August 28, 2006

Fall movies feel fresh, but fans will now decide

By Bob Tourtellotte

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A funny thing has happened on the
way to movie theaters this fall: Hollywood, it seems, has been
listening to fans looking for original features after years of
boring sequels, prequels and remakes.

Among the nearly 150 new films slated for release from
September through December, there are the usual Oscar hopefuls
and high-concept stories with big-name stars but very few
big-budget franchises the likes of the "Harry Potter" and "Lord
of the Rings" films.

Even superagent James Bond -- super old by the standards of
Hollywood's obsession with youth (The first Bond movie, "Dr.
No" was released 44 years ago) -- got a remake into a younger,
edgier British spy for November's "Casino Royale."

"We introduce a man that is not quite as refined, at first,
as maybe we've known Bond to be," said Daniel Craig, 38, the
new 007 after 53 year-old Pierce Brosnan got the boot.

Craig promises all the action, stunts, effects and pretty
women for which Bond flicks are known, but this new film throws
a wrench into his famously healthy sex life when ladies man
Bond gets jilted by his lover.

"It's complicated," deadpanned Craig.

Indeed. But tough love for Bond and other fresh ideas may
be what fans want after three straight years of fewer viewers
in theaters. So far in 2006, attendance is up 3 percent.

Disney, for instance, is high on a November sci-fi thriller
in which Denzel Washington uses "deja vu" to track down a
killer. It has an event-movie pedigree -- directed by Tony
Scott and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer -- but an odd title:
"Deja Vu."

"Rarely do you come up with a title that you don't have to
change into local languages around the world," counters Mark
Zoradi, president of Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group. "You
put great visuals along with that, and a fresh idea, and it's
perfect for the (holidays)."


Following the upcoming Labor Day holiday -- the summer
movie season's end -- September kicks off with "Hollywoodland"
in which Adrien Brody plays a detective looking for the truth
behind the death of TV "Superman" George Reeves (Ben Affleck).

Action and adventure flicks include "The Guardian," pairing
Kevin Costner and Ashton Kutcher as Coast Guard rescue
swimmers, martial arts title "Jet Li's Fearless," and "Flyboys"
about World War I pilots.

September comedies are led by "Jackass: Number Two" in
which Johnny Knoxville performs stupid stunts, and "Confetti,"
a fake documentary about creating original weddings.

Oscar hype is already buzzing for September dramas such as
"Children of Men," "The Black Dahlia," "The Queen," "The Last
King of Scotland" and "All the King's Men." (Okay, that last
one is a remake of a classic 1949 film.)

Award buzz for October hangs on Clint Eastwood's World War
II tale, "Flags of our Fathers," and Martin Scorsese thriller
"The Departed," with Leonardo DiCaprio and Jack Nicholson.

Also on the award watch list are Brad Pitt as a tragedy
stricken tourist in Morocco in "Babel," Hugh Jackman playing a
magician in "The Prestige," director Sofia Coppola's "Marie
Antoinette" starring Kirsten Dunst as the doomed French queen,
and Todd Field's "Little Children" with Kate Winslet.

October comedies include Dane Cook and Jessica Simpson in
"Employee of the Month," Robin Williams in "Man of the Year"
and an ensemble cast including Annette Bening and Gwyneth
Paltrow in "Running with Scissors."


Neither November nor December stray far from the theme of
fewer big sequels, prequels, remakes and stale tales.

Oscar-winning Russell Crowe, known for sword fighting
("Gladiator") and telephone hurling (real life), is in comedy
"A Good Year." That's right, a comedy.

Another Oscar winner, Nicole Kidman, stars in fantasy
"Fur," playing a photographer who strikes up a life-changing
friendship with a man covered in fur.

Turning the tables on those two thespians is funnyman Will
Ferrell, who takes on drama in "Stranger than Fiction."

But the truly quirky comes from Christopher Guest ("Best in
Show") comedy "For Your Consideration," and from "Borat" in
which British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen takes his popular
character -- a TV reporter from Kazakhstan -- on a tour across

Topping off the Oscar watch list in December are musical
"Dreamgirls," based on the hit Broadway play, George Clooney in
World War II drama "The Good German" and Robert De
Niro-directed "The Good Shepherd," starring Matt Damon.

"I do see a lot of quality," said box office watcher Paul
Dergarabedian of Exhibitor Relations Co Inc. "That, to me, is
what's so cool about fall."