Fall movies! When the studios supposedly cut with the bullshit and let us see some halfway decent movies for a change! Or so the legend goes! As is my custom, I'll be previewing the season's releases by examining who these movies are appealing to, and why I would or would not go see them. Enjoy!
Movie: Contagion (Steven Soderbergh)
High-Concept Synopsis: Some kind of killer virus (bird flu? Captain Trips? Parker Posey Pox?), begins wiping out the population, and only a star-studded cast can stop it! (Er, maybe not -- this is looking like one of those movies where the virus wins.)
Who Will Be Seeing It: Fans of uber-pedigreed casts full of Oscar winners/nominees like Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow, Laurence Fishburne, Marion Cotillard, John Hawkes, and Jude Law. Gwynnie-haters thrilled to see her character bite it in the trailer. Travel-phobics looking for backup arguments for when their friends look at them sideways.
Who Won't Be Seeing It: People who like Soderbergh better when he's working with nobodies versus when he's soaking in the Hollywood elite. People who honestly don't need one more way to imagine the world crumbling into ruin and disaster. Religious people offended at the notion that the world will end in any way other than them fighting in fiery chariot-battles against winged demons and homosexuals.
Why I'd See It: Big Hollywood stars! Making plans! Saving the world! Killer-virus movies are cheap thrills, but I can't seem to resist them, especially when they're full of Matt Damons and Kate Winslets. September 9
Movie: Warrior (Gavin O'Connor)
High-Concept Synopsis: Muscled up, estranged brothers Joel Edgerton (Animal Kingdom) and Tom Hardy (Inception; your gym-based fantasies) end up, for various contrived reasons, fighting in the same mixed-martial-arts tournament, all while their recovering-alcoholic dad (Nick Nolte) stands by and growls.
Who Will Be Seeing It: Sports-movie fans. Hot-guys-rolling-around-and-sweating fans. People looking to support a movie that could give two promising actors the chance to star in more movies.
Who Won't Be Seeing It: People who are into neither sports nor boys (unless they're somehow big Nick Nolte fans?). People who have watched House and have a learned aversion to Jennifer Morrison. Audiences who would cast a suspicious eye towards director O'Connor's bone fides (Miracle; Pride and Glory).
Why I'd See It: I already have, actually. And it's...fine. It's total paint-by-sports-movie-numbers, but Edgerton and Hardy really sell it. Their acting within the MMA bouts is particularly impressive. But it doesn't make much of an impression. And this idea that Hollywood types (i.e. old white men) would like it so much that they'd put Nolte and/or Hardy into the Oscar conversation seems like QUITE a stretch. I've seen weirder/worse things in the Oscar races, but not many. September 9
Movie: Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn)
High-Concept Synopsis: Ryan Gosling plays the world's prettiest stuntman, who also dabbles in driving getaway cars for criminals. And when Something Goes Wrong, he goes on the run, with Carey Mulligan and her little moppet.
Who Will Be Seeing It: Anybody who's been hearing the shockingly uniform raves coming out of Cannes and advance screenings. People who want to buy in on 2011 as the Year of Gosling. Fans of the sampler platter of Important TV Show co-stars Christina Hendricks (Mad Men), Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), and Ron Perlman (Sons of Anarchy).
Who Won't Be Seeing It: Audiences not entirely sold on Winding Refn's previous buzzy directorial effort, Bronson. Insecure types turned off by the flourishes of pink in the posters and other marketing materials. Action-movie fans who don't like Cannes movies; art-film fans who don't like action movies.
Why I'd See It: Any time a movie this grungy gets these kinds of raves, everybody needs to pay attention. I'm trying to manage my expectations, but this movie is looking like the perfect storm of a lot of good things, not least of which is Gosling's burgeoning superstar status. September 16
Movie: I Don't Know How She Does It (Douglas McGrath)
High-Concept Synopsis: Sarah Jessica Parker answers the question "Would Carrie Bradshaw have been as self-obsessed if she were married with children in the city?" The answer may surprise you. (...No, it won't.)
Who Will Be Seeing It: SJP fans eager to not have to defend themselves against the usual anti-Sex and the City charges. Fans of the supporting cast, which includes Greg Kinnear, Pierce Brosnan, Christina Hendricks, Seth Meyers, Sarah Shahi, and my beloved Busy Philipps. Audiences encouraged that the novel this is based on was adapted for the screen by the same writer who adapted The Devil Wears Prada.
Who Won't Be Seeing It: People who think that the only thing more obnoxious than Carrie Bradshaw throwing her wealth and consumerism in your face is watching Sarah Jessica Parker go all mommy-blogger on us. Audiences less encouraged that novel is being adapted by the writer of Morning Glory and Laws of Attraction.
Why I'd See It: Normally, I probably wouldn't, but this was the movie Busy Philipps was filming when The Hug happened, so now I feel like I should support the team. September 16
Movie: Straw Dogs (Rod Lurie)
High-Concept Synopsis: Sam Peckinpah's infamous treatise on violence and misanthropy gets exactly what it needs: a 2011 Hollywood gloss-over. James Marsden takes the Dustin Hoffman role, while Kate Bosworth and Alexander Skarsgard co-star.
Who Will Be Seeing It: Audiences curious to see if this remake retains any of the danger and moral repugnance of the original. Alexander Skarsgard fans for whom -- not to cast aspersions on people or anything -- a little sexual assault is not a dealbreaker. People who have faith in Lurie (The Contender; Nothing But the Truth) to show some backbone in his adaptation.
Who Won't Be Seeing It: Peckinpah faithful and various other "They don't make 'em like they did in the '70s types." People who might be able to buy James Marsden as a milquetoast pushed too far, and if they squint they could see Skarsgard as a menacing cracker, but no way are they buying Kate Bosworth as anything but a block of wood. Folks who hold the slicker-than-it-should-be trailer and posters against the movie.
Why I'd See It: It's not so much that I'm offended that anybody would try to remake the original. It's not perfect -- and the cult of Peckinpah often chokes on its own macho bona fides. It's just that I have zero confidence that a remake in the modern studio system will be able to have the same amoral impact. Though, as a preemptive strike against what I suspect will be the most frequent complaint: Marsden is perfect for the role, mostly for all the reasons people think he's not. September 16
Movie: Restless (Gus Van Sant)
High-Concept Synopsis: Take an age-appropriate Harold and Maude, cross it with a (hopefully) less retarded Charlie St. Cloud, and lay it over every quirky romance about teenage misfits and you'll get this tale of youthful misfits obsessed with death, one of whom has an unvisble friend who is a Japanese kamikaze pilot from WWII. If Miranda July were directing this, half the people in New York would call it spellbinding while the other half would despise it intensely.
Who Will Be Seeing It: People who are encouraged by the sweet, romantic chemistry between stars Mia Wasikowska and Henry Hopper in the trailer. Audiences willing to grant Van Sant his occasional foray into artsy weirdness. Open-hearted non-cynics.
Who Won't Be Seeing It: People who have had their fill of whimsically morbid teens. Furthermore, people for whom the cutesy twist of the kamikaze pilot seems kind of racist. People who prefer their artsy Van Sant to be stultifyingly boring rather than twee.
Why I'd See It: You know, it seems excruciatingly cutesy, and I'm not kidding about the Miranda July thing (I'd be in the latter half of people, in case you hadn't picked up on that). But I'm also not kidding about what I'm seeing from Wasikowska and Hopper and the trailer. That could be enough. September 16
Movie: Moneyball (Bennett Miller)
High-Concept Synopsis: Brad Pitt plays the swooniest major league baseball general manager in the history of time, and he bucks the whole system in order to sign cheaper free agents through the use of advanced statistical analysis. CAN YOU EVEN STAND IT??
Who Will Be Seeing It: Baseball fans who are down with things like sabremetrics and the Oakland A's. Sports movie fans who are cool with endings where (not at all a spoiler) the hero's team tops out as runner-up in the league championship series one time. Aaron Sorkin loyalists eager to see him bring his endless sports references to an actual sports movie.
Who Won't Be Seeing It: People who couldn't give a shit about sports, stats, or microeconomics. Brad Pitt fans who find his particular talents wasted as a GM and not a player or manager or someone else who might have occasion to wear the pants that show off your ass really well. People who see the Aaron Sorkin/Steve Zaillian co-credit on the screenplay as being the worst of both worlds: obnoxious AND over-worked.
Why I'd See It: The trailer suggests something interesting, and it's certainly aspiring to be more than just the typical sports movie, but I'm still having a hard time seeing how this story is a movie in the first place. And if it's two hours of Sorkin lecturing about how the Yankees are ruining the Great American Pastime, I'll be taking frequent pee breaks. September 23
Movie: Abduction (John Singleton)
High-Concept Synopsis: Taylor Lautner discovers a) that his parents are not his parents, b) that he might've been abducted from his real parents as a child, c) people are not trying to kill him, and d) that he's maybe some kind of supersoldier? I'm assuming his reaction to all of this is to rip his shirt off and run towards the woods.
Who Will Be Seeing It: Team Jacob fans, looking to give their guy a hit of his own outside of the Twi-verse. People who are looking for something like a Bourne movie, only less brainy and more abs-y. Fans of the impressive supporting cast (Sigourney Weaver, Maria Bello, Jason Isaacs, Alfred Molina).
Who Won't Be Seeing It: Team whatever the team is that likes pasty-faced creepers. People who can't bear to watch Sigourney Weaver slog through the background of another movie that's beneath her. People who feel that the issue of teenage assassins is too important to trivialize with a slick Hollywood thriller.
Why I'd See It: This looks like prime "HBO at the earliest" fodder. Also, don't be fooled into thinking John Singleton is any kind of draw anymore. After 2 Fast 2 Furious and Four Brothers and Baby Boy, all my Boyz N the Hood enthusiasm is gone. September 23
Movie: Machine Gun Preacher (Marc Forster)
High-Concept Synopsis: Criminal Gerard Butler gets born again and then goes to war-torn Sudan to go build an orphanage. He encounters resistance.
Who Will Be Seeing It: Anybody who ever had any faith in the idea of Gerard Butler: Great Actor. Fans of the versatile (or just lacking any kind of signature style) Marc Forster. People who mistake this movie for some kind of Robert Rodriguez-style grungy piece of junk that started as a fake trailer in Grindhouse.
Who Won't Be Seeing It: Anybody who's previously paid money for anything starring Gerard Butler. Folks who have had enough of the white-person-saves-nonwhite-persons genre. Preachers who favor less noisy weapons, like old-fashioned fear and guilt.
Why I'd See It: Between this movie and December's Coriolanus, this feels like Gerard Butler's big stab at actorly respectability. I'm not entirely ruling out the possibility that he could pull it off, but I've been burned before. This particular movie isn't un-interesting, but there's a big opportunity for it to miss the mark, and I don't 100% trust the filmmakers. September 23
Movie: Killer Elite (Gary McKendry)
High-Concept Synopsis: Jason Statham does his Jason Statham-movie thing, this time with Clive Owen as his antagonist and Robert DeNiro as his mentor.
Who Will Be Seeing It: The same people who see all the Jason Statham movies. People interested in seeing Clive Owen as the bad guy. Chuck fanboys who will sprint to theaters in order to check out their lusted-after Yvonna Strahovski.
Who Won't Be Seeing It: The same people who have never really seen a Jason Statham movie before. People who are kind of dismayed to see Owen wasting his time with a throwaway movie like this. People wondering when Robert DeNiro got this reputation as an action-movie guy.
Why I'd See It: It's not usually my thing, but one of these days I'm bound to correct that Statham blind-spot of mine. September 23
Movie: 50/50 (Jonathan Levine)
High-Concept Synopsis: Joseph Gordon-Levitt gets the kind of cancer that afflicts adorable twentysomethings, and his best pal Seth Rogen and therapist Anna Kendrick try to help him through it.
Who Will Be Seeing It: Fans of JGL's steadily rising star. People who like the balanced tone of gravity/comedy found in the movie's trailer. People who liked Levine's previous movie, The Wackness.
Who Won't Be Seeing It: People who find the JGL/Rogen/Kendrick nexus to be just on the wrong side of too-hipster-for-you. People who liked this project better when it was starring James McAvoy and directed by Nicole Holofcener. People who want the movies to make them face things like killer robots or the Jim Crow South through the eyes of a white girl, but not cancer.
Why I'd See It: I'm really hoping this is the JGL showcase I hope it is. He's already showing amazing chemistry with Rogen and Kendrick in the trailer. September 30
Movie: Dream House (Jim Sheridan)
High-Concept Synopsis: Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz move into a new house, only -- get this -- there are spirits of dead things in there! What does their family have to do with the murder that happened in the house? What does neighbor Naomi Watts know? ...Um, watch the trailer, because it seems to give away quite a lot.
Who Will Be Seeing It: People who know that autumn is for getting the crap scared out of you at the movies. People who know that, if nothing else, Jim Sheridan (In America; In the Name of the Father) will direct a handsome movie. People excited to see newly married Craig and Weisz during the movie where they coupled up.
Who Won't Be Seeing It: People who have seen this particular movie DOZENS of times and have lost the ability to be scared or surprised by it. People who wonder why Sheridan couldn't have found a haunted house in Ireland to make a movie about. People bummed that Naomi Watts seems to be relegated to third banana here.
Why I'd See It: Seriously, that trailer gives away SO MUCH. Unless the movie is taking a really different direction they're not telling us about, I am dubious. September 30