Looking ahead to seven coming attractions in the coming weeks.
Every year about this time the movie industry starts rolling out their prestige pictures, the films they hope will gain them the acclaim and pursuant bragging rights that come from winning all the awards doled out around the first of the year (and helping them in the race to the Academy Awards, to boot.) The fall and winter seasons tends to cater to a more adult audience than the summer season, as well, with more fare for grown-ups taking their bows in multiplexes as well as the indie cinemas. Even the action films tend to offer more complex plots, with more mature stars.
The following seven films represent the coming attractions that caught our eye the most. There are dozens of more films premiering – and some look better than others, of course – but these are the ones we thought most worth ballyhooing.
Hereafter (opens wide release Oct 22.) – A triptych of stories dealing with death, the afterlife, and the meaning of both: a factory worker (Matt Damon) can reluctantly speak to the dead but has since abandoned the flashy media career that came with it; a television journalist (Cecile DeFrance) and her daughter are caught up in a cataclysmic tsunami; a young boy in London witnesses the death of his twin brother (George McLaren). All three stories converge at the end, as the characters unite.
The film opened in limited release last week, and response from the mainstream press has been uncharacteristically tepid compared to most of Clint Eastwood’s directing efforts.
The trailer reminds us, for no good reason, of last summer’s problematic Inception; we wonder how much this film’s debut played in Universal’s decision to push back The Adjustment Bureau, another reality-warping, Damon-starring melodrama, from September until next March.
Unstoppable (opens nationwide November 12) As an unmanned, half-mile long train loaded with combustible and poisonous materials threatens to destroy the city located in its path, a railroad engineer (Denzel Washington) and conductor (Chris Pine) race to intercept it and dismantle its engine.
The film marks Washington’s sixth collaboration with director Tony Scott; their last effort together, a remake of The Taking of Pelham 123, didn’t exactly set the world on fire in 2009. Nevertheless, Pine is an engaging and promising new talent and the concept is richer this time around, with far more water cooler potential. Too bad the poster looks like a direct-to-DVD jacket cover.
The plot is loosely based on a 2001 true story, though in reality the runaway train achieved speeds of only about 47 miles an hour. Crews slowed the train down to about eleven MPH, at which time a conductor jogged alongside, hopped aboard, and shut down the engines.
The Next Three Days (Opens nationwide November 19) – When his wife (Elizabeth Banks) is falsely imprisoned for murder, a college professor (Russell Crowe) plans her escape with help from a convict (Liam Neeson) who successfully staged his own jailbreak. Determined despite his inexperience, the professor goes through with the break-out even while his mistakes make the city close in around his family. Brian Dennehy, Olivia Wilde, and Daniel Stern co-star.
Directed by Paul Haggis (Crash), the film remakes the 2007 French festival hit Pour Elle. The American version moves the action to Pittsburgh, no doubt taking advantage of the city’s intricate layout and complex infrastructure.
The film seems intriguing for no apparent reason than it’s the kind of big-star attraction we keep wishing Hollywood would start making again (the vampires and super-heroes are getting old.) After years of less-than-satisyfing work, Crowe is overdue to lead something that shows his still-considerable everyman chops. Banks was seemingly in every movie released in 2008 but hasn’t worn out her welcome yet.
Casino Jack (Opens December 1) – Based on the true-life story of lobbyist Jack Abramoff (Kevin Spacey), who was convicted in 2006 for massive fraud, conspiracy, and tax evasion in a far-reaching investigation that also jailed a U.S. Congressman and nine other lobbyists and congressional staffers. A legend among lobbyists and influence peddlers, Abramoff spent millions on hotels, vacations, and other incentives in order to curry political favors on behalf of his clients.
Directed by George Hickenlooper, the film co-stars Barry Pepper, Jon Lovitz and Kelly Preston, though of course the focus is on Spacey in full-tilt megalomaniac mode as the flashy Abramoff. Hickenlooper’s 2001 effort The Man From Elysian Fields was a quiet triumph of intelligence and grace, though expect more bombast given the subject matter and.. well, just by Spacey’s participation, really.
The public gave a resounding “meh” in response to last summer’s similarly smart/caustic Middle Men, so who knows how they’ll embrace this one. And because you can’t make these things up, Abramoff will be released from prison just three days before the film’s release.
The Company Men (Opens nationwide December 10) – a drama taking aim at the Great Recession, this ensemble piece centers around an executive (Ben Affleck) forced to work construction for his brother-in-law after his six-figure salary corporate position is downsized; Tommy Lee Jones and Chris Cooper also appear as men on different rungs of the corporate ladder similarly affected by the new economic realities.
Television producer John Wells (Southland, ER) directs his own script, which from the trailer below looks earnest possibly to a fault. Given the subject matter, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Some media outlets still list the film’s October 22 release date, even though a recent postponement moved its berth back to December 10. Sadly, the economy likely won’t be any better seven weeks from now, either.
Tron: Legacy (Opens nationwide December 17) – Though not by design a film for grown-ups, it’s pointless not to expect thirtysomething Gen X’ers to check out this long-awaited upgrade to one of the 80′s seminal films. Set in the present day, the son (Garrett Hedlund) of the world’s most brilliant game developer (Jeff Bridges) remains haunted by his father’s disappearance. Traveling to the abandoned Flynn’s Arcade, he enters a virtual world and joins his father on a quest to overthrow CLU 2, its despotic master control program.
Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner both reprise their roles from the 1982 Disney original, with Olivia Wilde and Michael Sheen appearing as new additions to the digital universe. Everything else is familiar to fans of the original but made new again by the intervening three decades of special effects innovation.
CGI maestro Joseph Kosinski makes his debut directing effort, but as with the original the characters and story are probably only half the fun. Props to Bridges and Boxleitner for coming back, too.
True Grit (Opens nationwide December 25) – Speaking of Bridges (we’re doing that a lot lately, it seems), he headlines the Coen Brothers’ remake of the 1969 John Wayne classic about a young girl (Hailee Steinfeld) who enlists an alcoholic marshal (Bridges) to find the outlaw who killed her father (Josh Brolin). Damon plays the Texas Ranger who accompanies them.
Wayne, probably no one’s idea of a great thespian, won the Best Actor statue for his performance in the original. This new version has Oscarbait written all over it, so expect nominations for Bridges (again) and likely for Steinfeld as well:
The Coens have for our money been in something of a slump over the last decade, with more misses (The Ladykillers, Burn After Reading) than bull’s-eyes thanks in part to a troubling mean streak that seems to grow with each successive film. On the other hand, their first effort with Bridges has become something of a cultural phenomenon, and their previous effort with Brolin did win Best Picture.
- Michael Kabel