Movie Maniac

September 2, 2012

Fall movie preview: Stars get serious

Hollywood is betting that you’re ready for a calm fall, as it rolls out its more serious fare in the months ahead.

Hollywood is betting that you’re ready for a calm fall, as it rolls out its more serious fare in the months ahead.

There are several returns from respected filmmakers, and some nice surprises in store as stars broaden their horizons.

Here is a look at what’s in store (release dates subject to change):


• “The Words” — A successful writer (Bradley Cooper) must pay a steep price for stealing another man’s work.

Buzz: This was a Sundance Film Festival favorite and some are saying it’s Cooper’s best performance. Even better than “The Hangover?” Wow.

•  “The Cold Light of Day” — After his family is kidnapped during their sailing trip in Spain, a young Wall Street trader (soon-to-be “Superman” Henry Cavill) is confronted by intelligence agents looking to recover a mysterious briefcase.

Buzz: Why are briefcases always so mysterious? This will give us a hint of Cavill’s big-screen presence (“Immortals” doesn’t count).

•  “Bachelorette” — Three friends (Kirsten Dunst, Isla Fisher, Lizzy Caplan) are asked to be bridesmaids at a wedding of a woman (Rebel Wilson, “Bridesmaids”) they used to ridicule in high school.

Buzz: Cute cast, but whether Wilson will be funny or grating is a very fine line.

Sept. 14

•  “The Master” — Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson (“There Will Be Blood”) returns with this 1950s-set drama centered on the relationship between a charismatic intellectual known as “the Master,” whose faith-based organization begins to catch on in America, and the young man who becomes his aide.

Buzz: One of the most anticipated films this fall, this is a long-awaited follow-up from Anderson that will certainly attract awards attention. It boasts Joaquin Phoenix’s return to acting and also stars the always stellar Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams.

•  “Resident Evil: Retribution” — This’ll be the week of directors named Anderson (Paul W.S. Anderson here) with yet another installment in the “Resident Evil” franchise, as Alice (Milla Jovovich) keeps fighting off the undead.

Buzz: I already have a title for the next installment: “Resident Evil: Overkill.”

•  “Finding Nemo” — The Oscar-winning classic gets a re-release in 3-D, following a timid clownfish who sets out on a journey to find his lost son.

Buzz: This was already amazingly gorgeous, so seeing it in 3-D should be spectacular. And we’ll get a reminder why we love this film, looking ahead to the upcoming sequel, tentatively set for release in 2016.

• “10 Years” — The night before their high school reunion, a group of friends realize they still haven’t quite grown up. Channing Tatum leads an ensemble cast.

Buzz: Tatum is still hot off the tracks of “Magic Mike”; the appealing cast also includes his real-life wife Jenna Dewan, Justin Long and Rosario Dawson.

Sept. 21

•  “End of Watch” — Two police officers (Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena) are marked for death after confiscating a cache of money and firearms from the members of a notorious cartel.

Buzz: Pena is one of the most underrated actors working today — this could be his breakout role.

•  “Dredd 3-D” — Sylvester Stallone is out, and Karl Urban is in as a futuristic cop who tries to take down a gang that deals a new reality-altering drug.

Buzz: Probably one of the more unnecessary reboots or sequels this fall.

•  “House at the End of the Street” — A mother (Elisabeth Shue) and daughter (Jennifer Lawrence) move to a new town and find themselves living next door to a house where a young girl murdered her parents.

Buzz: Interesting choice for Lawrence, who is now a bona fide star after “The Hunger Games.” She could have an eclectic career in front of her — if this doesn’t bomb.

•  “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” — This coming-of-age tale follows an introverted college freshman (Logan Lerman) who is taken under the wings of two seniors (Emma Watson and Ezra Miller) who welcome him to the adult world.

Buzz: It’s based on the popular novel, so it’ll have a built-in audience; Watson continues to choose interesting projects as she distances herself from the “Harry Potter” films.

Sept. 28

•  “Looper” — This looks to be a twisty sci-fi tale, following a hit man (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who is sent 30 years into the future to murder a target — that turns out to be his older self (played by Bruce Willis).

Buzz: My head already hurts trying to understand the plot, but director Rian Johnson earned raves for his scalding debut “Brick,” which also starred Gordon-Levitt, so maybe the re-teaming will pay off.

•  “Won’t Back Down” — Two determined mothers (Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal) try to transform their children’s failing inner city school.

Buzz: Will boast strong performances from the leads, and it could be this year’s female-oriented breakthrough hit, a la “The Help.”

•  “Trouble with the Curve” — Clint Eastwood returns to acting in this drama about an ailing baseball scout who takes his daughter (Amy Adams) along for one last trip.

Buzz: Eastwood going sentimental? Smells like awards season bait.

•  “Hotel Transylvania” — Animated comedy with Adam Sandler voicing Dracula, who operates a high-end resort away from the human world where monsters can be themselves.

Buzz: Looks like a fun twist on characters we’re familiar with (Frankenstein, the Mummy, the Invisible Man).

Oct. 5

•  “Taken 2” — Liam Neeson again plays former CIA operative Bryan Mills for this sequel set in Istanbul, where Mills and his wife are taken hostage by the father of a kidnapper Mills killed while rescuing his daughter.

Buzz: It looks as if producer Luc Besson is trying to turn this into a franchise a la the “Bourne” films. But one can only be kidnapped so many times. Hopefully.

•  “Frankenweenie” — Director Tim Burton adapts his short film with this return to animation, following a little boy who conducts a science experiment to bring his beloved dog back to life, only to face unintended consequences.

Buzz: Could be too odd for a mainstream audience and too creepy for little kids (see “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” which Burton produced), but it should be a fun, visual treat regardless.

•  “Sinister” — Horror tale starring Ethan Hawke as a true-crime novelist who discovers video footage that helps him realize how and why a family was murdered in his new home. Don’t these people investigate anything before moving?

Buzz: Sounds like “Paranormal Activity” meets “Poltergeist,” but — please — can we stop with the “found-footage” approach already?

•  “Butter” — Comedy set in small-town Iowa, where an adopted girl discovers her talent for butter carving and finds herself pitted against an ambitious woman (Jennifer Garner) in their town’s annual carving contest.

Buzz: Should be a breezy role for the likeable Garner.

•  “Pitch Perfect” — Musical about a college freshman who is cajoled into joining her school’s all-girl singing group.

Buzz: Looks like a by-product of “Glee.”

Oct. 12

•  “Argo” — Ben Affleck directs and stars in this true-life story set during the Iranian revolution’s boiling point, following a CIA specialist who concocts a risky plan to rescue six Americans who have found shelter at the home of a Canadian ambassador.

Buzz: The plot sounds complicated, but Affleck has matured into an artistically sophisticated director. This could be his awards-season calling card.

•  “Seven Psychopaths” — A struggling screenwriter inadvertently becomes entangled in the Los Angeles criminal underworld after his oddball friends kidnap a gangster’s beloved dog. Starring Colin Farrell, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken.

Buzz: This is director Martin McDonagh’s follow-up to his acclaimed “In Bruges,” which successfully mixed dark comedy, crime and thriller elements; “Psychopaths” sounds similar.

•  “Here Comes the Boom” — Kevin James stars as a high school biology teacher who wants to become a mixed-martial arts fighter in an effort to raise money to help his school.

Buzz: This should bring in the MMA crowd — no small niche.

Oct. 19

•  “Alex Cross” — A detective (Tyler Perry of the “Madea” movies) is told that a member of his family has been murdered, and he vows to track down the killer. Based on James Patterson’s novel.

Buzz: Getting “Madea” fans to buy Perry in a serious role will be a challenge. But he’s impressively stepping out of his comfort zone — if being in drag is comfortable.

•  “Killing them Softly” — A professional enforcer (Brad Pitt) investigates a heist that went down during a mob-protected poker game.

Buzz: Pitt re-unites with his “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” director, Andrew Dominik, which shows promise.

•  “Paranormal Activity 4” — More paranormal. More activity. Even less interest.

Buzz: See above.

Oct. 26

•  “Cloud Atlas” — An exploration of how the actions of individual lives affect one another in the past, present and future.

Buzz: This sounds like an interesting experiment: the film was shot with two units, one under the direction of Tom Tykwer (“Run, Lola, Run”) and the other under the direction of the Wachowski siblings (“The Matrix” films), sharing no crew members aside from the cast. Sounds arty. Possibly too much so?

Nov. 2

•  “Wreck-It Ralph” — Animation following the bad-guy character in a video game who longs to be a hero.

Buzz: Apparently Disney has been sitting on this for a while, but with the delay of “Monsters University,” this now gets the green light.

•  “The Man with the Iron Fists” — Russell Crowe stars in this action tale set in feudal China as a blacksmith who makes weapons and must defend his fellow villagers in a mighty battle.

Buzz: Didn’t we already see “Gladiator?”

•  “Flight” — An airline pilot (Denzel Washington) saves a flight from crashing, but an investigation into the malfunctions reveals he was at fault.

Buzz: Looks intense, and no one does intense like Washington.

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