"I had to stand up for myself alone. And you know what they did to me. Until all men stand up for what they believe in, the same damn thing can happen to any one of you!"
– B. Pusser

The in-depth speculation which has fast-tracked this four-part series to Pulitzer glory will henceforth be replaced with relatively curt appraisals/dismissals. If you were expecting a few hundred words on Alvin and the Chipmunks, may a hail of Shriners lay waste to your house.

The Intriguers

http://chud.com/nextraimages/jessejamesrobertford.jpgShine a Light (d. Martin Scorsese)
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (d. Andrew Dominik)
Into the Wild (d. Sean Penn)
My Kid Could Paint That (d. Amir Bar-Lev)

These four films should be generating much more excitement, but, for a variety of reasons, are already being relegated to also-ran status for the fall. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is a presumed failure on the basis of its year-long delay, which was reportedly caused by Andrew Dominik unexpectedly turning in a three-hour-long epic with delusions of Terrence Malick grandeur. As you should know, Malick’s brand of "grandeur" is more immersive and contemplative than, say, eventful and invigorating (at least in the conventional, Hollywood sense). Studios don’t know how to sell pastoral, even with Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck occupying the foreground. Nevertheless, Jesse James has begun screening, but no one’s screaming "masterpiece" yet – which is what it would take for Warner Brothers to mount a major push for this troubled picture. As a fan of Dominik’s Chopper, I’m still optimistic, if befuddled – nothing in his previous film struck me as remotely Malick-ian. But he’s collaborating with master cinematographer Roger Deakins, so it’ll at least look awfully purty.

Nothing could interest me less than a modern day concert film centered on The Rolling Stones (joined onstage by Jack Black and Christina Aguilera!), but the involvement of Martin Scorsese, who’s featured their music prominently in his pictures (and "Gimme Shelter" excessively, to the point of self-parody), makes Shine a Light an automatic "must see". The concert footage is guaranteed to look spectacular (Robert Richardson supervised an all-star camera team featuring Emmanuel Lubezki, John Toll, Robert Elswit, Andrew Lesnie, Ellen Kuras and Stuart Drybergh), while the archival footage and interviews could yield some revealing moments (particularly if editor David Tedeschi repeats his No Direction Home triumph). This could be something special. Or it could be Let’s Spend the Night Together 2: The Early Bird Dinner Sessions (in which case, I hope Scorsese interviewed the band over salisbury steak and cinnamon ice cream at Bill Knapps).

Sean Penn’s volatile temperament (creative or otherwise) should make him a great filmmaker one of these days, and I’d like to think the bewildering tale of Chris McCandless – as recounted by Jon Krakauer in his fascinating tome, Into the Wild – is the kind of material that might get him over the "interesting, but flawed hump". The trailer promises lots of natural beauty. And cameos. Lots of fucking cameos. If they’re not too distracting, and if Emile Hirsch is ready to make good on his potential, this could be a very special movie.

Though the left-leaning political documentaries keep appearing at a seeming rate of one per week (the highly touted No End In Sight is the latest offering), Amir Bar-Lev’s My Kid Could Paint That is the nonfiction feature I’m most looking forward to this fall. The film, which chronicles the life of a four-year-old art prodigy, played to rave reviews at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. There’s no trailer yet, so I’m operating solely on the hype of others with this one.

The Unpretentious

http://chud.com/nextraimages/shootemuptunes.jpg3:10 to Yuma (d. James Mangold)
Shoot ‘Em Up (d. Michael Davis)
Hitman (d. Xavier Gens)
Enchanted (d. Kevin Lima)
Pathology (d. Marc Schoelermann)
Alvin and the Chipmunks (d. Tim Hill)
I Am Legend (d. Francis Lawrence)

What’s there to add about the above that one hasn’t already gleaned from their respective loglines or, if available, trailers? They’re all programmers. I’m not expecting greatness from any of these films, but two of them have the potential to transcend their modest origins: Shoot ‘Em Up and I Am Legend. And by "transcend" I mean "amount to more than two hours of mindless entertainment".

Judging from its trailer, Shoot ‘Em Up will be a profound disappointment if it isn’t completely devoid of grey matter. But if it does make good on its promise to be a live action Looney Tunes movie with that cast (Clive Owen, Paul Giamatti and Monica Bellucci), we could be talking about an instant cult classic.

It took a long, long time for Mark Protosevich’s tonally spot-on adaptation of I Am Legend to make it to the big screen, but it took an additional Akiva Goldsman rewrite (at star Will Smith’s behest) to get it there. This could be trouble. But I’m pretty sure Francis Lawrence is the real deal; he already is visually based on the stylish Constantine (’twas the script that did that picture in). If he can craft a film of substance, this could be more than just a holiday blockbuster.

As for the rest, I’ve heard 3:10 to Yuma is a well-made western that could very well dazzle folks who’ve only seen a handful of westerns in their life. But if you’re familiar with the genre, lower your expectations. Hitman, on the other hand, could go either way; the script was good, but director Xavier Gens will have to do a mean Luc Besson impersonation to carry it off.

A few years ago, David Cross was threatening to leave Hollywood. Now, he’s in Alvin and the Chipmunks. Principles are a motherfucker, jack, but suffering for your art is good for the soul. So is paying rent. And eating ass is a sure-fire hiccup remedy!

The Merrymakers

http://chud.com/nextraimages/goodluckchuckalba1.jpgThe Brothers Solomon (d. Bob Odenkirk)
Mr. Woodcock (d. Craig Gillespie)
Good Luck Chuck (d. Mark Helfrich)
Run, Fat Boy, Run (d. David Schwimmer)
The Heartbreak Kid (d. The Farrelly Brothers)
The Comebacks (d. Tom Brady)
Bee Movie (d. Steve Hickner and Simon J. Smith)
Fred Claus (d. David Dobkin)
Mama’s Boy aka Please Be the End of Jon Heder’s Career (d. Tim Hamilton)

Bee Movie is the class of this category based on the promise of new material from Jerry Seinfeld. The only concern is Dreamworks Animation’s track record, but Seinfeld’s sensibility is all over the theatrical trailer. I can’t wait.

Let’s Go to Prison didn’t work out so well for Bob Odenkirk, but he’s got a lifetime supply of goodwill built up from Mr. Show. I have a feeling he’ll continue to run through it, too, because The Brothers Solomon is a Screen Gems release, and… well, see for yourself.

The ad campaign for Good Luck Chuck is so clever (for a studio ad campaign) that you know beyond the shadow of a Joseph Cotton that Dane Cook had nothing to do with it. He did, however, have a hand in making the film. All the decent, strictly PG-13 Alba bits will be online in a few months, so why bother? Actually, scratch that. This is a Lionsgate release. The entire movie should be online any minute now. Happy hunting.

I haven’t heard a thing on the David Schwimmer-directed Run, Fat Boy, Run. It’s certainly got potential (Simon Pegg stars in a script by Michael Ian Black), but the premise – a fat guy ditches his fiancee at the altar, but, ten years later, slims down and realizes she was his true love – is awfully muddled. For Pegg’s sake, I hope this is the beginning of a long, profitable, disgustingly bacchanalian career as a movie star.

The Heartbreak Kid is the best of the rest, but The Farrelly Brothers’ second remake in as many movies looks like a travesty of Elaine May’s original. And I rather enjoyed Fever Pitch.

Fred Claus might be a big setback for David Dobkin. The early word is terrible, and the trailer does nothing to refute this.

The Genre/Geek Stuff

http://chud.com/nextraimages/diaryofthedeadposter.jpgDiary of the Dead (d. George A. Romero)
Halloween (d. Rob Zombie)
The Mist (d. Frank Darabont)
The Golden Compass: His/Hers Matching Dark Materials (d. Chris Weitz)
The Dark is Rising (d. David L. Cunningham)
Resident Evil: Extinction (d. Russell Mulcahy)
30 Days of Night (d. David Slade)
Martian Child (d. Menno Meyjes)
Aliens vs. That Thar Predator (d. Does It Matter?)

Why didn’t I lump Diary of the Dead in with the "Sure Things" when I began this accursed second half preview a week ago? It’s a zombie movie written and directed by George A. Romero! He’s a comfortable four-for-four with this genre – which he essentially invented! The meta premise about a horror film crew being attacked by real-life zombies is pretty underwhelming, but if anyone knows how to shrewdly exploit a seemingly shopworn idea, it’s Romero. By all rights, this could make my top ten list.

Frank Darabont directing a straight-up Stephen King horror flick is a wonderful thing. Though the very talented writer-director of The Shawshank Redemption (now #2 on the IMDb’s Top 250) misspent his Hollywood clout on the needlessly bloated duo of The Green Mile and The Majestic, he could effectively blot out those artistic failures by returning to the genre that launched his career. The Mist, which sounds like Doom by way of The Fog (in the best possible way), is Darabont’s first unabashed horror effort since Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (a terrific screenplay butchered by Kenneth Branagh). He has a lot to prove, but just as much to lose; if he misses this pitch right into his wheelhouse, he might find himself taking cuts in the minors (i.e. independently financed film) on his next project.

Alien vs. Predator 2 is now Aliens vs. Predator. These franchise aren’t just desiccated; they’re diseased. At what point do we get Abbott & Costello Meet Aliens vs. Predator? Or, better yet, Abbott vs. Costello vs. Aliens vs. Predator? And why is "Predator" singular? Isn’t there more than one Predator in this movie? Am I really asking this? Do you know where you’re going to? Do you like the things that life is showing you?

Adam Green’s low budget slasher flick, Hatchet, wowed ’em at the 2006 Austin Fantastic Fest. It stars Kane Hodder as a Bayou-bound killer picking off tourists who’ve strayed onto his turf. The trailer is forgettable, but the enthusiasm of Harry Knowles and Brad Miska makes this worth a look.

The Prestige Claptrap

http://chud.com/nextraimages/thingswelostinthefire1.jpgElizabeth: The Golden Age (d. Shekhar Kapur)
Things We Lost in the Fire (d. Susanne Bier)
Atonement (d. Joe Wright)
The Other Boleyn Girl (d. Justin Chadwick)
The Jane Austen Book Club (d. Robin Swicord)
Feast of Love (d. Robert Benton)
In Bloom (d. Vadim Perelman)
Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium (d. Zach Helm)
P.S., I Love You (d. Richard LaGravenese)

I expect the first three movies on this list to be in serious contention for the top performance Oscars, but only The Golden Age has a legitimate shot at a Best Picture nomination. Some of the prognosticators have shortlisted Joe Wright’s Atonement for the top prize, but Christopher Hampton hasn’t written a decent screenplay on his own since Dangerous Liaisons; and while James McAvoy’s a fine actor, the female leads (Keira Knightley and Romola Garai) are utterly devoid of substance.

I’m not cynical enough to buy Things We Lost in the Fire as a Best Picture candidate, but the twelve-step love story will remind voters why they love Benicio Del Toro – though they’ll probably wait for next year’s Che Guevara double feature to hand him the top acting trophy. Halle Berry is very good in this, too. Best Actress is usually wanting for nominees, so she could definitely earn her second nod.

I’ll save the Oscars forecasting for a later date. This is a list about potential greatness, and these movies are too concerned with winning year-end plaudits to be anything more than safe and completely disposable.

The Straggler

Southland Tales (d. Richard Kelly)

Will Southland Tales get released this year? There have been no updates on Richard Kelly’s blog of late suggesting this, but I’ll include it anyway out of respect for the theatrical cut of Donnie Darko. Though his sophomore feature was savaged at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival, Kelly is at his best when forced to compromise. Expectations certainly couldn’t be any lower.

Summation and Benediction

Looking back to my top twenty of 1999 (listed in part one of this unexpected four-part ode to the joy of wanton speculation), the rest of 2007 definitely boasts a slate strong enough to outdo that watershed year in modern cinema. If the films I’ve just capsulized make good on their potential, here’s a top twenty that would blow 1999 right out the goddamn water:

1. Margaret (d. Kenneth Lonergan)
2. Redacted (d. Brian De Palma)
3. No Country for Old Men (d. Joel Coen)
4. Youth Without Youth (d. Francis Ford Coppola)
5. American Gangster (d. Ridley Scott)
6. Silent Light (d. Carlos Reygadas)
7. There Will Be Blood (d. Paul Thomas Anderson)
8. Synecdoche, New York (d. Charlie Kaufman)
9. Sweeney Todd (d.Tim Burton)
10. Lake of Fire (d. Tony Kaye)
11. I’m Not There (d. Todd Haynes)
12. Paranoid Park (d. Gus Van Sant)
13. Eastern Promises (d. David Cronenberg)
14. Charlie Wilson’s War (d. Mike Nichols)
15. Silk (d. Francois Girard)
16. Be Kind, Rewind (d. Michel Gondry)
17. Diary of the Dead (d. George A. Romero)
18. Margot at the Wedding (d. Noah Baumbach)
19. Lust, Caution (d. Ang Lee)
20. Funny Games (d. Michael Haneke)

Squeeze Grindhouse, Hot Fuzz, Knocked Up and Ratatouille into that list, and, despite the ceaseless bleating about the dearth of quality filmmaking, this could be another 1939.

But if we recall that landmark year film by film…