The 2008 Alternative Fall Film Preview

Maui Time | August 18, 2008
The 2008 Alternative Fall Film Preview

By Cole Smithey (1548 words)

There's no question that autumn is the best season for movies. It's when the big studios trot out their Oscar nom hopefuls and water-cooler talk turns to all colors of movie-related speculation. Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas conspire to press family members, kids, and best friends into cinema seats to soak up all the comic spills, dramatic chills, and thrilling frills that can be squeezed into a hundred-minute movie. While most audiences will only see a few titles from the list of 120 movies distributed between Labor Day and Christmas, alt weekly readers tend to be a more ravenous bunch of filmgoers, cramming in excess of twenty movies in the last four months of the year.

It's important to eliminate as many dogs as possible so you don't, in a moment of weakness, plunk down cash on Spike Lee's latest turkey "Miracle at St. Anna" or Fernando Meirelles' steaming pile "Blindness"-both films open on September 26.

In September, don't even think about endorsing Nicolas Cage's latest mortgage payment "Bangkok Dangerous." Likewise, skip the Dakota Fanning rape movie "Hounddog," the inexplicable "Mister Foe," the racist-titled "Towelhead," and the tellingly dubbed western "Appaloosa," even if it does star Viggo Mortensen and Ed Harris. The presence of Renee Zellweger doesn't bode well for this adaptation of a Robert B. Parker novel. You'll be tempted to see Robert De Niro and Al Pacino on the big screen together in "Righteous Kill," but don't give in. Director Jon Avnet proved he didn't deserve to hold a camera with the unwatchable "88 Minutes," and his casting of 50 Cent opposite the two heavyweights further shows his disrespect for Pacino and De Niro as actors.

Rather, hang out with cool kids Joel and Ethan Coen for their follow up to "No Country For Old Men." "Burn After Reading" (Sept. 12) is a black comedy staring George Clooney, Francis McDormand, Brad Pitt, and John Malkovich. If anyone can cast John Malkovich in a role that his specific range demands, it's the Coen Brothers.

If there are kids in your life, "Igor" (Sept. 19) provides a fitting PG-rated animated run up to Halloween with John Cusack voicing a hunchbacked lab assistant who enters the annual Evil Science Fair with a monster of his own.

Opening on September 17th is "The Duchess," starring the ever- delectable Keira Knightley as Georgiana, the 18th-century Duchess of Devonshire who gets abused by her cruel husband (played by Ralph Fiennes) even as her public star rises. If you haven't yet been won over by Knightley's impressive acting chops in films like "Pride & Prejudice," here's another chance to see the divine starlet in full melodramatic period mode.

Seek out surreal satire with "Choke" (Sept. 26), the adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk's novel in which Sam Rockwell plays a sex-addicted medical school dropout with a gift for choking on his food in restaurants to scam the people that come to his rescue.

Don't be seduced by October's cool breezes into thinking that Guy Ritchie's latest Brit crime spree "RocknRolla" will rejuvenate his flagging career, or that his wife Madonna's directorial debut "Filth & Wisdom" is worth sitting through even if you could watch it for free. There can't be anymore 'Secret Life of….Anything' movies, so skip "The Secret Life of Bees" with impunity, especially because Dakota Fanning is in it. Ignore "Quarantine," "Sex Drive," "Max Payne" (it's based on a video game), "High School Musical 3: Senior Year," (acid reflux) "Passengers" (it carries the stank of Anne Hathaway, who also appears in "Rachel Getting Married"). I know, Entertainment Weekly thinks Anne Hathaway will get an Oscar nom for Jonathan Demme's "Margot at the Wedding"-themed indie effort. I say, wrong.

There's much more fun to be had in October waving your atheist flag high in the face of Easter Bunny believers with Bill Maher's anti-religious documentary "Religulous" (directed by Larry Charles - "Borat). Savor the saturated color of Wong Kar Wai's reworked version of his only martial arts movie "Ashes of Time Redux." You can get super movie-groovy with Leo DeCaprio and Russell Crowe in "Body of Lies," based on David Ignatius' novel about a CIA operative on the trail of a terrorist leader. Whatever you do, don't neglect Oliver Stone's George Bush bio "W." or Clint Eastwood's Cannes Film Fest favorite "Changeling," starring Angelina Jolie in a '20s era Los Angeles drama. Finally, in October there's Charlie Kaufman's (screenwriter for "Being John Malkovich") directorial debut "Synecdoche, New York," a post-modern surreal take on love and death that puts Samantha Morton, Emily Watson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Michelle Williams, and Diane Wiest together with Philip Seymour Hoffman. Lastly, "Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist" looks promising if only for featuring Michael Cera ("Juno") opposite Kat Dennings ("The 40-Year-Old Virgin") in a romantic comedy with a cool title.

The fall movie season hits its stride in November with Daniel Craig's return to the 007 mantle in "Quantum of Solace" (Nov. 7), starring French actor Mathieu Amalric ("The Diving Bell and the Butterfly") as leading villain Dominic Greene. Exotic locations, beautiful women, and Daniel Craig's cold-burn intensity as the baddest ass James Bond make the latest installment in cinema's oldest franchise a must-see-with-gusto.

It wouldn't be autumn without a French movie on the menu. Arnaud Desplechin's "A Christmas Tale" ("Un Conte de Noel" - Nov. 14th) brings familial angst, social ennui, and the specter of death together in an irreverent, multi-layered family story starring the irrepressible Catherine Deneuve as its matriarch.

Whether or not you've seen any or all of the Harry Potter movies, pop-culture vocabulary demands regard for "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince." Daniel Radcliffe has matured as an actor, and so too has the series thanks to director David Yates who returns after directing the series' last installment "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix." If it's younger kiddie fare you're after, "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa" should more than foot the bill with vocal performances from Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, and Sacha Baron Cohen.

Pass over never-to-be-forgiven-for-Moulin-Rouge Baz Luhrmann's "Australia" in favor of Aussie director John Hillcoat's ("The Proposition") adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's "The Road," (Nov. 14th) starring Viggo Mortensen and Charlize Theron in a post-apocalyptic vision of an America-yet-to-come.

Gus Van Sant may momentarily resuscitate his abysmal career with the Harvey Milk biopic "Milk" starring Sean Penn as San Francisco's famous openly gay mayor, but from the outside the movie looks like pure bland formula. Although, as an acting class from Master Penn it should be interesting, and it's one more chance to see late-bloomer hotshot Josh Brolin doing serious character work. For more gritty serious acting work, check out "The Soloist" (Nov. 21) staring Jamie Foxx as a schizophrenic homeless guy in Los Angeles who meets up with a troubled journalist played by the insuppressible Robert Downey Jr.

On the mandatory skip-it-list for November are the Paris Hilton vehicle "Repo! The Genetic Opera" and "The Other End of the Line."

December promises to keep avid movie fans busy with the Leo and Kate reunion movie "Revolutionary Road" by "American Beauty" director Sam Mendes. The film is based on Richard Yates' 1961 novel about a disenchanted married couple that comes to question their life in America and move to Paris.

"Doubt" stars Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams in a 1964-set drama about a Bronx Catholic School where its parish priest is accused of sexually abusing a black student. This movie promises to be a very big deal.

Brad Pitt extends his title as a modern-day Robert Redford in David Fincher's "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" in which Pitt plays a man who ages backward. After "Zodiac" David Fincher is super hot, and this movie looks to live up to his reputation.

Daniel Craig double-dips in the season with Edward Zwick's ("Blood Diamond") "Defiance," a WWII movie based on a true story about three brothers (Live Schreiber, Daniel Craig, and Jamie Bell) who set up their own resistance group made up of Jewish refugees. This movie looks great!

Disregard Ron Howard's "Frost/Nixon," "Seven Pounds" (directed by Gabriele Muccino - "The Pursuit of Happyness"), "The Day the Earth Stood Still" (poor Keanu), "Yes Man" (Jim Carrey is toast), and Adam Sandler's latest formula comic effort "Bedtime Stories."

You'll be much happier seeing Clint Eastwood's year-ender "Gran Torino" (speaking of double dipping), Laurent Cantet's Palme d"or winner "The Class," or even Frank Miller's stylish animated noir thriller "The Spirit" (Dec. 25) with Scarlet Johansson and Eva Mendes.

In case you lost count of the movies you really should see this fall, here they are.

September: "Burn After Reading" (Sept. 12) "Choke," (Sept. 26), "The Duchess" (Sept. 17th), and "Igor" (Sept. 26).

October: "Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist" (Oct. 3), "Religulous" (Oct. 3), "Ashes of Time Redux" (Oct. 10), "Body of Lies" (Oct. 10),

"W." (Oct 17), "Changeling" (Oct. 24), and "Synecdoche, New York" (Oct. 24).

November: "Quantum of Solace" (Nov. 7), "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa" (Nov. 7), "A Christmas Tale" (Nov. 14), "The Road" (Nov. 14), "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" (Nov. 21), and "The Soloist" (Nov. 21).

December: "The Class" (Dec. 12), "Defiance" (Dec. 12), "Doubt" (Dec. 12), "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (Dec. 25), "The Spirit" (Dec. 25), "Revolutionary Road" (Dec. 26), and "Gran Torino" (late December).


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