Much like the month before it, October isn’t exactly overflowing with quality, but what it lacks in that area it more than makes up for with plenty of variety. Though there aren’t many films worth getting genuinely excited about, the schedule does provide some audience-friendly fare as well as an early look at a few potential awards contenders.
Who: Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen, Maggie Grace and Rade Serbedzija
What: In Istanbul, retired CIA operative Bryan Mills and his wife are taken hostage by the father of a kidnapper Mills killed while rescuing his daughter.
When: October 5th
Why: Though it’s one of those sequels that doesn’t really need to exist, the original film was so much fun (not to mention made a decent bit of coin at the box office) that it’s not surprising Fox was so quick to greenlight another installment. After playing the helpless victim in the first movie, it’ll be refreshing to see Maggie Grace get in on the action this time around, even if all people care about is watching Liam Neeson kick ass and take names. Granted, the setup is ridiculous, as it’s hard to imagine the villains would have the resources to track down Neeson’s character, let alone know when he’s in a different country (a U.S.-based story would have been much more exciting), but it’s one of those details you just have to ignore in order to enjoy the movie for the action fantasy that it is.
Who: Nicole Kidman, Matthew McConaughey, Zac Efron and John Cusack
What: A reporter returns to his Florida hometown to investigate a case involving a death row inmate.
When: October 5th
Why: Unlike most of Hollywood, Lee Daniel’s “Precious” failed to convince me that it was anything more than a well-made afterschool special, so I’m curious to see what he’s able to do with his latest film, a pulpy erotic thriller featuring a trio of dependable actors. Though it’s been awhile since Nicole Kidman or John Cusack did anything of note, you can never count them out, while Matthew McConaughey has been on a bit of hot streak recently. The wild card of the cast is undoubtedly Zac Efron, because despite the actor’s dogged determination to shed his “High School Musical” image with more adult roles, he’s yet to really prove that he has the talent to back it up. Reaction was pretty mixed when the movie debuted at this year’s Cannes Film Festival (not terribly surprising considering the material), so you would be wise to approach it with caution.
Who: Jennifer Garner, Yara Shahidi, Ty Burrell, Olivia Wilde and Rob Corddry
What: An adopted girl discovers her talent for butter carving and finds herself pitted against an ambitious local woman in their small town’s annual contest.
When: October 5th
Why: A black comedy that takes place in the offbeat and seemingly trivial world of butter carving competitions? What’s not to love? The concept sounds like something that Alexander Payne might make (it’s especially reminiscent of his 1999 cult hit “Election”), but while that may speak well of the movie’s potential, it’s a little worrying that it’s take so long to get a theatrical release. Directed by Jim Field Smith, who also made the underrated rom-com “She’s Out of My League,” “Butter” played the festival circuit at the end of last year, but the Weinstein Co. hasn’t shown a lot of confidence in the movie by dumping it in October. With that said, however, the cast is awesome (Jennifer Garner is great at playing the uptight socialite), and the script by newbie Jason A. Micallef landed a spot on the 2008 Black List. That doesn’t guarantee it will be any good, but it helps.
Who: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin and Victor Garber
What: As the Iranian revolution reaches a boiling point, a CIA agent concocts a plan to free six Americans who’ve found shelter at the home of the Canadian ambassador.
When: October 12th
Why: Ben Affleck was perhaps unfairly snubbed by the Academy with his first two directorial efforts (the Boston crime flicks “Gone Baby Gone” and “The Town”), but if “Argo” is even half as good as it looks, they’re going to have a difficult time ignoring him this year. Though it helps that the movie is based on a true story, so few know about this particular aspect of the conflict that it might as well be fiction. After its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival this month, the movie is already riding a wave of early buzz, with many critics suggesting that Affleck has nailed both the political and Hollywood insider stuff, creating a film that’s as funny as it is thrilling. And with a cast that’s littered with some of the best character actors in the business, “Argo” is pretty much a shoo-in for Best Director and Best Picture nominations come awards season.
Who: Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson and Christopher Walken
What: A struggling screenwriter inadvertently becomes entangled in the Los Angeles criminal underworld after his oddball friends kidnap a gangster’s beloved Shih Tzu.
When: October 12th
Why: It’s hard to believe that it’s taken Martin McDonagh four years to release the follow-up to his hilarious directorial debut “In Bruges,” because you’d think he would be a little more in demand after being nominated for an Oscar. Then again, it was probably smart that he took the time to find the perfect project for his sophomore effort, and he seems to have found it with “Seven Psychopaths,” which falls in the same wheelhouse as the Sundance crime comedy, albeit with a decidedly goofier tone. The movie also reunites McDonagh with his “In Bruges” star Colin Farrell and features some of the funniest oddball actors in Hollywood, and quite frankly, the prospect of seeing Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson and Christopher Walken sharing the screen is too good to pass up.
Who: Kevin James, Salma Hayek, Henry Winkler and Greg Germann
What: A high school biology teacher moonlights as an MMA fighter in an effort to raise money to prevent the school’s music program from being axed.
When: October 12th
Why: For starters, it’s a Kevin James comedy that might not completely suck, and that’s a victory in its own right, especially when you consider that it’s directed by the same guy who made James’ last dud, “The Zookeeper.” Though the plot sounds an awful lot like the Joel Edgerton portion of “Warrior,” MMA has become so popular over the last few years that it isn’t surprising to see Hollywood jump on the bandwagon. James himself appears to have slimmed down and bulked up for the role, which hopefully means that the audience won’t be subjected to quite as much of the self-humiliation humor that the comedian has relied on in the past, although it obviously comes with the territory. That doesn’t mean that the material still shouldn’t be taken seriously, however, and as long as that balance can be struck, “Here Comes the Boom” could be a pleasant surprise.
Who: Tyler Perry, Matthew Fox, Rachel Nichols and Edward Burns
What: A young homicide detective meets his match when the serial killer he’s been brought in to track down makes things personal.
When: October 19th
Why: I’m not sure what’s worse — the idea of Tyler Perry as an action hero, or the fact that he’s playing a character first brought to life on the big screen by Morgan Freeman. Based on the 12th novel in James Patterson’s long-running series, the studio is clearly hoping that “Alex Cross” can reboot the film franchise that stalled out after 2001’s “Along Came a Spider,” but surely there was a better option to play Cross than a man whose biggest claim to fame is dressing up like a fat black woman. Perry has failed to prove that he has the talent or presence to carry a big action thriller, and though Matthew Fox will probably make it worth seeing for his physical transformation as the film’s psychotic villain, without a good actor in the lead role, there’s nothing to build a franchise around.
Who: John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, William H. Macy and Moon Bloodgood
What: A man in an iron lung who wishes to lose his virginity contacts a professional sex surrogate with the help of his therapist and priest.
When: October 19th
Why: As far as indie darlings with awards potential go, “The Sessions” checks just about every major box. It’s based on a true story about a serious disease, but takes a more lighthearted approach to the material; the cast boasts several Oscar winners and nominees; and it’s riding a wave of positive buzz from its time on the festival circuit. That’s a recipe for success, especially when you consider the crossover appeal that it’ll likely have at the box office, creating the ultimate cinematic monster: a movie that both the critics and masses enjoy. Helen Hunt hasn’t done anything notable in years, and yet she’ll still probably earn an Oscar nod for her work as the amiable sex surrogate, while John Hawkes should also be rewarded for the latest in a string of great performances.
Who: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Hugo Weaving and Ben Whishaw
What: An exploration of how the actions of individual lives impact one another in the past, present and future.
When: October 26th
Why: After the disappointment of “Speed Racer,” the last thing that anyone expected from the Wachowskis was something even more ambitious, and that’s probably the best word to describe their latest movie. Teaming up with “Run Lola Run” director Tom Tykwer to adapt the supposedly unfilmable novel by David Mitchell, “Cloud Atlas” is one of those films that’s already dividing audiences between those that think it’s a modern masterpiece and those that think it’s a pretentious mess. In fact, trying to explain the movie’s complex plot is so difficult that the first trailer was nearly six minutes long. The various connected stories not only take place over different time periods, but traverse different genres as well, with many of the actors playing multiple roles in different races and genders. Though that may sound a bit gimmicky for a film with so much ambition, it certainly makes “Cloud Atlas” a cinematic experiment worth seeing. Whether Tykwer and the Wachowskis actually pull it off is another story, but it’s hard not to root for them.