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Autumn peeves

Films with a full agenda
By PETER KEOUGH  |  September 11, 2008

VIDEO: The trailer for Zack and Miri Make a Porno

With pundits already reading political significance into summer blockbusters like The Dark Knight (“Is Batman a stand-in for George Bush? Discuss.”), the meatier movies of fall arrive not a moment too soon. This is an election year, after all, and those trying to escape the issues are just going to have to stay home and watch all the campaign ads on TV. These movies take the word “fall” seriously, tending toward the dark and apocalyptic, from Fernando Meirelles’s adaptation of José Saramago’s BLINDNESS to John Hillcoat’s rendition of Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD. And speaking of the Apocalypse: we’ll be getting War (Spike Lee’s MIRACLE AT SAINT ANNA), Pestilence (John Erick Dowdle’s QUARANTINE), and Death (Ricky Gervais’s GHOST TOWN), plus Bill Maher making an appearance as the Antichrist in Larry David’s RELIGULOUS.

VIDEO: The trailer for Choke

Before getting into the heavier items on the agenda, let’s start with a tip of the hat to those who made those huge summer grosses possible: the FANBOYS (September 19). Kyle Newman directs this tale about a bunch of Star Wars fans who travel cross-country to break into the Skywalker Ranch so their terminally ill buddy can see Episode I — The Phantom Menace before he dies. If they’d really wanted to do the kid a favor, they’d have let him die in blissful ignorance. Nerd-of-the-moment Jay Baruchel stars.

These are the kids who a generation or two earlier would have been playing cowboys-and-Indians, like Viggo Mortensen and Ed Harris in the latter’s adaptation of Robert B. Parker’s novel APPALOOSA (September 19). They’re a couple of gunslingers out to clean up a Western town in thrall to an evil rancher until a pretty young widow comes between them. I can buy Jeremy Irons as the bad guy, but Renée Zellweger as the femme fatale?

Also on the escapist side is IGOR (September 19), an animated comedy about the hunchbacked assistant to an evil scientist with dreams of becoming an evil scientist himself. John Cusack takes a break from his politicking to provide his voice, along with John Cleese, Steve Buscemi, and Jay Leno. Tony Leondis makes his directorial debut.

The real world, however, makes a comeback in Neil LaBute’s LAKEVIEW TERRACE (September 19), in which an interracial couple’s marital bliss collides with the ill will of an unfriendly neighbor, an African-American cop. Samuel L. Jackson, Patrick Wilson, and Kerry Washington star. At least their antagonist is a living person, unlike the specters that haunt the hero of GHOST TOWN (September 19) — he’s plagued by demanding dead people after he recovers from a near-death experience. David Koepp directs; Ricky Gervais, Greg Kinnear, and Téa Leoni star.

So much darkness and dread and we haven’t even reached the autumn equinox. That arrives September 22, and Hollywood marks the occasion with releases whose titles sound like a checklist of stroke symptoms. In BLINDNESS (September 26), the title malady overwhelms a city; the victims are quarantined in a prison and a microcosmic allegory develops. Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, and Gael García Bernal fumble in the dark. In first-time director Clark Gregg’s adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s CHOKE (September 26), a con man pays his mother’s hospital bills by pretending to choke to death. Who needs health insurance? And did I mention that the guy’s a recovering sex addict working in a colonial theme park? No fight club, though. Sam Rockwell and Anjelica Huston star.

Compared with those problems, being a sexually and politically provocative female member of the British aristocracy in the 18th century seems a walk in the park. Saul Dibb’s THE DUCHESS (September 26) stars Keira Knightley as the Duchess of Devonshire, the Lady Di of her day and then some. Ralph Fiennes and Charlotte Rampling arch their eyebrows.

But back to the trenches. In THE LUCKY ONES (September 26), three soldiers on leave from the war in Iraq share a cross-country trip; Neil Burger (The Illusionist) directs and Rachel McAdams, Tim Robbins, and Michael Peña report for duty. And since that war hasn’t proved very popular with filmgoers, maybe Spike Lee’s World War II drama MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA (September 26) will fare better. Here Derek Luke, Michael Ealy, and Laz Alonso play African-American soldiers trapped in a Tuscan village.

Need a little escapism? How about a thriller about a political assassination? Having despoiled Hitchcock’s Rear Window with his Disturbia, D.J. Caruso lays claim to North by Northwest with EAGLE EYE (September 26). Shia LaBeouf reteams with him as a slacker entangled in a conspiracy perhaps involving Michelle Monaghan and Billy Bob Thornton.

Where to shelter from the storm? Maybe with a Nicholas Sparks potboiler — or an adaptation of one, like George C. Wolfe’s NIGHTS IN RODANTHE (September 26), in which two lost souls meet during a storm-tossed night on the title island. Richard Gere, Diane Lane, and Scott Glenn star.

VIDEO: The trailer for W.

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