Labor Day heralds the end of summer, and the return to reality. Hollywood is here to help our readjustment to adulthood, as it were, with a trickle of serious movies that will turn into a torrent by year’s end. Politics, history, injustice, innovation, sacrifice, freedom, self-actualization, self-expression, self-acceptance — a whole lot of drama will be mined from those themes in the next few months.
Of course, moviegoers aren’t attracted by ideas but by stories and characters. Which fall films will galvanize our emotions such that we’ll remember them in five years, or even one? And which will fade from memory before Oscar season ramps up in earnest? The answer may lie in the stars -- the movie stars.
Time Out of Mind
Richard Gere ditches the flashy duds and hundred-watt smile for stained hand-me-downs and a thousand-yard stare in this enthralling character study of an aging, homeless New Yorker. George (Gere) may be invisible to passersby — the layered sound design evokes a world moving at the speed of cellphones around and without him—but not to the extensive and equally invisible network of dedicated social services professionals. Writer-director Oren Moverman (The Messenger) adroitly avoids every pothole and cliché, from by-the-numbers indignities to pat social commentary to audience indictment, in search of grace and humility. An unexpected blend of Sidney Lumet and Robert Bresson, Time Out of Mind is a concerto composed of grace notes.
De Sica Tribute at the Castro
Vittorio De Sica was an urbane, stylish actor for nearly half a century, but he is best-remembered as the director of the Italian neorealist classics Shoeshine, Bicycle Thieves and Umberto D. Cinema Italia San Francisco’s one-day tribute at San Francisco's Castro Theatre revives four of De Sica’s impeccably choreographed and beautifully acted melodramas. The day begins with Two Women (1960), featuring Sophia Loren’s breakthrough, Oscar-winning performance as a widowed mother navigating the last months of World War II. Loren also appears in the newly-restored The Gold of Naples (1954) and she stars opposite the wonderful Marcello Mastroianni in the resonant adult comedy Marriage Italian Style (1964). Dominique Sanda and Helmut Berger lead the cast of The Garden of the Finzi Continis (1970), the haunting saga of a wealthy, established Jewish family that assumes it is insulated from the Nazis’ schemes.
When New Jersey State Police Lt. Laurel Hester was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2005, she opted to pass along her pension benefits to her partner, Stacie Andree. This would have been a pro forma matter in a heterosexual marriage, and the Policemen’s Benefit Association supported Hester’s request. But the county honchos said no. (“Sanctity of marriage” and all that.) Cynthia Wade’s 2007 Academy Award-winning short documentary on the matter, Freeheld, gets the Hollywood treatment in this PG-13-rated feature. The new version of Freeheld has a screenplay by Ron Nyswaner (Philadelphia) and some serious star power: Julianne Moore and Ellen Page play Hester and Andree, respectively; while Steve Carell turns up as an activist and Michael Shannon as a detective, helping insure that the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice. How far has the country evolved in the last decade? Freeheld provides an answer.
Danny Boyle’s splashy, flashy rendering of Aaron Sorkin’s script unfolds backstage at three Apple product launches. Everyone has an opinion of Steve Jobs, and of Apple, which will drive lots of people to the theater and lots of people away regardless of the merits of the film. (Maybe the new Star Wars will provoke a similar response. Nah, just wishful thinking on my part.) Shot all over the Bay Area, and sporting a cast of Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen (as Steve Wozniak) and Jeff Daniels (as marketing exec John Sculley), Steve Jobs gets a prestigious unveiling as the Centerpiece gala at the New York Film Festival. How many in that first audience, do you expect, will be wearing their old MacWorld badges?
The movies have long addressed great historical forces by focusing on a single, ordinary person caught up in the events with whom the viewer can identify. Inevitably, that regular gal or guy must shift from passive to active — commonly they make some kind of big sacrifice or take some kind of action that propels them to hero status. In general, he/she does something to stand out from the crowd and achieve immortality (in movie terms). In Sarah Gavron’s vivid period (melo)drama Suffragette, Carey Mulligan plays an apolitical wife and mother who comes to join the movement of suffragettes that include Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep), Edith Ellyn (Helena Bonham Carter) and others to gain the vote for women in early 20th Century Britain. I’ve managed to avoid “inspirational” up to this point, but no longer. Suffragette, like the other fall movies I’m looking forward to, assumes you have a brain and a conscience, and a few tissues.