Monday, September 01, 2014

Fall movie preview

Labor Day has come and gone, the kiddies are back at school, but somehow it doesn't feel like summer is really over. Meteorologically, of course, it isn't fall yet - and on the movie front, Hollywood hasn't yet shaken off its late-August doze. But it will soon enough.

If the recurring theme of last fall's movie lineup was "based on a true story" (12 Years a Slave, Captain Phillips, The Wolf of Wall Street, Dallas Buyers Club, Philomena, even American Hustle to a degree, sort of), this fall looks to be particularly packed with movies based on bestselling books. Or maybe I'm just noticing it particularly this year since I've read a fair number of the books and am interested to see how they've been adapted.

In order of release date, here are the ten films I'm most looking forward to this fall:

directed by Ned Benson
starring Jessica Chastian, James McAvoy, Viola Davis, William Hurt, Isabelle Huppert, Ciarán Hinds

Originally conceived as a pair of films chronicling a relationship from first the guy's and then the girl's point of view, "Rigby" has since been reworked into a single movie - but the "combo" version apparently isn't going to be the only or even the last word on the subject. "Them" will be released first, in September, followed by "Him" and "Her," to play together, in October. I have several issues with this approach, namely, (1) I'm not sure the world needs three different versions of the same movie, (2) given that the juxtaposition of the male/female perspectives is what attracted me in the first place, I'd rather see "Him" and "Her" before "Them," but (3) not necessarily in one 3+ hour sitting. However, I'm curious enough to give it - them - a try.

directed by Shawn Levy
starring Jason Bateman, Jane Fonda, Tina Fey, Corey Stoll, Adam Driver, Rose Byrne, Connie Britton
based on the novel by Jonathan Tropper

I remember thinking, when I read this dysfunctional-family comedy for my book club a few years ago, that it felt more like a movie than a novel, would probably work better as a movie, and played like a movie in my head. But whether it actually works as a movie will depend on how appealing the actors can make their characters, who were funny but not always all that endearing on paper, and how much chemistry they have together. The quality of the cast has me reasonably optimistic on both points.

directed by Hossein Amini
starring Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst, Oscar Isaac

I don't know much about this film except that it has a stylish noir vibe, is based on a Patricia Highsmith novel, and features three excellent actors, one of whom is Viggo Mortensen. That's enough to get my attention.

GONE GIRL (Oct. 3)
directed by David Fincher
starring Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Patrick Fugit, Kim Dickens
based on the novel by Gillian Flynn

If you've read the book, you know why I want to see the movie. If you haven't, what are you waiting for?

directed by Christopher Nolan
starring Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, others

Nolan & co. have been pretty tight-lipped about this one, and the teaser trailers haven't revealed much except to confirm that the movie stars McConaughey and Hathaway as space explorers, appears to take place in the future, and involves traveling through wormholes. Here's hoping it's more "2001" and less "Contact," though my guess is it will be not much like either film - except in that it's probably more interested in metaphysics than in space battles.

directed by Bennett Miller
starring Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo

A hit at Cannes, this strange-but-true story features a nearly unrecognizable Carell as an eccentric millionaire who sponsored a pair of Olympic champion wrestler brothers (played by Tatum and Ruffalo) and (spoiler, but not really unless you count history as a spoiler) eventually killed one of them for unknown reasons. Looks rather dark and a bit creepy, but Miller has proven to be good at capturing dark, creepy true stories without sensationalizing them (see, e.g., "Capote").

directed by Morten Tyldum
starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode

The star of BBC's "Sherlock" and unlikely Internet heartthrob takes on the meaty, Oscar-baity role of Alan Turing, the brilliant British mathematician who helped decrypt the Nazis' communication codes during WWII and lay the foundations of modern computer science, only to be later convicted of (and punished for) homosexuality. Cumberbatch is probably hoping the film meets with a warmer reception than last fall's "The Fifth Estate"; it should help that Turing is a much easier figure to root for than Julian Assange.

WILD (Dec. 5)
directed by Jean-Marc Vallée
starring Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern
based on the book by Cheryl Strayed

The title of the book is a bit clunky - Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail - but the story it recounts is surprisingly compelling, a kind of mash-up of Eat Pray Love and Into the Wild, only with a more sympathetic protagonist. Fundamentally it's as much a tale of letting go of real, palpable, soul-crushing grief (as opposed to the usual vague, diffuse malaise/white First Worlder discontent with modern society) as it is of surviving in the wild despite a woeful lack of preparation. I'm not sure how effectively Strayed's spiritual journey can be conveyed on film, but Reese, a capable actress who hasn't been challenged enough lately, should give it her best shot. At the very least, the scenery should be beautiful.

directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
starring Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon, Jena Malone, Benicio del Toro, Martin Short
based on the novel by Thomas Pynchon

Pynchon's brand of southern California noir is one of a kind, as is the hero he created for Inherent Vice, Doc Sportello: think Philip Marlowe reimagined as a permanently stoned hippie. As an actor Phoenix seems a bit too introverted for the part of Sportello, but I've no doubt he's got the chops to make it his own, and Josh Brolin is pretty perfectly cast as his nemesis, "Bigfoot" Bjornsen. Can't wait to see what director P.T. Anderson - who lord knows has plenty of experience filming oddballs and misfits - will do with them and the rest of Pynchon's wacked-out characters, not to mention his byzantine Chandler-on-acid plot.

directed by Rob Marshall
starring Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, Emily Blunt
based on the musical by Stephen Sondheim

Confession: I've never seen Into the Woods. Assuming the movie does at least reasonable justice to the musical, it seems like the easiest way to address that deficiency. Plus Meryl Streep is awesome.

Other movies I'm keeping an eye out for: BIRDMAN, wherein confirmed miserabilist Alejandro González Iñárritu (aka man whose films make me want to shoot myself) tries his hand at comedy - or at least dramedy - with help from Michael Keaton, Ed Norton, Naomi Watts, and Emma Stone; ROSEWATER because it's Jon Stewart's labor of love; THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY - PART 1 because the first two movies were good, even though dividing up the last one into two parts still annoys me no end; SELMA because we need to be reminded of that history; UNBROKEN because I heard the book was good, even though I never read it.