s François Ozon flips the story upside-down and reframes it as a tale about a man. A famous movie director, Peter Von Kant lives with his assistant Karl, whom he likes to mistreat and humiliate. Then he meets a handsome young man whom he offers to help break into the world of cinema. And then things begin to get really weird… Co-starring the divine Isabelle Adjani and the great Hanna Schygulla, star of Fassbinder’s original film.
Medieval (Sept. 9)
This historical action-drama is based on the true story of a Jan Žižka, a medieval Czech general and mercenary who led his comrades in bloodthirsty battles against a corrupt monarchy and created quite a name for himself in the annals of European military history. An English-language Czech production written and directed by Petr Jákl, it is an epic that stars Ben Foster, Michael Caine, Sophie Lowe and the always badass Til Schweiger.
House of Darkness (Sept. 9)
Justin Long and Kate Bosworth star in the latest offering from the always provocative writer/director Neil Labute (Your Friends and Neighbors, Nurse Betty). It’s a seductive thriller-horror-comedy mash-up that follows a Lothario (Long) who hooks up with a beautiful, mysterious date at his local bar (Bosworth), only for their seemingly casual coupling to take a sinister (but sexy!) turn.
Clerks III (Sept. 16)
Again? In the third entry of filmmaker Kevin Smith’s low-rent buddy franchise, series regulars Dante (Brian O’Halloran), Elias (Trevor Fehrman), Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith himself) are enlisted by their ailing buddy Randal (Jeff Anderson) to make a movie about the convenience store that started it all. Rosario Dawson and Marilyn Ghigliotti return as the coolest women these guys will ever know.
The Woman King (Sept. 16)
The talented filmmaker Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love and Basketball, The Secret Life of Bees, The Old Guard) continues to demonstrate her range with this epic adventure story of the Agojie, an all-female regiment of warriors who relied on their formidable skills and fierceness to protect the African Kingdom of Dahomey in the 19th century. The indefatigable Viola King stars here as the Agojie’s equally tireless General Nanisca, who readies the next generation of recruits for battle against an encroaching enemy determined to destroy their way of life.
See How They Run (Sept. 16)
In this mystery-comedy set in London’s West End of the 1950s, the plans for a movie adaption of a smash-hit play come to an abrupt halt after a member of the crew is murdered. World-weary Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell) and eager rookie Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan) take on the case, and quickly discover that dealing with the supposedly glamorous world of actors in their natural theatrical habitat is easier said than done. First-time feature director Tom George is at the helm.
Confess, Fletch (Sept. 16)
Jon Hamm steps into the shoes originally worn by Chevy Chase twice in the 1980s in this third film adaption of a Gregory MacDonald novel featuring his wisecracking investigative reporter Irwin “Fletch” Fletcher. In this latest comedic adventure, Fletch must prove his innocence after he becomes the prime suspect in a string of murders. Directed by seasoned comedy helmer Greg Mottola, (Superbad, Paul, The Daytrippers), it co-stars Annie Mumolo, Kyle MacLachlan, Marcia Gay Harden and Hamm’s former Mad Men compadre John Slattery.
Don’t Worry Darling (Sept. 23)
The Truman Show meets Gaslight, or that’s at least what this psychological thriller looks like. The always-game Florence Pugh and Harry Styles are a young happy couple in the 1950s who live in a seemingly perfect town that has been created by the mysterious company Harry is working for. But when cracks in their idyllic life begin to appear, Florence senses that there might be something spooky going on behind the ball games and barbecues. Olivia Wilde, Styles’ girlfriend, directs and co-stars.
Catherine Called Birdy (Sept. 23)
In this picturesque adventure, a 14-year-old girl in medieval England, the youngest child of a noble family, navigates her way through her adolescence while trying to avoid a group of potential suitors that her father has in mind for her. Directed and co-written by Lena Dunham and starring the wonderful Bella Ramsey (the pint-sized royal Lyanna Mormont from Game of Thrones), this family-friendly film is based on the 1994 children’s novel by well-known historical fiction writer Karen Cushman
The Good House (Sept. 30)
Sigourney Weaver and Kevin Kline reunite for their first on-screen pairing since 1997’s The Ice Storm (and, before that, 1993’s Dave) in this adaptation of Ann Leary’s 2013 bestselling novel. It’s a romantic comedy-drama that follows a secretive New England realtor (Weaver), the descendant of the Salem witches, whose carefully managed life begins to unravel when she rekindles a romance with her old high-school flame (Kline) from New York. Morena Baccarin and Rob Delaney co-star.
Laurence Lerman is a film journalist, former editor of Video Business--Variety's DVD trade publication--and husband to The Insider's own Gwen Cooper. Over the course of his career he has conducted one-on-one interviews with just about every major director working today, including Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Clint Eastwood, Kathryn Bigelow, Ridley Scott, Walter Hill, Spike Lee, and Werner Herzog, among numerous others. Once James Cameron specifically requested an interview with Laurence by name, which his wife still likes to brag about. Most recently, he is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of the online review site DiscDish.com.