''Pitch Perfect,'' ''The Paperboy,'' and October's other featured films

By EW Staff
August 10, 2012 at 04:00 AM EDT

Cloud Atlas
Wrapping your head around Cloud Atlas, the first film from the elusive Wachowski siblings since 2008’s Speed Racer, is no easy task. Based on the six interwoven tales in David Mitchell’s 2004 novel, the movie presents a single, unified story line exploring the consequences of courage and betrayal across continents, time periods, and even genres. Co-written and codirected by the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run), the film features a starry cast of actors — including Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, and Hugh Grant — portraying up to six different roles apiece to echo the novel’s theme of interconnectedness.

Hanks, for example, plays a 19th-century doctor, a 1970s scientist, and a tribesman in a postapocalyptic future, among others. Puzzled? You’re in good company. ”I read the screenplay and was nearly hopelessly confused…but I was intrigued,” says Hanks, who used color-coded highlighters and sticky notes to sort out all the plot threads. ”The way they tell the story is the most unique form of narrative that has ever come across my desk.”

Needless to say, the film was a hard sell. ”Even with the incredible cast we had, every single studio passed multiple times or wouldn’t take our calls,” says Lana Wachowski, who was formerly known as Larry and now identifies as female. Despite the independently financed project’s lofty ambitions, the Wachowskis insist they haven’t forsaken their action-loving fans. ”Some people are just going to take this as a great ride. And hopefully some people will be more profoundly affected by it,” says Andy Wachowski. ”We like to make movies that you can enjoy on many different levels.” Highlighters are optional. —Adam Markovitz Oct. 26

Taken 2
When we left off, CIA killing machine-turned-overprotective father Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) had shot, kneecapped, and otherwise beaten the snot out of dozens of Albanian goons who made the mistake of kidnapping his daughter (Maggie Grace). Now, in the sequel to 2009’s most unlikely box office hit, those goons (or what’s left of them) want payback. ”Albanians are famous for wanting revenge,” says Neeson. ”Especially after I killed all of their sons and cousins and uncles in the first one.”

At the beginning of the sequel, Neeson’s mild-mannered Mills is wrapping up a private-security job in Istanbul when his still-scarred daughter and his ex-wife, Lenore (Famke Janssen), come for a quick Middle Eastern vacation. Of course, the family reunion turns into an over-the-top orgy of high-speed chases and bloody brawls when Lenore is taken hostage.

At first, Taken 2‘s awesomely named director, Olivier Megaton, wasn’t certain that a story that ended so tidily needed a sequel. ”I didn’t see the point, but I wanted to work with Liam,” he says. ”He did all of his own fights, which is exhausting, but it looks better. He told me at the beginning, ‘I’m old.’ But as soon as he’s in front of the camera, he’s Bryan Mills killing and kicking ass.” And no doubt stocking up on Bengay between now and the inevitable Taken 3. —Chris Nashawaty Oct. 5

Not Fade Away
The Sopranos creator David Chase trades Mob hits for rock hits with his feature directorial debut, which follows three New Jersey teenagers who form a band after seeing the Rolling Stones on TV in 1964. Chase, who dabbled in music as a kid, admits the film may be personal, but it’s not autobiographical. ”To say that I was in a band is a misnomer,” says the director, who also wrote the script. ”Me and three other guys used to play in somebody’s basement. We never played one date for any other people. But we had big dreams about it in our heads.”

The cast is filled with unfamiliar faces — except for that of Chase’s Sopranos pal James Gandolfini, who plays one of the kids’ fathers. ”It wasn’t as scary as you’d think,” says Gandolfini’s onscreen son, John Magaro (My Soul to Take), about acting opposite the three-time Emmy winner. ”His character is actually a big sweetheart.”

Chase promises that Not Fade Away bears only superficial similarities to his HBO hit. ”It’s like The Sopranos in the sense that it’s in New Jersey and one of the kids is Italian and Jim Gandolfini is in it,” he says. ”But is there red stuff on the wall all of a sudden? No.” —Dave Karger Oct. 19

The Paperboy
In director Lee Daniels’ first film since Precious, Nicole Kidman plays an unhinged sexpot who entices a journalist (Matthew McConaughey) and his brother (Zac Efron) to help free her pen pal (John Cusack) from death row. Daniels initially had jitters about directing Kidman, but realized the A-lister was game for almost anything — including on-camera lovemaking and an already notorious scene in which she urinates on Efron to treat a jellyfish sting. But the actress drew the line at saying the N-word. ”I complained about it,” says Daniels, ”but my producer said, ‘She just finished getting bent over a pink washing machine, she’s peeing…give the girl a break!”’ —Stephan Lee Oct. 5

Seven Psychopaths
Writer-director Martin McDonagh reteams with his In Bruges star Colin Farrell for a film about a man and his dog. Well, technically it’s not his dog — it’s a shih tzu that Farrell’s pal (Sam Rockwell) steals from a crazed crime boss (Woody Harrelson) whose lust for vengeance escalates to include some very weird and dangerous folks (including Christopher Walken and Tom Waits) inhabiting a seedy version of Los Angeles. ”In the same way Bruges is a character in In Bruges, L.A. has a significant part in the story,” says Farrell. ”It’s always sunny, it’s full of possibility, and yet all the characters’ lives are s— and they’re going nowhere.” —Keith Staskiewicz Oct. 12

Here Comes the Boom
When budget cuts threaten to end the career of a kindhearted high school music instructor (Henry Winkler), a humble biology teacher (Kevin James) vows to raise the necessary funds. How? By competing in a mixed-martial-arts tournament. For James, the role meant dropping 80 pounds and stepping into the ring with actual MMA fighters, which wasn’t too much of a stretch for the actor, an avid fan of the sport. ”Kevin has trained for 14 years,” says Winkler. ”Really, for a man of size, he is like a jaguar.” But James couldn’t persuade Winkler to step into the ring. ”I will never do that!” he says. —Grady Smith Oct. 12

Pitch Perfect
In a comedy set in the competitive world of college a cappella singing, a lackluster all-female group featuring Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air) faces off against a team of cocky, Rihanna-covering boys. Bridesmaids‘ Rebel Wilson, who plays a power belter named Fat Amy (yes, she calls herself that before the mean girls can), jumped at the chance to work in a favorite genre. ”I love movie musicals, even the ones with s— story lines,” she says. Wilson and Workaholics‘ Adam DeVine more than hold their own vocally, says director Jason Moore (Broadway’s Avenue Q). ”There’s a fearlessness about comedians to get up there in front of people and go for it.” —Stephan Lee Oct. 5

Alex Cross
Picture Tyler Perry as a running, jumping, diving, fighting action hero. The cross-dressing comedian/entrepreneur leaves the muumuus at home to play the detective-psychologist at the center of James Patterson’s best-selling Alex Cross thrillers. It’s a side of Perry we’ve never seen before on screen — and a departure from the more sedentary Cross played by Morgan Freeman in 1997’s Kiss the Girls and 2001’s Along Came a Spider. ”There’s a physical menace to Tyler [in the film] that plays out very strongly,” says director Rob Cohen (The Fast and the Furious). ”I mean, this is not Madea.”

The plot follows Cross as he matches wits with Picasso, a cage-fighting sociopathic hitman played by Lost‘s Matthew Fox. ”[Picasso] is an assassin, but he really enjoys his job,” says Fox, who shed 35 pounds and spent many hours in the gym getting ”hyper, hyper, disturbingly lean.” And if the role’s physical challenges weren’t enough, Fox also had to get inside the head of a villain who relishes the idea of inflicting pain. ”The emotional intensity of the guy was exhausting,” he says. ”I didn’t sleep much for five months.” —Rob Brunner Oct. 19

Frankenweenie
You can’t keep a good dog down. In Frankenweenie, director Tim Burton’s latest stop-motion cartoon, Victor (I Am Legend‘s Charlie Tahan) uses mad science to resurrect his dear departed pooch, Sparky, which unleashes monster-movie havoc in his quaint suburb. Sparky isn’t evil — he just looks so weird that he freaks out some folks, such as Victor’s parents (Catherine O’Hara and Martin Short) and a neighbor girl (Winona Ryder). It’s like the monsters in Frankenstein and King Kong, Burton says: ”They’re not bad characters, they’re just misunderstood.”

The story, inspired by Burton’s own boyhood dog and youth in suburban Burbank, is a full-length version of a live-action short he made back in 1984. Though that odd little film helped end his career as a junior animator at Disney, it did catapult him to bigger and better things. ”It’s a project that has meant a lot to me,” says Burton, who even made the feature in black and white and 3-D as a nod to the cheesy scarefests he loved as a child. —Anthony Breznican Oct. 5

The Big Wedding
Robert De Niro and Diane Keaton star as a long-divorced couple who struggle to play the happy pair for the wedding of their adopted son (Ben Barnes). Given a cast that includes not only De Niro and Keaton but also Katherine Heigl, Susan Sarandon, and Robin Williams, director Justin Zackham jokes, ”My job was basically to get out of the way.” While Zackham was impressed by his leads’ ”spectacular” onscreen chemistry, he says the two stars were very different between takes: ”De Niro is quiet in his room watching the news, whereas Diane walks around the set listening to Kanye West and Jay-Z.” —Andrew Santana Oct. 26

Chasing Mavericks
Gerard Butler wasn’t an expert surfer when he agreed to play Frosty Hesson, the mentor of late surfing icon Jay Moriarity (Jonny Weston), in an inspirational 1990s-set biopic. ”I’d only surfed two or three times before,” says the Scottish star of 300 and The Ugly Truth. But Butler quickly found a passion for riding the waves — even after a horrific wipeout during shooting landed him in the hospital (he was released after spending a night under observation). ”I wanted to go right back out there,” he says. ”I think I was in shock. Looking back now, I’d be a little less gung ho.” —Josh Rottenberg Oct. 26

Killing Them Softly
Having worked with Brad Pitt on 2007’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, writer-director Andrew Dominik knew just who to call when he was looking for a hitman for his gritty new thriller. Pitt plays a hired gun tailing two not-so-bright hoodlums (newbie Scoot McNairy and Animal Kingdom‘s Ben Mendelsohn) who rob a Mob-protected poker game. How did Dominik get Pitt to sign on? ”It was all very simple. I texted Brad, asking if he was interested, and he wrote back ‘Yes,’ ” says Dominik. ”We basically worked the whole thing out via text message over half an hour.” —Sara Vilkomerson Oct. 19

The Sessions
At age 38, after spending most of his life confined to an iron lung due to polio, real-life journalist and poet Mark O’Brien (John Hawkes) sought to lose his virginity. So he hired a therapeutic sex surrogate — yes, that’s a real job — played on screen by Helen Hunt. The film (originally titled The Surrogate) has generated Oscar buzz since winning this year’s Sundance Audience Award. Hunt says the toughest challenge of her fact-based role was physically working with a paralyzed person. ”I didn’t really have to act,” she says. ”I didn’t have to think about some big sexual thing. I just had to get his shirt off.” —Adam B. Vary Oct. 26

Also Playing
Jennifer Garner enters a Butter-carving contest at the Iowa State Fair (10/5)…. Leighton Meester pursues her best friend’s dad (Hugh Laurie) in The Oranges (10/5)…. Ethan Hawke finds a box of creepy home movies that have a Sinister effect on his family (10/5)…. Simon (Kacey Mottet Klein) supports his Sister (Léa Seydoux) by stealing from the rich at a Swiss ski resort (10/5)…. Director Andrea Arnold (Fish Tank) brings Emily Brontë’s classic Wuthering Heights to the big screen (10/5)…. Bridesmaids‘ Chris O’Dowd is the brother from hell in 3, 2, 1…Frankie Go Boom (10/12)…. Despite the dismal box office (and reviews) for its predecessor, Atlas Shrugged Part 2 continues the Rand-ian saga (10/12)…. Middle of Nowhere, about a marriage tested by a prison sentence, earned a directing prize at Sundance (10/12)…. A married man (John Krasinski) falls for Olivia Thirlby in the Lena Dunham-co-written Nobody Walks (10/12)…. Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Aaron Paul are always Smashed, which frustrates their attempts at marital bliss (10/12)…. French thriller Holy Motors follows a troubled limo rider who kidnaps Eva Mendes (10/17)…. Gael García Bernal feels estranged from his fiancée while backpacking on The Loneliest Planet (10/19)…. More haunted home movies pop up in Paranormal Activity 4 (10/19)…. Victoria Justice is stuck watching her Fun Size little brother on Halloween (10/26)…. Demons (the non-home-movie kind) lurk in Silent Hill: Revelation 3D (10/26)…. In The First Time, two teens meet at a party — you can probably guess what happens next (TBA). —Grady Smith

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