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NEW SEASON NEW HOPE

Kathleen Murphy currently reviews films for Seattle's Queen Anne News and writes essays on film for Steadycam magazine. A frequent speaker on film, Murphy has contributed numerous essays to magazines (Film Comment, the Village Voice, Film West, Newsweek-Japan), books ("Best American Movie Writing of 1998," "Women and Cinema," "The Myth of the West") and Web sites (Amazon.com, Cinemania.com, Reel.com). Once upon a time, in another life, she wrote speeches for Bill Clinton, Jack Lemmon, Harrison Ford, Joe Pesci, Robert De Niro, Art Garfunkel and Diana Ross.


When heading to the movies in September -- you'll be walking, 'cause the gas-guzzler's in the garage -- the air's always tangier, spiced with the smell of burning leaves and the hint of cooler temperatures to come. The dark of the theater is more than a refuge from the sun and hopefully promises happier heroes than summer's sad sacks, from "Wall-E" to "The Dark Knight" and the eternally depressed Mulder-Scully duo.
You'll need to take a deep breath to start the seasonal climb into Oscar-bait season. Autumn's just the beginning of a dazzling ascent of cinema that climaxes during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.
Up for weird and controversial? Claiming to have channeled the likes of Fellini and Pasolini, Madonna has hallucinated something called "Filth and Wisdom," chronicling the trashy lives of pole dancers and S&M devotees in London. It's debatable whether "Filth" will be a box-office magnet, but maybe Mr. Material Girl, aka Guy Ritchie, will bring home the bacon with "RocknRolla," his latest guns 'n' gangstas blowout.
I'd lay odds that, despite Ritchie's macho pyrotechnics, Ridley Scott will leave him in the dust with the CIA-actioner "Body of Lies," his fifth collaboration with authentic gladiator Russell Crowe. Co-starring is Leonardo DiCaprio, his manhood well and truly tested two times over by Martin Scorsese ("Gangs of New York," "The Departed").
Still on the weird wavelength, you gotta be jonesin' for "Choke," which sets sex-maniac Sam Rockwell loose in a black hole of comedy (excavated by novelist Chuck Palahniuk of "Fight Club" fame) where pretend-choking scams and cloning Jesus are pastimes du jour.

Sundance festivalgoers bought into "Choke" big-time, but "Hounddog"? Not so much. Many lowdown doings among Southern white trash, most especially the barn-rape of prepubescent Dakota Fanning, didn't sit so well with festival audiences. And you can bet Alan Ball's neck is sticking way out with "Towelhead," a superhonest film about a 13-year-old's sexual quest that refuses to demonize anyone, even a screwed-up, Lolita-loving bigot.
A wild card to watch for is "The Brothers Bloom," starring Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody, directed by Rian Johnson, the helmer of the utterly original "Brick" (2005), a mutant teen scene-film noir-private eye flick. His sophomore outing conjures -- I kid you not! -- James Joyce's "Ulysses," the poetic journey of one Leopold Bloom around Dublin.

Wild card or weird or just plain whack, who knows what Oliver Stone's "W." will turn out to be? YouTube teasers make the undertaking look mighty intriguing, but just how much Shrub can one nation bear? He's like kudzu!
Likely Diane English's "The Women" won't inspire controversy, but you have to wonder how a 1939 all-female movie about notably unliberated ladies will get translated into today's let-it-all-hang-out parlance. Can Eva Mendes stand comparison to Joan Crawford (who starred in the original)? Or is Eva "2 Fast 2 Furious" to even know that Crawford was a big star before she became a "Mommie Dearest" joke?
Bigger-than-life women dominate "The Family That Preys," Tyler Perry's latest big-screen foray. Kathy Bates and Alfre Woodard play matriarchs on the rampage, determined to put their tribes back on the straight and narrow.
Rising racial tension is forecast for fall flicks -- and likely elections, too. In Neil LaBute's "Lakeview Terrace," Samuel L. Jackson can't abide the interracial couple who moves in beside him. And Spike Lee means to put the dust of Clint Eastwood's plantation behind him with "Miracle at St. Anna," a World War II movie about black Buffalo soldiers.

Could be that Spike and/or his "St. Anna" men might earn a smile from Oscar, come awards time. Surely Eastwood will be in the running for "Changeling," along with its star and supermother Angelina Jolie. "Blindness," another prestige pic, tanked at Cannes despite A-list credentials: Fernando Meirelles ("The Constant Gardener") directed, and Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo negotiated the dark. Will American filmgoers see something to like in Meirelles' benighted allegory?
Viggo Mortensen, long overdue for an Academy Award, is out and about again, this time in a Western directed by Ed Harris, who also co-stars, in "Appaloosa." Our Viggo ... teamed with Harris and Jeremy Irons ... in a Robert Parker adaptation? I'm so there.
"Righteous Kill" pairs two Old Masters -- Robert De Niro and Al Pacino -- in a cop-shop suspenser that promises to be tough, smart and fast. Oscar's attention is always commanded by these veterans: Pacino's been nominated seven times and won once; De Niro's been nommed four times and won twice. (Opening in October, Barry Levinson's "What Just Happened," a not-so-savage send-up of Tinseltown, features De Niro as a cynical-to-the-marrow Hollywood producer.)

The Academy will probably never be hip enough to reward a black comedy directed by sublime siblings Joel and Ethan Coen (though they won last year for "No Country for Old Men"). But their "Burn After Reading" is stuffed with stars -- George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich -- who do comedy something wicked when prodded by the Coens, so prepare to resist death by laughter.
Speaking of laughter, the divinely anarchic Simon Pegg ("Hot Fuzz") makes a shambles of New York culture as a Brit fish out of water in "How to Lose Friends and Alienate People," while "Zack and Miri Make a Porno" encourages the unflappable Seth Rogen to crack wise and fall in love.
The fact that Kevin Smith is in charge guarantees that "Porno" will be a deeply, satisfyingly profane undertaking.
While Zack and Miri are shooting porn, "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist" offers the inadvertently cool/hot Michael Cera a chance to mix it up in something like a screwball romance. For those who like their cutie-pies with a shade less postmodern irony, man-boy Shia LaBeouf can be enjoyed in "Eagle Eye," a thriller directed by D.J. Caruso ("Disturbia").

Other upcoming attempts at screwball comedy are "Management," featuring Steve Zahn ("Rescue Dawn") in hot pursuit of Jennifer Aniston, and "My Best Friend's Girl," pitting Dane Cook against Kate Hudson. These romances are directed, respectively, by a first-time helmer hack and a hack, so don't expect a superfluity of effervescence.
"City of Ember" might just fire up a new fantasy franchise, with a grabby post-apocalyptic plot premise and a richly idiosyncratic cast, among them Saoirse Ronan (Oscar-nommed for her laser-sharp performance in "Atonement"), Bill Murray, Tim Robbins, Martin Landau, Toby Jones, et al.
Treat the kids going back to school with tickets to "Igor," which looks to be a delicious animation about an ambitious hunchbacked gofer, unwilling to play second fiddle to the Mad Scientist when it comes to winning the prize for Best Evil Invention.

Not to end on a downer, but I can't imagine why anyone -- a disturbed adult addicted to bestiality, Paris Hilton, a tot whose mother insists on parading her in beauty pageants, a philosopher researching his study of the end of civilization as we know it, even a film reviewer doomed to witness every cinematic atrocity ever shot -- would waste a single autumnal minute in the mind-melting company of a "Beverly Hills Chihuahua."

But that's just me. That dog might be a frakkin' masterpiece!
( clipped and read via MSN Movie )
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