The Film Fix: Previewing September’s Top Films in Theaters, Streaming

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By JONATHAN W. HICKMAN, The Film Fix

Below are reviews and capsules of various films this month in theaters and/or streaming.

Review rating … A “Fix” is recommended with a rating between 6 and 10. A “No Fix” is not recommended with a rating between 1 to 5.

In Theaters

Gran Turismo (in theaters now) – Fix Rating 7/10 – It’s not a video game; it’s a racing simulator. Whatever you call it, the movie “Gran Turismo” is inspired by the PlayStation hit and the true story of driver Jann Mardenborough. 

In the film, we meet Jann (played by Archie Madekwe), a retail worker who spends every opportunity playing the PlayStation game Gran Turismo. One day, Jann is invited to compete in a competition, the winner of which will earn a spot in Nissan’s GT Academy. Eventually, he makes it to the actual raceway in this you-could’t-make-that-up racing drama.

Director Neil Blomkamp (Oscar-nominated for 2010’s “District 9”) seamlessly melds his talent for special visual effects with the inspiring underdog tale to produce a surprisingly impactful viewing experience. “Gran Turismo” is the video game adaptation we never saw coming. 

The Hill – No Fix Rating 5/10 – Screenwriter Angelo Pizzo (see “Rudy” and “Hoosiers”) shares writing duties on this sturdy but square account of baseball player Rickey Hill. The story follows Hill (Colin Ford) as he chases his dream to play in the big leagues. Despite having a degenerative spine disorder and requiring braces on his legs as a child, Hill preserves and develops his instinctive hitting talents.

Dennis Quaid plays Hill’s protective Baptist preacher father, who does not support the decision to play when it may cripple his son. 

This handsome picture was shot in Georgia and does carry an undeniably inspiring message. Early sequences capture the feel of the time and Hill’s hard-scrabble upbringing. But the movie’s antiquated structure and insistence on relying on clumsy exposition when it should show us how Hill overcame the odds proves to be its undoing.

Quaid is solid in the dad role, and familiar faces (like a nice appearance late in the narrative by Scott Glenn) help to maintain interest. Braves ace John Smoltz has a fun extended cameo in the film’s conclusion, but his character’s connection is undercut somewhat because the scenes were shot outside the presence of the rest of the cast. The shame here is that Pizzo, the man who penned perhaps the greatest sports film ever made, can’t figure out how to punch up the overly ham-fisted material in a way that recaptures a little of that “Hoosiers” magic.

Streaming Selects

PARAMOUNT+

Star Trek: Lower Decks (season 4 series premiere on September 7) — Star Trek fans have fully embraced this animated comedy that takes place on the U.S.S. Cerritos and focuses on the support crew. The irreverent hilarity continues with season 4. Expect plenty of franchise in-jokes in this popular cartoon science fiction adventure.

MAX (formerly HBO Max)

The Righteous Gemstones (all seasons now streaming)  This zany series about a filthy-rich televangelist family is something of an acquired taste. John Goodman plays Eli Gemstone, the aging founder of a massive ministry that’s threatened from within; his spoiled kids might bring down his empire. As Eli battles his own personal demons, he’s forced to relinquish the reins of power to his three children (played by Danny McBride, Adam Devine, and Edi Patterson). In season 3, Eli and his offspring face off against a doomsday prepper militia run by the ex-con husband of Eli’s deeply religious sister.

NETFLIX

El Conde (September 15) – This unusual-looking film comes from gifted Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín (see 2016’s emotionally gut-wrenching “Jackie” and the visual treat “Ema” in 2019). “El Conde” is a horror fantasy built around the idea that brutal Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was a vampire. The wild-looking movie is presented in stark black and white with fantastical elements and gruesome bits of gore. This arthouse entry will not be for everyone.

AMAZON PRIME

A Million Miles Away (September 15)  Michael Peña (see “Ant-Man”) plays Jose Hernandez, a migrant farmworker who became an astronaut. The inspiring true story should resonate with anyone with a dream, and the trailers tease a handsome production anchored by Peña, who, let’s face it, is one of the best things about any movie he’s in.

DISNEY PLUS

The Little Mermaid (September 6) – Fix Rating 7/10 – After a successful theatrical run in May, the live-action adaptation of “The Little Mermaid” comes to the Disney streaming platform. The classic story gets a modern face-lift with fresh, diverse casting and some initially stunning effects marred by a murky action sequence that brings the film to a befuddling conclusion. Youngsters will embrace it, and adults who grew up with the original will get nostalgic feels.

Theatrical Teasers

The Equalizer 3 (September 1) – Denzel Washington steps back into the role of Robert McCall, the one-man killing machine who becomes an avenging angel for the downtrodden. This adaptation of the 1980s television series launched in 2014 and got a sequel in 2018. The third outing has McCall trying to live quietly in Southern Italy. Of course, he runs afoul of the local mafia, and they are not safe from his particular set of skills. The clock is ticking as McCall calls all the shots. Count me in for this guilty pleasure.

The Nun II (September 8) – The 2018 spin-off from “The Conjuring” universe had creepy moments. I didn’t care for the rushed conclusion, but getting there was unnerving. Taissa Farmiga returns to the lead, but even though she’s a nun in the movie, she’s not exactly the title character. Farmiga plays Sister Irene, who is called into action in 1956 France when a priest is murdered. Her persistence will bring her face-to-face with the fearsome demon nun Valak.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 (September 8) – 2002’s “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” remains the highest-grossing romantic comedy of all time. It also launched the career of writer and star Nia Vardalos, who received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. The success led to a short-running television series and a lackluster sequel in 2016. This time, Vardalos serves as both writer and director as the family visits the old country for a reunion.

Outlaw Johnny Black (September 15) – Michael Jai White stars and directs this slapstick comedy spoof about a gunfighter out for revenge in the Old West. The eclectic cast looks fun, with Barry Bostwick (see “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”) playing the villain. White (see him in 1997’s “Spawn”) has worked continuously since the 1990s. He’s an actor who is long overdue for some recognition. Here’s hoping that his star will continue to rise with high-concept projects like this one.

Expend4bles (September 22) – The “Expendables” franchise is bound to make the list when discussing high-concept exploitation pictures. Even though minimal attempt is made to ground these over-the-top action films in any sense of reality, they have found an audience.  

The trailers for the 4th installment contain the quotes of fans who asked for an R-rated picture after the last one settled for PG-13. The online red band preview gives fans what they asked for with plenty of bloody kills, f— bombs, and promised gratuitous sex. Sylvester Stallone once again plays Barney Ross, who assembles his team of skilled mercenaries to topple the army of a ruthless arms dealer.

Jonathan W. Hickman is an entertainment attorney, filmmaker, college professor, and novelist. More about Jonathan can be found by visiting: filmproductionlaw.com. Folks can also follow him at dailyfilmfix.com.

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