I hope you like horror films or books recycled into movies (I don’t think we can safely say “upcycled”), because that’s what you’re gonna be watching over the next couple of months.
Typically, fall is a frothy mix of horror and romantic comedy — genres that appeal to the desperately single and create fights between the hopelessly entwined — but this autumn, the rom-coms are few and far between. In fact, the only notable romantic film is “Best of Me,” another adaptation of a schmaltzy Nicholas “The Notebook” Sparks book.
There are several dramas to look forward to, including Kevin Kline’s turn as Errol Flynn in “The Last of Robin Hood,” the Nicole Kidman-as-hunted-amnesiac thriller “Before I Go To Sleep,” the true story of a journalist (Jeremy Renner) crushed under the well-heeled loafer of the CIA in “Kill the Messenger,” and “Nightcrawler,” in which Jake Gyllenhaal plays an obsessive freelance photojournalist with increasingly questionable morals.
If you’re a fan of films featuring ghosts and stabbers and possessed dolls, things are looking up for you, friend: There’s “The Conjuring” prequel, “Annabelle” hits screens soon, as do Kevin Smith’s sure-to-be-weird walrus-themed horror flick “Tusk,” Eli Roth’s cannibal-infused environmental hellscape “The Green Inferno,” the Idris Elba-as-sexy-yet-stabby-psychopath flick “No Good Deed” and the only horror film I might watch this year, “Horns,” a dark comedy starring Daniel Radcliffe as a murder suspect who suddenly sprouts a pair. (Of horns.)
Looking for something completely different? Try the Elmore Leonard adaptation, “Life of Crime”; the Simon Pegg feel-good film “Hector and the Search for Happiness”; Bill Murray as a crusty babysitter in “St. Vincent”; the satirical feature-length debut of Justin Simie, “Dear White People,” or my personal front-runner, “Birdman,” starring Michael Keaton as a washed-up actor staging a comeback Broadway show.
Below you’ll find all the summer movies fit to print — well, at least all the ones that aren’t so far down on the limited-release list that you’ll have to drive to a coast to watch them.
As Above, So Below
Scarlet Marlow. Hold the phone: that name remind anybody else of “rural juror” from “30 Rock”? Just me? Right. Anyway, Scar-Mar (Perdita Weeks) and her little archeologist buddies (including Ben Feldman and Edwin Hodge) dig around Parisian catacombs, discovering Zee Gates de Hell. Events from their past that are très horrible, triste et terrifiante are dredged up and tossed into their faces like mauvais vin blanc. Sacre bleu!
After a car accident kills her boyfriend and leaves her in a wheelchair, Jessabelle (Sarah Snook) is forced to move back to Louisiana and in with her pappy (David Andrews). No, that’s not the scary part. There, she discovers VHS tapes of her deceased mother (Joelle Carter) playing around with Tarot cards. No, that’s not it, either — but the VHS tapes do lead her to the following spooky revelations: she’s been cursed since birth; she isn’t a fan of voodoo; that swamp over there has baby skulls in it; blood sometimes burbles up from the sink and tub; no, seriously, this voodoo stuff is not her jam; and the mirrors in the house are scarier than the funhouse ones in Target dressing rooms. This is not the prequel to “The Conjuring” — that one’s called “Annabelle.”
Life of Crime
A wealthy dude (Tim Robbins) isn’t sure how to respond to the kidnapping of his wife (Jennifer Aniston). He doesn’t want to pay the alimony necessary to leave her for his mistress (Isla Fisher), let alone a ransom to get her back. Although director Daniel Schechter is relatively unknown, his source material is an Elmore Leonard novel (the pulp-fiction brains behind “Get Shorty,” “Justified,” “Jackie Brown,” “3:10 to Yuma” and a zillion other titles you’ve heard of). Given the film also stars Mos Def, John Hawkes and Mark Boone Junior as the kidnappers, and Will Forte as the marshall, I think this flick’ll be worth a gander.
The Last of Robin Hood
Kevin Kline pulls on Errol Flynn’s tights during the twilight of Flynn’s life, a time when he may or may not have been getting it on with his teenage ingenue, Beverly Aadland (Dakota Fanning). The casting of Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland’s film seems solid — my mother was completely enamored of Kline, and I still can’t think of Fanning as an adult.
The Damned a.k.a. Gallows Hill
A vacationing family is caught in a storm, crashes the family roadster and takes shelter in an old man’s home. And how do they repay his kindness? By releasing the evil he’d just locked up in the basement. No good deed goes unpunished, eh? Stars Peter Facinelli, Sophia Myles, Nathalia Ramos and Carolina Guerra.
The Green Inferno
Horror auteur Eli Roth writes and directs this flick about a group of hottie-hottie-boom-balottie activists whose plan to save the rain forest goes off track when their plane crashes in the Amazon. Then they’re captured by hostile natives. (Again, no good deed, eh?) The film was partially inspired by Italian people-eating-people film “Cannibal Holocaust,” so it’s probably safe to assume at least a few of the activists will get noshed on. Not-so-fun-fact: One of the themes of the film is the natives’ revenge on the rest of the advancing world, but the trailer alleges the natives actually in the movie have never been filmed before.
No Good Deed
Taraji P. Henson is a sweet suburban lady spending the weekend with her little daughter while her husband’s out of town when a misogynistic murderer shows up at her door shortly after escaping from prison. She doesn’t know he’s bad. He seems nice. He’s good looking. He’s Idris Elba, for crying out loud. He just crashed during a storm. Can’t he just use the phone? He’ll totally wait outside while she gets it. LOOK AT THE TITLE OF THE FILM YOU’RE IN! DON’T DO IT, TARAJI!
Dolphin Tale 2
Winter, a dolphin who lost her tail in a net and now swims with a prosthetic one, is in danger of being kicked out of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium unless she gets a new buddy. Stars Ashley Judd, Morgan Freeman, Harry Connick Jr., some kids and a pelican that makes some pretty nasty noises that remind me of burrito night in the newsroom.
Before I Go to Sleep
Ten years after she’s found beaten unconscious, Christine Lucas (Nicole Kidman) awakes daily to amnesia. Each day, she rediscovers she’s married (to Colin Firth) and is working with a Doctor Nash (Mark Strong) to find out who attacked her and whether she remains in danger. A video diary she’s been keeping warns her that no one can be trusted. Accomplished screenwriter Rowan Joffe (“28 Days Later,” “The American,” “Brighton Rock”) directs his adaptation of S.J. Watson’s award-winning, bestselling novel of the same name. I really, really hope this is a good one.
Leigh Janiak’s directorial debut makes the leap from festival circuit to nationwide release this fall. The film, co-written by Janiak with Phil Graziadei, follows newlyweds Bea and Paul (Rose Leslie and Harry Treadaway) to a remote cabin in the woods for their honeymoon, which goes sideways after Bea flirts with a dude in a restaurant, gets lost in the woods without her pants and soon begins oozing something resembling ectoplasm out of her eyes and fingers.
The Maze Runner
I know, I know: The next “Hunger Games” installment isn’t until November. Maybe your Children Fighting for Their Lives in Post-Apocalyptic World thirst will subside a whisper with a Children Running for Their Lives in a Post-Apocalyptic World movie? Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) inexplicably finds himself nameless, friendless, amnesic and trapped inside a maze with a gang of teen boys. Will that work for ya? What if I told you it’s based on James Dashner’s young-adult sci-fi trilogy?
A Walk Among the Tombstones
Liam Neeson plays a former cop who left the service after a stray bullet of his killed an innocent. Now he’s an unlicensed private detective tasked with finding the folks responsible for killing the wife of a drug kingpin even after the ransom was delivered, lending everyone involved to believe it was never about the money. Neeson doesn’t shout “Gimme back my daughter!” once. Directed by Scott Frank, who adapted it from a novel by Lawrence Block.
This is Where I Leave You
This was adapted from a novel (by Jonathan Tropper). At this rate, studio execs are gonna run out of fiction and start adapting stuff like “MS Paint for Dummies.” Did you know “Diabetes Cookbook for Canadians for Dummies” exists? Yep. (Editor’s Note: Shouldn’t that be “For Canadian Dummies?” Author’s Note: Yes, Editor, yes it should.) What are we talking about now? Oh. Movies. After the death of their father, the grown Altman siblings (Corey Stoll, Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver) discover Dad’s dying wish was they all stay in the family home for a week with their mother (Jane Fonda.) That’s a messy proposition for adults busy with their own lives, divorces, baby-making and what-not. Also stars Rose Byrne, Timothy Olyphant, Connie Britton, Dax Shepard and Debra Monk.
Hector and the Search for Happiness
“We should concern ourselves not so much with the pursuit of happiness but with the happiness of pursuit,” Christopher Plummer says during a lecture Simon Pegg attends. Pegg’s character, an English psychiatrist frustrated he cannot make his patients happy, sets off on a mission to study the roots of happiness. This quest takes him from his beloved girlfriend (Rosamund Pike) to places all over the world, and as he makes his travels, takes his notes and encounters others (including Toni Collette, Stellan Skarsgard and Jean Reno) and their happiness theories, he starts cobbling together his own. Will it be the feel-good movie of the year? I dunno. But I teared up during the trailer. Maybe I was just glad to see my pretend boyfriend, Simon, again.
This was NOT adapted from a novel! It WAS inspired by a Kevin Smith/ Scott Mosier podcast titled “The Walrus and the Carpenter,” which was in turn inspired by a living situation posted on a British website: The lodger could board free of charge if he/she agreed to occasionally dress as a walrus, because the landlord once befriended a walrus named Gregory while lost at sea. Justin Long is going to be the guy trapped in a walrus suit, and Haley Joel Osment, Genesis Rodriguez, Michael Parks and maybe Johnny Depp are in it. No question, it’s gonna be a weird one.
“Training Day” buddies, director Antoine Fuqua and Denzel Washington, reunite to tell the story (adapted from Michael Sloan’s television series) of a one-time black-ops soldier (Washington) laying low in Boston. When his buddy (Chloe Grace Moretz) is attacked, he ditches retirement to avenge her, only to discover she’s gotten herself mixed up with the Russian mob. I know what you’re asking yourself right now. You’re asking yourself, “Does the corruption go all the way to the top?” Probably, yeah. It probably does, pal.
How do you make a Boxtroll? One: Cut a hole in a box. Two: Put a troll in that box. Three: Do not open the box. And that’s the way you do it! It’s a troll in a box! Ahem. The Boxtrolls are nice little inventor trolls who wear boxes for pants, live under the cobblestone streets of an English town and hang out with the orphan boy they took in. But everything is wrecked when the townsfolk see them, get scared and attack, and the boy is forced to rejoin society. Directed by Graham Annable (“ParaNorman”) and starring Simon Pegg, Elle Fanning and Toni Collette.
After her boyfriend proposes, instead of weeping, “Yes! Yes! A thousand times, yes!” Megan (Keira Knightley) flees the scene and makes a beeline for the liquor store. There, she makes friends with a teen (Chloe Grace Moretz) and is soon shacking up at the kid’s house. The plan: Take a week off and figure out ALL the things. This is a pretty weak plan, though, first, because that’s impossible to do in a lifetime let alone a week, and second, because the kid’s dad (Sam Rockwell) looks as if he has two fine dinner rolls down the back of his pants that she’d like to butter.
The Good Lie
Director Philippe Falardeau’s passion for international relations and strong do-gooder streak is on display in this film about the plight of the Lost Boys of Sudan. But I’m concerned the true horror of the Second Sudanese Civil War and the culture shock heaped atop trauma these boys experienced will be glossed over to make the story about a single American lady (Reese Witherspoon) who takes in four of the boys (Arnold Oceng, Ger Duany, Emmanuel Jal, Nyakuoth Weil) more palatable.
This spin-off/prequel focuses on the terrifying doll revealed in the final scene of the 2013 flick, “The Conjuring.” In it, an expectant mother (Annabelle Wallis — yes, we’re looking at a possible “Poltergeist” curse here) is thrilled when her husband (Ward Horton) brings home a 3-foot-tall Annabelle doll to add to their thoroughly creepy doll collection — which they’re keeping in the nursery. Right there you know they’re asking for trouble, but THEN the neighbors get stabby and the couple splits up to investigate, because that always works out.
This is a reboot of a franchise based on a series of novels that were inspired by the juicier Apocalyptic bits of the Bible. How’s that for source material? In a nutshell: Airline pilot Rayford Steele (Nicholas Cage), his teen daughter (Chloe Steele) and intrepid journalist Buck Williams (Chad Michael Murphy) all struggle first to survive and then to understand The Rapture. Thanks, but I’m already watching “The Leftovers.”
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
Based on the kids book by the same name, Alexander (Ed Oxenbould) and his family (Jennifer Garner, Steve Carell, Kerris Dorsey and Dylan Minnette) have a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. Of course, any day your pirate shirt is set on fire is probably gonna be a tough one.
Two trash-television peddlers (James Franco and Seth Rogen) are delighted to discover Kim Jong-un loves their show and use that fact to get themselves an interview with the North Korean dictator. The CIA hijacks this plan and preps the doofuses to assassinate their subject instead. In other news, Kim Jong-un is not a fan of this film and has issued a complaint to the U.N. It might not do well with critics, but I doubt they’ll call it “an act of war” and an “undisguised sponsoring of terrorism.” How bad could it be?
Robert Downey Jr. plays a skeevy defense lawyer who must return to his tiny Indiana hometown after his mother’s death. He and his father (Robert Duvall) can’t stand each other, but when an accident threatens to send dad (a retired judge) to jail for manslaughter, Lawyer Son sticks around to wage a defense against prosecuting attorney Billy Bob Thornton. The cast is all-star (and includes Vera Farmiga and Vincent D’Onofrio), and the father-son theme is sure to elicit tears and/or throat clearing from viewers, but with David Dobkin (“Wedding Crashers,” “Shanghai Knights,” “Fred Claus”) at the helm of this drama, the film also might cause indigestion.
Dracula stories are generally a good time (which might explain why vampires rival zombies in popularity), but I didn’t believe there could be a thoroughly untold Dracula story until I saw Gary Shore’s horrific trailer wherein Dracula sacrifices his innate goodness to become the monster needed to save his family — and also turns into a flock of bats (yeah, I said flock) shaped like a fist that punches the ground. Pretty sure that one hasn’t been told yet.
The Best of Me
Here’s what you need to know about “The Best of Me.” It’s based on a novel by Nicholas Sparks. Nicholas Sparks has written 17 novels, eight of which have found their way on-screen. His stories are filled with good-looking people who make out in rainstorms despite having a stalker, being from the wrong side of the tracks, being terminally ill, being over 30, or possessing some other severe, insurmountable romantic handicap. Should your special someone want to see this Nicholas Sparks movie starring Michelle Monaghan and James Marsden, here are your instructions: Pack yourself a boot flask, hand them small wads of Kleenex every few minutes, when they blow their nose, hit that flask of yours. Then hand them the entire box of Kleenex 20 minutes before it ends, and as you are walking out of the theater, say, “Baby, that was amazing. I loved it. But it’s not as good as ‘The Notebook.’ Nobody beats Gosling and McAdams.” You’re welcome.
This is not some Marvel dealio; it’s a black comedy, starring Michael Keaton as a broken-down mess of an actor, who once played the feathered superhero and who is now staging a Broadway play based on Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” in an attempt to bootstrap himself, his family and his career out of the hole he’s put them in. Also he gets into a fistfight with a be-banana-hammocked Edward Norton. It stars Naomi Watts, Emma Stone and Zach Galifianakis. It was directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu of “Babel,” “Amores Perros,” “21 Grams, and “Biutiful” fame. And if it’s too early to call Oscar bait, it’s not too early to call it one of the more promising films this fall.
Kill the Messenger
Hey, guess what? This film’s based on a book! Nick Schou’s nonfiction tome had an even scarier title, though: “Kill the Messenger: How the CIA’s Crack-Cocaine Controversy Destroyed Journalist Gary Webb.” It’s not just about the CIA’s role in bringing crack into the U.S.; it’s also about how they armed rebels in Nicaragua. Chasing this light-hearted material is a well-respected investigative journalist with the San Jose Mercury News, Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner). But as Schou’s title implies, Webb’s pursuit of the truth gets him in pretty hot water with the G-men.
Dear White People
Writer/director Justin Simien and his debut feature — a satirical film about black students on a mostly white college campus trying to set straight various racial records — is snatching up critical acclaim left and right. “Dear white people,” a black college DJ (Tessa Thompson) says during her broadcast. “The minimum requirement of black friends needed to not seem racist has just been raised to two. Sorry, but your weed man, Tyrone, does not count.” Dennis Haysbert starts as the college dean.
This isn’t an X-Men film. This is the directorial debut of Dan Gilroy, who co-wrote the “Bourne Legacy” script with his brother, Tony. Dan also wrote this film, which stars a gaunt Jake Gyllenhaal as an ambitious freelance crime journalist, willing to go to terrifying places and do questionable things to get his work into the hands of a television producer played by Rene Russo. Details are thin on this film at the moment, but I have only two questions at this point: One, was Gyllenhaal’s character a psychopath before or after he started freelancing, and two, why does Bill Paxton’s character look like a deadbeat?
Lip-glossed, giggling Yellow Hair (Debbie, played by Shelley Hennig) tells lip-glossed, giggling Brown Hair (Elaine, played by Olivia Cook) that she doesn’t want to go out one night. Instead, Debbie wanders the large, creepy house alone, steps on a Ouija board planchette and is later found hanging from the ceiling, Christmas lights her noose. Her friends are super sad, so they take a Ouija board to the creepy house to get a hold of Debbie’s spirit. Instead they connect with psychotic ghosties who kill them one at a time, which is exactly what my mother told me would happen if I played with a Ouija board. Longtime special-effects dude Stiles White enjoys his directorial debut on a film he co-wrote with Juliet Snowden.
Kingsman: The Secret Service
Based on Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons’ comic book series, “The Secret Service,” this movie focuses on a veteran spy (Colin Firth) who recruits his nephew Eggsy (Targon Egerton) into the independent secret service team for which he works. One of their missions is the rescue of Mark Hamill (yes, Luke Skywalker) from a remote villa in Switzerland. Also stars Michael Caine, Samuel L. Jackson and Mark Strong. Directed by Matthew Vaughn, who directed the solid crime thriller “Layer Cake.”
I have yet to see a Bill Murray film I don’t like, and this one, written and directed by relative unknown Theodore Melfi, seems tailor-made for him. Murray plays St. Vincent de Van Nuys, a salty deadbeat so broke a bank teller has to show him with her hands how overdrawn he is: “Here’s zero; you went below zero.” His new neighbors, a single mom (Melissa McCarthy) and her awkward son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) introduce themselves by backing into a tree and smashing Vincent’s car. Vincent’s need for cash outweighs his distaste for hanging out with the kid, and so for $11 an hour, he and Oliver spend their afternoons exacting revenge on school bullies, betting on horses and hanging out with “ladies of the night” (including Naomi Watts). It’s as if someone took the short montage from “The Royal Tenenbaums” — wherein Ari, Uzi and Royal ride dump trucks, shoplift, hit a dog fight and play dice — swapped Murray for Gene Hackman, added Chris O’Dowd as a Catholic school teacher and stretched it into a feature-length film. Works for me.
Daniel Radcliffe plays Ig Perrish, a previously well-liked dude now suspected of the rape and murder of his girlfriend, Merrin (younger Merrin is played by Sabrina Carpenter, older by Juno Temple). Directly after the crimes, he begins sprouting horns — big, twisty ram horns, like a devil — and notices he’s got new paranormal abilities, such as the ability to compel others to reveal their darker secrets and depraved urges. Ig begins using these powers to solve the mystery of his special lady friend’s murder. Director Alexandre Aja’s black comedy is based on Joe Hill’s novel of the same name, nominated for the 2010 Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel.
Contact Jeanine Fritz at J9@coloradodaily.com.