What I look forward to most about the fall season—in addition to far more tolerable weather and post-season baseball—is that by and large the movies tend to get better. Freed from the tyranny of mega-budget summer blockbusters while gearing up for the end-of-the year awards bait, sometimes a critic can go two or even three weeks without seeing a single remake or sequel. Even better, most of these films have the decency to not be in 3-D. Of course, there are always exceptions.
The first and strangest thing you’ll notice about the trailer for Brett Ratner’s Tower Heist (11/4), is that Eddie Murphy looks like he’s trying. (I know, it’s been awhile.) As a fast-talking criminal hired by Ben Stiller and Matthew Broderick to knock over the penthouse apartment of a Bernie Madoff-styled swindler played by Alan Alda, Murphy seems to be back in full Billy Ray Valentine mode. Ratner’s movies rarely deliver, but his new working relationship with Murphy is how the latter ended up hosting next year’s Oscar ceremony. Will this be beginning of a long-awaited comeback, or just another crappy Eddie Murphy movie?
Some stories are indeed timeless, so I guess that’s why this generation needs their own Footloose (10/14). Let’s hear it for the boy Kenny Wormald, taking up the mantle of Ren McCormick, spiky-haired troublemaker in a podunk town that has outlawed dancing. Dennis Quaid steps in for John Lithgow as the pop-music hating preacher, but I for one am bummed they couldn’t talk Kevin Bacon into taking the role. (He seems to have a good sense of humor about this kind of thing.) Curiously enough, the remake was directed by Craig Brewer, whose previous picture Black Snake Moan centered on a nymphomaniac Christina Ricci chained to a radiator. Almost paradise?
On the one hand, I suppose we should be thankful that the annual Halloween weekend tradition of Saw sequels has at long last run its course. On the other, it appears they have been replaced by Paranormal Activity (10/21) pictures, so be careful what you wish for. The third installment of this fluke franchise has been carefully shrouded in the usual secretive marketing gimmickry, but early glimpses suggest that it might be a prequel to last year’s prequel, going back to the childhoods of our haunted sisters. If so, does this mean it will all be shot on crappy 1980’s VHS camcorders?
The trailer for Adam Sandler’s Jack And Jill (11/11) caused quite a ruckus on the Internet a couple months back, mainly because it was indistinguishable from the parody-trailers for terrible Sandler films in the comic’s unfairly maligned Funny People. Sandler once again stars as some absurdly wealthy dude who wears shorts to work, but in a terrifying twist also plays his own twin sister. Countless comedies have shown us that there’s nothing funnier than a dude dressed like a lady, particularly when he’s doing a wacky accent. An apparently dementia-addled Al Pacino pops up as himself, falling head over heels for the Sandler-vestite.
Speaking of cross-dressing, Clint Eastwood and Leonardo DiCaprio are already hitting the interview circuit, explaining that their Oscar-bait J. Edgar (11/9) is “not a movie about two gay guys.” I don’t know how anybody would possibly jump to such a conclusion, considering that the picture chronicles J. Edgar Hoover’s lifelong “close friendship” with Clyde Tolson and has a script by Milk writer Dustin Lance Black. Biopics are generally my least favorite kind of pictures, but Eastwood is still Eastwood, and at the very least it will be fascinating to watch DiCaprio try and contort himself into a squat little troll. The Social Network ’s Winklevii Armie Hammer plays Tolson, but there’s only one of him this time.
You get a double dose of Clooney this fall. First, King George of Hollywood directs, co-writes and co-stars in The Ides Of March (10/7), a political drama based on Beau Willimon’s Off-Broadway play, Farragut North. The ubiquitous Ryan Gosling stars as an idealistic campaign worker who falls under the spell of Clooney’s charismatic “change candidate.” (Because that kind of thing always works out so well in the end.) Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Jeffrey Wright and Marisa Tomei round out the absurdly qualified cast.
And George is back again a month later with The Descendants (11/18), writer-director Alexander Payne’s long-awaited follow up to 2004’s Sideways. Here Clooney stars as a Hawaiian family man who discovers that he’s been cuckolded, but not until after his wife quite inconveniently ends up in a coma. There’s been a curious disconnect between the picture’s rapturous reception at last month’s Telluride Film Festival and a Toronto premiere that went over significantly less well. Questions abound, like where the hell has Payne been for the last seven years, and why would any woman want to cheat on George Clooney?
But these movies are all mere prelude to the fall’s biggest event. That’s right; I’m talking about the desperately anticipated wedding of Edward Cullen and Bella Swan. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part I (11/18) should provide a timely warning for teenage girls everywhere: It might seem like a fun idea at the time, but sex with sparkly vampires can ultimately cause serious damage to your lady-parts. Sadly, for reasons that only a cynic would assume have more to do with money-grubbing than artistic integrity, the film has been split into two parts, so it looks like we’ll have to wait another few months to watch Taylor Lautner’s hunky werewolf fall in love with a baby.
Dear culture vultures: For months we scoured the city to bring you the best of what Philly has to offer this season, and we think we’ve done a damn good job of bringing something for everyone. Into art? You should know that curators and artists everywhere are doing their best to take art out of their galleries and into your community. Want theater? We found a scrappy, independent circus troupe whose stunts you should never try at home. There’s also a roundup of what’s on tap for our favorite stages. If comedy is your thing, we've got a list of the season's best events (like a tribute to the late Mitch Hedberg, he of the famous one-line zingers). Music? Check. Dance? The Russian ballet awaits you on. We even examine the state of storytelling, which, of course, is the world's oldest favorite pastime yet somehow a "novelty" in today's world. Enjoy all this and more!
Matt Damon delivers in "The Martian"