Paint!!   Ah, autumn. When the leaves fall, the temperature inverts from painfully hot to painfully cold, someone’s kids are back in school, and at the multiplex, we’re no longer subjected to weekend after weekend of superhero sequels, spasmodic cartoons, grandiose Disney presentations, space operas, James Wan’s halfway eerie ghost stories, Leonardo DiCaprio playing a rich asshole, Vin Diesel in an innumerable sequel to a moderately well-received movie he made back at the turn of the millennium, Vince Vaughn wishing he was funny again, and movies set on race tracks. I’m sure the incoming crop of fall movies like Thor: The Dark World, Free Birds and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, Frozen, Ender’s Game, Insidious 2, The Wolf of Wall Street, Riddick, Delivery Man, and Rush are going to wash away all those summer memories with fresh storytelling from lesser-known genres. Oh who are we kidding – Hollywood is just as cyclical as everything else in life, and the gap that used to differentiate the movie seasons is closing in on itself at a frightening rate. So get ready for more of the same, plus some prestigious Oscar contenders, a couple diamonds in the rough, and so many stories based on real events that I’m checking RSS feeds for the impending announcement of News: The Movie. Let’s see how well we can predict the outcome of each project as the season officially kicks off this week.

 

SEPTEMBER

SEPTEMBER 6

RIDDICK

Director: David Twohy (he’s done all the Riddick films so far)

Starring Vin Diesel, Karl Urban, Katee Sackhoff, Dave Bautista, Bokeem Woodbine

Is the life support machine this franchise is hooked up to being powered entirely by Vin Diesel’s fading Hollywood clout? Because if I recall, Pitch Black was a sleeper hit at best, its blockbuster sequel The Chronicles of Riddick was laughed off screens as a cheap sci-fi action yarn, and it’s taken nine years for an unwanted third chapter to formulate. I wasn’t a big fan of either, but as John Carpenter-esque B-movies, they’re likable, and though I can’t imagine third time’s the charm here financially, this new scaled-down bottle episode looks like cheesy, throwaway fun, probably a better fit for this character than a Star Wars-sized space epic like Chronicles.

Interest Level: B-

 

 

 

 

SALINGER

Director: Shane Salerno

Featuring the talking heads of Philip Seymour Hoffman, John Cusack, Danny DeVito, Judd Apatow, David Milch, Martin Sheen, Edward Norton, Gore Vidal…

A documentary about the reclusive author, made by the writer of Alien vs. Predator: Requiem and Oliver Stone’s ridiculously dumb Savages. Seems to be treating its precious subject rather playfully, though, so maybe this will be a breakthrough for him (and an engaging history lesson for Catcher in the Rye fans).

Interest Level: C+

 

SEPTEMBER 13

INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2

Director: James Wan (he of the first movie, Saw, The Conjuring)

Starring: everyone from the first movie (Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Lin Shaye), making you wonder just how insidious these ghosts are if they can’t even kill off a cast member or two

…but then James Wan clearly prefers to set a mood then score a high body count, hence why the first Insidious and The Conjuring were reasonably creepy exceptions to the decade’s recent slate of ghost stories. Since The Conjuring operated on almost exactly the same level as Insidious – eerie build-up, an escalating fear of unseen terrors, one too many scenes where you wonder “why does the ghost keep dicking around instead of just slaughtering somebody?”, climaxing with a pedestrian face-off you can guarantee more of the same formula here.

Interest Level: B- (the other two movies were solid Bs, but this one loses half a grade for being less forgivably derivative at this point)

 

 

THE FAMILY

Director: Luc Besson Starring Robert de Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Tommy Lee Jones, Vincent Pastore

Robert de Niro in another comedy riffing on his mob-movie roots sounds like overkill we get it, your career’s a joke now. And having Besson on board as director raises some flags about the tastefulness of said comedy (The Fifth Element was funny but also really screeching and dopey sometimes). That being said, the trailer shows potential. Tommy Lee Jones is deadpanning it up, the way we love him, and there are enough glimpses of violent freak-outs and odd line deliveries to suggest that de Niro might actually show a flicker of the great actor he used to be, so very very long ago…

Interest Level: B

 

SEPTEMBER 20

PRISONERS

Director: Denis Villeneuve (the 2010 French-Canadian mystery Incendies)

Starring Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Paul Dano, Melissa Leo

Hey look, it’s Gyllenhaal leading an unsettling serial killer man-hunt again! Don’t expect the same audacity as Zodiac, but this could be a twisty, intense little thriller. Kind of weird to see Hugh Jackman slumming it, though. The part seems more suited to a…Dennis Quaid.

Interest Level: B-

 

 

BATTLE OF THE YEAR

Director: Benson Lee

Starring Josh Holloway, Chris Brown, Josh Peck, other dancers

An adaptation of a dance competition documentary into what looks like a tiresome underdog sports story, with Josh Holloway looking a bit out of place as the hard-ass coach and Chris Brown as a character we’re supposed to sympathize with…what, was George Zimmerman not ready for his feature debut yet? Christ. This is the annual teen-dance porn pretending to be a real movie, but the break-dance moves look pretty boss, so hopefully they’ll go all out on those.

Interest Level: D

 

 

CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS 2

Director: Cody Cameron

Voice Cast: Bill Hader, Anna Faris, Terry Crews, Andy Samberg, Kristen Schaal, James Caan, Neil Patrick Harris

Hard to tell – the first one was zippy, clever, inventive, and sometimes borderline abstract – the calling cards of Clone High creators Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who have since moved on (they will be responsible for next year’s Legos: The Movie). This sequel has been entrusted to the guy behind Open Season 3. Maybe he’ll make the most of his big break. The trailer fixates on one too many of the first film’s gags, and goes overboard on the animal-food puns, and practically begs you to smack the glib smile off its face. But then, most animated films these days have teeth-grinding ads, so this could still turn out as a jolly comic adventure.

Interest Level: B-

 

 

RUSH

Director: Ron Howard

Starring Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Bruhl, Olivia Wilde, and an international cast

This one could surprise us, but then again, it’s Ron Howard, a solid director and adorable Hollywood legend but what was the last movie he did? The Dilemma? Did even one person see that movie? Really, he hasn’t had much luck in the past decade (the Da Vinci Code movies, for one), so here he goes retreating back to his trusty prestige-bait habit of telling inspirational true stories, this time about a famous race car driver. It worked for Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind, and even Frost/Nixon, where the triumphant finale felt a bit gratuitous (it was just a few interviews, for God’s sake). At least this one looks less like homework than Cinderella Man, with some stylistic shots and the first time we’ve seen Daniel Bruhl since his great performance in Inglorious Basterds four years ago…but is there anything this movie can show or tell us that we didn’t already learn and enjoy from, say, Days of Thunder, Talladega Nights, Cars, Turbo….?

Interest Level: C+

 

SEPTEMBER 27

BAGGAGE CLAIM

Director: David E. Talbert (First Sunday)

Starring Paula Patton, Derek Luke, Djimon Hounsou, Taye Diggs, Jenifer Lewis, Jill Scott, Tia Mowry, Adam Brody

From the director of that movie where Ice Cube and Tracy Morgan try to rob a church where Katt Williams is a preacher, comes a high-concept romantic comedy about a flight attendant who needs to find her true love on a passenger list, or something. An excuse to parade around a bunch of hunks while Patton enjoys wacky/swooning scenes with them and banters with her Greek chorus of gal pals. Aside from a capable actress, Patton is a very beautiful woman, but the trailers do not flatter her, so you have to wonder where else the movie will go wrong if it can’t even capture its lead actress’s natural good looks.

Interest Level: C-

 

DON JON

Starring/written/produced/directed/tucked in at night by Joseph-Gordon Levitt, also with Scarlett Johansson, Tony Danza, Julianne Moore, Glenn Headly, Brie Larson

Robin’s first attempt behind the camera. Even with the tacky Jersey smear all over it (why, JGL, why…) and a potentially awkward thesis about man’s obsession with porn (apparently it’s more about the porn than his rom-com flirtations with ScarJo), the festival buzz and its life-affirming trailer suggest an unusually honest, well-acted, entertaining winner. I have faith in this guy.

Interest Level: A-

 

METALLICA: THROUGH THE NEVER

Director: Nimrod Antal (Predators, Armored, Vacancy)

Starring Metallica and Dana DeHaan A concert film…with a fictional story wrap-around? Neat. Or pretentious. But at least they’re trying something different. This might have worked better had it been made years earlier, though.

Interest Level: B-

 

OCTOBER

OCTOBER 4

GRAVITY

Director: Alfonso Cuaron

Starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney

Cuaron has been absent for six long years, but leave it up to him to pioneer cinematic format upon his returns. This is one of the fall’s iffiest gambles, possibly two hours of Sandra Bullock spinning through the void of space. Okay, there will probably be other things happening before and after that, but the press over this is still tight-lipped and mysterious. Rumor has it this will be an entirely new kind of viewing experience. Could it be this millennium’s 2001: A Space Odyssey in terms of hyper-realistic visual effects and respect for the agonizing verisimilitude of space travel?

Interest Level: A

 

 

RUNNER RUNNER

Director: Brad Furman

Starring Justin Timberlake, Ben Affleck, Gemma Arterton, Anthonie Mackie, Ben Schwartz

Might be luridly pulpy, like Furman’s last movie, The Lincoln Lawyer. Are we sure this wasn’t some direct-to-DVD reject from 1999? Given Timberlake and Affleck’s clout, this shouldn’t look like such a boilerplate B-movie.

Interest Level: C-

 

OCTOBER 8

Curse of Chucky

Director: Don Mancini (originator of the series, writer of all entries, directed the previous one)

Starring Brad Dourif’s voice, Fiona Dourif, Danielle Bisutti, A Martinez

’80s horror sequel! I love when these come out. I wish there was still new Friday the 13th Part XIVs and Freddy’s Never Going to Be Deads every other Halloween season, but at least we got this. The bad news is fourfold:

  1. it’s direct-to-DVD now
  2. they’ve abandoned the campy approach and gone back to straight horror. This may be misconstrued as good news by those who have forgotten how stupid Child’s Play 2 and 3 were.
  3. there are no longer any kooky celebrities like Jennifer Tilly, Redman, or John Ritter to help us enjoy all the murders a little more. With a lower budget, they couldn’t afford any familiar faces
  4. Chucky got a make-over for some reason, and now he looks like an androgynous CGI in half the shots. Possibly a creepier approach, but also very distracting, like if in the next Muppet movie, Kermit and the gang were all computer-rendered too. Just, no.

Interest Level: still, for those of us who lined up in theaters to see Texas Chainsaw 3D last January, this is a B

 

OCTOBER 11

CAPTAIN PHILLIPS

Director: Paul Greengrass

Starring Tom Hanks, Catherine Keener, Barkhad Abdi

Do studios really have to make a movie out of every mildly interesting news story? I could be wrong, but it seems like there are more “based on true events” movies now than there are ones where somebody has to make up their own characters and plot. And unlike sequels, the laziness of goosing up something that really happened dodges critical scorn because you can’t argue with realism. Documentaries, the news, fictionalizing our amazing history one tale at a time…it’s an esteemed sub-genre of movie dramas. Well, I’ve had it. Do some of these once in a while, but goddammit, there’s nothing wrong with escapism and imagination. Invent new worlds, challenge yourself to contextualize topical conflicts in entertaining packages…okay, end of rant. On another note, I used to be the biggest fan of Tom Hanks. After crowning his amazing ’90s run with 2000’s Cast Away, along with everyone else I just assumed he was our country’s finest actor (I should’ve known it was Daniel Day-Lewis, but I hadn’t seen all his movies yet, and Bill the Butcher, Daniel Plainview, and Spielberg-brand Lincoln were still years off). Then all of a sudden he fell into a black-hole of damnation, either appearing in interesting movies but being the least interesting thing about them (Road to Perdition, Charlie Wilson’s War), phoning it in completely (The Polar Express, The Da Vinci Code, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close), or wasting his time doing great work in a major director’s nadir of the decade (The Terminal, The Ladykillers). His Midas touch reversed itself into a curse. Even after watching him play 700 different parts in last year’s Cloud Atlas – surely the mother-load of opportunities for an actor to show his range and impress in at least one or two iterations even if the rest are thankless I feel a bit betrayed. This is the same Tom Hanks we used to love, but he doesn’t captivate the screen anymore. He’s not hungry enough to inhabit a real soul again, so we get these doughy aw-shucks performances over and over again. Very long story short, this might be his first chance in a long while to flex his thespian chops in a high-profile piece by a serious director. Unfortunately, it’s Paul Greengrass, a whiz with the shaky-cam but not the best at showcasing his stars (tell me how memorable the acting was in the 2 Bourne sequels, United 93, or Green Zone), and there doesn’t seem to be any eccentricies or dramatic arcs to this Phillips guy, so…maybe it’ll be exciting like Bourne, or a fascinating recount of events like a couple of writer Billy Ray’s other screenplays Shattered Glass and Breach.

Interest Level: C

 

 

MACHETE KILLS

Director: Robert Rodriguez

Starring Danny Trejo, Mel Gibson, Alexa Vega, Jessica Alba, Amber Heard, Antonio Banderas, Lady GaGa, Michelle Rodriguez, Vanessa Hudgens, Sofia Vergara, Cuba Gooding Jr., Demian Bichir, and Charlie Sheen as the president

And now to squash any credibility I could have earned: this movie looks awesome! Rodriguez won’t be following in the adventurous footsteps of BFF Tarantino any time soon, so if he’s going to keep repeating himself with silly fluff, better he follow the El Mariachi/Sin City/Grindhouse path than that of Spy Kids, Sharkboy & Lava Girl, and Shorts. And who ever thought the Machete trailer would become a full-length movie anyway, let alone get a sequel? Sometimes the movie gods punish us by making smart, original movies fail and dumb, insulting movies succeed, but there are times when they smile down upon us and deliver a second ultra-violent B-movie spoof on a good enough budget and a massive cast of oddball celebrities from a director with the mindset of an 11-year-old fanboy. I personally can’t wait to see Mel Gibson as the bad guy in this. I hope he chews down Rodriguez’s entire home studio with his over-acting. Welcome back, Mel. I know it seems hypocritical to be forgiving of Mel while I diss Chris Brown elsewhere, but if Rihanna’s boyfriend had ever shown even 10% of Mel’s talent, personality, taste in artistic pursuits, and good nature as a celebrity, I might not be so hard on the guy. Alas, he’s just a prick. Interest Level: an enthusiastic B+

 

THE FIFTH ESTATE

Director: Bill Condon

Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Bruhl (this must be his year), Stanley Tucci, Laura Linney, David Thewlis, Anthony Mackie, Peter Dr. Who Capaldi, Carice van Houten

The Social Network on a global political scale, specifically the rise and fall of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, here we have yet another dramatization of recent history. This one borders on the pretentious and may just end up being a bunch of skilled actors telling us over and over again how important the main character is. Hopefully it amounts to more than an arrogant lecture.

Interest Level: B

 

 

ROMEO & JULIET

Director: Carlo Carlei

Starring Hailee Steinfeld, Douglas Booth, Damian Lewis, Stellan Skarsgard, Kodi Smit-McPhee

Wait, what? Again? Why not try a different Shakespeare play for once? I guess every generation needs their own version. The actors look very sincere, and they snuck in Paul Giamatti as the Friar who witnesses their death.

Interest Level: C+

 

OCTOBER 18

CARRIE

Director: Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry, Stop-Loss)

Starring Chloe Grace Moretz, Julianne Moore, Judy Greer

The big horror movie event for Halloween this year is a remake of a Stephen King adaptation…like Shakespeare, how many goddamn times can they re-do the same stories, instead of looking for fresh ones? King’s written a ton of stuff that still hasn’t made it to the screen. But by 2013, Hollywood is now at least 80% dependent on pre-existing name properties to guarantee marketing strategies, so:

MGM STUDIO: Hey everybody, remember Carrie?

THE TEEN AUDIENCE THEY ARE COURTING: Uh…I think I’ve heard references to it in a couple movies or shows. Maybe my parents told me about it. Go ahead and remind me there was both a sequel and made-for-TV reboot, but don’t count on anyone remembering either of those (or approving of them even if they do).

MGM STUDIO: Yeeeaaahh…well, maybe grown-ups will want to watch an edgy new version of the movie.

GROWN-UPS: Nah, the de Palma version still holds up. How about making The Dark Towers instead?

MGM STUDIO: Sorry, we only speak remake.

 

In fairness, even if the movie is shot-for-shot identical (1998 Psycho) or just a lifeless rehash (2005 The Fog), at least we got that trippy trailer. Actually, it gives away the entire scope of the story like every trailer nowadays, but those jarring edits at the end set to Lykke Li’s disturbingly barren “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” cover is kind of masterful. Maybe we just should ditch movies and start making trailers. If you disregard the full-length movies they represent, on their own they’re almost always terrific. “All the best parts”, as they say, and often brilliant music cues.

Interest Level: C

Trailer Quality: B+

 

 

ESCAPE PLAN

Director: Mikael Hafstrom

Starring Stallone and Schwarzenegger, 50 Cent, Vincent D’Onofrio, Vinnie Jones, Amy Ryan, Sam Neill, Jim Caviezel

It’s been a rocky road to comeback glory for these action star dinosaurs. The pair of Expendables flicks made some money but were beyond awful, while, ironically, their individual vehicles earlier this year – The Last Stand and Bullet to the Head – were modestly compelling affairs that allowed each of them to slip comfortably back into their iconic callings, yet were resoundingly ignored and rejected by a public no longer into old-fashioned tough guy scenarios. Undeterred (or maybe this one was already in the can before they could second-guess its chances), now we get them back together again in a premise (Stallone is jailed in a prison he designed, enlists convict Arnold to escape) that could NOT sound more 1993-era. I suppose this one won’t make much money either and with both a spotty cast (good: Ryan, D’Onofrio, Neill; bad: 50 Cent, Jones, Caviezel) and an iffy director (hell, even with respected stalwarts Kim Jee-Woon and Walter Hill running Stand and Bullet they couldn’t come up with more than serviceable retreads, so the guy behind that lousy Anthony Hopkins exorcism movie The Rite better hope he gets lucky with good material here), maybe this will be a dreary mess, but as long as their pairing doesn’t trade too much integrity for winking callbacks (like The Expendables), I for one am delighted to have another vintage genre picture from my childhood heroes.

Interest Level: B

 

 

 

12 YEARS A SLAVE

Director: Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame)

Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Alfre Woodard, Sarah Paulson, Paul Giamatti…man, these names are looking familiar

Slavery is becoming an over-used trend in Hollywood and carries the automatic suspicion of awards-bait, but McQueen is no ordinary filmmaker, and that’s a powerhouse line-up he’s got. Adding to that is the effusive early word from film festivals, but honestly, that trailer makes it look like yet another rhythmically familiar version of Roots. I’ll ignore that and continue to trust that it either strays from the beaten path enough to earn its own identity, or squeezes all it can from the expected emotional stings of anguish, injustice, perseverance, and hope.

Interest Level: B

 

 

ALL IS LOST

Director: J.C. Chandor (Margin Call)

Starring Robert Redford

A one-man show for Redford, in a Hemingway-esque survivalist tale of a man’s man adrift at sea. Can’t say I have much faith in Redford, who hasn’t had a notable performance since the 1980s, and advance reviews aren’t as flattering as expected; still, this could be his Cast Away, and he could really use a rebound. Maybe something to check out on DVD.

Interest Level: C+

 

OCTOBER 25

THE COUNSELLOR

Director: Ridley Scott

Writer: Cormac McCarthy

Starring Brad Pitt, Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Michael Fassbender, Rosie Perez, John Leguizamo, Dean Norris (Hank!)

Before seeing any of the footage, this movie was poised to be a real contender for 2013. Most still believe it will be just based on how many A-list people are involved, and I’m as excited as anybody by the thought of these actors doing a less rural take on No Country for Old Men, but it’s not looking very distinctive from the available trailers and clips. Seems like a lot of scenes and attitude that we’ve been served many times before. Also, Ridley Scott doesn’t do exceptionally well with modern-day dramas. His most recent ones – Body of Lies and Matchstick Men – were slickly made and well-acted, but have collected dust over time. He’s a great workman director but when the project isn’t interesting already, all he usually has to offer is stable guidance and empty style. And McCarthy sure had an ace with No Country, but neither The Road nor All the Pretty Horses made for memorable adaptations. But who knows the Coen Bros. keep doing variations on the same story (everybody chasing after ill-gotten money, killing each other), so maybe McCarthy has something fresh up his sleeve for what looks like a stockpile of clichés.

Interest Level: C+

 

 

 

JACKASS PRESENTS: BAD GRANDPA

Director: Jeff Tremaine (of all previous Jackass films and that Nitro Circus one)

Starring Johnny Knoxville, some kid, and the full Jackass crew

Knoxville goes around as his grandpa persona from the Jackass skits and tries to shock real people with his inappropriate behavior. Sure, why not? Next best thing to a 4th Jackass or another Sascha Baren Cohen character. This gimmick hasn’t been overdone yet, but the plausibility of these premises is less convincing lately (with reality TV, YouTube, and the empire of social media, it seems like everyone is ready to mug for their 15 minutes nowadays, so who knows how hilarious any of the “authentic” reactions will be)

Interest Level: a cautious B-, could end up being a mildly revolted D-

 

 

Check back in on Friday for the dramatic conclusion, as we peek into November and December, where all the would-be profound movies are waiting to obligate you to see them whether you want to or not. Also, Keanu Reeves is a samurai.

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