Disney’s A Christmas Carol


Disney's A Christmas Carol

Jim Carey is haunting...himself.

(Disney) Starring the voices of Jim Carey, Gary Oldman, Bob Hoskins, Colin Firth, Robin Wright Penn, Cary Elwes, Ryan Ochoa, Jacquie Barnbrook, Lesley Manville, Molly C. Quinn, Fay Masterson, Fionnula Flanagan, Leslie Zemeckis. Directed by Robert Zemeckis

No matter how badly we behave, no matter how heinous the acts we have done in our lives, there is always a possibility of a second chance. It is one of the most wonderful things about being human.

Ebeneezer Scrooge (Carey) is a miserly fellow, bitter and curmudgeonly. He is feared and despised by the citizens of London circa 1842. After his partner Jacob Marley (Oldman) dies on a Christmas Eve in 1835, Scrooge continues to operate his counting house, bullying his clerk Bob Cratchit (Oldman again). Scrooge saves particular vitriol for Christmas, which he proclaims as “humbug.”

Scrooge is visited that Christmas Eve first by his nephew Fred (Firth) who patiently invites his uncle to Christmas dinner, which is refused. Fred is puzzled as to why his uncle despises him so, but it seems to be tied to his marriage. Later, a pair of businessmen collecting for charitable donations receives Scrooge’s distinctive philosophy on life (the famous quote “Are there no jails? Are there no workhouses?”) but no cash.

Upon returning home, Scrooge is visited by the ghost of Jacob Marley who warns Scrooge he is to be visited by three ghosts; the Ghost of Christmas Past (Carey), the Ghost of Christmas Present (ditto) and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (you got it). At stake his Scrooge’s soul, and the life of Cratchit’s son Tim (Ochoa).

This is one of the most beloved and best-known stories on the planet and director Zemeckis (Back to the Future, Forrest Gump, The Polar Express) has the tall order of making a story so known to many seem fresh and new. Most of us can quote Charles Dickens’ original story word for word and know the story backwards and forwards. With so many already-filmed versions to choose from, the public can afford to be choosy and set high standards for any new films. Making one that stands out from the crowd is no easy task.

Most versions of A Christmas Carol depend heavily on the performance of the actor playing Scrooge. Actors have generally been classically trained English thespians, but from time to time comedians (Bill Murray comes to mind) have also tackled the role. Carey is perhaps the most unusual choice for the iconic miser. I’m not particularly fond of Carey – he tends to mug around a bit in my opinion – but one can’t deny the talent. He tackles the roles of Scrooge in all his iterations, as well as all three of the ghosts. For the most part, he restrains himself but from time to time Ace Ventura shines through.

The supporting cast is pretty good. Hoskins displays bonhomie as Fezziwig, while Penn is solid in the dual roles of Belle, Scrooge’s love interest and Fanny, his sister. Better still is Oldman, whose portrayal of Bob Cratchit (complete with Cockney accent) is superb. His scene during the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come sequence mourning his son is incredibly moving.

After a great start with The Polar Express, motion capture hasn’t really lived up to its promise. The visuals are spectacular, eye-popping really. Zemeckis has a terrific visual sense and crafts a movie that captures the imagination. Unfortunately, it doesn’t capture the heart (except for the Cratchit scene mentioned above). There’s far more emphasis on spectacle than there is on the story, and some fairly important vignettes are glossed over or cut out entirely and yet Zemeckis conducts an extended hearse chase scene that is striking to look at but ultimately feels more like a placeholder for a future theme park attraction. That gives the movie a rushed feeling that I found unsettling.

The animation isn’t perfect. Cratchit’s head is disproportionate, and his daughter Martha towers over him by what appears to be about a foot and a half or more. It looks unsettling. Also, while the faces and movements are lifelike, there is a curious lifelessness to the eyes that makes the characters look a little bit like zombies. In many ways, the more clear-cut animation of Pixar and DreamWorks is preferable because it’s more consistent; you know it’s an animation so there’s a standard for realism or its lack thereof. Here, you’re expecting a more life-like quality and frankly the technology isn’t quite there yet.

People who love Jim Carey are going to enjoy this movie because you get a whole lot of him here. People who love the original Dickens tale are going to be a bit more critical and may find this a difficult pill to swallow. The 3D effects are terrific (the snow falling is particularly nice) and definitely enhance the movie nicely. However, I can’t recommend this unreservedly. All in all, the package comes in gaudy wrapping paper with an elaborate bow, but all the pretty paper in the world can’t conceal that what’s inside is a bit empty and light.

REASONS TO GO: There are some amazing visuals here, particularly the ghosts. Zemeckis puts the story on its biggest and boldest canvas ever. Oldman gives a moving performance, particularly in the Christmas Yet to Come sequence.

REASONS TO STAY: Zemeckis sacrifices story for spectacle in several instances. Some of the figures, particularly Cratchit and his daughter Martha seem to be disproportionate. The hearse chase scene is completely unnecessary and seems to be there only to provide the inspiration for an eventual theme park ride. A little Carey goes a long way.

FAMILY VALUES: Some of the ghost sequences, particularly Marley and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come might be a bit too much for impressionable sorts.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The earliest known filmed version of Dickens tale was made in 1901 by British film pioneer Robert Paul and was under three and a half minutes long. It can be seen in its entirety on the British Film Institute YouTube channel.

HOME OR THEATER: The dazzling visuals should be experienced on the big screen, preferably in the 3D presentation (and IMAX if you can get to an IMAX theater).

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Tale of Despereaux

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New Releases for the Week of November 6, 2009


Disney's A Christmas Carol

Ebeneezer Scrooge discovers a chain is gonna come.

DISNEY’S A CHRISTMAS CAROL

(Disney) Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Bob Hoskins, Robin Wright Penn, Cary Elwes, Lesley Manville, Jacquie Barnbrook, Daryl Sabara. Directed by Robert Zemeckis

There are very few humans alive in the western world that isn’t aware of the story of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The book has been the source of many film and television versions of the story, starring actors as disparate as Reginald Owen, Bill Murray, Henry Winkler, Marlo Thomas, George C. Scott, Alastair Sim and Tim Curry to name just a few taking on the role of notorious skinflint and Christmas hater Ebeneezer Scrooge. Now, Carrey is taking his shot, which is a loooong way from The Mask. This is also another motion capture film from Zemeckis (Polar Express, Beowulf).

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG (for scary sequences and images)

An Education

(Sony Classics) Carey Mulligan, Peter Skarsgaard, Alfred Molina, Emma Thompson. Set in mid-60s London when it was just beginning to swing, young schoolgirl Jenny seems to be set on course for an education at Oxford when she meets an urbane and witty 30-something guy who becomes her new object of desire. He introduces her to a rarefied world of classical concerts, late-night supper clubs, art auctions and sophisticated company. He manages to charm her conservative parents, but her introduction into this new life threatens the one she had been making for herself. Mulligan is already receiving extravagant critical praise for her performance in this role.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic material involving sexual content, and for smoking)

The Box

(Warner Brothers) Cameron Diaz, James Marsden, Frank Langella, James Rebhorn. What would you do if someone came to your door with a mysterious wooden box that contained a large red button and offered you a million dollars to push the button? The catch is that if you push the button, a complete stranger will die before their time in response. For the financially strapped Lewis family, this is not just a hypothetical situation when a horribly disfigured man arrives on their stoop with just such a proposition. They quickly learn the price for making that kind of decision could mean far more terrifying consequences than they could ever imagine.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements, some violence and disturbing images)

The Fourth Kind

(Universal) Milla Jojovich, Elias Koteas, Will Patton, Corey Johnson. Ever since the 1960s the town of Nome, Alaska has had a disproportionate amount of disappearances among its general population, a trend that has never been explained. When a psychiatrist begins hypnotizing several traumatized patients to try and get at the root of what is distressing them, she videotapes the sessions. What happened next is all the more astonishing because it actually happened and the filmmakers here weave in footage from the actual hypnotherapy sessions with the recreated scenes here. My son thought this was the most disturbing trailer he’d ever seen. He might have something, there.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG-13 (for violent/disturbing images, some terror, thematic elements and brief sexuality)

The Men Who Stared at Goats

(Overture) George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Ewan McGregor, Kevin Spacey. A reporter looking for the kind of news story that will bring him fortune and glory instead finds Lyn Cassady, a broken down, scruffy man who claims to be part of an elite and shadowy military group that trains soldiers to use psychic powers to do, among other things, read minds, walk through solid walls and kill goats with a single thoughts. Now Cassady is off to find the program’s founder who has gone missing. Inspired by a non-fiction article in Esquire magazine, this marks the directorial debut of Oscar-nominated writer Grant Heslov.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: R (for language, some drug content and brief nudity)

Fall/Holiday Preview


Fall PreviewFall means back to school, the start of football season and new television programs on the networks. For the movie industry, it means the end of the summer blockbuster season and the beginning of releases seriously vying for Oscar gold. That doesn’t mean there won’t be its share of blockbusters; after all, James Cameron’s first movie since Titanic is bound to sell a whole lot of tickets, particularly when it’s as hyped as Avatar is. There is also a re-imagining of Sherlock Holmes and a new Disney full-length animated feature to keep the cash registers ringing.

September tends to be a dumping ground for movies that don’t quite fit into the Summer or Fall movie seasons, and with the exception of 9 and The Informant! probably don’t merit consideration in this feature; since we’re already into September we’re just going to skip the month altogether for the purposes of this preview and start with October (you can see previews for each week in September however on the blog and in the newsletter) and run through December.

There are always a few movies that open in Los Angeles and New York City for Oscar consideration but don’t get a general release until January or sometimes even February; those will be covered in our 2010 preview, scheduled for the end of December. As per our usual modus operandi, we will stick to wide-release movies scheduled to open in Orlando, along with a few high-profile limited release films that have a decent chance to show up either the Enzian or the Regal Winter Park. As always, these dates are very subject to change, and some may turn from general releases to limited markets. Things are very fluid when it comes to studio release schedules. In any case, check out what’s going to be on your list of must-sees this fall!

OCTOBER

Amelia_3

TOUCHDOWN

AMELIA

RELEASE DATE: October 23, 2009

STUDIO: Fox Searchlight

STARRING: Hilary Swank, Richard Gere, Ewan MacGregor, Mia Wasikowska, Christopher Eccleston, Joe Anderson

STORY: She was a small-town girl who just wanted to fly to exotic places around the world. She became the heroine of a nation for being the first woman to fly across the Atlantic by herself. She became the darling of society for her breezy, natural charm. She became a legend for her mysterious, tragic final flight. She is Amelia Earhart and this is her story.

PROSPECTS: In a very weak month of releases, this has the best chance of Oscar buzz and with the right kind of push might hit box office gold as well.

OBSTACLES: Going up against the popular Saw franchise is going to be a tough sell to general audiences, particularly younger audiences who may have less interest in the Amelia Earhart story than older viewers.

FACTOID: While director Mira Nair was born in India, she has spent most of her career making movies in the United States.

FIELD GOALS

SAW VI

RELEASE DATE: October 23, 2009

STUDIO: Lionsgate

STARRING: Costas Mandylor, Mark Ralston, Betsy Russell, Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Peter Outerbridge, Larissa Gomes

STORY: The studio has kept details of the movie close to the vest, but apparently the grand design behind Jigsaw’s handiwork is going to be revealed in this entry of the highly successful horror franchise.

PROSPECTS: The Saw franchise has been among the most successful in horror film history.  Despite the onscreen death of the main villain of the first movies, the franchise has shown no signs of slowing down and has become a fixture in the October line-up.

OBSTACLES: This is the sixth installment in the franchise and horror fans are notoriously fickle. It’s quite possible they will have grown tired of it.

FACTOID: Tanedra Howard won her role in the film on the “Scream Queens” reality series.

WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE

RELEASE DATE: October 16, 2009

STUDIO: Warner Brothers

STARRING: Catherine Keener, Mark Ruffalo, Max Records, Lauren Ambrose, James Gandolfini, Chris Cooper, Catherine O’Hara, Forrest Whitaker

STORY: The beloved book by Maurice Sendak is brought to life by director Spike Jonze. A young boy, misunderstood at home, finds a strange island populated by the Wild Things, a race of unpredictable creatures longing for a ruler. When they elect the young boy as their king, he finds that being a ruler is not all it’s cracked up to be.

PROSPECTS: Sendak’s book has delighted generations of kids, and given that the highly inventive Jonze is directing, this may have broad appeal with families as well as adult moviegoers.

OBSTACLES: Jonze can be a bit avant garde at times; general audiences may not warm to that.

FACTOID: The Wild Thing costumes were designed by the Jim Henson Company.

EXTRA POINT

A SERIOUS MAN

RELEASE DATE: October 2, 2009

STUDIO: Focus Films

STARRING: Michael Stuhlbarg, Fred Melamed, Richard Kind, Aaron Wolf, Sari Wagner, Jessica McManus, Adam Arkin

STORY: A Jewish physics professor is having a tough time in 1967. His wife is leaving him for a pompous colleague, his son is a discipline problem, his career is being threatened by an anonymous letter-writer, his daughter is filching money from his wallet to save for a nose job, and his attractive next-door neighbor sunbathes in the nude. He turns to three different rabbis to help him be a mensch – a serious man.

PROSPECTS: This is the latest from the Coen brothers, who have Fargo and No Country for Old Men on their resume.

OBSTACLES: The subject matter may not appeal widely to a non-Jewish audience. The trailer is, shall we say, a tad unconventional.

FACTOID: This is Stuhlbarg’s first lead role as a professional actor.

HAIL MARYS

October 2, 2009

THE INVENTION OF LYING (Warner Brothers) finds comedian Ricky Gervais writing, directing and starring in this comedy set in a world where people only tell the truth. Gervais’ character tells the first lie – and discovers that he can manipulate his alternate reality to his own reality. However, things quickly get out of hand as things will whenever you lie, kids. WHIP IT (Fox Searchlight) is also the directorial debut of someone better known in front of the camera, in this case actress Drew Barrymore. It’s a coming-of-age movie set in the world of the roller derby. ZOMBIELAND (Columbia) is a comedy in a George A. Romero world; one taken over by flesh-eating zombies, where hapless losers like Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg become the hope of humanity. Disney is also re-releasing TOY STORY/TOY STORY 2 (Disney/Pixar) in Disney 3-D for the first time, in anticipation of the May release of the long-awaited Toy Story 3.

October 9, 2009

COUPLES RETREAT (Universal) is a Vince Vaughn comedy about four Midwestern couples who go to a luxurious Tropical resort ostensibly for a vacation. When it turns out to be a couple’s therapy resort, all four are forced to face the problems in their relationship, whether they admit to it or not. MORE THAN A GAME (Lionsgate) follows five talented young basketball players from the Akron, Ohio area – including the great LeBron James – as their friendship is tested by the pressures brought on by a looming state high school championship game and the exploding popularity and notoriety of James. AN EDUCATION (Sony Classics) comes from writer/director Nick Hornby concerning the coming-of-age of a young girl in 1961 Britain. She is forced to choose between her long-held dream of going to Oxford or a glittering, sensual jet-set life with her thirtysomething boyfriend.

October 16, 2009

THE STEPFATHER (Screen Gems) is a remake of a 1987 thriller that featured “Lost” star Terry O’Quinn. Dylan Walsh takes his role as a new suitor for a widow whose teenaged son begins to suspect that his prospective stepfather has a far more sinister agenda. LAW ABIDING CITIZEN (Overture) stars Gerard Butler as an upstanding family man whose wife and daughter are brutally murdered. He goes on a rampage against the city fathers and legal system that let one of the murderers get off with a light sentence. It’s up to the prosecutor who initially worked his case and is now in the crosshairs of the grieving man. BLACK DYNAMITE (Apparition) is a spoof of blaxploitation crime dramas from the ‘70s. It was one of the big hits of the Sundance Film festival. It’s getting a limited release but may expand if the numbers warrant it.

October 23, 2009

ASTRO BOY (Summit) is a feature-length animated film starring the venerable Japanese robotic superhero who has been thrilling audiences all over the world for almost 50 years. Based on the popular young adult series of novels, CIRQUE DU FREAK: THE VAMPIRE’S ASSISTANT (Universal) is about a normal, bored teenager who is sucked into the world of freaks and monsters after being turned to a vampire by a traveling sideshow, promptly getting embroiled in a war between rival vampire clans. Sounds familiar, no? ANTICHRIST (IFC), opening in limited release, is the latest from maverick Danish director Lars van Trier, concerning a couple whose marriage has been brought to the brink by tragedy going to an isolated cabin in the woods to try and save it, but find something far more sinister instead. Finally, ONG BAK II: THE BEGINNING (Magnet) is the prequel to the astonishing Thai martial arts hit starring Tony Jaa, this time as a warrior fighting for justice in ancient Thailand.

October 28, 2009

MICHAEL JACKSON: THIS IS IT (Columbia) features rehearsal footage taken from April 2009 until the King of Pop’s untimely death this summer as he prepared for a series of concerts in London. This gives his fans a unique look at the creative process of the pop superstar as he perfects the music, dancing and spectacle that may well have heralded his return to the spotlight after years of legal issues. This documentary will only be out for a two-week limited run, so if you haven’t seen enough of Michael Jackson on “Entertainment Tonight,” Access: Hollywood” or the E! Network, here’s your chance.

October 30, 2009

YOUTH IN REVOLT (Dimension) stars Michael Cera in dual roles as a somewhat spineless twerp and as the confident ladies man he wants to become in a filmed version of a cult novel. THE BOONDOCK SAINTS II: ALL SAINTS DAY (Apparition) is the sequel to Troy Duffy’s cult hit with Duffy and much of the original cast returning in this limited release. The brothers MacManus return to Boston from Ireland after a priest is murdered to administer a little justice, Saint-style.

NOVEMBER

The_Twilight_Saga__New_Moon_3

TOUCHDOWN

THE TWILIGHT SAGA: NEW MOON

RELEASE DATE: November 20, 2009

STUDIO: Summit Entertainment

STARRING: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Dakota Fanning, Michael Sheen, Ashley Greene, Rachelle Lafevre, Billy Burke.

STORY: When Edward Cullen and his family leave Forks, Washington to protect Bella Swan from the dangers of their supernatural world, Bella is heartbroken, but finds solace in a budding new romance with childhood friend Jakob Black. She soon discovers that Jakob has secrets of his own, and Edward’s departure may not have been all that it seemed.

PROSPECTS: The first was a major box office smash last year, prompting mini-major Summit to immediately greenlight the next two installments in the series of young adult novels for release now and in the summer. Tweener girl hearts are already a-flutter over the prospects of the new movie, which promises more romance, more danger and more….just more.

OBSTACLES: A new director (Chris Weitz) is helming the sequel, and there may be some backlash to the highly successful franchise. Chances are, however, not enough to keep the freight train that is the Twilight Saga from roaring all the way to the bank.

FACTOID: Director Chris Weitz’ brother Paul is directing Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant (see above), also based on a best-selling young adult novel involving vampires.

FIELD GOALS

DISNEY’S A CHRISTMAS CAROL

RELEASE DATE: November 6, 2009

STUDIO: Disney (duh)

STARRING: Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Bob Hoskins, Robin Wright Penn, Cary Elwes, Michael J. Fox (voice).

STORY: Yes, it’s that Christmas Carol. The one in which a crabby old miser is visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve and is transformed. God bless us, every one.

PROSPECTS: Given Carrey’s track record with holiday movies and Disney’s mighty promotional machine, this has a good chance at box office gold, if not holiday classic-ness.

OBSTACLES: This is a bit of a leap of faith. While director Robert Zemeckis hit a home run using the motion capture system on The Polar Express, it didn’t do the box office it deserved. Its follow-up, Beowulf was less well-received either by critics or audiences. I’m not 100% convinced that audiences have warmed up completely to motion capture yet.

FACTOID: This is the first Disney film that Jim Carrey has been involved with.

NINE

RELEASE DATE: November 25, 2009

STUDIO: Weinstein

STARRING: Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Nicole Kidman, Dame Judy Dench, Kate Hudson, Stacey Ferguson, Sophia Loren.

STORY: Not the animated feature that opened on September 9 but rather the big screen version of the Tony-winning Broadway musical based on Federico Fellini’s masterpiece 8 ½. The story concerns a world-famous director and his relationships with his wife, his mother, the movie star that is his muse, his confidant/costume designer, a fashion journalist and a prostitute he knew in his youth.

PROSPECTS: Director Rob Marshall brought another Tony-award winning Broadway musical to the screen. You might have heard of it; Chicago. Given the success of Mamma Mia last summer, Broadway musicals are definitely in.

OBSTACLES: This is less obviously a slam-dunk than Mamma Mia was, but perhaps more so than Chicago so who knows? Day-Lewis is not known for his singing voice, and a movie based on a stage production that was itself based on a Fellini movie might be a bit of a hard sell for mainstream audiences.

FACTOID: Javier Bardem was originally cast in the role eventually played by Day-Lewis; both men won Oscars in 2007. Catherine Zeta-Jones was initially set to play the role that Kidman wound up playing; they both won Oscars in 2002.

EXTRA POINT

THE ROAD

RELEASE DATE: November 25, 2009

STUDIO: Weinstein

STARRING: Viggo Mortensen, Robert Duvall, Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Garret Dillahunt.

STORY: Based on the best-selling Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, a man and his son embark on a journey through a dangerous, post-Apocalyptic world trying to survive by any means necessary.

PROSPECTS: Mortensen is an actor who has mass appeal as well as indie cred, so he walks easily in both worlds. Australian director John Hillcoat last did the critically acclaimed The Proposition, so he knows a thing or two about desolate landscapes.  

OBSTACLES: This movie has been delayed for more than a year, rarely a good sign. The dense narrative was considered unfilmable by some. Post-apocalyptic road movies haven’t traditionally fared well, box office-wise (remember The Postman?), although if it’s a good one, people might buy tickets.

FACTOID: In order to simulate a post-apocalyptic world, filming was done in Hurricane Katrina-ravaged sections of New Orleans, an abandoned stretch of the Pennsylvania Turnpike and in empty buildings in Pittsburgh.

HAIL MARYS

November 6, 2009

THE BOX (Warner Brothers) features Cameron Diaz and James Marsden as a couple in serious financial difficulties who are approached by a disfigured man who hands them a wooden box who will give them (insert Dr. Evil impression here) one MEEEELLION dollars if they press the red button within. The caveat is that if they do, a total stranger will die. THE FOURTH KIND (Universal) stars Milla Jovovich as a psychotherapist in Nome, Alaska interviewing several patients who have disturbingly similar experiences revolving around alien abduction. Based on actual events, with archival video footage integrated into the overall movie, my son pronounced the trailer as the most disturbing he’s ever seen. THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS (Overture) stars George Clooney as a man who claims to be part of an elite but shadowy military unit that possesses psychic powers, including the ability to pass through solid walls, read the thoughts of the enemy and kill goats with the power of their mind. Inspired by a non-fiction article on U.S. military attempts to harness psychic abilities, the movie takes a reporter through a war between rival psychic units – and yes, it’s a dark comedy.

November 13, 2009

2012 (Columbia) is how director Roland Emmerich tops The Day After Tomorrow. Here, the auteur of Independence Day and 10,000 B.C. John Cusack stars in this examination of the end of the world as predicted by the Mayan calendar and several prominent scientists – including Albert Einstein. If you like special effects-stuffed disaster epics, your ship has definitely come in. PIRATE RADIO (Focus) takes place in an era when the BBC played only two hours of rock and roll per week and British pop music was exploding in the wake of the Beatles. Most Brits got their rock fix from pirate radio stations, broadcasting from international waters off the coast of the UK. An outstanding ensemble cast takes on the man, man. WOMEN IN TROUBLE (Screen Media) is an ensemble drama about ten disparate women all dealing with various crises in their lives. While this is listed as a general release, chances are this won’t be getting the number of screens that 2012 will. THE YOUNG VICTORIA (Apparition) is the story of the romance between the young queen of England and Prince Albert (who is not in a can, as it turns out) in this limited release.

November 20, 2009

PRECIOUS: BASED ON THE NOVEL PUSH BY SAPPHIRE (Lionsgate) may well have the worst title of any movie this year, but was the talk of Sundance this year, nominated for awards in every major category. This is the story of an African-American girl named Precious, who has had two children by her own father and although possesses a great intelligence and serenity, has fallen through the cracks of the system. It’s a harrowing look at a life in the pits of despair but it’s a movie that has hope and self-betterment at its core. Arriving in limited release, THE MESSENGER (Oscilloscope) stars Ben Foster as a soldier who is given the worst assignment in the Army with a partner he can’t stand. Complications arise when he falls in love with the widow of a soldier. THE BLIND SIDE (Warner Brothers) is the amazing true story of football star Michael Oher, who was a homeless young African-American boy taken in by a well-to-do white family in Texas and blossoms into an All-American. Directed by John Lee Hancock, who first dipped his toe in the true sports underdog waters with The Rookie. PLANET 51 (Tri-Star) is a science fiction animated feature about the invasion of a strange, malevolent creature on a peaceful but xenophobic planet. That strange, malevolent creature happens to be a human – there goes the neighborhood. Seeing limited release is RED CLIFF (Magnet), John Woo’s first Chinese movie since 1982. The acclaimed action director depicts the epic Battle of Red Cliff, in which a force of 50,000 triumphed over an army one million soldiers strong. The battle determined the course of ancient China nearly two thousand years ago.

November 25, 2009

UP IN THE AIR (Paramount) is the latest from director Jason Reitman (Juno, Thank You for Smoking) and stars George Clooney as a corporate consultant who specializes in firing people in a humane manner. He literally lives in airports, hotels, and planes but is faced with the horrifying process of living (gulp!) at home just as he approaches a major frequent flier milestone. THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX (Fox Searchlight) is an animated feature starring the voice of…George Clooney (sheez, the guy gets around) and is the brainchild of the late author Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) and quirkmeister director Wes (The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou). In it, a clever fox tries to outwit three dim-bulb farmers out to do away with Mr. Fox and his family. NINJA ASSASSIN (Warner Brothers) is about an assassin trained by the nearly mythic Ozunu clan who has trained assassins for generations. When one of their number leaves the clan after the brutal execution of his friend, he is tracked down by merciless and relentless killers throughout the streets of Europe and must use all of his skills to stay alive. OLD DOGS (Disney) stars John Travolta and Robin Williams as a pair of old friends whose lives are turned upside down when one of them discovers that he is the father of twins and is forced to care for them on the eve of the biggest business deal of their lives.

November 27, 2009

BROOKLYN’S FINEST (Overture) opens in limited release the day after Thanksgiving and is three interweaving stories, each involving a police officer in Brooklyn.

DECEMBER

Avatar_7

TOUCHDOWN

AVATAR

RELEASE DATE: December 18, 2009

STUDIO: 20th Century Fox

STARRING: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez, Giovanni Ribisi, CCH Pounder, Wes Studi, Stephen Lang.

STORY: A former Marine finds himself in the middle of hostilities between humans and alien races on a planet full of exotic life forms. He takes the role of an Avatar, a human mind in an alien body. However, as he learns more about the alien race he is observing, he begins to see his loyalties towards his own species waver.

PROSPECTS: This is James Cameron’s first non-documentary movie since 1997 when he did a little movie called Titanic. The CGI and 3D technology are said to be game-changers in the movie industry, completely revolutionizing the way big special effects movies will be done. There has been serious buzz about this movie for almost a decade and fanboys the world over have been salivating for it for some time.

OBSTACLES: The first trailer for the movie was less than overwhelming, although given the expectations surrounding the movie, it might be very difficult to live up to them. Cameron has also been busy with his oceanographic pursuits rather than filmmaking – even given that his last movie was the largest-grossing movie of all time, a decade is a long time to be out of the game by Hollywood standards.

FACTOID: Cameron originally slated this to be his follow-up to Titanic back in 1999, but special effects technology at the time drove the budget up to prohibitive levels. It was only after seeing Gollum in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers that Cameron felt technology had progressed to the point that made making the film feasible.

FIELD GOALS

SHERLOCK HOLMES

RELEASE DATE: December 25, 2009

STUDIO: Warner Brothers

STARRING: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong, Eddie Marsan, Kelly Reilly, James Fox, Hans Matheson

STORY: The Arthur Conan Doyle character receives a new makeover as he takes on a new nemesis threatening England with utter ruin.

PROSPECTS: Downey has been on a critical and commercial hot streak with Iron Man and Tropic Thunder under his belt. The trailers have received a lot of positive buzz.

OBSTACLES: Sherlock Holmes as an action hero? Purists might cringe but modern audiences may be more accepting of a makeover than in years past. Also Downey’s last film, The Soloist, performed below expectations.

FACTOID: The set for Sherlock Holmes’ residence was also used in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix as the home of Sirius Black.

INVICTUS

RELEASE DATE: December 11, 2009

STUDIO: Warner Brothers

STARRING: Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon, Scott Eastwood, Langley Kirkwood, Robert Hobbs, Bonnie Henna, Grant Roberts

STORY: Based on a true story about the early days of Nelson Mandela’s presidency, when he struggled at healing the racial divides of apartheid and used the national rugby team’s unlikely run for the world championship as a means of uniting his country.

PROSPECTS: Clint Eastwood directed this so it is guaranteed Oscar scrutiny based on that alone. Damon is extremely marketable and Freeman one of the most respected actors of his generation.

OBSTACLES: There has been almost zero publicity on this movie; it may wind up flying too far below the radar. Also the cast is largely unknown besides the two leads and movies about apartheid haven’t fared well in recent times.

FACTOID: It’s based on the John Carlin-penned book “Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation.”

EXTRA POINT

THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS

RELEASE DATE: December 25, 2009

STUDIO: Sony Classics

STARRING: Heath Ledger, Christopher Plummer, Tom Waits, Lily Cole, Vern Troyer, Johnny Depp, Colin Ferrell, Jude Law

STORY: Dr. Parnassus makes a bet with the devil for immortality, and then gives it up for true love. Now, fighting to save the soul of his daughter, he offers her hand in marriage for anyone who can help him defeat the devil.

PROSPECTS: This has been getting quite a bit of buzz on the internet. It reunites director Terry Gilliam with his Brazil and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen screenwriter Charles McKeown.

OBSTACLES: Gilliam has always been a bit of an acquired taste and while his movies are exceedingly imaginative, he hasn’t achieved commercial success since 1981’s Time Bandits.

FACTOID: This is Heath Ledger’s final performance, completed shortly before his death.

HAIL MARYS

December 4, 2009

ARMORED (Screen Gems) is about a seemingly foolproof plan by armored car guards to rob their own company going awry, causing the loyalties of the men involved to be severely tested. BROTHERS (Lionsgate), from director Jim Sheridan, has the ne’er-do-well brother of a decorated Marine moving in to assume his role in the family when he is listed as killed in action. But when those reports turn out erroneous, the return of the hero leads to tension, suspicion and confrontation. EVERYBODY’S FINE (Miramax) stars Robert DeNiro as a widower who discovers that his relationship with his adult children had been through his late wife, and decides to visit his children during the holidays to establish the bond he had been missing. This is currently scheduled for a limited run.

December 18, 2009

DID YOU HEAR ABOUT THE MORGANS? (Columbia) stars Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker as a bickering couple on the verge of divorce. They witness a mob killing and are forced to go into the FBI Witness Relocation Program together when they can’t stand each other. To make matters worse, the certified city-dwellers are sent to a small town in the Rockies and put a new spin on the term “fish out of water.” 

December 25, 2009

ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: THE SQUEAKUEL (20th Century Fox) returns Jason Lee as David along with his lovable CGI rodent friends, who now take on a female trio of Chipmunks, the Chipettes. Those of you with small children will probably be forced to see this one. Our condolences. IT’S COMPLICATED (Universal) is the latest comedy from director Nancy Meyers. This time, a divorced Alec Baldwin tries to woo a new sweetheart – his ex-wife Meryl Streep, who may not be completely against the idea.  

That’s it. It’s a pretty lean season, due mostly to the writer’s strike of a couple of years ago forcing a drastic rearrangement of the movie schedule. However, we can look forward to a lot of promising new arrivals in 2010.