September means summer is nearing its end, but the onset of autumn usually indicates that things are about to get serious at the cinema. As blockbuster season gives way to a deluge of more dramatic fare, producers all over Hollywood will be hoping to make an impression ahead of awards time early next year. August saw Once Upon a Time in Hollywood stake an initial claim, proving to be one of this year’s most intriguing and divisive releases, though the field of competition is about to get a lot more crowded. Downton Abbey, the silver screen continuation of ITV’s hugely successful period drama, could count itself amongst the contenders. As might The Goldfinch, John Crowley’s literary adaptation starring Ansel Elgort and Nicole Kidman. Still, audiences won’t have to look too far this month for a bit of honest entertainment minus the lofty aspirations. The return of Sylvester Stallone as John Rambo for Last Blood certainly attests to that. Likewise, the reappearance of a particular dancing clown. Here are the top picks for September…
THE BLOCKBUSTER: Ad Astra, dir. James Gray
Release Date: 18th September
Starring: Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Liv Tyler, Donald Sutherland
It almost seems a minor miracle a film like Ad Astra has been made in the year 2019. A weird sci-fi with a budget upwards of $80 million, not based on an existing property or comic book, and without the involvement of Christopher Nolan. Director James Gray’s recent efforts have intrigued critics but underwhelmed at the box office, so you’d imagine it’s the presence of Brad Pitt in the lead role that the studio is counting on to get bums in seats – especially with that esoteric title. There’s little better time than the present to be banking on Pitt’s star power again, fortunately, after his charming, unpredictable performance in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood put him back on the map as an actor. Pitt’s focus in recent years has been as producer on a number of projects, even winning an Oscar in such a capacity for 12 Years a Slave back in 2014, so it’s nice to see a resurgence for a performer often underrated due to his evident sex appeal. At 55, the man’s still got it. Reviews out of Venice report that Gray and his star may well have hit the jackpot, noting Conrad’s Heart of Darkness as a spiritual predecessor. Could this be Apocalypse Now in space, with Pitt in line to pick up his first acting Oscar? Sign us up for that, whatever it entails.
THE ALTERNATIVE: The Farewell, dir. Lulu Wang
Release Date: 20th September
Starring: Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, Zhao Shuzhen
When A24 is distributing a movie across the pond, it’s usually a sign to start paying attention. The American distributor and production house has been responsible for the release of a variety of indie gems over the past few years: Moonlight, Lady Bird, Hereditary, just to name a few. They know how to pick ’em, that’s for sure. The Farewell, the second feature film from Lulu Wang, looks to be another astute acquisition for the company. Based on Wang’s own experiences with family illness, her latest follows aspiring writer Billi (Awkwafina) as she tries to process the news of her grandmother’s terminal cancer diagnosis. Travelling to China to say final goodbyes, Billi struggles with her family’s decision to hide the illness from Nai Nai (Mandarin for grandma) to allow her to pass in relative peace. With Chinese-American roots, Billi represents the filmmaker herself. Whilst looking to tell a funny and poignant story about reciprocal love between a young woman and her grandmother, The Farewell addresses the discourse on cultural identity as relating to the divide between cultural heritage felt chiefly by second and third generation immigrants. From the trailer, we can see Billi confused by the traditions of her Chinese ancestors as she views the world from a predominantly Western perspective. Already released in the US to strong reviews, The Farewell will be one to seek out when it lands on British shores.
EDITOR’S PICK: It Chapter Two, dir. Andy Muschietti
Release Date: 6th September
Starring: James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Bill Skarsgård
Stephen King’s It is one big book. A roller coaster experience from beginning to end, the novel jumps back and forward in time as it follows the Losers’ Club – a group of outcasts bonded by their fear of the omnipotent being terrorising their hometown – as both children and adults. The recent film adaptation toiled in development as the filmmakers tried to overcome the dilemma of how to tell this gargantuan story. Eventually, they landed on a pretty nifty solution: take the sections of the book solely with the kids, dial down the more inaccesible and transgressive elements of King’s story (if you know, you know) and see how it goes. Andy Muschietti’s It completely blew expectations out of the water, becoming the highest-grossing horror movie of all time. There was no way there wouldn’t be a sequel after that box-office haul. Luckily for Warner Bros., it had essentially already been written for them. So, now we get to see the Losers all grown up on-screen, 27 years after the events of the original, trying to take down Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) once and for all. The cast is promising, Jessica Chastain and Bill Hader in particular making for pitch-perfect adult versions of their respective characters. The first It was more of a fun, spooky adventure than it was an out-and-out horror. Though proper horror buffs may complain, replicating that tone here will do just the trick for an end-of-summer thrill ride.