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Documentaries, demons and a dark lord: Fall films delve for depth
By Dann Gire | Daily Herald Film Critic

What's supervillain "Megamind" to do when he bests his biggest rival? Kidnap a lovely lady, of course.


Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) and young Wall Street trader Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf) come to an understanding in "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps."


Two very different anchors (Diane Keaton and Harrison Ford) host a morning show in "Morning Glory."


Terror returns in "Paranormal Activity 2."


"Blood Simple" gets an unusual makeover in "A Woman, A Gun and a Noodle Shop."


An expectant dad (Robert Downey Jr.) and wannabe actor (Zach Galifianakis) go on a nightmarish road trip in "Due Date."


Bryce Dallas Howard and Matt Damon star in one of the plot threads of "Hereafter."


The teen wizard (Daniel Radcliffe) prepares for his final battle against Voldemort in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I."


It's good owls against the bad in "Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'hoole."


The teen wizards pursue Voldemort in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1."


It's good owls against the bad in "Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'hoole."


"Megamind" seeks out new challenges in the animated 3D adventure.


"Waiting For Superman" examines the American education system.


Andrew Garfield, left, and Carey Mulligan star as good friends in "Never let Me Go."


Carey Mulligan, left, and Keira Knightley star as close friends in "Never let Me Go."


"Let Me In" presents the season's sole vampire (Chloe Moretz).


A convict (Edward Norton) tries to manipulate a parole officer (Robert De Niro) in "Stone."


A truck driver (Ryan Reynolds) is "Buried" - with only a lighter and a cell phone.


A woman (Diane Lane) champions an unlikely champion in "Secretariat."


Prepare for more mayhem in "Saw 3-D."


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Published: 9/3/2010 12:02 AM | Updated: 9/3/2010 10:57 AM

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The best news of the fall movie season: Only one vampire film will be coming our way, at least up through Nov. 19.

"Let Me In," a remake of a critically acclaimed Swedish film, stands as the only mainstream motion picture about bloodsucking undead creatures on the autumn horizon. We could use a breather from fangs and unrequited yearnings for a while, don't you think?

Meanwhile, more 3-D movies will invade theaters this fall, each one seeking to capture the public's temporary fascination with the visual gimmick. Variety reports 2010 will see the release of 23 3-D films, but wait! Thirty will be coming to a theater near you in 2011.

Not since the 1950s when "Bwana Devil," "Murders in the Rue Morgue" and Alfred Hitchcock's "Dial M for Murder" led the charge of three-dimensional entertainment has there been an onslaught of stereoscopic movies.

Good luck trying to keep up with the 3-D titles.

"Resident Evil: Afterlife" added "3-D" to its title, while "Alpha and Omega 3-D" dropped its "3-D" (even though it will still be shown in 3-D). "Saw 3D" bucks the style trend by not putting the hyphen between the 3 and D. The animated 3-D adventure "Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole" doesn't flaunt "3-D" in its title, either.

This fall will also see lots and lots of documentaries, especially "Waiting For Superman" from Davis Guggenheim, the director of Al Gore's Oscar-winning global warming doc "An Inconvenient Truth."

Also up: two alien invasion thrillers, the return of Wes "Nightmare On Elm Street" Craven, a Chinese remake of the Coen brothers' "Blood Simple" (I am not making this up), Renee Zellweger's shelved 2008 horror drama, a remake of the vile 1978 rape-and-revenge opus "I Spit on Your Grave" and M. Night Shyamalan's newest terror tale that he neither directs nor writes.

Release dates can and will be changed at the whims of nervous Hollywood marketing geniuses. So read the Daily Herald's Time out! section for up-to-date movie information.

Ready? Here we go.

SEPT. 10

• "Bran Nue Dae" - This Australian musical, based on a stage production, tells the upbeat story of Willie (Rocky McKenzie), a lad who runs afoul of a priest (Geoffrey Rush) at a religious mission and takes a 3,000-mile journey of discovery while trying to get home. The impressive Australian outback supplies the backdrop.

• "I'm Still Here" - Actor Casey Affleck (Ben's little bro) directs a film chronicling the life of brother-in-law Joaquin Phoenix after he announced his retirement from acting to segue into a new career as a hip-hop musician. Phoenix cowrites and coproduces. I'm not sure this is journalistically impartial.

• "Legendary" - A teen (Devon Graye) joins his high school wrestling team to reunite his estranged family, who split up after his father died 10 years earlier. With the amazing Patricia Clarkson.

• "Resident Evil: Afterlife 3-D" - Milla Jovovich returns as Alice for her third sequel to the 2002 science-fiction thriller based on the popular video game. Alice continues her fight against the Umbrella Organization, as well as the zillions of viral zombies trying to eat her alive. Ali Larter and Kim Coates join up.

"The Sicilian Girl" - This crime drama is based on the true story of a 17-year-old Sicilian girl (Veronica D'Agostino) who violates the pact of the Mafia by ratting out the hit men who killed her father and brother. To a judge, no less. Can you say "borrowed time"?

• "Soul Kitchen" - In Hamburg, Germany, a chef named Zinos lets his brother take over his restaurant, the Soul Kitchen, while he takes a trip to China. When Zinos returns, his beloved establishment has been taken over by criminals.

SEPT. 17

• "Alpha and Omega" - Think "It Happened One Night" with animated wolves. After being shipped across the country by park rangers, wolves Humphrey (Justin Long) and Kate (Hayden Panettiere) must travel back to their home turf - if they can survive each other's personalities. Other voices by Christina Ricci, Danny Glover and the late Dennis Hopper.

• "Devil" - M. Night Shyamalan contributed the concept for this thriller, which intends to do for elevators what "Psycho" did for showers. Five strangers are trapped in a high-rise elevator. Terror ensues when a man with a scary, skull-like face pops up out of nowhere. A trailer shows all five passengers apparently dead in the elevator car, so who knows?

• "Easy A" - "Zombieland" star Emma Stone plays a high school teen in a modern spinoff of the classic "Scarlet Letter." When she lies about losing her virginity, her social world changes dramatically. With Amanda Bynes.

• "Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould" - A doc about the famous pianist, who's already inspired at least five previous docs.

• "Heartbreaker" - A professional heartbreaker (Romain Duris) is hired to bust up the impending marriage of a beautiful heiress (Vanessa Paradis) by her own father 10 days before the wedding. Watch out for Cupid's arrow, Heartbreaker!

• "Mademoiselle Chambon" - It's so French! A blue-collar laborer named Jean (Vincent Lindon) puts his family at risk when he falls for his son's homeroom teacher, the delightful and sophisticated Ms. Chambon (Sandrine Kiberlain). His wife (Aure Atika) begins to suspect.

• "The Town" - Ben Affleck directs himself and "Hurt Locker" star Jeremy Renner in the story of a Bostonian ruffian who must choose between a new life with his hot girlfriend and his current life hanging out with his deadbeat buddies robbing banks and causing mayhem. "Mad Men" star Jon Hamm co-stars with Rebecca Hall.

• "The Virginity Hit" - Four guys set out to document the age-old rite of passage called losing one's virginity. From director Huck Botko, who not only cowrote "The Last Exorcism," but also directed and wrote the short "Broken Condom."

• "A Woman, A Gun, and a Noodle Shop" - Eminent Chinese director Zhang Yimou gives the Coen brother's 1984 neo noir first feature "Blood Simple" a marvelous makeover, transporting the tale of marital infidelity, murder and burglary to a desert town of China about two centuries ago. A jealous noodle shop owner hires a corrupt policeman to bump off his wife and her younger lover. Several scenes are a triumph of image.

SEPT. 24

• "Buried" - Ryan Reynolds plays U.S. truck driver Paul Conroy. While on a job in Iraq, he wakes up buried in a coffin with only a cigarette lighter and a cell phone with a battery that could expire at any moment! He's got about 90 minutes of oxygen, too. Reynolds took on the role with no rehearsal.

• "Catfish" - Filmmaker Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost start shooting a doc about Ariel's brother Nev and wind up with a reality thriller involving photography, painting and the Internet.

• "Enter the Void" - From France's controversial bad boy director Gaspar Noe ("Irreversible") comes a tale of a drug-dealing teenager killed in a public restroom. As a ghost, he continues to guard his little sister, as he swore to do in life. Reportedly a challenging and unforgettable movie, and not always in a nice way.

• "Jack Goes Boating" - Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman makes his directorial debut with an adaptation of Bob Glaudini's Broadway play about two couples: a married couple coming apart, and two single people coming together. John Ortiz, Amy Ryan and Daphne Rubin-Vega join Hoffman in the cast.

• "Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole" - Zack Snyder, director of "300" and the "Dawn of the Dead" remake, tries his hand at animated drama in this tale of good, wise owls fighting against soldier owls that have kidnapped young Soren (voice by Jim Sturgess) and trained him to be one of them. Voices by Hugo Weaving, Helen Mirren, Abbie Cornish and Geoffrey Rush.

• "Never Let Me Go" - Three best friends grow up together at an exclusive English boarding school. When they get old enough to be played by Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield, they discover that they've been groomed to make a series of mysterious "donations." If students fall in love, however, these "donations" are postponed. For a while.

• "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" - It hasn't even opened yet and Michael Douglas' ex-wife is demanding half his salary from Oliver Stone's sequel to his 1987 drama. Shia LaBeouf plays a young man who wants to marry Gordon Gekko's daughter (Carey Mulligan, who was 2 years old when Douglas won his best actor Oscar as Gekko).

• "You Again" - Betty White plays Grandma Bunny. What more needs to be said? OK, a woman (Kristen Bell) sets out to sabotage her brother's upcoming wedding to her old high school rival (Odette Yustman) who mercilessly bullied her. This movie had me at Grandma Bunny. It also has Kristin Chenoweth, Cloris Leachman and Jamie Lee Curtis as well.

OCT. 1

• "Case 39" - After sitting on the shelf for two years, Renee Zellweger's bad seed horror movie finally gets released. She plays a social worker who takes in a 10-year-old girl (Jodelle Ferland) from a troubled family. Then she realizes it wasn't the family that caused the trouble.

• "Ed Gein: The Musical" - Yep, the same Ed Gein whose murderous exploits served as inspiration for such films as "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," "Deranged" and "Psycho" inspired this musical comedy horror tale, produced for $9,000 and shot in Gein's home state of Wisconsin. Dan Davies, who wrote and stars in the movie, has a grandfather who was best pals with the sheriff who arrested the serial killer.

• "A Film Unfinished" - A doc about an unfinished Nazi Warsaw ghetto propaganda film in which Jews are shown attending elegant dinners and going to the theater - while stepping over the bodies of their murdered comrades.

• "Freakonomics" - Six maverick doc makers direct an adaptation of the strange 2005 best-seller that examines how things really work in the world. This I gotta see. Morgan Spurlock and Alex Gibney lead the charge.

• "Howl" - James Franco plays counterculture poet Allen Ginsberg of the Beat Generation. When his famous poem "Howl" goes on trial, the prosecutor (David Strathairn) wants him jailed, but the defense attorney (Jon Hamm) says let freedom of speech ring. With Jeff Daniels, Mary-Louise Parker, Bob Balaban and Treat Williams.

• "Let Me In" - No, it's not a supernatural remake of "My Bodyguard." It's the Americanized remake of the critically acclaimed Swedish movie about a bullied boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) who befriends his young next-door neighbor (Chloe Moretz). She's a vampire, by the way.

• "The Social Network" - Using a "Rashomon" approach, this drama tells the differing accounts of the fact-based story of how a Harvard student ("Zombieland" star Jesse Eisenberg) became a billionaire by inventing Facebook. Except that his friends and associates claimed he stole their idea and launched lawsuits. David "Seven" Fincher directs the drama based on Ben Mezrich's 2009 "The Accidental Billionaires."

• "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger" - Woody Allen directs a comic drama about an author (Josh Brolin) in London who flirts with a neighbor (Freida Pinto) to get away from clashing with his wife (Naomi Watts). She's got the hots for her boss (Antonio Banderas). Meanwhile, her dad (Anthony Hopkins) is having a good time with a hooker (Lucy Punch). Zany stuff ensues.

• "Waiting for Superman" - Oscar-winning documentary maker Davis Guggenheim takes on the American education system by following five families around the country as they try to get their children into "better" schools.

OCT. 8

• "Chain Letter" - A lesson in why you should never break a chain letter. When a maniac killer threatens to kill six teenagers if they break the chain, guess what the dummies do? Nikki Reed, Betsy Russell and Brad Dourif star. Any guesses on who plays the mad slasher?

• "I Spit on Your Grave" - A gang of thugs repeatedly rapes a woman, who survives and plots heinous revenge against her attackers. A remake of the notoriously violent Israeli-made 1979 rape-and-revenge exploitation film starring Camille Keaton, Buster Keaton's granddaughter. Sarah Butler plays the new victim/avenger. In the age of "Saw," this could be a rough one.

• "It's Kind of a Funny Story" - A black comedy about a clinically depressed teenager who receives a new look on life after he checks himself into an adult psychiatric ward and meets a fellow patient (Zach Galifianakis). Emma Roberts supplies the obligatory romantic subplot.

• "Life As We Know It" - When their married best pals die in a car accident, Holly and Eric (Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel) agree to raise an orphaned baby and live in her parents' Georgia house. The catch: Holly and Eric aren't married. They don't like each other. They had a really bad date once. Can joint custody be the conduit to true love?

• "My Soul to Take" - It has touches of "Nightmare on Elm Street," not a surprise considering Wes Craven wrote and directed both. A shaggy serial killer returns to his hometown to stalk seven people who were born on the day he allegedly died. Could one of the seven be the killer? It's got a no-name cast, so anyone could die at any moment!

• "Nowhere Boy" - The story of John Lennon, played by Aaron Johnson, and how his troubled youth contributed to his artistic spirit, especially after he meets Paul McCartney (Thomas Sangster).

• "Secretariat" - The trailer makes it look like a formula, standard-issue Hollywood sports underdog movie, uh, make that underhorse movie. Diane Lane plays the gutsy Penny Chenery, who gambles everything on a ragtag racehorse that becomes the stuff of sports legends. With John Malkovich, Scott Glenn, James Cromwell and Fred Dalton Thompson.

OCT. 15

• "Inside Job" - It could the most important doc of the decade, if done right. Charles Ferguson directs an examination of how the financial meltdown of 2008 occurred. Matt Damon narrates.

• "Jackass 3-D" - You know that sooner or later Johnny Knoxville and his band of crazies would go 3-D, right? But seriously, can we really call this a documentary?

• "Last Train Home" - Every spring, 130 million Chinese migrant workers journey to their home villages for the annual New Year's holiday. Filmmaker Lixin Fan spent three years recording footage for this documentary that focuses on one couple who've made this pilgrimage for the past 20 years.

• "RED" - RED means "retired and extremely dangerous." Bruce Willis plays a former black-ops agent whose idyllic retirement becomes threatened by a high-tech assassin, forcing Willis to reassemble the old team to ensure his ability to receive a pension. An action comedy based on the graphic novel and co-starring John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman, Richard Dreyfuss, Helen Mirren, Brian Cox and Ernest Borgnine.

OCT. 22

• "Conviction" - It's the "Erin Brockovich" of 2010! Double Oscar winner Hilary Swank plays real-life mother Betty Anne Waters, who put herself through law school so she could help her brother, a man wrongfully convicted of murder and shortchanged by a string of public defenders. With Peter Gallagher, Sam Rockwell and Minnie Driver.

• "Hereafter" - Clint Eastwood directed this? Yep. It's a hope-filled tale of people recovering from disasters. Matt Damon's San Francisco psychic has a tough time finding true romance; Cecile de France almost dies in the 2004 tsunami; English twins experience the 2005 London subway bombings. Written by Oscar magnet Peter Morgan of "The Queen" and "Frost/Nixon."

• "Paranormal Activity 2" - The first "Paranormal Activity" ended with a demonic entity apparently eating the camera. That was the ending? Whatever. Katie Featherston returns as Katie, now the mother of a little boy. Can't wait to see how many hours she stands perfectly still while watching him sleep.

• "Stone" - The opening selection at this year's Chicago International Film Festival. A convicted arsonist (Edward Norton) tries to manipulate a parole officer (Robert De Niro) into getting him out of prison. How? It involves the arsonist's drop-dead gorgeous wife (Milla Jovovich).

• "Tamara Drewe" - Stephen Frears directs a bouncy little romance about a hot newspaper reporter ("Quantum of Solace" co-star Gemma Arterton) who sends shock waves through the English village where she grew up. She's returned to see her childhood home being sold. Romance, shenanigans and general silliness follow. Based on the graphic novel by Posy Simmonds.

OCT. 29

• "The Company Men" - Three corporate executives (Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper and Tommy Lee Jones) are living well. Until they get laid off. Suddenly, they must redefine themselves as husbands, fathers and manly men without incomes. John Wells, creator of TV's "ER," tells the story of how the other half became the other, other half. With Kevin Costner as Affleck's brother-in-law.

• "Saw 3D" - A group of Jigsaw survivors seeks the support of a self-help guru, but one of them, Bobby Dagen, has a few issues that spell trouble for everyone. The first theatrical feature to be shot with the new SI-3D digital camera system. Yes, the filmmakers were dying to use it. Series icon Tobin Bell returns along with first "Saw" star Cary Elwes, Betsy Russell and Sean Patrick Flanery.

NOV. 5

• "Due Date" - If the movie is as funny as the theatrical trailers, this will be two or three hoots minimum. Expectant father Robert Downey Jr. takes a road trip from Atlanta to L.A. with Zach Galifianakis' eccentric, wannabe actor with deceased dad issues. From director Todd Phillips, who gave us the highest-grossing (and gross) R-rated comedy in history, "The Hangover."

• "Fair Game" - The true story of CIA agent Valerie Plame, who was outted by the Bush Administration in retaliation for her husband's New York Times Op-Ed piece accusing the White House of altering information about Iraq's arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. Naomi Watts plays Plame. Sean Penn plays her hubby. Directed by Doug "The Bourne Identity" Liman.

• "Megamind" - Robert Downey Jr. couldn't fit this animated comedy into his schedule (see "Due Date" above), so Will Ferrell took the title role of the blue supervillain who keeps kidnapping TV reporter Roxanne Ritchi (Tina Fey). He's just lost ever since he defeated his heroic opponent Metro Man (Brad Pitt).

• "127 Hours" - That's the amount of time that mountain climber Aron Ralston was trapped under a boulder, until he cut his arm off to escape. James Franco plays Ralston. It's directed by Oscar-winning "Slumdog Millionaire" director Danny Boyle.

• "Vision: From the Life of Hildegard von Bingen" - Based on the true story of a 12th century Benedictine nun (played by Barbara Sukowa), a Christian mystic, philosopher, composer, playwright, poet, naturalist, scientist, physician, herbalist and ecological activist. She might have just broadened women's roles in the order, despite plenty of detractors who think she's gone too far.

NOV. 12

• "Morning Glory" - Harrison Ford playing a curmudgeon? What a stretch. He's a hard-line TV news anchorman assigned to help prop up a saggy morning TV show with flighty co-host Diane Keaton. Keaton flighty? What a stretch.

• "Skyline" - Oh, boy! An old-fashioned flying saucer invasion movie. This one has spaceships equipped with tractor beams that can suck millions of screaming humans up from the earth. Looks promising, but it's directed by the Strause Brothers of Waukegan, who gave us "Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem."

• "Unstoppable" - Looks like 1985's "Runaway Train." A runaway train (see?) loaded with toxic materials is choo-choo-chooing toward a small town. Aboard the rocketing vehicle is a favorite Hollywood device: an old veteran engineer (Denzel Washington) and his young apprentice (Chris Pine). Directed by Tony Scott. The story was inspired by an actual 2001 event in Ohio.

NOV. 19

• "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1" - The seventh and final book in J.K. Rowling's literary epic has been split in two so that the filmmakers can be more faithful to the original source material. Oh, and make twice the money, too. (Part 2 premieres on July 15, 2011.) Harry, Ron and Hermione are on the run from evil Lord Voldemort and the Death Eaters while searching for the objects that contain parts of the evil one's soul. Directed by David Yates.

• "The Next Three Days" - Russell Crowe, fresh from his Robin Hood tights, plays a husband who devises a clever plan to bust his convicted murderer wife (Elizabeth Banks) out of prison. Written and directed by Paul "Crash" Haggis.

• "White Material" - "Whiteness brings unhappiness," a voice says. French icon Isabelle Huppert plays Maria, struggling to keep her coffee plantation functioning even as workers leave and things get dangerous during a time of civil war when racial tensions explode in an unspecified African country. Directed by France's Claire Denis. With Christopher "Him Once Tarzan" Lambert.

• "Monsters" - Six years ago, an alien life-form came back with a U.S. space probe, landed in Mexico and flourished. Now a journalist must escort his boss' daughter through the infected zone to reach safety in America. Something big, creepy and growly wants to stop them.