Underfire: The Untold Story of PFC Tony Vaccaro


Sleepers in unquiet graves.

Sleepers in unquiet graves.

(2016) Documentary (HBO) Tony Vaccaro, James Estrin, Tyler Hicks, Alex Kershaw, Michel Lepourty, Anne Wilkes Tucker, John G. Morris, Sam Tannenbaum, Mike Forster, Lynsey Addario. Directed by Max Lewkowicz

 

Soldiers are a special sort of breed, one to be admired immensely. Not only are they willing to lay down their lives for their country but they often return home damaged – particularly during times of war. They are forced to do things that go against everything they are taught (i.e. Thou Shalt Not Kill) and they see things – horrible things – that reflect humanity at its absolute worst.

Tony Vaccaro was barely out of high school when he was drafted to serve as an infantryman in the Second World War. Orphaned at a young age in Italy, he left that country and moved to New Rochelle, NY when the Fascists took over. While in high school, he developed an interest in photography and when he was drafted, applied to the Army Signal Corps to take photographs for them. He was turned down, told that he was too young for the Signal Corps. “I’m too young to take pictures,” he reflects in the documentary about his 272 days in the service of his country during which he took more than eight thousand photographs, “But not too young to kill.”

He took pictures of weary servicemen, resting for a moment after marching or fighting. He took pictures of men being shredded by shrapnel. He took pictures of burned tanks, the burned driver on the ground beside it. He took pictures of shell-shocked civilians and grateful French children kissing G.I.s. Many of his pictures come with incredible stories.

At one point he finds a soldier frozen in the snow. Curious as to whom the victim was, he is horrified to discover it is Henry Tannenbaum, a childhood friend. Years later, Tannenbaum’s son Sam saw the picture of his father at an exhibition of Vaccaro’s work and called up the photographer. When Tony found out who was on the other end of the line, he wept but for Tannenbaum, the picture gave him some closure and made his father, whom he had no memory of, more real to him. The two men became friends and visited the site where Tony found Henry’s body. Ironically, the place is now a Christmas tree farm (Tannenbaum is Christmas Tree in German).

One of the hardest photographs he ever took was that of a German woman, who had been raped and murdered by Allied troops after she’d been found with a bazooka, and then stabbed in her vagina with a bayonet. At first Tony was horrified and he removed the blade and covered the dead woman up. However, he went back and put her back the way she was when he found her and snapped the picture before then covering up the body and removing the blade once again. He had set out to document his experiences and he felt it wouldn’t be true to his mission if he didn’t document that as well, but he remarked it would be the most difficult of all the pictures he’d shot, including that of Tannenbaum.

In an era where photographs were routinely staged, Vaccaro’s pictures stand out because they were real. While sometimes soldiers would refuse to have their pictures taken by outside photographers, Tony was trusted. He was one of them, a brother. They would pose for him sure but they also allowed him to turn his cameras on them when they were fighting for their lives and the lives of their brothers. No other photographer in any war, before or since, has gotten as close to the soldiers fighting it as Vaccaro did. The incredible pictures he took reflect that. War is undoubtedly hell, the kind of hell that only those who have been to the front lines of war can understand. The photographs of Tony Vaccaro help those who have never been to war to gain at least a little bit of understanding.

Vaccaro is front and center here and he reminisces about some of the things he took pictures at from the places he took them in 70 years later. We see him on the beach at Normandy where he was part of the Allied invasion on Omaha Beach; the quaint French village which was largely untouched by the fighting; the woods where a horrific battle was fought. His memory is incredibly clear for a 94-year-old man.

His interviews are augmented by commentary by contemporary combat photographers who are singularly admiring of the job Vaccaro did, often going from firing his M-1 rifle to grabbing his camera and snapping pictures. In one incredible moment entitled “The Last Step of John Rose” an infantryman throws both hands in the air as a mortar explodes behind him. Shrapnel is already lancing through his body and with his next step he will crumple to the ground. “Suddenly, life comes to an end and gravity takes you,” Vaccaro reflects. “Giving up life, we all go down to earth again. All of us.”

After the war, Vaccaro stayed in Europe, unable to return home. He was caught in the grip of what is now called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, although they didn’t discuss such things then. He put his negatives in storage and left them there until recently; even though he had documented his experiences, he was not disposed to sharing them although eventually he did. He would eventually continue following his passion for photography, becoming a fashion and celebrity photographer for Life magazine and others.

But despite a lifetime photographing beautiful things and beautiful people, he remains close to the pictures that haunted him from the time he took them until now. “There is beauty in tragedy,” one of the commentators intones and there is truth in that. The picture of a frozen soldier in the snow is awful to contemplate but has a certain serene beauty to it that is hard to ignore. So is this documentary, which is worth looking into.

REASONS TO GO: The photographs are absolutely extraordinary. Vaccaro is still emotional about his time on the front lines and that emotion only enhances the film.
REASONS TO STAY: Those sensitive to death and mayhem may find the photographs too disturbing.
FAMILY VALUES:  There is some profanity some gruesome images of war and brief nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  The Argus C3 35mm camera that Vaccaro used throughout the war cost him $47.50 as a used (or secondhand) camera back in 1942.
BEYOND THE THEATER: HBO Go
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/4/17: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Fury
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: Collateral Beauty

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Angels Crest


Here's an angel that Charlie missed.

Here’s an angel that Charlie missed.

(2011) Drama (Magnolia) Thomas Dekker, Lynn Collins, Jeremy Piven, Mira Sorvino, Elizabeth McGovern, Emma Macgillivray, Joseph Morgan, Greg Lawson, Chris Ippolito, Dave Brown, Colin A. Campbell, Marty Antonini, Ameko Eks Mass Carroll, Jonathan Lachlan Stewart, Julian Domingues, Aedan Tomney, Wally Houn, Lindsay Burns, Barbara Williams, Christianne Hirt, Kate Walsh. Directed by Gaby Dellal

Bad things happen, sometimes to good people and sometimes to bad. Even the worst of events that occur have nothing to do with a person’s goodness or lack thereof. What the true measure of a person is depends on how they deal with the truly awful things that life throws at us.

Ethan (Dekker) is a 21-year-old young man who works at an auto shop in the working-class Rocky Mountain town of Angels Crest. It’s one of those places where everyone knows everyone else, where rugged individualism is the expectation and where the bleak winters often mirror the bleak outlook for many, who have no hope of escaping the lives they lead.

Ethan is the father to 3-year-old Nate (Carroll) and his sole caregiver, mainly because Nate’s mommy Cindy (Collins) is a mess, a raging alcoholic who can barely care for herself with a side order of promiscuity. One bright afternoon, Ethan takes Nate for a boy’s trip into the woods. On the way back, an exhausted Nate falls asleep and as Ethan drives towards town, he sees some deer. For whatever reason, he gets out of his truck, makes sure Nate is strapped in to his child’s seat, and leaving the heater running, follows the deer out into the woods.

You can guess that wasn’t a very smart idea. When Ethan returns to the truck, Nate is gone. He searches through the woods fruitlessly, then races back to town, returning with a search party but Nate is nowhere to be found. It takes a little while but little Nate is eventually found, frozen to death. Of course, Ethan is devastated and the hot mess that is Cindy blames Ethan for her little boy’s demise.

The town is sharply divided by the event, some joining Cindy in blaming Ethan and calling for his arrest for negligence (a feeling that the prosecutor (Piven) shares) while others believe Ethan when he says he was gone for just a few minutes and that this was just one of those horrible things that could have happened to anyone.

Like Atom Egoyan’s The Sweet Hereafter, the film examines the effects of a tragedy on a small town but the similarities end there. In the Egoyan film, the school bus accident that took the lives of a fair amount of children touched nearly every family in town; here, the directly affected are few. Still, the howls of Ethan’s grief are no less heart-wrenching no matter the number of children lost; in some ways the grief of a single person is more relatable than the grief of multiple people.

But the movie goes off the rails because of the excessive number of subplots which for the most part have no real bearing on the matter of hand. There is a lesbian couple (McGovern and Walsh) struggling for acceptance, with McGovern trying to win the affections of her own son (Domingues) who is also a horror show. The prosecutor has some deep dark secret that is motivating him to obsessively pursue an investigation that is tearing the town apart. A diner waitress (Sorvino) struggles to raise her own son on her own and happens to be Cindy’s best friend. Ethan’s best friend (Lawson) feels guilt over having been banging Cindy at the time of the incident.

All of these little subplots are enacted by characters whose only reason to be in the movie is to be involved in these subplots. They add no insight and don’t really enhance the story any. While the movie is beautifully shot with plenty of picturesque snow-covered vistas, the whole thing feels a bit like a soap opera more than a drama. While some of the scenes carry a good deal of emotional resonance, an equal number of scenes fall flat. This is as inconsistent a film as you’re likely to see.

Still, there is enough here that the movie is worth a casual glance if the opportunity presents itself although I wouldn’t put a whole lot of effort into seeking it out. The deficiencies in the film’s story and script nearly (but don’t quite) exceed the movie’s emotional impact.

WHY RENT THIS: Some of the scenes work. Evocative. Beautiful cinematography.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Some of the scenes don’t. Heavy-handed and plodding. Soap opera-esque.
FAMILY VALUES: Adult themes, strong language and some sexual content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film was titled Abandoned in the UK.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There are interviews with Dekker and Sorvino.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $832 on an unknown production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix. Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Gone Baby Gone
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Creed

Vertical Limit


If you're just going to hang around, I'm gonna leave.

If you’re just going to hang around, I’m gonna leave.

(2000) Action (Columbia) Chris O’Donnell, Robin Tunney, Bill Paxton, Scott Glenn, Stuart Wilson, Temuera Morrison, Alexander Siddig, Izabella Scorupco, Ben Mendelsohn, David Hayman, Augie Davis, Roshan Seth, Nicholas Lea, Alejandro Valdes-Rochin, Rod Brown, Robert Taylor, Steve Le Marquand, Robert Mammone. Directed by Martin Campbell

Those who climb mountains are a different sort of breed. They risk life and limb, push themselves farther than even they themselves think they can go, for a reward of standing someplace few humans can visit.

For most of us, the mountain peaks of the Himalayas are farther away than the moon; someday, we may be able to take a shuttle to the moon. No matter what future, it will always take a special sort of human being to scale those heights.

Peter, Annie and Boyce Garrett are such human beings. Dedicated climbers, they push themselves up the highest peaks and they do it with joy. However, tragedy intervenes when Peter (O’Donnell) is forced to make an awful decision, one he must revisit later in the movie.

The results of this drive a rift between him and Annie (Tunney). Peter becomes a National Geographic nature photographer, whereas Annie continues climbing, becoming one of the world’s best. She signs onto an expedition funded by billionaire adventurer Elliot Vaughn (Paxton) to scale K2, one of the most fearsome, lethal peaks in existence.

Vaughn had been part of an ill-fated expedition that was caught by the weather just short of the summit, resulting in the loss of the entire team except for him. Vaughn wants to find his personal redemption on the peak, which is never a good thing when going up against K2.

Despite the warnings of veteran climber Montgomery Wick (Glenn), the well-outfitted team ascends and Vaughn promptly shows his true colors, making decisions based on ego and ignoring the expertise of his climbers. Caught by a storm and avalanche, three of his team members (including Annie) are buried in a crevasse.

Peter frantically mounts a rescue mission along with Wick (who has his own reasons for going along) and, among others, Monique (ex-Bond girl Scorupco) who’s in it for the money, Kareem (Siddig) who’s in it to save his cousin, and brothers Cyril (Le Marquand) and Malcolm Beach (Mendelsohn) who are in it as comedy relief.

They are in a race against time, as the survivors will suffer from fatal pulmonary edema (due to the altitude) if not pulled off the mountain in time. Did I forget to mention they are carting unstable nitro bombs to help dig the survivors out? Spectacular stunts and explosions to follow.

The stunts are spectacular, with a helicopter sequence having both Da Queen and I frozen to our seats.  Campbell (Goldeneye) keeps the pacing murderous, as the climbers go from peril to peril. Trying to keep the story as realistic as possible, the filmmakers used a lot of expertise from real climbers to give audiences a sense of being up there (some of the scenes were filmed at the actual K2 base camp).

The problem here is believability. There are a number of rather sizable holes I couldn’t really reconcile. The biggest one is this; after a perilous climb to reach the dying survivors that takes everything the rescue party has and then some, how are they supposed to cart down the crevasse-dwellers who are too sick to even move a leg out of the way of a rock outcropping? Don’t ask me It’s just Hollywood, right? Also, there are too many close calls. It’s almost rote that people wind up dangling in mortal danger of a rather long plummet only to be saved as they slip off the mountain, either by their sheer willpower, or by the intervention of another climber thought to be too far away to be of help. It gets old after a while, guys.

Nonetheless, this is exquisite eye candy, beautifully filmed. If there was an Oscar for best stunt performances (and by golly there should be), Vertical Limit would be a major contendah. As it is, it is disposable entertainment.

WHY RENT THIS: Gorgeous vistas of mountain peaks. Some pretty spectacular stunts.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Overly repetitive. Too many holes in logic and too many occasions when believability is stretched beyond the breaking point.

FAMILY MATTERS: There are some scenes of intense peril as well as occasional bits of strong language.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The backdrop for the mountains was Mt. Cook in New Zealand standing in for K2 in Pakistan; this would mark the first time that director Kiwi-born Martin Campbell has filmed in his native country.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: While most behind-the-scenes featurettes are normally little more than puff pieces put together by the publicity department, the one here is actually fascinating, detailing the kind of training the actors went through and the challenges – often potentially life-threatening – the cast and crew faced in making the film.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $215.7M on a $75M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Cliffhanger

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: 47 Ronin

Frozen (2013)


Olaf is looking to make some S'mores.

Olaf is looking to make some S’mores.

(2013) Animated Feature (Disney) Starring the voices of Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Josh Gad, Jonathan Groff, Santino Fontana, Alan Tudyk, Ciaran Hinds, Chris Williams, Stephen J. Anderson, Maia Wilson, Edie McClurg, Robert Pine, Maurice LaMarche, Livvy Stubenrauch, Eva Bella, Spencer Ganus, Jesse Corti, Nicholas Guest,  Annaleigh Ashford. Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee

If climate change proponents are to be believed, the world is slowly heating up and eventually catastrophic consequences will come about as a result. Here is an animated movie that looks at a different kind of climate change.

Elsa (Menzel), the princess of Arundel who is heir to the throne, has a unique gift – power over snow and ice. When innocent play with her younger sister Anna (Bell) causes her to injure her, Elsa’s parents take the both of them to Pabbie (Hinds), the troll king. He heals Anna but tells Elsa that she must hide her powers. This causes Elsa to stay in her room for the most part, shutting out the world and Anna in particular whom she loves more than anyone. Anna for her part is mystified, her memory of the events gone. She wonders what she has done to drive her sister away so. The gates to the city are closed and stay that way.

Then comes the day that Elsa must be crowned Queen of Arundel for that time has come. Anna is absolutely over the moon, having become bored with the same halls, the same people. She wants music and laughter and life. She meets a handsome young Prince Hans (Fontana) and while there is a stuffy old Duke (Tudyk) who is endlessly irritated at the mispronunciation of his Duchy of Weselton, there is dancing and fun all around them.

Unfortunately, Elsa’s powers manifest themselves at an inopportune time and she flees to the North Mountain but not before putting all of Arundel into a deep freeze. Anna decides to chase after Elsa and bring her home, leaving Prince Hans in charge. Along the way Anna’s horse bolts, leading her to a trading post where she meets young Kristoff (Goff), who finds the winter more unfortunate than most because he delivers ice with his trusty reindeer Sven. The three of them team up to go to the ice castle Elsa has created for herself, assisted by the tenacious snowman Olaf (Gad) who was brought to life by Elsa’s spell.

However Elsa still hasn’t figured out a way to control her powers and Anna doesn’t yet realize that she has been betrayed by someone close to her. Will summer ever come again to Arundel or is that kingdom destined to be an eternal Winnipeg?

First off, this is one of the most spectacular animated features Disney has put out since Beauty and the Beast and maybe since The Little Mermaid. A kingdom of beautiful ice and snow with a traditional Disney rural kingdom setting makes this familiar and yet new all at once. The visuals are some of the best Disney has ever produced.

That said, they sadly set this beautiful film to a typical Disney story. While this was supposed to based on Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen it is so loosely based as to be unrecognizable. However I will admit that your little princess-wannabe is going to be in seventh heaven as there are not one but two princesses to ooh and ahh over (all right, one of them is technically a queen).

Oddly, the protagonist is pretty much like every other Disney princess ever – plucky, eager, chomping at the bit to find her prince and compassionate to boot. It is Elsa who is a far more interesting character and I think it’s telling that on a recent visit to EPCOT, the princess holding court at the Norway pavilion was not Anna but Elsa. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Idris Menzel is the voice of Elsa and if you didn’t fall for her talent in Wicked then you really don’t know what talent is. This girl has a voice that could restart a flat-lined heart and make a Republican fund the arts.

I also found Olaf to be a hoot. He’s one of those characters who isn’t very bright but has a heart the size of a small planet and the kind of simple faith that only a child would get. One can envy his world view a little bit as it lacks all the sophistication that we adults like to throw into the mix but at the same time probably is closer to what the world should be than we’ll ever get. I could hang with Olaf and hopefully Disney will realize that they have the kind of character who is going to sell a lot of merchandise and direct-to-DVD videos.

While I wish the story was a bit less rote and that the music was more memorable, nonetheless this is a pretty decent effort in a year when animated features really were uniformly bad with only one or two exceptions. While this doesn’t reach the standard of Disney classics, it is still good enough that if your kid wants to see it more than once you probably won’t mind getting the home video edition and watching it along with them – after having seen this in the theater several times of course.

REASONS TO GO: Beautifully animated. Olaf is a keeper.

REASONS TO STAY: Songs are nothing to write home about. A little bit rote.

FAMILY VALUES:  There are a couple of rude jokes and some semi-violent action.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: A cameo is made by Rapunzel and Eugene (Flynn) during the opening of the gates during the musical number “For the First Time in Forever.” They can be seen entering the screen from the left – Rapunzel has short hair and is wearing a purple and pink dress while Eugene is wearing a maroon vest and brown sash.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/11/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 88% positive reviews. Metacritic: 74/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Tangled

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: Flypaper

New Releases for the Week of November 29, 2013


Frozen

FROZEN         

(Disney) Starring the voices of Kristen Bell, Idris Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Santino Fontana, Alan Tudyk, Ciaran Hinds. Edie McClurg. Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee

In a kingdom of eternal winter, an optimistic and brave girl teams up with a rugged mountain man, his loyal reindeer and a bumbling snowman to take on the forces of magic that have locked it there. The trouble is that the evil witch holding the kingdom spellbound is her sister.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Wednesday)

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: PG (for some action and mild rude humor)

Black Nativity

(Fox Searchlight) Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Jennifer Hudson, Jacob Latimore. A streetwise teenage Baltimore boy is forced to spend the holidays with his strict and devout relatives the Rev. Cobbs and his wife. Unwilling to live by the strict rules imposed by the pastor, he decides that he will return home to his mother, opening himself up for an unexpected Christmas miracle.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Holiday Drama (opens Wednesday)

Rating: PG (for thematic material, language and a menacing situation)

The Book Thief

(20th Century Fox) Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson, Sophie Nelisse, Roger Allam. During the Second World War a spirited young girl is sent to live with a new family in Nazi Germany. In a place where books are routinely burned and ideas that conflict with official state policy are dangerous, she  finds courage in the immense power of words and books.

See the trailer, a clip and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Wednesday)

Genre: Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for some violence and intense depiction of thematic material) 

Bullett Raja

(Fox STAR) Saif Ali Khan, Sonakshi Sinha, Vidyut Jamwal, Jimmy Shergill. An ordinary man is pushed to the limit and turns to a life of crime. Now a powerful criminal, he declares war on Indian society in an effort to take down the corruption that forced him to the other side of the law.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Good Ol’ Freda

(Magnolia) Freda Kelly, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr. As a shy young teen in Liverpool, Freda Kelly was asked to work for a young local band with great aspirations. She became the secretary to the Beatles as well as their friend and confidante. This documentary tells her story set to the music of the Fab Four, offering a whole new perspective on the band that changed popular music – and world culture – forever.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: PG (for some thematic material and smoking)

Homefront

(Open Road) Jason Statham, James Franco, Winona Ryder, Kate Bosworth. When a DEA agent’s wife passes away, he leaves the agency to settle down in a small town community to raise his daughter quietly and get past his own grief. Unfortunately the town he chooses is far from quiet or quaint and soon he finds himself in a war that he will have to go all out to win and keep his daughter safe.

See the trailer, a featurette and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Wednesday)

Genre: Action

Rating: R (for strong violence, pervasive language, drug content and brief sexuality)

Oldboy

(FilmDistrict) Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Samuel L. Jackson, Sharlto Copley. An ad executive and family man is kidnapped and held in a locked room for 20 years. In that time he discovers that his wife has been murdered and that he has been framed for the crime. When he is just as suddenly and as inexplicably released he goes on a quest to discover who imprisoned him and why. The more he discovers however, the more he realizes that his torment is far from over.

See the trailer, clips, featurettes and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Wednesday)

Genre: Thriller

Rating: R (for strong brutal violence, disturbing images, some graphic sexuality and nudity, and language)

Philomena

(Weinstein) Judi Dench, Steve Coogan, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Mare Winningham. An elderly woman and a BBC reporter go on a journey to find her son who was conceived out of wedlock and given up for adoption to an American couple. Although she had signed a waiver promising never to look into her son’s whereabouts, she still feels that connection and defies the Catholic Church and convention to reunite with the baby she gave up so many years ago.

See the trailer, a clip and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Wednesday)

Genre: True Life Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content and language) 

2013 Fall/Holiday Preview


2013 Fall/Holiday Preview

With summer coming to an end for another year, life takes a different turn from the carefree days of our warmest months; the beginning of school isn’t far off, the weather turns from warm and sunny to cooler and our attention turns from barbecues and vacations to the preparation for the holidays. Autumn is, no doubt about it, my favorite time of year but I do have to admit that I feel a bit of a pang of loss for Hollywood’s blockbuster season.

Fear not, however because there will be plenty of movies this fall that will keep us from missing those popcorn epics we know and love. Iron Man 3 was a big success particularly overseas where it seemed to strike a chord (although a lot of Marvel fanboys have expressed some displeasure over the film but that is just, as far as I can tell, the inevitable Internet fanboy backlash that comes to every franchise). Also grabbing some big box office numbers was Man of Steel which although less successful with the critics, got big box office number and a good deal of fanboy approval, paving the way for DC to create a shared cinematic universe of their own – a sequel has already been fast tracked and it is said that preparation for a Justice League movie is well under way. Superheroes weren’t the only big winners either as Star Trek Into Darkness did big box office as did Fast and Furious 6 while Monsters University and Despicable Me 2 showed that the family film market is still thriving.

For movie buffs, the fall and holiday films are the Oscar contenders as Hollywood puts out their prestige projects; this year the frontrunners look to be The Wolf of Wall Street from legendary director Martin Scorsese, the highly-praised Inside Llewyn Davis and the big buzz project from George Clooney Monuments Men.

The popcorn epics I referred to earlier will also be in plenty of abundance, as Peter Jackson continues his Tolkien trilogy with The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and last year’s blockbuster sequel The Hunger Games: Catching Fire will both doubtlessly will inspire long lines at the box office. Not to be outdone, Ender’s Game should put a lot of butts in seats as a potential franchise film, Anchorman: The Legend Continues is the sequel to one of the great comedies of the 21st century and Tom Clancy’s smart spy Jack Ryan reboots the franchise with Trek veteran Chris Pine in the title role.

Fall is a time for jack o’lanterns and scares, and traditionally horror movies rule the October box office. This year, however, there is surprisingly little in the pipeline for the scare-inclined. At the top of the list is the remake of the Stephen King classic Carrie as well as All the Boys Love Mandy Lane and Insidious Chapter 2 to turn to. There will be plenty of laughs as well, with a new take on the James Thurber classic The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The Delivery Man and Last Vegas all hoping for box office gold. This year will see our share of biographies and true stories in the multiplex, with Captain Phillips, Grace of Monaco, The Wolf of Wall Street, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, Saving Mr. Banks and Rush out in theaters.

There will be more than a few remakes as The Delivery Man (a remake of this past year’s Starbuck), Oldboy from director Spike Lee putting his spin on the Korean cult classic, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet returning to the big screen along with the aforementioned Carrie and Walter Mitty. There will be plenty of family fare with Frozen, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 and Free Birds waiting in the wings. The glut of science fiction films carries over from the summer as Thor: The Dark World, Gravity, Ender’s Game, Riddick, Homefront and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire will transport us to new worlds. And, as always, plenty of drama with August: Osage County, The Counselor, Dallas Buyers Club and Prisoners.

There’s nothing like a clear winter night sky for star-gazing and 2013 will have plenty of opportunity for that. You’ll be able to see Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street), Brad Pitt (12 Years a Slave), Ben Stiller (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty), George Clooney (Monuments Men), Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips), Will Ferrell (Anchorman: The Legend Continues), Vin Diesel (Riddick), Julia Roberts (August: Osage County), Robert De Niro (The Family), Sandra Bullock (Gravity), Matthew McConaughey (The Dallas Buyers Club), Arnold Schwarzenegger (Escape Plan), Michael Fassbender (The Counselor), Bradley Cooper (American Hustle), Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire), Harrison Ford (Ender’s Game), Vince Vaughn (Delivery Man), Owen Wilson (Free Birds), Jennifer Hudson (Black Nativity), Anthony Hopkins (Thor: The Dark World), Samuel L. Jackson (Oldboy), Vince Vaughn (The Delivery Man), Nicole Kidman (Grace of Monaco), Ben Affleck (Runner Runner), Michael Douglas (Last Vegas), Chris Hemsworth (Rush), Jason Statham (Homefront) and Hugh Jackman (Prisoners). There will also be plenty of stars behind the camera with Peter Jackson, Spike Lee, Martin Scorsese, David O. Russell, Ron Howard, Alexander Payne and the Coen Brothers all sitting in the director’s chair this fall.

You can start planning your trips to the multiplex now with this preview of what lies ahead. Further details can be found in our weekly Previews and monthly Four-Warned features, and of course many of the movies that are in this preview today will be one of our daily reviews down the road. There are plenty of great movies to choose from this fall so enough of this blather and let’s get started telling you about them.

SEPTEMBER

As fall is a time for the earth to rest after the summer growing season, so too is September a brief respite between the big summer blockbusters and the Holiday box office monsters. Generally the movies here are not of the quality we’ll see later in the season although once in awhile some pretty good films manage to make their way through. Hopefully one of them will be the third installment in Vin Diesel’s epic science fiction saga, as well as Ron Howard’s tale of a legendary Formula One racing rivalry, Canadian director Denis Villaneuve’s taut kidnapping thriller and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directing debut that was a big hit at Sundance.

Riddick

DEANS LIST

RIDDICK
RELEASE DATE: September 6, 2013
STUDIO: Universal
STARRING: Vin Diesel, Karl Urban, Jordi Molla, Katee Sackhoff, Bokeem Woodbine, Dave Bautista, Matt Nable, Conrad Pla, Raoul Trujillo, Nolan Funk, Keri Hilson
STORY: After falling from his place as Ruler of the Necromancers, Riddick finds himself stranded on a planet more desolate and deadly than he ever has been before. With bounty hunters after his head and the ever-deadly Lord Vaako demanding answers, Riddick will have his hands full getting off this planet alive.
PROSPECTS: More of a return to Pitch Black which made Diesel a star. Doesn’t hurt that he’s riding high after enormous numbers for Fast and Furious 6.
OBSTACLES: The ponderous and pretentious Chronicles of Riddick may leave some wary of the franchise.
FACTOID: Urban is the only returning character other than Riddick from the second film.

GRADUATED WITH HONORS

CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS 2

RELEASE DATE: September 27, 2013
STUDIO: Sony Animation
STARRING THE VOICES OF: Bill Hader, Anna Faris, James Caan, Andy Samberg, Neil Patrick Harris, Benjamin Bratt, Terry Crews, Will Forte
STORY: Flint’s machine is still going and now mutating giant food into hybrids of food and animals. Flint and his crew must somehow make their way back to the island and find the machine and turn it off once and for all.
PROSPECTS: Really the only family film coming out during the void between the end of Summer and October so could have a good time as the only game in town.
OBSTACLES: While the first film did decent numbers, it wasn’t an overwhelming hit.
FACTOID: Phil Lord and Chris Miller, directors of the first movie, will be taking an executive producers role without directing.

RUSH
RELEASE DATE: September 20, 2013
STUDIO: Universal
STARRING: Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Bruhl, Olivia Wilde, Alexandra Maria Lara, Christian McKay, Stephen Mangan, Natalie Dormer
STORY: Formula One racers James Hunt and Niki Lauda develop a fierce rivalry on the track and a fierce respect off of it.
PROSPECTS: Hemsworth is hot and director Ron Howard’s name ought to pull in at least a few folks into the multiplex.
OBSTACLES: This will probably do much better overseas than in the United States where NASCAR is king and Formula One is more or less a footnote.
FACTOID: Howard decided against using archival footage of Lauda’s Nürburgring crash but re-created it where it actually happened.

ALTERNATIVE EDUCATION

DON JON
RELEASE DATE: September 27, 2013
STUDIO: Relativity
STARRING: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza, Brie Larson, Glenne Headly, Rob Brown, Jeremy Luc, Italia Ricci
STORY: A handsome ladies man who has no trouble scoring with the ladies finds himself with a porn addiction. When he falls (and is fallen for by) a pretty young woman with old-fashioned values and an unrealistic expectation for romance, the two try and find a way to make things work out.
PROSPECTS: One of the most acclaimed films to come out of Sundance earlier this year. Gordon-Levitt seems poised to move on up to the next level.
OBSTACLES: Not a sure thing that the public sees him as a leading man.
FACTOID: This is Gordon-Levitt’s directing debut.

COMMUNITY COLLEGE

SEPTEMBER 6, 2013

POPULAIRE (Weinstein) is opening in limited release and is set in 1958 France. Herein a vivacious young woman, seeing a wife of dull housewifery ahead of her, interviews for a secretarial position in another town and her amazing typing speed gives her new boss the idea of entering her in a speed typing competition. WINNIE MANDELA (Image) chronicles the life of the former first lady of South Africa and a freedom fighter in her own right in this limited release.

SEPTEMBER 13, 2013

In THE FAMILY (Relativity) a mob informant in witness protection whose wife and kids are as criminally inclined (if not more so) than he is gets moved to a small French village where they fit in like a Goth at a Pat Boone concert. Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer and Tommy Lee Jones star. INSIDIOUS CHAPTER 2 (FilmDistrict) returns Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne whose supernatural issues from the surprise 2010 hit have not been put behind them after all.

SEPTEMBER 20, 2013

BATTLE OF THE YEAR 3D (Screen Gems) is one of those hip hop dance movies that is pretty much interchangeable with all the others. PRISONERS (Warner Brothers) is the first major studio film from acclaimed French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve and stars Hugh Jackman, Maria Bello, Terrance Howard and Viola Davis as the parents of two missing daughters whose desperation to find them drives them to unspeakable acts. Jake Gyllenhaal also stars as a sympathetic detective. THE WIZARD OF OZ IMAX 3D (MGM) is re-released on the 75th anniversary of its original release in the IMAX forward. Lions and Tigers and Bears…in 3D! Oh My!

SEPTEMBER 27, 2013

BAGGAGE CLAIM (Fox Searchlight) stars Paula Patton as a flight attendant determined to get engaged before her younger sister’s wedding and willing to use her airline connections to find her Mr. Right – in just 30 days. METALLICA THROUGH THE NEVER (Picturehouse) send Dane DeHaan as a roadie for the legendary Metal heroes on a quest while his employers shred in concert. While this opens in limited release this week, it will get a wider release starting October 4 for the resurrected Picturehouse distribution company. THERESE (LD Entertainment) is a new version of the Emile Zola novel Therese Raquin which scandalized Paris in the 19th century. It opens in limited release..

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR
A look back at how last year’s previewed movies did at the box office. The budgets and box office numbers are courtesy of Box Office Mojo. My verdicts are based on the typical studio formula that for a movie to break even it must make twice its production budget; any movie that achieves that will be labeled as profitable. I define hit movies as those that make three times the production budget and blockbusters as anything that makes $200 million in domestic box office or more, or made five times the production budget with a minimum of $100 million in domestic box office. The first four movies listed are the four main previewed items; I’ve also chosen a selection of other major releases that made the preview issue as well.

HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA (Columbia) Budget: $85 Million. Domestic Gross: $148.3M Total: $346.9M Verdict: Blockbuster.
RESIDENT EVIL: RETRIBUTION (Screen Gems) Budget: $65M. Domestic Gross: $42.3M Total: $240.2M Verdict: Big Hit.
LOOPER (TriStar) Budget: $30M. Domestic Gross: $66.5M Total: $176.5M Verdict: Big Hit.
THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY (Summit) Budget: $20M. Domestic Gross: $3.7M Total: $16.9M Verdict: Flop.
TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE (Columbia) Budget: N/A. Domestic Gross: $35.8M Total: $49.0M Verdict: Probably Broke Even.
END OF WATCH (Open Road) Budget: $7M. Domestic Gross: $41.0M Total: $48.1M Verdict: Big Hit.
DREDD (Lionsgate) Budget: $50M. Domestic Gross: $13.4M Total: $35.6M Verdict: Flop.
HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET (Relativity) Budget: $10M. Domestic Gross: $31.6M Total: $39.5M Verdict: Hit.
THE WORDS (CBS) Budget: $6M. Domestic Gross: $11.5M Total: $13.2 Verdict: Made Money.
THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER (Summit) Budget: $13M. Domestic Gross: $17.7M Total: $33.4 Verdict: Made Money.
KILLING THEM SOFTLY (Weinstein) Budget: $15M. Domestic Gross: $15.0M Total: $37.9 Verdict: Made Money.

OCTOBER

The leaves are turning now and fall is beginning in earnest. While this year’s installment of the horror film franchise of the hour has been put off until next year that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of things to bring those who like their spines chilled and their senses shaken with a remake of a Stephen King classic and the latest from director Alphonso Cuaron set in outer space. There is also Tom Hanks in a true life thriller, a new installment in a series that began on reality TV and a sequel to a big animated hit.

Captain Phillips

DEANS LIST

CAPTAIN PHILLIPS
RELEASE DATE: October 11, 2013
STUDIO: Columbia
STARRING: Tom Hanks, Catherine Keener, Max Martini, Chris Mulkey, Yul Vazquez, Michael Chernus, Corey Johnson, Angus MacInnes, David Warshofsky
STORY: When the freighter Maersk Alabama is seized by armed pirates, the Captain must take heroic measures to protect his ship and crew, leading to a daring rescue by U.S. Navy Seals that would capture the world’s imagination.
PROSPECTS: Director Paul Greengrass proved his mettle when it came to current event films with United 11. With Hanks leading the way and little competition at the box office, this could do surprising business.
OBSTACLES: Hanks hasn’t had a big hit or Oscar buzz for a few years now, and with a competing film coming out in December his draw might not be what it used to be. Current event films tend to do poorly at the box office unless they’re sports-related.
FACTOID: The MV Maersk Alabama was the first American-flagged cargo ship to be seized by pirates in over 200 years.

GRADUATED WITH HONORS

GRAVITY
RELEASE DATE: October 4, 2013
STUDIO: Warner Brothers
STARRING: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Eric Michels, Basher Savage
STORY: Two astronauts on a routine spacewalk are left stranded when their shuttle is destroyed. Completely cut off from NASA and spinning out into deep space, their oxygen will rapidly deplete unless they can undertake a radical plan to save themselves.
PROSPECTS: Director Alfonso Cuaron is Oscar-nominated and well respected in the genre community. Bullock and Clooney are two of Hollywood’s most appealing stars and the trailer looks absolutely spectacular.
OBSTACLES: With the shuttle program completed and the next generation program years away, interest in NASA may be unusually low.
FACTOID: This is producer David Heyman’s first project since the Harry Potter series concluded. Cuaron directed the third installment, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, of the franchise.

ESCAPE PLAN
RELEASE DATE: October 18, 2013
STUDIO: Summit
STARRING: Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Caviezel, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Vinnie Jones, Vincent D’Onofrio, Amy Ryan
STORY: An expert on prison security agrees to test the integrity of a brand new high-tech supermax facility. Betrayed and falsely imprisoned, he must team up with an inmate to escape the most escape-proof facility ever built.
PROSPECTS: Stallone and Schwarzenegger co-starring as leads will set action fans to salivating.
OBSTACLES: They are also getting a bit long in the tooth. Prison break films haven’t exactly set the box office on fire as of late.
FACTOID: Filming was interrupted while Stallone grieved for his eldest son Sage who passed away during shooting.

ALTERNATIVE EDUCATION

THE FIFTH ESTATE
RELEASE DATE: October 18, 2013
STUDIO: DreamWorks
STARRING: Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Bruhl, Anthony Mackie, David Thewlis, Alicia Vikander, Peter Capaldi, Carice van Houten, Stanley Tucci, Laura Linney
STORY: Julian Assange and partner Daniel Domscheit-Berg co-found WikiLeaks, a platform for whistleblowers to anonymously post covert data, shedding light on government secrets and corporate crimes. When they gain access to the largest leak of classified U.S. military information in history, they are faced with the ethical question of whether the price of posting information that could cost lives is worth the exposure.
PROSPECTS: Cumberbatch is one of the hottest faces of this summer after his stellar work as the villain in Star Trek Into Darkness. The cast of international stars supporting him is impressive.
OBSTACLES: Assange isn’t really seen as a hero in America.
FACTOID: James McAvoy was originally cast as Domscheit-Berg but had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts with his stage play Macbeth. Bruhl was cast in his place.

COMMUNITY COLLEGE

OCTOBER 4, 2013

RUNNER RUNNER (20th Century Fox) stars Justin Timberlake as a grad student who gets burned in an online poker game. Believing he got ripped off, he goes to set things right – and winds up even deeper in a world more corrupt than he could have imagined. Ben Affleck also stars.. A TOUCH OF SIN (Kino Lorber) examines the effects the economic boom in China has had on four individual lives from various places and economic stations in that country. This is likely opening in limited release and yes, this is based on actual incidents. A.C.O.D. (The Film Arcade) stands for Adult Children of Divorce and stars Adam Scott, trying to get his bickering divorced parents to co-exist for one night at his little brother’s wedding, with unexpected results. This played Sundance earlier this year as part of the Sundance Across America program and was reviewed here.

OCTOBER 11, 2013

In MACHETE KILLS (Open Road) the ex-Federale is recruited by the President himself to stop a billionaire arms dealer and a revolutionary from hatching a mad plot to start World War III. Danny Trejo returns to the role. ROMEO & JULIET (Relativity) is a reimagining of the classic Shakespeare tragedy re-set in the modern era. Oscar nominee Hailee Steinfeld and Douglas Booth play the star-crossed couple. ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE (Radius) has taken a long and circuitous route but is finally getting a theatrical release after years of sitting on the shelf and passing from distributor to distributor. At a party on a secluded ranch a number of the revelers begin to disappear one by one and the guest of honor, a “good girl” who has become the object of obsession for a number of high school boys, might be involved. As you might guess, this is opening in limited release.

OCTOBER 18, 2013

CARRIE (Screen Gems) has cast Chloe Grace Moretz in the title role of the classic Steven King horror film. A young teenager, sheltered by an overbearing and religious nutjob of a mother, begins to develop psychic powers even as she becomes the object of scorn and torture at her school. You just know it isn’t going to end well for anyone. 12 YEARS A SLAVE (Fox Searchlight) is based on a true story as a free black man in pre-Civil War New York is abducted and sold as a slave. The incredible cast includes Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender and Chiwetel Ejiofor and is directed by Steve McQueen, one of the best young filmmakers in the world. Sadly, it’s opening in limited release but hopefully it will make it to Orlando. HAUNTER (IFC Midnight) is also opening in limited release and is a haunted house thriller in which Abigail Breslin must unravel a mystery dating back well before she was born if she is to save her family.

OCTOBER 25, 2013

THE COUNSELOR (20th Century Fox) stars Michael Fassbender as a young lawyer who gets involved in an illegal business deal which turns his life sideways quickly. Ridley Scott directs this adaptation of a Cormac McCarthy screenplay. JACKASS PRESENTS: BAD GRANDPA (Paramount) brings back the entire gang for a road trip in which Johnny Knoxville’s character Irving Zisman introduces his naive grandson to a wide variety of real people. Opening in limited release, BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR (Sundance Selects) was one of the most talked-about films at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, receiving an NC-17 rating for its eroticism as it depicts a 15-year-old French schoolgirl discovering love and sex with a free-spirited young woman.

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR
CLOUD ATLAS (Warner Brothers) Budget: $102M. Domestic Gross: $27.1M Total: $130.5M Verdict: Lost Money.
ARGO (Warner Brothers) Budget: $44.5M. Domestic Gross: $136.98M Total: $232.3M Verdict: Big Hit.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 (Paramount) Budget: $5M. Domestic Gross: $53.9M Total: $140.8M Verdict: Big Hit.
THE PAPERBOY (Millennium) Budget: $2.5M. Domestic Gross: $693,286 Total: $1.4M Verdict: Flop.
TAKEN 2 (20th Century Fox) Budget: $45M. Domestic Gross: $139.9M Total: $376.1 Verdict: Blockbuster.
FRANKENWEENIE (Disney) Budget: $39M. Domestic Gross: $35.3M Total: $67.1 Verdict: Lost Money.
ALEX CROSS (Summit) Budget: $35M. Domestic Gross: $25.9M Total: $30.4M Verdict: Flop.
HERE COMES THE BOOM (Columbia) Budget: $42M. Domestic Gross: $45.3M Total: $73.1M Verdict: Lost Money.
SINISTER (Summit) Budget: $3M. Domestic Gross: $48.1M Total: $77.7M Verdict: Blockbuster.
SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS (CBS) Budget: $15M. Domestic Gross: $15.0M Total: $19.4M Verdict: Lost Money.
PITCH PERFECT (Universal) Budget: $17M. Domestic Gross: $65.0M Total: $113.0M Verdict: Major Big Hit.

NOVEMBER

November is when things really start to get interesting. Fall’s biggest blockbusters normally start making appearances now as well as some Oscar front-runners. Marvel is bringing their box office magic this month, and Martin Scorsese prepares another Oscar contender. Disney has a brand new animated feature and the newest franchise fluttering the hearts of pre-teen girls delivers its second installment.

Enders Game

DEANS LIST

ENDER’S GAME
RELEASE DATE: November 1, 2013
STUDIO: Summit Entertainment
STARRING: Asa Butterfield, Ben Kingsley, Harrison Ford, Hailee Steinfeld, Abigail Breslin, Viola Davis, Moises Arias, Brandon Soo Hoo
STORY: After barely surviving an alien attack, the forces of Earth prepare for the next one by preparing young people at Battle School, training them in strategy and tactics. One student will rise above and become mankind’s only hope to win the coming impossible battle.
PROSPECTS: The Ender novels are extremely popular and the good young cast (along with some outstanding adult cast members) will certainly make a case for this to become a new franchise for Summit if it does well.
OBSTACLES: Author Orson Scott Card’s political views, particularly towards gay marriage and President Obama, have offended some who may boycott the film because of it.
FACTOID: The Battle Room sequences used a special wheel harness that allowed the actors a much more free range of motion than traditional harnesses.

GRADUATED WITH HONORS

THOR: THE DARK WORLD
RELEASE DATE: November 8 2013
STUDIO: Disney/Marvel
STARRING: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Stellan Skarsgard, Idris Elba, Anthony Hopkins, Rene Russo, Kat Dennings, Zachary Levi, Ray Stevenson
STORY: A shadowy foe that predates the Universe and the vengeful Malekith seek to topple Asgard and with it the Nine Realms. Not even the might of Odin can withstand them; only Thor, reunited with Jane Foster, might have a chance of victory but it will cost him everything.
PROSPECTS: Marvel is showing no signs of slowing down. This is said to be setting the stage for the Outer Space venue that will be the setting for Avengers: The Age of Ultron in 2015.
OBSTACLES: Sooner or later fans may well tire of the Marvel cinematic universe like they did of the Star Trek universe. Overexposure with two movie and a TV series this year are a very real concern.
FACTOID: Josh Dallas, who played Fandral in Thor, was unable to reprise his role here because of his commitment to his TV show Once Upon a Time. He was replaced by Zachary Levi who was originally the first choice for the role but was unable to take it – because of his commitment to his TV show Chuck.

THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE
RELEASE DATE: November 22, 2013
STUDIO: Lionsgate
STARRING: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Elizabeth Banks, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Stanley Tucci
STORY: Katniss and Peeta embark on a tour of Panem as a requirement of their victory in the Hunger Games. However her inspiring victory is brewing up a rebellion, one which the ruthless President will crush by any means necessary – including killing Katniss and everyone she holds dear.
PROSPECTS: This really resonated with the pre-teen and teen girls, many of whom were Twihards as well – but also appealed to their boyfriends and brothers. This might well be the big franchise Lionsgate has been looking for.
OBSTACLES: The Hunger Games was released early in the year with little competition; that won’t be the case here.
FACTOID: Gary Ross, who directed the first movie, declined to return for the second although he had been invited to.

FROZEN
RELEASE DATE: November 27, 2013
STUDIO: Disney
STARRING THE VOICES OF: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Santino Fontana, Alan Tudyk, Chris Williams
STORY: An optimistic young woman whose sister is the Snow Queen, undertakes a perilous journey with eccentric friends to put an end to the perpetual winter the kingdom has been stuck in.
PROSPECTS: Disney has deliberately kept this movie largely under wraps; the only footage we’ve seen yet is a Looney Tunes-esque clip that has served as a trailer. If the movie holds to that, it might be one of the best movies they’ve turned out in years.
OBSTACLES: The plot is a little Narnia-esque with a bit of Wicked mixed in for good measure. There will be some family film competition this month as well.
FACTOID: Loosely based on the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale The Snow Queen.

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET
RELEASE DATE: November 15, 2013
STUDIO: Paramount
STARRING: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matthew McConaughey, Jonah Hill, Jon Favreau, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jon Bernthal, Jean Dujardin
STORY: The rise and fall of a cutthroat Wall Street tycoon (based on the memoirs of Jordan Belfort) whose party hard lifestyle symbolized the excesses and outrages of Wall Street.
PROSPECTS: Every Martin Scorsese movie has at least something worthwhile to see; chances are this will be yet another Oscar contender for the director.
OBSTACLES: Movies set in the financial sector have fallen into disfavor as of late.
FACTOID: This is the fifth collaboration between Scorsese and DiCaprio.

ALTERNATIVE EDUCATION

OLDBOY
RELEASE DATE: November 27, 2013
STUDIO: FilmDistrict
STARRING: Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Sharlto Copley, Samuel L. Jackson, James Ransone, Michael Imperioli, Rami Malek, Max Casella, Hannah Ware
STORY: A man is inexplicably kidnapped and held captive for 20 years, then just as inexplicably released. He is given three days to discover who kidnapped him and why, only to discover that he is still trapped – by his past.
PROSPECTS: Based on one of the best movies of the past five years, director Spike Lee might just be the perfect fit to sit behind the camera for this one.
OBSTACLES: The original Korean movie was extremely violent and sexual, with some of the plot elements perhaps too rough for mainstream audiences.
FACTOID: Among those who turned down roles were Daniel Craig, Will Smith, Rooney Mara, Clive Owen, Colin Firth, Christian Bale and Mia Wasikowska.

COMMUNITY COLLEGE

NOVEMBER 1, 2013

FREE BIRDS (Relativity) is an animated feature in which the turkey pardoned by the President is sent on a mission back in time to the first Thanksgiving to take turkey off the menu. Who’s got the cranberry sauce?. In LAST VEGAS (CBS), four old friends (and I do mean old) head off to Sin City for one last fling to celebrate the impending marriage of one of their number. Robert De Niro, Kevin Kline, Michael Douglas and Morgan Freeman star. DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (Focus) opens in limited release and stars Matthew McConaughey as a hard-living Texas cowboy diagnosed with AIDS in 1985 and given 30 days to live. Finding no solutions in traditional medicine, he seeks out alternative medicines both legal and otherwise from around the world and distributes them to himself and others in the same pickle. Based on a true story.

NOVEMBER 8, 2013

ABOUT TIME (Universal) is the latest from British rom-com king Richard Curtis (Love, Actually). This one’s about a young man who discovers he can travel in time and put right all of his romantic mistakes, but changing the future can be a dangerous thing..

NOVEMBER 15, 2013

THE BEST MAN HOLIDAY (Universal) reunites the cast of 1999 urban comedy for a magical Holiday weekend in New York in which secrets will be revealed and their lives changed forever. THE BOOK THIEF (20th Century Fox), based on a best-selling book, is the story of a brave young girl who goes to live with a new family in Nazi Germany and discovers courage – as well as instills it in others – through the power of literature. THE NECESSARY DEATH OF CHARLIE COUNTRYMAN (Millennium) opens in limited release and stars Shia LaBeouf in the title role as a young man who falls in love with the girlfriend of an insanely violent (and jealous) crime boss which we really don’t recommend you do either.

NOVEMBER 22, 2013

DELIVERY MAN (DreamWorks) stars Vince Vaughn as a genial slacker who discovers that through an error at a fertility clinic his donated sperm has fathered over 500 children. NEBRASKA (Paramount) comes from acclaimed director Alexander Payne and stars Bruce Dern as a cantankerous old man who believes he’s won a million dollar sweepstakes and takes a road trip wit his son to collect the prize.

NOVEMBER 27, 2013

BLACK NATIVITY (Fox Searchlight) is an adaptation of a Langston Hughes play about a streetwise Baltimore teen who is forced to spend the Christmas holidays in New York with his strict and devout relatives. When he rebels against their rules, he determines to make the trip back home to his mom, no matter what the odds. HOMEFONT (Open Road) stars Jason Statham as an ex-DEA agent who retires to a small town for the sake of his ten year old daughter. Unfortunately, he picked the wrong town. Sylvester Stallone wrote this. GRACE OF MONACO (Weinstein) chronicles the life of the late actress-turned-royalty with Nicole Kidman in the title role. Opens in limited release.

NOVEMBER 29, 2013

MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM (Weinstein) stars Idris Elba in this biography of the great South African leader, activist and liberator.

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN PART 2 (Summit) Budget: $120M. Domestic Gross: $292.3Total: $829.7M Verdict: Blockbuster.
SKYFALL (MGM/Columbia) Budget: $200M. Domestic Gross: $304.4M Total: $1.109B. Verdict: Blockbuster.
FLIGHT (Paramount) Budget: $31M. Domestic Gross: $93.7M Total: $161.7M Verdict: Big Hit.
JACK AND DIANE (Relativity) N/A. Domestic Gross: $1,142 Total: $1,142. Verdict: Flop.
LINCOLN (DreamWorks) Budget: $65M. Domestic Gross: $182.2M Total: $275.3M Verdict: Big Hit.
LIFE OF PI (20th Century Fox) Budget: $120M. Domestic Gross: $125.06M Total: $609.0M Verdict: Blockbuster.
RISE OF THE GUARDIANS (DreamWorks) Budget: $145M. Domestic Gross: $103.4M. Total: $303.7M Verdict: Broke Even.
SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (Weinstein) Budget: $21M. Domestic Gross: $132.1M Total: $236.4M Verdict: Blockbuster.
WRECK-IT RALPH (Disney) Budget: $165M Domestic Gross: $189.4M Total: $471.2M Verdict: Made Money.
RED DAWN (FilmDistrict) Budget: $65M Domestic Gross: $44.8M Total: $44.8M Verdict: Flop.
THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS (Universal) Budget: $15M Domestic Gross: $15.6M Total: $19.7M Verdict: Lost Money.
A LATE QUARTET (EOne) Budget: N/A. Domestic Gross: $1.6M Total: $1.6M Verdict: May have made money.

DECEMBER

The twelfth month is a frenzy of foul weather, Christmas shopping, Oscar wannabes and blockbuster hopefuls as the year comes to an end. This year, we’ll be seeing the middle installment of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy, a long-awaited sequel to a very funny film, a reboot of a popular realistic espionage series, and George Clooney’s latest directorial effort set during the Second World War.

Anchorman The Legend Continues

DEANS LIST

ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND CONTINUES
RELEASE DATE: December 20, 2013
STUDIO: Paramount
STARRING: Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, David Koechner, Christina Applegate, Kristen Wiig, James Marsden, Harrison Ford, Vince Vaughn, Luke Wilson, Nicole Kidman, Greg Kinnear
STORY: Legendary anchorman Ron Burgundy and his news team are enticed out of retirement at the prospect of joining the country’s very first 24-hour news channel but it doesn’t turn out quite the way they expected
PROSPECTS: Holy mother of God, Burgundy’s back! Many consider this one of the funniest movies ever made and certainly it is still quoted regularly by fanboys to this day. Has only grown in stature since the original aired a decade ago.
OBSTACLES: It’s been more than a decade and one wonders if it still has the cred it used to have.
FACTOID: Ferrell, in character, announced the movie on the Conan O’Brien show.

GRADUATED WITH HONORS

THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG
RELEASE DATE: December 13, 2013
STUDIO: New Line
STARRING: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Cate Blanchett, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee, Benedict Cumberbatch, Luke Evans, Lee Pace
STORY: The epic quest to reclaim the Dwarven Kingdom of Erebor continues as the party of 13 crosses the desolation of Smaug and comes face-to-face with the mighty dragon himself.
PROSPECTS: The huge Tolkein fanbase and those who have loved the Lord of the Rings trilogy will continue to show up in huge numbers.
OBSTACLES: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey didn’t generate the kind of excitement that the previous trilogy did.
FACTOID: Due to the dearth of female characters in the source novel, screenwriter Philippa Boyens created the character of Tauriel to inject some redheaded feminine energy into the film.

JACK RYAN
RELEASE DATE: December 25, 2013
STUDIO: Paramount
STARRING: Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley, Kenneth Branagh, Colm Feore, David Paymer, Gemma Chan, Nonso Anozie
STORY: A young CIA analyst races against time to foil a plot that would destabilize the economy of the nation.
PROSPECTS: Ryan has done big box office in four films with three different actors playing him and there’s no reason to believe that won’t continue.
OBSTACLES: Given recent events, there’s not a lot of love for the covert departments of the government and that might translate to smaller audiences.
FACTOID: This is the first Jack Ryan movie to contain an original plot not from one of the novels.

SAVING MR. BANKS
RELEASE DATE: December 13, 2013 (limited; opens in wide release December 20)
STUDIO: Disney
STARRING: Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson, Colin Farrell, Paul Giamatti, Jason Schwartzman, Bradley Whitford, Kathy Baker, B.J. Novak
STORY: The classic family film Mary Poppins almost didn’t get made; author P.L. Travers was extremely reluctant to sign the rights to a Hollywood studio that she felt would maul the spirit of her book. This is how Walt Disney convinced her otherwise.
PROSPECTS: Truly a fascinating story, the moving tale might well be an Oscar contender. Certainly those who love Poppins will be eager to see it.
OBSTACLES: May fall in heavy competition both for the box office and for Oscar attention.
FACTOID: The first Disney film to have Walt Disney as a main character.

ALTERNATIVE EDUCATION

INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS
RELEASE DATE: December 6, 2013 (limited; opens in expanded release December 20)
STUDIO: CBS
STARRING: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund, F. Murray Abraham, Justin Timberlake, Ethan Phillips, Max Casella
STORY: An aspiring folk singer, preternaturally attached to his cat, tries to survive in the Greenwich Village folk scene of the 1960s.
PROSPECTS: Hey, it’s a Coen Brothers film! They carry their own little niche and this could well be the first film from that struggling studio to be a serious Oscar contender.
OBSTACLES: Hey, it’s a Coen Brothers film! They never make a ton of money at the box office.
FACTOID: Loosely based on the life of the late Dave van Ronk.

COMMUNITY COLLEGE

DECEMBER 6, 2013

In OUT OF THE FURNACE (Relativity), a blue collar worker caring for his dying father watches helplessly as his brother, just home from Iraq, gets involved in a ruthless crime ring. When his brother vanishes and the police seem ill-disposed to find him, he takes matters into his own hands. Christian Bale stars.

DECEMBER 13, 2013

TYLER PERRY’S A MADEA CHRISTMAS (Lionsgate) is America’s most irascible grandmother’s first holiday movie. Ho ho ho, y’all.

DECEMBER 18, 2013

THE MONUMENTS MEN (Columbia) is directed by and stars George Clooney, leading an all-star cast (including Matt Damon, Bill Murray and Cate Blanchett) depicting the true story of a small group of experts during the War who attempted to prevent the Nazis (and the Allies) from destroying priceless art and architecture.

DECEMBER 20, 2013

WALKING WITH DINOSAURS: THE MOVIE (20th Century Fox) brings the world of the dinosaurs to life through computer animation and live photography. Should be a big hit with the kids. FOXCATCHER (Sony Classics) is the true story of John DuPont, the eccentric heir to a chemical fortune whose obsession with Olympic wresting would lead to murder. Opens in limited release.

DECEMBER 25, 2013

47 RONIN (Universal) stars Keanu Reeves as a masterless samurai who is betrayed along with 46 others by a ruthless warlord. Driven from their homes and hunted down, they must unite to make a stand against a powerful and merciless foe. AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY (Weinstein) boasts an all-star cast and is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play. In it, a group of strong-willed sisters whose lives have diverged in different directions return to the home they grew up in and the dysfunctional woman who raised them. GRUDGE MATCH (Warner Brothers) features Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro as two retired boxers who decide to get back into the ring and settle their rivalry – 50 year after they got out of it. THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY (20th Century Fox), based on the beloved James Thurber short story which was in turn made into a beloved film starring Danny Kaye. How beloved this will be remains to be seen but it will be Ben Stiller playing the title role of the perpetual dreamer Walter Mitty..

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (New Line) Budget: $200M. Domestic Gross: $303.0M Total: $1.017B Verdict: Blockbuster.
ZERO DARK THIRTY (Columbia) Budget: $40M. Domestic Gross: $95.7M Total: $108.7M Verdict: Made Money.
THIS IS 40 (Universal) Budget: $35M. Domestic Gross: $67.5M Total: $88.1M Verdict: Made Money.
LES MISERABLES (Universal) Budget: $61M. Domestic Gross: $148.8M Total: $441.8M Verdict: Blockbuster.
DJANGO UNCHAINED (Weinstein) Budget: $100M. Domestic Gross: $162.8M Total: $425.0M Verdict: Big Hit.
JACK REACHER (Paramount) Budget: $60M. Domestic Gross: $80.1M Total: $216.6M Verdict: Hit.
THE GUILT TRIP (Paramount) Budget: $40M. Domestic Gross: $37.1M Total: $41.0M Verdict: Lost Money.
AMOUR (Sony Classics) Budget: $8.9M. Domestic Gross: $6.7M Total: $19.8 Verdict: Made Money.
PARENTAL GUIDANCE (20th Century Fox) Budget: $25M. Domestic Gross: $77.3M Total: $119.8M Verdict: Big Hit.
PLAYING FOR KEEPS (FilmDistrict) Budget: $35M. Domestic Gross: $13.1M Total: $13.1M Verdict: Flop.
THE IMPOSSIBLE (Summit) Budget: $45M. Domestic Gross: $19.0M Total: $172.4M Verdict: International Hit.
PROMISED LAND (Focus) Budget: $15M. Domestic Gross: $7.6M Total: $8.1M Verdict: Flop.

Thus ends this year’s Fall and Holiday preview. Maybe a few of these whetted your appetite for popcorn and darkness; maybe more than a few. Theater owners can only hope. Remember; release dates are always subject to change, particularly the farther out you go so be sure and check your local listings before heading out to the theater. Readers in New York and Los Angeles, please note that there are several major December releases which will be opening wide in January following their Oscar qualifying run in your cities; those will be previewed in our 2014 preview issue. Speaking of the 2014 preview, our 2013 preview work is done and the annual look ahead at next year is due out at the end of December. There are some interesting projects on the horizon, including no less than six movies from Marvel including their first feature-length animated feature, a return of the Transformers, Sin City, 300, the Hobbit, the Expendables and the Hunger Games and reboots of Frankenstein, Dracula and Godzilla. However, 2014 may well be only a prelude to a blockbuster 2015 which promises the second Avengers film, the first film in the brand new Star Wars trilogy, sequels to Independence Day, The Terminator and Pirates of the Caribbean as well as a new James Bond film and a Superman/Batman team-up. Reason enough to be optimistic about coming attractions. See you at the multiplex!

Frozen (2010)


Frozen

Making this movie sucks!!!

(2010) Horror (Anchor Bay) Kevin Zegers, Shawn Ashmore, Emma Bell, Ed Ackerman, Rileah Vanderbilt, Kane Hodder, Adam Johnson, Chris York, Peder Mulhuse, Adam Green, Joe Lynch, Wil Barratt, Dee Snider, Cody Blue Snider. Directed by Adam Green

It’s a nightmare we’d all prefer not to have – the no-win situation, in which nearly every option ends up in a particularly brutal or gruesome demise. What do we do in a situation like that? Wait patiently for death to take us? Or go down fighting and perhaps putting ourselves out of our own misery?

Dan (Zegers) and Lynch (Ashmore) are two buddies who have gone on an annual ski trip as long as they could remember. The dynamic is a little different this time out; Dan’s new girlfriend Parker (Bell) is along for the ride.

There is some tension between Parker and Lynch. While the latter has known Dan much longer, the former might just be “the one.” They don’t speak each other’s language and both of them are miserable; Lynch wants to enjoy the more “A” personality types of slopes which they can’t do because of Parker’s inexperience on a snowboard; Parker simply doesn’t want to be there at all.

Browbeaten by Lynch into one last run, they bribe a chairlift operator to allow them on one last run. A series of small errors snowballs (‘scuse the pun) into a really nasty situation when the resort crew shut down the lift and turn off the lights on the resort, unaware that there are three people stranded on the chairlift four stories above the mountain. You see, the people working at the resort are eager to get home with a bad storm on its way in.

At first the three young people are understandably angry and pissy about the situation, but those emotions turn to fear when they realize that there is nobody to rescue them and as bad as the frostbite and exposure is, there is something much worse below and nobody will be coming for them for at least five days.

Director Adam Green previously helmed the mighty satisfying slasher flick Hatchet and he does a pretty fine job here. From the moment when the ski lift stops, you’re on the edge of your seat. You would think that a movie about three people stuck on a chair lift would be kind of talky and to an extent it is, but the conversation is realistic and interesting – the characters depicted here are as real as people that you encounter every day for the most part.

Unfortunately, the movie suffers from a “stupid people doing stupid things” mentality. The chain of coincidences that strands the three mostly stems from the resort crew not following what I would expect to be standard safety procedures at any ski resort (i.e. making sure the lift chairs are all clear before shutting down the system) and yes, the three people sitting in that chair are prone to being stupid as well.

That said, the chemistry between Ashmore and Zegers is genuine and covers all the bases from “A” to “Z.” They bicker like good friends do and speak in shorthand like good friends do. These are guys that you’ve had a drink with at the local bar from time to time; they’re also the guys who have marathon PlayStation sessions and watch zombie movies while stoned. You know the sorts – the bachelors living in the godawful-messy apartments in nice complexes.

There are some disturbing images, particularly of people getting injured by falls or frostbite, as well as some death scenes you might not want the kids to see. Filmed on location in Utah, the actors were left on an actual ski lift 50 feet above the ground in the dead of night with temperatures hovering right around single digits. The expressions of cold you see on their faces are genuine from that standpoint.

I can’t really say this is a game-changer in terms of horror movies, but it is nonetheless well-crafted, solidly acted and expertly executed. I liked the concept a lot and I like the way Green realized it, but there is an awful lot of chatter and not just from the cold.

WHY RENT THIS: The tension level is ratcheted up to 11. Some pretty gruesome death scenes. Genuine chemistry between the leads.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Stupid people acting stupidly syndrome. Necessarily talky, but talky nonetheless.

FAMILY VALUES: There are several disturbing images, plenty of foul language, and a little bit of sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Every character in the film is named for a close friend of director Adam Green, who also cameos as a disgruntled patron on the chairlift.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a featurette on the grueling conditions of making the movie on location; there’s also an Easter egg about a suicide on the same spot where the movie was eventually filmed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $3.2M on an unreported production budget; the movie might have broken even, but probably lost money.

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

TOMORROW: Swing Vote