Festival season continues to ebb and flow with the AFI Festival hitting in just a few weeks, making for the discourse around film to stray from the persistent doom and gloom of all of the rescheduling and push backs of previously scheduled releases for theaters.
Theaters are in a precarious position right now, evidenced by a letter written to congress from filmmakers urging them to save cinemas, as well as the news that Cineworld is shutting down its theaters in the US and UK once again due to lack of business. It makes the influx of streaming service releases bittersweet. That said, we all need some entertainment right now without having to risk our health for it and October has plenty of options spread across multiple services.
From new films from Sophia Coppola to Spike Lee along with fresh talent emerging on the screen, October has something for all sorts of film fans from horror to some of the best documentaries of the year.
“On the Rocks”
Synopsis: A New York woman and her impulsive, larger-than-life father try to find out if her husband is having an affair.
Cast: Rashida Jones, Bill Murray, Marlon Wayans
What You Need to Know: Filmmaker Sofia Coppola is one of our greatest working directors and her latest shows another aspect of her talent, even if it’s more subdued than some of her greatest efforts. Reuniting her with Bill Murray in a role he seemed born to play as a womanizing, deadbeat dad trying to reconnect with his daughter and possessing just the right level of charm to allow us to overlook his more annoying habits, the film at times wants to simply let him run free with the content. That said, Rashida Jones is the heart of the film as her character tries to find out if her husband has been having an affair. Like most Coppola films, it’s gorgeous to look at, especially with the work of cinematographer Philippe Le Sourd who she worked with on her last film “The Beguiled.” Our critic who saw it at the 2020 New York Film Festival wrote, “’On The Rocks’ is almost like a Trojan Horse of intoxicating libations and magical evenings—Murray’s sporty ‘60s candy red Alfa Romeo convertible being the vehicle of these enjoyments— a capricious trick that belies the true nature of its thoughtful and feminine perspective on the difficulties of love, life, marriage, and complex fathers.”
Release Date: October 2 for limited theatrical release and October 23 on Apple TV+
“Dick Johnson is Dead”
Synopsis: A filmmaker and her elderly father stage his death in various ways to help them face his inevitable demise.
Cast: Kristen Johnson, Richard Johnson
What You Need to Know: Kirsten Johnson is a formidable filmmaker. Her 2016 documentary “Cameraperson” was one of the best films of the year (if not the decade) and her latest, “Dick Johnson is Dead” looks to follow in the footsteps of her emotional and poetic filmmaking style, especially with such a personal subject matter being put on display. Our critic who saw the film back at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival wrote, “As colorful, lightly blasphemous and inventive as all that is, it’s when Johnson strays from strict adherence to the concept that the most profound insights come — into Dick’s motivation for taking part in such a fate-tempting project, and into Johnson’s own agenda for putting herself and her father through an amusing but arduous round of coffin shopping, soul-searching, and fake-funeral-arranging.”
Release Date: October 2 on Netflix
Synopsis: An elite assassin uses brain-implant technology to inhabit other people’s bodies.
Cast: Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott, Sean Bean
What You Need to Know: Brandon Cronenberg is looking to live up to the family name with his latest film “Possessor” which, regardless of the final opinions on the film, most definitely has some of the most haunting preview imagery of any film I’ve seen this year. Written and directed by Cronenberg (yes, son of legendary director David Cronenberg) the film takes body horror in a whole new direction with deeply unsettling sequences. The film has been met with positive responses thus far and our writer who saw it at this year’s Sundance Film Festival called it “…a bloody existential fever dream that, at its best, is unnerving and thrilling, and, at its worst, is tiring and misbegotten.”
Release Date: October 2 in select theaters
“The Trial of the Chicago 7”
Synopsis: In 1969, seven people were charged by the federal government with conspiracy and more, arising from the protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
Cast: Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Redmayne, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II
What You Need to Know: In a time of social and civil unrest, “The Trial of the Chicago 7” is perfectly timed with a story that, due to Aaron Sorkin’s involvement, will have opinions varying on the level of effectiveness. While being the mind behind classic series such as “The West Wing” and screenwriter for “The Social Network,” he also is responsible for the HBO drama “The Newsroom” which was a combination of all of his worst instincts, instincts that we see him gravitating towards in “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” Based on a true story, it’s undoubtedly powerful on the surface and the ensemble cast is almost uniformly strong. Our critic found it provocative but shallow, calling out, in particular, the varying effectiveness of the performances, writing, “The ensemble’s collective performance veers between being show-stopping and falling into parody.”
Release Date: October 16 on Netflix
Synopsis: A lonely college freshman forges a strong connection with his resident assistant during a fraternity party.
Cast: Cooper Raiff, Dylan Gelula
What You Need to Know: Sometimes all we need is a solid romantic comedy to get us by and “Shithouse,” written, directed, and starring Cooper Raiff could be just that. In his debut feature as a filmmaker, Raiff’s film was named the best film of the Narrative Feature competition at this year’s eventless SXSW. The film tends to walk some familiar paths with a female character nearly regulated to the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” trope but it’s averted due to a strong performance by Dylan Gelula along with a story that finds a compassionate angle about two college students unable to find their place. Our critic found it divisive, writing, “But in crafting a college love story with shades of ‘Before Sunrise,’ Raiff has made a movie that has a lot more to say about his leading man than his leading lady.”
Release Date: October 16 in select theaters
Synopsis: After Martin Eden meets Elena, he tries to achieve a place among the literary elite through self-education.
Cast: Luca Marinelli, Chiara Francini, Jessica Cressy
What You Need to Know: We’ve been waiting for a release date for this film since we saw it back at the 2019 New York Film Festival. Directed by Pietro Marcello (“Lost and Beautiful”), the film is loosely based on the Jack London novel of the same name and adapted by Marcello and Maurizio Braucci. A historical romance, the film’s greatest asset is it’s leading man, Luca Marinelli, who our critic called “a star in the making.” Our critic wrote, “Marinelli’s performance is immaculately layered and positions him in the spotlight as the upcoming sensation he is (he took home the Coppa Volpi Prize for Best Actor in Venice for a reason).”
Release Date: October 16 in select theaters
“Love & Monsters”
Synopsis: A young man learns how to survive a monster apocalypse with the help of an expert hunter.
Cast: Dylan O’Brien, Michael Rooker, Jessica Henwick
What You Need to Know: “Love & Monsters,” maybe the most aptly named film of 2020, isn’t going to be the best thing you see this year. However, it might be one of the more breezily entertaining with a charming enough cast anchored by Dylan O’Brien (“The Maze Runner” series) who still hasn’t landed a role that best utilizes his charisma. That said, the trailer for the Michael Matthews film looked surprisingly fun with enough tongue in cheek humor to make it something fresh. O’Brien is joined by Michael Rooker and Jessica Henwick as they try to put a new spin on the end of the world.
Release Date: October 16 on VOD
“David Byrne’s American Utopia”
Synopsis: Singer David Byrne and a group of international musicians perform songs from the hit Broadway musical “American Utopia.”
Cast: David Byrne
What You Need to Know: In 1984, the greatest concert documentary, “Stop Making Sense” was released which captured the magnetic energy of the band The Talking Heads led by eccentric frontman David Byrne. Now, with “David Byrne’s American Utopia” the singer once again is headlining one the greatest performance documentaries to come out in recent years. It also marks the second release by filmmaking Spike Lee this year following his startling Netflix release “Da 5 Bloods.” The film premiered at the 2020 Toronto Film Festival where our critic saw it and raved, “’American Utopia’ is the rare concert film whose importance extends beyond the songs” and went on to say “’David Byrne’s American Utopia’ is an ideal world; it’s exhilarating and joyful; and Byrne and Lee actually do make a perfect pair.”
Release Date: October 17 on HBO/HBO Max
Synopsis: A young newlywed arrives at her husband’s imposing family estate on a windswept English coast and finds herself battling the shadow of his first wife, Rebecca, whose legacy lives on in the house long after her death.
Cast: Lily James, Armie Hammer, Kristin Scott Thomas
What You Need to Know: For fans of Alfred Hitchcock, especially those who believe that his 1940 film “Rebecca” is his best, the upcoming adaptation by Ben Wheatley (“High Rise,” “Free Fire”) doesn’t exactly inspire good faith. That said, the film isn’t an adaptation of the Hitchcock classic but the book the classic adapted itself from written by Daphne du Maurier which allows itself some added flexibility to not simply be scrutinized. Lily James and Armie Hammer are perfectly cast as the on the outside looking in “perfect couple” and Wheatley has demonstrated before how he can add sinister effects to the glossiest of exteriors. What will be interesting to see is whether Wheatley along with the three credited screenwriters (Jane Goldman, Joe Shrapnel, and Anna Waterhouse) will inject any new spin on the classic story or if they’ll keep it strictly to the source material.
Release Date: October 21 on Netflix
Synopsis: An ambitious young woman gets a weave to succeed in the image-obsessed world of music television.
Cast: Elle Lorraine, Vanessa Williams, Jay Pharoah, Lena Waithe
What You Need to Know: In 2014 director Justin Simien broke out in a big way with his hit film “Dear White People.” He followed up on that success with an equally as critically celebrated television show based on the film for Netflix but it’s been six years between his two feature films. He returns with “Bad Hair,” a horror-comedy that premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Simien both wrote and directed the film and after such a long absence his return was welcomed, even with mixed reviews coming out of the festival. Our critic who saw it wrote, “…Simien’s strengths come to the forefront once again and that’s what makes it so difficult to pinpoint why the final product doesn’t exactly gel together as it should.”
Release Date: October 23 on Hulu