Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to October

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October has never really been known for its quality, but in recent years, studios have been a lot more open about releasing potential awards contenders alongside the usual array of horror flicks. In fact, 2013 saw two of the year’s most-nominated movies – “Gravity” and “12 Years a Slave” – released during this time, and that trend appears to continue this year as well, with no fewer than six potential Oscar hopefuls debuting throughout the month. The October lineup is certainly tasty, which is only good news for moviegoers, because that means you can see some of these prospective gems that much sooner.

“Gone Girl”

Who: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris and Tyler Perry
What: When his wife’s disappearance becomes the focus of an intense media circus, a man sees the spotlight turned on him when he’s suspected of foul play.
When: October 3rd
Why: With the exception of “Aliens 3,” David Fincher’s body of work is almost flawless, and there’s little reason to believe that “Gone Girl” will change that. Though this marks his fifth film in a row to be adapted from preexisting source material, Gillian Flynn’s best-selling novel is tailor-made for the edgy director. The decision to hire Flynn to also write the screenplay was certainly a bold move, but Fincher has a history of making offbeat choices that work surprisingly well, and that extends to the cast of “Gone Girl” as well. Ben Affleck probably wouldn’t be most people’s top pick for the lead role, and the supporting cast is even stranger, but if anyone deserves your blind trust, it’s Fincher.

“Annabelle”

Who: Ward Horton, Annabelle Wallis, Alfre Woodard and Eric Ladin
What: A couple begin to experience terrifying supernatural occurrences involving a vintage doll shortly after their home is invaded by satanic cultists.
When: October 3rd
Why: It’s not often that a horror movie finds so much success both critically and commercially, but “The Conjuring” is without a doubt one of the best horror films of the past 20 years. And while fans wait for the inevitable sequel, they can dive deeper into the film’s mythology with this spinoff featuring the creepy Annabelle doll. Though it’s hard to imagine an immobile doll carrying an entire movie on her own, the trailer suggests that Annabelle isn’t responsible for a bulk of the scares, but rather the spirit that’s attached itself to her. The whole thing feels more like a cheap cash-in than a necessary addition to the “Conjuring” franchise, but with James Wan’s longtime DP behind the camera, we’re hoping for the best.

“The Judge”

Who: Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga and Billy Bob Thorton
What: Big city lawyer Hank Palmer returns to his childhood home where his father, the town’s judge, is suspected of murder.
When: October 10th
Why: Now that Robert Downey Jr. is a huge movie star (thanks again, Marvel), the actor can pretty much do whatever he wants, including producing smaller, character-driven dramas like “The Judge” under his new company with wife Susan Downey. But while the film boasts an interesting premise and a superb cast of actors, the decision to hire David Dobkin, who’s best known for directing comedies like “Wedding Crashers” and “Fred Claus,” is extremely odd, particularly because he has zero experience handling serious material like this. Warner Bros. is obviously angling for awards consideration with its Oscar-bait plot, but reactions were very mixed after its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival, with many praising the actors but damning Dobkin and the clichéd script.

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Movie Review: “The Equalizer”

Starring
Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloe Grace Moretz, David Harbour
Director
Antoine Fuqua

Denzel Washington has never shied away from making movies that many would consider beneath his talents, balancing Oscar-caliber films like “American Gangster” with less serious fare like “2 Guns.” But while it’s not the first time that the veteran actor has indulged in a little butt-kicking fun, “The Equalizer” is certainly his most entertaining – a “Taken”-like action thriller that reunites Washington with “Training Day” director Antoine Fuqua. In fact, the movie has a certain air of arrogance to it, as if to say, “Anything Liam Neeson can do, Denzel can do better,” and “The Equalizer” makes a pretty good argument for that, heralding a potential franchise for the actor which has curiously evaded him up until now.

Washington stars as Robert McCall, a former CIA black ops agent who faked his own death in order to live a quiet life in Boston, where he spends his days working at a hardware store and his nights drinking tea and reading at a local diner. It’s there that he meets a young prostitute named Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz), striking up a friendship with the girl during their frequent visits to the joint. When Teri doesn’t show up one night and McCall discovers that she was viciously beaten by her Russian pimp, he decides to pay the gangster a visit and teach him and his goons a lesson. McCall doesn’t realize that they had connections to the Russian mafia, however, and once word of the attack reaches Moscow, they send a specialist (Marton Csokas) to track down the men responsible, initially believing that it was rival mobsters starting a turf war. But after it’s revealed that the seemingly ordinary McCall acted alone, the Russians plan to make an example out of him, unaware of who they’re dealing with.

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Movie Review: “The Boxtrolls”

Starring
Isaac Hempstead Wright, Elle Fanning, Ben Kingsley, Nick Frost, Richard Ayoade, Jared Harris
Directors
Graham Annable & Anthony Stacchi

Pixar may get all the love, but over the last five years, Laika Studios has really come into its own as a company that you can usually expect great things from. Not only has the Portland-based animation house breathed new life into the underappreciated art of stop-motion with movies like “Coraline” and “ParaNorman,” but they’ve done so with an offbeat style unlike any of their competitors. That Burton-esque spirit is alive and well in “The Boxtrolls,” but sadly, that’s about it. The studio’s latest film is an uncharacteristic misfire lacking the charm, wit and heart of its previous efforts, and although it has moments of brilliance, they’re buried beneath an uninspired script that left me feeling cold and indifferent.

The titular Boxtrolls are a race of builders who live in an underground lair eating bugs and tinkering with the junk they forage during their nighttime excursions above ground. Though they’re an otherwise friendly group, the Boxtrolls have been forced into hiding after a villainous schemer named Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) used the disappearance of a local baby as a way to convince the townspeople that the Boxtrolls are dangerous monsters who eat children. Desperate to climb the social ladder and join the ranks of the town’s elite White Hats, Snatcher strikes a deal with their leader, Lord Portley-Rind (Jared Harris), to exterminate all of the Boxtrolls in exchange for his very own white hat and access to their exclusive cheese-tasting club.

But what the townspeople don’t realize is that the missing child is actually alive and well, raised by the Boxtrolls as one of their own after his father gave him away. Now a fully-grown boy, Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright) – named after the cardboard box he wears on his body – has begun to fear for their survival after watching his friends get captured by Snatcher’s red hat-wearing henchman. With the help of Lord Portley-Rind’s meddlesome daughter, Winnie (Elle Fanning), Eggs ventures into the city to rescue the Boxtrolls and expose Snatcher for the slimy charlatan that he is.

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5 Questions with Isaac Hempstead-Wright of “The Boxtrolls” and “Game of Thrones”

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Whether you’re being raised by trolls, surviving a Westoros defenestration, or making a career in the wild and wacky world of international show business, it never hurts to be both enthusiastic and, believe it not, genuine. Now 15 years old, Isaac Hempstead-Wright is best known to most as Bran Stark on “Game of Thrones,” HBO’s Emmy-winning adult fantasy sensation based on George R.R. Martin’s gazillion-selling literary doorstops. His voice is also soon to become known to family film audiences as the heroic young Eggs in “The Boxtrolls,” the latest from Laika Studios, the stop-motion animation whizzes who brought us the rightfully acclaimed “Coraline” and “ParaNorman.”

An apparently very down-to-earth youth from an industrial English village, Hempstead-Wright seems unaffected by the fact that he’s spent several of his formative years working on a long-form dark fantasy spiked with graphic violence and NC-17-esque sexuality. Soulful and earnest on TV, in person, the young actor is eager and friendly to a fault – after we were told our interview was completed, he engaged us in some neighborly small-talk until yours truly was very nearly forcibly ejected by publicity.

That enthusiasm has no doubt been a plus in the physically and emotionally challenging role of the disabled, steadfast young Bran alongside the stellar “Game of Thrones” cast. It also must have factored into Laika’s decision to place Hempstead-Wright alongside the top-drawer “Boxtrolls” voice ensemble, which includes Elle Fanning, Toni Collette, Jared Harris, Simon Pegg and Sir Ben Kingsley.

As the old saying goes, you need sincerity to succeed in show business and, if you can fake that, you’ve got it made. Here are five pretty sincere answers we don’t think young Hempstead-Wright had to fake.

1. Can you persuade the Bullz-Eye core audience of males, aged 18-35, that it’s safe to see “The Boxtrolls” despite it’s family-friendly PG rating?

IHW: I would say go and see “The Boxtrolls” just because the Boxtrolls are really cute, even if you’re sort of this big, butch person, I think you would enjoy how cute they are, because that’s kind of what they are. They look like, on the outside, they are these terrifying creatures, but you realize they are very soft and sweet inside.

[My character, Eggs] is a boy who thinks he’s a Boxtroll. He’s an orphan who was raised by Boxtrolls because they’re the only people who really care for him. If you look at a lot of the people in the upper world – the Boxtrolls live in an underground cavern – [the human parents are] all really horrible. Well, not horrible — they just don’t care for the children. If you look at [lead female character, voiced by Elle Fanning] Winnie’s parents, they are much more interested in cheese than in [their] daughter.

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Blu Tuesday: Neighbors, The Rover and Firestorm

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“Neighbors”

WHAT: When a college fraternity moves into the house next door, new parents Mac and Kelly (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) become entangled in a juvenile war with the frat’s tenacious president (Zac Efron) after butting heads over their hard-partying lifestyle.

WHY: I’m a firm believer that the best comedy is grounded in reality, which is why “Neighbors” didn’t really work for me, because nothing that happens in this movie is even remotely realistic. For starters, a fraternity would never move into an ordinary neighborhood without some serious pushback from the rest of the community, and the idea that the other neighbors could be bought off so easily is perhaps the funniest joke in the entire film. (Free car washes are nice, but not at the expense of persistent noise and debauchery.) Furthermore, many of the pranks implemented by the two parties are not only incredibly dangerous, but highly improbable, while the characters (especially Lisa Kudrow’s college dean) are so stupid that it only makes buying into the premise that much more difficult. In fact, it’s hard to imagine any of the jokes working at all without such a good cast, because while Seth Rogen is resigned to his usual shtick (though he does it well), Rose Byrne and Zac Efron deliver some really funny performances. Unfortunately, despite boasting some great individual moments, “Neighbors” never quite gels into the laugh-out-loud comedy that it had the potential to be.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray includes an alternate opening, deleted scenes, a gag reel, the always popular Line-O-Rama, and some brief featurettes on the characters, the party scenes and more.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“The Rover”

WHAT: Set 10 years after a global economic collapse, a hardened loner named Eric (Guy Pearce) attempts to track down the men who stole his car. When he discovers one of the thieves’ brothers left for dead on the side of the road, he forms an uneasy alliance with the redneck half-wit (Robert Pattinson) to help him on his journey.

WHY: David Michod’s “Animal Kingdom” was one of the best-reviewed films of 2010, but if you gave me the choice between that movie and his latest thriller, “The Rover” would get my vote every time. Though it’s plagued by many of the same problems as the Aussie crime drama, including glacial pacing and an alarming lack of character development, the film is a mesmerizing study of two severely damaged men living in a damaged world. Michod may not offer much in the way of plot, but he makes up for it with some gorgeous shots of the Australian outback and a quiet intensity rarely seen in Hollywood movies. That latter part comes through mostly in the performances from its two leads, and while Guy Pearce is excellent as the soft-spoken nomad, it’s Robert Pattinson who really surprises as the twitchy captive. Pattinson has earned a bad reputation due to his involvement in the “Twilight” films, but the actor proves that he’s capable of much better in what is easily his strongest performance to date. “The Rover” is a very specific kind of movie (“Mad Max” by way of Cormac McCarthy) for a very specific kind of audience, and although it’s not for everyone, it’s yet another strong feather in the cap of A24, which is having an excellent year between this, “Enemy” and “Locke.”

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray includes a making-of featurette, but sadly, that’s the extent of the bonus material.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Firestorm”

WHAT: When a group of robbers pulls off an armored car heist in broad daylight, hard-nosed Inspector Lui (Andy Lau) leads the investigation to bring them down. But after the usual police tactics prove to be no match for the unscrupulous criminals, Nam must play by their own rules in order to deliver justice.

WHY: “Firestorm” was originally released in Chinese theaters as a 3D spectacle, and it definitely shows, because there’s no shortage of action. In fact, it’s an almost endless barrage of gunfights, car crashes and explosions, to the point that you’re left to wonder how these criminals are getting their hands on so much firepower. Though it starts out as a bit of an homage to Michael Mann’s “Heat,” the movie quickly devolves into a brainless action movie where the lead protagonist is practically invincible (Lui survives multiple car crashes, explosions and multi-story falls with only a few scratches to show for it), while the rest of the Hong Kong cops get shredded to pieces. Furthermore, the good guys are totally inept, failing to hit a single target for most of the movie despite the fact that the criminals just stand out in the open for everyone to see. Writer/director Alan Yuen tries to balance these silly action sequences with subplots designed to add some emotional depth to the story, but they’re so half-baked that they only prove to be a distraction. “Firestorm” is mildly entertaining as a big, dumb and loud shoot-‘em-up, but it could have been so much better, especially with the usually dependable Andy Lau involved.

EXTRAS: There’s a making-of featurette, but that’s all.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

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