Movie Reviews

Fall movie preview

Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst in The Two Faces of January. photo: courtesy of magnolia pictures

Fall arts previews in the media are almost as inevitable as autumn itself — and they usually include a look at coming attractions in cinema, so here’s one for the Marina Times. The hitch? When it comes to sheer forecasting, I wonder if a movie critic is any more reliable than a meteorologist, but I can tell you what looks good to me, what has the positive buzz, and, pedigree-wise, what should be a must-see owing to the talent involved in front of and behind the camera. Those are all good barometers of quality in my book.

So even though it’s a bit of a gamble, let’s roll the dice on 10 features that would seem to deserve our attention in the next few months. And we’ll also address some of the intriguing Bay Area film festivals in store this fall.


This Is Where I Leave You (Sept. 19): This mix of drama and comedy concerning an extended family that gathers for its patriarch’s funeral could be a crowd pleaser, aided by a top-drawer ensemble cast adept at conveying the dark and the light. Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda, and Rose Byrne star along with TV luminaries Adam Driver of Girls, Timothy Olyphant of Justified, and Connie Britton of Nashville and Friday Night Lights. Directed by Shawn Levy whose all-ages-friendly Night at the Museum movies are broadly comic but genuinely funny.

Tracks (Sept. 19): The first of a number of biographical features slated to be released in the fall, Tracks is an account of a real-life odyssey. Its heroine is Robyn Davidson (Mia Wasikowska), a young woman who decides to travel alone across almost 2,000 miles of stark, unforgiving Australian desert, accompanied by her dog and four camels. During her journey, she meets a skilled photographer (Adam Driver) who proceeds to chronicle her adventure. Director John Curran should be a good choice as director, having helmed the faithful, heart-breaking and visually splendid 2006 adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s novel The Painted Veil.

The Two Faces of January (Sept. 26): If you’re a fan of film noir and suspense, director-screenwriter Hossein Amini’s adaptation of a novel by Patricia Highsmith (The Talented Mr. Ripley) should be ideal. Set in exotic Greece and Istanbul during 1962, The Two Faces of January brings together a couple of wealthy American tourists (Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst) and a crafty expat American tour guide (Oscar Isaac). Their initial encounter and subsequent relations result in serious consequences for all.

Jimi: All Is by My Side (Sept. 26): Academy Award-winning writer-director John Ridley (12 Years A Slave) takes on the unique, brilliant, now legendary rock musician Jimi Hendrix. Covering a year in Hendrix’s life from 1966 to 1967, it traces his rapid rise from session guitarist in New York to the groundbreaking stylist who became the toast of the London music scene and the breakout star of the Monterey Pop Festival. André Benjamin of the hip-hop duo OutKast plays Hendrix.

Gone Girl (Oct. 3): Based on the bestseller by Gillian Flynn and directed by David Fincher (Seven and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Gone Girl traces the descent of a marriage in free fall as a husband must grapple with the repercussions from the disappearance of his wife on their fifth wedding anniversary. Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike play the couple. Costarring Tyler Perry and Neil Patrick Harris.

The Book of Life (Oct. 17): From its trailers, The Book of Life appears to be one of the most gorgeous and fanciful animated movies in memory. Produced by Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Pacific Rim), who is a master of spectacular widescreen imagery, it depicts the incredible, sometimes fear-fraught escapades of a young man who traverses three fantastic worlds. Partially inspired by the Latin American Day of the Dead celebration, it features voice work from the likes of Channing Tatum, Zoe Saldana, Diego Luna, Christina Applegate, Ice Cube, and Cheech Marin.

Birdman (Oct. 17): Michael Keaton should be in his element as the star of a darkly comic tale about an actor whose fame is primarily due to his portrayal of a beloved superhero. The burden of that celebrity dogs him as he struggles to mount a Broadway play while his family life and career tumble into chaos. The celebrated Alejandro González Iñárritu (Babel, 21 Grams) directs a cast including Naomi Watts, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, and Amy Ryan.

Interstellar (Nov. 7): Christopher Nolan is the visionary director responsible for Inception and The Dark Knight trilogy; he and his brother Jonathan cocreated TV’s thrilling and provocative series Person of Interest. They’ve teamed up to produce this epic and highly anticipated science fiction investigation of interstellar travel. Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway star, along with an impressive collection of supporting players led by Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, Casey Affleck, and Ellen Burstyn.

Theory of Everything (Nov. 7): Documentarian James Marsh won an Academy Award for his account of daredevil Philippe Petit, Man on Wire. Now Marsh tries docudrama in his depiction of the 1960s romance between now-world-famous theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne of Les Miserables) and art student Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones of Like Crazy). Inspired by Wilde’s memoir Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen.

Foxcatcher (Nov. 14): A psychological drama based on actual events, Foxcatcher (directed by Bennett Miller of Moneyball fame) tells the story of Olympic Gold Medal-winning wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) who wants to escape poverty and is driven to compete with his brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo), also a wrestler. Schultz sees his chance when the oddly mannered multimillionaire John du Pont (Steve Carell) encourages him to move onto the du Pont estate and train for the 1988 Seoul Olympics, but tragedy results. With Vanessa Redgrave and Sienna Miller.


The San Francisco Silent Film Festival’s Silent Autumn 2014 (Sept. 20): Following its successful 19th annual festival this past May, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival will present a special Silent Autumn event on Sept. 20 at the historic Castro Theatre. The day will feature five silent film programs with live musical accompaniment. Highlights will include a series of Laurel & Hardy shorts; Rudolph Valentino’s last film, The Son of the Sheik, from 1926, accompanied by the Alloy Orchestra with the world premiere of the group’s new score; a British Film Institute program of a typical night at the cinema in 1914; Buster Keaton’s immortal 1926 comedy feature, The General, with music by the Alloy Orchestra; and 1920’s German Expressionist horror classic The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (415-777-4908,

The 37th Mill Valley Film Festival (Oct. 2–12): The renowned annual gathering of cinephiles — deemed one of the nation’s Top 10 film festivals — is back, presented by the California Film Institute. With a reputation for launching new films and creating awards season buzz, the MVFF has long celebrated the best in American independent and world cinema, alongside high profile and prestigious fare. More than 200 filmmakers represent more than 50 countries at the MVFF. In addition, this year’s MVFF will spotlight new Latin American and Spanish cinema, as well as presenting the music film premieres and live concerts that have become traditional at the festival. Screenings will be held at CinéArts@Sequoia (25 Throckmorton Avenue, Mill Valley), Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center (1118 Fourth Street, San Rafael), and other venues throughout the Bay Area (877-874-6833,

The 5th San Francisco Dance Film Festival (Nov. 6–9): This year, the San Francisco Dance Film Festival is happening at a new location: Brava Theater Center (2781 24th Street, San Francisco). During its four-day run, the festival will showcase some of the best dance films from around the world including a wide collection of shorts and documentaries about the legendary ballet star Rudolph Nureyev and choreographer Vincent Patterson, who has worked with Michael Jackson, Bjork and Madonna. The festival kicks off on Sunday, Nov. 2 with a special onstage presentation featuring filmmaker Frederick Wiseman at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco’s Kanbar Hall (844-567-3333,

The 12th San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival (Nov. 6–9 in San Francisco; Nov. 15 in Palo Alto): Whether offering art-house classics, documentaries, innovative and experimental visions or cutting-edge Bollywood movies, the San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival promotes diverse images of South Asians through independent film. The 12th annual SFISAFF, dubbed Bollywood and Beyond, will take place at the New People and Castro Theaters in San Francisco and the festival’s South Bay edition will unfold at the Aquarius Theater in Palo Alto. Approximately 15 programs of narrative and documentary features and shorts by independent filmmakers from the United States, South Asia and the South Asian Diaspora are scheduled. Special attention will be paid to dance and music in film with some live performances incorporated, as well as a showing of the 1948 classic Kalpana, recounting the story of Indian dance pioneer Uday Shankar (brother of the late Ravi Shankar) and his wife, legendary performer Amala. The autobiographical dance-drama is the only film written and directed by Shankar and was recently restored by Martin Scorcese’s World Cinema Foundation. Tickets, passes and more information about the festival, including expanded program and special guest information, will be available online in early October (

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Michael Snyder is a print and broadcast journalist who covers pop culture on KPFK/Pacifica Radio's David Feldman Show and Thom Hartmann Show and on Michael Snyder's Culture Blast, available online at and YouTube. You can follow Michael on Twitter: @cultureblaster