Jan 2, 2009

Entertainment - Hollywood will help moviegoers escape reality in 2009

Tom Long

The title of one film due in March pretty much sums up the overriding theme for movies in 2009: "Monsters vs. Aliens."

Of course, it's not all monsters and aliens. There are also wizards, superheroes, giant robots and ... well, you get the idea. The trend of escapist fantasy fare ruling the box office is sure to continue in the new year.

And why wouldn't it? The top films of 2008 were "The Dark Knight" and "Iron Man." The top films of 2007 were "Spider-Man 3," "Shrek the Third" and "Transformers." Get the drift? Hollywood sure does.

Of course, there will be more thoughtful fare, as well, some even involving human interaction. "Duplicity," starring Julia Roberts, Clive Owen and Tom Wilkinson, opening March 20, marks the return of writer-director Tony Gilroy ("Michael Clayton"). "State of Play" (April 17) teams Russell Crowe, Rachel McAdams and Ben Affleck in an American adaptation of the superb British conspiracy mini-series.


There will be other promising dramas as the year progresses, to be sure, but most eyes will be fixed on the blockbusters, and when it comes to blockbusters, fantasy rules.

The following 10 films seem like virtual slam dunks at this point. As always, the opening dates are dependent on studio whims, and the ultimate success of each is dependent on at least some modicum of quality (one hopes). But right now the ones to look for in 2009 are:

• "Watchmen" (March 6): This is the same weekend that director Zack Snyder debuted his huge hit "300." Now he's back with this comic-book adaptation starring Jackie Earle Haley, Patrick Wilson and Carla Gugino as former superhero colleagues who reunite after a suspicious death. Expect dazzling visuals and lots of cool costumes. (That's if it opens. Fox is seeking to delay the release of the film, claiming copyright infringement by Warner Bros.)

• "Monsters vs. Aliens" (March 27): A ragtag group of monsters that've been secretly held by the government have to join forces to protect Earth from an alien invasion in this animated 3D extravaganza. Voices by Reese Witherspoon, Rainn Wilson, Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd, Keifer Sutherland and Stephen Colbert(!).

• "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" (May 1): All eyes will be on this revival of the "X-Men" franchise, which would seem to have limitless possibilities. A host of new mutants are introduced as the story backs up to follow the roots of Hugh Jackman's Wolverine character from the first three films. The blockbusters of this summer seem front-loaded in May, and this should start things off with a bang.

• "Star Trek" (May 8): Speaking of origins, this recasting of the Trek series takes Spock, Kirk and all the rest back to their younger days. Directed by J.J. Abrams ("Lost") and featuring some inspired casting ("Shaun of the Dead" star Simon Pegg as Scotty, John Cho -- Harold from "Harold and Kumar" -- as Sulu), this looks like a major reinvention.

• "Terminator Salvation" (May 22): Christian Bale is already atop the biggest franchise in filmdom, so why not go for two? Here he plays John Connor, battling the evil computer Skynet and its army of terminators in the future. Directed by former Michigan boy McG. Will Schwarzenegger do a cameo? Stay tuned.

• "Up" (May 29): This year's Pixar entry is about a little old man who ties thousands of balloons to his house so he can fly down to South America. Except after taking off, he discovers a neighborhood kid has come along for the ride. Hey, it's Pixar -- when have they ever missed? Also arriving in 3D.

• "Year One" (June 19): Jack Black and Michael Cera are social outcasts on an epic journey through the primitive world in what's being billed as a sort of prehistoric "Superbad." What makes this special (and risky) is it marks the return of long-missing writer-director Harold ("Ghostbusters") Ramis.

• "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" (July 17): The sixth installment in the ever-darkening "Potter" series sees director Peter Yates returning and Jim Broadbent joining the cast. It's Potter; it will be huge.

• "Julie and Julia" (Aug. 7): The power of chick flicks became apparent in 2008 with "Sex and the City" and "Twilight," and this should be a major contender for the lipstick crowd in 2009. Meryl Streep stars as famed cookbook writer Julia Child circa 1949, while Amy Adams plays a woman attempting to whip up more than 500 of Child's recipes in modern times. Nora Ephron adapted the book and directs.

• "Avatar" (Dec. 18): Could this be the biggest movie of the decade? Don't be surprised. "Titanic" auteur James Cameron finally returns with what promises to be a groundbreaking sci-fi, 3D, IMAX thriller about a battle between humans and another species on a far-off planet. Unknown Sam Worthington stars. Oddly enough, he happens also to be a key figure in "Terminator Salvation," and Cameron did the first two "Terminator" films. Small world -- and Cameron owns it. Write down this date.

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