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Dann predicts fall movie season of action, twisted plots, animation
By Dann Gire | Daily Herald Film Critic

"The Fourth Kind"


"Love Happens"


"Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant"


"Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant"


"New York, I Love You"


"Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs"




"The Stepfather"




"Planet 51"


"Astro Boy"


"The Boys Are Back"


"The Twilight Saga: New Moon"




"Gentlemen Broncos"


"Where the Wild Things Are"


"Where the Wild Things Are"




"Disney's A Christmas Carol"


"Jennifer's Body"


"Toy Story 3-D"


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Published: 9/9/2009 11:43 AM | Updated: 9/14/2009 10:54 AM

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It's easy to forecast the movies coming up in the fall. They'll be intermittently bomby with a chance of pain and partly rowdy guys.

By all indications, we can look forward to a cooler-than-usual season populated by vampires, zombies, homicidal stepfathers, wild things, demons, aliens, astro boys and youths in revolt.

There will also be a front of animated features, with 2-D titles ("The Fantastic Mr. Fox," "Planet 51," "Astro Boy"), 3-D titles ("Disney's A Christmas Carol" and "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs") and the precipitous release of a Pixar double-bill, new 3-D versions of "Toy Story" and "Toy Story 2." Both have good Buzz.

Although one of the most anticipated movies of the fall, Martin Scorsese's thriller "Shutter Island," has been dropped from the forecast (it'll reappear on our radar next year), the upcoming season has its share of high-pressure situations ("Saw VI," "The Box" and "Jennifer's Body") along with unusual amounts of show ("Amelia" with Hilary Swank as Amelia Earhart, "Young Victoria" with Emily Blunt as the Queen, "Bright Star" with Ben Wishaw as the poet Keats).

So, prepare to weather the films of yet another autumn.

And remember, these release dates are like the paths of Category 4 hurricanes. They hit where expected most times, but not always. So frequently check the Daily Herald's movie guides and movie ads for date changes. That way, your night out won't be a washout.

SEPT. 18

"Amreeka" - When a West Bank mother and her teenage son move to Illinois, they encounter racism and misunderstanding. A subtle, shrewdly observed comic drama with a big heart.

"The Burning Plain" - A neatly plotted drama about a restaurant manager (Charlize Theron) who becomes the link to two seemingly separate subplots about young lovers and a plane crash. Co-starring the still-smoldering Kim Basinger.

"Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" - The popular children's book about food falling from the sky like rain comes to the silver screen as an animated comedy. Voices by Bill Hader, Anna Faris, Bruce Campbell and Andy Samberg.

"The Informant!" - Steven Soderbergh directs Matt Damon as a PhD. who becomes a whistle-blower on the biggest price-fixing scam in recent American history. Based on fact, but treated as a black comedy. Candy Clark co-stars.

"Jennifer's Body" - Megan Fox as a hot demonic cannibal going to high school? Only the feverish imagination of "Juno" screenwriter (and former stripper) Diablo Cody could conjure up something this perversely attractive. With Amanda Seyfried as the best friend who finds out too much. Seriously, with the amount of attention over a shot of these two women kissing, you'd think nobody had ever seen "Caligula."

"Love Happens" - Jennifer Aniston meets Aaron Eckhart, a self-help author who hasn't gotten over his wife's death. Can Jen help? And what are the odds she does?

"No Impact Man" - A doc about Colin Beavan's attempts to eliminate his carbon footprint. He'll be at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago opening night.

SEPT. 25

"Bright Star" - Jane Campion's account of the 1818 love affair between the tragic poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne, the young girl next door to him.

"Fame" - Remake of the ultra-pop and popular 1980 musical. Debbie Allen, Kelsey Grammer, Bebe Neuwirth and Megan Mullally lead a new class of kids at the New York Academy of Performing Arts. Being screened for critics after newspaper deadlines. A sure sign of a studio clunker.

"I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell" - A trip to a strip club goes awry for Tucker Max and his pals. Based on the (mostly) true experiences of the real Tucker Max, played by Matt Czuchry.

"The Invention of Lying" - Comedian Ricky Gervais codirects and cowrites a comedy about a perfect world where everyone tells the truth. Until one man (Gervais) learns to lie to Jennifer Garner. Intended to be a comedy version of "The Twilight Zone."

"Pandorum" - Space explorers wake up one day with no memory of who they are or what their mission is. An Alzheimer's disease metaphor? Ben Foster and Dennis Quaid star. Overture Films is hiding this from critics. My guess: Not an Oscar pick.

"Paris" - Oscar-winner Juliette Binoche stars in this look at a dancer whose heart disease causes him to see Paris as a city filled with dancers. Directed by Cedric Klapisch.

"The Providence Effect" - Doc about amazing Chicagoan Paul Adams III, who bought a West Side school from the Catholic Church 30 years ago and transformed it into a private institution that turns out successful graduates, 100 percent of whom go on to college.

"Surrogates" - In the creepy future, a human cop (Bruce Willis) investigates the murders of surrogates, robotic entities that people use to represent them in social situations so they always look nice. Ving Rhames and Radha Mitchell also star. Based on the graphic novel.

"A Woman in Berlin" - In 1945 Berlin, a local journalist (Nina Hoss) tries to protect herself from an invading Red Army that perpetrates mass rape upon the German women.

OCT. 2

"The Boys are Back" - Tough guy Clive Owen goes moist and squishy on us as the widower dad of two needy boys in Australia. He gets advice from his dead wife, too.

"Big Fan" -The world's greatest New York Giants fan (Patton Oswalt) gets his values checked when his supreme hero, linebacker Quantell Bishop, beats him up in the parking lot. Oswalt and director Robert Siegel will be at the Music Box Theatre in person opening night.

"Capitalism: A Love Story" - Oscar-winning doc maker Michael Moore looks at the free-market economy as it transitions between the Bush and Obama administrations.

"Toy Story & Toy Story 2: 3-D Double Feature" - Twice the animated fun with three times the dimensions! The opening event at the Venice Film Festival.

"Whip It" - "Juno" star Ellen Page goes "Kansas City Bomber" on us as a high school student who finds her niche in skating in action-packed roller derbies. Drew Barrymore's directorial debut, and it's a smash!

"Zombieland" - Woody Harrelson and Abigail Breslin play zombie slayers in a world ruled by the undead. It's a comedy with Bill Murray and Mike White.

OCT. 9

"Bronson" - A teenager winds up spending 30 years in solitary confinement, where he creates his own alter-ego, Hollywood tough guy Charles Bronson (Tom Hardy).

"Coco Before Chanel" - Plodding but visually intoxicating look at the early life of the French designer (Audrey Tautou) who came from the streets to build an empire.

"Couple's Retreat" - Partly shot in Buffalo Grove by Peter "Christmas Story" Billingsley. Couples agree to go to a marriage therapy resort, with mixed comedic results. Vince Vaughn rejoins Jon Favreau with Jason Bateman, Kristin Davis and Malin Ackerman in the cast.

"Free Style" - A young man (Corbin Bleu) has a dream to win the National Grand Champion Motocross. If only people believed in him.

"Good Hair" - African-American hair gets its own documentary! Chris Rock hosts Maya Angelou, Meagan Good, Al Sharpton, Nia Long and whole slew of other people with hairy experiences.

"In a Lonely Place" - Nicholas Ray's 1950 film noir classic returns to the Music Box with Humphrey Bogart as a murder suspect and Gloria Grahame as the neighbor who clears him, then wishes she hadn't.

"More Than a Game" - A doc that follows NBA superstar LeBron James and his classmates through their high school basketball careers in Ohio.

"A Serious Man" - In 1967, a Midwestern physics professor (Michael Stuhlbarg) watches his life implode as his wife runs off with another man, his daughter steals his money, his son won't behave, his brother won't move out, and a student wants to bribe him for a good grade. It's from the Coen brothers, so don't go thinking it's as dull as it actually sounds.

OCT. 16

"The Damned United" - Based on the true story of Brian Clough (Michael Sheen) and his 44-day reign as coach of the legendary LEED United, one of the top football (soccer) clubs in Great Britain.

"Law-abiding Citizen" - "Saw" meets "Death Wish" as hunky Gerard Butler concocts incredible plots to punish the men who let the killers of his wife and child walk out of prison after a plea-bargain. Michael Gambon and Jamie Foxx co-star.

"New York, I Love You" - The second in a series called "Cities of Love" movies. First was Paris, now New York with a roster of film shorts from different directors and stars, all about the Big Apple and its magic appeal. With Andy Garcia, Julie Christie, Shia LaBeouf, Robin Wright Penn, John Hurt, Cloris Leachman and a zillion other actors.

"Rashomon" - Akira Kurosawa's 1950 masterpiece returns to the Music Box in its big-screen glory. The influential tale of a murder/rape told from four people's points-of-view. An examination of the precarious nature of human perception.

"The Road" - A real father-son bonding movie. In a post-apocalyptic America, a dad (Viggo Mortensen) uses a single revolver to protect himself and his son against roving bands of cannibals. Guy Pearce, Robert Duvall and Charlize Theron co-star.

"The Stepfather" - A remake of the really scary 1987 tale of a man ("Lost" star Terry O'Quinn) who slaughters the ready-made families he marries into. Same story, but told from the point of view of a son (Penn Badgley) who worries about his mom's new perfect boyfriend (Dylan Walsh).

"We Live in Public" - Futurist Josh Harris takes a close, merciless look at the effect the Web has on humanity. Winner of the 2009 grand jury prize at Sundance.

"Where the Wild Things Are" - Maurice Sendak's classic children's story gets a live-action Hollywood treatment. Let's hope Spike Jonze doesn't muck it up like Mike Myers did "The Cat in the Hat." Mark Ruffalo, Catherine O'Hara, Forest Whitaker and Max Records star.

OCT. 23

"Amelia" - Double-Oscar winner Hilary Swank stars as Amelia Earhart, who vanished on a 1937 airplane trip over the Atlantic Ocean. Richard Gere plays her husband.

"Antichrist" - Lars Van Trier's controversial drama drew boos and praise at Cannes when it electrified audiences with its shocking scenes of violence and genital mutilation. Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg play a married couple who seek to revitalize their marriage at a retreat. It goes a little wrong.

"Astro Boy" - The 1960s Japanese cartoon series about a superhero robot gets a computer-generated upgrade with voices by Nicolas Cage, Kristen Bell, Charlize Theron, Samuel L. Jackson and Freddie Highmore.

"Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant" - A young lad (Chris Massoglia) makes a deal to save his best friend by becoming an apprentice to a vampire (Chicago's own John C. Reilly). With the fetching Salma Hayek and Willem Dafoe.

"An Education" - A young girl's coming-of-age drama set in early 1960s Great Britain. An impressive cast includes Emma Thompson, Peter Sarsgaard, Rosamund Pike, Olivia Williams and Alfred Molina.

"Motherhood" - It's called a "humorous and poignant look at the daily challenges mothers everywhere face; a hymn to the trials and joys of raising children and the necessity of not losing yourself in the process." That about covers it. Starring Uma Thurman, Minnie Driver and Anthony Edwards.

"Ong Bak 2" - As if the original one didn't have enough head-bashing and lightning-fast martial arts moves. A street thief (who used to be royalty, wouldn't you know) has a chance to avenge the murders of his parents during a competition.

"Saw VI" - Come on now. Does anyone really need a plot description? Apparently, Jigsaw is tougher to take out than Osama bin Laden.

OCT. 28

"Michael Jackson's This is It" - "High School Musical" director Kenny Ortega directs a documentary about the late King of Pop, being made just before his June 25 death.

OCT. 30

"Gentlemen Broncos" - A teen (Michael Angarano) goes to a fantasy writer's convention and it becomes a nightmare! An established writer (Jemaine Clement) has stolen one of his greatest ideas. Directed by Jared Hess of "Napoleon Dynamite" fame.

"House of the Devil" - Man, this looks really scary! A student lives (or does she?) to regret accepting a baby-sitting job at a big old house in the middle of nowhere. Based on actual events. Starring cult icons Mary Woronov and Tom Noonan.

"Yes Men Fix the World" - Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno make a documentary about the people who profited from Hurricane Katrina, and examine other pillars of American society.

"Youth in Revolt" - "Juno" star Michael Cera plays a 14-year-old lad with crummy parents and a desire to have the ultra hot Sheeni Saunders make a man out of him. With Jean Smart, Ray Liotta, Steve Buscemi and Justin Long.

NOV. 6

"The Box" - Frank Langella arrives at the door of a married couple (Cameron Diaz and James Marsden) with the answer to their financial prayers. They get oodles of free cash. All they gotta do is push a button on a little box that kills someone. But nobody they know. Is that a good deal or what? Directed by Richard "Donnie Darko" Kelly from a short story by the immortal Richard Matheson.

"Disney's A Christmas Carol" - Robert Zemeckis directs an animated update of the classic tale by Charles Dickens. This time, the eerily realistic animated humans look a little less creepy than the kids in his "Polar Express." But they still look scarily homicidal. Voices by Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman, Michael J. Fox and Carey Elwes.

"The Fourth Kind" - When people in a small Alaskan town keep disappearing, Milla Jovovich arrives to investigate, suspecting there might be a conspiracy going on involving alien abductions! Where are Mulder and Scully when you need them? Directed by Olatunde Osunsanmi, who gave us horror film "The Cavern," so don't get your hopes up.

"The Horse Boy" - Formerly titled "Over the Hills and Far Away." It's the story of a family who takes their autistic son to an aged shaman to see if the mystery man can help them. Strangely enough, a horse named Betsy provides an answer. A documentary by Michael O. Scott.

"Men Who Stare at Goats" - A bizarre-sounding comic look at a U.S. agent (George Clooney) who joins up with a journalist (Ewan McGregor) to locate a missing man (Jeff Bridges), the founder of a military unit that investigates psychic phenomena, for use as weapons, of course. With Kevin Spacey as a rogue psychic.

"Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire" - The worst title in recent movie history. Still, it's only the third movie to earn both the Audience Award and the grand jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival. It's the survival story of an obese Harlem teen with a nasty mom and a baby on the way. Mariah Carey wears a fake nose and no makeup as a social worker.

NOV. 13

"The Fantastic Mr. Fox" - Wes Anderson makes an animated feature! This one's based on the Roald Dahl children's book about a family of foxes struggling to survive area farmers who want them gone. Anderson promises a movie unlike any other animated film. (He didn't even use a studio for the audio tracks. He took the cast to a farm to record them.) With George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Owen Wilson and Bill Murray.

"Pirate Radio" - Formerly titled "The Boat That Rocked." Richard Curtis of "Love, Actually" fame directs a comedy about an illegal radio station during the 1960s. Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy and Gemma Arterton.

"Red Cliff" - Hong Kong action director John Woo's historical action adventure is actually a combination of two features edited to make an "international" release. Tony Leung stars. During the third century, the Emperor of China raises a million troops to fight two other hopelessly outnumbered kingdoms.

"2012" - Evanston's own John Cusack stars in a Roland Emmerick demolition extravaganza. He's a science-fiction writer who tries to save his family from a global disaster that levels all the great monuments on earth. Thandie Newton, Woody Harrelson, Danny Glover and Oliver Platt co-star.

"The Young Victoria" - Emily Blunt stars as Queen Victoria during her turbulent first years as the monarch, back when she developed a romance with dashing Prince Albert. Co-starring Rupert Friend, Paul Bettany, Miranda Richardson and Jim Broadbent.

NOV. 20

"The Blind Side" - Based on the true story of Michael Oher, a poor, overweight, undereducated and homeless black teenager who grows up to become an all-American offensive left tackle. Quinton Aaron plays Oher. Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw play the wealthy (white) Memphis couple who take him in and give him a chance. With Kathy Bates.

"The Messenger" - Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster star as military officers given the unenviable job of notifying next of kin of soldiers killed in the line of duty. When one falls in love with one of the widows (Samantha Morton), the other thinks there are some lines that should not be crossed. With Jena Malone. A first feature from director Oren Moverman.

"Planet 51" - The Rock (Dwayne Johnson) voices the animated human astronaut who lands on a planet he thinks is empty, but it has a population of perfectly green humanoids going about their business. Other voices by Justin Long, Jessica Biel, John Cleese and Gary Oldman.

"The Twilight Saga: New Moon" - Oh, no! Edward rips out poor Bella's heart (metaphorically) and vanishes like Rachel McAdam's husband in "The Time Traveler's Wife." This is the anxiously awaited sequel to last year's smash vampire romance "Twilight." Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson reprise their roles as would-be lovers. Taylor Lautner expands the cast as the resident werewolf. But will original director Catherine Hardwicke's replacement by Chris Weitz work, given his last relatively unengaging fantasy "The Golden Compass"?