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Fall Arts Preview: Film

Summer is officially over and we can expect more serious fare at the movieplex: dramas about the Mid-East, quirky indies, and, well, Saw IV.

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Summer is officially over and we can expect more serious fare at the movieplex: dramas about the Mid-East, quirky indies, wrenching exploration of family dysfunction, top-notch adventure and fantasy epics, and, well, Saw IV.

Jigsaw won't lie still, and neither, it seems, will the Middle East. Hollywood has put some of its best earners on the job. October opens with Grace Is Gone (Oct. 5), in which John Cusack portrays an Iraq war widower; Rendition (Oct. 19) depicts Reese Witherspoon's search for her Egyptian-born husband, who's disappeared behind the CIA's black curtain. Lions for Lambs (Nov. 9) offers multiple storylines involving U.S. politics, academics and the war in Afghanistan, plus heavyweights Robert Redford, Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep. Stepping back a bit, Mike Nichols' Charlie Wilson's War (Dec. 25), starring Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts, sets its oil-and-desert-warfare action in the 1980s.

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Meanwhile, these upcoming features are best filed under "maybe not so funny." All eyes will be on the bandaged Owen Wilson in the new Wes Anderson film, The Darjeeling Limited (October). Steve Carrell finds his soulmate -- except she's dating his brother; Dan in Real Life opens Oct. 12. Dating is also problematic in Lars and the Real Girl (Oct. 12), in which Ryan Gosling tries to pass off a blow-up doll as his disabled girlfriend. On Nov. 16, Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale) offers Margot at the Wedding, a dramedy about dysfunctional sisters starring Nicole Kidman and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Another pair of squabbling siblings -- Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman -- highlights The Savages, opening Dec. 26.

Look for easier laughs when the Farrelly Brothers and Ben Stiller team up again in The Heartbreak Kid (Oct. 5). And what about that buzz for Bee Movie (Nov. 2), an animated comedy about the other black-and-gold, starring the voice of Jerry Seinfeld?

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By fall, Oscar is in the crosshairs, and meaty dramas abound. Drawing inspiration from '70s-style thrillers, Michael Clayton (Oct. 5) finds George Clooney and Tom Wilkinson butting heads at a top law firm that might be involved in a corporate conspiracy. Opening Oct. 19, Reservation Road, adapted from the 1998 novel, tracks two sets of couples whose lives are disrupted by the hit-and-run death of a child. Things We Lost in the Fire (Oct. 19), from After the Wedding's Susanne Bier, depicts a widow (Halle Berry) who takes in her late husband's junkie pal (Benicio Del Toro). Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe star in Ridley Scott's crime drama about drug smugglers in 1970s Harlem; American Gangster opens Nov. 2.

A number of classics and other weighty tomes are tumbling off the bookshelves and into theaters this fall. They include: Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner, set in Afghanistan (Nov. 2); Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men, starring Javier Bardem, and lensed by the Coen brothers (Nov. 9); and Love in the Time of Cholera, from Mike Newell (Nov. 16). An action epic based on that high school chore, the centuries-old poem Beowulf, is due out Nov. 16. Ian McEwan's Atonement gets the big-screen treatment on Dec. 7.

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The bio-pic front this season is partial to musicians. Noted music-video director Anton Corbijn goes big screen with Control (Oct. 10), about the late Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis. Everybody's intrigued by Todd Haynes' take on Bob Dylan, I'm Not There, in which the prickly troubadour is portrayed by six actors including Cate Blanchett (Nov. 21). November also sees the documentary Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten, about The Clash's late singer, directed by Julian Temple. And after all that heaviness, unwind with Walk Hard (Dec. 21) a mockumentary about a country-music legend starring John C. Reilly and co-penned by Judd Apatow (Knocked Up).

For popcorn fare, there's David Slade's 30 Days of Night (Oct. 19), about vampires above the Arctic Circle, where there's a month of uninterrupted night. Francis Lawrence directs box-office fave Will Smith in I Am Legend (Dec. 14), a thriller that pits Smith, the last man on earth, against man-eating mutants.

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Other fall releases also look promising, if trickier to categorize. Actor-director Kenneth Branagh turns in a remake of the twisty 1972 British fave Sleuth (Oct. 12), starring Michael Caine (again!) and Jude Law. Meanwhile, is it Harry Potter of the Rings? Dec. 7 debuts the first adaptation of popular Philip Pullman weird-religion-and-magical-creatures fantasy trilogy The Golden Compass, starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig. On Dec. 21, Tim Burton reunites with Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter for an R-rated musical based on the bloody Broadway hit, Sweeney Todd; it's a must-see for stressed-out holiday bakers.
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And speaking of the sparkle season, we're on track for two upbeat films about toys: In Fred Klaus (Nov. 9), Vince Vaughn causes comic disorder at the North Pole toy factory; one week later, we get Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium, starring Dustin Hoffman as a quirky toy-store owner. For polarizing holiday fare, sentimentalists and everyone else can duke it out over the sure-to-be-golden-lit Thomas Kinkade's The Christmas Cottage (Nov. 30). However, the real battle takes place on Christmas Day, when Aliens vs. Predator Requiem opens.

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Pittsburgh Filmmakers kicks off the fall season with its 50 Years of Janus Films festival, running Sept. 21-Oct. 4. After re-visiting those arthouse classics, it's time to scope out what's new in independent and foreign cinema. Highlights at Filmmakers include reprises of Manufactured Landscapes (Oct. 5) and Killer of Sheep (Oct. 19), as well as several new documentaries: The Devil Came on Horseback, a wrenching look at the Darfur crisis (Oct. 19); My Kid Could Paint That, about a child art prodigy (Nov. 23); and Jimmy Carter: Man From Plains (December). Also in December, Lake of Fire, a documentary about two decades of abortion wars, from Tony Kaye (American History X). In October, the popular Sunday-night classics series will be oh-so-seasonal: Creeped Out offers Mario Bava's Planet of the Vampires, as well as the psychosexual 1960 thriller Peeping Tom.

Finally, what's fall without a film festival or two? A pair of long-running local festivals return. The 22nd Annual Pittsburgh International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival (www.pilgff.org) runs Oct. 19-28, followed closely by the 26th Annual Three Rivers Film Festival (www.3rff.com), unspooling Nov. 2-15.

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