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Fall Movie Preview
From assassins to animated insects, season offers choices for everyone

With the punishing heat wave (hopefully) behind us, it's time to take a sneak peek at autumn's first wave of offerings.

Acting as the bridge between summer's popcorn fare and the more serious, cold-weather Oscar contenders, early fall invariably offers a wide range of choices.

The following is just a glance at some of the notable, higher-profile titles. Please keep in mind, all opening dates are subject to change.

Sept. 14

"The Brave One" In what looks like a blatant retread of 1974's "Death Wish," Jodie Foster plays a city dweller whose boyfriend and dog are killed by muggers. She responds by becoming an out-of-control vigilante. Terrence Howard co-stars as the detective tracking her down.

"Dedication" Actor Justin Theroux ("Mulholland Falls") makes his directorial debut in this edgy romantic comedy about a surly children's book author (Billy Crudup) who falls hard for his new illustrator (Mandy Moore). Tom Wilkinson and Dianne Wiest co-star.

"The Hunting Party" Shades of "Welcome to Sarajevo" abound in this thriller, starring Richard Gere and Terrence Howard as reporters who make an unauthorized trip to Bosnia to find a notorious war criminal.

Sept. 21

"Across the Universe" Director Julie Taymor ("Frida," "Titus") uses The Beatles' catalog as the thread connecting assorted musical vignettes. The eclectic cast includes Evan Rachel Wood, Salma Hayek, Eddie Izzard and U2's Bono, as the infamous, drug-pushing Dr. Robert.

"The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" Brad Pitt takes the lead as James in this adaptation of the Ron Hansen novel. After joining the James gang, Ford (Casey Affleck) slowly goes from being James' glowing admirer into his bitter, plotting rival.

"Eastern Promises" Director David Cronenberg teams up with his "A History of Violence" leading man Viggo Mortensen, who plays a Russian assassin living in London. The killer's alliances get tested when he falls for a midwife (Naomi Watts) who witnesses a brutal crime.

"Randy and the Mob" Oscar-winning Atlanta-based writer/director Ray McKinnon also stars - as twins - in this heavily skewed Southern-Gothic comedy. It could rightfully be described as "Sling Blade" meets "The Andy Griffith Show" by way of the Coen Brothers.

"Trade" German director Marco Kreuzpaintner turns in a fairly decent imitation of Steven Soderbergh's "Traffic" in this disturbing, yet uneven, thriller about the white slave trade in Mexico. The largely unknown cast features Kevin Kline as a Texas Ranger who goes undercover.

Sept. 28

"Feast of Love" Oscar-winning director Robert Benton helms this adaptation of the Charles Baxter novel, a mostly downbeat romantic drama with many changing partners and lurid sex. The potent ensemble cast includes Morgan Freeman, Greg Kinnear, Selma Blair and Radha Mitchell.

"The Game Plan" Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson stars in another football movie, this one about an NFL player whose playboy lifestyle gets upended after he discovers he has a daughter from a previous relationship. The Disney-produced comedy co-stars Kyra Sedgwick and Roselyn Sanchez.

Oct. 5

"The Heartbreak Kid" This probably unnecessary remake of the 1972 classic is about a new groom who develops a premature seven-year itch while still on his honeymoon. It reunites "There's Something About Mary's" directors the Farrelly brothers with lead Ben Stiller, so expect heaps of outlandish humor.

"Into the Wild" Based on the novel by Emory alumnus Jon Krakauer, Sean Penn directs this cosmic road flick about a college graduate (Emile Hirsch) who gives everything he owns to charity and hitchhikes his way across the country to find the secret of life.

"The Jane Austen Book Club" A Not-so-total chick flick about six Californians who gather weekly to discuss the particulars of Austen's novels. Not so coincidentally, the lives of each participant begin to reflect those of the characters in the novels.

"Vantage Point" At first glance, this thriller appears to be a variation on "In the Line of Fire." The assassination attempt of a U.S. president (William Hurt) is told from five different perspectives in the film, which also stars Dennis Quaid, Forest Whitaker, Matthew Fox and Sigourney Weaver.

Oct. 12

"Hitman" Based on the video game "Hitman: Codename 47," Timothy Olyphant stars as a government assassin trapped in Russia who is being chased down by assorted covert agencies.

Oct. 12

"Michael Clayton" George Clooney plays the title character, an attorney ordered by his firm to tamper with evidence and witnesses after a class-action lawsuit threatens the future of one of its largest clients. Not surprisingly, Clayton starts second-guessing the mission.

Oct. 19

"30 Days of Night" Here's a vampire flick with an outwardly interesting angle. Soon after a northern Alaskan town goes into 24-hour winter darkness, residents become the target of a band of bloodsuckers. The cast includes Ben Foster, Melissa George and (oh no!) Josh Hartnett.

"Reservation Road" Joaquin Phoenix, Jennifer Connelly, Mark Ruffalo and Mira Sorvino play two married couples whose lives violently clash after the death of a child. Sounds a lot like "The Crossing Guard."

Oct. 26

"Dan in Real Life" Steve Carell attempts to bounce back from the travesty that was "Evan Almighty" with this dramatic comedy about a despondent widower who falls in love with his brother's girlfriend (Juliette Binoche).

"Martian Child" After the death of his fiancee, a writer (John Cusack) adopts an orphan who believes he's from you-know-where. Let's hope it's not a juvenile version of "K-Pax."

"Saw IV" This is the latest installment of the consistently performing horror franchise, which is heavy on the torture porn and surprisingly original with its concepts. The filmmakers have promised the movie will address many of "Saw III's" unanswered questions.

"Things We Lost in the Fire" Halle Berry plays a recent widow who invites her husband's troubled friend (Benicio Del Toro) to move in with her and her family in the hopes everyone's lives will get back to normal. This is the first English-language film from Danish director Susanne Bier.

Nov. 2

"Bee Movie" Jerry Seinfeld voices Barry, a worker bee who escapes the hive and discovers humans "steal" and eat the honey his family makes. Barry decides to file a class-action lawsuit. The animated adventure also features Renee Zellweger.

"The Kite Runner" Adapted from the acclaimed novel by Khaled Hosseini and directed by equally acclaimed filmmaker Marc Forster ("Monster's Ball," "Finding Neverland"), the film centers on an Afghani expatriate who returns home after years in the U.S. to help get a friend's son out of a jam.

Nov. 9

"Fred Claus" Finally (it would appear), a new take on the tired Santa Claus/Christmas genre. Fred (Vince Vaughn), still bitter over his brother Santa's (Paul Giamatti) success, involuntarily moves back to the North Pole, turns the elves into little party animals and wreaks general havoc.

"Lions for Lambs" Primo Oscar bait from director Robert Redford. Redford stars as a college professor, Tom Cruise is a politician and Meryl Streep's a reporter whose lives and careers cross paths after the death of two soldiers in Afghanistan. Expect heavy media commentary, both pro and con.

Nov. 16

"Beowulf" This long-anticipated "motion capture" animated adventure is based on the oldest known piece of English literature. Angelina Jolie, Anthony Hopkins, Crispin Glover and Ray Winstone play the principals, under the direction of Robert Zemeckis ("The Polar Express").

"Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium" Writer Zach Helm's ("Stranger Than Fiction") directorial debut stars Dustin Hoffman as a 243-year-old owner of a magic store. After he turns over sole proprietorship to his manager (Natalie Portman), total mayhem ensues.

Nov. 21

"August Rush" Judging by the trailers, this looks like a weepy family fantasy about an orphan who tries to find his birth parents through the power of music. Keri Russell and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers play the parents, with Freddie Highmore ("Finding Neverland") as the child prodigy.

"Enchanted" Based on the concept, this Disney film could be memorable. Starting out animated, a fairy princess (Amy Adams, "Junebug") gets thrusts into live-action New York City, where she must deal with the frantic real world and the romantic advances of a hot-shot attorney (Patrick Dempsey).