[2 September 2011]
Associate Features Editor
My parents go to the movies almost every week, God bless ‘em. Whether there’s a new Harrison Ford movie out or the best offering is a shudder Paul Walker movie, my folks will be sitting in the theater at least 20 minutes early, popcorn in hand, waiting for it to start—and yes, they were disappointed in Cowboys and Aliens, too. They, like most film fanatics, hate the down season. January through April are the months most chock full of schlock, and September usually comes in a close second because it’s too late for summer blockbusters and too early for Oscar contenders.
Last year, the closest we got to a Best Picture nominee was The Town, an admittedly deserving contender. In 2009, however, the best of month #9 was The Informant. 2008 gave us Burn After Reading. It was 2007 that came the closest to week-to-week quality with Eastern Promises, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and The Darjeeling Limited, but the last two were given limited releases keeping most Americans from seeing them until October or later.
This year actually has a shot at September perfection. That’s not to claim every film will be a 10 out of 10 or even get an Oscar nomination. After all, a pitcher doesn’t have to strike out every batter for a perfect game. Looking at the lineup, though, there’s at least one wide release each week deserving of your dollars. Here’s hoping Mr. and Mrs. Travers agree come October.
Forget week one, unless you think the latest Blair Witch knockoff Apollo 18 looks like a winner. Oh, wait. There’s also Shark Night 3D, which might be passable entertainment like its inspiration, Piranha 3D, if it wasn’t rated PG-13. PG-13? Are you freakin’ kidding me? Wow. Horrible decision, even with the unrated DVD sure to come.
Week one’s only real saving grace is the Robert Duvall-starring Seven Days in Utopia. The G-rated golf drama pairs the living legend once more with Get Low costar Lucas Black, but with that rating scaring away adults and the subject matter alienating children it’s hard to imagine the movie in theaters more than double the days in its title. It will undoubtedly be worth your money just for the always-entertaining Duvall, but it doesn’t stack up with the rest of the month.
So forget week one *. Flip on the tube Saturday morning instead and watch the Iowa Hawkeyes start their national title run. What? Am I the only one outside of the Hawkeye state believing the best of the Big Ten’s 12 teams can topple one of the over-hyped SEC “powerhouses”? Ah, fine. Have it your way. Go see a bad movie instead. Be my guest.
*The Debt, a time-jumping action drama with Helen Mirren, Sam Worthington, and Tom Wilkinson, is earning solid reviews, but was eliminated from contention due to its August 31st release. Shame.
But a month is made up of four weeks, no? Thus, it’s unfair to expect five perfect weekends when we still have four in a row featuring winners. After all, you’ll need the money you saved last week to buy tickets to two movies.
Start off the weekend with a rush by checking out Gavin O’Connor’s Warrior. The director of the Joel Edgerton-Tom Hardy fight film may not have the greatest track record with me, but everyone else seemed to love Miracle. Now, after a critical misstep with the police procedural Pride and Glory, O’connor has returned to the sports arena with a film already earning Oscar buzz.
As mentioned before, the score gets your pulse-pounding as much as Hardy’s hard stare and Edgerton’s scrapper mentality. It may not end up comparing to last year’s stellar Best Picture nominee The Fighter (and should have been winner), but anything close is worth seeing.
Movie #2 features a cast worthy of a Woody Allen film, but a plot as far from the comic’s usual chronicles as possible. Contagion, a virus-caused-end-of-the-world thriller starring Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard (who was actually in Allen’s Midnight in Paris), and the doomed Gwyneth Paltrow, is the latest from frequent filmmaker Steven Soderbergh, who has shot largely under the radar since the last Ocean’s movie in 2007.
That’s not to say he hasn’t been busy or that he’s been disappointing with his offerings, though. Soderbergh has pumped out some of my favorite movies of the past four years including The Girlfriend Experience and the two-part epic Che. Contagion marks his return to the forefront of cinema thanks to its cast, but I doubt his indelible storytelling talent ever went anywhere.
The third week of this fine month brings us another healthy dose of Ryan Gosling (as if any helping could be unhealthy). Baby Goose first popped up this year in the underappreciated Crazy, Stupid, Love as an incredibly successful lothario who knows how and when to deliver a punch. He’ll hit the big screen again in October for George Clooney’s political mystery The Ides of March as a scheming analyst with his heart in the right place. Combine the punching and the scheming and you may end up with Driver, Gosling’s curt character name in the much-anticipated (by me) crime drama Drive.
Yes, the trailer promises plenty of high-speed chases and more than a few violent collisions (not necessarily with cars), but don’t be fooled into thinking this is the indie actor’s sellout action picture. Director Nicolas Winding Refn won Best Director at this year’s Cannes film festival and Drive was nominated for the Palme d’Or. The film lost to The Tree of Life, but Refn beat out the esteemed Terrence Malick. That right there should be enough to get everyone not already sold by Gosling into their seats come the 16th.
Yes, two pseudo-preposterous action flicks crash into cineplexes on this date. Killer Elite is the less laughable of the two and a film I plan to see because of my new found Jason Statham fandom—I believe it began when The Expendables rocked my socks off last August. Machine Gun Preacher is the other, lesser release and looks as absurd a movie as the idea Gerard Butler can actually act.
But skip these two in favor of an actor who hasn’t let us down since Babel (and if you were drunk enough to find the film meaningful, you have to go all the way back to Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas to find a flop). Brad Pitt’s passion project, Moneyball, lands on what I’m guessing will be mostly empty theaters this month. The film is impossible to market to anyone unfamiliar with the best-selling book it recreates because it’s about two things no one finds interesting anymore: baseball and math.
The latest TV spots wisely focus on the star power of Pitt (look at that smile, people!) and co-star Jonah Hill who brings the funny (I hope). Yet even with Phillip Seymour Hoffman adding credence, I can’t see how this movie makes any money, especially after Pitt lost some fans when he disappeared from The Tree of Life for 40 minutes of Malick’s must-be-drug-induced-hallucinations on the creation of the universe.
So help it out. I can’t promise it will be better than Malick’s near-masterpiece (those hallucinations were so pretty!), but it can’t be nearly as boring (for those, including Sean Penn, who thought it was).
Ah, finally. After guessing for four weeks whether or not each new movie will be worth watching, I can speak honestly and directly about one I’ve already seen. 50/50 is a warmly hilarious look at a young man diagnosed with cancer, and it may end up being the Little Miss Sunshine of 2011. Based on screenwriter Will Reiser and co-star Seth Rogen’s friendship during Reiser’s treatment for spinal cancer, director Jonathan Levine manages to craft a picture with equal doses of humor and heart.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Adam, an editor for Seattle public radio who’s taken aback when a doctor’s appointment for back pain takes the worst possible turn. Rogen is his friend and co-worker, Kyle, who helps him deal with the news in what at first feels like a roundabout if not slightly ignorant manner—the duo looks to score chicks and get high. Adam, a careful, safe man up to this point in his life, is hesitant to both at the onset and never fully embraces either lifestyle, but Kyle is there every step of the way pushing him in the direction he feels is best.
Their friendship is both easy and impossibly hard—they prefer to act like nothing has changed, but certain discussions and moments force them to realize both of their lives may soon be altered irreversibly and forever. Rogen, who isn’t exactly drawn out of his shell here, and Gordon-Levitt manage to depict each subtle aspect beautifully.
The movie obviously has its fair share of dark moments, yet the characters’ positivity and honesty strikes you the most. The film earns its R rating with candid conversations, frank language, and drug use, but this is far from a stoner flick or even a straightforward comedy. 50/50 is hard to confine to a genre because it intentionally breaks the rules set forth by its subject matter. We’re not supposed to laugh at a cancer patient, but we do repeatedly and with gusto. It’s the opposite of Philadelphia, but arguably a better, more relatable final product. Get ready for the red carpet, fellas. At the very least, if all the other movies I predict to be great turn out less than grand, this cannot disappoint. It will save September, if need be.
Oh, and if you’ll indulge one more speculation, I’m willing to go out on a limb for Jim Sheridan. The man who has brought us incredibly touching films like My Left Foot and In America is back this week with the horror flick Dream House. It will undoubtedly get the most buzz from its recently wed costars Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz, but it’s Sheridan’s deft hand behind the camera that should make it memorable.