The Movie Watcher’s Guide To November 2009


Hello again movie fans! You may have noticed that there was no Movie Watcher’s Guide to October. There are several completely legitimate reasons for this, but instead of boring you with details please allow me to give a quick recap of the month’s box-office releases… The Invention of Lying, Whip It, Amelia, Astro Boy, Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant, and Saw VI all pretty much bombed, while Zombieland, Couples Retreat, Law Abiding Citizen, Where the Wild Things Are, and Paranormal Activity all did fair to brisk business. There, now you’re caught up through October. On to November!

November 6th

The Box

Who did it? Directed and written by Richard Kelly; starring Cameron Diaz, James Marsden, Frank Langella

What is it? A young couple receives a mysterious box containing only a button and a note. Press the button and two things will happen… one, they’ll receive $1 million dollars, and two, someone in the world will die. Will they press the button? Duh…

What about it? Kelly has taken a classic short story by Richard Matheson (“Button, Button”), which was previously made into an episode of “The Twilight Zone,” and turned it into a movie. It’s not always a wise move to stretch something from a much shorter medium to a feature film, and early reviews (like the one at Gone Elsewhere) have been fair to meh about it which doesn’t bode too well for the movie. Or for Kelly… who some are starting to suspect was nothing but lucky with his debut film, Donnie Darko.

Watch the trailer:

A Christmas Carol

Who did it? Directed and written by Robert Zemeckis; starring Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman, Robin Wright, Colin Firth, Cary Elwes, Michael J Fox, Bob Hoskins

What is it? It’s the digitally animated/motion-captured re-telling of the Charles Dickens classic that we’ve all been waiting for!

What about it? I can only speak for myself here, but these mo-cap movies have done nothing for me so far. The Polar Express and Beowulf were both bland and lifeless, and while this one has the benefit of a truly good story at it’s core I’m still not expecting much. On the other hand, it’s got a great cast including Oldman as Tiny Tim which alone will probably make it worth seeing.

Watch the Trailer:

The Fourth Kind

Who did it? Directed and written by Olatunde Osunsanmi; starring Milla Jovovich, Elias Koteas, Will Patton

What is it? The sequel to Close Encounters of the Third Kind finds Roy Neary (Jovovich taking over the role from Richard Dreyfus) returning to Earth to help facilitate further alien abductions while members of a separate alien species known as ‘owls’ try to alert humanity. None of this is true, and I feel bad for implying the story would be that interesting.

What about it? The movie actually explores documented cases in a small Alaskan town known for it’s extremely high number of disappearances, and stars Jovovich as a therapist who notices a disturbing trend among her patients’ recollections. The “fourth kind” of the title refers to alien abduction (the first three are sighting, evidence collection, and anal diddling), and it looks vaguely similar to the Michael Keaton movie from a few years ago called White Noise although it subs aliens for whispering dead people. The trailers do have an admittedly creepy vibe to them though, so the payback for all my joking may just be me pissing my pants in the theater…

Watch the Trailer:

The Men Who Stare At Goats

Who did it? Directed by Grant Heslov; written by Peter Straughan; starring George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey

What is it? A reporter meets a man who claims to have been part of a secret US government program to train soldiers in the art of ESP, telekinesis, and goat assassination. And it’s reportedly based on a true story.

What about it? We caught this at Fantastic Fest and thought it was pretty good (read Cole Abaius’ review here).  It’s a light-weight but fun little movie that works best as a showcase for some very talented actors and their humorous performances. As a movie though it seems to be lacking enough purpose and structure. I actually found it to be a bit reminiscent of The Informant!… a real-life story told with humor leading to an ending more serious than everything that came before. But The Informant! was better.

Watch the Trailer:

In Limited Release:

  • Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire – Neil Miller (review here) believes this little film will not only be nominated for Best Picture but will also win. Sadly for him and his already substantial gambling debts he’s wrong about it winning. I will say this though, it’s incredibly bleak, depressing, and abusive of the human spirit… with some fantastic performances!
  • That Evening Sun – I was lucky to catch this at SXSW this past March (review here), and it’s good to see it get even a limited run through theaters. Hal Holbrook’s performance is a marvel in this tale of an elderly man coming to terms with both his past and his present. Sad, funny, and smart in equal measures.

November 13th


Who did it? Directed and co-written by Roland Emmerich; co-written by Harald Kloser; starring John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Woody Harrelson, Danny Glover, Thandie Newton, Oliver Platt

What is it? It’s the end of the world as we know it. Again.

What about it? Emmerich has destroyed the world so many times over by this point you’d think he’d have perfected the art by now. And the art part of the film does look really goddamn cool… with ‘art’ meaning CGI effects and not ‘artistic merit’ of course. The man’s dramatic chops are not nearly as impressive obviously, but I’ll continue to give him the benefit of the doubt for one simple reason… The Patriot kicked ass.

Watch the Trailer:

Pirate Radio (aka The Boat That Rocked)

Who did it? Directed and written by Richard Curtis; starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy, Nick Frost

What is it? Richard Curtis delivers a comedy about the incredible efforts to keep rock n roll alive and kicking on the British airwaves in the 1960’s. Those efforts involve ships, hippies, and intoxication.

What about it? Radio stations had to broadcast from ships off the UK coast to avoid regulation and prosecution, so you can imagine the personalities who would sign up for this kind of lifestyle. I’ve seen this one and it’s pretty good… just don’t expect anything as brilliant as Curtis’ romantic comedies (Four Weddings & A Funeral, Notting Hill, Love Actually). The ensemble is good (especially Hoffman), the laughs are steady, and the history is interesting.

Watch the Trailer:

In Limited Release

  • Women In Trouble – Ten very attractive women starring in an R-rated movie filled with dirty talk and innuendo… yes please. Cole Abaius had the pleasure of chatting up some of the ladies earlier this year (interview here) and Neil Miller showed his love in his review as well.

November 20th

The Blind Side

Who did it? Directed and written by John Lee Hancock; starring Sandra Bullock, Tim McGraw, Kathy Bates, Quinton Aaron

What is it? The true story of a southern white woman and her family who welcome a young, large, black teenager into their home and hearts. Awww…. Expect lives to be changed here people.

What about it? This is a tough film to gauge in advance. The trailer has a strong, melodramatic, Lifetime Movie Channel vibe about it, it looks a bit heavy-handed and obvious when it comes to it’s message, and it’s Bullock’s third movie this year… she’s seen both a hit (The Proposal) and a miss (All About Steve) already so who knows if her fickle fans will follow. On the plus side though it’s based on a truly inspirational story…

Watch the Trailer:

Planet 51

Who did it? Directed by Javier Abed, Jorge Blanco, Marcos Martinez; written by Joe Stillman; starring (the voices of) Dwayne Johnson, Jessica Biel, Justin Long, Gary Oldman, Seann William Scott, John Cleese

What is it? A human astronaut lands on another planet ready to plant his flag in it’s fertile soil but discovers the planet is already inhabited by little, green beings. We know what comes next… disease infested blankets anyone?

What about it? An animated film distributed by Tri-Star? And if I’m not mistaken I think the movie itself comes from Spain? The trailers don’t instill a lot of confidence, but with the closest animated competition being two weeks old by this point it just may catch some weary families by surprise. Plus it has the added benefit of beating the similarly themed Avatar to screens by almost a month…

Watch the Trailer:

The Twilight Saga: New Moon

Who did it? Directed by Chris Weitz; written by Melissa Rosenberg; starring Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson

What is it? The sequel to Duncan Jones’ quiet but brilliant sci-fi film Moon finds Sam Rock– wait, that’s not right. Sadly.

What about it? Welcome to the highest grossing film of November… obviously this is the follow-up to the megahitphenomenonmormonsensation Twilight, and it looks to up the ante on several fronts. First, the director’s chair is now being occupied by a more accomplished director in Weitz (About a Boy, The Golden Compass). Two, the story gets to move outside the small town of Bumfuq, WA to the grand, old cities of Italy which gives the story a bigger feel to it. Third, the vampires are still sulking around, but we also get introduced to a pack of shirtless Native American werewolves. Fourth, Stewart continues to look pretty damn fine. So maybe it will be better than Twilight after all.

Watch the Trailer:

In Limited Release

  • Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans – Nicholas Cage sees dancing souls and bored iguanas in this odd Werner Herzog film (redundant I know). My review will be up soon, but just know that while the movie has moments of weirdness it’s not nearly as strange or over-the-top as it should have been.
  • Broken Embraces – Pedro Almodovar returns with his favorite Spanish muse Penelope Cruz in a tale about a blind writer and the pixie-ish woman he can only see with his hands.
  • The Fantastic Mr. Fox – I’m just not feeling this Wes Anderson adaptation of Roald Dahl’s book… maybe it’s the jerky stop-motion. Maybe it’s the bad aftertaste of The Darjeeling Limited.
  • Red Cliff – John Woo has seen some of the best reviews of his career with this epic period film about a historical battle in China. This is the international version which actually combines two complete films into one, so if you like what you see make an effort to find the two original movies that make up Red Cliff in it’s entirety.

November 25th

Ninja Assassin

Who did it? Directed by James McTeigue; written by Matthew Sand and J. Michael Straczynski; starring Rain, Naomie Harris, Sho Kosugi

What is it? One of the coolest cinematic character types finally gets the big-budget treatment it deserves…

What about it? And it’s a big, sloppy, CGI-filled mess. To be fair, parts of the film work extremely well… the flashback segments that follow Raizu’s training are very evocative of classic ninja films of the past, and they also contain the film’s only truly dramatic moments. But the rest of the movie sucks shuriken balls. The acting is pretty bad, the CGI blood is ubiquitous and poorly done, and even the fight scenes often get lost in shadows and poor editing. Abaius’ review is here, but know that he’s being very kind.

Watch the Trailer:

Old Dogs

Who did it? Directed by Walt Becker; written by David Diamond, David Weissman; starring Robin Williams, John Travolta, Justin Long, Seth Green, Kelly Preston, Matt Dillon, Dax Shepard, Bernie Mac

What is it? Two men and a baby two little kids. Williams and Travolta have twins fall into their lap but it isn’t as awesome as it sounds. The twins are seven-years old, and these two guys don’t know the first thing about raising children. Hilarious!

What about it? This is one of those safe and comfortable comedies designed to appeal to kids and adults with no discerning tastes. That makes it sound like I’m insulting the film, but I’m really not. Sometimes people just need to laugh, and if it happens to be to inoffensive pablum like this so be it. Becker also directed Travolta in Wild Hogs and expects to complete the ‘Ogs’ trilogy next year with the release of Scientologist Frogs.

Watch the Trailer:

The Road

Who did it? Directed by John Hillcoat; written by Joe Penhall from the novel by Cormac McCarthy; starring Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Robert Duvall, Charlize Theron

What is it? A post-apocalyptic tale of a father and son on a road trip… with bandits, cannibals, and a very limited color palette.

What about it? McCarthy’s book is one of those beloved tales that many readers believe could never find justice with a cinematic adaptation. Personally I’m curious about it because I don’t feel the book has enough story to fill a feature film. (Man and boy walk. Something minor happens. Man and boy walk. Something big threatens to happen but doesn’t. Man and boy walk. Something minor happens. Man and boy walk. Rinse. Repeat.) I trust that Hillcoat will deliver a film of dark and devastating beauty as he did with The Proposition, but I’m not sure if I should expect anything more.

Watch the Trailer:

In Limited Release

  • The Private Lives of Pippa Lee – An eclectic cast highlights this little film written and directed by Rebecca Miller from her own novel. Robin Wright, Maria Bello, Alan Arkin, Winona Ryder, Keanu Reeves, Mike Binder… sure it’s another suburban domestic drama, but with this cast it may be one worth watching.

Which movies are you excited about in November? Which ones will you avoid?

Rob is the Chief Film Critic of Film School Rejects. He doesn't eat cheese on weekdays.

Read More from Rob Hunter
Get Film School Rejects in your email. All the cool kids are doing it:
Previous Article
Next Article
Reject Nation
Leave a comment
Comment Policy: No hate speech allowed. If you must argue, please debate intelligently. Comments containing selected keywords or outbound links will be put into moderation to help prevent spam. Film School Rejects reserves the right to delete comments and ban anyone who doesn't follow the rules. We also reserve the right to modify any curse words in your comments and make you look like an idiot. Thank You!