With the silliness of summer cinema behind us, there’s a new bounty of blockbusters arriving this fall.
From a feel-good movie about an African chess prodigy, to the real-life tales of riggers from the 2010 BP oil disaster, here’s a rundown of which movies are worth a night out — and which are better to stream from the comfort of your couch.
Queen of Katwe
Who’s it for? Anyone who loves a good chess story or wants to see an inspiring tale with surprising grit.
What is it? Based on a true story, this Disney film centres on Phiona Mutesi, a young girl living in the Katwe shantytown in Kampala, Uganda, who discovers a talent for dominating her opponents on the chessboard.
There is a familiarity to Queen of Katwe — say those chessboard clichés, or the arc as Phiona’s progress improves. But in the hands of director Mira Nair, Queen of Katwe transcends the tropes. Nair has called Uganda home for almost 30 years and shows us a real slice of the country, polished but not sanitized.
First-time actor Madina Nalwanga is the movie’s anchor: shy but defiant, she makes the perfect heroine.
See it, stream it or skip it? See it for Lupita Nyong’o heart-wrenching performance as a mother afraid to let her daughter dream, and for David Oyelowo, who plays a chess coach with endless charisma.
Who’s it for? Fans of San Andreas who want an element of corporate malfeasance in their blockbusters.
What is it? Deepwater Horizon is a real-life dramatization of the events leading up what became the largest oil spill in U.S. history.
Director Peter Berg balances verisimilitude and action, boiling the drama down to blue-collar engineers versus BP employees more interested in a stamp of approval than the safety of the rig. Like The Big Short or Casino, Deepwater’s greatest strength is a sense of place. Berg takes us to this small village of workers balanced on a tower of steel, with a geyser of oil bubbling below.
Amidst high seas of foreshadowing and corporate villainy, Mark Wahlberg doesn’t have to flex his acting muscles to play heroic engineer Mike Williams. Fortunately, there are performances by Kurt Russell and John Malkovich to savour instead.
See it, stream it or skip it? See it on the big screen to fully appreciate Berg’s shake, rattle and roll approach.
Who’s it for? Conspiracy theory fans and cinephiles who love a good hoax.
What is it? The Dirties director and actor Matt Johnson is at it again, this time with a mockumentary about how a small group of CIA film geeks faked the Apollo 11 mission. Using real, unwitting NASA employees and still photos, he creates an entirely convincing scheme. A film about making a film, Operation Avalanche is also a love letter to celluloid — filled with film scratches, projectors and shots of the all-important Steenbeck editing table.
Working with a semi-improvised script, Johnson and his compatriots keep the action loose and lively. As the lead, Johnson has a natural giddiness that suits his character. But once the novelty of the aesthetic fades, Operation Avalanche sputters. Part conspiracy, part comedy, the film never quite earns the drama Johnson reaches for.
See it, stream it or skip it? Stream it for Johnson’s mastery of technique and the wild ambition of this up-and-coming Canadian director.
Who’s it for? Devotes of Daniel Radcliffe’s intensity or an interest in the so-called “alt-right.”
What is it? Imperium is a thriller about homegrown extremists, as the FBI attempts to expose a neo-Nazi plot to construct a dirty bomb.
Radcliffe stars as Nate, a genius loner at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Although his colleagues pick on him, Nate improbably finds the strength to stare down skinheads with the help of his superior, played by Toni Collette, who seems to have defined her entire character around a gum-chewing habit.
Director Daniel Ragussis drenches the atmosphere with ominous music and tension, but the disjointed plot doesn’t lead to a satisfying payoff. What redeems Imperium is Radcliffe, his eyes wide as his character delves deeper into the hate-filled subculture.
See it or skip it? Stream it. Radcliffe’s tightly bound performance is worthy, but the humdrum action doesn’t justify a night out.