What to look for on the big screen

A s the days get a little bit shorter – and then a lot bit – the ol’ silver screen starts to sound a little more enticing, doesn’t it? Yet, a glance at the box office’s top performers these days is not exactly inspiring. Granted, I am about to judge many a book by its cover, so to speak, but passing judgment is just good fun! Let’s begin.


“Contagion” is king of the box office, and available to you in the Valley. The names involved (Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Steven Soderbergh) are sick. Sick as in good. The story is also sick. Sick as in global sickness. I would have gone, but the wife doesn’t do well with what she terms, “bad things that could actually happen.” This includes a virus eating its way through humanity, and zombies. Seriously.

“Our Idiot Brother” starts tomorrow in the valley; I reviewed it two weeks ago in this space. High marks for Paul Rudd and puppies alike (check online for the full review at JuneauEmpire.com or on my blog).

A quick shout-out to “Columbiana” (also in the Valley), but only because I have seen the same annoying trailer roughly a bazillion times as Hulu has apparently taken it upon itself to make sure I memorize the entire preview. Zoe Saldana is a hit-woman out for revenge because, as she says, “My parents were killed… in ffffffffffffront of me!”

I hate that preview so mmmmmuch.

Ryan Gosling must have loved Jason Statham’s “Transporter” franchise, because it would appear that he’s copying it in “Drive,” which opens tomorrow downtown. Sarah Jessica Parker has a new flick opening in the Valley, too. She still alternates between being attractive and oddly resembling a horse; “I Don’t Know How She Does It.” See what I did there? Yeah, moving on.

Sept. 23 brings a potpourri of new digital blood to the cinema:

Brad Pitt plays real-life Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane in the movie adaptation of a fantastic sports book by Michael Lewis, “Moneyball.” Not sure why anyone thought it would be a good movie, but if anybody can make baseball statistics appeal to non-sports fans it’s writer Aaron Sorkin.

The world’s (arguably) worst popular actor, Taylor Lautner, has an action flick called “Abduction” coming out that does not incorporate vampires or werewolves. Pass.

Gerard Butler is garnering a little Oscar buzz with his starring role in the biopic, “Machine Gun Preacher.” Finally, “Killer Elite” is all about assassins. Boring? Maybe, except that it’s Statham versus Clive Owen, with a dash of Robert De Niro. Harder to resist with that trio on board.

September wraps up with a promising dramedy about a guy (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) dealing with cancer (“50/50”), and a haunted house flick (“Dream House”) with a storyline you have seen numerous times before.

For what it’s worth, I actually did see “The Debt,” which opened nationally at the end of August, and was impressed. If it makes it to J-town, I recommend the powerful drama about aging Mossad agents (Helen Mirren is such a badass) that are forced to deal with a deed they did (or didn’t) commit 30 years earlier. Good stuff. I’ll offer one mini-spoiler: The movie jumps back and forth often between current day (Mirren and company) and 30 years ago (younger versions of the secret agents). Sam Worthington plays one of the young agents; Ciarán Hinds plays the elder Worthington. Said the wife, “Sam Worthington turned into an ugly old man!”

No offense, Mr. Hinds.

With the minimal space I have left, let’s turn the page on September and just peek at the first Friday in October. Mostly I wanted to include Oct. 7 here because there are two movies opening that couldn’t be any more different. George Clooney stars in and directs “The Ides of March,” a political thriller with Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Marisa Tomei and Paul Giamatti co-starring. Put it down in pencil for your early 2012 Oscar picks.

Then, there is “Real Steal.” How do I explain this one? Ah, you know those rock’em-sock’em plastic robot toys? This movie is that. Sort of. It’s the future and Hugh Jackman is a boxing trainer, except the boxers are now big robots that would make Michael Bay drool involuntarily. There’s a subplot about Jackman’s son, previously unknown about by Jackman, coming out of the woodwork and wanting to get to know Dad. Since “Cowboys & Aliens” let me down, “Real Steal” is my next hope to be either one of the worst movies of all time, or totally rad.

Leaning toward the former.

No matter what, the days are getting shorter. More darkness equals more time to spend guilt-free at the movie theater. That’s my approach, anyway. Just don’t let me hear that you went to see Taylor Lautner in anything where he isn’t playing a werewolf.


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