Just as the leaves on the trees start to change their colors, the tone and temperament of the movies being offered change radically between summer and fall.
Just as the leaves on the trees start to change their colors, the tone and temperament of the movies being offered change radically between summer and fall. Where just one month ago we were celebrating serpents on a 747, now we're investigating the death of TV's first Superman. The supposed suicide of actor George Reeves has long been a Tinsel Town legend, with rumors of adultery and a startling status as a 'kept' man scandalizing his typecast superhero image. Ben Affleck, no stranger to the taint of the tabloids, certainly looks the part in the previews for Hollywoodland (8 September) and with Oscar winner Adrian Brody and Diane Lane along for the ride, this looks far more serious than sensational. The same can be said for another infamous LaLa Land crime. When supposed starlet Elizabeth Short was found dead in a Los Angeles field, the manner of her murder caused an undeniable uproar. Sliced in half, body missing most of its organs, and with a gruesome grin carved into her face, the unsolved case became a mythic metaphor for every starry eyed wannabe who seeks their fortune -- and fate -- in film. With James Ellory providing the plot, and Brian DePalma looking through the lens, the true crime saga of The Black Dahlia (15 September) looks like a slick, salacious thriller.
The Black Dahlia -- Trailer
A far more recent divisive death is also at the center of Stephen Frears meditation on the loss of Princess Diana, and the reaction from Buckingham Palace and The Queen (30 September) Helen Mirren, as Her Majesty, is already drawing major award buzz for her faultless performance, but many have also recognized Frears for taking on such a tenuous subject. Without any insider information, the director, along with writer/collaborator Peter Morgan, hope to capture the overbearing grief of a nation numbed, mirroring the disconnected façade of its longtime, seemingly lost Monarch. Such a vacuum, either emotionally or morally, that absolute power creates is also at the center of September's large scale retelling of Robert Penn Warren's political allegory All The King's Men (22 September). With Sean Penn delivering his standard bravura performance (in a role that won Broderick Crawford an Academy Award) and Jude Law, Kate Winslet and James Gandolfini filling out the cast, this Steven Zallian production has been sitting on the shelf for quite a while. However, this may be one of the rare cases when such a situation actually bodes well for a film. There is an epic quality on display in the trailer, one that surely must translate to the film itself.
All the King's Men -- Trailer
That just leave September's best bet, and it too has a preview that promises big, big things. Over the course of the last couple of years, French filmmaker Michel Gondry has become the king of comedic quirk, translating two of arcane scribe Charlie Kaufman's more inventive scripts -- 2001's Human Nature and 2004's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind -- into amazing flights of fancy. Now, working from his own story, he gives us The Science of Sleep (22 September), and with it, provides international idol Gael García Bernal his best shot at mainstream Western superstardom. This unusual little fable, about a man who can't tell the difference between dreams and reality, features inventive cinematic cues so clever that they, initially, look completely illogical. But just as he proved previously, Gondry is a sly filmmaker. If he can't find a way to make Sleep soar, no one can.
The Science of Sleep -- Trailer
Though it's rather unfair to consider these films as second tier entries for the fall, there is just something about each and every one that strikes a filmgoer as potentially problematic. Jon Herder was hilarious in Napoleon Dynamite. He was adequate in the otherwise awful Benchwarmers. Whether or not School for Scoundrels (29 September) will be his third time charm or final career coffin nail waits to be seen. But this update of a 1960's British comedy seems rather average, especially with Billy Bob Thornton along as the mentor/competitor of Herder's numbskull nebbish. The same can be said about a behind the scenes peak at Idi Amin's reign of terror. The subject sounds like it would make for a perfectly provocative film, especially with the amazing Forrest Whittaker in the lead. But The Last King of Scotland (29 September) seems more interested in the young doctor corralled into the tyrant's clan of confidants, than any of the atrocities perpetrated, or the man responsible. Offering up its own artistic confusion, the animated French film Renaissance (22 September) purposefully plays like a Parisian version of Sin City. As such, it creates a situation that is equally evasive. Are we supposed to admire it as a hearty homage, or take it on its own slick style over substance terms? Either way, the outcome is iffy.
Renaissance -- Trailer
Elsewhere, Jet Li promised that Fearless (22 September) will be the last film to focus exclusively on his martial arts abilities. As a result, this could be a no holds barred swansong, or a great deal of pre-publicity bluster over a less than exciting extravaganza. Still, Lee has an artist ace up his sleeve -- longtime Hong Kong (and now Hollywood) heavy Ronny Yu is helming this epic, and if the trailer is any indication, his expert directorial eye provides a nice bit of period pomp. Still, one can't help feel like they're watching outtakes from a Chuck Norris/Jean Claude Van Damme/Jackie Chan vehicle, at least during a couple of the signature set pieces. Speaking of something potentially past its prime, Jackass Two (22 September) promises to deliver another death defying dose of scatological stunt comedy for those not yet sick of seeing varying levels of pseudo-slacker abusing their bodies for the sake of a snicker. Though the preview sight of Bam Margera's miscreant Uncle Don Vito waiting to have his tooth pulled via a string tied -- to a speeding truck -- offers up its own Must-See moment, this still feels like one trip to the toilet humor trough too many.
Jackass Two -- Trailer
Gridiron Gang (15 September) welcomes one time wunderkind Phil Joanou back into the filmic fold. Sadly, this felons as footballers narrative may be the wrong movie to mark his comeback. While Roland Emmerich was freezing the world with his daffy Day After Tomorrow, partner Dean Devlin was shoring up independent financing to produce the World War I aviation adventure Flyboys (22 September). Between the two, here's betting on Emmerich to hold onto the title of 'World's Most Unlikely Blockbuster Maker'. Of course, CGI continues to be the fallback position of most family fare these days, and two new September entries promise nothing but more of the genre's stalwarts -- stunt casting, pop culture cracks and anthropomorphic beings. In the case of Everyone's Hero (15 September), the story centers on a young man's journey to return a baseball and bat connected to Babe Ruth. Of course, the athletic equipment talks, complete with the talents of Rob Reiner and Whoopi Goldberg. In Open Season (29 September), animals in the wild decide to defend themselves against the annual onslaught of everyone's favorite kiddie film villain -- the evil hunter (or in this case, hunters). Providing the various voice-overs are Ashton Kutcher, Martin Lawrence and Billy Connolly.
Open Season -- Trailer
While it's already tanking at the box office, it definitely bears repeating -- The Wicker Man (1 September) remake is as wooden and hollow as the title terror. Why smart indie filmmaker Neil LaBute would chose to take on this cult classic is mystifying. Even with more of a pro-female angle, there was no need to reimagine this already nimble UK fave. Apparently, some studio types can't leave well enough alone. And finally, what month would be complete without a comedy that finds its humor in drunken slovenliness and tacky gross out humor. While Beer League (15 September) supposedly has a plot -- something about a softball team and a big game... blah, blah, blah -- the draw here will be Howard Stern sidekick and former Mad TV vet Artie Lange. Artie Lange. That's all you need to know.
Beer League -- Trailer