Though they surely didn't intend it, when Warner Bros moved the release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince to the dead center of the summer season, they planted a film there that sums up its moment in the cinematic calendar all too well. As with so much studio product right about now, we're treated to pretty, professionally composed pictures, CGI blended a tad more seamlessly into whatever remains of the original filmed image, a story with all the disturbing bits committee'd out and familiar characters it's pleasant enough to see again but who - and here's the thing - seem to be biding their time, waiting for the final showdown and the long-delayed end to another behemothic franchise.
It's not that August doesn't hold out any promise; District 9 may well work, and then there'll be Hayao Miyazaki's Ponyo and Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds. But it's little wonder we're looking ahead to September's festivals in Venice (September 2 through 12) and Toronto (September 10 through 19). The latter sucks up more attention because, particularly this year, more Americans can afford to attend it; but as Fionnuala Halligan (Screen), Camillo de Marco (Cineuropa) and Bryce Renninger (indieWIRE) tell it, there's quite a lot at Venice's 66th edition to look forward to at least hearing about. As for anticipating Toronto, Darren Hughes has done all the heavy lifting at 1st Thursday, his essential resource for TIFFlers, where he's gathered whatever trailers, sites and review roundups might be available for all the titles announced so far.
Meantime, let's not overlook Locarno, opening Wednesday and running through August 15. Screen's Fionnuala Halligan writes that it'll be "burnishing its reputation for distinctive arthouse and indie programming with a lineup filled with tales of the unexpected."
For now, though, it's Friday, a day for a brief overview of Stateside theatrical releases. For its sheer enthusiasm, Team New Yorker's endorsement of Funny People may be the biggest surprise of the week. Besides David Denby, for whom Adam Sandler here is "a revelation," and Richard Brody, who calls the film "a masterpiece," even political commentator Hendrik Hertzberg recommends catching it if you can. For balance, though, Manohla Dargis (New York Times) and Ty Burr (Boston Globe) aren't quite won over. Online listening tip. The AV Club discusses "Judd Apatow's latest, which finds us all moving inward toward the center from our various extremes of Apatow love and hate."
Also out, however limitedly: the Dardennes' Lorna's Silence (AO Scott [NYT], Michael Koresky [Reverse Shot], Andrew Schenker [House Next Door] and Glenn Kenny's "Armond White-ism Of The Week"; interviews: Nick Dawson (Filmmaker), Scott Foundas (LA Weekly), Mark Olsen (Los Angeles Times) and Damon Smith [RS]); Park Chan-wook's Thirst (Matt Zoller Seitz [IFC]; reviews from Cannes); Ozploitation doc Not Quite Hollywood (Jeff Gibson [Artforum]); Ulrich Seidl's Import/Export (Joseph Jon Lanthier [Slant]); save-the-dolphins doc The Cove (Andrew O'Hehir [Salon] and Ella Taylor [Voice]; and Dutch Resistance thriller Flame & Citron (David Fear [Time Out New York]).