News Column

Oscar dreams, Halloween screams

September 6, 2013

YellowBrix

Seasoned film fans already know what's headed our way once the leaves start to fall and the night winds turn crisp.

Oscar dreams and Halloween screams.

Fall signals the arrival of serious movies competing for year- end awards. Autumn also provides fertile ground for annual cinematic scare fests testing our nerves.

This season's horror/thriller crop includes "risk adverse" remakes ("Carrie," "Argento's Dracula"), sequels and rereleases ("Insidious Chapter 2," "Wicker Man: The Final Cut") and an eerie mix of promising new arrivals.

The season's big commercial juggernaut, "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire," looms on the November horizon. But the one movie I really want to see is "Escape From Tomorrow," a low-budget thriller secretly shot at Disneyland and Disney World by a daring, guerrilla filmmaker.

Here, dear Daily Herald readers, is our 34th annual fall movie preview, listing releases up through Nov. 22.

Keep in mind that release dates have a tendency to move around like the bullet holes on Ethan Hawke's sports car in "Getaway."

Sept. 13

"The Family" -- Luc Besson's dark action comedy is about a Mafia boss and his family who struggle to quit the old ways after they're relocated to a sleepy French town as part of the U.S. Witness Protection Program. Tommy Lee Jones plays the agent trying to manage Robert De Niro's clan, including Michelle Pfeiffer, Dianna Agron and John D'Leo.

"Insidious: Chapter 2" -- Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne return for more supernatural bumps in the night (and on the head) in the James Wan and Leigh Whannell sequel to the basic, effective horror film.

"Populaire" -- A French version of those Rock Hudson/Doris Day romcoms from the 1950s -- with a little extra oo-la-la. Shy Rose (Deborah Francois) dreams of being a secretary in 1958 Normandy. She's a disaster, but her superfast typing skills prompt her boss (a scowling Romain Duris) to enter her into a world typing championship. (Who woulda thought typing could be a sports film?)

"Salinger" -- Shane Salerno's doc on the reclusive author of "Catcher in the Rye" took nine years to make, six years to shoot. Interviews with his World War II brothers-in-arms, family members, friends, lovers, publishers and more are included with never-before- published photographs, diaries, letters and documents.

"Sample This" -- Dan Forrer's doc about how unknown music producer Michael Viner brought together the greatest studio musicians of the 1970s to create an album that went nowhere. Not until the summer of 1973, when DJ Herc took the percussion breaks from that obscure album and extended them by playing them back to back, inspiring a generation of artists.

"Short Term 12" -- A new arrival (Kaitlyn Dever) at a facility for at-risk teenagers shakes up the place, especially for Grace (Brie Larson), a passionate and tough twenty-something supervisor. Her difficult past comes into play as she must reconcile it with her suddenly volatile present.

Sept. 20

"Battle of the Year" -- The Americans haven't won the Battle of the Year international dance crew tournament for 15 years! Do you think that hip-hop mogul Dante (Laz Alonso) and his friend Blake (Josh Holloway) can assemble a dream team of dancers and break the losing streak? Really? You have to ask?

"The Colony" -- When Colony 7 receives a distress call from a nearby settlement, Sam (Kevin Zegers) and Briggs (Laurence Fishburne) race through the snow on a sci-fi rescue mission. They find a desolate base and something that could mean mankind's salvation or destruction. So, which is it?

"Cutie and the Boxer" -- A "touching meditation on the eternal themes of love and sacrifice" about an 80-year-old "boxing" painter Ushio Shinohara and his wife, Noriko, seeking recognition through her "Cutie" illustrations depicting their chaotic 40-year marriage.

"Generation Iron" -- Mickey Rourke narrates this doc on seven top bodybuilders as they train and compete for the coveted Mr. Olympia title. Appearances by Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lou Ferrigno and Jay Cutler.

"Money for Nothing" -- This doc tackles the Federal Reserve to understand and explain how America's central bank impacts our economy and society.

"+ 1" -- Whoa! This one is freaky. Three college friends go to the biggest party on campus. When a weird power outage happens, they wind up watching earlier versions of themselves re-enact what they were just doing. But what happens when the duplicate friends catch up to the original? Oh! My brain hurts!

"Prisoners" -- A scary take on the vigilante movie. Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman), distraught that his 6-year-old daughter is missing with a friend, decides to take matters into his own hands by abducting and torturing the driver of a van (Paul Dano) seen in the area. Jake Gyllenhaal plays the cop.

"The Short Game" -- A doc about eight of the best 7-year-old golfers competing in the World Championships of Junior Golf.

"A Single Shot" -- David Rosenthal's neo-noir, backwoods thriller starts with a single shot intended for a deer, but it kills a woman. The hunter (a nearly unrecognizable Sam Rockwell) takes a box of money he finds next to her that actually belongs to some really possessive criminals. The rest is a quietly suspenseful drama that slowly ratchets up the tension. With the great William H. Macy as a seedy attorney with a bad toupee.

"Thanks for Sharing" -- Mark Ruffalo goes for broke with a brave, Oscar-level performance as a man struggling with sex addiction. Tim Robbins plays his sponsor, a beloved family man with demons of his own. Josh Gad plays our funnybones and heartstrings as a wisecracking emergency-room doctor with addiction issues. Gwyneth Paltrow and Pink co-star.

"Wadjda" -- Haifaa Al Mansour's drama celebrates achievement through adversity in this story of Wadjda, a 10-year-old girl in Saudi Arabia. She desperately wants a green bicycle and sets out to obtain one, despite that her world views bicycles as dangerous to a girl's virtue.

Sept. 27

"Baggage Claim" -- Flight attendant Montana Moore (Paula Patton) has 30 days to find Mr. Right if she's to be engaged before her youngest sister's wedding. Using her airline connections to "accidentally" meet ex-boyfriends and new candidates, she racks up more than 30,000 miles in her quest for the perfect guy.

"Blue Caprice" -- The notorious Beltway sniper attacks are the subject of this fact-based drama, taken from the point of view of the two perpetrators, whose father-son relationship propelled them into a horrific chapter in American crime stories. Isaiah Washington and Tequan Richmond star.

"Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2" -- Flint (Bill Hader) discovers that his invention (capable of changing water into food) creates food-animal hybrids called "foodimals." Chester (Will Forte) sends Flint and his friends on a dangerous mission battling hungry tacodiles, shrimpanzees, apple pie-thons and double bacon cheespiders to save the world. In 3-D, too.

"Computer Chess" -- Andrew Bujalski's nostalgic drama rewinds the clock to 30 years ago when a weekend tournament for chess software programmers decided to teach a metal box to defeat humans at their own board game, laying the groundwork for

artificial intelligence as we know it today.

"Dark Touch" -- Marina De Van directs a dark, gory tale of torment and death. It's about a girl who survives a bloody massacre caused by the furniture and objects in her family's isolated house taking on a life of their own. Nobody believes her wild stories in therapy sessions. But in time, they do. Starring Marie Missy Keating.

"Don Jon" -- The amazingly talented Joseph Gordon-Levitt writes, directs and stars in this romance. He plays a guy called Don Jon because he can attract a different woman every weekend. But he's also addicted to computer porn ... until he meets Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson), a bright, old-fashioned girl raised on romantic movies and determined to find her Prince Charming.

"Enough Said" -- Love is messy. That's the upshot of this romance between a divorced single parent Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) about to lose her daughter to college and a sweet, funny man (the late James Gandolfini) also facing an empty nest. Catherine Keener plays a poet whose constant rants against her ex-husband to Eva have unintended consequences.

"Face of Love" -- Annette Bening plays a widow still suffering from the loss of her husband five years earlier, until she meets an art teacher (Ed Harris) who could be a (forgive the phrase) "dead ringer" for him. As she attempts to continue her marriage, the teacher delves into her past for clues about what happened. Robin Williams and Amy Brenneman co-star.

"Inequality for All" -- America's middle-class protector Robert Reich -- professor, best-selling author and former Clinton cabinet member -- makes his pitch once again to save the United States from economic devastation by allowing the middle class to disappear.

"Metallica Through the Never" -- This music-driven 3-D concert feature could be surrealistically crazy. During a Metallica concert, roadie Trip (Dane DeHaan) is assigned to pick up a mysterious item for the show, but winds up in a tense standoff between angry protesters and riot police, plus a masked horseman killing rioters and cops alike. Up to 24 cameras capture the action of this desolate, post-apocalyptic urban streetscape, directed by Nimrod "Predators" Antal.

"Rush" -- The glamorous golden age of Formula 1 racing is the subject of this fact-based drama about two of the greatest rivals the world has ever witnessed: handsome English playboy Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and his methodical, brilliant opponent Lauda (Daniel Bruhl).

"You Will Be My Son" -- Wine mogul Paul (Niels Aretrup) has little faith in the ability of his son (Loran Deutsch) to take over the business. Then Paul meets Philip (Nicolas Bridet), the son of his dying estate manager, who appears to be the hardworking, successful son he never had. Can Paul make Philip his heir over his own son?

Oct. 4

"Argento's Dracula" -- We've already had Andy Warhol's Dracula and Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula. Now, Italian horror maestro Dario Argento puts his bloody, stylistic stamp on Bram Stoker's classic vampire tale, this one starring Thomas Kretschmann as the Count and the immortal Rutger Hauer as Dr. Van Helsing.

"Concussion" -- A forty-something married, wealthy, lesbian housewife (Robin Weigert) gets smacked in the head by her son's baseball, then stalks every corner of her suburban life to confront her mounting desire for something different. So she tries being a high-end escort. Secretly, of course. Written and directed by Stacie Passon. Produced by Rose Troche.

"Gravity" -- WOW! Have you seen the trailer? A white-knuckle work of explosive visual power and movement. On a spacewalk, Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and astronaut Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney) get caught in a meteor storm that destroys their shuttle. The two, tethered only to each other, go spiraling into space. And they've lost contact with Earth. So what was your day like today?

"Parkland" -- The title comes from Parkland Hospital in Dallas, where President Kennedy died in 1963. Yes, it's another drama about the assassination, based on the book "Four Days in November" by Vincent Bugliosi. Starring James Badge Dale, Jackie Earle Haley, Colin Hanks, Ron Livingston, Billy Bob Thornton and Jacki Weaver.

"Runner Runner" -- Justin Timberlake plays a university student and online gambler who travels to Costa Rica to confront the man (future Batman Ben Affleck) he believes swindled him of his earnings. Instead, the man brings the student into his shady operations. Things don't go well. Directed by Brad Furman.

Oct. 11

"All the Boys Love Mandy Lane" -- Yeah, to death. A group of high schoolers invites Mandy Lane, "a good girl" and object of everyone's desires, to a weekend party on a secluded ranch. While the festivities rage on, the revelers begin to mysteriously drop one at a time.

"Captain Phillips" -- Tom Hanks stars as the titular character, the captain of the U.S. ship Maersk Alabama, hijacked by Somali pirates in 2009. Directed by Paul Greengrass, who gave us the electrifying "United 93."

"The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete" -- Chicago's own Jennifer Hudson portrays Gloria, a drug addicted single mother who sells her body as a means of survival in Chicago filmmaker George Tillman Jr.'s survival drama co-starring Jeffrey Wright and Jordin Sparks.

"Machete Kills" -- Ex-Federale agent Machete (Danny Trejo) must take down a madman revolutionary and an eccentric billionaire arms dealer. Directed by Robert Rodriguez based on a character from a fake movie trailer in "Grindhouse."

"Romeo and Juliet" -- Here we go again with another interpretation of Shakespeare's epic tale, this one adapted by "Downton Abbey" writer Julian Fellowes and directed by Carlos "Flight of the Innocent" Carlei. Starring Hailee Steinfeld, Douglas Booth, Paul Giamatti and Stellan Skarsgard.

"The Summit" -- In August 2008, 18 mountain climbers reached the top of K2. About 48 hours later, 11 died. Why do athletes risk everything to reach a place humans are not meant to go? With breathtaking cinematography and re-enactments based on the testimony of survivors, director Nick Ryan tells their story in this documentary re-creation.

"We Are What We Are" -- A fateful torrential downpour in the Catskills proves to be a problem for longtime resident Frank (Bill Sage), who's been dabbling in ancient practices that most people might be revolted by. Jim Mickle directs.

Oct. 18

"After Tiller" -- Martha Shane and Lana Wilson co-direct a documentary about Dr. George Tiller, the eighth abortion clinic worker gunned down after the controversial Roe v. Wade decision.

"All is Lost" -- Talk about a man-against-nature story. Robert Redford stars as a sailer on a solo voyage in the Indian Ocean. A shipping container rams his 39-foot yacht. Without navigation equipment and a radio, he must use his smarts, a sextant and nautical maps to reach shipping lanes and hail a passing vessel. Then come the sharks! Directed by J.C. Chandor.

"Carrie" -- Thirty-seven years after Sissy Spacek received an Oscar nomination for playing the telekinetic girl from Stephen King's best-selling novel, Chloe Grace Moretz takes over the role with Julianne Moore as her nut-job mommy. Directed by Kimberly Pierce.

"Escape Plan" -- Wrongly imprisoned Ray Breslin (Sylvester Stallone) recruits fellow inmate Emil Rottmayer (Arnold Schwarzenegger) to devise a daring escape from the most protected and fortified prison ever built. Let's hope this works better than Stallone's "Lockup."

"The Fifth Estate" -- The fact-based drama about WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and his colleague Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Bruhl) who teamed up to become underground watchdogs of the privileged and powerful. They created an online platform that allows whistle-blowers to anonymously leak covert data. What are the costs of keeping secrets in a free society? Just as important: What are the costs of exposing them?

"Haunter" -- Teen Lisa Johnson (Abigail Breslin) and her family died in 1986 under sinister circumstances, but their spirits remain trapped in their house. Lisa, being a compassionate sort of ghost, reaches out from beyond the grave to help another teen girl and her family avoid the same fate.

"12 Years a Slave" -- A powerhouse cast stars in Steve McQueen's fact-based drama about Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a New York state citizen kidnapped and forced to work on a New Orleans plantation during the 1800s. Starring Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sarah Paulson and Paul Giamatti.

Oct. 25

"The Counselor" -- An attorney's involvement with a shady business deal comes back to haunt him in a drama directed by Ridley Scott and written by novelist Cormac McCarthy. Featuring a powerhouse cast with Michael Fassbender, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem and Brad Pitt.

"Escape From Tomorrow" -- Director Randy Moore shot this low- budget thriller guerilla-style in Disneyland and Disney World without the permission or knowledge of Mickey Mouse. It takes place in a world of fake castles and anthropomorphic rodents. Two underage girls challenge the sanity of a newly unemployed father. Reportedly, this is "a creepy, noirish take on the American dream and middle- aged male anxiety."

"Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa" -- Reportedly an "insane" hidden camera road trip featuring an 86-year-old grandpa (Johnny Knoxville) on a journey with his 8-year-old grandson Billy (Jackson Nicoll), plus some male strippers, disgruntled child beauty pageant contestants (and their equally disgruntled mothers), funeral home mourners and biker bar patrons.

"Wicker Man: The Final Cut" -- After 40 years, this movie is being touted as the "definitive" version of Robin Hardy's 1973 cult thriller about a cop, a missing girl and a bunch of freethinking pagan worshippers on a remote Scottish island. Edward Woodward stars as the devoutly Christian cop appalled by the practices he witnesses. Christopher Lee regards his pagan leader role as his finest movie work.

Nov. 1

"Blue is the Warmest Color" -- At 15, Adele (French actress Adele Exarchopoulos) doesn't question it: girls go out with boys. Her life is changed forever when she meets Emma, a young woman with blue hair who will allow her to discover desire and to assert herself as a woman. Adele grows, seeks herself, loses herself, finds herself ...

"Broadway Idiot" -- Doug Hamilton's doc follows Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong as he works with Broadway producers to turn his megahit album, "American Idiot," into a staged Broadway musical.

"Ender's Game" -- Impressive visual effects, judging by the trailers. Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), a shy but brilliant boy, gets recruited by Battle School, training military leaders to fight against aliens who've attacked Earth. Also starring Ben Kingsley and Harrison Ford.

"Free Birds" -- Kudos for a clever premise! Two turkeys from opposite sides of the tracks must put aside their differences and work together. They must travel back in time and get turkey off the Thanksgiving menu. Voices for this animated film by Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson and Amy Poehler.

"Last Vegas" -- Billy, Paddy, Archie and Sam (Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline) are best friends since childhood. When Billy proposes to his thirty-something girlfriend, the quartet heads to Las Vegas to relive the glory days. But wait! Sin City isn't the same place they remember.

"Man of Tai Chi" -- Keanu Reeves stars in and directs this action drama about a young martial artist who competes in an underground fight club to protect his way of life. Legendary martial arts coordinator Yuen Woo Ping supplies the moves.

Nov. 6

"A Case of You" -- A young writer (Justin Long) woos a cute and quirky barista (Evan Rachel Wood) by studying her Facebook profile and making himself into the man of her dreams. When she falls for his alter ego, he must keep up the act or risk losing her.

Nov. 8

"About Time" -- "Groundhog Day" should sue for romantic movie idea infringement. Tim Lake (Domhnall Gleeson) discovers he can travel in time. But get this: Tim can't change history, only what happens in his own life. Isn't that changing history? Anyway, he falls in love with Mary (Rachel McAdams) before a time-travel accident has him meet Mary for the first time over and over again until he finally wins her heart. Or did he just wear down her resistance?

"Contracted" -- A young woman (Najarra Townsend) has a one-night stand with a stranger and contracts what she thinks could be a sexually transmitted disease. It's actually something much worse. From Eric England, who directed the 2011 horror tale "Madison County."

"The Dallas Buyers Club" -- In Jean-Marc Vallee's fact-based drama, Matthew McConaughey portrays Ron Woodroof, a Texas electrician who in 1986 was diagnosed as HIV-positive and given 30 days to live. Seeking to avoid government sanctions against selling nonapproved medicines, he established a "buyers club" for fellow HIV- positive people.

"Il Futuro" -- Stay with me on this one. Chilean Alicia Scherson directs a film noiry tale narrated from the future. It's about two sisters, two bodybuilding drifters and an ex-Hercules B-movie idol (Rutger Hauer) with a hidden fortune that one of the siblings intends to find by using her feminine wiles. Reportedly, a stylish work in which mood trumps logic.

"Thor: The Dark World" -- When an ancient race led by the vengeful Malekith returns to plunge the universe back into darkness, who ya gonna call? Thor, played again by Chris Hemsworth. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) returns to help him out.

"The Trials of Mohammad Ali" -- Bill Siegel's doc examines the world champion boxer's life outside the ring, beginning with his controversial Islamic religious beliefs and the decision to change his "white man's name" of Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali. The film explores his refusal to serve in the Vietnam War, even after his status as a conscientious objector was denied.

Nov. 15

"The Best Man Holiday" -- Based on the trailers, Malcolm D. Lee's sequel looks like he's succeeded in duplicating the appeal of his 1999 romantic comedy "The Best Man." Taye Diggs, Morris Chestnut, Nia Long, Regina Hall and Terrence Howard star.

"The Book Thief" -- Death itself narrates this story of Liesel Meminger, 9, taken to live with a foster family in Munich. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement. With Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson and Sophie Nelisse.

"Museum Hours" -- Vienna's grand Kunsthistorisches Art Museum is more or less the star of Jem Cohen's stylish exploration of friendship and the power of art. A chance meeting changes the lives of Johann (Bobby Sommer), a museum guard, and Anne (Mary Margaret O'Hara), a visitor who's been wandering the city in a state of limbo.

"The Wolf of Wall Street" -- Together again! Martin Scorsese reteams with Leonardo DiCaprio for this adaptation of Jordan Belfort's memoir chronicling his indulgent ride as a crooked banker during the 1990s. Jonah Hill and Oscar-winner Jean Dujardin co- star.

Nov. 22

"Delivery Man" -- In debt to the mob and rejected by his pregnant girlfriend, affable underachiever David Wozniak (suburban native Vince Vaughn) gets hit with a lawsuit from 142 of the 533 twentysomethings who want to know the identity of the sperm donor who fathered them. He's the guy.

"The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" -- Katniss Everdeen (reprised by Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence) and fellow tribute Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) embark on a "Victor's Tour" of the districts to celebrate their Hunger Games win. In this sequel, directed by Francis Lawrence taking over for Gary Ross, Katniss senses a rebellion in the making. But the Capitol is still very much in control as President Snow (Donald Sutherland) prepares for the 75th Annual Hunger Games.

"Nebraska" -- Chicago native Bruce Dern stars as a tempestuous Missouri father who thinks he's won a million-dollar magazine sweepstakes. Will Forte plays the son who grudgingly agrees to drive him to Nebraska to claim his winnings. Alexander Payne ("Sideways," "The Descendants") directs this black-and-white road-trip drama.

"Touch of Sin" -- Writer/director Jia Zhang Ke's four-part drama explores the corrosive effects of violence in contemporary China through the eyes of a disgruntled miner, a migrant worker returning home for the New Year, a receptionist who was assaulted by a wealthy client and a frustrated factory worker.

Also in November:

"Diana" -- Naomi Watts stars as Diana, Princess of Wales, in Oliver Hirschbiegel's biographical drama concentrating on the last two years of Diana's life.

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