Ah, September. A month that brings an end to summer warmth and shoves kids back into school. Yep, the carefree days of summer are over, but fortunately anyone desperate for escape always has a solid month of movies to help them cope with the pain.
September always tends to be a big improvement on the late August blockbuster dumping grounds and this week is no exception. Feeling like some brainy excitement? How about Steven Soderbergh’s tense disease thriller Contagion?
Or if that feels too difficult you can always take comfort in sports movie familiarity with Warrior (a mixed martial arts twist on the classic battling brothers sports cliché). If you want a crappy horror movie, there’s a terrible one of those available too (Creature eck!).
Hell, even director John Landis (Animal House, An American Werewolf In London) has his first movie in a decade coming out this week in Burke and Hare. There’s plenty to see if you feel like plunking down ten bones or so for the pleasure.
So why don’t you take a look at this list, pick your poison, and head out to the movie theater for godsakes! There are plenty of good options, you just have to actually leave the house to access them. I know it’s hard, but you can do it.
The Good: Contagion
Steven Soderbergh crafts another multinational/multi-character tapestry thriller, but this time using an infectious disease as the connective tissue rather than the drug war.
Contagion is not as good as Traffic, but nor should it have been expected to be. Traffic was a multi-layered social commentary, while Contagion is more of a straight disease scare thriller like Outbreak, just on an epic scale.
An unknown disease suddenly strikes the US and most of the world and we watch in wide-eyed terror as the death toll mounts to incredible heights while government officials and scientists struggle to decide what they can possibly do in response.
It’s a pretty terrifying thought experiment about how easily humanity could fall to an infectious disease that the medical community is unprepared for and Soderbergh does an incredible job of constantly escalating tension while still juggling a variety of storylines stretching from high ranking government officials to a suburban family.
Unfortunately the white-knuckle disease scare peters out towards the end. What should have been a deeply cynical thriller with an apocalyptic ending gets all mushy towards the end in a way that feels inappropriate. It’s not a terrible finale, it just feels like things peter out in the last 40 minutes, which is a letdown after an hour of intense build-up.
Still, if you’re a compulsive Purell user this film will be your worst nightmare and you’ll refuse to leave the house without gloves and a face mask for months (and good luck to anyone who even thinks about coughing in the theater while the movie is playing. You’ll be lynched.).
Purell obsessives tend to be an annoying bunch, so perhaps that could end up being a public service from Soderbergh even if the ending will ease those obsessive-compulsive folks’ nerves just a wee bit. Though flawed, this is still a damn good thriller with a ridiculously good cast including the likes of Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Laurence Fishburne, John Hawks, Elliot Gould, Marion Cotillard, Bryan Cranston, and comedian Demetri Martin.
There are probably more recognizable names in the movie as well, but that list was so long that I’m just too exhausted to continue. I’ll need to hire an intern to finish that up for me.
The Bad: Creature
I love horror movies and as a general rule, I’m very forgiving to towards the genre. You have to expect a little cheese and unintentional silliness when sitting down to watch a horror flick. Those are practically genre conventions.
However, even as a man who loves a good B-movie, I can only forgive so much. For example, if you’re going to make a horror movie with a monster these days, it’s gotta be pretty damn convincing for viewers reared on the likes of Avatar.
Yet, somehow the guys who shat out Creature decided to merely put a stunt man into a terrible rubber suit and pretend it’s supposed to be scary. There’s something kind of funny and nostalgic about that, as if a B-movie producer from the '50s suddenly reappeared and tried to use his cheesy old monster costume again. However, watching Creature, it’s pretty clear the filmmakers have no sense of humor about their film. They mean it and it kind of sucks a lot.
The movie is about a group of pretty 20-somethings who are convinced by some creepy rednecks to visit the cabin of a local half-man/half crocodile monster who also happened to be a pedophile in a former life.
The kids think the rednecks are joking, but they aren’t so everybody dies. It’s really that simple and somehow it feels even stupider watching it play out. Granted, Creature certainly fills the gratuitous violence and nudity quotient that you’d want out of a horror movie. In the first scene alone a girl strips naked and is torn in half with no dialogue to distract from the trash.
I suppose if that’s all you’re heading to the theater to see, you’ll get your kicks. But I find it hard to believe that even the most hardened horror fan could sit through Creature and not feel like it was a waste of time. Why this movie is playing in theaters rather than being dumped to direct-to-DVD purgatory is an absolute mystery.
The Warrior: Warrior
Warrior could not be a more predictable sports movie. We’re introduced to two competitive and long-separated brothers who both enter into a tournament of their sport of choice for two equally valid reasons.
Think there’s a chance that they might
have to compete against each other, but ultimately learn to love each other
again? Sports movies rarely succeed based on originality. Audiences flock to
them for the predictability, the comforting escape, and the inevitably orgasmic
In a way they are kind of like rom-coms for dudes, and Warrior is about as good as these movies can get without somehow transcending the genre like The Fighter. It works thanks to a stellar cast (led by Tom Hardy and Nick Nolte), sound direction, and the fact that it tackles a sport rarely seen on film: mixed martial arts.
Hardy and Joel Edgerton star as the brothers who were raised in a damaged household by an alcoholic father (Nolte) and forced to compete in mixed martial arts. The brothers haven’t spoken or competed in years with Edgerton raising a family and Hardy becoming a war-hero-turned-deserter.
All that changes when Edgerton needs to make money to save his house and Hardy needs cash to help a fallen soldier’s family. They sign up for the same tournament and yadda, yadda, yadda. It’s pretty tired stuff, but like he did in the Kurt Russell hockey flick Miracle, director Gavin O’Connor makes the clichés feel exciting.
O’Connor coaches strong performances out of Hardy and Nolte and hits all of the necessary beats to make audiences cheer. If you are a sucker for sports movies, this is for you, even if you’ve never watched UFC before.
However, if you hate sports movies, you’ll probably be vomiting in your mouth long before the punishing two and a half hour running time comes to a close. Warrior is for sports movie lovers only and that crowd should embrace it in a big bad way.
Also released this week: Bucky Larson: Born To Be A Star (the first porno comedy to be made in far too long), Burke and Hare (Animal House director John Landis finally returns to filmmaking after ten years with a very odd, but kind of awesome dark comedy about two men who rob graves and murder for love - it’s based on a true story), Shaolin (Asian action at its finest).