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Fall 2005 Arts Guide:
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Photograph by Sidney Baldwin

Summer in a Fall Preview: Summer Glau shields her eyes from the glare of Joss Whedon's 'Serenity,' the big-screen version of his small-screen bomb, 'Firefly.'

Autumn Leavings

Twelve reasons to go back to the movies this fall—and some excuses to stay away

By Richard von Busack

MORE THAN EVER, the mass-media's coverage of the cinema industry has resembled tidings from the Bizarro World. When audiences started staying away in droves this year, much speculation and forelock-tugging ensured. Was it because of too many sequels and remakes? Too-high ticket prices? Was it the filmgoers themselves, making themselves so much at home in theaters that they complain to the management that it's too dark to see when they're clipping their toenails?

In these articles, the phrase "stagnant wages" never appeared. Nor was it explained why we're supposed to have emotional investments in one very huge conglomerate exulting in a box-office triumph over some other corporate empire.

The moral of all this should be that no substitute exists for theaters that are programmed by people who know and love movies, and who have had experience with what works and what fails. At least when they lose their shirts, they've had an honorable failure.

Now the 2005 summer bummer fades, leaving behind dashed hopes and, in serious moviegoers, a burning desire to inflate and pop the Fandango Players. Here is a Hopeful Dozen worth enduring the cineplex for this fall:

The Exorcism of Emily Rose (Sept. 9) "Because there are no injections against Satan!" The film is based on the case of 22-year-old University of Wurzburg student Anneliese Michel. She would seem to have been one of the many fatalities of cinema itself. Michel's multidemon possession occurred suspiciously close to the splash caused by The Exorcist, which itself was based on a real-life church-ordered exorcism in St. Louis in the 1949. (Prairieghosts.com carries an account guaranteed to tickle Catholics, or those who just wish they were.)

This version has been transplanted to a backward part of America, where priest Tom Wilkinson stands trial for letting a beleaguered girl die during his care. Laura Linney (an actress I'd watch in anything) plays the lawyer for the defense.

It's not the movie I'm excited about so much as the possibility of a media frenzy if this thing sells: Imagine the fun of watching TV newspeople interviewing sky-pilots—pro, con and agnostic—on the subject of casting out demons, not to mention kids getting sore throats barking and growling in the schoolyards, claiming Pazuzu ordered them to do it.

The Libertine (Sept. 16) One more film trapped in the wreckage of Miramax, The Libertine may finally get a release thanks to the resoundingly large opening of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Johnny Depp stars as John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester, sea hero and sponge, wastrel and renown poet of the venereal court of King Charles II; his remarkable life was chronicled in Graham Greene's Lord Rochester's Monkey.

Oliver Twist (Sept. 23) Barney Clark as the beguiling orphan who survives his apprenticeship as a pickpocket. The film reteams Roman Polanski and writer Ronald Harwood from The Pianist. Ben Kingsley assays Fagin—basing the character, he's said, on a junk-dealer he used to see in Manchester. More pluses: Polanski's undoubted understanding for the darkness of the material, and Jamie Foreman (Duke from Layer Cake) as Bill Sykes.

Die Here Often?: Victor finds the girl of his dreams (or maybe nightmares) in 'Tim Burton's Corpse Bride.'

Tim Burton's Corpse Bride (Sept. 23) In the late 1800s, the betrothed Victor (voiced by Johnny Depp) goes to the underground and accidentally marries a turquoise-blue deadster (voiced by Helena Bonham Carter). Burton's first stop-motion animated feature since The Nightmare Before Christmas is both pre-Raphaelite and postmodern—and perhaps a cult film in the making.

MirrorMask (Sept. 30) Graphic-novel author Neil Gaiman, director Dave McKean and the Jim Henson Company—I've got the geeks' attention already, but the rest might be lured into theaters by Gaiman's innovative approach to an Alice in Wonderland plot. A 15-year-old girl (Stephanie Leonidas) from a circus family is drawn to an alternate reality of strange creatures. On the one hand, MirrorMask revels in tantalizing graphics and already enjoys good word of mouth. On the other hand, Labyrinth looked pretty good in the trailers, too. So did Legend.

Serenity (Sept. 30) Capt. Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) is the intergalactic version of the disillusioned Civil War vets who used to prowl the adult Western; this is the newest mission. A spinoff of the mishandled TV show Firefly, Serenity is directed and written by Joss Whedon, who was responsible for the best live-action TV show of the 1990s, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (Oct. 7) The meek cheeseman and his mute but expressive dog make their full-length debut in a Hound of the Baskervilles-style adventure in which a phantom rabbit menaces the all-important Giant Vegetable competition. Wallace (Peter Sallis) and his animal companion are running a humane trapping business; their rival Victor Quartermaine (voiced by Ralph Fiennes) intends to shoot to kill the bunny if he has a chance. Will it be a case of charming at 20 minutes but attenuated at 90?

Get Rich or Die Tryin' (Nov. 11) The filmmakers hope this will be Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson's Jailhouse Rock (or rather 8 Mile). 50 Cent plays a drug dealer who turns rapper, which isn't a stretch. What's interesting is the choice of director: Irishman Jim Sheridan, whose task is to help develop 50 Cent as an onscreen presence and find the musician's sensitive side for the camera.

The upside: Even the poster—Jackson's massive torso, whorled with tattoos—really looks like the stuff movies are made of. The downside: Like too many rappers, 50 Cent cranks out lyrics all about corrupt businessmen's self-justification. His words are more rugged, but it's the same damned song you'd hear after the third round of single-malts at the country club. (If the salesmen are young enough, the words are the same, too.)

Walk the Line (Nov. 18) Joaquin Phoenix stars as the great musical minimalist Johnny Cash, with Reese Witherspoon not quite what one had in mind as June Carter. (Amy Adams from Junebug would have been just about perfect.) Phoenix has the glower right—and the underlay of uncertainty. He shows the nerves that made Cash, in the singer's own words, swallow so many little white pills he got blisters on his throat. And director James Mangold (Heavy, Cop Land) is adroit filming low-budget life. But if the movie becomes a hit, it may spawn yet more overbred cover versions of Cash's songbook and regrettable incidents of Stanford MBA students singing "Deliah's Gone" at parties near you.

King Kong (Dec. 14) With Naomi Watts as the girl in the paw. It's Peter Jackson's first movie since the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Although this isn't a movie that particularly needs redoing, Jackson, on the evidence of the trailer, is clearly someone who understands the beauty and pathos of the story. He understands how the raging ape in the streets symbolized the fury of the Depression; the imagery may be just right for the discontented winter to come.

What a Raquet: Jonathan Rhys-Meyers courts Scarlett Johansson in 'Match Point.'

Match Point (Dec. 25 or later) Melinda and Melinda was a film that rabid Woody Allen fans loved and few else. It was preceded by Anything Else, a movie no one loved (and Allen had to take billing under Jason Biggs, yet). But Allen's newest was received as a breakthrough when it was presented out of competition at Cannes. Shot in London, it's the story of a climbing tennis instructor (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) caught in a triangle with Emily Mortimer and Scarlett Johansson. Imagine Allen producing great films in late age, like Buñuel or De Oliveira, but remember: Film-fest buzz is often as reliable as a $1,000 car.

The Fountain (Late 2005) Hugh Jackman in the past, present and future: as a Spanish conquistador, a cancer-fighting scientist and a space explorer in the year 2500. In all three episodes, he quests for the secret to immortality in the hopes of saving the life of the woman he loves (Rachel Weisz). Darren Aronofsky's science-fiction-tinged answer to The Hours was originally planned as a Brad Pitt vehicle. The challenging plot has to be weighed against the kind of visual headache-inducer epitomized by Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream.

As for the rest of the year, most of it divides into the usual four categories:


V for Vendetta (Nov. 4) From the comic-book series by Alan Moore (who denounced the movie in advance). It is a Thatcher-nurtured fantasy about a Guy Fawkes-masked mutant attacking a fascist England of the future. Those Matrix-auteurs the Wachowski Brothers write and produce, with Natalie Portman starring. The Legend of Zorro (Oct. 28) gives up more rose-and-sword swashbuckling, as our hero faces a centuries-old plot against California. And Charlize Theron stars in the live-action adventures of underfed secret agent Aeon Flux (Dec. 2) as directed by Karyn Kusama (Girlfight).

The Penn Is Mightier Than The Sword: Sean Penn plays Southern pol Willie Stark in 'All the King's Men.'

Remakes and Sequels

Dennis Quaid and Rene Russo star in Yours Mine & Ours (Nov. 23), the remake of the 1968 family comedy (with Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball in the original). Apparently, the story of a combined family of 18 kids was true. When The Brady Bunch debuted on TV a year later, everyone knew what it had been ripped off from. Raja Gosnell, auteur of the Scooby Doo film series, directs. Speaking of Scooby, a mystery of pirate ghosts might seem to be a natural for the low-comedy dog, but he's missing from the redo of John Carpenter's 1980 ghosts-on-the-coast thriller The Fog (Oct. 14).

Sean Penn steps into the hard-to-fill shoes of Broderick Crawford as Willie Stark in All the King's Men (Dec. 16) —with support by Jude Law, Kate Winslet, James Gandolfini and Anthony Hopkins. Fun With Dick & Jane (Dec. 21) reprises the 1977 Jane Fonda/George Segal stinker about straight suburbanites who become bank robbers, with Téa Leoni and Jim Carrey in the leads. On Oct. 28, the twisted serial killer of Saw strikes again in Saw II (they should have called it Saw Tooth).

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Nov. 18) follows an international Quidditch tournament and zeroes in on Harry's first crush. Rumor Has It (Dec. 25) is Rob Reiner's postmodern sequel to The Graduate, with Jennifer Aniston and Dennis Quaid in the quasi-incestuous tangle of the model for the Robinson family. The previews certainly don't put this film's best foot forward.

Families Patching It Up

In addition to Yours Mine & Ours, The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio (Sept. 23) has Julianne Moore in the true-life story of a mom of 10 who became a Guinness-book-level winner of contests back in the 1950s. Dreamer (Oct. 21) follows the rescue of the horse Sonador, who made it to the Breeder's Cup classic despite a broken leg; Dakota Fanning, Kurt Russell and Kris Kristofferson compose the pony's support team. Elizabethtown (Oct. 14) has Orlando Bloom finding romance with Kirsten Dunst during the preparation for his father's funeral; the director is Cameron Crowe (Jerry Maguire). In The Gospel (Oct. 7), an R&B singer connects with his estranged father. Estranged sisters Cameron Diaz and Toni Collette do the connecting in In Her Shoes (Oct. 7); Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential) directs.

Photograph by David James

We'll Always Have Tokyo: Ziyi Zhang and Ken Watanabe in 'Memoirs of a Geisha.'

Tragic Courtesans

Rent (Nov. 23). In the rock version of La Boheme, Taye Diggs and Rosario Dawson star as East Villagers caught between rising real estate rates and AIDS. Director Chris Columbus should give this urban show a more suburban turn of mind. Still, it wasn't the East Village that made this musical a hit, it was Larchmont and Westchester. Memoirs of a Geisha (Dec. 9), Rob Marshall's follow-up to Chicago, is based on Arthur Golden's bestseller. Ziyi Zhang stars as a young geisha learning the ropes.

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From the August 24-30, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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