Falling For Autumn Movies

Sep 3, 2013
Originally published on September 3, 2013 7:37 am

If you just look at the box office grosses, rather than the bottom line, you'd swear Hollywood was closing the books this weekend on a sensational summer — more than $4.5 billion in the till, a couple of hundred million dollars higher than any summer on record.

The hitch is how much the film industry spent to achieve those grosses, with bank-busting blockbusters failing right and left — After Earth costing $130 million and barely grossing half that, Pacific Rim's producers spending $190 million (not counting advertising) and struggling to collect $100 million at the box office.

Still, with help from a Man of Steel, an Iron Man, and hundreds of lovably Despicable minions, all that profligate overspending did draw a lot of people to theaters. Now comes the tough part: extending the hot streak into cool weather with kids doing homework and new TV shows still sounding vaguely enticing.

Hollywood, as it happens, is turning to a strategy that stemmed box office slippage in the 1950s — give 'em something they can't get on the small screen.

Exhibit A: Alfonso Cuaron's apparently game-changingly realistic thriller, Gravity, in which a Hubble telescope repair mission is disrupted when space debris slams into astronauts George Clooney and Sandra Bullock and the space shuttle that got them there. Bullock is left floating helplessly, her oxygen running out, but it's Film Fest audiences who've been left breathless. Festival reviews have been every bit as stellar as Gravity's story.

Though it happened on land with plenty of people around, Solomon Northup, an unlucky African-American, got nearly as stranded 172 years ago in pre-Civil War New York, when he was tricked, kidnapped, and sold into slavery. Northup's memoir, 12 Years A Slave, on which writer/director Steve McQueen based the film of the same name, has been in print for more than a century and a half. The picture reunites McQueen with his Shame star Michael Fassbender, who plays a sadistic slaveowner, and features Brad Pitt, who's also a producer. But the man who reaped hosannahs at Telluride this week was Chiwetel Ejiofor, who plays the title character.

And proving that isolation can come from less extreme circumstances while still having pretty extreme consequences, from Spike Jonze, director of Being John Malkovich, comes Her, a near-future dramedy about a lonely writer played by Joaquin Phoenix, who purchases the world's first artificially intelligent operating system for his computer, then finds his life changing in ways he didn't expect. The operating system's name is Samantha — think Siri but with more personality — and she (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) wants to know everything, including about feelings. Which leads to...um, feelings.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

The film industry spent too much on special effects this summer for its blockbuster season to be very profitable. But a man of steel, a man of iron and some lovably despicable minions did draw a lot of people to theaters. So how does Hollywood plan to keep that hot streak going in cooler weather? Well, critic Bob Mondello is here to tell us in his fall movie preview.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: All summer, things have been looking up for Hollywood, and come fall, Hollywood's hoping to have the whole world looking up to the heavens where astronauts George Clooney and Sandra Bullock will be repairing the Hubble telescope in "Gravity" and enjoying the view.


GEORGE CLOONEY: (as Matt Kowalsky) Beautiful, don't you think?

SANDRA BULLOCK: (as Dr. Ryan Stone) What?

CLOONEY: (as Matt Kowalsky) The sunrise. Terrific.

MONDELLO: Until the serenity is shattered...


MONDELLO: ...by space debris tearing them and the space shuttle that got them there apart.


CLOONEY: (as Matt Kowalsky) Houston, Dr. Stone (unintelligible) structure. Listen to my voice (unintelligible) I'm losing visual of you.

BULLOCK: (as Dr. Ryan Stone) Oh, I'm staying. I can't breathe.

CLOONEY: (as Matt Kowalsky) Grab a hold. Grab anything.

BULLOCK: (as Dr. Ryan Stone) What do I do? What do I do?

MONDELLO: "Gravity's" film fest reviews have been every bit as stellar as its story, but it's hardly the only eagerly awaited picture this fall in which someone is stranded, helplessly far from home. In "All is Lost," Robert Redford is in the middle of the Indian Ocean, asleep below deck on his sailboat.


MONDELLO: And suddenly, there's water flooding into the hull, shipwrecked, struggling to survive with no cinematic tiger or volleyball to talk to. Redford's sailor finds himself very much on his own. Though on land with plenty of people around, an unlucky African-American got just as stranded 172 years ago in pre-Civil War New York.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (as character) Solomon Northup is an excellent player of the violin.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (as character) I was born a free man. I lived with my family in New York.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (as character) Be good for your mother.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (as character) Till the day I was deceived.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: (as character) To Solomon.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (as character) Kidnapped and sold into slavery.

MONDELLO: Northup's memoir on which the film is based is entitled "12 Years a Slave."


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: (as character) Well, boy. How are you feeling now?

MONDELLO: Other dramatic films that tell true-life stories include "The Fifth Estate," in which TV's "Sherlock," Benedict Cumberbatch, plays the founder of WikiLeaks.


BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH: (as Julian Assange) They're coming after us. We need to publish now.

MONDELLO: "Killing Your Darlings" with Daniel Radcliffe trading Harry Potter's glasses for those of a famous beat poet.


DANE DEHAAN: (as Lucien Carr) And you are?

DANIEL RADCLIFFE: (as Allen Ginsberg) Allen Ginsberg.

DEHAAN: (as Lucien Carr) Are you a writer?

RADCLIFFE: (as Allen Ginsberg) No, I'm not.

DEHAAN: (as Lucien Carr) Well, you're not anything yet.

MONDELLO: Also the film "Winnie Mandela" with Jennifer Hudson helping to lead South Africa out of apartheid, and "Rush" with a tale of two 1970s Formula One racing stars.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #6: (as character) Welcome to the racing grudge match of the decade.

MONDELLO: Niki Lauda and Britain's James Hunt, each pushing the other to take terrible chances that did not always pay off.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #7: (as character) World champion Niki Lauda trapped in a searing inferno of 800-plus degrees.

MONDELLO: "Rush" does its level best to turn a story about macho posturing into a tale of uplift.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #8: (as character) Forty-two days after his near-fatal accident, Niki Lauda will race here today.

MONDELLO: We'll come back to the true stories in a minute, but first, let's follow macho posturing and uplift where they lead us. Chris Hemsworth who merely looks like a Norse god in "Rush" will be back a few weeks later actually playing a Norse god in "Thor: The Dark World."


CHRIS HEMSWORTH: (as Thor) I gave you my word I would return for you.

MONDELLO: Did he? Well, anyway, he will, joining a relatively short list of special effects wielding superheroes this fall. Just Vin Diesel in "Riddick," Jennifer Lawrence in "The Hunger Games" sequel "Catching Fire," and a youngster who's trained to fight invading aliens in "Ender's Game."


HARRISON FORD: (as Colonel Hyrum Graff) We need the best and the brightest to lead. If you succeed, you'll be remembered as a hero.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #9: (as character) No.

MONDELLO: There's also some less apocalyptic, more romantic science fiction on the way. From the director of "Being John Malkovich" comes "Her," a story about a lonely guy who falls in love with the world's first artificially intelligent operating system. Think Siri but with more personality.


SCARLETT JOHANSSON: (as Samantha) Good morning, Theodore.

JOAQUIN PHOENIX: (as Theodore) Good morning.

JOHANSSON: (as Samantha) You have a meeting in five minutes. You want to try getting out of bed?

PHOENIX: (as Theodore) You're too funny.

JOHANSSON: (as Samantha) OK. Good, I'm funny.

MONDELLO: Also bending science in the service of romance is "About Time," about a guy whose dad pulls him aside one day for a startling announcement.


BILL NIGHY: (as Dad) This is going to sound strange, but men in the family can travel in time.

DOMHNALL GLEESON: (as Tim) This is such a weird joke.

NIGHY: (as Dad) It's not a joke.

GLEESON: (as Tim) If it's true, which isn't it...

NIGHY: (as Dad) Although it is.

GLEESON: (as Tim) ...but if it was, which is not...

NIGHY: (as Dad) Which it is.

GLEESON: (as Tim) How would I actually...

NIGHY: (as Dad) ...think of the moment you're going to when you find yourself alone?

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (as characters) Happy New Year.

GLEESON: (as Tim) It's going to be a complicated year.

NIGHY: (as Dad) It's going to be a complicated life.

MONDELLO: Complicated also describes a bunch of pictures that center on illicit sex this fall. There's "Adore," about two women who are best friends until each of them starts an affair with the other one's son.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #10: (as character) Last night, I caught my mother coming out of his bedroom.

MONDELLO: Also "Thanks for Sharing" about a 12-step program that has nothing to do with alcohol or drugs.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #11: (as character) I have been in recovery for five years.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (as character) For what?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #11: (as character) Sex addiction.

MONDELLO: And "Don Jon," written, directed by and starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt about a modern-day Don Juan who gets his head handed to him over what he regards as just a hobby.


JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT: (as Don Jon) She caught me watching porn.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: (as character) How do you watch that?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #12: (as character) How do you watch all these stupid movies you watch?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: (as character) Movies and porno are different, Jon. They give awards for movies.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #12: (as character) They give awards for porn too.

MONDELLO: Other comedies include "Last Vegas," a bachelor party movie that sort of a cross between "The Hangover" and "Grumpy Old Men."


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: (as character) Do you like to have drugs?

KEVIN KLINE: (as Sam) Does Lipitor count?

MONDELLO: "The Family" in which mobsters find it hard to lay low under witness protection.


MICHELLE PFEIFFER: (as Maggie Blake) Why did you kill the plumber?

ROBERT DE NIRO: (as Fred Blake/Giovanni Manzoni) I didn't kill him.

PFEIFFER: (as Maggie Blake) Who's going to fix the pipes now?

NIRO: (as Fred Blake/Giovanni Manzoni) Well, who's going to rebuild the supermarket that burned down the day we got here?

MONDELLO: For kids? There's "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2," where it's stopped raining burgers, but there are now weird food-animal combinations, like musky toasts and ferocious tackle dial.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #13: (as character) Are those (unintelligible)?

MONDELLO: The family audience will no doubt eat it up. And while we're talking families, Vince Vaughn discovers in "Delivery Man" that a donation he made 20 years ago to a fertility clinic was unexpectedly potent.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #14: (as character) Apparently, there was a mix-up at the clinic.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #15: (as character)What?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #16: (as character) You're the biological father of 500 and 33 children.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #17: (as character) What?

MONDELLO: OK. I said I'd get back to real-life stories. Let's finish up with three that sound especially compelling, Martin Scorsese teaming up with Leo DiCaprio for a tale of a corrupt stockbroker in "The Wolf of Wall Street."


LEONARDO DICAPRIO: (as Jordan Belfort) Was all this legal? Absolutely not. We were making more money than we knew we can do with.

MONDELLO: "Parkland," which takes its name from a Dallas hospital that drew the eyes of the world 50 years ago this November.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #18: (as character) President Kennedy is being rushed to Parkland Hospital.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #4: (as character) You've got something.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #19: (as character) He's probably got the flu.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #4: (as character) Doctor.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #20: (as character) Ah. Who's the attending?

MONDELLO: And "Captain Phillips" in which Tom Hanks plays the heroic skipper of a freighter taken over just a couple of years ago by Somalian pirates.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #21: (as character) Where is the crew?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #22: (as character) I don't know.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #23: (as character) You think you're brave? You think you're brave?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #24: (as character) No.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #25: (as character) (Unintelligible)

MONDELLO: All of this before Thanksgiving and the Christmas holiday rush when Tom Hanks will be back playing Walt Disney and competing with hobbits for audience attention. I'm Bob Mondello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.