The pros and cons of Warner Bros.’ decision to release its new movies to HBO Max and theaters simultaneously in 2021 will probably be debated for years. But, whether it will ultimately be good or bad for movies, those inclined to stay at home have the chance to check out some big titles this month, including the latest from Clint Eastwood and a horror master returning to the genre. September also sees the debut of a stand-up special from a UK star, some strange superheroes and, as always, some neat additions to the back catalog, starting with a tune-filled trilogy.
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That’s Entertainment! / That’s Entertainment! II / That’s Entertainment! III (September 1)
In a world where YouTube exists, the That’s Entertainment! series might look antiquated if it weren’t so well done. More than a highlight reel of great moments from MGM musicals, they’re expertly curated selections hosted by some of the studio’s biggest stars. The first entry arrived in 1974 and proved so successful in reminding viewers of the pleasures of classic musicals that two sequels followed, one in 1976 and a third in 1994.
What They Had (September 1)
The great Robert Forster gives one of his best late-career performances in Elizabeth Chomko’s 2018 family drama in which he plays Norbert, a stubborn Chicagoan who’s resistant to put his wife Ruth (Blythe Danner) into a nursing home despite pressure from her children (played by Hillary Swank and Michael Shannon). It’s a solid, unfussy, lived-in performance of the sort Forster delivered time and again (and the rest of the cast is pretty terrific, too).
Malignant (Theaters / HBO Max, September 10)
Director James Wan made his name with horror films like Saw, Insidious, and The Conjuring. If fans of Wan’s work in the genre might have feared he left it behind after Aquaman, Malignant proves that fear was misplaced. Annabelle Wallis (Peaky Blinders) stars as a woman with a haunted past that may connect her to some present-day murders.
Scenes from a Marriage (September 12)
Years before it became fashionable for film directors to explore the possibilities of television, Ingmar Bergman created the six-part drama, Scenes from a Marriage, for Swedish television. Tracing the ups and downs (and ups and downs) of a seemingly perfect Swedish couple’s marriage, it’s one of Bergman’s most enduring achievements. That might scare off a lot of creators from remaking it, not Hagai Levi (The Affair, In Treatment), who directs and co-writes this Americanization that finds Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain stepping into roles originated by Erland Josephson and Liv Ullmann.
Cry Macho (Theaters / HBO Max, September 17)
How long have filmmakers been trying to adapt the 1975 novel, Cry Macho? Consider this: at times, various proposed adaptations would have starred no-longer-with-us stars like Burt Lancaster and Roy Scheider. Happily, Clint Eastwood is still with us. He directs and stars in this story of a retired rodeo star hired by his former boss (Dwight Yoakam) to retrieve a son who’s fled to Mexico.
Ahir Shah: Dots (September 23)
British comic Ahir Shah first gained attention in the early ’10s for comedy based in politics but the past few years have seen him moving in a more personal direction. Shah’s 2019 show Dots, captured here, Shah addresses the culture wars, religion, and his struggles with depression and smoking.
Doom Patrol (Season 3 Premiere, September 23)
Though the DC Universe service might not have worked out as a streaming platform, HBO Max has benefitted from the shows orphaned when that service began to focus exclusively on comics. In addition to classics from the vault like Batman: The Animated Series, Harley Quinn and Titans have both found new homes on HBO Max. So has Doom Patrol, which has won acclaim and a loyal viewership thanks to its oddball take on superheroics inspired by Grant Morrison’s classic comics run and a cast that includes Brendan Fraser and Timothy Dalton. The series’ third season promises more compelling weirdness.
Promising Young Woman (September 25)
One of 2020’s most striking films, Emerald Fennell’s feature debut as a director works both as a thriller and a conversation starter. Carey Mulligan stars as a coffee shop employee who spends her nights avenging men who would take advantage of women, inspired by an incident in her own past. As the film progresses, however, her quest for vengeance takes an even more dangerous turn.
Nuclear Family (September 26)
Pioneers come in many forms and sometimes don’t get recognized as such at the time. Director Ry Russo-Young’s three-part docu-series recounts a childhood growing up as the daughter of lesbian parents in the seventies and eighties and the complicated legal battles that threatened to tear her family apart.
The Way Down (September 30)
It’s a big month for multi-part documentaries at HBO Max. This five-part series delves into the history of the Remnant Fellowship Church, a Tennessee ministry tied to leader Gwen Shamblin Lara’s weight loss guide, The Weigh Down Workshop, a mix of faith and dieting tips that attracted controversy and, per the accounts of former members, helped hide incidents of abuse.
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