Hollywood prepares vibrant fall slate

By Karsten Burgstahler


The summer blockbuster bombardment has finally come to an end, so it’s time once again for studios to release some of their smaller thrillers and comedies before they gear up for Oscar season.

However, Oscar campaigns look quite vibrant this year. Last weekend “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” kicked off the road to the Academy Awards, and while September could be weak at the box office, October is stocked with awards bait. Here’s a look at some of the most notable films heading to theaters this fall:



Riddick (September 6)

Vin Diesel is having a bit of a renaissance. He vanished for a few years after his early ’00s popularity in films such as “The Fast and The Furious” and relegated himself to B-level Disney flicks (“The Pacifier”) and B-level action flicks (“Babylon A.D.”). But in 2009, when Universal revived the “Fast” franchise with “Fast and Furious,” all of a sudden the series’ box office prospects were immense and Diesel once again was a big name. Now he has returned to his other franchise; in “Riddick,” he plays the title character, an outlaw trying to survive and avoid vicious mercenaries on an alien infested planet. Diesel will draw people to the movie, but the R rating will keep some of the “Fast” fanbase out, so it’ll be interesting to see whether or not this franchise (dormant at the multiplex since 2004) can revive some popularity. If it falters, don’t feel bad for Diesel: “Fast and Furious 7” hits theaters next summer.

Prisoners (September 20)

The fall is typically when low-key dramas begin to make their way into theaters, and while “Prisoners” might be a quiet thriller, the star power is far from minimal. Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis headline this film about two young girls abducted from their front yard on Thanksgiving. When the suspect, a loner played by Paul Dano, is allowed to walk because the police have no solid evidence on him, Jackman’s character takes the law into his own hands to find his daughter. Although this plot is played out, the list of Academy Award winners and nominees gracing this film make it an intriguing pitch; hopefully, strong performances can elevate the material. Terrance Howard, Melissa Leo and Maria Bello co-star.

Don Jon (September 27)

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is one of Hollywood’s most talented up-and-comers, and he is making his directorial debut with “Don Jon.” Gordon-Levitt stars as the title character, a meathead who spends much of his day working out and watching porn. He’s having trouble finding love on account that his habit has led him to have unrealistic expectations of what his soul mate should be. Eventually, Don strikes up a relationship with Barbara, played by Scarlett Johansson, and begins to work through his issues. This is certainly a tough topic to tackle, but Levitt appears to have injected some humor into the drama; early reviews for the movie have been strong. Look for Gordon-Levitt’s star power to receive a big boost after “Don Jon”’s release. Julianne Moore and Tony Danza co-star.


Also in September:

One of the most popular haunted house movies of the last decade comes back in hopes of giving audiences more nightmares in “Insidious: Chapter 2,” September 13; Robert De Niro plays a former mobster whose family enters the witness protection program but can’t shake their old ways in the comedy “The Family,” September 13; Ron Howard’s newest effort, “Rush,” September 27, stars Chris Hemsworth as James Hunt, a Formula 1 racer who helped word-famous rival Niki Lauda get back to racing after a near fatal accident.


Gravity (October 4)

Two of America’s sweethearts have finally teamed up, but they’ve made a film in the last genre audiences would expect. “Gravity” stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as astronauts who, while on a routine spacewalk, find themselves fighting to survive when their shuttle explodes. The two manage to become strapped to a piece of floating rubble but find themselves tumbling into deep space. Director Alfonso Cuaron helmed “Children of Men,” one of my personal favorites, so “Gravity” could be an interesting experiment. And quite frankly, the trailers have made me claustrophobic, so this one could be more frightening than any pseudo-horror movie lurking at theaters this fall.

Captain Phillips (October 11)

Oscar season kicks into full gear in mid-October, when this Tom Hanks-fronted thriller hits theaters. “Phillips” is based on the true story of Richard Phillips, captain of the MV Maersk Alabama, which was hijacked by Somali pirates in 2009. The events certainly will make for a dramatic re-telling of the story, and last year “Argo” proved stranger than fiction true stories can be victorious at the box office as well as on the awards circuit. Hanks has two shots at an Oscar this fall; while “Phillips” has awards buzz, he is also a contender as Walt Disney in this Christmas’ “Saving Mr. Banks,” a biopic about the long road Disney had to travel to turn “Mary Poppins” into a movie.

Carrie (October 18)

Since “Paranormal Activity 5” moved from October 2013 to October 2014, “Carrie” is now the only straight horror film coming to theaters this Halloween, which is a pretty envious situation for distributor Screen Gems to be in. “Carrie” is a remake of the 1976 horror classic, but director Kimberly Peirce said her film is closer to Stephen King’s original novel than it is to the Sissy Spacek-fronted original. Chloe Grace Moretz stars as the eternally tormented teenager who discovers she has telekinetic powers. When a group of popular kids humiliates her at prom, Carrie takes her bloody revenge. Moretz is a pretty good actress, but I’m more excited about Julianne Moore playing Carrie’s mother, the devoutly religious Margaret. The strong cast should help this stand out from other remakes.

Also in October: The biopics keep coming with Benedict Cumberbatch taking on the role of Julian Assange in “The Fifth Estate,” a film about the founding of WikiLeaks, October 18; Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone keep trying to make ’80s action relevant again as two criminals plotting to break out of a high-security prison in “Escape Plan,” October 18; Michael Fassbender leads an all-star cast in “The Counselor,” Ridley Scott’s film about a lawyer who becomes involved in drugtrafficking, October 25.