With the weather getting cooler (at least in some parts of the country) and Halloween just around the corner, it’s beginning to feel a little more like fall. And what’s better than grabbing a cup of cider, cuddling underneath your favorite blanket and watching hours and hours of movies? You’re right, nothing.
This month, HBO has a great mixture of new movies, from this summer’s sleeper hit “Elvis” to earlier-this-year’s sci-fi disaster movie “Moonfall” to a true gem of 1980s cinema, and some great spooky season starter movies.
Below you’ll find some of the very best new movies streaming on HBO Max this month. (Yes, they occasionally add some movies to the service too!)
There’s very little middle ground when it comes to “Elvis,” Baz Luhrmann’s extravagant musical biopic. Either you fall in love with its aesthetic, which depicts Elvis (as portrayed by “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” star Austin Butler) as the puppet for a scheming Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks), festooned with editorial flourishes and stylistic embellishments, or you think that its high drama is actually, somehow, both overwrought and undercooked. We very much fall into the camp of “Elvis” lovers, particularly in the movie’s first half, when Luhrmann really lets his freak flag fly. (There are times when the movie is genuinely overwhelming, in the best possible way.) Butler is a revelation, even if the movie’s unconventional structure occasionally forces him to play second-fiddle to Hanks’ sneering, Goldmember-like performance, which sees the actor caked in prosthetics and speaking with a bizarre accent. Even some of the more bizarre elements of the movie, like its ability to indulge in nearly every musical biopic cliché years after “Walk Hard” seemingly shattered those tropes, seem muted compared to all of “Elvis’” glittery accomplishments.
One of Guy Ritchie’s very best movies and certainly his most underrated, “Rocknrolla” came during a fallow period of the British filmmaker’s career, after back-to-back disappointments (his mystifying “Swept Away” remake with then-wife Madonna and the Kabbalistic gangster movie “Revolver”) and before he would jump into the pop mainstream with the Robert Downey, Jr. “Sherlock Holmes.” “Rocknrolla” was Ritchie’s attempt to tap into the down-and-dirty crime comedies that he started his career with, but opening it up to a bigger palette, stuffed with more characters and subplots and rococo visual flourishes. (It was produced by Joel Silver, an impresario of oversized ‘80s action movies.) Tom Wilkinson is a British mobster trying to navigate the shifting allegiances of modern day London; Gerard Butler, Idris Elba and Tom Hardy are a gang of criminals; and Tony Kebbell is Wilkinson’s estranged son, a grungy rocker who has gone off the grid. Throw in cameos from Jeremy Piven and Ludacris, Thandiwe Newton as a femme fatale and Mark Strong as a fix-it man and it’s … a lot. But it’s also hugely enjoyable, Ritchie expanding on and refining what he does best. If you’ve never seen it, it’s worth a look. It might be your new favorite Ritchie caper.
“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2”
More than a decade after the original “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” (and, yes, that is how the original title was stylized), director Tobe Hooper returned to the franchise, this time for Cannon Films. And instead of a direct sequel, Hooper decided to zig where he could have zagged, crafting a gonzo horror-comedy that is as far away from the original film as he could get while it still being recognizably part of the same series. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea (it disappointed in theaters but became a cult object on home video), but if you’re willing to go with it, it’s pretty outstanding. Caroline Williams plays Stretch, a radio DJ who comes in between the cannibalistic Sawyer family (including Leatherface) and a vengeful former Texas Marshal (played by Dennis Hopper). With a screenplay by “Paris, Texas” writer L.M. Kit Carson and more elaborate gore effects by Tom Savini (which ultimately threatened the movie with an X-rating), “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2” is a bloody good time. If you aren’t already in the spooky season mood, this ought to do it.
“What Lies Beneath”
Before we lost Robert Zemeckis to motion-capture technology, he embarked on a remarkable plan – he started shooting “Cast Away” and then, while Tom Hanks embarked on a significant weight loss, he shot “What Lies Beneath,” coming back to edit both. They were both big hits in the summer of 2000. But “What Lies Beneath” remains the more rewatchable and technologically ambitious film. We’ll tread lightly on spoilers just in case, but “What Lies Beneath” follows a couple played by Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer, who are saying goodbye to their daughter at college. Back at home they start to experience things; Pfeiffer thinks they might be haunted while he brushes it off as paranoia stemming from the empty nest syndrome. Where “What Lies Beneath” goes from there is a true surprise, aided heavily by Zemeckis’ computer-assisted camera movements that would make Alfred Hitchcock proud and a surprising performance from Ford. Another good option for your spooky season programming.
Talk about irresistible: “Young Guns” is built around the central conceit of taking a bunch of Hollywood’s hottest young hunks and letting them play various legendary old west outlaws. Emilio Estevez plays Billy the Kid, Kiefer Sutherland is Doc Scurlock, etc. (Lou Diamond Phillips, Charlie Sheen, Dermot Mulroney and Casey Siemaszko also star, with a silent cameo from their buddy Tom Cruise.) If it’s historical accuracy you’re after, you should probably look elsewhere, but if you’re interested in seeing some of the ‘80s biggest hunks shooting people and getting dust kicked in their face, well, this is the movie for you. It inspired a pretty-decent sequel, released two years later (it added Christian Slater and Alan Ruck to the all-star line-up) and “Mobsters,” a Universal movie that basically took the same approach but to 1930s gangsters (it also starred Slater alongside Richard Grieco, Patrick Dempsey and Costas Mandylor) that came out the year after “Young Guns II.” Truly, what a time to be alive.
What if – and I cannot stress this enough – the moon crashed into Earth? That is the premise behind Roland Emmerich’s latest disaster movie extravaganza. Although behind that somewhat simple concept are other, far stranger ideas, like how the moon itself might be an intelligently created superstructure and how a dangerous robotic species might be behind the planets colliding? There’s also Halle Berry as a plucky astronaut, Patrick Wilson as a disgraced former astronaut and John Bradley as a conspiracy theorist (who happens to be right!) Throw in at least a half-dozen needless subplots, Donald Sutherland showing up basically as his character from “JFK” to spout some conspiratorial nonsense and a scene where a space shuttle tries to launch during a topsy-turvy “gravity storm” and you get the gist. Either you’re in or your out on “Moonfall.” And honestly the amount of alcohol you consume while watching will probably directly impact your level of engagement. One small step for man, one giant step for a drunken Tuesday night at home.
Of the slate of horror favorites directed by French filmmaker Jacques Tourneur for RKO Pictures and producer Val Newton, this is the most warmly remembered. Simone Simon plays Irena, a Serbian artist living in New York City, who is drawn to sketching big cats at the local zoo. Oliver (Kent Smith) is her ship-designing husband who starts to suspect that there might be something more to his new wife. While the visual effects were obviously pretty limited, Tourneur makes the most of the movie’s noirish atmosphere, with shadows doing a substantial amount of legwork, aided largely by the movie’s velvety black-and-white photography (it was shot by underrated RKO regular Nicholas Musuraca). “Cat People” also inspired a wonderful, super ‘80s remake by Paul Schrader that features many playful nods to the original (it’s currently not streaming anywhere but available to rent or purchase on the platform of your choice). Meow!