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Fall back

This season, Hollywood lives in the past
By PETER KEOUGH  |  September 13, 2006

NEWS YOU CAN USE: If last fall marked the march of the documentaries, this year sees the return of mockumentaries like’s Borat, with Sacha Baron Cohen.
If you cannot remember the past, so Santayana said, you’re condemned to repeat it. Did he mean repeat it on the movie screen? You’d think so from what Hollywood has come up with this fall. With stories ranging from 15th-century Central America to 18th-century France, from the early 20th century to World War I, World War II, post–World War II, the early Cold War, and the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s, filmmakers seem to be turning their gaze from the present day. Who can blame them for not wanting to get involved in its ongoing confusion, controversy, chaos, and fear?

Some films do confront contemporary issues, but from the detached viewpoint of irony, æsthetic experimentation, or genre escapism. If last fall marked the march of the documentaries, this year sees the return of the mockumentaries, with at least three on the schedule. Also expect a resurgence of the arty “puzzle” movie, where figuring out the plot and admiring the structure is as important as enjoying the story or reflecting on the truth uncovered.

After an escapist summer, welcome to the more respectable escapes of the fall, a season of films ranging from the past to postmodernism, with scarcely a glance at the present.

The adaptation by Steven Zaillian (A Civil Action) of Robert Penn Warren’s ALL THE KING’S MEN (September 22) draws on the past in several ways. It’s set in the Depression, it’s a remake of the 1949 Robert Rossen film that won Oscars for Best Picture, Actor, and Actress, and it was held up from fall release last year to undergo tweaking in the editing room. Sounds a little dicy, but the cast has heft, with Sean Penn as a Huey Long–like Southern demagogue whose rise and fall is chronicled and abetted by a spin doctor played by Jude Law. Kathy Baker, Patricia Clarkson, and Anthony Hopkins also star.

For those to whom that sounds a little too reminiscent of the politics of the present day, Michel Gondry, who teamed up with screenwriter Charlie Kaufman in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, attempts something equally weird and cerebral on his own with THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP (September 22). Mexican sexpot Gael García Bernal plays an animator held captive by his own dreams. French sexpot Charlotte Gainsbourg also stars. Sounds like the 2001 Brendan Fraser dud Monkeybone, but I hear it’s much better.

Past success is no longer doing it for kung fu superstar Jet Li, who says FEARLESS  (September 22) will be his final martial-arts film. Set at the turn of the last century, it tells the true story of a real-life champion fighter in China. Ronny Yu (Freddy vs. Jason) directs.

Set a little later in the 20th century, FLYBOYS (September 29) tells another true story, that of the Lafayette Espadrille, the unit of volunteer American pilots fighting for the Allies in WWI. James Franco and Jean Reno star; Tony Bill (A Home of Their Own) directs.

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