I’ve become a big fan of the actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I think it started with “Inception” and the rockin’ suits he wore. And it’s been hard to avoid him — Gordon-Levitt has been all over the big screen in the past couple of years in the movies “50/50,” “The Dark Knight Rises,” “Lincoln” and the sci-fi thriller “Looper.”
But “Don Jon,” coming out Sept. 27, is a very different project for Gordon-Levitt. He plays the title character, a “Jersey Shore” type of guy who loves — as he puts it in the trailer — “My body, my pad, my ride, my family, my church, my boys, my girls, my porn.” His character might look like an adult, but he has not grown up. As his relationship status changes, will he change, too?
Gordon-Levitt is also the director and writer of “Don Jon.” He’s said in interviews that the movie’s theme, the effect media has on our romantic lives, is something he’s been thinking about for a long time. The result is this movie. “I thought the idea of a guy, who watches too much pornography, and a young woman, who watches too many romantic Hollywood movies, was a hilarious way to ask the question: How do the different kinds of media we consume impact our lives and our love lives?” Gordon-Levitt told the Huffington Post in March.
As writer, director and star, “Don Jon” will rest on Gordon-Levitt’s shoulders. I think he’s more than capable. Can’t wait to see it!
“Don Jon” is rated R, and also stars Tony Danza, Scarlett Johansson and Julianne Moore.
— Danielle L. Kiracofe, entertainment editor, Washington, D.C.
Great racing films don’t come around often. You can count the good ones on one hand, and for every film like John Frankenheimer’s 1966 tour de force “Grand Prix,” there is one like Sylvester Stallone’s disastrous “Driven.” But Ron Howard’s “Rush,” a dramatic take on the 1976 Formula 1 season, looks likely to become one of the greats.
Starring Chris Hemsworth as the playboy James Hunt and Daniel Brühl as his cool, calculating rival Niki Lauda, “Rush” retells the story of the 1976 season through events leading up to and after Lauda’s near-fatal accident at the German Grand Prix. Howard explores what motivates men to risk everything in an era in which a driver had a limited chance of surviving his motor racing career.
Racing films must always please two masters – the motorheads who know the sport inside and out, and the general filmgoer who simply wants to be entertained. Howard teams again with “Frost/Nixon” writer Peter Morgan, a man with a special touch for telling stories about real people. And the 1976 season has all the ingredients for an engaging story: great characters, fast cars, glamour, triumph and tragedy.
While it plays loosey-goosey with some of the facts, Formula 1 insiders, many of whom had a front-row seat to the events of 1976, have embraced the film. Formula 1 pit reporter Will Buxton in a blog deemed it the best racing film ever. That easily makes “Rush” the most anticipated film on my list.
— Chris Six, photo/graphics editor, Washington, D.C.
"The Counselor"Oct. 25, #HaveYouBeenBad
After discovering Cormac McCarthy’s masterpiece novel “Blood Meridian,” about a gang of scalp hunters along the U.S.-Mexico border in the mid-1800s, I read up about all of his books. McCarthy’s work gets noticed for its unrelenting, vivid violence. True evil is a constant theme. But he’s also master of bringing me to the edge of the abyss and letting me stare into the depths for a bit. Judge Holden of “Blood Meridian” and Anton Chigurh of “No Country for Old Men” are pure meditations on war and violence, and are about as chilling as any characters you’ll find in American literary fiction. I always leave McCarthy’s books feeling awed and a little wiser to the dark side of our nature.
But the big question is, can McCarthy conjure up the same dark beauty as a screenwriter? “The Counselor” is his first effort at writing for Hollywood, despite movie adaptations of his novels “No Country” and “All the Pretty Horses.” It appears to be set among the ultra-violent drug trade in the southwestern U.S. — and rich soil for McCarthy to till. Mexican drug cartel atrocities are right at home in a McCarthy novel.
The other good news is that Ridley Scott (“Blade Runner” and “Alien”) directed the movie. Scott’s last work, “Prometheus,” was probably one of the most underrated movies of the past few years. If on his A-game, Scott could be a near-perfect pick for bringing McCarthy’s vision to the screen.
Of course, I’d argue that even the eminently talented Coen brothers fell a bit short with their 2007 adaptation of McCarthy’s “No Country for Old Men.” (It won four Oscars anyway, so what do I know?) Either way, turning a great novel — or even a great screenplay — into a great movie is tough. But the initial trailer for “The Counselor” is encouraging. Visually, it looks powerful, sexy and violent — there’s a pet cheetah! I can’t think of any other movie this fall I’d rather see.
“The Counselor” stars Brad Pitt, Javier Bardem, Cameron Diaz and Penelope Cruz
— Travis J. Tritten, reporter based in Okinawa
"Ender’s Game" Nov. 1
A child army saving the world from aliens? Check.
A craggy, grumpy Harrison Ford returns to space? Check.
A fantastic battle room and other space-age special effects? Check.
And much, much more!
“Ender’s Game” has been around in book form for decades. There are various theories as to why prolific author Orson Scott Card just recently chose to grant movie rights, but whatever the reason, I’m ready. The trailer promises an acting and special effects feast for the senses. Asa Butterfield, who plays the titular child warrior Ender Wiggin, has proven himself lead actor-worthy in the Academy Award-nominated “Hugo,” and he’s backed up here by other young acting greats Hailee Steinfeld and Abigail Breslin.
The book runs into some deep political and philosophical territory, and I do hope those themes are at least partially represented. But I’ll be honest: This story about incredibly gifted kids training to save the Earth from aliens is going to be great regardless.
Whether or not you see the movie, though, check out the book, which is on U.S. Marine Corps’ recommended reading lists for its approaches to battle tactics and ethical dilemmas. If you like it, there’s an entire universe of other books from Card awaiting you.
— Kate Maisel, features editor, Washington, D.C.
"About Time" Nov. 8
The cynical might see the poster and trailer for the upcoming romantic comedy “About Time” and lament its familiarity. I won’t argue that point. In fact, I’ll throw my arms around it in a yearning embrace. Here’s a list of tropes gleaned from the film’s promotional material:
Rachel McAdams (“The Notebook”) gamely accepts a suitor’s fumbling courtship in her signature fashion. She’s desirable but accessible, beautiful in a comfortable, non-threatening way, and just coy enough to make the inevitable happy ending feel earned.
The movie co-stars new leading man Domhnall Gleeson, the latest call-up from what I picture as a thriving farm team of stammering Brits reluctantly managed by a mumbling Hugh Grant in an ill-fitting baseball uniform.
Coffee-mug pull quotes abound, including “It’s going to be a complicated life” and “For me, it was always going to be about love.”
The concept of time travel is wielded as a malleable plot device, its terms and conditions fluctuating as the story requires.
The poster captures the lovely couple in a candid-ish pose of spontaneous romance. McAdams brilliantly sells her shy-but-exuberant act here by laughing while covering her face. Of course it is raining.
So if you’ve seen these elements so often before, why pay to see them gently rearranged? Because they’re familiar for a reason, and that reason is that they are awesome.
You see, I don’t need to be constantly surprised and provoked by my chosen entertainment. Predictable is cool with me, so long as I can predict that I will be entertained. That will happen with this movie. I enjoy watching well-executed stories in which likable characters navigate contrived obstacles in chase of an idealized version of romantic love. In “About Time,” a talented and proven cast of filmmakers tells the story of an awkward young man whose recently-discovered gift of time travel makes his pursuit of an equally vulnerable young woman alternately easier and more difficult. Count me in. I might even see it twice.
— Gregory Broome, sports writer, Europe
“Thor: The Dark World” Nov. 8, in Europe, Australia and some Asian countries earlier
As promised, Thor has returned for us in “Thor: The Dark World.”
Woohoo! Another “Thor” movie with Chris Hemsworth!
In the previous movie, a 2011 hit based on the Marvel comics, audiences saw Asgard, home of the gods; Niflheim, the land of the frost giants; and Midgard, our own home sweet home. Now it looks as if we will be world-hopping again to see Svartalfheim, the world of the dark elves.
Christopher Eccleston (of “Dr. Who” fame) has a close-up moment on movie posters everywhere as the dark elf, and this movie’s big bad, Malekith. According to the comics, Malekith is well-versed in magic and trickery. Oh, those tricksy dark elves. To fight magic with magic, Thor needs to partner with his currently incarcerated and mischievous brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston).
Honestly, I want to see this movie just to watch Thor’s lady love, Jane (Natalie Portman), slap Loki as Thor and Sif (Jaimie Alexander) look on. Yup, there’s just something funny about Norse gods getting beaten up.
If the movie is anything like the comics, there’s a good chance that both of the brothers will be pummeled in a war to save worlds, even if Thor and his hammer can smash a giant rock-creature into pebbles. I can’t wait to see how it all turns out!
— Roni Breza, editorial graphic artist, Washington, D.C.
So far, “The Hunger Games” movie series owes me one.
The odds seem to be in my favor — this movie about the second book in the “Hunger Games” series returns its heroine, Katniss, played expertly by Academy Award-winning Jennifer Lawrence. And, mercifully, the director has been replaced (in: Francis Lawrence; out: Gary Ross). As a member of the book trilogy’s legion of feverish fans, I could hardly sleep the night before I saw “The Hunger Games” — and felt like the camera wouldn’t sit still long enough for me to look at any of the lavishly created sets. I’m hoping for much better this time around.
My favorite parts of these stories are the arenas (though the outlandish outfits are a close second), and we’re served up an even better arena in “Catching Fire.” The movie dispenses with much of the first third or so of the book, in which Katniss meets folks searching for the mystical District 13, muses sadly on the state of her District 12 compatriots and guiltily moves into her fancy new digs in the Victor’s Village. Instead, (don’t accuse me of spoilerage; this is in the movie trailers!) it’s a short train ride to the announcement of the Quarter Quell, where Katniss and Peeta once again face battles to the death against competitors who this time have experience on their side. However, I’m assured by the deep involvement of author Suzanne Collins in the writing of the movie screenplay that the spirit of the book is retained, though perhaps altered for cinematic convenience.
I’m not wild about Book 3 — or the plan to make it two movies (thanks a lot for the precedent, “Harry Potter” and “Twilight”) — so this might be the last “Hunger Games” movie I clock in for. Here’s hoping it doesn’t tick me off.
— Kate Maisel, features editor, Washington, D.C.
“Oldboy” Nov. 27
For the past 10 years, I’ve highly anticipated the remake of the South Korean mystery thriller “Oldboy.” It’s the second in a trilogy of vengeance films from director Park Chan-wook. It’s the ultimate story of retaliation for a wrong that has been done — a family man escapes after being kidnapped and held captive for 15 years. After he escapes, he discovers his kidnapping was an act of revenge, but doesn’t realize that his problems have just begun. The deeper he searches for why he was kidnapped, the more the truth begins to unravel.
Finally, in 2013, director Spike Lee has taken the shelved classic and re-created it for American audiences. With Josh Brolin playing the man locked in solitary confinement for 20 years, “Oldboy” will redefine the genre.
The movie, rated R, also stars Samuel L. Jackson and Elizabeth Olsen.
— Doug Gillam, graphic artist, Washington, D.C.
"Frozen" Nov. 27
A new animated film from a major studio was once a significant event. I recall anxiously counting down with my family to the releases of the latest “Ice Age,” “Shrek” or Pixar film. From the early buzz to the 10-second teasers to the full-fledged trailers and posters in theaters, each new film represented a slow-burning build to the giddy payoff of a magical day at the movies.
The kids are older now, and my family’s move overseas has muted America’s promotional din. But I suspect those aren’t the only reasons major new family movies no longer land with the impact of yore. The market is saturated. It seems every Friday some strange studio is hurling a goopy mass of talking animals, naughty innuendo and flimsy believe-in-yourself rhetoric at the marquee and hoping it sticks for a couple of weekends. It’s harder for consumers to discern the good movies from the rest.
I’m hoping “Frozen” is one of the good ones. It’s a straight-up Disney movie, and as such carries the unrivaled legacy of immortal films like “Dumbo,” “The Jungle Book” and “The Lion King.” And after a weak run in the early 2000s, the company has rebounded in recent years with gems like “The Princess and the Frog,” “Tangled” and “Wreck-It Ralph.” Even better, “Frozen” is based on a fairy tale — “The Snow Queen” by Hans Christian Andersen — further placing it directly in Disney’s area of expertise.
The initial trailer I saw is a pleasing short about a bumbling snowman’s efforts to recover his carrot nose against the twin challenges of an icy pond and an apparently hungry moose. The ensuing slapstick is blatantly derivative of the hilarious recurring tangent in the “Ice Age” films in which the hapless squirrel Scrat futilely attempts to secure an acorn. And it appears to have nothing to do with the film’s primary plot. But the trailer effectively distills Disney’s happiest-on-earth vibe into a single endearing scene, and it suggests that “Frozen” is poised to join the ranks of the company’s classics.
My family and I saw the trailer together. We can’t wait until “Frozen” hits theaters.
— Gregory Broome, sports writer, Europe
I have to admit the fall movie slate seems weak by previous years’ standards, but there is one movie I’m truly looking forward to seeing: the second chapter of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy, “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.”
Having seen all three of The Lord of the Rings movies and having been duly impressed, I looked forward with great anticipation to “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.” I wasn’t disappointed. Special effects have only improved over the years since the original trilogy was made, and Jackson shot “The Hobbit” with a higher frame rate that only sharpens and enhances the images on the screen. I will admit, though, the images almost seem too real, giving the movie an animated look.
To top it off, a cast featuring some familiar faces reprising their Lord of the Rings roles (Ian McKellen as Gandalf, Orlando Bloom as Legolas, Hugo Weaving as Elrond and Cate Blanchett as Galadriel) only adds to the appeal.
Yeah, I know Peter Jackson added some things to the story that aren’t in the book, like Evangeline Lilly’s warrior elf Tauriel. But it’s fantasy and it’s entertaining, so I’ve gotten over it. “The Desolation of Smaug” picks up where “An Unexpected Journey” ends, with our band of dwarves and one Hobbit leaving the Misty Mountains and continuing their journey to get their gold back from the dragon Smaug. Of course, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) has already acquired the One Ring from Gollum and proven he belongs among the dwarves.
I’m curious to see where Jackson takes it from here. Aren’t you?
— Rich Killmon, sports copy editor, Washington, D.C.
I suspect the makers of this movie hope that, like me, you read the 1930 James Thurber short story “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” and, like me, you really only remember that the main character is a middle-aged man who leaves his mundane reality by escaping into an elaborate fantasy world. But the upcoming film, starring Ben Stiller, is actually a remake of the 1947 movie, which deviated significantly from the short story we (vaguely) remember.
I was enchanted by the trailer, which I saw in front of a recent viewing of the movie “The World’s End.” Until the final moments of the trailer, no words are spoken. Instead, it’s just dramatic moments featuring Stiller set to the song “Dirty Paws” by Of Monsters and Men. The trailer doesn’t make clear the plot — are all the thrilling and exciting things happening to Mitty in his mind, or does he eventually make a leap and take his life into Technicolor?
Stiller isn’t known for his dramatic roles, but from the trailer, I found him and co-star Kristen Wiig — whom I also don’t usually consider a dramatic actress — very believable. And the cinematography is appealing as well. Here’s hoping this Christmas Day arrival is even better than its wrappings.
The movie also stars Shirley MacLaine, Patton Oswalt, Adam Scott, Kathryn Hahn and Sean Penn.
— Danielle L. Kiracofe, entertainment editor, Washington, D.C.