Film Reviews: Wednesday, September 3, 2003
Autumn Tales

The silly season is over! Our film maven previews the movies of the fall.


If you’re perusing this piece, dear reader, it means that no films other than Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star (see review below) are opening in Tarrant County this weekend, or at least no films I’ve had a chance to see. This being the week after Labor Day, it seems a good time to preview the fall season. (Remember, all opening dates are subject to change.)

Well, it’s been quite a summer, hasn’t it? Stephen Holden of The New York Times pronounced this the worst summer in film history, while Entertainment Weekly said more accurately that it wasn’t, though it felt like it. If you concentrate on the movies Hollywood puts out, then you could certainly be excused for thinking that way. From where I sit, though, there have been lots of good movies this summer. For starters, last year’s crop of documentaries (Standing in the Shadows of Motown, Bowling for Columbine, The Kid Stays in the Picture) has already been surpassed by the ones this year: Jeffrey Blitz’s rousing Spellbound, Mark Moskowitz’s literary detective story Stone Reader, and Andrew Jarecki’s disorienting and disturbing Capturing the Friedmans. In addition, François Ozon’s sultry Swimming Pool played with your head (and other parts of your body), while The Secret Lives of Dentists marked an artistic comeback for Alan Rudolph. That’s not even counting the consciousness-raising The Magdalene Sisters, the charming Whale Rider, and a couple of Hollywood entries that caught short shrift from audiences and critics (Down With Love, Uptown Girls). Habitués of the Dallas art houses also caught John Malkovich’s fine The Dancer Upstairs, Karen Moncrieff’s blazing Blue Car, and the scariest horror movie in two years, the Hong Kong import The Eye. So you see, good movies are out there, but only if you know where to look.

A couple of summer holdovers currently in Dallas should hit Fort Worth pretty soon. Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini’s splendid American Splendor, a biography of comic book author Harvey Pekar that combines documentary footage and dramatization, will soon be here. Catherine Hardwicke’s Thirteen, overrated but still a picture worth seeing, features a stunning performance from Evan Rachel Wood. Both of those movies played at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and they should be joined by another entry from there: Tom McCarthy’s The Station Agent, a drama about a dwarf who starts his life over in an abandoned train depot in rural New Jersey, is slated for Dallas some time in October.

If you like strong directors, Alejandro González Iñárritu (Amores Perros) makes his English-language debut with 21 Grams, which also tells three stories that revolve around a single car accident. It opens in November. Also making his English-language debut is French actor/director Mathieu Kassovitz, famous for his gritty, street-level Hate and his operatic The Crimson Rivers. His horror movie Gothika opens Oct. 24, but he’ll be head-to-head that week with Jane Campion’s erotic thriller In the Cut.

That clash is nothing, though, compared with the activity two weeks earlier. Quentin Tarantino (Kill Bill Vol. 1) and the Coen brothers (Intolerable Cruelty) will both open their films on Oct. 10. If contending with each other isn’t enough, they’ll also have to deal with Clint Eastwood, whose Mystic River opens two days earlier. His movie played at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and blew away the American critics there, though it didn’t make enough of an impression on the French attendees at the festival to win anything. Don’t ascribe this to simple anti-Americanism — the festival jury instead favored another American movie, Gus Van Sant’s school-shooting drama Elephant, whose opening date is also sometime this fall.

Mystic River is based on Dennis Lehane’s crime novel, and it’s only one of several high-profile literary adaptations this fall. Robert Benton (Kramer vs. Kramer) helms the movie version of Philip Roth’s novel The Human Stain, starring Anthony Hopkins as an ousted classics professor who’s harboring a dark secret and Nicole Kidman as his much-younger girlfriend. That film opens Sept. 26. Patrick O’Brian’s 19th-century-set seafaring novels about Capt. Jack Aubrey have a devoted following of readers, so they’ll be scanning the horizon on Nov. 14 for Peter Weir’s Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, starring Russell Crowe as O’Brian’s hero.

If you thought A Mighty Wind and Camp were going to be the best musicals this year, you’ll find stiff competition for them in The Fighting Temptations (opens Sept. 19), which has Cuba Gooding Jr. building a church choir and features tons of first-rate gospel music. Even better, though, is The School of Rock (opens Oct. 3), directed by Richard Linklater and written by Mike White. Jack Black stars as an aspiring rock star who gets a job as a substitute teacher and turns his fifth-grade class into his new rock band. If Hollywood’s summer offerings have left you dismayed, you have reason to hope as the new season opens.

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