SGN's 2011 fall film preview: Part I

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posted Friday, October 7, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 40

SGN's 2011 fall film preview: Part I
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

As we move into the last four months of the year, gone are the summer doldrums of sequels, comic book adaptations, remakes, and re-imaginings. In their place come more serious entertainments - Oscar fodder, if you will. The studios are looking to get a bit more serious as they try to attract an audience eager for substance.

Nowhere is this trend more apparent than in September. There is only one remake on the docket, Straw Dogs, and as it's more or less a straightforward take on one of Sam Peckinpah's most controversial and stomach-churning classics, one can't exactly say Screen Gems is expecting it to do blockbuster business. Other than Disney's 3D re-release of The Lion King, every other picture slated to open is an original project, and while some (like Sony's Moneyball or Summit's 50/50) obviously aim higher than others (I'm talking about you, Taylor Lautner and Abduction), the fact there's not a single sequel makes me smile.

I can't say the same for October. Three remakes (Footloose, The Thing, The Three Musketeers) and two sequels (Johnny English Reborn, Paranormal Activity 3) are all scheduled for release. Still, there's plenty that's original, including Sundance favorite Martha Marcy May Marlene and George Clooney's latest directorial effort The Ides of March, so to say everything aims low (or at least someplace overly familiar) would be a grave mistake.

Here are some of the films and events scheduled to hit Seattle screens in September and October. As always, release dates are subject to change, so don't hold it against me if a title that sparks your interest doesn't materialize.

September 9
Contagion - Director Steven Soderbergh's star-studded end-of-the-world viral thriller is more than just Outbreak with brains. This movie has a lot on its mind, and isn't just intent on trying to manufacture suspense. Problem is, it's almost trying to do too much - it tries to keep so many balls in the air that some of them can't help but get dropped.

The Hedgehog - A favorite at the 2010 Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF), this beautiful French-language coming-of-age story finally makes its domestic theatrical debut. Featuring stunning performances, exquisite camerawork, and a poignant central story, this beguiling import packs a major wallop and deserves a much larger audience (and a far bigger box office take) than it is probably going to get.

Higher Ground - Actress Vera Farmiga steps behind the camera directing herself in this intriguing, oftentimes powerful tale of a devout woman grappling with how strong her faith truly is when aspects of her life begin to fall apart. A little uneven at times, the movie never preaches and never pushes, allowing its delicately nuanced narrative to speak for itself.

The Interrupters - Director Steve James' (Hoop Dreams) spectacular documentary was one of the highlights of this year's SIFF. The acclaimed filmmaker told the story of three 'violence interrupters' patrolling the streets of some of Chicago's most notorious and violent neighborhoods. Powerful stuff, this intimately layered doc shows that real bravery doesn't always require a badge or gun, and just having the ability to listen and to speak the unvarnished truth is enough to help even the most troubled start down the path toward changing their lives for the better.

Warrior - More than just an MMA version of Rocky, director Gavin O'Connor's (Miracle) latest is a rousing family saga about two troubled brothers, one an AWOL Marine and Iraq hero, the other a down-on-his-luck high school teacher and family man with a bad mortgage and bills he can't pay, looking to find redemption and forgiveness inside a fighting arena. Nick Nolte (who has Oscar buzz swirling around him), Joel Edgerton, and Tom Hardy star, and are all spectacular.

September 16 - 18
Maelstrom International Fantastic Film Festival - Genre fans rejoice, as the third annual MIFFF promises to be bigger, bolder, and full of more blood, gore, and guts than ever before. With five features and more than 40 shorts being screened, the selections for this year's MIFFF have all the making of being an underground horror aficionado's dream. Head to for ticket information and for a complete list of titles. All films are scheduled to screen at SIFF Cinema at McCaw Hall.

September 16
Brighton Rock - Writer and director Rowan Joffe remakes the revered hard-boiled noir classic, updating things to the 1960s and features a pair of a sensational performances by Sam Riley and Helen Mirren. Not for every taste, this grim, violent, and emotionally barren story of crime, punishment, and revenge is nonetheless an aggressively entertaining treat for those with a fondness for just this sort of thing.

Chasing Madoff - A documentary about Bernie Madoff and the driven team of investigators who ultimately took him down. Not a lot more needs to be said than that.

Circumstance - The mesmerizing story of two female Iranian teenagers who risk everything when they begin to realize their friendship for one another is far deeper and much more intimate than they originally thought. Writer/director Maryam Keshavarz's debut is a sublime treatise on growing up, courage, and self-sacrifice, making it one of the most talked-about features to play at SIFF earlier this summer.

Drive - Riding a gas tank full of buzz since premiering at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, this down and dirty little thriller stars Ryan Gosling as a professional racecar driver who sometimes moonlights as crackerjack wheelman for lowlifes, thieves, and mobsters as long as the pay is good enough. Featuring a star-studded cast (including Carey Mulligan, Ron Perlman, Christina Hendricks, Bryan Cranston, and Albert Brooks), director Nicolas Winding Refn's English-language debut might just be the best action/suspense film of the entire year.

I Don't Know How She Does It - Based on the acclaimed best seller by Allison Pearson, directed by Douglas McGrath (Emma) and with a screenplay by Aline Brosh McKenna (Morning Glory), this dramatic working-woman and mother comedy starring Sarah Jessica Parker should be a heck of a lot better than it actually is. Sadly, the movie has no energy, no drive, no get up and go, and even though parts of it are just divine, it's really rather forgettable.

Mozart's Sister - Costume drama about Mozart's talented older sister Nannerl (Marie Féret) as she is forced to accompany her prodigy brother and hide her talents due to the mores of the time period.

September 23
Abduction - Twilight heartthrob Taylor Lautner gets his chance to headline his own movie starring as an athletic teenage prodigy who discovers he is not the son of the parents who raised him, and that globe-trotting political forces are intent to see him and anyone he comes into contact with dead. Directed by John Singleton (Boyz N the Hood), I'll say this for the generic-sounding thriller: it sure boasts one heck of a supporting cast, with Sigourney Weaver, Jason Isaacs, Alfred Molina, and Lily Collins all making appearances.

Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame - Another SIFF 2011 favorite returning for a limited theatrical engagement, this Hong Kong import is the work of the great Tsui Hark (A Chinese Ghost Story) and features stunt and fight choreography by the legendary Sammo Hung (Ip Man 2).

Dolphin Tale - A supposedly based-on-fact melodrama about a pair of kids who help nurse an injured dolphin (missing a flipper) back to health. Morgan Freeman, Harry Connick, Jr., Ashley Judd, and Kris Kristofferson costar as the adults who help them do just that.

Killer Elite - A surprisingly lifeless professional-assassin-versus-international-cabal-based-on-a-true-story thriller starring Jason Statham, Clive Owen, and Robert De Niro that's never quite as interesting as it wants to be and doesn't offer up enough in the way of thrills and chills to cover up the volume of clichés it openly revels in. That said, this is the best Statham has been in a film in quite some time, while Owen rules the roost making far more out of his shady security expert and ex-mercenary than the threadbare script ever comes close to hinting at.

Machine Gun Preacher - Gerard Butler stars as Sam Childers, a one-time drug dealer and notorious biker who found God, went to Africa, and became the tough-as-nails protector of Sudanese children forced by tribal warlords to become soldiers. Directed by Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace, Finding Neverland).

Moneyball - Brad Pitt stars as Billy Beane, a name Seattle Mariner fans have learned to rue and a guy who changed the face of professional baseball using odd statistical anomalies to help build the Oakland Athletics into a potent contender during the first half of the 2000s on a barebones payroll. Bennett Miller (Capote) directs from a script by Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) and Steven Zaillian (Schindler's List).

My Afternoons with Margueritte - The great Gérard Depardieu stars as a virtually illiterate older gentleman who by chance meets an elderly and highly intelligent widower (Gisèle Casadesus), and the two engage in a curious friendship that transforms both of their lives for the better. Another SIFF favorite returning for a limited domestic engagement.

September 30 - October 16
The Big Screen 70mm Film Festival - A treasured Seattle favorite returns after a multi-year absence bigger and better than ever. The Cinerama theater presents three full weeks of classic 70mm favorites shown as they were always meant to be. Films scheduled to screen include Lawrence of Arabia, My Fair Lady, Playtime, 2001: A Space Odyssey, West Side Story, The Sound of Music, and TRON, with more titles to be announced soon. Also on the docket, full-on three-strip Cinerama presentations of How the West Was Won and This Is Cinerama.

September 30
50/50 - Joseph Gordon-Levitt shines as a 20-something public radio producer who suddenly finds himself battling cancer and without the first clue as to the best way to go about doing that. Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, Anjelica Huston, and Bryce Dallas Howard costar in this surprisingly winning and shockingly drama filled with nearly as many laughs as it has tears.

Courageous - A melodrama concerning four law enforcement officers at varying stages of their respective careers and the way they deal with an unspeakable tragedy that affects them all.

Dream House - A psychological thriller starring Daniel Craig, Naomi Watts, and Rachel Weisz concerning a mysterious man dealing with ghostly psychological apparitions who may or may not have been responsible for the murder of his wife and two children.

Happy Happy - A perpetually happy wife and mother (Agnes Kittelsen) finds her life thrown for a loop when the proverbial 'perfect couple' moves in next door (they sing in the church choir, are both model-level attractive, and even have an adopted Ethiopian baby). No longer satisfied with being the forgotten member of her own family, during the Christmas holiday she goes out of her way to make an impression on her husband, children, and the entire neighborhood like she never has before.

Margaret - Director Kenneth Lonergan's follow-up to his 2000 sensation You Can Count On Me finally makes its theatrical debut after years of delay, re-edits, lawsuits, and handwringing. Not much in known about this one other than it features an impressive cast of A-listers (including Matt Damon, Anna Paquin, Mark Ruffalo, Matthew Broderick, Jean Reno, and Allison Janney), but the fact Fox Searchlight is giving it only a cursory release is not exactly a sign of confidence on their part.

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil - One of the very best films to screen during SIFF 2010 (that's right, last year's festival) finally hits theatres for its domestic run. The story of two backwoods yokels (Tyler Labine, Alan Tudyk) who inadvertently run afoul of a group of idiotic college kids who mistake them for Deliverance-like rejects, this grotesque and hysterical comedy of errors is a total hoot from start to finish. See this one the moment it opens.

What's Your Number? - Anna Faris stars in this comedy about a successful, yet still single career woman who enlists the aid of one of her closest friends (Chris Evans) to help her look into what's going on with the past 20 men she previously had a relationship with. You can guess what happens from there.

October 7
Blackthorn - A what-if western with Sam Shepard portraying an aging Jesse James residing in Bolivia under an assumed name and hooking up with a young protégé to exact justice against the villains and the lawmen who have done the both of them wrong.

Dirty Girl - Juno Temple stars as a sexually adventurous teenager who enlists the help of one her high school's shyest loners to assist her on a quest to find her biological father. Milla Jovovich, William H. Macy, and Mary Steenburgen costar.

Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life - The life and times of Jewish singer-songwriter Serge Gainsbourg (Eric Elmosnino), the father of esteemed actress Charlotte Gainsbourg, mainly following his most notorious romances with some of his era's most beautiful women including Juliette Gréco (Anna Mouglalis), Brigitte Bardot (Laetitia Casta), and Jane Birkin (Lucy Gordon).

The Ides of March - George Clooney steps back behind the camera for the first time since Leatherheads, starring as an up-and-coming politician running for president whose most trusted aid (Ryan Gosling) finds his idealism shattered when he discovers his boss isn't as perfect as he'd originally believed. Based on the play by Beau Willimon, this is easily one of October's most hotly anticipated titles.

Real Steel - Hugh Jackman in a futuristic tale about pugilistic robots. Someone want to tell me why this one just isn't titled 'Rock'em Sock'em Robots: The Movie'? I'm just saying.

Wanderlust - Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd in a domestic comedy about a couple tired of doing the normal everyday thing who try to live a more counter-cultural sort of life. Hilarity supposedly ensues.

October 14 - 23
The 16th Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival - The folks at Three Dollar Bill Cinema return to once again rustle up the best in LGBT filmmaking from across the globe, unleashing a two-week cinematic flurry worth getting hot and bothered about.

October 14
The Big Year - David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada) directs this comedy starring Steve Martin, Owen Wilson, and Jack Black about bird watching - yes, that's right, bird watching. This could be comedy gold.

The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 - Powerful documentary showcasing recently uncovered footage shot by Swedish journalists covering the Black Power movement during the 1960s and '70s.

Footloose - Pointless remake of the 1984 Kevin Bacon fan favorite featuring one of the dancers from Dancing with the Stars in a lead role.

The Thing - Pointless remake/prequel/re-imagining of the 1982 John Carpenter horror classic depicting the events that happened at the Norwegian Antarctic camp before Kurt Russell and company got involved. Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) and Joel Edgerton (Warrior).

October 21
Margin Call - A return to the wonderful days of the financial meltdown, showcasing 24 heart-stopping hours in the lives of investment bankers on the verge of losing it all. Zachary Quinto, Stanley Tucci, and Kevin Spacey star.

Martha Marcy May Marlene - Superb, emotionally blistering stunner featuring Elizabeth Olsen in a star-making and Oscar-worthy roll as the devastated and withdrawn woman who retreats to the lakeside home of her older sister (Sarah Paulsen) after fleeing a cult commune environment. One of the year's best films.

Paranormal Activity 3 - The highly secretive and supposedly final (but don't keep your fingers crossed on that front) entry in the Paranormal Activity saga that promises to answer many of the lingering questions left by the previous two thrillers.

The Three Musketeers - Director Paul W.S. Anderson's (Resident Evil, Death Race) 3D take on the Dumas classic featuring Milla Jovovich as Lady De Winter, Christoph Waltz as Cardinal Richelieu, Orlando Bloom as the Duke of Buckingham, Juno Temple as Queen Anne, Logan Lerman as D'Artagnan, and Ray Stevenson, Luke Evans, and Matthew Macfadyen as Porthos, Aramis, and Athos, respectively. Wake me when it's over.

October 28
Anonymous - Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, 2012) directs this period piece that posits William Shakespeare was a fraud and that his entire body of work was actually penned the mysterious Earl of Oxford. Rhys Ifans stars as the anonymous scribe while the great Vanessa Redgrave supposedly shines as an angry and vindictive Queen Elizabeth.

In Time - Sci-fi futuristic thriller set in a world where people stop aging at 25 written and directed by Andrew Niccol (GATTACA) and starring Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried as a couple on the run from a mysterious force looking to steal their remaining years. I'm sure it will all make sense when one actually sees the finished film.

Johnny English Reborn - Long-in-coming sequel to the 2003 cult favorite with Rowan Atkinson reprising his role as a bumbling British secret agent with a knack for transforming screw-ups into success.

Weekend - More or less a Gay variation on Before Sunrise, writer/director Andrew Haigh's smart, funny, moving, and superbly nuanced effort was one of my favorites from 2011's SIFF. The story of two men who meet by chance and share an entire weekend together, this movie shows a grace and an elegance similar motion pictures sadly lack, their unrequited love story a beautifully sweet reminder of life's simple pleasures and how easy it is to sometimes miss them when they're happening.

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