Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Fall film preview

Even by the forgiving standards of the bubblegum summer movie season, this May through August was an extravagantly inconsequential time for film lovers.

Most of the big box office wannabes garnered a massive ho-hum from American audiences, and had to troll overseas for most of their moolah. Luckily, Hollywood appears to have lined up a very strong showing for this fall and winter.

It's the season when the movie biz slips out of its T-shirt and into a tux, gets a shave and haircut and puts on its respectable face. There's a glint in their collective eye that says, "It's Oscar time."
Even with "The Great Gatsby," which had portended to be a top contender in the Academy Award race, pushing its release back to summer 2013, there appears to be no shortage of high-minded movies: "Anna Karenina," "Argo," "Lincoln" and "Les Miserables" among them.

There's still plenty of lighter, fun fare to be had. A number of kid-themed animated movies are on the way: "Hotel Transylvania," "Frankenweenie," "Wreck-It Ralph." The long-delayed 23rd James Bond movie falls to Earth. And the prequel to "The Lord of the Rings" finally arrives after years of uncertainty ... well, at least the first one-third of it: "The Hobbit," planned as a duo of films, has now become three.

So here is our cinematic outlook for the next few months. Films with early Oscar buzz are marked with a golden "O." (Release dates are subject to change.)

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Sept. 21) -- Emma Watson attempts her first major non-Harry Potter role as half of a fun-loving teen duo that attempts to bring a shy high school freshman out of his shell.

Trouble with the Curve (Sept. 21) -- For the first time in 23 years, Clint Eastwood stars in a movie he didn't direct. He plays an aging baseball scout with failing eyesight who gets an assist from his ambitious daughter, played by Amy Adams.

The Master (Sept. 21) -- Paul Thomas Anderson, in his first movie since 2007's "There Will Be Blood," directs this drama about a 1950s cult figure (Philip Seymour Hoffman) that is purported to be a thinly-veiled portrait of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. Also marks the return of Joaquin Phoenix after his stunt retirement.

Dredd 3D (Sept. 21) -- Yup, they're rebooting the comic book franchise that Sylvester Stallone nearly destroyed. In an irradiated wasteland in the future, Karl Urban plays a man with the combined powers of judge, jury and executioner.

Won't Back Down (Sept. 28) -- Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal play crusading mothers fighting an entrenched bureaucracy to turn around a failed inner city school. Probably not going to be on the NEA's recommended list.

Looper (Sept. 28) -- One of the more original concepts this fall. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays an assassin with a special niche: he kills victims sent back in time. The gig goes sour when the new guy he's supposed to plug is himself, 30 years older and played by Bruce Willis.

Hotel Transylvania (Sept. 28) -- This fun and creepy animated flick resembles early Tim Burton. The vampire proprietor of a hotel catering to creatures of the night is perturbed when a human interloper shows up and starts wooing his daughter.

Taken 2 (Oct. 5) -- Liam Neeson is back in this action/thriller as a man with "a very particular set of skills." Having rescued his daughter from kidnappers, he finds they're out for revenge.

Pitch Perfect (Oct. 5) -- Finally, someone realized the musical stage-singing phenomenon -- "Glee," "American Idol" -- was ripe for parody. Anna Kendrick leads a group of female singers into the fray of competition.

Frankenweenie (Oct. 5) -- Director Tim Burton, coming off a long slog remaking moldy intellectual properties, is back with ... a remake. At least of it's of his own stuff: Burton's own 1984 live-action short film. Now the tale of a pooch brought back from the dead is a stop-motion animation feature.

Argo (Oct. 12) -- Ben Affleck continues his evolution into a serious filmmaker by directing and starring in this dramatic thriller based on a little-known event: the CIA rescue of Americans who escaped the storming of the U.S. embassy during the 1979 Iran uprising.

Alex Cross (Oc. 19) -- Tyler Perry, practically a one-man moviemaking empire, steps out from behind the camera for a lead role where he's not wearing a dress. He plays a homicide detective/psychologist on the trail of a killer. Based on the James Patterson novels.

Cloud Atlas (Oct. 26) -- Tom Hanks and Halle Berry, each stuck in something of a career rut, try something bold in this sprawling, elliptical drama about human lives intersecting over the course of centuries. From the Wachowski duo behind the "Matrix" trilogy.

The Sessions (Oct. 26) -- This Sundance favorite is based on the true story of a writer (indie fave John Hawkes) paralyzed by polio who enlists the help of a sex surrogate (Helen Hunt) to help him lose his virginity. Kinky and life-affirming.

Chasing Mavericks (Oct. 26) -- Gerard Butler plays a surfing legend who takes a young gun under his wing to tackle the most dangerous waves in the world. Together they form a bond and learn important truths, like that those wetsuits really ride up on ya.

Wreck-It Ralph (Nov. 2) -- Disney's latest animation wonder has a zippy premise: Ralph (voice of John C. Reilly) is a video game villain who rebels against his programming because he wants to be the good guy for once.

Flight (Nov. 2) -- Robert Zemeckis, after a fitful decade-long experiment with motion-capture animation, returns to live-action filmmaking with this promising drama starring Denzel Washington as an airline pilot who's hailed as a hero, then vilified.

Skyfall (Nov. 9) -- Following legal and financial troubles that threatened the James Bond franchise, Daniel Craig is back for his third outing as Agent 007. Bond, presumed dead, goes rogue to combat a madman (Javier Bardem) who wants to take out M (Judi Dench) and all of MI6.

Lincoln (Nov. 9) -- The season's powerhouse biopic arrives courtesy director Steven Spielberg and star Daniel Day-Lewis, focusing on the last few months of the 16th president's life. This one looks like a can't-miss.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn -- Part 2 (Nov. 16) -- The teen vampire mega-franchise wraps up its tale as young Bella, now transformed into a bloodsucker, and her love Edward fight against the vampire nobility. Some of us still think that Kristen Stewart/Robert Pattinson breakup is a publicity stunt.

Life of Pi (Nov. 21) -- Filmmaker Ang Lee is back with this epic adventure about an Indian boy who is shipwrecked and stranded on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger. Think "The Black Stallion" meets "Slumdog Millionaire."

Silver Linings Playbook (Nov. 21) -- Bradley Cooper, Robert DeNiro and Jennifer Lawrence star in this oddball dramedy about a man who went crazy, and after four years in a mental institution tries to reconnect with his family and a lonely widow. From director David O. Russell.

Red Dawn (Nov. 21) -- This oft-delayed reboot of the 1980s action/drama sees American taken over by ... North Korea. What, Burundi seemed too unlikely to play the heavy?

Rise of the Guardians (Nov. 21) -- The embodiments of childhood whimsy -- Santa Claus, Easter Rabbit, Sandman and the Tooth Fairy -- team up to combat a pitch-black bad guy who wants to take over the world in this DreamWorks animation effort.

Anna Karenina (Nov. 21) -- Keira Knightley stars in a lavish adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's novel, directed by Joe Wright. A high society Russian wife finds herself embroiled in family and romantic entanglements. Co-starring Jude Law and Aaron Johnson.

Hyde Park on the Hudson (Dec. 7) -- The notion of comedian Bill Murray portraying Franklin D. Roosevelt isn't so screwy when you consider his turn toward dramatic material of late. Plus, the material is funnier than you'd think. Set in 1939, FDR prepares to host the King and Queen of England.

Les Misérables (Dec. 14) -- Victor Hugo's classic novel about crime and punishment has been adapted to film many times, but this is the first attempt to translate the stage musical version to the screen. Starring Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and Russell Crowe.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Dec. 14) -- Set several decades B.F. (Before Frodo), this prequel to "The Lord of the Rings" relates the tale of how humble hobbit Bilbo Baggins set off on an adventure with 13 dwarves, slew a dragon and acquired the Ring of Power. Now expanded to three films -- from a 300-page book -- director Peter Jackson is apparently incorporating a whole lot of background from J.R.R. Tolkien's universe to pad things out.

Zero Dark Thirty (Dec. 19) -- This much talked-about war drama from director Kathryn Bigelow ("The Hurt Locker") gives an insider's view of the 10-year manhunt for Osama bin Laden.

This Is 40 (Dec. 21) -- Increasingly unfunny comedy auteur Judd Apatow tackles middle-aged angst, starring Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann as a married couple looking to put the zip back in their lives.

On the Road (Dec. 21) -- No one's quite sure why it took 55 years to bring Jack Kerouac's seminal Beat novel to the screen, but here it is starring Sam Riley and Garrett Hedlund as drifters searching for an identity. Kristen Stewart's sexy scenes caused a stir at Cannes.

Jack Reacher (Dec. 21) -- Tom Cruise brings the titular star of a series of bare-fisted novels to life, playing an ex-military cop who roams the land, looking for criminals to punish. With Robert Duvall.

Parental Guidance (Dec. 25) -- Billy Crystal and Bette Midler team up as an aging couple unexpectedly tapped to look after their three grandkids. Good to see both of them back in the comedy saddle.

Django Unchained (Dec. 25) -- Quentin Tarantino's latest mash-up of grindhouse sensibilities takes him back to the 1800s, starring Jamie Foxx as a runaway slave who returns to the plantation to reclaim his wife, action-hero style. Co-starring Christoph Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio.

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