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Fall movie preview
Summer’s movie superheroes give way to more intimate, prestige-minded films
After four months of spandex-and-iron-clad do-gooders, the capes are being mothballed, the batarangs holstered and the gamma-irradiated creatures caged. The summer of the superhero has come to a close, true believer, although one suspects Hollywood is sorry to see its costumed crime-fighters go, considering The Dark Knight, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Hancock, Hellboy II: The Golden Army and Wanted grossed more than $1 billion at the North American box office alone.
No one expects this fall’s crop of more intimate, prestige-minded dramas, comedies and thrillers to perform as staggeringly — how could they? — but for the movie industry, old habits are hard to break and autumn has always been about stories for grown-ups that might lead to Oscar gold.
Still, after 2007’s disastrous fall season — in which audiences snubbed a horde of war-themed dramas — executives are being nothing if not practical. So from now until mid-November, there is an abundance of escapist fare to distract from messy, unmarketable reality. And if something brilliant or provocative slips through the cracks, so be it. Here are 10 to watch:
Burn After Reading (Sept. 12)
After last year’s savage No Country for Old Men, Oscar-winning siblings Ethan and Joel Coen veer into slapstick with this screwball farce about stolen CIA documents swiped by a dim personal trainer (Brad Pitt). George Clooney, John Malkovich and Frances McDormand co-star. That No Country for Old Men echoed such early Coen-made fare as Blood Simple makes us hopeful Burn After Reading is a lot more Raising Arizona or even O Brother Where Art Thou than Intolerable Cruelty, The Hudsucker Proxy or, gawd help us all, The Ladykillers.
Righteous Kill (Sept. 12)
Al Pacino and Robert De Niro partner up for the first time since Michael Mann’s Heat — and for only their third film together — as gruff detectives investigating vigilante-style slayings. The pairing of the acting titans aside, there’s reasonable cause for concern. First clue: The involvement of journeyman Jon Avnet, who last helmed Pacino’s barely-releasable 88 Minutes and is far from the rareified leagues of a Mann or Francis Ford Coppola (who directed De Niro and Pacino separately in the second Godfather instalment).
Eagle Eye (Sept. 26)
Shia LaBeouf re-teams with his Disturbia director D.J. Caruso as a fugitive who finds himself manipulated by mysterious phone calls and on the run with a single mother (Michelle Monaghan). Apparently the hush-hush plot — part-War Games, part-Alfred Hitchcock — was conceived by Steven Spielberg, who undoubtedly approved of the casting of LaBeouf, his scruffy Transformers and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull star.
Body of Lies (Oct. 10)
Problem: You’re releasing a war-on-terror thriller following a movie-going year in which audiences balked at nearly a dozen similarly-themed explorations of the malfeasance of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East (In the Valley of Elah, Rendition, Lions for Lambs, etc., etc.). Solution: Emphasize your movie’s not-insignificant star wattage (Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe sparring as a CIA operative stationed in Jordan and his bloated, shifty agency boss) and Ridley Scott-directed action (think Syriana with shootouts). Will it work? The trailer is gangsters and the DiCaprio-Crowe pairing should prove irresistible. Just no one say “al-Qaeda” in the television ads.
W. (Oct. 17)
Josh Brolin stars as George W. Bush in this biographical tale — the tagline “A Life Misunderestimated” is enough to make me smile — that follows the U.S. president from his days as a perpetual underachieving drinker to the fella with his finger on the nuclear button. As terrifying a thought as that might be, director Oliver Stone promises 1) it’s not a horror movie 2) it’s not a hatchet job and 3) it’s not terribly concerned with politics. Rather, he considers his film an honest character study. Surrounding Brolin is a fascinating cast: Elizabeth Banks as Laura Bush, James Cromwell as George H.W. Bush, Richard Dreyfuss as Dick Cheney, Thandie Newton as Condoleezza Rice and Ellen Burstyn as Barbara Bush. Still, as irresistible as this sounds, will anyone pay to see it? Fact is, even those who would enjoy it most may simply be — after eight long years — nauseated at the thought of two more hours with W.
Changeling (Oct 24)
In Clint Eastwood’s latest directorial outing, Angelina Jolie stars as a mother whose kidnapped child is returned home — except she’s convinced this boy isn’t her son. Worse, everyone just thinks she’s crazy, including the police. As preposterous as it sounds, the film is based on a true story that occurred in 1920s Los Angeles. Although last year’s A Mighty Head met with mixed response and zero interest from the Academy, this film may give Jolie something small and bald to hoist that’s not a baby, adopted or otherwise.
Quantum of Solace (Nov. 7)
Having resuscitated the 007 franchise so potently that some critics even blasphemously wondered aloud if he was superior to Sean Connery, Daniel Craig returns as Ian Fleming’s super-spy. And to those who fretted that this sequel would mark a spiral into the Austin Powers-ready cheekiness and eye-rolling gadgetry that Casino Royale jettisoned, fear not. Oscar-winner Paul Haggis again performed surgery on the screenplay, behind the camera is the gifted director Marc Forster (Finding Neverland, Monster’s Ball) and Craig once more appears more severe than suave. But then that’s to be expected given the plot hinges on a revenge-obsessed Bond out to destroy the organization that murdered the love of his life (Eva Green). One shouldn’t brace for The Dark Knight-sized grosses, but we’d be stunned if Quantum didn’t surpass Casino Royale (which, like Batman Begins, had to live down its jokey predecessor) to become one of the top-grossing Bonds, James Bonds, ever.
Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (Nov. 7)
Considering 1) the original grossed $193 million and 2) filmgoers can’t get enough of computer-rendered creatures (this summer’s Wall-E and Kung Fu Panda both topped $210 million mark), a sequel to the 2005 toon was a given. Moreover the abrupt departure of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince from its November slot to next July assures this animated follow-up will have even more of the family crowd to itself. This time out, Alex (Ben Stiller), Marty (Chris Rock), Melman (David Schwimmer), Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith), King Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen), Maurice (Cedric the Entertainer) and the penguins crash-land in the vast plains of Africa where they meet species of their own kind for the first time. Whatever happens, we’re pretty sure no one gets eaten: The studio has already announced plans for Madagascar 3.
Australia (Nov. 14)
Reuniting with her Moulin Rouge director Baz Luhrmann, Nicole Kidman stars as an English aristocrat forced to align herself with a rough-hewn local (Hugh Jackman, replacing Russell Crowe) as she faces cattle barons and the Japanese forces that bombed the city of Darwin following Pearl Harbor. Big, vivid, romantic, epic, Australia hearkens back to a species of cinema that’s all but extinct. Why? Because to recoup your costs (Australia came with an estimated pricetag of $150 million), you need to woo multiplex mall rats who wouldn’t know David Lean from Antoine Fuqua.
The Road (Nov. 14)
In this adaptation of the best-seller by Cormac McCarthy — who also penned No Country for Old Men — Viggo Mortensen stars as a man leading his young son through a post-apocalyptic America ravaged by war and populated by cannibals, thieves and gangs. John Hillcoat, who last helmed the sullen, superb western The Proposition, seems perfectly suited to McCarthy’s dour but poetic material. Look for Charlize Theron in flashbacks as Mortensen’s hope-starved wife.