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Hit or miss? Fall movies have promise, potential pitfalls

Clockwise from top left: "The Martian," "The Danish Girl," "The Revenant" and "The Walk"

Clockwise from top left: "The Martian," "The Danish Girl," "The Revenant" and "The Walk"

This autumn is littered with the usual mix of prestige pictures, Oscar hopefuls and indie dramas, all vying for attention in the season of “serious” movies.

Amidst the original entities, some familiar — and already well-publicized fare — is being released as well: Joe Wright’s “Pan,” reimagines an origin story for Captain Hook (Hugh Jackman) and Peter Pan, “Spectre” is the latest (and probably last) James Bond movie starring Daniel Craig, and a little movie called “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens” opens on Dec. 18

Here’s a look at some of the other buzzed-about films of the fall and what could make them stand out from the pack — and why they could fall flat.


“The Martian” (Oct. 2)

Matt Damon is an astronaut stranded on Mars in this Ridley Scott (“Alien,” “Gladiator”) adaptation of a self-published novel, which promises more first-person drama and less gimmicky sci-fi action.

Could be great if: it combines the sophisticated action and character development of “Gravity” with the rescue mission of “Apollo 13.”

Could fall flat if: it feels too familiar, a la “Interstellar,” which also co-starred Damon and Jessica Chastain, his co-star again here.


“The Walk” (Sept. 30 in IMAX/Oct. 9 wide)

This '70s-set true story follows French daredevil Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as he eludes security and attempts to walk a tightrope between New York’s Twin Towers.

Could be great if: director Robert Zemeckis leverages IMAX 3-D technology along with old-school action storytelling to give moviegoers a unique experience.

Could fall flat if: it mirrors too closely the Oscar-winning documentary “Man on Wire,” which already told this story in thrilling fashion.


“Steve Jobs” (Oct. 9)

With a screenplay from Aaron Sorkin (“The Social Network”), direction from Danny Boyle (“Slumdog Millionaire”), and Michael Fassbender in the title role as the iconic Apple visionary, the potential for this one is enormous.

Could be great if: Fassbender is able to bring some real depth to a man who still seems like a mystery, even after receiving the biographical treatment in multiple books and movies.

Could fall flat if: Sorkin has an axe to grind, and takes a one-note approach to Jobs’ many contradictions.


“Crimson Peak” (Oct. 16)

The latest film from writer-director Guillermo Del Toro is a gothic romance/ghost story set in 19th-century England, and boasts an all-star cast, including Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, and Jessica Chastain.

Could be great if: it’s a real return to Del Toro’s roots, in the vein of his R-rated nightmarish adult fairy-tale “Pan’s Labyrinth” or his spooky ghost story “The Devil’s Backbone.”

Could fall flat if: it’s marred with a big-budget Hollywood mentality, and is too worried about pleasing mainstream audiences.

“Bridge of Spies” (Oct. 16)

Steven Spielberg directing. Tom Hanks starring. Joel and Ethan Coen co-scripting. Yeah, this Cold War spy thriller, based on a true story, has quite a pedigree.

Could be great if: it’s as tense as it the trailer would have us believe. If there’s some modern-day parallels to be drawn, even better.

Could fall flat if: it’s schmaltzy pap like Spielberg and Hanks’ last collaboration, “The Terminal.”


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NhlrEAEQxRQ

“Our Brand is Crisis” (Oct. 30)

An adaptation of Rachel Boyton’s 2005 documentary of the same name, this political drama about American marketers getting involved in a Bolivian election stars Sandra Bullock and Billy Bob Thornton.

Could be great if: director David Gordon Green gets intimate with his characters, like he has in indie successes “Joe” and “All the Real Girls.”

Could fall flat if: Green handles the big stars and big budget like he did in forgettable Hollywood comedies like “Your Highness” and “The Sitter.”


“I Saw the Light” (Nov. 27)

The tragic story of country legend Hank Williams, who died at 29 and changed the face of popular music, is recounted in this biopic starring the British guy who played Loki in “The Avengers.”

Could be great if: that British guy (Tom Hiddleston) makes us forget who he is and convincingly portrays the tormented honky-tonker, whom he already bears a striking resemblance to.

Could fall flat if: it’s another formulaic biopic with a tacked-on happy ending.


“The Danish Girl” (Nov. 27)

Last year’s best actor winner Eddie Redmayne appears to be gunning for another statue, playing 1920s painter Lili Elbe, one of the first people to undergo sexual reassignment surgery.

Could be great if: the film is as humanistic a portrait as the book (a fascinating piece of historical fiction from David Ebershoff) it is based on.

Could fall flat if: director Tom Hooper brings the same sense of gimmicky bombast he did to his roaring adaptation of “Les Miserables.”


“Joy” (Dec. 25)

Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper reteam with David O. Russell, their director on “Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle,” to tell the quirky tale of the inventor of the Miracle Mop.

Could be great if: Lawrence and Cooper have their usual chemistry and it channels another twisted side of the American Dream the way “Hustle” did.

Could fall flat if: it tries too hard with its oddball intentions, like Russell did in the admirable but messy “I Heart Huckabees.” Even then, at least it will be interesting!


“The Revenant” (Dec. 25)

This year's best director winner Alejandro G. Iñárritu (“Birdman”) braved wintry conditions in Canada and Argentina to film this adaptation from Michael Punke’s novel about 1820s fur trapper Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), who was left for dead in the Dakota Territory.

Could be great if: the now-infamous stories of a set plagued with problems actually creates a palpable sense of danger that bleeds into the film itself.

Could fall flat if: Iñárritu’s strategy of using only natural light to create striking visuals is just a mask to cover its lack of emotional investment.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gnRbXn4-Yis

“The Hateful Eight” (Dec. 25 in 70mm; Jan. 8 wide)

Another wintry outdoor tale set in 1800s America, Quentin Tarantino’s latest stars Kurt Russell as a bounty hunter escorting a fugitive (Jennifer Jason Leigh) cross-country. It was filmed on 70mm film, using the same ultra-wide Panavision lenses popularized in epic films like 1959’s “Ben-Hur.”

Could be great if: Tarantino retains his iconoclastic creative spark and avoids repeating himself.

Could fall flat if: it covers the same ground as his Western “Django Unchained” and his last five movies, which have all been revenge pictures.

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‘Ant-Man’ a small wonder; ‘Amy’ goes behind the music

Paul Rudd in "Ant-Man"

Paul Rudd in "Ant-Man"

In “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” the mega-superheroes are taken out of their usual hi-tech, urban surroundings and brought down to Earth when they hide out at a Midwestern farmhouse. It’s a scene that writer/director Joss Whedon had to fight to keep in the movie, and it's one of the best.

In Marvel’s “Ant-Man,” the titular character (played by Paul Rudd) suffers an even more ignoble juxtaposition: He’s wearing his retro-cool, '60s spacesuit-looking outfit in a bathroom. While he hides from his roommates behind a shower curtain, and suddenly shrinks down smaller than the tub stopper, running away from the water on filthy porcelain, trying not to get washed down the drain.

One of the biggest pleasures in the tonally challenged “Ant-Man” is its overall subversion of the superhero genre. The movie still feel like a Marvel product — and it suffers from a typically one-dimensional bad guy (Corey Stoll) — but it also has a lot of fun turning expectation on its head.

The irony of “Ant-Man” is that while its action scenes and characters feel small and insignificant in the larger picture of Marvel superheroes who consistently save the world, the piece of new technology introduced in the film couldn’t be bigger.

The “Pym particle,” named after its inventor Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), is a game–changer for the entire universe, and something Pym has been hiding from the military ever since trying it out himself in secret.

When his protege Darren Cross (Stoll) develops a suit called Yellowjacket some 25 years later and is eager to give it up to the highest bidder, Pym chooses a good man in a desperate situation to wear his original Ant-Man outfit and stop the sale.

That man is Scott Lang (Rudd), a hacker/cat burglar with a master’s degree in electrical engineering. After a brief stint in prison, he’s trying to “go straight” for his daughter but he can’t even keep a job at Baskin-Robbins.

He eventually gives up and plans a heist with a group of criminals specifically designed for comic relief. Rudd is his usual likable self, and he’s perfect for a role that requires a lot of exasperation. He’s an everyman that’s easy to root for from the get-go, and his droll sense of humor allows him to comment on the stranger goings-on with the appropriate amount of “WTF?”

The script for “Ant-Man” was written by original director Edgar Wright and his collaborator Joe Cornish, and then was re-written by Rudd and Adam McKay after Wright left the project. It’s full of Wright’s signature surreal comic touches, especially in the action scenes, which is where “Ant-Man” at once feels like an extension of and departure from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

When it tries to explain things such as how Ant-Man can summon a colony of ants, Pied Piper-style, however, the script doesn’t really stick the landing. As “Team America” so eloquently put it: “We’re gonna need a montage!”

Reed has some trouble balancing the more ridiculous aspects of a character that most people wouldn’t go near, but that’s also part of the fun of “Ant-Man.” Marvel proved last year with a talking raccoon in “Guardians of the Galaxy” that the studio isn't afraid to get weird, so it's nice to see it still taking some chances.

What “Ant-Man” is missing that “Guardians” had is a certain level of confidence. “Guardians” established a smart-alecky tone from the get-go that was reinforced by those characters during their journey, while “Ant-Man” feels a little more all over the place.

Still, it’s refreshing to see a Marvel movie that has the opportunity to end with a big action climax in a sleek, hi-tech facility and then purposefully move away to a polar opposite environment. If you’ve seen the trailer, this part of the movie has probably already been given away, but I hadn’t, so I when Ant-Man fought Yellowjacket, I was giggling like a schoolboy throughout.

“Ant-Man” is 2 hours and is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence and various sidekick buffoonery.

'Amy'

Now playing at Liberty Hall is “Amy,” the documentary that rode huge buzz from the Cannes Film Festival into breaking box office records in the U.K. and near-universal acclaim.

“Amy” follows the short, tragic life of British pop singer Amy Winehouse, and has caused quite a stir. The film has been disowned by her family, especially her father, who does not come off in a good light.

“Amy” was directed by Asif Kapadia, whose extraordinary 2010 doc “Senna” exclusively used archival footage to tell the story of Brazilian car-racing champ Ayrton Senna. The result was a “you are there” experience that felt like a Hollywood narrative unfolding before your eyes.

“Amy” doesn’t follow the same strategy, but does contain plenty of material never seen before by audiences, as it follows Winehouse’s music career alongside her history of bulimia, alcoholism, drug abuse and deliberate self-harm.

"Amy" is 128 minutes and is rated R for language and drug material.

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