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Friday September 14, 2012

That the summer’s movies were generally lousy isn’t news, but the lackluster summer box office is. Perhaps moviegoers -- or movie not-goers -- are rebelling against the annual slate of hot weather hooey.

The arrival of fall promises more adventurous adult-oriented movies and ideally some or most of these movies will live up to their considerable potential.

With Batman, Spider-Man, the Hulk, Thor and their associated super-foes having left the stage, here is a look at the fall film slate. The release dates are subject to change and some of these films will arrive in the Berkshires after opening in major cities.

Oscar bait

A CIA operative poses as a Canadian science-fiction filmmaker in a bold bid to rescue six Americans hiding in the Canadian embassy in Tehran following the kidnapping of 52 of their countrymen in 1979. Sounds preposterous, but that really happened according to classified documents released 17 years later. This is the premise of the promising "Argo" (Oct. 12) with Ben Affleck starring as the faux film director and directing his first film since 2010’s impressive "The Town."

A 38-year-old man confined to an iron lung his entire life hires a therapeutic sex surrogate so he can lose his virginity in "The Sessions" (Oct. 26), a Sundance Film Festival sensation. The plot hits Academy voters where they live and John Hawkes and Helen Hunt are earning raves for their lead performances.

As a reward for surviving the presidential campaign, audiences will get to see "Lincoln" beginning Nov. 9, three days after election. Daniel Day-Lewis stars in a film chronicling Abe’s final four months in office. Written by Tony Kushner from Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book and directed by Steven Spielberg it is the personification of a prestige flick.

Keira Knightley takes on the roll of the complex, moody Anna in "Anna Karenina" (Nov. 16), an adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s famed 1877 novel. Jude Law is Anna’s aristocratic husband and Aaron Taylor-Johnson her cavalry officer boy toy.

An Indian boy is trapped in a lifeboat with a collection of zoo animals, including a bad-tempered tiger, in "The Life of Pi," (Nov. 21), which is based on the inspirational 2001 best-seller. Ang Lee, an Oscar winner for "Brokeback Mountain," directs, and trailers reveal a stunning mix of live action and digital imagery.

Drama

Rather than argue with an empty

chair, Clint Eastwood confronts his empty life as an aging, ailing baseball scout in "Trouble With the Curve" (Sept. 21.) Amy Adams plays his estranged daughter trying to reconnect with him. Also on the 21st, Philip Seymour Hoff man stars as an L. Ron Hub bard-style charismatic leader and the eccentric Joa quin Phoenix re-emerges as an alcoholic World War II veteran in "The Master," director Paul Thomas Anderson’s first film since the acclaimed "There Will Be Blood" in 2007.

Opening on the 28th is "Won’t Back Down," starring Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal as urban moms who try to take their failing school away from the bureaucrats who run it.

Nicole Kidman, so good as a manipulative sexpot in 1995’s "To Die For," goes that route again in "The Paperboy" (Oct. 5), in which Kidman’s alluring babe seduces a journalist (Mat thew McConaughey) and his brother (Zac Efron) into springing an imate (John Cusack) from death row. On the 12th, Kevin James’ biology teacher enters a mixed-martial-arts competition to raise funds to keep the school’s music program alive in the comedy-drama "Here Comes the Boom."

"Sopranos" creator David Chase chronicles the efforts of three New Jersey teens to form a rock band after watching The Rolling Stones on TV in "Not Fade Away" Oct. 19. Report edly, no skulls were crushed or limbs broken in the making of the film. The story of surf legend Jay Moriarity, who drowned in a 2001 diving accident, is told in "Chasing Mav ericks" (Oct. 26). Jonny Wes ton stars and is joined by Elisabeth Shue and Gerald Butler. In "Flight" (Nov. 2) Denzel Washington plays a Captain "Sully" Sullenberg-style hero whose fame turns into infamy when a secret from his past is revealed.

For anyone who is not a 12- or 13-year-old girl, our long, national nightmare will soon be over. The Twilight Saga wraps up beginning Nov. 16 with the release of "Breaking Dawn -- Part 2," in which Bella (Kristen Stewart), now a vampire, fights for her survival and that of her half vampire half human child. Adding a soap opera element for those who care is Stewart’s acknowledgment of cheating on her prettier co-star and now ex-boyfriend, Robert Pattinson.

Action-thrillers

In the time travel brain-twister "Looper" (Sept. 28), Mob assassins "close the loop" on targets sent back from the future. Hot actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a looper charged with killing an older version of himself, played by Bruce Willis.

"Taken," a derivative bloodbath recalling the revenge flicks of Charles Bronson, was a surprise hit in 2009, as audiences flocked to watch Liam Neeson’s CIA operative shoot, throttle and torture a herd of Albanian baddies who made the mistake of kidnapping his daughter for a prostitution ring. In "Taken 2" (Oct. 5), the friends of the baddies seek revenge on Neeson and family. Expect more shooting, throttling and torturing.

Master of theatrical mayhem Martin McDonagh has branched out into film, and the title of his Oct. 12 release gets right to the point -- "Seven Psycho paths." Colin Farrell and Sam Rockwell are pursued by L.A. crime boss Woody Harrelson, with Chris topher Walken and Tom Waits along as, we would guess, a couple of the psychopaths.

In another Mob-themed film, Brad Pitt’s hit man is on the trail of the minor hoodlums who robbed a Mob poker game in "Killing Them Softly" (Oct. 9). Appropriate to a gangster film, Ray Liotta ("Goodfel las") and James Gandolfini ("The Sopranos") are in the cast. Also on the 19th, Tyler Perry drops the Medea drag outfits for "Alex Cross," in which Perry turns the detective/psychologist from two previous Morgan Freeman films and several best-selling books into an action hero.

Rapper RZA stars in and directs "The Man With the Iron Fists" (Nov. 2), a tale of warring clans in China featuring Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu and Pam Grier. While we buy Crowe as an evil mercenary, RZA as a blacksmith in 19th century China seems like a stretch.

After a four-year absence caused in part by the financial problems of MGM, super-spy James Bond returns to the big screen Nov. 9 in "Skyfall." Daniel Craig stars for the third time as 007 and we hope the movie has more of the traditional Bondian fun and flair than did 2008’s joyless "Quantum of Solace."

Comedy

Not a real funny autumn, although "Taken 2" and "Seven Psychopaths" will surely provide some painfully hilarious dispatchings of bad guys.

Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson, a break-out star following her cameo in "Brides maids," are part of an all-fe male college a cappella singing group that wants to compete against the guys in "Pitch Perfect" (Oct. 5). On the 26th, "The Big Wedding" features Robert DeNiro and Diane Keaton as a divorced couple that has to make nice for their son’s marriage ceremony.

Sci fi-horror

Karl Urban dons the visered helmet of vigilante cop of the future Judge Dredd in "Dredd 3D" (Sept. 21). It can’t be any worse than Sylvester Stallone’s wretched "Judge Dredd" of 1995. Also on the 21st, "Hunger Games" star Jennifer Lawrence goes slumming in the formula horror genre with "House at the End of the Street," which apparently involves a scary domicile on a cul de sac. On Oct. 19, "Paranormal Activity 4" displays more of that ubiquitous "found footage" of things going bump in the night.

"Cloud Atlas" (Oct. 26) may be the fall’s most ambitious film, and as it defies classification, we may as well put it here. Directed by the Wachowskis (Andy and Lana, the former Larry), who helmed the ground-breaking "The Ma trix," "Cloud Atlas" tells six related stories that leap back and forth in time and merge movie genres. Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent and Hugh Grant play several roles apiece.

Animation

Adam Sandler voices a kindly vampire who runs a haunted hotel in "Hotel Transylvania" (Oct. 28). Andy Samberg lends his voice to a human backpacker who manages to check in. The full-length version of a pioneering live-action short he made 28 years ago, Tim Bur ton’s "Frankenweenie" (Oct. 5) is the director’s latest spooky stop-motion film. Cath erine O’Hara, Martin Short and Winona Ryder are among the voices in this tale of a youthful mad scientist who re-animates his dead pup Frank enstein-style and sets him loose in his suburban neighborhood.

In "Wreck-it Ralph," A 1980s videogame villain (the title character, voiced by John C. Reilly), has a crisis of conscious and leaps into a variety of arcade games determined to be a hero. Sarah Silverman and Jane Lynch are among the other videogame character voices.