Open Season

Fall brings hope of a brave New World and a historic Violence

Last year at this time, the film-culture hoi polloi were busy amassing brickbats and storming the castle, hoping against hope that movies could affect an election and heal a poisoned society. It was a giddy season, but of course this autumn the wounds still gape, and the upcoming fall slate mostly shows signs of distraction lust and nostalgic obsession. Still, Winter Soldier rolls out to another 100 cities, a biodoc of George McGovern titled Bright Shining Moment (September 16) looks to remind us of a more inspiriting past, and Terrence Malick's The New World(November 9) arrives with what one hopes will be a thunderous shudder in the heavens. A romantic visualist but an acidic historian, Malick takes on the entire John Smith–Pocahontas saga with what we'd expect to be a corrective, if poetic, cudgel, directed at the soft cranium of white imperialism. It's only Malick's fourth movie but it has the foretaste of a miracle; if it holds to even 25 percent of the factual record, it'll be all the political readjustment we need.

George Clooney, card-carrying bleeding heart and family veteran of broadcast journalism's halcyon days, shows up with, and in, Good Night, and Good Luck (October 7), his NYFF-feted re-creation of the battle between laconic TV icon Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn) and Red-baiting Senate ogre Joseph McCarthy (himself, in news footage). Given the history, it'll be more of a knee-jerk rightist-lynching spectacle, surely, than Syriana (November 23), Steve Gaghan's thriller-killer extrapolation of ex-CIA-op Robert Baer's book See No Evil, examining the disastrous conflicts between the agency's kneecapped anti-terrorism needs and the interests of American oil companies. As Baer, Clooney will surely make an incongruously trustworthy spook, but the shoulder rockets seem otherwise well targeted. More hair will fly at the low-run art houses, where the Orthodox Israeli fable Ushpizin (October 19) and the Palestinian suicide bomber melodrama Paradise Now (October 28) go head-to-head, as if at a checkpoint between theaters.

In movies, as reliably unreliable as life outside, auteurs are our preferred pathmarks, and only with David Cronenberg, among English-speaking filmmakers, are we assured a thorough neural workout as well as a fiber-rich meal of questioning substance. A History of Violence (September 23) is those and more—including a deliberate failure to be the rousing and digestible melodrama it in fact seems to be on the surface. Everyone who goes will see, and argue with, a different movie. His ass never in a seat for very long, prodigious nouveau genre-slut Michael Winterbottom rounds off a twofer with Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story (November 4), which launches at the issue of how Laurence Sterne's meta-ness cannot be filmed, and, appropriately, makes a Duck Amuck–ish farce about the ludicrous attempt to do just that, complete with a rationalizing Jeremy Northam as Winterbottom and Steve Coogan as the dumbfounded star. Scott McGehee and David Siegel, operators behind Suture and The Deep End, have nearly as sweet a batting average, and their new film Bee Season (November 11) details the collapse of a marriage during a daughter's embroilment in spelling championships. Think The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, but with Richard Gere, Juliette Binoche, and not-so-little emotional earthquakes.

Tim Burton and Neil Jordan are notoriously erratic auteurs, but the animated gothic lark Corpse Bride (September 16) and Breakfast on Pluto (November 18), a kind of drag queen fulfillment of the Billy Elliot syndrome, might have just caught them on the upswing. Both might seem incongruous, though, in a post–Last Days season pickle-packed with biopics, both overt and covert: Philip Seymour Hoffman does Capote in Capote (September 30), focusing on the masterful fop's exploitative relationship with death-row-caged Perry Smith (the ordinarily seething Clifton Collins Jr.), while Joaquin Phoenix sings and dons the black as a young Johnny Cash in James Mangold's Walk the Line (November 18). This last is an inevitable bid for ka-ching after Ray and The Man Comes Around, but saying it's showbiz doesn't mean it won't be worth it.

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The Squid and The Whale
photo: Samuel Goldwyn Films and Sony Pictures Entertainment
That's not to neglect, true-story-wise, The Libertine (December), which stars Johnny Depp as the dissolute 17th-century Earl of Rochester, as well as—talk about real life—ex-Pogue Shane MacGowan, or Noah Baumbach's The Squid and the Whale (October 7), which addresses the divorce of his parents (the mom, based on ex–Voice film critic Georgia Brown, is played by Laura Linney) and scores on the weft of family details and rhythms. Where the Truth Lies (October 14), Atom Egoyan's wacky and puzzlingly mainstream riff on the Martin-Lewis partnership and breakup thereof, is up front about detouring from the public record, and the new Steve Zaillian adaptation of All the King's Men (December 16) has presumably less interest in the real Huey Long than Robert Rossen did in 1949. But expect Steven Spielberg's Munich (December 23), concerning itself with the 1972 Olympics assassination of Israeli athletes and its aftermath, to explode every driplet of empathy into an operatic seizure of vengeance, and prove Cronenberg to be right down to the soles of his shoes.

Everyday drama will be no great priority: Zathura, Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, King Kong, A Sound of Thunder, etc., with a digital wonkery bill easily sailing over half a billion greenbacks, will serve to keep us in watery eyeballs. Otherwise, it's not hard to prefer the anticipation of effectively grueling mayhem (the Aussie Chainsaw Massacre revamp Wolf Creek) to the anticipation of righteous lipstick activism (Whale Rider's Niki Caro doing a landmark 1984 sexual harassment case in North Country, with Charlize Theron as the beleaguered iron miner!). But any of these options look ab-fab—along with the prospect of quiet time cuddled up with an archival import DVD—when you consider enduring the sirens of Doom.

 
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