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Fall Movie Preview 2012: Memoirs of an Invisible Obama!

As you might expect from a guy who went straight from playing Claudius in Hamlet to directing a show forty minutes from home, all while holding down a near-full-time job, I've been rather swamped. Meanwhile, however, one of my most faithful Gentle Readers has been prodding me to update this blog, often with tempting suggestions. For example, I could talk politics, but honestly, what's the point? If you don't know whom to vote for by now, for Pete's sake, stay home on Election Day. And if you have picked a candidate, what're the odds I'm gonna talk you out of it? All I'll say is, I wish two things. One, and this goes out to all my registered-Republican-but-claiming-they're-libertarian friends, please please please take over the GOP. You have a lot of compelling points, my stingy friends, while the neocons, Tea Partiers, and Jesus freaks have none. We need you front and center in the national dialogue, not another argument about whether prayer should be mandatory in science class or birth control constitutes a sin. Two, if you're a faithful Republican through and through, thank your lucky stars Saturday Night Live hasn't come back from summer hiatus. You thought the SNL writers had a field day with Palin! Oh, my god, can you imagine what they'd do with Clint Eastwood haranguing an empty chair?

Anyway. The fall movie season is upon us! I wasn't crazy about this summer's crop of prequels and sequels and threequels and requels. None of them seemed to know how to stick the landing. The only summer movie I'm even tempted to buy on video is Prometheus, and that's more for its behind-the-scenes features than anything else. The plot itself made little sense. I liked The Avengers, but geez, how little did you find yourself caring about that wormhole over Manhattan? You were content to watch the Ruffahulk pound stuff, on which desire it didn't disappoint. Similarly, The Dark Knight Rises was all sound and fury, with the muddiest of plot outlines stringing it together. The Amazing Spider-Man and Men in Black 3 were pleasant surprises, but I forgot them ten minutes after they ended. I found myself craving something smarter, even if it meant slashing the CGI budget.

Such is Looper, we're told, which opens September 28th. Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Bruce Willis from the future, so I guess that means Emily Blunt portrays Bonnie Bedelia, and Piper Perabo is the new Alan Rickman. Or something. I know the trailer looks knuckleheaded, but Willis says it's the best script he's ever seen, and he's seen Die Hard and Pulp Fiction. (And North, so let's not lose our minds here, but still.) Gordon-Levitt plays a Mafia hit man assigned to kill his much older self, rather like I did with Domino's Pizza in the early '90s. I'm a sucker for time travel stories, and writer-director Rian Johnson wrote Brick and directed one of my favorite episodes of Breaking Bad, "Fly." He could be the real deal.

Speaking of Bryan Cranston, he's the new Giamatti, by which I mean he's in every movie. If he didn't impress you in Red Tails, John Carter, Madagascar 3, Rock of Ages, or Total Recall, perhaps his turn in actor-director Ben Affleck's Argo (Oct. 12) will evoke that Heisenberg magic. Argo is the story of an outlandish "exfiltration" plan to rescue Americans trapped in the Iranian hostage crisis. Affleck's proven to be a skilled movie director, and if Plan A fails, he can always distract the Iranians by flailing around in a red vinyl suit.

Of course, if you still haven't forgiven Mr. Affleck for Daredevil (or Pearl Harbor, or Gigli, or for being Ben Affleck), you can always catch a bizarro dream cast in Seven Psychopaths, the latest from crazed Irish theatre freak Martin McDonagh, opening the same day. McDonagh's first movie effort, In Bruges, is a minor masterpiece, and his plays The Beauty Queen of Leenane and The Pillowman are unforgettable horror stories. Now he makes like early Tarantino, which is better than late almost anyone else.

Every movie geek who isn't me is stoked about Cloud Atlas (Oct. 26), a collaboration between Tom Tykwer (of Run Lola Run fame) and the Wachowskis (of The Matrix and crashing-and-burning infamy). Why am I unconvinced? Four reasons. First, I saw the Wachowskis' Speed Racer, which was exactly like spending 90 minutes inside the piñata at an ADHD kid's birthday party. Second, Tykwer's made at least half a dozen features since Lola, and only one, Perfume, got any traction. Third, Tom Hanks is an icon, but I've never really bought him as a character shapeshifter. (Meg Ryan managed it better in Joe and the Volcano.) And fourth, I've seen Amores Perros, which is waaaay better than any film since (including Crash) that attempted to copy its intersecting storyline structure. Still, the trailer impresses.

Unless by some miracle you've missed me pimping Ernie Cline's un-put-down-able debut novel Ready Player One, you're aware I get off on '80s nostalgia porn. Ergo, holy cats, do I love the concept of Disney Animation's Wreck-It Ralph (Nov. 2). John C. Reilly plays Ralph, a console video game villain who travels through other games on a quest for redemption. Q*bert costars! Squeeee! If you've ever danced a triumphant moonwalk after dispatching an eight-bit dragon that looked more like a seahorse, then this is the movie for you.

Opening the same day--why do you taunt us, O Hollywood?--is Flight, the first live-action movie in fifteen years from Bob Zemeckis (Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Contact). It stars Denzel Washington as an airline pilot who may have saved all his passengers from a crash he may also have caused in the first place. Before you ask, no, it's not a good idea to fly a passenger jet upside down, no matter how much of it is on fire at the time.

Two big films open Nov. 19. One is Spielberg's Lincoln biopic starring Daniel Day-Lewis, which still has no trailer. Instead, I did some historical research, by which I mean glanced at Wikipedia, and it turns out our sixteenth president may not have slaughtered vampires after all. (Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin insists he fought only the South and chupacabras.) In close-up fighting, you'd face better odds standing behind Mr. Bond, James Bond. Agent 007 is back yet again in Skyfall, directed by unlikely pick Sam Mendes (American Beauty). This time Bond must hunt down a bottle-blonde villain played by Javier Bardem, plus find an affordable Valtrex prescription.

I read Life of Pi (Nov. 21) and enjoyed both its magical realism and the nostalgic way it rounded its title character to three and a seventh. Many considered the novel unfilmable, an attitude which seemed all the more reasonable after The Square-Root-of-1700-Year-Old Virgin bombed a few years ago. We like our fall movies rational, thank you very much. Still, I'm a fan of director Ang Lee; and if you must make a movie about math, your best choice is clearly an Asian. Ha! It's funny because it's racist!

Can I tell you I'm probably the only movie geek in the world who's having doubts about The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Dec. 14)? First of all, it should be called An Interrupted Journey, because somehow the Weta folks expanded a simple children's book to three full-length movies. Hell, the Rankin-Bass TV cartoon version managed to finish it in 77 minutes, leaving time for commercials. Second, the tone of the book is so much lighter than that of The Lord of the Rings, yet the trailers feel the same. Maybe that's deliberate, I don't know, but it needs to be for kids and I'm no kid. Still, I'm sure I'll be first in line, especially if there's a theater showing it anywhere near me in the brand-new 48-frame-per-second 3-D format. I want to feel like I could reach out and touch Gollum's wireframe.

In one of the most spectacular movie collisions of all time, The Hobbit goes halfling head to shorn head with the at-long-long-last movie version of what might be our greatest stage musical, Les Misérables. The trailer makes me cry gloppy tears. The waify picture of Cosette on the T-shirts makes me cry. Anne Hathaway's haircut makes me cry. I may be suffering from a vitamin deficiency.

I'm intensely curious about Zero Dark Thirty (Dec. 19), Kathryn Bigelow's fact-or-fictionalized version of the lethal raid on Osama bin Laden's hideout. You may never have heard of it, partly because it doesn't have a trailer yet, but also because in red states the studio's releasing it as George W. Bush's Legacy, We're Serious, That Kenyan Had Nothing to Do With It: The Movie.

Finally, Dec. 25, esteemed historian Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill Volumes I - XII, Inglourious Basterds, Sweet John F. Kennedy's Baadasssss Song) stuffs our Christmas stockings with the story of a mercenary slave and Belgian jazz guitarist, Django Unchained. Say what you will about QT, I'll follow his megacephalic imagination wherever it takes me. (Seriously, I've met the guy and his poor neck was given the job of supporting one truly enormous head. He looks like a were-lollipop. His Marvel superhero name would be the Flabbergasting Forehead. His skull has its own Van Allen belt.)

Oh, plus Frankenweenie and Taken 2 "debut" Oct. 12, but geez, haven't we seen those already? I could've sworn we had. I'll see you at the movies, but first, don't forget! Sherlock's Last Case debuts Sept. 14 at Lakewood Playhouse and runs for a month. You should see it if you live anywhere close to Lakewood, Washington, because otherwise it's pretty clear you're a bad person.