While the summer season may have completely fizzled out as far as box office returns go, there was still plenty of good films thrown our way this August. Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Fright Night, and Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark all pushed the boundaries of the remake/reboot trend, while The Help proved itself to be the moneymaker DreamWorks was surely hoping for even if Warner Bros. will barely break even on their fifth Final Destination. To add insult to injury, here comes another helping of the bottom of the studios’ barrel with their September releases. Not everything looks as bad as you’d expect from the annual “dump month” but it doesn’t look entirely great either. Let’s take a peek.
Hitting a day early is The Debt with some great pedigree behind the scenes and a few in front as well. Director John Madden is not the football hero you’re thinking, but when he sets up a project at least know some thought will be put into it. It doesn’t hurt to bring along a writing team consisting of Matthew Vaughan and Jane Goldman (the duo behind X-Men: First Class, Kick-Ass, and Stardust), and Peter Straughan (The Men Who Stare at Goats and the upcoming Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy adaptation). Hopefully with a cast consisting of Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson, Ciarán Hinds, Jessica Chastain, Sam Worthington, and Jesper Christensen, it will make up for having sat through the trailer for what feels like at least a year now. Originally scheduled for release in 2010, maybe Focus Features is praying for some kind of Oscar buzz about their little espionage thriller that hopefully can.
Having a director (David R. Ellis, Final Destination 2 and 4, Snakes on a Plane, and Cellular) who knows a thing or two about both schlock and 3-D should help Shark Night 3D. Getting a PG-13 rating on the other hand either shows that the film was seriously dumbed down and heavily edited or the studio knew this was a good way to get more butts in the seats. Either way, any feature film featuring sharks is okay by me as they are my favorite animal next to my mini-dachshund named Beatrix Kiddo. With Sara Paxton cast possibly because she loves stripping down to her underwear, it makes you wonder what Donal Logue is doing in a 3-D horror movie about genetically-altered fresh water sharks. Hopefully he was cast as a comic relief because the man sure knows how to bring on the funny.
In other news, Dimension Films is finally releasing another film that seems to have been sitting around forever with their found-footage entry, Apollo 18. Whether it can wind up escaping the genre clichés and find a niche could happen so long as the film is more Blair Witch and less Paranormal Activity. With Timur Bekmambetov on board as producer there just may be hope for this after all seeing how it was originally planned for release in April, then moved to January of 2012, and now comes out today instead. None of that is a good sign and it’s not being screened for press so hopes are far from high on this one. No one will be surprised however, if the first thing out of the audiences’ mouth will be along the lines of, “Houston, we have a problem.”
I freely admit it, I used to watch Outbreak way too much as a teenager. The risk seemed far too real and basing it on the thankfully now-elusive Ebola virus just made it even scarier. While this may be the first time Steven Soderbergh’s delved into this type of a film, the man knows how to make a cracker jack suspense film when he wants to. Even the first Ocean’s Eleven had this element to the shenanigans keeping everyone glued to the screen on how they’d manage to pull off the big heist in the end. And working with Matt Damon for the fourth time at least he’s got a friend in tow who can seriously carry any film. The Informant! anyone? With an original screenplay courtesy Scott Z. Burns (Informant! and The Bourne Ultimatum), Burns must have something up his sleeve here to pique the interest of both friends once again.
Tom Hardy has been playing badasses for years now. From his big break in Bronson to his big Hollywood premiere in Inception, things just keep looking up for him. Before he makes his debut as the “Bane” of Batman’s existence in The Dark Knight Rises next summer, we get to bare witness to some good ol’ fashioned pummeling in Warrior. Director Gavin O’ Connor may have had a stumbling block with Pride and Glory, but his Miracle was a pleasant surprise. Now we get to see if O’ Connor can enlighten the sport of mixed martial arts the way he did hockey. I won’t be surprised if by the end of the film I still despise the so-called sport but there’s no denying its legions of fans.
It seems the going cringe rate associated with Happy Madison Productions is far too high lately. They haven’t been able to crank out one honestly good movie since 2006 when Grandma’s Boy just couldn’t stop bringing the laughs. While Nick Swardson was featured in that film, not to mention almost all of them along the way, it’s no surprise he finally gets his own chance to star. Even if the trailer just makes you want to run away, run away. Starring as the son of two porn stars, his character Buck Larson finds out who his parents really are and feels that he’s Born to Be a Star as well. With director Tom Brady at the helm, it’s no surprise this looks dreadful. When you’ve only got The Hot Chick and The Comebacks on your resume, you leave no hope for audiences. But with an R-rating and co-writers Adam Sandler and Allen Covert behind you, maybe the boys will finally manage to make a filthy hilarious movie we can embrace. Unfortunately for Brady, he’s the odd man out here so expectations are running below sea level.
A trio of flicks make their way this day and two look better than the third. First up there’s another remake rearing its head. This time its Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs’ turn. James Marsden and Kate Bosworth replace Dustin Hoffman and Susan George with Alexander Skarsgård stepping in as Del Henney terrorizing a man and wife who’ve relocated themselves from Los Angeles to the South in place of Peckinpah’s not-so-jolly England. With director Rod Lurie making his name in indie film territory there’s hope to be had even if the film looks to take an even more voyeuristic approach than Peckinpah even came close to.
Meanwhile, Sarah Jessica Parker still continues getting roles in a film whose title seems tailor made for ridicule: I Just Don’t Know How She Does It. If you were talking about landing lead actress roles, this one looks more like Bridget Jones than another Carrie Bradshaw. Maybe director Douglas McGrath can keep this more Devil Wears Prada or even Morning Glory than Laws of Attraction or 27 Dresses as it comes from yet another Aline Brosh McKenna screenplay just to keep the boys away and give the girls another reason for a night out.
This day another indie auteur tries his hand at balls-to-the-wall action with Ryan Gosling in the driver’s seat for Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive. Having just won Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival for this humdinger of a looking film, it seems to be looking at winning over the rest of the world upon its release. With a supporting cast consisting of Ron Perlman, Bryan Cranston, Carey Mulligan, and Albert Brooks, this film sound primed and ready for action. While it may not have won the Palme d’Or, that doesn’t mean it’s not ready to steal the money from your wallet.
Literally something for everyone opens today. First you’ve got what looks to be the best of the bunch, Moneyball. Brad Pitt stars as Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane with Jonah Hill as his right hand man Peter Brand. With Oscar-winning scribes Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List) and Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) adapting another Michael Lewis (The Blind Side) novel, along with Oscar-nominated director Bennett Miller (Capote) at the helm, there’s no doubt this is pure Oscar bait in the works.
To tide over the girls in the audience until he sheds his skin as a werewolf again, Taylor Lautner is on the run to find out why his baby photo is featured on a missing persons website in Abduction. The trailer features lots of things blowing up and director John Singleton knows a thing or two about bringing the goods in this department. With a surprising supporting cast featuring everyone from Maria Bello, Alfred Molina, Jason Isaacs, Lily Collins, and Sigourney Weaver, to Michael Nyqvist (!), hopefully writer Shawn Christensen can deliver some big dumb fun with his debut screenplay. It certainly looks more fun than it has any real right to be, but Lautner was actually pretty entertaining on his Saturday Night Live hosting stint so here we’ll get to see if he can carry a film with his shirt on.
For the art house crowd comes Gerard Butler looking scruff and gruff as Sam Childers aka Machine Gun Preacher. Director Marc Forster has been delivering the goods for a long time now with everything from Monsters Ball, Finding Neverland, Stranger Than Fiction, and The Kite Runner, while some have questioned his Hollywood attempts with the atrocious Stay and Quantum of Solace, aka the first true Bond sequel ever. But focusing on the true story of a former drug-dealing biker whose found God helping Sudanese children, it looks like Oscar bait is running on high this weekend between this and Moneyball.
For the real action fans comes a film just seething with potential, right down to its title: Killer Elite. Based on the novel The Feather Men by Ranulph Fiennes we get Jason Statham and Robert De Niro pitted against bad guy Clive Owen with a film whose tagline reads “May the Best Man Live.” If that doesn’t scream high octane action with that cast I don’t know what does! And finally, we get another 3-D family film from the manipulative producers of The Blind Side hoping to wring you of tears on top of your hard-earned cash with Dolphin Tale. Casting Morgan Freeman as the lead do-gooder alongside Ashley Judd, Harry Connick Jr., and a dolphin just seems like it was made with no intention aside from being melodramatic. Co-writer Karen Janszen only furthers my belief with credits ranging from Free Willy 2 to A Walk to Remember to Gracie. Even director Charles Martin Smith reigns from the original Air Bud so don’t be surprised if Warner Bros. spins this true tale into all sorts of goofy direct-to-video sequels.
Finally things slow down a bit for the end of the month but it’s not too soon for what the local press crowds are already declaring could be the best film of the year. 50/50 is the true story of one man’s battle and eventual win over cancer. Writer Will Reiser steeps the screenplay with what it’s really like to deal with his prognosis without all the violin cues and maudlin clichés. Casting Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen can only help matters even more. Both are hugely popular right now and while one seems to insist on only bringing the funny, anyone who’s seen Rogen in any Apatow production knows he can be genuinely sweet and emotional even while tickling your funny bone. With Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas Howard, and Anjelica Houston playing back up, I have no doubt this film will be every bit as good as the hype.
Haunted house movies have always been a Hollywood staple and they’ll never go away. Sometimes you just wish that a trailer doesn’t give everything away as it seems to have happened with Dream House. Universal Pictures better have some mighty surprises up their sleeves after having born witness to those two and a half minutes. But I suppose that really should be left up to writer David Loucka and director Jim Sheridan. I think how things turn out here will rely more heavily on Sheridan’s directing chops (Get Rich or Die Tryin’, In the Name of the Father, My Left Foot) than Loucka’s writing pedigree (The Dream Team, Eddie). But with a cast consisting of real-life newlyweds Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz, along with the always reliable Naomi Watts, I’d say things are looking more up for this house than the trailer gives away.
And last but certainly not least comes what could be one of the month’s better surprises. While on the surface it sounds like every other romantic comedy ever made, and the premise certainly doesn’t help, What’s Your Number? has an even more misleading title to boot. The source novel’s title, 20 Times a Lady would probably just be even more confusing for mass audiences so why not find yet another way to dumb down the advertising, right? Anna Faris stars as a woman looking to find Mr. Right by playing a case of High Fidelity to find out what went wrong in the past to help her future. Meanwhile, her slutty neighbor (Chris Evans) offers to help her connect with her exes but we all know what that will probably mean by the time the credits roll.
With supporting players ranging from Andy Samberg, Zachary Quinto, Joel McHale, Martin Freeman, Aziz Ansari, Anthony Mackie, and Thomas Lennon to real life hubby Chris Pratt, the comedy should flow freely so long as there’s plenty of ad-libbing afoot and Mark Mylod’s direction doesn’t get in the way. When your screenwriters are Gabrielle Allan (Scrubs) and Jennifer Crittenden (The Simpsons, Seinfeld, Everybody Loves Raymond, The New Adventures of Old Christine) are writing the jokes, ladies who obviously know funny , this should add up to more than it looks on paper.
Yes, September certainly lives up to the term “dump month” as there’s at least 18 films slated over five weekends and one Wednesday. But that doesn’t mean the month will be a total bust. There’s a few goodies sprinkled throughout even though we still have to slog through another October before we can finally start getting to the good stuff in November when Oscar starts calling everyone’s name.
Photos courtesy Focus Features, Relativity Media, Lionsgate, Screen Gems, Columbia Pictures, Open Road Films, Summit Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox