Brad Pitt in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
It’s about two weeks late, but here is the first part of a multi-part look at the best time of the year for movies: September to December. These are the upcoming movies I’ve singled out for praise or scorn plus others that have simply caught my attention for one reason or another. The release dates are courtesy of ComingSoon.net and are subject to change on the whim of bean counters and marketing stooges all across Hollywood. In some cases, I’m genuinely excited about a certain film and have been anticipating it for a long time. In other examples, I’m just seizing the opportunity for some ill informed drive-by snarkiness. The movies I’m most looking forward to are marked with an asterisk. Let’s start with September…
*3:10 to Yuma. At risk of blaspheming in view of old movie lovers everywhere, this is one remake that’s better than the original. At least you don’t have to hear Frankie Laine singing the title song. Here’s my take and the trailer.
Viggo Mortensen and Naomi Watts in David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises
*Eastern Promises. There are a small handful of directors whose every new film is pretty much a must-see for me and I avoid reviews, trailers, spoilers, news, leaks and photos at all costs. David Cronenberg (A History of Violence, The Fly, Naked Lunch) is one of those directors. He may not always be successful, but he’s always interesting and I enthusiastically look forward to each one of his unique personal visions. Anyway, the point is I can’t tell you much about Eastern Promises, but I’m going to see it. Viggo Mortensen and Naomi Watts star and it has something to do with the Russian mafia…I think. I caught the trailer and Viggo’s Russian accent worries me for some reason, but otherwise I can’t wait. The film also stars Vincent Cassel and Armin Mueller-Stahl. (Limited release. Expands 9/21) Trailer
The Brave One. Kevin Bacon had his shot in Death Sentence and now it’s Jodie Foster’s turn to do the vigilante thing. When her fiancé is brutally murdered (her dog gets it too) by thugs, Foster buys a gun and begins combing the night streets of New York for some payback. The press, the public and the police all take notice. Is she a hero or is she one of the criminals? Terrence Howard is the cop on her trail. Neil Jordan (The Crying Game) co-wrote and directs. There are two trailers for this thing and they’re aimed at two different audiences. Neither one convinces me. The first one is all dramatic and important looking with a piano score and a focus on Foster’s victimization and it ends with the giggle inducing line “I want my dog back!!!” The second one is grittier and focuses more on Foster’s acts of revenge and has a better line at the end. Watch them both here.
In the Valley of Elah. Unless the title has something to do with the sound Paul Haggis makes when he’s hit in the face with a shovel (“Hi, my name is Paul Haggis and I’m a smirking, pretentious…EeeeeeellllaaaAAAaahhhhh!!”), my enthusiasm for this latest film from the writer/director of Crash is pretty low and my skepticism is pretty high. On the other hand, I’ve heard some good things about it, there is much Oscar buzz and I like Tommy Lee Jones and Susan Sarandon a lot. They play the parents of a recently returned Iraqi war veteran who has gone missing. Charlize Theron plays the investigating police detective. I’m going to try and keep an open mind here, but it’s not easy. Friggin’ Haggis.(Limited release. Expands 9/21) Trailer
Mr. Woodock. This could easily be a one joke movie (the title), but since Billy Bob Thornton still hasn’t squandered the good will I have for him from Bad Santa, I’m obligated to mention this one. Seann William Scott (American Pie) is a self-help author whose mother Susan Sarandon (In two movies being released this week) falls in love with Mr. Woodcock (Thornton), the gym teacher who terrorized Scott all through high school. With Ethan Suplee and Amy Poehler. The trailer made me laugh.
Evan Rachel Wood and Jim Sturgess in Julie Taymor’s Across the Universe
Across the Universe. Julie Taymor’s 1960s Musical/Romance set to Beatle cover tunes has had all kinds of production troubles and could be all kinds of ass (his name is Jude and her name is Lucy, get it?). True, I’ve seen the trailer like a hundred times and it’s often been greeted with scorn and general hissing by skeptical, hipper-than-thou audiences and yet…damn if I’m not curious. I liked Taymor’s Titus and Frida and I’ll confess to finding Evan Rachel Wood very watchable. She’s old enough for me to say that out loud now, right? (Limited release. Expands 9/21) Trailer
King of California. And Evan Rachel Wood is also in two movies this week. In this comedy she’s plays a teenager and Michael Douglas is her manic-depressive father who believes there is treasure buried in the San Fernando Valley. (Limited) Trailer
Silk. Here’s one for you fans of exotic period dramas. François Girard (Red Violin, 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould) directs and Michael Pitt (The Dreamers) stars as a French silk merchant in Japan having an affair with a local woman. Why he’d cheat on wife Kiera Knightley is a mystery. Perhaps he kept cutting himself on her cheekbones. Also with Alfred Molina. (Limited) Trailer
Darkon. Get your dork on. Documentary about a Baltimore area “full-contact medieval fantasy war gaming group” that has met every other Sunday since 1985 to dress up in costumes and beat the crap out of one another with padded weapons in unchoreographed mock battles. Ever wonder what would’ve happened if Somerset hadn’t misjudged the weakness in Edward IV’s center in the Battle of Tewkesbury? Then perhaps you’ve come to the right place. I smirk, but it’s important to note that, even as we speak, one of these fellows is probably knowing the touch of an actual naked woman (unless it’s Sunday). Me? I’m sitting here in my boxers in front of the computer dribbling on and on about movies I may or may not ever see. Score: Nerds 1, Craig 0. (Limited release) Trailer
Dragon Wars (D-War). The movie so great they had to name it twice? Ok, is it Dragon Wars or is it D-War? Friggin’ pick one. Anyway, for all of you who left screenings of Transformers this summer craving more mayhem in the streets of Los Angeles, I present this summer movie that apparently wasn’t even good enough to come out in summer. This time instead of robot cars trashing the city, here there be dragons. Perhaps the fine folks of Darkon will come and smite them with their padded battle axes and save us all. I’m supposed to believe that because the movie comes from Korea like The Host that Dragon Wars is going to be good. Nope. Not buying it. I like monsters wrecking stuff as much as the next guy but the special effects look pretty weak. (Limited release) Trailer
December Boys (or Harry Potter and the Forgotten Orphan of Azkaban). Daniel Radcliffe stars in this Australian coming-of-age drama about a group of orphans who are passing their ‘adopt by’ date. (Limited release. Expands 9/28) Trailer
*The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Brad Pitt is legendary outlaw Jesse James and Casey Affleck is his killer Robert Ford in this, the second much-anticipated western of September. Also featuring Sam Shepard, Mary-Louise Parker, Zooey Deschanel and Sam Rockwell. Andrew Dominik (Chopper) directs. It’s supposed to open in Los Angeles, New York, Austin and Toronto on the 21st, but I can’t tell when the rest of the country will get a hold of it. I can’t wait. Trailer
Into the Wild. Sean Penn wrote and directed this true story based on the book by Jon Krakauer. When Emile Hersch graduates from Emory University, he abandons everything he owns and begins a journey hitchhiking to the wilds of Alaska. It features a good cast including Marcia Gay Harden, William Hurt, Catherine Keener and Vince Vaughn. Trailer
Resident Evil: Extinction. I’ve never seen a movie that has ever been anywhere near Paul W.S. Anderson (the scourge of fanboys everywhere) and I’m not about to start now. He didn’t direct this one, but he produced and wrote it. The third film to be based on the popular action/horror videogame franchise once again stars the edible but otherwise forgettable Mila Jovovich. I’ll pass. Trailer
Good Luck Chuck. In the trailer? When Dane Cook has to have sex with that fat lady? And he throws up in his mouth a little? That is SOOO funny. If you buy that, you’ll probably love this movie. Me? I say even with Jessica Alba in her undies, good luck getting me to see this movie, Chuck. Trailer
Wei Tang and Tony Leung in Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution
*Lust, Caution. Erotically charged, NC-17 rated espionage thriller from the great Ang Lee (Eat Drink Man Woman, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain) starring Asian cinema favorite Tony Leung. Ang Lee is another one of those David Cronenberg types for me so I can’t say too much else about it. As of this writing it’s just won the Golden Lion, top prize at the 2007 Venice International Film Festival. (Limited) Trailer
Feast of Love. Oscar winning director Robert Benton (Kramer vs. Kramer) and a great cast including Morgan Freeman, Greg Kinnear, Radha Mitchell, Jane Alexander, Selma Blair, Alexa Davalos and Fred Ward in a multi-threaded story about love. Word on the street is that there is copious nudity which for some of you should make up for the inherent chick-flickiness of it all. Trailer
The Kingdom. It’s CSI: Riyadh as an elite team of FBI special agents investigate a terrorist bombing that killed US soldiers in Saudi Arabia. Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Jeremy Piven and Danny Huston star. I’ve always liked Peter Berg as an actor, but the verdict is still out on his directing abilities. The cast looks pretty good though. [9/26 note: There’s a good chance I ripped off the CSI: Riyadh crack. Not sure if it was from Jeff Wells or someone else. Either way, it wasn’t intentional] Trailer
The Game Plan. Here’s the game plan: avoid comedies about unlikely, reluctant fathers at all costs (unless they’re from Judd Apatow or something). Dwayne Johnson (seriously Dwayne, isn’t it about time you dropped “The Rock” from your name? Maybe I should go around calling myself Craig “The Hammer” Kennedy and see what happens…I’m guessing there would be beatings) stars as a pro quarterback/bachelor who discovers he’s got a 7 year old daughter from a long disolved relationship. Macho football player + Cute little girl = Hilarious hijinks. Right? No? No. Trailer