Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Photos: Joker (Warner Bros.), The Lighthouse (A24), Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil (Walt Disney Pictures)
Graphic: Jimmy Hasse

So many movies, so little time. Every week brings a new crop of them, opening in multiplexes and arthouse theaters across the nation, and arriving in increasingly high volumes on streaming platforms like Netflix. How’s a voracious moviegoer to keep up? That’s where The A.V. Club comes in. The first week of every month, we’ll be previewing all the major movies coming to theaters (or laptops or gaming systems or Rokus) near you, helping narrow down these upcoming releases by making educated guesses on whether they’re worth your time and money.


Joker

Theaters everywhere October 4

Who would have guessed that the most controversial movie of the season, maybe of the whole year, would be an origin story of a Batman villain directed by the guy who made the Hangover trilogy? Arriving in multiplexes on the heels of its divisive premiere at the Venice Film Festival, where it shockingly won the coveted Golden Lion, Joker casts Oscar winner and why-so-serious method actor Joaquin Phoenix as a proto-Clown Prince Of Crime, envisioned here as an aspiring stand-up comedian whose mental illness is exacerbated by the madness of Gotham City. Don’t expect caped-crusader fisticuffs from this grimy, dour, ’80s-set addition to the DC cinematic universe; it’s an Elsewords character study, not an action-packed comic book spectacular.
Will it be worth your time? Much ink has been spilled on the potential irresponsibility of Joker—on the question of whether director Todd Phillips is romanticizing the delusional self-actualization of violent outcasts. (It’s already been called the most “incel-friendly” movie of 2019.) Judged outside of the larger cultural conversation it’s provoked, the film is a mixed bag: a shallow imitation of Martin Scorsese classics (note the presence of the original King Of Comedy, Robert De Niro) that nevertheless brings some undeniable craft and an uncommon focus on performance to the titans-in-tights genre. Love or hate it, this isn’t just another blockbuster off the superhero assembly line.


Dolemite Is My Name

Select theaters October 4; Netflix October 25

The last time Eddie Murphy made a comedy about the haphazard, all-gumption making of a low-budget movie, it was Bowfinger—one of the best of his career. The last time Eddie Murphy played a splashy role in a showbiz movie, he scored an Oscar nomination, for Dreamgirls. So it feels like a good sign that Dolemite Is My Name is a splashy showbiz comedy about the making of a low-budget movie: the blaxploitation classic Dolemite. Murphy plays real-life comedian and musician Rudy Ray Moore, who develops his pimp character, Dolemite, on comedy albums before mounting a ramshackle feature-film version. Wesley Snipes plays actor-turned-exasperated-director D’Urville Martin, while Keegan-Michael Key, Mike Epps, Craig Robinson, and Tituss Burgess round out the cast.
Will it be worth your time? Although Dolemite Is My Name doesn’t rewrite the rules of the biopic, its top-notch craft (which includes groovy costumes from Oscar winner Ruth E. Carter) and spirited ensemble cast make this feel-good ode to outsiders succeeding despite the odds an entertaining experience even for those who’ve never heard of Rudy Ray Moore. Director Craig Brewer’s faith in Murphy is rewarded with a charismatic and unexpectedly sweet performance, and Murphy apparently feels the same: He hired Brewer to make next year’s Coming 2 America.


Lucy In The Sky

Select theaters October 4

If you watched any late-night talk shows in the winter of 2007, you probably remember Lisa Nowak, the U.S. astronaut who was arrested in Orlando on charges of potential kidnapping—a bizarre incident that also involved a love triangle, a multi-state road trip, and adult diapers. With Lucy In The Sky, small-screen hotshot Noah Hawley (Legion, Fargo) offers a fictionalized recounting of this stranger-than-fiction story, with Natalie Portman as the NASA superstar who begins to lose her grip on reality after returning from a mind-blowing mission to space.
Will it be worth your time? It’s faintly tempting to admire Lucy In The Sky for trying to make an empathetic character study out of events heretofore treated as joke fodder. That said, the film’s deviations from the record are truly baffling; the script, by Brian C. Brown and Elliott DiGuiseppi, entirely excises the diapers—probably the element of the story that most captured the public’s imagination. It’s the rare biopic whose liberties with the facts actually render it less sensational, and less interesting, than the truth—and no amount of restless style from Hawley’s Legion playbook can disguise that.


Pain And Glory

Select theaters October 4

The renowned Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar has drawn from his own life before, most notably with acclaimed melodramas All About My Mother and Bad Education. But he’s never made a movie quite as explicitly autobiographical as Pain And Glory, about a famed, neurotic filmmaker whose reunion with an estranged collaborator inspires a bunch of flashbacks to his romantic and professional past. Antonio Banderas, who’s worked on and off with Almodóvar for the entirety of both men’s careers, plays the lightly fictionalized director—a performance that earned him the Best Actor prize at Cannes.
Will it be worth your time? Banderas is wonderfully, uncharacteristically restrained in the leading role, and there are a number of poignant episodes scattered throughout this episodic quasi-memoir. All the same, Pain And Glory is an awfully polite portrait of Almodóvar’s history, given the transgressive wildness of his filmography. If it’s his most personal film, it may also be his safest and most sentimental.


Memory: The Origins Of Alien

Select theaters October 4

No sci-fi horror film has been more widely analyzed than Alien. For those viewers who just can’t get enough of Ridley Scott’s classic (which turned 40 this year), this new documentary by Alexandre O. Philippe (The People Vs. George Lucas, 78/52) offers a grab bag of Nostromania, with an array of talking heads that ranges from academics to members of the cast and crew.
Will it be worth your time? Though it’s sometimes eye-rollingly pretentious, Memory finds a strong groove in discussing Alien’s B-movie and Lovecraft influences. But the extended examination of the chest-burster sequence that takes up most of the second half of the documentary feels unflatteringly like a behind-the-scenes featurette dressed up with conference-paper theories that are tossed off too quickly to ever gain momentum or weight.


Low Tide

Select theaters October 4; DirecTV now

Writer-director Kevin McMullin’s feature debut is a film out of time. Its Jersey Shore setting has a vaguely ’80s vibe, enhanced by the kids-adventure vibe when a group of young townies discover actual buried treasure on a nearby island. But the movie never specifies a date, and there’s a rougher, less nostalgic edge to the story; most of the kids are teenagers who go on summer-home robbery missions led by Alan (Keean Johnson). The group’s shaky conscience is provided by Alan’s straight-and-narrow little brother (Jaeden Martell, Young Bill from the It movies); the only morally upright adult in sight is played by reliable character actor Shea Whigham. Basically, it’s like an Amblin movie started listening to some Springsteen.
Will it be worth your time? Yes. McMullin is a natural behind the camera, and his movie grounds an entertaining, pulpy story with emotionally resonant characters and tourist-town atmosphere.


Mister America

Select theaters October 9

One of the monumental achievements of modern serialized storytelling, Tim Heidecker and Gregg Turkington’s On Cinema expands to the big screen with this mockumentary, which finds Heidecker’s alter ego—the opportunistic, hypocritical, Trump-loving, movie-reviewing embodiment of American self-deception—mounting a campaign to be elected district attorney of San Bernardino County.
Will it be worth your time? Although it started as a minute-long podcast parodying insipid amateur movie reviews, On Cinema has grown into a complex narrative that stretches across two in-universe series (On Cinema At The Cinema and Decker), multiple live Oscar specials and Twitter feuds, and a five-day televised trial, with a fittingly obsessive fan base. Can it really spin off one of its subplots into a stand-alone film? Yeah, probably.


Gemini Man

Theaters everywhere October 11

In all his years of genre-hopping, Ang Lee has never made a full-on sci-fi action film. (The underrated Hulk comes close, but doesn’t quite count.) That changes with the release of the long-gestating Gemini Man, which pits an older hit man (Will Smith) against a younger clone of himself (also Will Smith!). In keeping with its origins as a potential Tony Scott project from 1997, the premise sounds pleasingly retro. But the ever-adventurous Lee keeps experimenting, here with both de-aging technology and the audience’s patience for films shot at 120 frames per second. Then again, the 120 fps technology attracted so little positive attention to the Hobbit movies and Lee’s own Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk that most theaters probably haven’t bothered with the upgrades needed to show it in that format.
Will it be worth your time? Lee’s movies often are, and early reactions suggest that he’s made, at minimum, an exciting action picture with a compelling acting exercise for the too-rarely-challenged Smith.


The Addams Family

Theaters everywhere October 11

America’s favorite non-Munster suburban monsters are back in theaters once again, this time in the form of CG animated recreations paying at least passing lip service to Charles Addams’ original macabre designs. The latest iteration of Gomez and his brood looks to be leaning heavily on the Addams’ inherent fish-out-of-water elements, hunting down easy punchlines by transplanting the clan to New Jersey (ha ha!) and pitting them against Allison Janney as a malevolent reality TV star.
Will it be worth your time? The Addams Family put its worst foot forward—and not in a fun, ambulatory dismemberment sort of way—with its initial marketing push, which launched with character posters ascribing hideously out-of-date catchphrases to every member of the ensemble. That funk of heartlessly recycled mid-2012 comedy continues to haunt the project, even as a cast of top-tier talent—including Oscar Isaac and Charlize Theron, embodying Gomez and Morticia’s enthusiastic joie de after-vivre—and a distinctive if not necessarily inviting visual design do promise a few small joys.


Jexi

Theaters everywhere October 11

In the lovely, A.V. Club-acclaimed Her, Joaquin Phoenix plays a lonely man whose relationship with a virtual assistant prompts difficult questions about technology, sentience, and connection. But the touching and thought-provoking science fiction story had a fatal bug: It did not feature one single second of antic Workaholics funnyman Adam Devine. Jexi comes to the rescue with a ladies-be-crazy variation on that boring artificial intelligence stuff. Here, a smartphone-obsessed Devine has his affections returned, and then some, by a feisty and jealous operating system called Jexi (voiced by Rose Byrne). It may not boast an Oscar-winning screenplay (yet!), but it does feature Levine romancing a human woman, Alexandra Shipp, too. What else could you possibly want?
Will it be worth your time? No need to ask Alexa or Siri: Writer-director team Scott Moore and Jon Lucas made Bad Moms, a hooky comedy that didn’t fulfill its potential. It would be reasonable to expect a similarly mixed reception.


Parasite

Select theaters October 11

Before going on to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes, South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho (Snowpiercer, The Host) implored critics at the festival not to spoil the surprises of his latest blast of genre lunacy. It was a fair request, given the satisfyingly twisty nature of the film; anyone hoping to go in completely blind should scroll to the next entry in this preview. To those remaining, all we’ll really say is that though the title seems to promise more wild science fiction, Parasite is actually closer to a farcical satire, offering a kind of heist movie about a poor family that cons its way into the employ of a rich one.
Will it be worth your time? Unquestionably. Parasite is one of Bong’s best and most cunning pictures, perfectly marrying his interest in escalating violence and dark comedy to his class consciousness. Even those who kept reading should read no more about the film, and just go see it. Few of this fall’s releases are likely to offer more pointed pleasures.


The King

Select theaters October 11; Netflix November 1

The Australian director David Michôd tackles Shakespeare’s Henriad cycle of plays (previously adapted in Orson Welles’s masterpiece Chimes At Midnight, and more recently in the BBC miniseries The Hollow Crown) with this Netflix-produced historical epic. Timothée Chalamet is Hal, the irresponsible prince who will rise to power as the cunning King Henry V; Ben Mendelsohn is his father, Henry IV; Joel Edgerton (who also co-wrote the script with Michôd) is Hal’s friend and all-around bad influence, John Falstaff; Robert Pattinson is the Dauphin Of France.
Will it be worth your time? Following Animal Kingdom and the post-apocalyptic thriller The Rover, Michôd made an unlikely and ill-advised detour into satire with War Machine. The King’s dour trailer suggests that he’s going in the opposite direction with his latest. But then, does anyone really want to see a mirthless Falstaff?


Jay And Silent Bob Reboot

Select theaters October 15

Kevin Smith once again gets to revisit his favorite moviemaking topic—the films and cinematic ambitions of one Mr. Kevin Smith—with the long-delayed seventh installment in his View Askewniverse of rambling buddy comedies. This time, his and Jason Mewes’ titular slacker burnouts are faced with the twin terrors of fatherhood and the modern movie-rebooting machine, as Jay learns he has a daughter (played, naturally, by Smith’s own kid, Harley Quinn Smith) at the same time that the much-derided Bluntman And Chronic movie gets a cinematic second life.
Will it be worth your time? It’s hard to imagine a ticket purchase for Jay And Silent Bob Reboot that won’t, at least in some part, be motivated by nostalgic affection for Smith’s earlier, livelier work. On that score, the film seems perfectly prepared to scratch that particular set of snootchie bootchie itches, even if watching the ravages of time work their way through his gamely returning roster of regulars might leech a little fun out of said proceedings.


Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil

Theaters everywhere October 18

For a while, Angelina Jolie’s live-action embodiment of the terrifying Sleeping Beauty villain Maleficent looked like a movie-star mic drop: It was her first onscreen role in years, it was a huge hit, and she mostly retreated into directing, save a single starring role in her little-seen drama By The Sea. Now Jolie is back with a five-years-later follow-up, which finds the misunderstood witch at odds with her goddaughter, Aurora (Elle Fanning), and Aurora’s soon-to-be mother-in-law, Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer). The assorted wafts of green smoke and winged fairy attacks are supervised by newfound in-house Disney guy Joachim Rønning (who co-directed Pirates Of The Caribbean 5, a movie that definitely exists, after making Kon-Tiki).
Will it be worth your time? Disney’s track record for live-action rejiggerings of its animated classics has been spotty (at least from a quality perspective; many of them were even bigger than Maleficent). On the other hand, the sequel to a point-of-view-switched Sleeping Beauty is bound to involve more invention than that atrociously faithful Lion King re-do.


Zombieland: Double Tap

Theaters everywhere October 18

In 2009, Ruben Fleischer’s Zombieland carved out a bloody, rules-heavy niche for itself by eschewing the Romero school of zombies-as-metaphor filmmaking entirely, focusing instead on delivering rapid and massive doses of undead-blasting fun. (Having a top-notch comedy ensemble in the form of Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin didn’t hurt.) All four main cast members (and Fleischer) are back for this long-promised follow-up, which sees Columbus, Tallahasee, Wichita, and Little Rock—plus a whole bunch of other survivors with cities and states for names—continuing their brain-bashing party across the Undead States Of America.
Will it be worth your time? The original Zombieland was pure id fuel, and there’s no reason to think that this one will be any different. Plus, franchises are rarely worsened by the addition of Rosario Dawson to their rosters. At the bare minimum, this should soothe fans still angry about that Zombieland TV spinoff they “hated out of existence” back in 2013.


Jojo Rabbit

Select theaters October 18

This is what a beloved Marvel smash can buy you: the financial and creative freedom to make a cheery comedy about an adolescent underdog in Nazi Germany who carries on conversations in his head with Adolf Hitler. Stretching his legs between Thor sequels, Kiwi filmmaker Taika Waititi wrote and directed this “anti-hate satire,” while also taking on the role of the catty, imaginary führer. Roman Griffin Davis is the plucky Hitler Youth hero, Scarlett Johansson is his mother, and Leave No Trace’s Thomasin McKenzie plays the Jewish teenager young Jojo finds hiding in the walls of his home, challenging his loyalty to the cause.
Will it be worth your time? For all the controversy it preemptively promised—Disney, new owner of distributor Fox Searchlight, has allegedly expressed apprehension about releasing a film with this premise—Jojo Rabbit is the safest of satires. Occasionally inspired gags in the Hunt For The Wilderpeople vein can’t disguise a narrative straight out of one of those heartstring-tugging Holocaust dramas that the Academy has long favored. Will they favor this one, too? Jojo Rabbit won the audience award at the Toronto International Film Festival last month—historically, a very good sign that a Best Picture nomination (and maybe even a win) awaits.


The Lighthouse

Select theaters October 18

On a barren spike of seaside rock, a veteran lighthouse keeper (Willem Dafoe) spars with his new apprentice (Robert Pattinson), the pair’s antagonistic relationship shading into hysteria. Are there supernatural forces conspiring against them, or is it just madness consuming these insecure, spiteful men cooped up together? Shooting in stark black-and-white and a punishingly constricted aspect ratio, writer-director Robert Eggers (The Witch) preserves his interest in dreadful isolation, flavorfully archaic vernacular, and hungry birds.
Will it be worth your time? Eggers’ second feature isn’t as scary as his first—in part because this particular slow-burn, atmospheric approach to horror has started to look a bit like an A24ormula. But as a darkly comic two-hander, The Lighthouse is a hoot, thanks to its outrageous performances; you haven’t lived until you’ve witnessed Dafoe doing the sea captain from The Simpsons.


By The Grace Of God

Select theaters October 18

Comparisons to Spotlight are probably inevitable for this ripped-from-the-headlines French drama about a cover-up of sexual abuse committed by a Catholic priest in the archdiocese of Lyon. But writer-director François Ozon doesn’t seem to mind the resemblance; reportedly, the filmmaker initially set out to make a documentary about the scandal, but decided that the victims would be better served by something with the tone and style of Tom McCarthy’s Best Picture winner.
Will it be worth your time? Ozon, who is better known for his thrillers and satires, seems like an unusual fit for such sober material. But word of mouth on By The Grace Of God—which picked up the Silver Bear at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival—has been good.


The Cave

Select theaters October 18

In what we can only assume is a perverse effort to find a location even more primed for heartbreak and heroism than his last feature, the rescue-workers doc Last Men In Aleppo, Feras Fayyad sends his cameras—literally; the military presence around the city meant he couldn’t be there himself—into an underground hospital treating the citizens and children of Eastern Ghouta, Syria, during some of the bloodiest fighting of the country’s still-ongoing civil war. The Cave takes as its primary subject Dr. Amani Ballor, who may have been born to be the star of a documentary about human beings exhibiting grace and resolve in terrifying circumstances: Not only is she one of the hospital’s pediatric practitioners, but she’s also its chief administrator, facing medicine shortages, horrifying atrocities, and members of a populace often still convinced that a woman’s place is in the home, not saving lives in the midst of one of the 21st century’s most terrifying war zones.
Will it be worth your time? The promotional materials for The Cave are full of bubbly, inspirational text framing Ballor as “the light below.” But reports out of TIFF—where Fayyad’s film took home the People’s Choice Award For Documentaries—make it clear that the director retains his talent for letting his subjects tell their stories themselves. The film supposedly just shows Ballor and her colleagues performing their taxing, vitally important work day in and day out, trusting its audience to appreciate the heroism on display.


Black And Blue

Theaters everywhere October 25

Tensions between Black communities and police departments are explored through a pulpy-looking ticking-clock thriller. After rookie New Orleans cop Alicia (Naomie Harris) witnesses a murder by corrupt cops (one of whom is played by Frank Grillo, natch) and gets shot, she must fight her way to safety in time to upload her body-cam footage of the incident with the help of a wary stranger (Tyrese Gibson). This is the second high-concept thriller of the year from director Deon Taylor, who also made this summer’s Quaid invasion flick The Intruder.
Will it be worth your time? Taylor’s filmmaking improved substantially between the nonsensical Purge spoof Meet The Blacks and the merely dumb Traffik. Black And Blue looks like another uptick in quality that will probably still maintain his signature cheesiness. At least the reliably excellent Harris is on board in a too rare leading role, though why she’s playing a rookie cop in her 40s is a mystery the movie may or may not solve.


Countdown

Theaters everywhere October 25

It’s an idea straight out of the realm of internet creepypasta—or maybe Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror reject drawer: What if you had an app that tells you exactly when you’ll die, right down to the second? Unfortunately for nurse Elizabeth Lail, the Countdown app (complete with creepy goat head icon) gives her a measly two days to live, which is really going to cut into her social media time. Even worse, it’s apparently not above sending some big-handed demons after her and her friends, ensuring that its predictions are correct. (Talk about extra-pushy push notifications.)
Will it be worth your time? There’s an inkling of a good idea here, playing on the reality of some evil entity weaponizing one of those dumb “What will your grandkids look like?!” apps that colonize our collective brain cells every few months. But the trailer for Countdown seems far more interested in arbitrary jump scares and CGI ghoulies than in playing in potentially interesting techno-horror waters. If we want to see an interesting take on a similar premise, we’ll stick with the fascinating Machine Of Death short story anthologies.


Frankie

Select theaters October 25

Ira Sachs, writer-director of Love Is Strange and Keep The Lights On, is a quintessentially New York filmmaker. Yet there’s something undeniably French about his latest indie gabfest, which casts Isabelle Huppert as a dying movie star arranging a last-hurrah vacation in scenic Portugal for her family and closest friends. The fine cast includes Brendan Gleeson, Sennia Nanua, Greg Kinnear, Jérémie Renier, and Marisa Tomei.
Will it be worth your time? The response to Frankie at this year’s Cannes Film Festival was pretty muted—and for good reason, as it’s a pleasant but mostly unremarkable ensemble travelogue of a drama. But most of the performances are strong (Tomei, especially, is wonderful), and the poignant ending is worth the hike to get there. Anyone who dearly misses the wine-and-dine work of the late Éric Rohmer should circle that release date on their calendar.


The Current War

Select theaters October 25

Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s long-delayed follow-up to Me And Earl And The Dying Girl is a historical drama about the business rivalry between the early electric power tycoons Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon). Originally intended for a 2017 awards season release, The Current War was shelved and ultimately auctioned off after the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the collapse of his studio, The Weinstein Company. The supporting cast includes Nicholas Hoult (as the eccentric inventor Nikola Tesla), Tom Holland, and Katherine Waterston.
Will it be worth your time? We saw The Current War when it premiered at Toronto back in 2017, and were unimpressed by its mix of dramatically inept historical license and unadulterated genius worship. The film has been substantially re-edited since then. It’s possible that this new version is better, but unlikely that it’ll turn the farrago we saw into a good movie.


The Kill Team

Select theaters and VOD October 25

Over the course of several months in 2010, a group of American soldiers murdered several Afghan civilians in the Maywand District of Kandahar, keeping body parts and gruesome photos as trophies. Writer-director Dan Krauss adapted his own documentary of the same title for this drama about the killings; the names of the men involved have been changed, though presumably not to protect the innocent.
Will it be worth your time? The Kill Team received positive notices when it premiered at Tribeca earlier this year, with most of the praise directed at Nat Wolff’s and Alexander Skarsgård’s lead performances.


Synonyms

Select theaters October 25

The title refers to a laundry list of French vocabulary words, mechanically recited and memorized by Yoav (Tom Mercier), an Israeli expat and former soldier seeking a new life—and new national identity—in Paris. His odyssey of cultural reinvention is the driving force of this prickly new drama from writer-director Nadav Lapid (Policeman, The Kindergarten Teacher), which won the Golden Bear, a.k.a. the top prize, at Berlin this year.
Will it be worth your time? Synonyms is a bit exhausting in its anxious, scattered, assaultive rush of incident. But that’s by design. And Mercier is a magnetic presence—he’s like Tom Hardy’s dazed, brutishly impulsive little brother. A film worth seeing and wrestling with.

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