The movies I’m dying to see this fall are NO TIME TO DIE– the last Danny Craig James Bond flick set to open in theaters Friday October 8; THE LAST DUEL co-starring Adam Driver and that dynamic Boston duo Matt Damon and Ben Affleck who co-wrote this medieval tale due out October 15; and DUNE starring the charismatically talented Timothee Chalamet finally scheduled for release in theaters and HBO MAX on October 22.
In the meantime, a few flicks have helped pass the time, some better than others:
DEAR EVAN HANSEN based on the Tony Award-winning Best Musical stars the sweet-voiced Tony-winner Ben Platt as the eponymous anxiety-riddled teen on B’way and now again on the big screen. Once more he sings his heart out, acts well enough for a 27 year-old playing 16, but the film makes the plot’s flaws harder to swallow. An unwitting falsehood becomes a viral sensation; but when the truth emerges and everyone feels cruelly misused, the film doesn’t adequately find a way to make make Evan’s desperation and lying wholly redeemable, and the audience is left to embrace a lesson about making authentic connections, universal loneliness, and “being found.” Onstage this somehow all worked better. Despite Julianne Moore (singing!), Amy Adams, and Kaitlyn Dever in the cast, and Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s beauteous score, I left unsatisfied and uncomfortable.
THE GUILTY stars Jake Gyllenhaal in a bravura central performance as a police officer under investigation who’s been re-assigned to the 911 call center. The premise makes for exploding tension in tight quarters, and Gyllenhaal fills out every second with his signature intensity. The first 30 minutes build suspense, until an increasingly obvious script, melodramatic dialogue, and a few bad voice performances let the air out of the film, and let Jake and us down.
By far, the best of the latest is a smart, funny, and even profound film out of Germany and also its official international entry in the upcoming Oscar season: I’M YOUR MAN. The film in German with English subtitles stars Dan Stevens (“Downton Abbey”) as a humanoid robot designed to be the perfect life partner for a research scientist (Maren Eggert) who’s agreed to participate in a 3-week experiment with the robot so she can get research funding.
The opening scene is a doozy. Stevens performance as Tom the bot is perfection, though he is not quite “perfected” as a partner and has to be hauled off the dance floor for a major reboot in the middle of his first date with Alma. She’s a skeptical loner and a committed non-romantic. Everything about this android’s programmed attempts to please her rubs her the wrong way. When Alma rejects him, Tom instantly recalibrates, opening his rather blank and already too-alert eyes a bit wider; as his features slacken slightly, we reflexively imagine he’s hurt. But then we remember he’s not really feeling anything (or is he?) and WE have to recalibrate and think of him as something more like an abacus that’s been dropped and needs re-aligning.
Directed by Maria Schrader (“Unorthodox”), the film could have easily veered into wacky sitcom territory, but instead becomes a revelatory flight of philosophical fancy. Funny things do happen, like Tom’s first human cocktail party; there are unexpectedly poignant moments when we watch Alma’s visits with her aging, increasingly memory-challenged father. Inevitably we find ourselves musing on identity: What makes anyone who they are? What about the various masks we wear over time? To what extent is any experience a “real” experience? What do we want? What makes us happy? Unique? Human? The film’s tone is remarkable: absurdly funny and existentially moving without laying anything on too thick — just enough to stick. And the final scene sticks, effortlessly leading us to the conundrum at the core of what makes us human: some transcendent alchemy where the imperfect becomes perfection. SEE “I’m Your Man” in theaters and streaming.