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The fall of Law 

A packed autumn season features Alexander the Great, Howard Hughes and six films with Jude Law

The fall movie season is upon us and it's shaping up to be the year of the biographical picture. Coming soon to a theater near you are films about Communist revolutionary Che Guevara, soul music legend Ray Charles, Macedonian conqueror Alexander the Great, '50s pop crooner Bobby Darin, sex-research pioneer Alfred Kinsey and eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes. It's also, for reasons that escape us, the autumn of Jude Law, whose young career could hardly be called autumnal. Not that we don't like the rising British actor, but six movies in the space of a few months? Who has the time? On paper, the most interesting of this Friday's releases is Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. Neophyte director Kerry Conran shot on high-definition video, almost entirely against a blue screen, so the actors--Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie among them--were essentially inserted into pre-made, digitally created scenes. The movie is at once technologically innovative and old school, with a retro sci-fi design and a pulpy feel that harks back to the old Saturday morning serials.

Speaking of old school, there's a possibility that later this month the Triangle may see the 50th-anniversary re-release of the original Godzilla, as well as the 25th-anniversary re-release of Life of Brian, the best of the Monty Python features. The Hollywood openings for the rest of September look pretty ordinary, but a few offbeat offerings lurk outside the mainstream: A Dirty Shame, the latest film from one-time provocateur John Waters, trying to regain his edge with an NC-17 rating; Criminal, a remake of the twisty 2000 Argentinean caper Nine Queens; Shaun of the Dead, a zombie flick with cult/sleeper potential; Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, a sequel to the 1995 anime classic; and She Hate Me, Spike Lee's latest provocation--a free-swinging satire about lesbians and a man who impregnates them--which has been savaged by critics.

October brings the first of the aforementioned biopics, The Motorcycle Diaries. A look at the early, itinerant life of Che Guevara, starring Y Tu Mama Tambien heartthrob Gael Garcia Bernal, it promises to be one of the fall's top indie films.

Elsewhere on the October indie front, it's likely that Triangle art houses will open John Sayles' Silver City, a timely political satire headlined by a reportedly terrific performance by Sayles regular Chris Cooper. We should also see Bright Young Things, Stephen Fry's adaptation of the scathingly funny Evelyn Waugh novel Vile Bodies.

In the multiplexes, expect Shark Tale to bite off a huge hunk of the October box office. An animated film from DreamWorks, the studio whose Shrek movies have upped the ante in the animation wars with rival Pixar (which made Finding Nemo), it's an underwater mobster yarn featuring some A-list voices: De Niro, Scorsese, Zellweger, Jolie, Jack Black and Will Smith.

Other contenders in Hollywood's October hopper are the firefighting drama Ladder 49, with Joaquin Phoenix and John Travolta; the high school football-themed Friday Night Lights, with Billy Bob Thornton; the holiday farce Surviving Christmas, with Ben Affleck; and Team America: World Police, a violent, R-rated puppet movie (!) from those South Park troublemakers. Oh, and Jude Law makes his second fall appearance in Alfie, taking over the role made famous by Michael Caine in the 1966 original, while Jennifer Lopez and Richard Gere meet in the ballroom and romp in the bedroom in Miramax's long-delayed Shall We Dance, a remake of the 1996 Japanese charmer.

Arriving in late October or early November are two films that we're eagerly anticipating. Ray, about the late, great Ray Charles, could be a breakthrough role for Jamie Foxx, currently flexing his surprisingly effective dramatic-acting muscles in Collateral. And I Heart Huckabees is a zany-sounding ensemble comedy with a convoluted plot from the talented writer-director David O. Russell, who made Spanking the Monkey, Flirting With Disaster and Three Kings. The eclectic cast includes Dustin Hoffman, Lily Tomlin, Jason Schwartzman, Naomi Watts, Mark Wahlberg and, naturally, Jude Law.

November is simply loaded, and there isn't space here to cover even half of the titles, so we'll just mention the heavy artillery and a few promising indie releases. The biggest gun is probably Oliver Stone's mega-expensive Alexander, with Colin Farrell essaying the role of Alexander the Great, the Macedonian king who conquered most of the known world by the age of 30.

Johnny Depp takes aim at the family market with Finding Neverland, which blends historical drama and fantasy to bring to life the story of Peter Pan creator J.M. Barrie. Meanwhile, two digitally animated family films will duke it out: The Incredibles, a superhero tale from those wizards at Pixar, and The Polar Express, a holiday tale from director Robert Zemeckis and his old pal Tom Hanks. And if those aren't enough for the kids, there's always The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie.

Other November notables: Birth, director Jonathan Glazer's (Sexy Beast) reincarnation drama, starring Nicole Kidman; the holiday comedy Christmas with the Kranks; and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, with Renee Zellweger reprising the role of the self-deprecating heroine.

The art houses will counter with Bad Education, yet another acclaimed film by Pedro Almodvar, with Gael Garcia Bernal playing a transvestite. Writer-director Alexander Payne, of Election and About Schmidt fame, serves up Sideways, a skewed comedy starring Paul Giamatti. Britain's Mike Leigh checks in with Vera Drake, another working-class drama. And Christian Bale lost something like 60 pounds to play an insomniac factory worker who may be losing his mind in the dark psychological thriller The Machinist.

Also, with any luck, two microbudget, cutting-edge indie titles should show up in the Triangle by November: Tarnation, a documentary about his schizophrenic mother that filmmaker Jonathan Caouette made using Apple's iMovie software on a reported budget of $218; and Primer, the Grand Jury Prize winner at Sundance this year, about a group of engineers who come up with an invention that ... well, nobody seems to know what it's actually about, even those who've seen it, but we've heard it's pretty cool.

And in the local interest department, look for Undertow, the new movie by N.C. School of the Arts graduate David Gordon Green (George Washington, All the Real Girls), as well as Bright Leaves, a long-in-the-works documentary by Charlotte native Ross McElwee (Sherman's March).

On to December, the month when the studios typically roll out their Oscar contenders. Tops among them is The Aviator, Martin Scorsese's expensive epic about the life of Howard Hughes, with Leonardo DiCaprio as the reclusive billionaire. Cate Blanchett plays Katharine Hepburn, Kate Beckinsale plays Ava Gardner and Jude Law (him again) plays Errol Flynn. Will Scorsese finally win the big one?

Two more biopics should surface in early December: Beyond the Sea, a labor of love for Kevin Spacey, who produced, directed and stars (and sings and dances) as "Mack the Knife" singer Bobby Darin; and Kinsey, with Liam Neeson as biologist Alfred Kinsey, whose 1948 study "Sexual Behavior in the Human Male" shocked the nation.

Another Oscar hopeful is Closer, a drama about love and betrayal from director Mike Nichols, with Julia Roberts and--surprise!--Jude Law. And an Oscar probable is Proof, which reunites Shakespeare in Love director John Madden with Gwyneth Paltrow for an adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play. It's got death, bereavement, madness and Anthony Hopkins--give it the statuette already!

Of course, December isn't reserved just for prestige pictures; there is that lucrative holiday box office to consider. Likely to clean up is Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, based on the beloved children's book series and starring Jim Carrey, Meryl Streep and, ahem, Jude Law. Also looking to rake in a few bucks are Spanglish, a romantic comedy with Adam Sandler; An Unfinished Life, a melodrama with Jennifer Lopez and Robert Redford; and the sequels Meet the Fockers, Ocean's Twelve and Blade: Trinity.

For our money, though, December's (or, owing to the vagaries of distribution, perhaps January's) must-see movie is The Life Aquatic, another off-kilter comedy from writer-director Wes Anderson, the mind behind Bottle Rocket, Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums. It has a wacky plot and a great ensemble cast: Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Cate Blanchett, Anjelica Huston, Willem Dafoe and Jeff Goldblum.

And it doesn't have Jude Law.

  • A packed autumn season features Alexander the Great, Howard Hughes and six films with Jude Law

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