After the non-event that was Nicolas Cage’s collaboration with the Pang Brothers (Bangkok Dangerous? More like deadly!) the first official month of Fall really starts up in its second week. There, the voices along the bottom line landscape come in crystal clear. From wars both past and present to a number of nail-biting thrillers, September is sizing up as a potentially profitable one. The artistic aspects of the following 18 films are still a major question mark, even considering the Award winning talent behind the scenes and in front of the lens.
The Women (2008)
Meg Ryan, Eva Mendes, Annette Bening, Debra Messing, Jada Pinkett Smith
(Picturehouse; US theatrical: 12 Sep 2008; 2008)
You’d figure that a movie that has been in development for over a decade would garner more buzz that this. But Diane English’s adaptation of the George Cukor proto-chick flick (itself taken from the Clare Boothe Luce play) has been more or less supplanted by the fierce female quartet from Sex and the City. While the success of that TV adaptation suggests that lady-oriented audiences are ready for more gaudy and sparkly girl power, the casting argues for a less than inspired experience. Still, with Annette Bening bringing on the bitchiness in the otherwise lackluster trailer, we could be looking at a solid post-Summer hit—or an indication of how limited the “you go girl” premise can be.
Burn After Reading
Joel and Ethan Coen
George Clooney, Frances McDormand, Brad Pitt, Tilda Swinton, John Malkovich, Richard Jenkins, David Rasche, J.K. Simmons
(Focus Features; US theatrical: 12 Sep 2008 (General release); UK theatrical: 17 Oct 2008 (General release); 2008)
Burn After Reading
Leave it to the Coen Brothers to once again shake things up when it comes to their creative canon. Last time they won Oscars (for the magnificent kidnapping comedy Fargo), they followed it up with a true cult classic, the ballsy Big Lebowski. Now, fresh off their domination of the 2008 Oscars, the No Country for Old Men mavericks are once again aiming for screwball comedy territory. Early indications suggest more Intolerable Cruelty than Raising Arizona. Still, the amiable, above the marquee cast (including such one name superstars as Pitt and Clooney) along with the guy’s standard cache of cleverness promises something daring and affectionately demented.
Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Curtis Jackson, Donnie Wahlberg, Carla Gugino, John Leguizamo
(Overture Films; US theatrical: 12 Sep 2008 (General release); UK theatrical: 25 Sep 2008 (General release); 2008)
It’s shocking, really. A major motion picture starring Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino (their first onscreen pairing since Michael Mann’s Heat) and yet there’s very little spark surrounding this police procedural. Off course, part of the problem could be the old school Method actors’ combined reduced commercial reputation. The smart money says that this Jon Avent directed thriller is sloppy and subpar—88 Minutes/Hide and Seek subpar.
The Family That Preys
Tyler Perry, Sanaa Lathan, Alfre Woodard, Rockmond Dunbar, Kathy Bates, Robin Givens, Cole Hauser
(Lionsgate; US theatrical: 12 Sep 2008; 2008)
The Family That Preys
The last time he tried creating a feature film without relying on one of his fabled plays as a foundation, the result was the underperforming Daddy’s Little Girls. Now, Tyler Perry is tempting fate again, avoiding his urban comedy canon to offer up a multi-cultural take on racism, adultery, and the strange, seedy bedfellows both produce. With a capable company led by Alfre Woodard and Kathy Bates, this could be a breakout film for the still fledgling filmmaker… or another dud.
Summer Bishil, Aaron Eckhart, Peter Macdissi, Toni Collette, Maria Bello, Eugene Jones III
(Warner Independent Pictures; US theatrical: 12 Aug 2008 (Limited release); 2007)
Alan Ball’s Oscar for American Beauty remains a well deserved screenplay win. It stands as one of the most insightful looks at suburban malaise this side of Joe Sarno. What he knows about the Arab experience in these United States is questionable at best. Apparently, this film about a sexually frustrated young Lebanese girl has been getting a lot of uncomplimentary buzz for the teen promiscuity angle. Oddly enough, the racial element is not a problem.
Samuel L. Jackson, Kerry Washington, Patrick Wilson, Ron Glass
(Screen Gems; US theatrical: 19 Sep 2008 (General release); UK theatrical: 5 Dec 2008 (General release); 2008)
Samuel L. Jackson is a Los Angeles cop with a clear cut prejudice. When a bi-racial couple moves into his neighborhood, he becomes the pair’s worst nightmare. Hiding under the badge to wreak his blatant bigotry, we anticipate some highly charged criticism within this film’s prickly premise. One expects that former indie icon Neil LaBute (In the Company of Men, Nurse Betty) can rebound from his half-baked remake of The Wicker Man to deliver something chilling as well as socially relevant. He definitely has the skill set - and the cast - to accomplish both.
Ricky Gervais, Greg Kinnear, Téa Leoni, Billy Campbell, Alan Ruck, Kristen Wiig
(DreamWorks; US theatrical: 19 Sep 2008 (General release); UK theatrical: 24 Oct 2008 (General release); 2008)
Ricky Gervais remains an elusive mainstream marvel. On the one hand, his hit British sitcom The Office has spawned a literal international cottage industry. There are at least five different adaptations (including the smash US version on NBC) of the deadpan mockdoc. This has made Gervais a much in demand performer, and yet movie success has so far been elusive. Mostly featured in bit parts, this David Koepp directed starring vehicle may change that status. The studio has been sneaking the film around the country since early August, and some very positive buzz has been building.
Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Gael García Bernal, Danny Glover, Alice Braga
(Miramax; US theatrical: 3 Oct 2008 (General release); UK theatrical: 28 Nov 2008 (General release); 2007)
In the vein of Children of Men and other reality based dystopian visions of the future, City of God/The Constant Gardener director Fernando Meirelles brings the 1995 allegorical novel by José Saramago to life. Offering a clear metaphorical premise—an epidemic of unexplained blindness causes panic among the populace and police state tactics from the government—Merirelles hopes to inspire dialogue about our current cultural reactionary responses and the willingness to let those in power determine the inherent rights of individuals. The trailer sure is enticing, and though some have found the film heavy handed, early previews have been positive.
Ed Harris, Viggo Mortensen, Renée Zellweger, Jeremy Irons, Lance Henriksen, Ariadna Gil
(New Line Cinema; US theatrical: 19 Sep 2008 (Limited release); 2008)
A good old fashioned no frills western, told with Golden era Hollywood reverie by actor turned director Ed Harris. One imagines that if all horse operas had this kind of acting power—Harris himself is on hand, along with Viggo Mortensen, Renée Zellweger, Jeremy Irons and Lance Henriksen—the genre would have never died. Indeed the tome by Spencer series scribe Robert P. Barker is given an honorable oater polish, remaining true to the tenets of the archetypes without missing the main themes of the story. While festival takes have been lukewarm, the acceptance of last year’s 3:10 To Yuma suggests a much sunnier audience approval.
John Cusack, Steve Buscemi, John Cleese, Eddie Izzard, Molly Shannon
(Weinstein Company; US theatrical: 19 Sep 2008 (General release); UK theatrical: 17 Oct 2008 (General release); 2008)
It’s surprising that more CGI cartoons don’t deal with the supernatural and things that go goose-bumps in the night. Now, the French company that helped create the Disney Channel’s Rolie Polie Olie has revived the famed mad scientist sidekick character for a family friendly turn about competition and being true to yourself. Revolving around the annual Evil Scientist Contest, our title hero hopes to show his peers that he is more than just a stock subordinate.
Keira Knightley, Ralph Fiennes, Hayley Atwell, Charlotte Rampling, Dominic Cooper, Aidan McArdle, Emily Jewell
(Paramount Vantage; US theatrical: 19 Sep 2008 (Limited release); UK theatrical: 5 Sep 2008 (General release); 2008)
Kiera Knightley and her infamously famished physique are on hand in this perfunctory period piece about the scandalous British royal Georgina Cavendish. Relative filmmaking novice Saul Dibb took over for Things We Lost in the Fire helmer Susanne Bier, resulting in some minor tension during preproduction. However, Knightley has since defended the film, suggesting that any hard feelings have been swept away by a fine finished product.
My Best Friend’s Girl
Jason Biggs, Kate Hudson, Dane Cook, Alec Baldwin, Lizzy Caplan
(Lionsgate; US theatrical: 19 Sep 2008; 2008)
My Best Friend’s Girl
Why on Earth does someone still demand that (un)funny man Dane Cook maintain an acting career? Several thousand MySpace friends do not a thespian make. Heck, by his track record as an onscreen humorist, he’s barely a comedian. Here, he’s the buddy of Jason Biggs, forced to take his pal’s ex (Kate Hudson) out to prove what a catch his friend really was. Sure sounds stupid.
Battle in Seattle
Martin Henderson, Michelle Rodriguez, Woody Harrelson, Charlize Theron, André Benjamin, Rade Serbedzija, Connie Nielsen, Ray Liotta
(Redwood Palms Pictures; US theatrical: 19 Sep 2008 (Limited release); 2007)
Battle in Seattle
The 1999 Ministerial Conference for the World Trade Organization wasn’t supposed to be so controversial. What the international association failed to understand was that anti-globalization movements were preparing for months to protest the talks. The scale of the event dwarfed even the radicals’ expectations, and now actor Stuart Townsend has made a movie based on that profound clash of ideologies. Heavily pushed by production company Redwood Palms, this could be one of the Fall’s first sleepers.
Miracle at St. Anna
Laz Alonso, Derek Luke, Michael Ealy, Omar Benson Miller, Matteo Sciabordi, Valentina Cervi, Pierfrancesco Favino, John Turturro, John Leguizamo
(Touchstone Films; US theatrical: 26 Sep 2008 (General release); 2008)
Miracle at St. Anna
Spike Lee has been very vocal as of late when it comes to depictions of World War II on film. Taking Clint Eastwood to task for not featuring black Marines in either Flag of Our Fathers or Letters from Iwo Jima, he decided to adapt James McBride’s novel about African American soldiers trapped in a small Italian town during the height of the fighting. Though the target of his attacks has since hit back (suggesting that claims of historical inaccuracy were bogus), Lee has found himself stuck in his own minor controversy. Some survivors of the historical Sant’Anna di Stazzema atrocity have called for the film to be banned, suggesting Lee took his own liberties with the truth as well.
Shia LaBeouf, Michelle Monaghan, Rosario Dawson, Billy Bob Thornton, Michael Chiklis, Anthony Mackie
(DreamWorks; US theatrical: 26 Sep 2008 (General release); UK theatrical: 17 Oct 2008 (General release); 2008)
It was D.J. Caruso who gave current young movie poster boy Shia LeBouf his first major motion picture legitimacy. While the future Mutt Jones did have Holes in his resume, it was the post-modern Hitchcock riffs of Rear Window wannabe Disturbia that delivered the actor to greater casting clout. Add in his work in Michael Bay’s goofball Transformers and you’ve got some pretty solid bankability. Now the director is back with LeBouf in tow, taking on the story of a kid and his mother framed as terrorists. With a story suggested by none other than Stephen Spielberg himself, and Caruso’s growing cred, this could be one of the Season’s biggest non-popcorn blockbusters.