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Sara's fall 2009 movie previews
Arts & Entertainment
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Sara's fall 2009 movie previews

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

Fall movie previews aren't as easy to write as you'd think. The main problem? September. The first couple of weeks are an absolute killer, as studios tend to dump problematic productions (Whiteout, All About Steve), slickly produced genre throwaways (Gamer, Sorority Row) and stuff they just don't plumb understand (9, Extract) during the month.

There are exceptions, of course. Jane Campion's Bright Star and Cédric Klapisch's Paris (opening in Seattle September 25) are two of the best films I've seen this year, while Matt Damon's delightful performance in Steven Soderbergh's The Informant! might just be the juiciest and most utterly enthralling of the actor's career. Other reasons to cut September a break? Film festival favorite The Burning Plain has finally gone into general release, while the low-budget shocker Paranormal Activity (also opening September 25) is generating buzz comparable to that which surrounded The Blair Witch Project back in 1999.

As for October, November and December, there is actually plenty to get excited about. New movies from the Coen Brothers (A Serious Man, October 9), Wes Anderson, (The Fantastic Mr. Fox, November 20), Jim Sheridan (Brothers, December 4), Spike Jonze (Where the Wild Things Are, October 16), Clint Eastwood (Invictus, December 11), Richard Kelly (The Box, November 6), Michael Moore (Capitalism: A Love Story, October 2), Peter Jackson (The Lovely Bones, December 11), Jason Reitman (Up in the Air, November 13), Nancy Meyers (It's Complicated, December 25), Pedro Almodóvar (Broken Embrace, December 25), Rob Marshall (Nine, November 25) and Mira Nair (Amelia, October 23) are all on the docket, while relative newcomers like Lee Daniels (Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire, November 6) and Lone Scherfig (An Education, November 13) have seen both of their films generate the kind of Oscar-worthy excitement any of their fellow filmmakers would do backflips over.

There are questions, of course: Will the frenzied tween audience which made Twilight a smash last year show up in the same numbers for the obnoxiously titled sequel The Twilight Saga: New Moon (November 20)? Can Drew Barrymore make a seamless transition from actress to director with her roller derby comedy Whip It (October 2)? Are audiences excited about another adaptation of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol (November 6), even if it is in 3-D and stars a motion-captured Jim Carrey in a reported six different roles? Is the world still so Michael Jackson-crazy that the documentary concert film This Is It (October 30) will be a hit? Can Disney's The Princess and the Frog (December 4) prove that hand-drawn animation still has a place in a crowded multiplex? And, finally, are audiences ready for Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes, (December 25), a CGI and martial arts-infused blockbuster wannabe that appears to be more Pirates of the Caribbean than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle?

But the biggest questions all revolve around Avatar (December 18), James Cameron's return to the director's chair 12 years after Titanic made him the self-proclaimed king of the world. Can this effects-heavy production recover its reported $300-million price tag? Will Cameron revolutionize 3-D technology the same way he did special and creature effects with many of his previous adventures like Aliens, The Abyss and Terminator 2: Judgment Day? And, ultimately, can a movie that employs motion-capture effects for the majority of its running time meet with the kind of success films like The Polar Express and Beowulf couldn't manage?

The following are the Seattle release dates for some of the notable titles expected to hit local theaters by the end of the year. As always, these dates are subject to change, so don't blame me if one of the titles you're excited about suddenly disappears from the calendar without explanation.

September 25
Amreeka - A favorite at SIFF, this independent production about an immigrant single mother and her teenage son finally hits theaters. Definitely worth a look (even if it doesn't quite live up to the hype).

Fame - Remake of the 1980 original and the short-lived 1982 television series, one has to wonder if this is hitting theaters because of the current High School Musical craze or because people just like singing the theme song.

I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell - Bachelor-party-gone-wrong comedy starring no one of consequence and barely receiving a theatrical release before being shuffled off to the DVD discount bargain bin.

No Impact Man - Acclaimed documentary following a Manhattan-based family's attempt to leave no impact on the environment.

Pandorum - Surreal-looking sci-fi thriller with Dennis Quaid that unfortunately was not screened for critics (which is never a good sign).

Paranormal Activity - Low-budget shocker about a haunting that is rumored to be so scary Steven Spielberg would not allow the screener to stay in his house overnight (he did, however, have DreamWorks and Paramount pick it up for distribution).

Paris - Wonderful multi-character saga of the City of Lights that just so happens to also be one of the year's best motion pictures.

Surrogates - Bruce Willis braves a world of robots hooked up to the psyches of their human doppelgangers and realizes technology isn't all it's cracked up to be.

October 2
The Boys are Back - Clive Owen stars in this Australian production about a self-centered sports writer who suddenly becomes a single parent. Apparently much better than that description, Owen is being talked about as a contender for a potential Oscar nomination.

Capitalism: A Love Story - Michael Moore returns with an indictment of United States financial institutions, politicians on both sides of the aisle (but mostly Republicans - not that this should come as a surprise) and CEOs for some of the biggest corporations the focus of the majority of his ire.

The Invention of Lying - Ricky Gervais gives it another go after last year's very funny Ghost Town underperformed, headlining (and co-directing) this all-star satire about a world where no one ever lies and the one man who discovers the value of stretching the truth.

The September Issue - Documentary chronicling legendary Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour's preparations for her magazine's 2007 fashion issue. Sorry, but neither Meryl Streep nor Anne Hathaway are anywhere to be found.

Toy Story/Toy Story 2 3-D - A double feature of two of Pixar's most popular and enduring entertainments returns for a two-week run in preparation for next summer's Toy Story 3, and they're both in 3-D!

Whip It - Drew Barrymore makes her directorial debut with this charming and massively entertaining adaptation of Shauna Cross' popular novel about a teenage girl's (nicely played by Ellen Page) growing infatuation with Texas roller derby and the effect that has on her beauty pageant-obsessed mother (a sensational Marcia Gay Harden).

Zombieland - Woodie Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg and Emma Stone fight to stay alive in a world populated by zombies run amok. Think Night of the Living Dead meets Shaun of the Dead with a little Adventureland or Superbad thrown in for good measure.

October 9
Couples Retreat - A Christmas Story star Peter Billingsley makes his directorial debut with this comedy starring Vince Vaughn, Jason Bateman, Kristen Bell and Malin Ackerman. While the boundaries of good taste will undoubtedly be stretched, I fear the chances of any leg lamps marked fra-gee-lay (or, in laymen's terms, fragile) making any appearances are sadly slim.

The Other Man - Richard Eyre's long awaited follow-up to Notes on a Scandal starring Liam Neeson, Laura Linney and Antonio Banderas chronicles an adulterous affair gone horribly wrong. I might be going mad here, but in the movie world, do adulterous affairs ever go any other way?

A Serious Man - The Coen Brothers' latest uncomfortable comedy is set in 1967 and involves a Jewish professor whose life goes wildly off the rails thanks to his imbecile brother's refusal to move out of his and his wife's home.

Still Walking - Japanese film about a family that gets together for a reunion every year on the anniversary of the eldest son's death. In his recent review of the film, Roger Ebert compares writer/director Hirokazu Kore-Eda with the great Yasujiro Ozu, and if that isn't reason enough to put this import at the top of your must-see list, then I don't know what else would be.

October 16
Black Dynamite - Blaxploitation spoof that inexplicably won the Golden Space Needle Award as the audience's favorite film at this year's Seattle International Film Festival.

Coco Before Chanel - Audrey Tautou as legendary fashion icon Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel. The word on the film has been decidedly mixed, but considering the subject matter I almost guarantee that the costumes are going to be positively out of this world.

Five Minutes of Heaven - Director Oliver Hirschbiegel returns to Downfall form with this exacting dramatic thriller starring Liam Neeson as a former IRA assassin coerced by the media to meet with the little brother of the man he killed 25 years earlier.

Law Abiding Citizen - F. Gary Gray's (The Italian Job) thriller about a district attorney (Jamie Foxx) faced with an everyday man (Gerard Butler) out for revenge after a plea bargain he authorized allows the killers of the fellow's family to get off relatively unscathed.

New York, I Love You - Eleven-part anthology film about the Big Apple. Directors include the great Fatih Akin, diminutive actress Natalie Portman and overblown egomaniac Brett Ratner.

The Stepfather - Remake of the 1987 cult horror favorite about an evil potential parent murderously trying to construct the perfect family that has undoubtedly been retooled and defanged in order to obtain a PG-13 rating.

Where the Wild Things Are - Director Spike Jonze' eagerly anticipated adaptation of author Maurice Sendak's classic children's story. This will either be a timeless classic on the level of The Dark Crystal or Labyrinth or an unmitigated disaster. Considering my affinity for the source material, I'm deliriously hoping for the former to happily come to pass.

October 16-25
The 14th Annual Seattle Lesbian and Gay Film Festival - The opening night film is the Quentin Crisp biopic An Englishman in New York staring the great John Hurt in the title roll. Other highlights include Eating Out 3: All You Can Eat, the outstanding Israeli/Palestine documentary City of Borders and an archival presentation of John Waters' A Touch of Mink.

October 23
Amelia - Oscar bait directed by Mira Nair and starring Hilary Swank about legendary pilot Amelia Earhart. Here's hoping the film flies as high as its heroine.

Astro Boy - Computer animated adaptation of the popular Japanese comic series featuring the voices of Freddie Highmore, Nicolas Cage, Donald Sutherland, Kristen Bell, Samuel L. Jackson and Charlize Theron.

Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant - Darren Shaw's popular series of young adult books gets the Hollywood treatment with In Good Company and American Pie director Paul Weitz at the reigns.

The Damned United - Based-on-fact drama about coach Brian Clough's 44-day reign as the head man for one of England's most popular soccer franchises. The great Michael Sheen plays the main character, while the criminally underrated Colm Meaney co-stars as one of the figureheads behind the coach's demise.

Saw IV - Just in time for Halloween, Jigsaw returns to dismember a few more victims with his "tests" while Lionsgate Films gets to swindle a few more millions out of an apparently endless supply of imbeciles willing to view more of the boringly same.

Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas 3-D - Director Henry Selick's perennial favorite returns for its annual holiday theatrical run.

October 30
Antichrist - Director Lars von Trier's polarizing horror-thriller finally hits theaters so all of us can finally see for ourselves what all the fuss has been about.

The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day - Or, the film otherwise known as the sequel no one I have ever spoken to anywhere and anytime has ever asked for.

Gentlemen Broncos - Cute-looking comedy Napoleon Dynamite tag team Jared and Jerusha Hess about a teenager attending a fantasy writer's convention who discovers his idea has been stolen by an established and hugely popular author.

Michael Jackson's This Is It - Backstage documentary featuring rehearsal footage of the late pop star's preparations for his London comeback concert series. No idea what the finished film will look like, but early clips (like one of Jackson singing "Human Nature") are admittedly sensational.

November 6
The Box - Donnie Darko director Richard Kelly's adaptation of Richard Matheson's eerie short story "Button, Button" about a 1970s-era couple (Cameron Diaz, James Marsden) presented with a mysterious box that will solve all their financial problems; they just have to push the hidden button. The catch? If they do, they will indeed get the money, but someone unknown to them will also die.

A Christmas Carol - Robert Zemeckis - who will apparently never make another non-animated movie - uses stop-motion technology and 3-D effects (as well as an omnipresent Jim Carrey) to bring Charles Dickens' classic to the big screen for the umpteenth time. Now ask me if I care.

The Fourth Kind - Supposedly fact-based thriller about an Alaskan woman (Milla Jovovich) who discovers an otherworldly answer to over 40 years of mysterious disappearances.

Men Who Stare at Goats - Academy Award-nominated screenwriter Grant Heslov makes his directorial debut with a satirical adaptation of Jon Ronson's acclaimed book chronicling Lyn Cassady (George Clooney), an apparent Army officer who claims to be a part of a special battalion specializing in the usage of paranormal psychic powers.

Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire - Wrap your lips around the name Mo'Nique and the words "Best Supporting Actress Nominee." Now, use those two things in the same sentence. Why? Because after this film is released, I guarantee you that is what is going to happen. Heck, we might even have to change the word "nominee" to the word "winner," and you can take that sentiment to the bank (or at least your company's office pool, which ever is more reasonable).

November 13
2012 - Director Roland Emmerich destroys the world. Again. Maybe this time for good.

An Education - Acclaimed coming-of-age drama about a 1960s suburban Londoner (Carey Mulligan) and how her life changes when she enters into a romance with a playboy (Peter Sarsgaard) nearly twice her age. Expect multiple Oscar nominations for filmmaker Lone Scherfig's stunning English-language debut.

Pirate Radio - Richard Curtis' long-awaited followup to 2003's Love, Actually about a pirate radio station operating from the open sea has been delayed (and re-titled) so many times I don't know whether to be mildly curious as to its quality or quietly pray it comes and goes quickly as to not sully the names of any of the talented cast and crew associated with it.

November 20
The Blind Side - Director John Lee Hancock made The Rookie, one of the most sensational and entertaining sports biographies of this decade. He is the only reason I want to see this based-on-fact weepy-looking melodrama with Sandra Bullock chronicling the rise of an undereducated and homeless high school student from depravity to excellence, the trailer saccharine enough for me to gag out loud right in the middle of the movie theater.

Fantastic Mr. Fox - Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums auteur Wes Anderson gets animated with his stop-motion adaptation of Roald Dahl's timeless children's classic.

Planet 51 - Computer animated story of a suburban alien family having to endure the presence of a human astronaut after his rocket ship lands on their front lawn.

The Twilight Saga: New Moon - A second opportunity for tween girls to get excited, scream out loud, openly cry and otherwise lose their collective minds at the multiplex. That said, those clips of the Volturi in the trailers sure are sensational.

November 25
Nine - Rob Marshall's (Chicago) eagerly anticipated adaptation of the Broadway stunner starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Sophia Loren, Nicole Kidman, Marion Cotillard, Kate Hudson, Judi Dench and Penélope Cruz based partly on Federico Fellini's 8 ½.

Ninja Assassin - Everybody is kung fu fighting in director James McTeigue's action-packed follow-up to 2005s stunning V for Vendetta. Like that one, the Wachowski Brothers are both behind the scenes, so expect numerous rumors to abound about who actually directed what and when.

Old Dogs - Robin Williams and John Travolta try to prove they're still viable comedic movie stars by appearing in this anemic-looking Disney effort from the same guy who made Wild Hogs. Considering that nightmare was a smash with general audiences, I'm not exactly hoping common sense on the part of ticket buyers will suddenly reign.

The Road - Based on the sensational post-apocalyptic novel by Cormac McCarthy, this long-delayed thriller is easily one of the most eagerly anticipated films of the entire fall. The early word is strong (especially for actor Viggo Mortensen), but one can only guess to how audiences will respond to the bleak subject matter and nihilistic tone.

November 27
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans - Nicolas Cage apparently turns in one of his most eccentrically unhinged performances (which, for him, is saying something) in idiosyncratic director Werner Herzog's (Rescue Dawn) not-a-remake remake of Abel Ferrara's 1992 Harvey Keitel potboiler Bad Lieutenant.

Red Cliff - John Woo's (Face/Off) massive Chinese epic starring Tony Leung and Takeshi Kaneshiro finally sees a domestic stateside release.

Up in the Air - Jason Reitman's much buzzed follow-up to Juno, starring George Clooney as a corporate hitman who flies from city to city letting company executives know they've been fired. As of right now, this is the consensus frontrunner to win the Best Picture Academy Award.

December 4
Armored - Action-packed B movie with an A-list cast of character actors (including Matt Dillon, Laurence Fishburne, Fred Ward and Jean Reno) about a crew of armored car drivers attempting to rob their own payload stymied when one of their own suddenly grows a conscience.

Brothers - Director Jim Sheridan's (In America, My Left Foot) long-delayed remake of director Susanne Bier beloved Danish original starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman and Tobey Maguire.

Everybody's Fine - All-star melodrama with Robert DeNiro, Drew Barrymore, Melissa Leo, Sam Rockwell and Kate Beckinsale about a widower who sets out on a road trip to reconnect with his estranged children during the Thanksgiving holiday.

Me and Orson Welles - Cutiepie Zac Effron plays a member of the Mercury Theater players in director Richard Linklater's (Before Sunrise, Dazed & Confused) biopic of a pre-Citizen Kane Orson Welles.

December 11
Did You Hear About the Morgans? - Odd looking romantic comedy with Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker bearing an unlikely resemblance to the 1997 Tim Allen/Kirstie Alley abomination For Richer or Poorer.

Invictus - Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby, Unforgiven)-directed Oscar-fodder based on the true story of South African leader Nelson Mandela and his relationship with his country's 1995 World Cup Rugby Team, starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon.

The Lovely Bones - Director Peter Jackson leaves the worlds of Hobbits and giant monkeys behind to take on the emotionally perilous terrain of Alice Sebold's best-selling novel.

The Princess and the Frog - Disney returns to its hand-drawn animated roots with this timeless tale of a Louisiana princess and her relationship to a talking frog claiming to be a prince. Aladdin creators Ron Clements and John Musker are at the helm, while Oscar-winner Randy Newman writes the songs and the score.

December 18
Avatar - A small little movie set in the distant future that is rumored to revolutionize 3-D technology and made by some guy who apparently was responsible for this tiny picture that supposedly made something of an impact back in 1997 called Titanic. Maybe you've heard of it.

The Young Victoria - The criminally underrated Emily Blunt finally gets a lead role worthy of her talents, starring as a young Queen Victoria and set during the first few years of her reign.

December 25
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakuel - Another sequel nobody was asking for, and yet 20th Century Fox decided to inflict upon audiences anyway. Here's hoping it meets the box office death its predecessor deserved but for some reason never achieved.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus - The final film of actor Heath Ledger's career. Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law all step in to complete the character in order for idiosyncratic director Terry Gilliam's (Brazil, 12 Monkeys) latest fantasy to see the light of day.

It's Complicated - Another Nancy Meyers (Something's Gotta Give, The Holiday) feminine fantasy starring Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin. While her films are almost always too slick and simplistic, with those three in the cast I admit this is one comedic melodrama I almost can't wait to see.

Sherlock Holmes - I have no idea what to make of Guy Ritchie's (Snatch) action-heavy take on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's iconic character. The trailer is silly and absurd, but with Robert Downey, Jr. in the lead, Jude Law as Dr. Watson and Rachel McAdams as the mysterious love interest, I can't help but be intrigued. Let's just hope it is more Pirates of the Caribbean (the first one) than it is Young Sherlock Holmes.

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