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Murray Close
Comedy icons Steve Martin, center, Jack Black, right, and Owen Wilson prove to be very entertaining in "The Big Year."
The film is fascinating in its own little way for a number of reasons.

Last weekend after we saw "The Big Year," my wife and I mentioned it to several people and the reaction was always the same:

A movie about birdwatching? Are you kidding? Who'd want to see that?

Actually, this PG-rated comedy is light, gentle, sweet — and if it won't chase you away — old-fashioned (as in, no raunchiness). But it's not at all boring as a cheerful character comedy about personal growth and pursuing your passions.

All of which is encapsulated in the concept of "birding" (not "birdwatching," as the film explains), following a number of people who are trying to spot as many varieties of birds as possible during a single calendar year.

The film is fascinating in its own little way for a number of reasons.

First, it's an untapped subject for a feature film, and shouldn't we always be up for new things?

Second, it stars Steve Martin, Owen Wilson and Jack Black — an odd mix of comic styles to be sure, but they actually go well together. Wilson is the villain of the piece, if that's not too strong a word in this context, and Martin and Black play men of widely divergent backgrounds (and generations) who become friends on the journey.

Third, there's a supporting cast of great older actors we don't see much anymore: Dianne Wiest, Brian Dennehy, JoBeth Williams, Anjelica Huston, Kevin Pollak and (the voice of) John Cleese.

And finally — and let me get this straight, all you moviegoers out there — you embrace a movie about boxing robots but you blanch at a movie about birdwatching?

Yes, the No. 1 box-office blockbuster of last weekend — in its second week! — was "Real Steel," a futuristic tale of battling 'bots.

Really? Give me "The Big Year" any day.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about seeing "Raiders of the Lost Ark" in a St. George multiplex and how great it was to be able to watch it on a huge movie screen again. The response was surprising as a number of readers said they'd definitely pay to see the 1981 adventure in a theater.

Well, as far as I know, "Raiders" isn't coming to Salt Lake City any time soon, but there are a surprising number of old movies popping up on local theater screens over the next few weeks. In fact, if you've been alert, you may already be aware of three that were screened over the past couple of weeks, but which I discovered a little late.

Over the past two Thursdays, single-evening showings of "Ghostbusters" were held at Carmike's Jordan Landing multiplex. (I'm not sure why the '80s horror farce played on two weeknights but it certainly could have used a little publicity.)

Meanwhile, "Casablanca" and "Annie Hall" were shown at the Tower Theatre as it kicked off a new movie series: "Tower Through Time." A different classic film will be shown each week through April 2012, and if the series proves popular, it will continue after that. So if you want more, get out there and support these while we've got them. (Tickets are the regular matinee price, $6.25.)

October's theme is "Canon of World Cinema," and it began with the aforementioned Bogart-Bergman 1942 World War II romance and Woody Allen's 1977 Oscar-winning comedy.

If you missed those, hang onto your fedoras, movie lovers. Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo," the great 1958 mystery mood piece starring James Stewart and Kim Novak, starts today. As with the rest of the series, "Vertigo" will play at the Tower at 4 p.m. daily for a full week.

Federico Fellini's 1963 Italian masterpiece "8 1/2" is the last October title, beginning the 28th.

November is all about vampires ("Twilight"-philes need not apply). "The Vampire Myth in World Cinema" series begins Nov. 11 with the 2008 Swedish film, "Let the Right One In," the most recent film among these (and the only R-rated one). On Nov. 18, it's Roman Polanski's 1967 funny farce "The Fearless Vampire Killers, or: Pardon Me But Your Teeth Are In My Neck." And Nov. 25 will bring "Nosferatu," the 1922 silent German "Dracula" adaptation (with music, of course).

December is devoted to "The Very Best of Cary Grant," starting with Alfred Hitchcock's 1959 comic adventure-thriller "North By Northwest" (Dec. 2); then Howard Hawks' hilarious 1938 farce "Bringing Up Baby," co-starring Katharine Hepburn (Dec. 9); the witty 1940 drawing-room comedy "The Philadelphia Story," with Katharine Hepburn and James Stewart (Dec. 16); and "An Affair to Remember," the ultimate sudsy soap opera from 1957, with Deborah Kerr (Dec. 23).

The program will be interrupted in January, due to screenings for the Sundance Film Festival. Then in February, it will resume with "Best of Jean-Pierre Melville," followed by "Great American Westerns" in March and "Chaplin vs. Keaton" in April. (Titles to be announced.)

For more information, head to the Tower Theatre's website: www.saltlakefilmsociety.org.

And finally, there's the ever-durable Organ Loft and its continuing series of silent movies with live — and lively — accompaniment by the talented Blaine Gale on the Wurlitzer Organ (complete with sound effects).

Tonight at 7:30 marks the final showing of "The Phantom of the Opera," the classic 1925 fright flick with Lon Chaney.

On Nov. 3 and 4, it's two classic shorts (roughly 30 minutes each) starring the great silent daredevil comic Harold Lloyd, "Now or Never" and "Never Weaken" (both 1921). (Also on the program is a "new" silent short by University of Utah student Curtis Whitear.)

And on Nov. 17 and 18, "An Evening With Buster Keaton," a collection of The Great Stone Face's silent short comedies handpicked by the Buster Keaton Society. (Also on this program is "Fire," a comedy made in 1924 by our own Murray City Fire Department!)

For more information, go to the Organ Loft's website: www.organloftslc.com (click "Silent Movies").

EMAIL: hicks@desnews.com