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'Harry Potter' tops list of Hollywood's fall lineup

HOLLYWOOD is roaring along in high gear with a massive lineup of movies for the fall season. David Germain provides a quick tour of what to look out for from the biggest names in show business.

Hollywood aims to help you escape from all that lousy economic news in the real world this fall, with a lineup heavy on fun and fantasy.

But Oliver Stone and Michael Douglas won't let audiences completely off the hook. They're putting Gordon Gekko, poster boy for greed a generation ago, back into theaters to remind fans about the sharks that got us into this mess.

Stone's "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" - a followup to the 1987 hit that won Douglas a best-actor Academy Award - picks up with ex-con Gekko broke, barred from the stock market, alienated from his family and trying to find a place for himself in 2008 as the global economy races toward chaos.

The key word is initially. Gekko still has plenty of tricks up his sleeve.

The "Wall Street" sequel is among September and October releases arriving as a prelude to the big holiday season.

Here's a look at highlights among films debuting in early fall:

For the family

Zack Snyder ("300") directs the animated adventure "Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole," based on Kathryn Lasky's children's books about owls on a mythic quest against evil.

The animated comedy "Alpha and Omega" features the voices of Justin Long and Hayden Panettiere in a tale of two wolves on a journey home after park rangers move them halfway across country.

"Secretariat" gives wholesome treatment to the story of the 1973 Triple Crown winner, with Diane Lane as the housewife who takes over her ailing father's stables and guides the horse to triumph.

Lane was eight years old at the time and traveling outside the US with a theater company, yet she recalls the story of Secretariat gripping people around the world.

"The export of Secretariat to the rest of the world was really something. It was a great sigh of relief compared with all the other offerings we brought to the global news at that time," Lane said. "I had such a crush on Secretariat as a little girl. He was like Pegasus to me at the time."

Laughs aplenty

Kristen Bell, Jamie Lee Curtis and Sigourney Weaver star in "You Again," a comedy about a woman and her mother coping with their old high school rivals at a family wedding.

Other comic tales include: "It's Kind of a Funny Story," about a stressed teen (Keir Gilchrist) who finds a mentor (Zach Galifianakis) at a mental clinic; Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel as a reluctant pair forced to care for their orphaned goddaughter in the romance "Life as We Know It;" "Easy A," a comic twist on "The Scarlet Letter," with Emma Stone as a teen turning a rumor about losing her virginity to her own advantage; and Stephen Frears' "Tamara Drewe," about a former ugly ducking (Gemma Arterton) who returns to her British hometown a striking beauty.

Big on drama

The sober British drama "Never Let Me Go" reunites Keira Knightley with close pal Carey Mulligan, who got her start with a small part in Knightley's "Pride & Prejudice."

"Never Let Me Go" features Mulligan, Knightley and Andrew Garfield (recently cast in the title role of the next "Spider-Man" movie) as three boarding school friends raised for a stark destiny in an alternate-reality Britain.

Among other dramatic offerings: David Fincher's "The Social Network," featuring Jesse Eisenberg and Justin Timberlake in a drama about the founders of Facebook; Hilary Swank in "Conviction," the story of a woman who embarks on an 18-year crusade to clear her brother (Sam Rockwell) of murder; and Woody Allen's latest mix of comedy and drama, "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger," with Naomi Watts, Anthony Hopkins, Gemma Jones, Josh Brolin, Antonio Banderas and Freida Pinto as Londoners struggling with old and new relationships.

Matt Damon and director Clint Eastwood, who collaborated on last year's "Invictus," reunite for "Hereafter," a drama about a Frenchwoman, a British boy and an American man with unusual connections to death whose lives gradually intersect.

Damon said the film seeks answers about the most serious question - is there an afterlife waiting for people when they die?

"I have to believe there is," Damon said. "If I'm wrong and the light's just going to go out, then I'll be none the wiser. But it seems like a pretty cruel twist of fate if it's this and only this. I like to believe there's a bigger point."

Close those eyes

Three horror franchises return: "Paranormal Activity 2," a followup to last year's supernatural sensation; "Saw 3D," with survivors of diabolical killer Jigsaw finding new terror as they seek solace from a self-help guru; and "Resident Evil: Afterlife," with Milla Jovovich back on the job killing undead zombies.

Hollywood's love affair with vampires continues with "Let Me In," adapted from the best-seller "Let the Right One In," about the friendship between a bullied boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and a young bloodsucker (Chloe Moretz).

"My Soul to Take" is Wes Craven's tale of a serial killer who may have returned from the dead.

Just for cash

Ben Affleck performs in a couple of money-related dramas. In "The Company Men," Affleck stars alongside Tommy Lee Jones, Chris Cooper and Kevin Costner in a story of executives coping with hard times after their company lets them go.

Affleck directs and stars in "The Town," playing a bank robber who falls for a branch manager (Rebecca Hall) his gang took hostage on their last job.

"In 'Company Men,' we're going down the economic ladder, and in 'The Town,' we're trying to steal our way up," Affleck said.

Affleck deliberately chose not to act in his directing debut, "Gone Baby Gone." With "The Town," he joked that at least he knew the director and star would not clash.

"I knew as a director that I would always be on time, I would always be cooperative, and our tastes would always be in sync," Affleck said.

Affleck pal Damon narrates Charles Ferguson's documentary "Inside Job," a sweeping chronicle of the 2008 economic crisis.

Amid that crisis, Stone and Douglas unleash Gekko for their "Wall Street" sequel. Estranged from his daughter (Mulligan), Gekko ingratiates himself with her fiance (Shia LaBeouf), an investment whiz who falls under his future father-in-law's spell.

LaBeouf said today's climate as depicted in "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" makes 1980s Gekko-style greed look like child's play.

Of all the old acquaintances coming to movie screens for the holidays - Rooster Cogburn, Gulliver, Yogi Bear, the Focker family, the Narnia crew - one kid with glasses stands above them all.

"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1" is the beginning of the end for one of Hollywood's most remarkable undertakings, a decade-long dash to adapt J.K. Rowling's seven novels about the young wizard before Daniel Radcliffe and his co-stars outgrew the roles.

Told in two parts, with November's first installment followed by next July's finale, the adaptation of Rowling's final book sends Radcliffe's Harry and pals Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) outside the safety of Hogwarts wizardry school on a quest to bring down their nemesis, evil Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), once and for all.

Radcliffe campaigned from the start to break the story into two movies. Unlike the earlier books, which had secondary plot lines that could be omitted, "Deathly Hallows" had few details to drop, Radcliffe said.

"It's just the three of them on the road, and that's what you're focusing on, that's where everything happens. So there's very little you can actually cut without changing the story," Radcliffe said. "And while I know there are some 'Potter' fans that would be quite happy to have a six-hour 'Harry Potter' film, we do want to make films not just for the huge fans of the books, but also for the other people, regular cinema-goers, who perhaps haven't read them."

Here's a look at highlights among other films debuting for the holidays this November and December:

Family stuff

Brad Pitt, Will Ferrell and Tina Fey combine voice talents for the animated comedy "Megamind," about a villain with a void in his life after defeating the superhero who thwarted him for years.

"The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" resumes C.S. Lewis' fantasy adventure, with the Pevensie youths reteaming with King Caspian on a perilous sea journey.

Live action and animation mix for "Yogi Bear," with Dan Aykroyd and Justin Timberlake providing the voices of the cartoon bear and his pal Boo Boo, who face eviction from Jellystone Park.

Funny stuff

Robert De Niro and son-in-law Ben Stiller are at odds again in "Little Fockers," the third chapter in the "Meetw the Parents" franchise, with fresh mayhem erupting at a family gathering.

Also on the comedy front: Harrison Ford, Diane Keaton and Rachel McAdams star in "Morning Glory," about bickering hosts of a morning TV news show; Jack Black takes the title role in "Gulliver's Travels," a modern update of Jonathan Swift's tale of a man who travels to a land of tiny people; Robert Downey Jr plays a high-strung man racing home for the birth of his child and reluctantly forced to travel with an aspiring actor (Zach Galifianakis) in "Due Date."

Downey said laughs were the main aim of the comedy from director Todd Phillips ("The Hangover"), yet the filmmakers also sought to dig deep into issues troubling the mismatched protagonists.

"We were talking about a Russian family drama, the way we talked about the beats and what was important and what was missing," Downey said. "Without it being too self-serving, some of that really is what the movie is about. There's even a sense of actual recognition of fate. It's not two-dimensional. It's a pretty complex story."

Romance stuff

Jake Gyllenhaal's a fast-talking, womanizing Viagra salesman pursuing an elusive new romantic target (Anne Hathaway) in "Love & Other Drugs."

"How Do You Know" stars Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd and Jack Nicholson in a comedy from director James L. Brooks ("Terms of Endearment"), about a woman torn between her boyfriend and a new man.

Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie star in "The Tourist," a romantic thriller about a heartbroken man swept up in intrigue in Italy after a mystery woman thrusts her way into his life.

"Blue Valentine" casts Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams in a drama that cuts back and forth between a couple's hopeful beginnings and the agonizing disintegration of their marriage.

Serious stuff

Helen Mirren does Shakespearean sorcery and hard-boiled espionage with a pair of December releases.

Julie Taymor's gender-bending "The Tempest" casts Mirren in a traditionally male role as a woman who conjures a storm to shipwreck enemies on her island home, where she aims to settle old scores.

"The Debt," from "Shakespeare in Love" director John Madden, features Mirren and "Avatar" star Sam Worthington in a thriller about Mossad agents chasing a Nazi butcher.

Among other holiday dramas: Danny Boyle ("Slumdog Millionaire") directs "127 Hours," starring James Franco as a mountain climber struggling to survive after he's trapped by a boulder; Natalie Portman's a ballet dancer whose dark side emerges as she competes with a rival in "Black Swan;" Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale are sibling boxers who team for triumph in the ring in "The Fighter;" Sofia Coppola ("Lost in Translation") directs "Somewhere," the story of a party-boy actor (Stephen Dorff) reassessing his life during a visit from his daughter (Elle Fanning).

Also, Naomi Watts and Sean Penn star in "Fair Game," a drama about CIA operative Valerie Plame, whose cover was blown by a Bush administration leak.

To prepare, Watts went to spy boot camp, where she was handcuffed, hooded, confined in a box, struck with canes and put through other ordeals to familiarize herself with Plame's world.

"The first day, I said, 'Ow,' when somebody kicked me on the shins, and the trainer said, 'Don't be making any complaints unless you want to go to hospital. And we can go to hospital, but I don't want to humiliate you'," Watts said. "So it was like, 'Oh, my God. I better really toughen up here'."

Action stuff

Denzel Washington and director Tony Scott's latest collaboration is "Unstoppable." Washington's a railroad engineer who teams with a conductor ("Star Trek" star Chris Pine) to put the brakes on a runaway train carrying deadly toxins.

Washington said action ace Scott was like a kid with a giant train set.

"Literally, he's got the biggest one in the world," Washington said. "It's Tony Scott playing with trains. Chris Pine and I are just pawns. It's him with a bunch of trains. He's blowing them up, knocking them off the tracks."

Also in the action lineup: Russell Crowe stars in "The Next Three Days" as a man plotting a prison break after his wife (Elizabeth Banks) is jailed for murder; An ex-con (Dwayne Johnson) on a vengeance mission is pursued by a cop (Billy Bob Thornton) and a hitman in "Faster;" Jeff Bridges resurrects two Hollywood heroes with "Tron: Legacy," a followup to his 1982 sci-fi adventure "Tron," and Joel and Ethan Coen's "True Grit," a remake of the John Wayne Western.

In "True Grit," which co-stars Matt Damon, Bridges plays Rooster Cogburn, a boozy, take-no-prisoners lawman hired by a girl to track down her father's murderer.

Bridges went back and forth between a visual-effects extravaganza and 19th century sets to film "Tron: Legacy" and "True Grit."


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