Saturday, October 10, 2009

ArtsPreview 2009-10: The fall season in film

Hilary Swank. (Illustration by Pat Crowley)

By Hap Erstein

It used to be that superheroes and special effects went on vacation in the fall, but the studios seem more intent this season on making money than making art. It is hard not to notice, for instance, the barrage of vampire and assorted undead movies (Zombieland, Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant, The Twilight Saga: New Moon) coming our way.

True, the Oscars have expanded the Best Picture category to 10 nominees this year in an attempt to get some more mainstream, commercial flicks in the race, but surely none of these blood-suckers will --pardon the expression -- make the cut.

So let’s look beyond them to more promising fare likely to arrive in the region in the next few months. Per usual, take these release dates as firm at your own peril.

Capitalism: A Love Story: You can almost hear the irony in documentary filmmaker Michael Moore’s voice with the title of his latest activist non-fiction tale, designed (like Bowling for Columbine, Fahrenheit 9/11 and Sicko) to educate, entertain and irritate. This time around, his focus is the global financial crisis and the greed-meisters who caused it. (Opened Oct. 2)

A Serious Man: A new movie by Joel and Ethan Coen is always welcome, whether they are in a whimsical mood (Fargo) or deadly serious (No Country for Old Men). Their latest sounds like a little of each, the saga of a Midwestern professor (Michael Stuhlbarg) whose life takes a downward turn when his wife asks him for a divorce, his children rebel against him and a student of his attempts to bribe him for a better grade. (Opened Oct. 2)

New York, I Love You: This is the second shoe to drop, following its precursor, Paris, Je T’aime, another series of short films from such A-list directors as Alexander Payne, Wes Craven and Mira Nair, exploring the nature of love, New York-style. The cast is similarly attention-getting, with such name performers as Natalie Portman, Kevin Bacon, Robin Wright Penn and Ethan Hawke. (Oct. 16)

Amelia: The search for aviatrix Amelia Earhart, who disappeared while trying to fly around the world, has led to this much-touted biopic, starring two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank and directed by Mira Nair (The Namesake), with Richard Gere as the feminist pilot’s manager and husband. (Oct. 23)

Men Who Stare at Goats: A dark comedy based on the non-fiction best-seller about an Army unit seeking to apply the tenets of telepathy and other paranormal phenomena to combat. Wait, don’t turn the page! The high-powered cast includes George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges, and it is directed by Grant Heslov, co-writer of Clooney’s Good Night, and Good Luck. (Nov. 6)

Lily Morgan and John Cusack in 2012.

2012: Here’s another summer picture that has migrated to the fall, an action picture about the end of the world -- oh, that again -- with John Cusack as a science fiction writer who feels the burden of having to prevent doomsday. Since director Roland Emmerich (Independence Day) is at the helm, you have to expect a few major global landmarks to be exploded along the way. (Nov. 13)

The Twilight Saga: New Moon: If you are going to sink your teeth into one vampire movie this fall, you might as well make it this second installment in the Stephenie Meyer series. Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart are back as the teen bloodsucker and the comely gal he is smitten with. Get in line behind every teenager with nine dollars. (Nov. 20)

Nine: Not to be confused with 9, the sci-fi animated movie of a couple months back, this is the film version of Maury Yeston’s acclaimed Broadway musical based on Federico Fellini’s loosely autobiographical classic, . Rob Marshall (Chicago) puts a prestige cast of Academy Award winners, including Daniel Day-Lewis as philandering Italian filmmaker Guido Contini and his bevy of beautiful women, including Nicole Kidman, Marion Cotillard, Judi Dench, Penelope Cruz and the great Sophia Loren. (Nov. 25)

The Princess and the Frog: Flying in the face of computer-generated animation, Disney returns to the traditions of hand-drawn, two-dimensional feature-length cartoons with this New Orleans-based retelling of the Grimm Brothers’ The Frog Prince, with a definite twist. After African-American Princess Tiana (Anika Noni Rose of Dreamgirls) kisses her frog, she turns amphibious, too. (Nov. 25)

Invictus: Here comes Clint Eastwood with another below-the-radar, end-of-year drama, which is likely to become popular, despite the Latin title. Of course, it helps that it stars Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon. The former plays South Africa’s political force of nature Nelson Mandela, in the early days of his presidency, in the run up to his nation’s upset win at the 1995 rugby World Cup. Damon, presumably having shed his Informant weight, plays the team captain. (Dec. 11)

Avatar: It has taken Titanic director James (“King of the world”) Cameron a dozen years to make another feature film, but expect it to be a blockbuster. It is a 3-D science fiction yarn about a soldier out of his element on the planet Pandora. Sam Worthington and Sigourney Weaver star, but from early glimpses, the real star looks to be the state-of-the-art special effects. (Dec. 18)

Sherlock Holmes: The enduring Arthur Conan Doyle character is probably the most filmed literary icon ever, but we have never seen him quite like this. The rational sleuth (Robert Downey, Jr.) and his medical sidekick (Jude Law) have been re-conceived by action-violence director Guy Ritchie. Baker Street may never be the same. (Dec. 25)

Jude Law, Robert Downey Jr. and Rachel McAdams
in Sherlock Holmes.

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