Before I get into talking about these cool fall “guy movies,” let’s look at what I don’t mean by a guy-movie by way of quickly examining the recent film, Lockout.
The first thing you notice about Lockout is that it’s going to be a lot of fun. A rugged-looking Guy Pearce, full of swagger, is being interrogated and punched in the head, wisecracking all the while. The second thing you notice is that while it is the year 2079, cops have giant, hovering aircraft and motorcycles can hum along with only one wheel, smart phone technology has not progressed since the year 2012. So you realize it is also going to be a lot of dumb, too. (And things like escaping Earth’s gravity is no longer necessary – to get to space stations orbiting the planet, you can casually take off from the ground in a shuttle and be outside the atmosphere in a few minutes.)
In Lockout, a most beautiful young woman is sent to the “Supermax,” the worst prison known to mankind, which is a giant, scraggy space station. The prison, it seems, is using the prisoners to experiment with the effects of “cryostasis,” testing the effects of this process for furthering deep space exploration, possibly the only interesting aspect of the plot which is never revisited. At the beginning of the film, the prison agrees to wake a prisoner to talk to the beautiful young woman, a human rights activist, about the “conditions” of his incarceration. The inmate’s restraints are rusty, jangly chains which he disposes of quickly after stealing a pistol from one of the guards. Yes, he escapes and starts to wreak havoc.
You also boggle that the President of the United States in the year 2079 is a sixty-ish white man, but then realize that this is because the president is the father of the model-looking penologist girl. Hence, Guy Pearce, facing incarceration himself (for a crime he didn’t commit!!) is cajoled into breaking into the facility and saving the young woman in distress where a full riot has broken out and the inmates have gained total control by pushing some buttons. It’s No Escape meets Minority Report meets Die Hard meets Star Wars meets Howard the Duck. It’s a “guy movie” of a sort, but the kind that you must suspend more than disbelief in order to enjoy, but suspend your brain.
This is not the kind of movie that we’re going to look at here in our “guy’s guide to fall movies.”
The Master (September 21)
Paul Thomas Anderson may be one of the best working directors in the business. We all remember the romping of Boogie Nights and its incredibly tense ending (before the huge penis was shown, I mean). There Will Be Blood was a masterpiece, blending a monumental subject with an indelible character and nuanced, understated storytelling to create an epic.
Not much is known about The Master. It is an original script written by Anderson, drawing out some of the themes touched on in Blood – the idea of a religious organizer and his fervent following. (In Blood, Paul Dano played the young preacher who is the foil to Daniel Day Lewis’s “godless” character.) Philip Seymour Hoffman will play the titular character and Joaquin Phoenix is his right hand man. The film is set just after World War II, and so is a period piece, also like Blood. Chances are, it’s going to mix those same combustible elements as it predecessor – we’ll get fantastic performances and a story with both profound punch and a sensitive eye for detail.
Looper (September 28)
Speaking of 2079…well, Looper takes place in 2072. No doubt in this film, however, more attention will be paid to how the future might actually work. Of course, time travel is not a part of Ray Kurzweil’s predictions, or any other futurist giving their TED talks and writing books about the exponential growth of technology, but, it might as well be. Time travel stories, when done well, must factor in all sorts of ideas about science and technology in order to be at least somewhat credible. The paradoxes of traveling into the past are unavoidable encounters in crafting the time travel tale. If you go into the past and kill yourself, how would you ever live until the time you traveled into the past to kill yourself? And so on. But, Rian Johnson, the clever writer of Brick, potentially has the chops to pull it off. Johnson here is writer-director, like Anderson with The Master.
Looper will star Joseph Gordon-Levitt, he of many Christopher Nolan movies, including the recent installment of Batman. Gordon-Levitt, however, has been around for a long time. His situation is a bit like that of Ryan Gosling – “actor works hard for years and chooses well-tuned films and expresses a wide range of acting ability but never quite achieves celebrity status until he’s prominently featured in a major blockbuster.” Interestingly, in Looper, Gordon-Levitt wears some crazy prosthetic make-up, making him nearly unrecognizable as his own self, but ostensibly to make him look more like the actor playing the older version of him, Bruce Willis. It’s not maybe the best choice, since previews of the film display how Gordon-Levitt doesn’t really look any more like Willis, but a little more like Gordon-Levitt after some cosmetic surgery to his face. Still, the flick promises to be smart and exciting.
Killing Them Softly (October 19)
Sometimes the actor steps in front of the camera and the people murmur to one another, “Oh, so-and-so is getting old.” There’s a little bit of perverse pride in seeing our idols get gray around the temples, a little wrinkly around the eyes. No doubt this is a much more difficult process for our leading actresses who work in a Hollywood that tends to favor young actresses paired with older male leads. But the hair and make-up department can work wonders. When we saw Mr. Pitt in Babel, for instance, he looked like the years had gained on him a little, thanks to some well-placed crow’s feet around his eyes and a little touch of gray added to his hair. In Moneyball, he seemed to have regained a few years, but was still recognizable as a man easing out of his prime just a bit. In Killing Them Softly, however, it looks like he’s gone right back into that prime where he wields a gun and a cool pair of aviator sunglasses.
Why the hell am I talking about hair and make-up and how an actor looks? Because there’s no escaping the major tractive force for each film. With some, it’s the director. With others, it’s the legend or characters. And with some movies, there’s little question that it’s commodified by the star. When you first see Pitt in the previews, you can’t help but feel it’s a return to form, the kind of badass we met in Fight Club. Sure, this Pitt is a bit more refined than that, a bit more mature – he likes to “kill them softly” instead of beating them up into a hanging slab of beef, but it’s a leading man anti-hero, and that’s a large part of the movie’s thrall.
Director Andrew Dominick, though, is no small potatoes. The director of Chopper (2000) and The Assassination of Jesse James (2007) is as gifted as the others on this list. While he may be slightly outshined by his megawatt star, Dominick will undoubtedly put together a great show. Killing Them Softly is drawn from a novel by George V. Higgins about an enforcer who goes after some thieves who ripped off the mob. Pitt is Jackie Cogan, the enforcer, and the film boasts a huge supporting cast and is sure to be chocked full of juicy moments, one-liners, and trigger-pulls.
Cloud Atlas (October 26)
When The Matrix came out, audiences were spellbound. Here was a story that, while complex, was accessibly because of its use of a very universal archetype – “the one.” The one who rescues humanity, who lifts the veil from the world’s eyes, who faces a seemingly unconquerable evil, this is a story we’ve been telling since pre-Egyptian times, and probably constitutes nearly a half of all the stories ever told.
Plus, it was very, very cool.
The rest of the trilogy was derided. Nothing could satisfy the audience’s expectations after the impact of the first film. Audiences are tough. If you make an incredible first movie, we expect the next to ratchet up a notch, and the third to go even farther, yet we are unaware of our own programmed need for the formula which must end things in a cataclysmic battle. (See also the Star Wars Trilogy, Avatar, Lord of the Rings.) In order to hedge the billions of dollars invested into shooting and promotion, a movie can only take you just so high before inertia must take over. At the same time, the mythos of the Matrix Trilogy, the detail of the story, the characters and the geography of it all smack of geniuses at work. The Wachowski brothers are geniuses.
Cloud Atlas is their brain child. Like the Matrix story, Atlas delves into the metaphysical, and super philosophical, driving at the very nuts and bolts of reality. There is some mystery enshrouding the story of Cloud Atlas, but what we know is that it has to do with a sort of reincarnation, a paean to the inextricable forces in the universe, binding us all together, and the notion that cause and effect are something almost divine. The film presupposes a soul, and that the activity of the soul is not inhibited by time or space – all things happen Now, in other words, and our true, metaphysical nature is unfathomable. Leave it to the Wachowskis to take an unfathomable topic and make a movie about it. Maybe that’s why they did Speed Racer a few years ago – they needed to mouth-breathe for a little while before they tackled the next Ultimate Movie of All Time.
Skyfall (November 9)
You can’t have a guy’s list to fall movies without the latest Bond flick. I’ve never been a consummate fan of the series, but lately the Daniel Craig line of Bond has been supremely satisfying. Craig’s Bond in some ways could be seen as a kinder, gentler 007, a reincarnation of the old misogynist Bond because we’ve learned how driven he is by his utter heartbreak. But that’s not precisely why this Bond works so well. The previous version, Mister Pierce Brosnan, was a bit of a joke, let’s be honest. And the caliber of talent these new 007 films have attracted has totally elevated a dwindling legacy. Martin Campbell directed Casino Royale, Marc Forster Quantum of Solace, and now Same Mendes (Jarhead) takes a crack at it. The results are likely to be good, real good.
(The Bourne Legacy (August 10th), a kind of neo-Bond for the video game, kung-fu generation, almost made this list, since Jeremy Renner was pretty freakin awesome in The Hurt Locker and even The Avengers, but, well, I just got tired of typing.)