Features for the Fall: Hollywood Sobers Up After a summer of pure escapism, Hollywood has decided that this fall, audiences are ready for something real. We look ahead to the autumn box office, with films that range from the war in Iraq, to Jane Austen, to corporate corruption.
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Features for the Fall: Hollywood Sobers Up

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Features for the Fall: Hollywood Sobers Up

Features for the Fall: Hollywood Sobers Up

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

Today is the last day of Hollywood's biggest summer season ever. Pirates, wizards, ogres and superheroes collected more than $4 billion at the box office. That's up 14 percent from two years ago, when a deep summer slump led to talk of movie theaters becoming obsolete. Well, now comes cooler weather and, at least theoretically, more nuanced movie making.

Our critic Bob Mondello has a selective fall preview.

BOB MONDELLO: After a summer of pure escapism, Hollywood has decided that this fall, audiences are ready for something real.

(Soundbite of movie "Lions for Lambs")

Mr. TOM CRUISE (Actor): (As Senator Jasper Irving) Do you want to win the war on terror? Yes or no? This is the quintessential yes or no question of our time. Yes or no?

MONDELLO: That's Tom Cruise in Robert Redford's "Lions for Lambs," one of ten -count them - ten fall films dealing with post-9/11 conflicts. Some are gung-ho action flicks like "The Kingdom," in which the FBI goes to Saudi Arabia.

(Soundbite of movie "The Kingdom")

Unidentified Man #1: This is not America. Your team cannot work at night. You are not safe.

Mr. JAMIE FOXX (Actor): (As Ronald Fluery) We're safe during the day, huh?

MONDELLO: Other war zone movies examine human costs - rescuing a child in Afghanistan in "The Kite Runner," and offering a soldier's eye view of Iraq from multiple Oscar-winner Paul Haggis.

(Soundbite of movie "In the Valley of Elah")

Unidentified Man #2: I hated it over there. I couldn't wait to get out. After two weeks here, all I want to do is go back.

Unidentified Man: #3: They shouldn't send heroes to places like Iraq.

MONDELLO: As might be expected of the writer-director who made "Crash," the film "In the Valley of Elah" raises questions about human and governmental fallibility.

A similar skepticism informs "Rendition," in which Reese Witherspoon learns that her Egyptian-born husband, secretly held by the U.S. overseas, will be interrogated by foreign authorities.

(Soundbite of movie "Rendition")

Ms. MERYL STREEP (Actress): There are 7,000 people in Central London alive tonight because of information we elicited just this way.

Ms. REESE WITHERSPOON (Actress): (As Isabella El-Ibrahim) Please don't walk away from me. You have my husband. Just tell me he's okay.

MONDELLO: Just for the record, while war movies are a big genre this fall, Hollywood seems generally to be in a somber mood. It's tackling immigration in the Harrison Ford drama "Crossing Over"; corporate corruption in the George Clooney thriller "Michael Clayton"; and that old movie standby, drug dealing, in a whole slew of movies, including "American Gangster" starring Denzel Washington and Russell Crow.

(Soundbite of movie "American Gangster")

Mr. RUSSELL CROWE (Actor): (As Detective Richie Roberts) My investigation indicates that Frank Lucas is above the mafia and the dope business.

Mr. DENZEL WASHINGTON (Actor): (As Frank Lucas) This is my home. This is where my business is, my wife, my mother, my family. This is my country. I ain't going nowhere.

MONDELLO: Directed by Ridley Scott, "American Gangster" looks - in its trailers at least - like an African-American version of "Scarface." Happily, not everything will be so downbeat. Unlike the comedies of summer, fall comedies tend to be aimed at adults, but they still come in all shapes and sizes. Intellectual romantic comedy, say, in "The Jane Austen Book Club."

(Soundbite of movie "The Jane Austen Book Club")

Unidentified Woman #1: Emma and Mr. Knightly, you just never feel the sex.

Unidentified Woman #2: Austen's all about keeping it zipped.

Unidentified Woman #1: I could use a little encounter in the woods with Mr. Darcy(ph) right now.

MONDELLO: There will also be a road-movie comedy. Wes Anderson sends three battling brothers railroading across India on "The Darjeeling Limited."

(Soundbite of movie "The Darjeeling Limited")

Unidentified Man #4: What are you doing in this place?

Mr. OWEN WILSON (Actor): (As Francis) Oh, I guess, we came around in a spiritual journey.

Unidentified Man#5: You love me?

Unidentified Man#6: Yes, I do.

Unidentified Man#7: I love you, too, but I'm going to mace you in the face.

Mr. WILSON: (As Francis) But that didn't really pan out.

MONDELLO: An animated Disney princess also goes on a journey, in "Enchanted," to an unanimated New York, where her usual strategies don't work.

(Soundbite of movie "Enchanted")

Ms. AMY ADAMS (Actress): (As Giselle) (Singing) How does she know?

Mr. PATRICK DEMPSEY (Actor): (As Robert) Don't sing. It's okay, you know? Let's just walk.

MONDELLO: And no season would be complete these days without a digitally animated movie, in this case, Jerry Seinfeld's "Bee Movie." That's bee, as in the kind that buzzes.

(Soundbite of movie "Bee Movie")

Mr. JERRY SEINFELD (Actor): (As Barry Benson) You're talking to humans. You're flying outside the hive. How did this get here?

Ms. RENEE ZELLWEGER (Actress): (As Vanessa) It's just honey, Barry.

Mr. SEINFELD: (As Barry Benson) This is stealing. Cute bee, golden blossom, Ray Liotta private select. I'm going get to the bottom of this.

Ms. ZELLWEGER: (As Vanessa) You have a plan?

Mr. SEINFELD: (As Barry Benson) Yes, plan Bee.

MONDELLO: Plan B elsewhere in Hollywood will be remakes. The Farrelly brothers and Ben Stiller re-doing the '70s comedy "The Heartbreak Kid," about a bridegroom who falls for someone he meets on his honeymoon. The murder-mystery "Sleuth" with Michael Caine, was a young interloper in the '70s version, playing an older role this time opposite Jude Law's interloper. And the '50s Western, "3:10 to Yuma," in a more action-oriented version, with Russell Crowe and Christian Bale in roles originally played by Glenn Ford and Van Heflin.

(Soundbite of movie "3:10 to Yuma")

Mr. CROW: (As Ben Wade) What are you doing out here, Dan? You got a family to protect.

Mr. CHRISTIAN BALE (Actor): (As Dan Evans) Well, he talks to me like you know me way, way in French.

Unidentified Man#8: There's got to be 30, 40 more guns out there now.

MONDELLO: "3:10 to Yuma" will be followed just two weeks later by another western, a beautifully shot art-house western with a lengthy running time to go with a lengthy title, "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford."

(Soundbite of movie "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford")

Mr. CASEY AFFLECK (Actor): (As Robert Ford) It's interesting the many ways you and I overlap. You're the youngest of three James boys and I'm the youngest of five poor boys. You have blue eyes. I have blue eyes. You're 5'8" tall and I'm 5'8" tall. I honestly believe I'm destined for great things, Mr. James.

Mr. BRAD PITT (Actor): (As Jesse James) You're giving me signs and make wonder. I can't figure it out. You want to be like me or you want to be me?

MONDELLO: Despite the presence of Brad Pitt as Jesse James, this film is considered a tough sell because it's a character study, not a shoot-em-up. Other offbeat efforts include an old English literary classic, "Beowulf," run through the digitized motion capture technology used for "The Polar Express"; a documentary called "My Kid Could Paint That," about a 4-year-old whose canvases started selling for thousands of dollars a few years ago; a jukebox musical called "Across the Universe" that uses Beatles music to tell a new story about a guy named Jude and his friends Lucy, Jojo and Prudence; and "I'm Not There," a Bob Dylan biopic in which six different actors play Bob Dylan, including, oddly enough, Cate Blanchett.

(Soundbite of movie "I'm Not There")

Ms. CATE BLANCHETT (Actress): (As Bob Dylan) You're kidding me, right? I can't watch this.

MONDELLO: If you want to see Cate Blanchett in a more conventional role, she's also returning to a royal part she played nine years ago in the film "Elizabeth." Of course, the filmmakers couldn't call this one "Elizabeth Two" because she's still playing Elizabeth I, so they called it "Elizabeth: The Golden Age."

(Soundbite of movie "Elizabeth: The Golden Age")

Ms. BLANCHETT: (As Queen Elizabeth I) His Spanish armada is a sea with an army of 10,000 men.

Unidentified Man#9: There is a wind coming that will sweep away your pride.

Ms. BLANCHETT: (As Queen Elizabeth I) I, too can command the Windsor. I have a hurricane in me that will strip (unintelligible) of your (unintelligible).

MONDELLO: Is that Oscar emoting I hear? Well, it's certainly Oscar season. And there are a lot of performers attracting awards talk, including Jodie Foster playing a public radio personality in "The Brave One," a public radio personality turned secret vigilante.

(Soundbite of movie "The Brave One")

Ms. JODIE FOSTER (Actress): (As Erica) It is astonishing to find that inside of you, there is a stranger. I killed a man tonight.

MONDELLO: Now I've asked around a bit, and this public-radio-vigilante thing doesn't seem too common here, but then, I haven't gotten to everyone. And who knows what Susan Stamberg does on her own time? She tells me she goes to Doris Day movies.

I'm Bob Mondello.

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