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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Aug. 29, 2014

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In Movies & TV Commentary

"Gravity" could end up being one of the best movies of the fall, if not 2013.

Five movies to look forward to this fall


So … how about that summer? The annual four-month barrage of big budget entertainment and explosions started off with such promise, but it all eventually turned into something sad, pathetic and trying way too hard (there's a Miley Cyrus at the VMAs joke in there somewhere). The worst part was the embarrassing number of films – "2 Guns," "Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters," "Red 2," "Paranoia," etc. – that were only slightly more memorable than a two-hour coma and just as stimulating.

But why linger on the past when there's a whole flock of new movies to be excited about in the future? Here are five of the most intriguing films currently on tap in the next few months.

"Gravity"

In the waning few final days of 2012, I pointed to "Gravity" as one of the movies I was most looking forward to in the upcoming year (also on the list: "G.I. Joe: Retaliation." Woof … ). About eight months later, my excitement for "Gravity" hasn't diminished one bit.

Director Alfonso Cuaron's (one of the few "visionary" directors who could very well merit the designation) long-awaited follow-up to the brilliant modern sci-fi classic "Children of Men" follows two astronauts – Sandra Bullock and George Clooney – as they attempt to survive after an accident leaves them stuck floating hopelessly in space. If the few trailers released are to be believed, Cuaron has brilliantly captured one of my most feared childhood nightmares (there's a reason why I stopped wanting to be an astronaut).

The movie has been in production for a while, with Cuaron perfecting new 3-D special effects and cinematic techniques (expect multiple long takes) in the process. The early buzz is that it was worth the wait. The film's premiere at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado last weekend had early reviews throwing around words like "masterpiece" and "Kubrickian," which is basically a film nerd word for masterpiece. Until its wide release on October 4, I'll be quietly muttering, "Keep your expectations in check, keep your expectations in check … "

"The Wolf of Wall Street"

I remember the night when the trailer for Martin Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street" hit. Everyone watched it, and the reaction was seemingly unanimous: "I don't know what that was, but it looks freaking awesome." Upon several more viewings, the trailer's hypnotic powers have only increased.

Here's a short rundown of the kind of crazy gloriousness that occurs in the two minute clip. Leonardo DiCaprio chucks a glass of orange juice over his shoulder and into a bush. Matthew McConaughey goads DiCaprio into joining him in pounding his chest and humming a bizarre tribal tune during a fancy lunch. DiCaprio angrily throws a lobster at some FBI agents. And, in the most gif-worthy moment of the year so far, our star throws down some incredible dance moves. It's truly the gif that keeps on giving.

This is a trailer where a midget gets tossed at a bulls eye, and that's not even in the discussion as one of the clip's best moments. We'll likely get a longer trailer that hints at some of the actual story in "The Wolf of Wall Street" – Jonah Hill and Jean Dujardin of "The Artist" also star – but if what we've seen so far of the film is accurate, we're in for a wild ride come November 15.

"Captain Phillips"

Director Paul Greengrass gets a ton of credit for making "The Bourne Supremacy" and "The Bourne Ultimatum", two of the most well-received action films of the last decade. He gets less credit for what I believe is his best film, the harrowing docu-drama "United 93," which quietly fell between those two hits. "Captain Phillips" looks to combine the best elements of all of three into one gritty, slick and intense package.

Tom Hanks stars as the titular character, the real-life captain of the Maersk Alabama, which was hijacked by Somali pirates back in 2009. As much as Greengrass' shakily vivid, in-the-moment direction made the Bourne movies pop (and influenced hundreds of less competent imitators), it works even better in his docu-dramas, where it heightens the realism, the immediacy and the tension. Here's to "Captain Phillips" hopefully ending up being this year's "Zero Dark Thirty" (just don't let Glenn Greenwald get his hands on it).

"Twelve Years a Slave"

Think of "Twelve Years a Slave" as the feel-bad version of "Lee Daniels' The Butler." Based on a horrifyingly true story, Chiwetel Ejiofor ("2012," "Children of Men") plays Solomon Northup, a free black man from New York who gets abducted, sent down to the South where he becomes a slave for, you guessed it, twelve years.

Acclaimed director Steve McQueen (his last project was the NC-17 sex addict drama "Shame") has only directed two feature films, but there's no doubting his skill at directing actors. "Twelve Years a Slave" serves as his biggest project yet, and it fittingly comes with his most impressive cast so far, including Ejiofor, Brad Pitt, Paul Giamatti, Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Fassbender, Alfre Woodard and "Beasts of the Southern Wild" star Quvenzhane Wallis.

Knowing McQueen's storytelling habits, the film won't likely be a pleasant watch (the trailer ends on a triumphant note I doubt the movie will have). But it could end of up being a very powerful one.

"Thor: The Dark World"

Frankly, there were a lot of contenders for this final spot. "Prisoners" could be interesting. "Rush" could be good, even though Ron Howard tends to make the kind of boringly good movies I see once and that's enough. The Coen Brothers' "Inside Llewyn Davis" would be an easy pick, but it comes out in December, far after this article's cutoff point of Thanksgiving. Heck, even "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2" had a chance at making this list, if only because of a great leek pun in the trailer.

In the end, though, I decided on November's "Thor: The Dark World." Thor is easily the goofiest of the Avengers, so it was a pleasant surprise when the first film, directed by Kenneth Branagh, was pretty solid. Now, the question is if Marvel can keep the magic going. They're in the midst of what they're dorkily calling Phase Two, and if "Iron Man 3" was any sign, they're trying some new things and letting directors get creative with their properties.

Does this mean new director Alan Taylor, a veteran of "Game of Thrones," will be able to give Thor's second solo outing a darker tone than most? Or will he not be able to translate his TV chops to the big screen (his only other notable big screen effort was the tiny 2001 film "The Emperor's New Clothes")? Thor is one of Marvel's riskiest properies, so "Thor: The Dark World" could end up proving how powerful Marvel really is.

And, if worse comes to worst, we get to watch a handsome guy beat monsters to death with a magical hammer. Times have been worse (see: this summer).

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