Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to September

september

September is an odd time in the cinematic schedule, no longer part of the summer blockbuster season but still too early for the prestige awards bait of later months. It doesn’t even have a particularly well-known holiday like Halloween to gear towards programming. With that being said, the September slate is a mixed bag of some very promising films, most of them original (only two sequels and one remake in the bunch). Can “Blair Witch” live up to the original and the hype that’s been steadily building for it? And what about true-life stories like “Sully,” “Snowden” and “Deepwater Horizon?” Is there enough in each of those to tell a gripping tale? Only time will tell.

“Morgan”

Who: Kate Mara, Anya Taylor-Joy, Paul Giamatti, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Brian Cox
What: A corporate risk-management consultant has to decide and determine whether or not to terminate an artificial being’s life that was made in a laboratory environment.
When: September 2nd
Why: Made by Luke Scott (music video director and son of Ridley), this sounds like an intriguing, original sci-fi film that will be both entertaining to watch and actually grapple with some heavier, headier stuff. Also, the cast is pretty much stacked with talent, including Anya Taylor-Joy, who has proven to be an incredible actress at a young age with her performance in “The Witch” and whose role as the AI in question should be suitably captivating. This may be a retread of “Ex Machina,” but considering that was a brilliant film, that’s no knock on “Morgan,” which looks to be a mix of Alex Garland’s thriller, Luc Besson’s “Lucy” and an especially engrossing episode of “Black Mirror.”

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Movie Review: “The Intervention”

Starring
Melanie Lynskey, Jason Ritter, Cobie Smulders, Natasha Lyonne, Alia Shawkat, Clea DuVall, Vincent Piazza, Ben Schwartz
Director
Clea DuVall

With “The Intervention,” Clea DuVall leaves a striking impression with her feature-length directorial debut. The actress, who starred in the far too short-lived HBO series “Carnivale,” has written and directed an observant, funny and sometimes moving relationship film. Its similarities to famous old-friends-getting-together-for-the-weekend movies are apparent, but since DuVall’s story is driven more by honesty than conventions, its familiar qualities are not a problem.

Putting together an intervention often comes from the right place. And as misguided as Annie’s (Melanie Lynskey) idea of a marriage intervention may be, her heart is in the right place. Annie and some other longtime pals are tired of seeing two of their closest friends, Ruby (Cobie Smulders) and Peter (Vincent Piazza), remain stuck in a seemingly loveless marriage. They’re not the only couple on this getaway having problems, though. In an effort to try to resolve Ruby and Pete’s issues, Sarah (Natasha Lyonne) and Jessi (Clea DuVall), Jack (Ben Schwartz) and Lola (Alia Shawkat), and Annie and Matt (Jason Ritter) end up confronting their own relationship problems.

All of these conflicts unfold naturally, and that naturalism is inherent in DuVall’s thoughtful script. As the story progresses, the characters slowly reveal themselves to be more than what they initially appeared to be. Every single one of them, including a character that easily could’ve been reduced to a one-note caricature (Lola), is so well-drawn in DuVall’s script – each with their own problems, fears and motivations. These are fully-realized characters, and rarely does a simple conversation or confrontation ring false in “The Intervention,” except for maybe one of its broader scenes.

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Movie Review: “Don’t Breathe”

Starring
Stephen Lang, Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovatto
Director
Fede Alvarez

Director Fede Alvarez’s previous film, the 2013 remake of “Evil Dead,” is considered the bloodiest movie of all time. (I prefer the word ‘sinewy,’ as it was needlessly, almost laughably gory, but oh well.) His latest film “Don’t Breathe” appears to be an attempt at karmic payback of sorts, because he’s downright stingy with the corn syrup this time around, and the film is better because of it. It’s a claustrophobic thriller; it doesn’t need to be bloody. Indeed, Alvarez has multiple opportunities to shed blood on screen (if Mel Gibson is directing, you’re seeing that blood) but resists. This is a good thing.

Alex (Dylan Minnette), Rocky (Jane Levy) and Rocky’s boyfriend Money (Daniel Zovatto) are low-rent Detroit kids who commit petty theft on the houses protected by the security company that employs Alex’s father, careful to avoid anything that would make them guilty of grand larceny. Money gets word of a potential robbery target, an older man (Stephen Lang) with no family, living on an abandoned block and sitting on $300,000. The man uses the same security company, so the three scout the house and learn two valuable things: the man is blind, and he has a Rottweiler.

Alex wants no part of this job but is guilted into taking part by Rocky, who wants to take the money and run, making a better life for her and her daughter. The house has more locks than they’re used to, making the job infinitely riskier, but they break in anyway. It is at this point that the three discover, once it’s much too late to back out, that the blind man is a war veteran. Needless to say, the job goes poorly.

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Movie Review: “Hands of Stone”

Starring
Edgar Ramirez, Robert de Niro, Ana de Armas, Usher Raymond, Ruben Blades, Ellen Barkin, John Turturro
Director
Jonathan Jakubowicz

Most boxing fans know the name Roberto Duran, but for someone who’s widely regarded as one of the greatest fighters of all time (in addition to holding titles in four different weight classes, he’s the only person to beat Sugar Ray Leonard in his prime), Duran lacks the mainstream recognition of fellow boxers like Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson and even Leonard himself. Writer/director Jonathan Jakubowicz hopes to remedy that with his new film, “Hands of Stone,” but while it boasts a pair of solid performances from stars Edgar Ramirez and Robert De Niro, the true-life drama doesn’t offer anything different from the dozens of other boxing movies that came before it. “Hands of Stone” is your typical rise-and-fall redemption story, so aggressively mediocre that Jakubowicz would have been better off taking some risks and failing than to settle for this.

The film begins in 1971 with Panamanian boxer Roberto Duran (Ramirez) already on the rise. Despite his natural talent, however, Duran lacks the discipline required to succeed at the highest level, so his manager Carlos Eleta (Ruben Blades) convinces legendary trainer Ray Arcel (De Niro) to turn him into a world champion. Arcel has been retired since being run out of boxing by the mafia nearly 20 years earlier, but he sees something in Duran that reignites his love of the sport and agrees to train him for free, a stipulation of his agreement with local gangster Frankie Carbo (John Turturro). Though the hotheaded and fervently nationalistic Duran is hesitant about working with an American trainer due to his experiences growing up in the U.S.-controlled Canal Zone, he ultimately learns to trust Arcel and builds a successful career over the next decade, culminating in a pair of fights with American sports icon Sugar Ray Leonard (Usher Raymond) that would both make and break his career.

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Blu Tuesday: The Walking Dead, Narcos and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on social media with your friends.

“The Walking Dead: The Complete Sixth Season”

WHAT: When the people of Alexandria are forced to deal with a number of dangerous threats from both the living and the dead, Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) gains the trust of his new community by transforming its residents into survivors. But not everyone agrees with Rick’s shoot-first approach to diplomacy, particularly the newly passive Morgan (Lennie James).

WHY: A lot of the attention surrounding the sixth season of “The Walking Dead” focused on the arrival of fan favorite villain Negan, a character who doesn’t even appear until the closing minutes of the finale and caused just as much backlash as excitement. But whether or not you’re happy with the way Season Six ended, there’s so much great stuff in the lead up to the inevitable faceoff with Negan (a fantastic Jeffrey Dean Morgan) that it’s easily one of the best seasons to date. Glen Mazzara continues to prove why he’s the perfect showrunner for this series, because as a fan of Robert Kirkman’s original comic, he’s able to deliver all the classic moments (the zombie invasion of Alexandria, Carl getting shot in the face, Negan’s thrilling introduction) without feeling slavish to the source material. Not every episode is a resounding success, but even those that caused controversy with their frustrating storytelling tactics (namely “Thank You” and “Last Day on Earth”) exude excellence in one way or another, and it’s for that reason why “The Walking Dead” remains among the best shows on TV.

EXTRAS: In addition to cast and crew audio commentaries on seven episodes, there’s an extended cut of the season finale (including an alternate, expletive-filled version of the Negan speech), five behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted scenes and more.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

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