186361-186361-the-popmatters-fall-preview-october-2014

The PopMatters Fall Film Preview: October 2014

Awards season starts in earnest with several titles vying for a place among the best of's and critic's choices. We'll get a few scares, shocks, and laughs out of these films.

Awards season starts in earnest with several titles vying for a place among the Best of’s and critic’s choices. We’ll get a few scares, shocks, and laughs out of these films.

 

Director: Jason Reitman

Film: Men, Women, and Children

Cast: Rosemarie DeWitt, Jennifer Garner, Judy Greer, Dean Norris, Adam Sandler, Ansel Elgort, Kaitlyn Dever

MPAA rating: R

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1 October
Men, Women, and Children After starting off like a sensation (Thank You for Smoking, Juno, Up in the Air), Jason Reitman has come crashing back down to Earth. The once celebrated director has seen efforts like Young Adult (terrific) and Labor Day (awful) tank at the box office. So this adaptation of Chad Kultgen’s disconnected culture cautionary tale could be a make or break effort for the upstart. Even with the presence of Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love mode (always a novelty), this seems like an act of oddball desperation. So far, reviews have been decidedly mixed. At least the message about technology taking over our lives is contemporary and relevant.

 

Director: David Fincher

Film: Gone Girl

Cast: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Carrie Coon

MPAA rating: R

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3 October
Gone Girl David Fincher is a genius. He’s the very definition of auteur. While he’s only managed to make ten films in the last 20 years, almost all of them have been masterworks. So his adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s bestseller instantly becomes one of this Fall’s most buzzed about and highly anticipated efforts. Hiring Ben Affleck pre-Superman v. Batman was also a nice bit of marketing happenstance. Still, Fincher can be a hard sell among both your average filmgoers and cinephiles. His films are rarely hits (Se7en and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button being the exceptions), only to do well later as creative classics.

 

Director: Philippe Falardeau

Film: The Good Lie

Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Corey Stoll, Sarah Baker

MPAA rating: PG-13

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3 October
The Good Lie Usually, a movie about a Caucasian woman helping a bunch of African refugees as they escape the Hell of their homeland and resettle in America would stink of the cinematic subgenre known as the “White Messiah”. In this case, however, director Philippe Falardeau decides to focus on the minorities, resulting in a manipulative, feel-good drama that’s more realistic and authentic than one imagines was originally intended. Reese Witherspoon’s spunky employment advocate doesn’t show up until partway through the story, and she takes a back seat to the fish out of water trials and tribulations of the main characters. The result is refreshing.

 

Director: John R. Leonetti

Film: Annabelle

Cast: Annabelle Wallis, Ward Horton, Alfre Woodard

MPAA rating: R

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3 October
Annabelle James Wan took the story of Ed and Lorraine Warren (most famous for The Amityville Horror investigation), their investigation of a family in Rhode Island, and turned it into the $318 million megahit, The Conjuring. Naturally, studio suits wanted more, More, MORE, so we have this prequel/sequel centering on a minor object from the first film. Indeed, the Annabelle doll is given her own origin story here, but what could have been another joyous cinematic dark ride turns instead into a series of jumps and jolts followed by long patches of predictable paranormal preposterousness. Without Wan behind the lens, it just doesn’t work.

 

Director: Vic Armstrong

Film: Left Behind

Cast: Nicolas Cage, Cassi Thomson, Chad Michael Murray, Nicky Whelan, Jordin Sparks, Lance E. Nichols, Martin Klebba, William Ragsdale, Lea Thompson

MPAA rating: PG

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3 October
Left Behind Anyone looking for scope and spectacle at their end of the world scenario need look no further than The Bible and its Revelations/Rapture to provide the necessary epic ingredients. Still, filmmakers are often flummoxed on how to get the faith-based material past a mainstream audience. Michael Tolkin succeeded back in 1991 with The Rapture. Alas, this sappy adaptation of the first installments of the 16 part Christian cautionary tale from authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins does not. Instead of going all fire and brimstone, we get Irwin Allen as interpreted by Jim and Tammy Faye Baker. Not even the presence of overacting guru Nicolas Cage can enliven this addled apocalypse.

 

Director: Alberto Arvelo

Film: The Liberator

Cast: Édgar Ramírez, María Valverde, Juana Acosta, Danny Huston, Erich Wildpret, Alejandro Furth

MPAA rating: R

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3 October
The Liberator Many probably don’t remember their history lesson about Simon Bolivar. During the first part of the 19th century, however, he was instrumental in helping his native South American’s break free from the Spanish empire. Venezuela has tapped this epic to be its entry for the Best Foreign Language film award at this year’s Oscars, and according to those who’ve seen it, it has all the earmarks of a winner. Others have complained that Bolivar’s story is too complicated to be captured in a single film. This is for the selective arthouse audiences and those interested in previously unexplored world history.

 

Director: Brian Trenchard-Smith

Film: Drive Hard

Cast: John Cusack, Thomas Jane

MPAA rating: R

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3 October
Drive Hard We’ve had Drive, Drive Angry, Learning to Drive, and Drive-Ins, and now we’ve got a former Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle reconfigured for the talents of Thomas Jane and John Cusack (how that works is Hollywood’s own private mystery). The former plays an ex-race car ace turned driving instructor. The latter is a daring criminal who kidnaps his co-star to help with his high speed getaway. Set along Australia’s Gold Coast, the latest from Brian Trenchard-Smith (BMX Bandits, Leprechaun 4: In Space) has direct to DVD written all over it. In the parlance of 2014, that means a limited release and a date with VOD.

10 October

Director: David Dobkin

Film: The Judge

Cast: Robert Downey, Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong, Dax Shepard, Billy Bob Thornton

MPAA rating: PG-13

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10 October
The Judge

After 2008’s Iron Man resurrected Robert Downey Jr.’s career fortunes, the Oscar-nominated actor has jumpstarted another franchise (Sherlock Holmes), while limiting his appearances to a couple of comedies (Tropic Thunder, Due Date) and a weepy drama (The Soloist). Apparently, this overwrought potboiler pales in comparison to his comic book counterparts. Indeed, even with Academy Award winners Billy Bob Thornton and Robert Duvall as co-stars, this sudsy soap opera stinks. Given director David Dobkin’s track record (Wedding Crashers being one of the few highlights among his less than impressive oeuvre) that’s no big surprise. What’s shocking is that Downey has done so little, post-Tony Stark.

 

Director: Miguel Arteta

Film: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Cast: Steve Carell, Jennifer Garner, Ed Oxenbould

MPAA rating: PG

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10 October
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day The story seems simple enough. Our title character has the equally titular 24 hour cycle, with his harried family joining in toward the end. Apparently, we are treated to a nonstop series of struggles, with slapstick and other physical shtick the end result. Disney is really pushing this film, an adaptation of Judith Viorst’s 1972 kids classic. Clearly, it believes it has an old fashioned feel good comedy on it hands. The cast, including Steve Carrell and Jennifer Garner, is first rate and the trailer offers some significant laughs. Still, keeping up this level of chaos for 90 minutes is not easy. It’s the downtime that will determine Alexander’s and his film’s, fate.

 

Director: Gary Shore

Film: Dracula Untold

Cast: Luke Evans, Sarah Gadon, Dominic Cooper, Samantha Barks, Charles Dance,

MPAA rating: PG-13

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10 October
Dracula Untold Universal has decided to go all Marvel on its monsters. Translated for the non-geek, this means that the studio currently sitting on horror icons like Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Wolfman is looking for a way to reboot these creepshow classics while building an entire cinematic universe, Avengers‘ style. Thus, we have this entry into said attempt, a weird retelling of the traditional Vlad the Impaler legend featuring our title neckbiter as a pre-vampire family man struggling to battle against a brazen dictator. Naturally, he gets some help from a secret supernatural force, resulting in lots of 300-like battles with bats. Or something like that.

 

Director: Bille Woodruff

Film: Addicted

Cast: Sharon Leal, Kat Graham, Boris Kodjoe, William Levy, Tasha Smith, Maria Howell, Tyson Beckford

MPAA rating: R

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10 October
AddictedThis is based on an erotic novel by one-named wonder Zane (Kristina Laferne Roberts). It plays with the idea of idyllic marriages and secret sexual desires. Does this movie really have anything to add to the cultural conversation? Zane’s singular moniker is a bit of a brand, so that may be the draw. Maybe there is an audience for something like this.

 

Director: Damien Chazelle

Film: Whiplash

Cast: Miles Teller, J. K. Simmons, Melissa Benoist, Austin Stowell, Jayson Blair, Kavita Patil

MPAA rating: R

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10 October
WhiplashIn 2012, the script was publicized as part of the notorious Hollywood Black List (for best unproduced screenplays). Then writer/director Damien Chazelle took 15 pages and turned it into a short. After much acclaim, the whole movie was made. Now, critics are crowing over Miles Teller (as a talented drummer) and J.K. Simmons (as a hard as nails jazz instructor) in what many consider a dark horse awards season candidate. The performances alone have received such high praise that it’s hard to imagine the film itself living up to such hype. The early reviews say it does, decisively.

 

Director: Michael Cuesta

Film: Kill the Messenger

Cast: Jeremy Renner, Ray Liotta, Barry Pepper, Michael Sheen, Andy Garcia, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rosemarie DeWitt

MPAA rating: R

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10 October
Kill the MessengerIn the mid-’90s, investigative journalist Gary Webb stumbled upon the story of the century. Apparently, in a bid to destabilize Nicaragua and aid the rebels there, the CIA became involved in a plot to smuggle cocaine into the US, using the proceeds to fund the revolt. After threats not to do so, he exposed the scam, subsequently putting himself and his family, in jeopardy. Now Jeremy Renner takes on the role of Webb in this intriguing thriller from director Michael Cuesta (L.I.E. , Showtime’s Homeland). The premise sounds sufficiently compelling. Here’s hoping the follow-through is equally engaging.

 

Director: Tommy Wirkola

Film: Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead

Cast: Vegar Hoel, Amrita Acharia, Charlotte Frogner, Ingrid Haas, Jocelyn DeBoer, Stig Frode Henriksen, Daniel Berge Halvorsen, Ingar Helge Gimle, Orjan Gamst

MPAA rating: R

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10 October
Red Snow 2: Red vs. DeadNazi zombies… or is it zombie Nazis? Whatever the descriptive phraseology, director Tommy Wirkola is back from the harrowing Hollywood tentpole trauma (he helmed the oddball fairytale revision, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters) to return to his horror roots. Those swastika wearing members of the walking dead are indeed back, picking right up where the last film left off. Expect more blood, gore, and goofy horror homages and references. We even get some reanimated Soviet corpses to help halt this undead uprising. If it all sounds surreal and a bit silly, so be it. Wirkola can make it work. He did before.

17 October

Director: David Ayer

Film: Fury

Cast: Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Michael Peña, Jon Bernthal, Jason Issacs, Scott Eastwood

MPAA rating: R

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17 October
Fury

Brad Pitt is back in World War II, except this time, it’s not Quentin Tarantino’s wacky revisionist version of the global conflict. Instead, David Ayer leaves the gritty streets of LA for the European theater during the last month of the Axis/Allies struggle. There, a tank commander named Wardaddy (Pitt) must train a new crew member for a deadly mission behind enemy (Nazi Germany) lines. As a filmmaker, Ayer is just average. He’s a great writer (Training Day, U-571) but his work behind the lens has been less than spectacular. Sadly, to pull something off like this, he has to be more than workmanlike. Maybe his cast can compensate.

 

Director: Michael Hoffman

Film: The Best of Me

Cast: James Marsden, Michelle Monaghan Gerald McRaney

MPAA rating: R

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17 October
The Best of MeIf you’re like us, you’re probably wondering if the wave of Nicholas Spark’s adaptations has subsided. It seemed like, for a while there, every other month saw the release of an adaptation of one of his weepers. To date, there have been eight, with this being number nine (and there are two more, at least, on the horizon). That just leaves another seven left to explore. This time around, high school sweethearts try to rekindle their romance years later. Sadly, his past and her present appear to get in the way. Cue the waterworks. As a brand, Sparks continues to baffle.

 

Director: Jorge Gutierrez

Film: The Book of Life

Cast: Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana, Channing Tatum, Cheech Marin, Ron Pearlman, Christina Applegate, Ice Cube

MPAA rating: PG

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17 October
The Book of LifeGuillermo Del Toro is perhaps more famous for the movies he hasn’t made than the ones he has. For every Pacific Rim there’s an In the Mountains of Madness, for every Crimson Peak, The Hobbit. On the plus side, however, his respected name helps the work of artists he endorses. Take this 3D CG family film from animation upstart Jorge Gutierrez. Thanks to his past work, and passion for the project, he received Del Toro’s blessing, and a big check from 20th Century Fox. The unusual look of the movie, inspired by the Mexican Day of the Dead celebration, is reason enough to rejoice.

 

Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

Film: The Town that Dreaded Sundown

Cast: Addison Timlin, Ed Lauter, Veronica Cartwright, Travis Tope

MPAA rating: R

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17 October
The Town that Dreaded SundownHere’s an unusual idea for a remake. Instead of going back and trying to recapture the mock-documentary feel of Charles B. Pierce’s 1976 original, the new filmmakers, director Alonso Gomez-Rejon, writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, and producers Ryan Murphy and Jason Blum (of American Horror Story and Insidious fame, respectively), decided to treat the first film as a set-up for a pseudo sequel employing similar themes and techniques. The result is not so much a revamp as a commentary on what Pierce was saying about small town tragedy and the ugly underneath. Still, it can’t be as iconic as its almost 40 year old predecessor.

 

Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu

Film: Birdman

Cast: Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts

MPAA rating: R

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17 October
BirdmanOne of the Fall’s biggest titles, this “single take” comedy from Alejandro González Iñárritu (more on the parenthetical in a minute) sees the Babel / 21 Grams helmer heading in a new direction. While the idea of doing the entire film without edits is actually just a ruse (F/X are used to maintain the gimmick), watching Michael Keaton go meta on his previous superhero persona, and subsequent career downfall, couldn’t be more satisfying. It’s a tour de force performance, made even more effective by the cast Inarritu surrounds him with (Edward Norton, Zach Galifianakis, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts) and the filmmaker’s decided gifts.

 

Director: William H. Macy

Film: Rudderless

Cast: Billy Crudup, Felicity Huffman, Anton Yelchin, Selena Gomez, Laurence Fishburne

MPAA rating: R

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17 October
RudderlessActor William H. Macy steps behind the lens to direct his feature film debut, with a story centering on a hot shot ad executive who slips into depression after his son dies. Digging into his child’s belongings, he finds a demo tape and a series of songs. As a way of managing his grief, he begins to play the material in public, earning the interest of another young man. Soon, they are teamed up and touring. The trailer has all the earmarks of a future Spirit Awards sweep, though seeing Billy Crudup, guitar in hand, brings back misty eyed memories of his turn in Almost Famous.

 

Director: Gerard Johnstone

Film: Housebound

Cast: Morgana O’Reilly, Rima Te Wiata, Glen-Paul Waru

MPAA rating: R

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17 October
HouseboundLooking for an unusual horror movie this Halloween? How about an offering from New Zealand that messes with the haunted house concept? This feature debut from writer/director Gerard Johnstone centers on a young girl named Kylie who is forced to move back in with her mother after being placed on house arrest for an attempted bank robbery. While there, she learns that her parent believes the place is possessed, and she may be right. A hit at SXSW, where it was considered “a breath of fresh air”, this could be the seasonal sleeper an otherwise underwhelming All Hallow’s Eve requires.

24 October

Director: Stiles White

Film: Ouija

Cast: Daren Kagasoff, Ana Coto, Bianca A. Santos, Erin Moriarty, Douglas Smith, Olivia Cooke, Vivis Colombetti, Shelley Hennig

MPAA rating: R

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24 October
Ouija

The haunted object genre has already seen at least one entry this year (the macabre mirror of Oculus) and the title item has already been the subject of two previous fright flicks, circa 2003 and 2007 (along with numerous other bit parts in numerous scary movies). When a friend dies, his pals break out the board game and try to communicate with him from beyond the grave. Naturally, they unleash some kind of horrific evil instead. Produced under Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes label and given the Hasboro seal of approval (it owns the rights to the noted planchette) this has minor macabre written all over it.

 

Director: Theodore Melfi

Film: St. Vincent

Cast: Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Chris O’Dowd, Scott Adsit, Naomi Watts

MPAA rating: R

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24 October
St. VincentBill Murray is a crusty curmudgeon who takes on the care and nurturing of an undersized neighbor boy. What is this, Rushmore Lite? No, it’s actually a small indie effort from first time feature filmmaker Theodore Melfi. Runner-up for the People’s Choice Award at this year’s Toronto Film Festival, critics are decreeing that this is one of Murray’s best roles in years. Is it more like Groundhog Day than, well, Hyde Park on the Hudson? Or Passion Play? Anyway, Melissa McCarthy is along for the ride, as are Terence Howard, Naomi Watts, and Chris O’Dowd. This has multiple viewings via The Sundance Channel written all over it.

 

Director: David Leitch, Chad Stahelski

Film: John Wick

Cast: Keanu Reeves, Alfie Allen, Michael Nyqvist, Bridget Moynahan, Willem Dafoe, Jason Isaacs, Dean Winters, Ian McShane

MPAA rating: R

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24 October
John WickKeanu Reeves is back, and doing what made him a superstar in the process: kicking ass and taking names. Here, he plays a retired hitman who gets caught up in a previous vendetta. When goons break into his home and destroy everything he loves, including his dog, our hero breaks through a foot of concrete, retrieves the arsenal he has buried underneath, and starts getting payback. There’s a real Shoot ‘Em Up vibe, with Reeves revisiting his Matrix franchise persona (action hero) in a stylized example of over the top violence from first time filmmakers David Leitch and Chad Stahelski.

 

Director: Dylan Baker

Film: 23 Blast

Cast: Mark Hapka, Bram Hoover, Stephen Lang, Max Adler, Alexa PenaVega, Baker, Kim Zimmer, Becky Ann Baker

MPAA rating: PG-13

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24 October
23 BlastTalented character actor Dylan Baker (Happiness, Spider-Man 3), tackles the true life story of Travis Freeman, a high school football player suddenly stricken with total blindness. Thanks to the love of his family (including Baker as his dad) and his friends, he learns to cope with his new reality and, believe it or not, return to the sport he loves. Of course, there’s the standard trials and tribulations, but hopefully Baker can bring something fresh to the narrative. It has the endorsement of the Heartland Film, an organization with a faith-based agenda (where it won top prize at the Heartland 2013 festival).

 

Director: Gregg Araki

Film: White Bird in the Blizzard

Cast: Shailene Woodley, Eva Green, Christopher Meloni, Shiloh Fernandez, Gabourey Sidibe, Thomas Jane

MPAA rating: R

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24 October
White Bird in a BlizzardThe influx of YA titles, especially those centering around death and grief, have given way to what seems like a new wave of trying tearjerkers. First The Fault in Our Stars, then If I Stay, and now this, an adaptation of Laura Kasischke’s work. Featuring post-adolescent of the moment Shailene Woodley as a teen who mysteriously loses her mother and doesn’t really care about it, there’s a whole lot of secrets and subtext to the novel. Luckily, New Queer Cinema stalwart Gregg Araki (The Doom Generation, Mysterious Skin) is on board, meaning we may get something more than your standard storytelling. Something as familiar as this needs it.

 

Director: Ruben Östlund

Film: Force Majeure

Cast: Kristofer Hivju, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Johannes Kuhnke, Clara Wettergren, Vincent Wettergren

MPAA rating: R

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24 October
Force MajeureThis won the Jury Prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and received raves from all who’ve seen it. The concept behind the comedy drama is indeed unique. A father on vacation with his family in the Swiss Alps responds to a disaster in the least patriarchal way possible. The fallout from his actions leaves the rest of his clan wondering just who this man they call Father/Husband really is. The trailer is terrific, doing a bang-up job of setting the stage and hinting at the possible follow through. The reaction from Cannes bodes well for its commercial chances.

31 October

Director: Dan Gilroy

Film: Nightcrawler

Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed, Bill Paxton

MPAA rating: R

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31 October
Nightcrawler

First his brother Tony Gilroy made his mark on the movies with his work as both a writer (the Bourne franchise) and a director (Michael Clayton). Now, younger brother Dan is doing the same, parlaying his work behind the laptop (Freejack, Two for the Money) into this highly buzzed about crime thriller starring Jake Gyllenhaal. As a matter of fact, many who’ve seen this on the festival circuit are saying that it’s the best work the actor has ever done… and the movie is no slouch, either. The premise revolves around underground freelance crime journalism, and rumor has it that Gyllenhaal is gonzo here.

 

Director: Alexandre Aja

Film: Horns

Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Juno Temple, James Remar, Heather Graham

MPAA rating: R

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31 October
HornsDaniel Radcliffe continues his post-Harry Potter reinvention, this time teaming up with French frightmaster Alexandre Aja for an adaptation of Joe Hill’s (son of Stephen King) fanciful supernatural allegory. Waking up after a night of drunken debauchery, Ignatius “Ig” Parish discovers two protrusions growing from his head. A year before, he was accused (but never formally charged) with the rape and murder of his girlfriend. Suddenly, his newfound “horns” give him the ability to control people’s inhibitions. He uses this new skill to solve the previous crime. Sounds promising, and perfect for a fine young actor hoping to escape a certain stereotyping.

 

Director: Rowan Joffé

Film: Before I Go to Sleep

Cast: Nicole Kidman, Mark Strong, Colin Firth, Anne-Marie Duff

MPAA rating: R

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31 October
Before I Go to SleepRowan Joffe, son of The Killing Field‘s Roland, has had quite the career as a writer. When he stepped behind the camera to direct, however, his impact was muted. Now, he’s taking on a high profile project, the adaptation of S.J. Watson’s bestseller, featuring Oscar winners Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman in the lead. The story centers on a woman with anterograde amnesia, meaning she wakes up every morning not remembering who she is or anything about her life. She is a less than reliable narrator of her own perplexing past. The book is considered a sensation. Hopefully, the film will be, as well.

 

Director: Various

Film: The ABCs of Death 2

Cast: Martina Garcia, Laurence R. Harvey, Tristin Risk, Ian Virgo

MPAA rating: R

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31 October
The ABCs of Death 2The original horror anthology had a very simple premise: find 26 genre directors and give them a chance to showcase their scary movie mannerisms via a letter in the alphabet (I bet “Q” had a hard time). The end result was so well received that we have the mandatory sequel. While the short film gets little love among mainstream movie fans, the omnibus approach has been one that’s really work in the realm of fear factors. While fright flicks are still not given the kind of creative respect they deserve, efforts like this (and the equally intriguing V/H/S) proves the subgenre is still vital.

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