Fall Movie Preview:
Box office head-to-head…
Fall doesn't officially arrive on our calendars for another couple of weeks, but by the time Labour Day rolls around and the temperate drops, the bikini and flop flops are generally traded in for sensible sweaters and boots. Gone are the patios and weekends at the cottage, and instead we get rainy days and flu season. But one thing will remain the same: movies and sticky theatre floors. And here are our options for the long months ahead, and what is worth paying the price of admission and what is better left on the DVD shelf.
AN UNFINISHED LIFE vs. THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE vs. THE MAN
The Case for An Unfinished Life: Based on a novel by Mark Spragg, An Unfinished Life is directed by Lasse Hallstrom (The Cider House Rules, Chocolat) and stars Jennifer Lopez as Jean Gilkyson, a struggling mother and widow who moves in with her estranged stepfather, played by Robert Redford. Because Redford is in this film, we know that it is set on a ranch. Also around is crowd-pleaser Morgan Freedman. As Jean tries to find redemption or whatever people generally find on a ranch, her rickety stepfather bonds with the granddaughter he never knew. In limited release.
The Case for The Exorcism of Emily Rose: Loosely based on real-life events surrounding the case of Anneliese Michel, The Exorcism of Emily Rose is told in flashbacks during the trial of a Catholic priest charged with negligence and abuse when an exorcism goes terribly wrong. Laura Linney is the attorney defending Father Moore (Tom Wilkinson).
The Case for The Man: You might have seen the trailer for this Samuel L. Jackson/Eugene Levy buddy flick during the summer, but if you haven't, here's the gist: Jackson is a hardened, no-nonsense cop in the style of Shaft who loses his partner on the clock. Levy is an unassuming dental supply salesman who gets caught up in a case of mistaken identity, and is forced to team up with Jackson to uncover a conspiracy.
Also Opening: Green Street Hooligans, an Elijah Wood film about pushing the boundaries of football fanaticism in London; Salaam Namaste, a Bollywood export. Both films are in limited release.
Box Office Winner: The Exorcism of Emily Rose. This horror send-up should do a lot better than a sappy Jennifer Lopez film (who seems to have played a single mom in the last ten films she's made), and a critically panned mediocre buddy cop flick starring the horribly mismatched Eugene Levy and Samuel L. Jackson, some of which was filmed in my office building's parking lot.
Who Should Win: Can I say The 40-Year-Old Virgin? 'Cause I really don't want to pick.
JUST LIKE HEAVEN vs. LORD OF WAR
The Case for Just Like Heaven: David (Mark Ruffolo) moves into a Manhattan apartment but all is not well when a young woman, Elizabeth (Reese Witherspoon), shows up announced and claims the apartment is hers. After unsuccessfully attempting to get rid of her, David realizes that Elizabeth is a ghost.
The Case for Lord of War: Nicholas Cage stars as a sympathetic small-time arms dealer who works his way to the top, only to find that his pesky conscience gets in the way. As he struggles to get out of his shady profession, he finds that it's easier said than done.
Also Opening: G, an urban remake of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby; the if-my-dad-is-crazy-does-that-mean-I-am-too? Proof, with Gwyneth Paltrow, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Anthony Hopkins; teen horror flicks Cry_Wolf and Venom (yes, Cry_Wolf, the computer-friendly thriller, actually uses an underscore in its title). The first concerns itself with a group of teenagers who get a kick out of staging deaths but soon find out that said deaths are really occurring, while the latter is about voodoo.
Box Office Winner: With such diverse films opening on the same day, the jury is split. Will audiences go for a crime thriller or fall for a romantic comedy reminiscent of Ghost? Although Lord of War has a strong leading man, it also stars Ethan Hawke and Jared Leto, who haven't proven much in terms of box office appeal. Just Like Heaven - capitalizing on Witherspoon's appeal to young women - should draw in a more mainstream crowd.
Who Should Win: Just Like Heaven. Mark Ruffolo, who always turns in a charming performance, no matter how crappy the script might be (ahem, 13 Going on 30).
FLIGHTPLAN vs. TIM BURTON'S CORPSE BRIDE
The Case for Flightplan: Kyle Pratt (Jodie Foster) returns to America with her young daughter after her husband unexpectedly passes away. While on the flight from Berlin to New York, Kyle's daughter mysteriously disappears and no one claims to have seen her on the plane.
The Case for Tim Burton's Corpse Bride: Based on a 19th century Russian folk tale, this stop-motion animation film centres around Victor (Johnny Depp), a shy (and very gaunt) young man. While practicing his proposal to fiancée Victoria (Emily Watson) at a graveyard, Victor unwittingly resurrects the Corpse Bride (Helena Bonham Carter), who thinks the proposal was meant for her.
Also Opening: Oliver Twist, with Roman Polanski (Death and the Maiden, Oliver Twist) at the helm; Roll Bounce, with rapper Bow Wow, about a you-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it roller jam skate-off; Dirty Love, touted as a modern-day Cinderella story starring Jenny McCarthy. Oliver Twist opens wide on September 30.
Box Office Winner: Flightplan. Both films cater to a market niche, but only die-hard fans of Burton's dark stop-motion animation (like The Nightmare Before Christmas) will shell out the bucks for Corpse Bride.
Who Should Win: Tim Burton's Corpse Bride. Foster's film choices get decidedly more boring with time (Maverick, Contact, Panic Room), and Flightplan looks too much of a retread of The Forgotten to be memorable.
A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE vs. INTO THE BLUE vs. SERENITY
The Case for A History of Violence: Director David Cronenberg (Spider, eXistenZ) returns to the screen with this dark film about a simple family man Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) who lives a small town life with his wife (Maria Bello) and two children. When a would-be robbery at his diner is thwarted, Tom becomes the local town hero and attracts the attention of two mobsters (Ed Harris and William Hurt) who think he is someone else. Or is he?
The Case for Into The Blue: Four young (and very attractive) divers discover a shipwreck and think it holds treasures galore. Unfortunately, right next to it is a sunken plane with illegal cargo. The divers quickly get tangled up with some shady smugglers and find out their life is in danger. Stars Jessica Alba, Paul Walker, Scott Caan, and Ashley Scott.
The Case for Serenity: Remember the FOX-defunct sci-fi show, "Firefly"? The cancelled series enjoyed so much success in the DVD afterlife that it now gets the feature length film treatment. Joss Whedon ("Angel") reunites the original television cast for this tale of space renegades who get in way over their heads when they stow away a mysterious girl on their ship.
Also Opening: The Greatest Game Ever Played, about golf wunderkid Francis Ouimet and directed by Bill Paxton (Frailty, Club Dread); the controversial The War Within, about a would-be terrorist who reevaluates his life after staying with his now-American childhood friend.
Box Office Winner: Sadly, Into The Blue. Serenity will get a boost from die-hard fans, but since "Firefly" was cancelled, we can't assume that their numbers are that great.
Who Should Win: A History of Violence. Since its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, this film has received critical acclaim for its gritty portrayal of human brutality.
WALLACE & GROMIT: THE CURSE OF THE WERE-RABBIT vs. IN HER SHOES vs. TWO FOR THE MONEY
The Case for Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit: Clay animation heroes Wallace (Peter Sallis) and his pet dog, Gromit, run a successful pest control business. When the town throws its annual Giant Vegetable Competition, Lady Tottingham (Helena Bonham Carter) requests the help of Wallace and Gromit in getting rid of a mysterious giant rabbit that is eating all the crops. But things grow decidedly evil when Lady Tottingham's devious suitor, Victor Quartermaine (Ralph Fiennes), becomes involved in catching this monster.
The Case for In Her Shoes: Two sisters (Cameron Diaz and Toni Collette), who have absolutely nothing in common outside of their shoe size, come to blows when they meet the grandmother they never knew (Shirley MacLaine).
The Case for Two for the Money: This is based on the true story of Brandon Lane (Matthew McConaughey, as Brandon "Lang"), who is an ex-college football star sidelined after an injury. Because Lang is so good at predicting the outcomes of football games, Walter Abraham (Al Pacino) approaches him to join his sports consulting business. Lang loves living the fast lifestyle, but when he begins to falter and wants out, Abraham will stop at nothing to keep his protégé from leaving him.
Also Opening: The teen comedy Waiting, starring Justin Long, Ryan Reynolds (who is far from being a teen and should go for more mature roles), and Anna Faris; the ensemble drama The Gospel, with Clifton Powell, Yolanda Adams, Tamyra Gray, Keshia Knight Pulliam, and Boris Kodjoe.
Box Office Winner: Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Although Two for the Money will get the male audience, family movies have a more mainstream appeal and generally do well in their first week out.
Who Should Win: Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Bee and I had a discussion about Two for the Money after seeing the theatrical trailer, wherein he said yes and I said no to annoying McConaughey. But I know that ultimately, Gromit's cuteness will win out.
DOMINO vs. ELIZABETHTOWN
The Case for Domino: Domino Harvey was the daughter of actor Laurence Harvey, who left the life of glitz and glamour to become a bounty hunter. In this Tony Scott (Man on Fire, Top Gun) biopic, Harvey looks a lot like Kiera Knightley and goes from Ford model to bounty hunter to media sensation. Of course, the real Harvey's life was far more tragic than this, but the film will omit the trafficking convictions and fatal drug overdose.
The Case for Elizabethtown: Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom) is an up-and-coming designer who mishandles a product debut and is in ruins. He gets word that his father has passed away, and makes his way back to his hometown of Elizabethtown, Kentucky, to handle the burial proceedings. Along the way, he meets quirky stewardess Claire Colburn (Kristen Dunst).
Also Opening: The horror remake The Fog, starring Tom Welling ("Smallville"); the women's movement-friendly North Country, with Charlize Theron (Monster) and Frances McDormand (Fargo); the ensemble drama Nine Lives, which is in limited release.
Box Office Winner: Domino. But considering that Elizabethtown is directed by Cameron Crowe (Jerry McGuire, Almost Famous) and probably had a smaller budget, it should fare relatively well. (Although, I do admit that I am somewhat turned off by the idea of another "quirky" woman redeeming the sad-sack protagonist; for examples, see: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Garden State.)
Who Should Win: North Country, or Elizabethtown. Domino seems like one of those kinds of films that look good on paper, but never quite work out. Also, Lucy Liu is in it.
DOOM vs. DREAMER: INSPIRED BY A TRUE STORY vs. STAY
The Case for Doom: Based on the classic video game, Doom is a sci-fi action thriller starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as Sarge. If you've read past the first sentence, you'll also want to know that a team in a scientific research station on Mars mysteriously disappears and the Rapid Response Technical Squad, led by Sarge, goes to the base to see what's up.
The Case for Dreamer: Inspired By a True Story: Ben Crane (Kurt Russell) is a horse trainer who has just been laid off. As part of his "compensation package," Crane receives Sonya, a racehorse with a broken leg who is five minutes away from becoming glue. The ubiquitous Dakota Fanning stars as Cale, Crane's daughter, and is once again reunited with Hide & Seek co-star Elizabeth Shue. Word is that Shue survives this one.
The Case for Stay: Ivy League professor and sometime shrink Sam Foster (Ewan McGregor) counsels a troubled youth (Ryan Gosling) who thinks he's going to die in three days.
Also Opening: Steve Martin's Shopgirl; the buddy action flick Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang with rehabilitated Robert Downey, Jr.; the sex comedy Barely Legal, about a trio of friends who set out to film their own porn movie. Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang will open wide on November 11.
Box Office Winner: Doom. In a slow weekend at the box office, this mindless action romp should have no trouble trumping a movie about a horse and the girl that loved her, and an iffy thriller starring Ewan "Box Office Slump" McGregor.
Who Should Win: Shopgirl. I know it's unfair of me to choose a film I haven't even featured, but it looks to be the best of the lot. Based on Steve Martin's novella (yes, that Steve Martin), Shopgirl is a quirky comedy about a young woman (Claire Danes) who must choose between an older suitor (Martin) and her current boyfriend (Jason Schwartzman).
[ Harry Potter has more wacky adventures, while Charlize Theron kicks some serious ass. Part II of the preview.]