Naughty and Nice:
Jeff Boam’s Holiday Movie Preview
The one and only time that I saw Les Miserables on Broadway struck quite a chord. And yes, a good deal of this indelibility stemmed from experiencing the beautiful music staged on the amazing revolving sets that portrayed a strife-ridden country under siege. There proved to be another reason that date stayed with me, however. It was Saturday, Sept. 1, and I recall laying eyes on the World Trade Center shortly after the performance … for the last time, as it turned out. Ten days later, the twin towers — along with 2,752 souls — tragically faded from the New York City skyline.
Americans traditionally give thanks during the holiday season and this particular year will find me pausing for reflection a little more than normal, perhaps. Hollywood has finally taken Les Miserables the musical from Broadway to cinemas and I, for one, can’t wait to see how it translates to the big screen, chords and all.
Les Miserables is just one of the films chronicled below in ec and dc’s annual Holiday Movie Preview. But you won’t just have to take my word for it. As always, some generous local celebrities piped in with some informed opinions. As you will see by the caliber of the flicks, the long awards season that culminates in the Oscar race (films must have opened by Dec. 31 to be eligible for the Academy Awards) is officially underway.
Silver Linings Playbook (Nov. 23)
Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence
Following a breakthrough role in the Las Vegas bachelor party-gone-bad comedy The Hangover, Bradley Cooper has seen his Hollywood star rise even higher after a phenomenal run at the box office (He’s Just Not That Into You, Valentine’s Day, The A-Team). The back-to-back success of Limitless and the Bangkok bachelor party-gone-bad sequel The Hangover Part II, however, only solidified his star power. So, what does he do next in an effort to shine even brighter? Get himself voted People’s Sexiest Man Alive and film a lead part in the Tijuana stag party-gone-bad sequel The Hangover Part III (due: Summer 2013). First, however, moviegoers can catch him in Silver Linings Playbook from director David O. Russell (The Fighter) — a flick already generating a lot of awards buzz. In this R-rated dramedy, Cooper plays Pat Solatano (Cooper), who tries to get back on his feet after losing everything — his house, his job, and his wife— and spending eight months in a state institution, but finds that things get really complicated when he meets a mysterious girl named Tiffany (Lawrence). The Plus: The players. As if Cooper wasn’t enough of a draw, Lawrence — hot off of her Oscar-nominated role in Winter’s Bone and the double box office whammy of X-Men: First Class and The Hunger Games — co-headlines a cast that also includes Robert De Niro (Little Fockers), Chris Tucker (Rush Hour 3), Jacki Weaver (Animal Kingdom), and Julia Stiles (The Omen) under the Oscar-nominated direction of Russell (Three Kings). The Minus: The odds. Notice that Cooper and Lawrence feathered their Hollywood beds with fun blockbusters and not weighty talky dramas. Perhaps, audiences won’t flock to the latter.
The other line: “The Sexiest Man Alive and one the most talented young actress in Hollywood get together with one of our better working directors to deal with comedic romance in the era of psychotherapy and broken people? Sounds like the date film of the holiday season!” — J.W. Colwell, WBRE’s PA Live Movie Guy/co-host, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Nerdy” on the Libsyn podcast app on Facebook
“They released a romantic comedy on Black Friday? Don’t they know that the target demo for this movie will have already spent 13 straight hours shopping by prime box office time? Someone’s getting fired for that decision.” – Dave DiRienzo, Rock 107 Morning Show co-host
“It has potential. But hopefully this isn’t just another ‘I’m Robert De Niro and I’m here to collect a paycheck’ movie. Because there have been a lot of those lately.” — Mike Evans, ec and dc Sights and Sounds columnist
“I thought it was a football movie until I saw the previews. That said, it looks great. I am waiting in line to see it already.” — Prospector, Rock 107 Morning Show co-host
Rise of the Guardians (Nov. 23)
Voices of Alec Baldwin, Hugh Jackman
Pixar isn’t the only game in town when it comes to blockbuster computer animation. With the gi-normous, back-to-back-to-back-to-back success of How to Train Your Dragon, Megamind, Kung Fu Panda 2, and Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted, DreamWorks Animation capped off an already impressive roster that also includes the blockbuster Shrek franchise (add Shrek spinoff Puss in Boots to that list above). Next up is the caveman family adventure The Croods and sports comedy Turbo…after Rise of the Guardians, that is. In this as-yet-unrated animated family flick, the immortal Guardians — Santa Claus (Baldwin), Easter Bunny (Jackman), the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher), and Jack Frost (Chris Pine) — must join forces for the first time to protect the hopes, beliefs and imagination of children all over the world when an evil boogeyman known as Pitch (Jude Law) lays down the gauntlet to take over the world. The Plus: The players. From writing to celebrity voices, this animation division always assembles an impressive roster of talent. This flick boasts the A-list pipes of Baldwin (Rock of Ages, NBC’s 30 Rock), Jackman (X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Real Steel), Fisher (Rango, Bachelorette), Pine (Star Trek, This Means War), and Law (Contagion, Anna Karenina). The Minus: The competition. In terms of box office and critical acclaim, DreamWorks still has a long way to go to beat Pixar, which gave moviegoers Toy Story 3, the highest grossing animated movie of all time and an Oscar winner.
The other line: “The vocal talents of Alec Baldwin as a Russian Throwback Santa with dual swords and tattoos that say NAUGHTY and NICE working with Hugh Jackman as a hyped Australian Easter Bunny trying to save the world’s children all based on a beloved children’s book series? Where do I sign up?” — Colwell
“They need to figure out a way to make a character out of ‘You Can Be Anything You Want To When You Grow Up,’ ‘Mommy And Daddy Love Both You And Your Brother Exactly The Same,’ and ‘Eat It, It’s Good For You’ if they want to include every lie that parents tell their children.” — DiRienzo
“Every time I go to see a movie, I always get up during one of the trailers and hit the men’s room — just to make sure I won’t have to go during the movie. I always pick a trailer to a movie I know I absolutely don’t want to see. Lately, that trailer has been either Red Dawn or this one. Sorry — I just don’t care.” — Evans
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (12/14)
Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan
Peter Jacksons’s epic three-film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic The Lord of the Rings books became, well, epic, raking in more than a billion dollars at the world box office and garnering a Best Picture Oscar for the third film, Return of the King. In the wake of LOTR, writer/director Jackson chose to direct a remake of 1933 classic King Kong and an adaptation of Alice Sebold’s Lovely Bones, but only consented to wearing a producer’s hat for the inevitable adaptation of Tolkein’s The Hobbit … initially, at least. When Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth) dropped out of directing, however, Jackson thankfully returned to the director’s chair. In the PG-13-rated An Unexpected Journey, Bilbo Baggins (Freeman) gets swept into an epic quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor from the fearsome dragon Smaug. The Plus: The players. Here, Jackson directs Freeman (BBC’s Sherlock), Richard Armitage (Captain America: The First Avenger), and Benedict Cumberbatch (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) along with returning LOTR actors Elijah Wood (Celeste & Jesse Forever), Orlando Bloom (The Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End), Ian McKellan (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring), Christopher Lee (Dark Shadows), Cate Blanchett (Hanna), Hugo Weaving (Cloud Atlas), Andy Serkis (Rise of the Planet of the Apes), and Ian Holm (Ratatouille).
The Minus: The gamble. This adaptation was recently expanded from one to three films (The Desolation of Smaug will follow in 2013 and There and Back Again will follow in 2014). While LOTR was based on three books, The Hobbit is based on just one book with some ancillary Tolkien materials. Read: Jackson, who is releasing the film in a variety of theatrical formats (unleaded, 3D, high-rate 3D), might be pushing his luck with filmgoers.
The other line: “The Hobbit may have been the first novel I’ve ever read. I recall writing my weekly spelling sentence assignments in third grade about Tolkein’s book to my teacher’s excitement. My parents raised me on the stories of Middle Earth, so I can’t express how excited I am for Peter Jackson to return to the franchise he did so well by the first time around. I’m skeptical about the extension of the story over the course of three films, but I will be first in line for all of them.” — Kylos Brannon, Assistant Professor, American University; Producer, Stage Fright web series for NBC4, Washington, D.C.
“Peter Jackson returns to Middle Earth for the first of three planned Hobbit films! My nerd heart says yes, but the fact that this went from one rumored Hobbit film to three rumored Hobbit films makes my nerd brain nervous!” — Colwell
“Hopefully this is the last one of these movies, otherwise they’ll have to name the next one CSI: Mordor.” — DiRienzo
“You know Randal’s rant in Clerks 2 about The Lord of the Rings trilogy? He’s right. Pass!” —Evans
“I was looking at this wizard hat to wear to the premiere. Did you say something? P.S. The Hobbit as a trilogy virtually guarantees this first installment will be 85 percent exposition and set up for the following films. Because Peter Jackson apparently can’t afford to buy New Zealand … yet.” — Sam Falbo, Managing Producer, Scranton Public Theatre
“If I wanted to know anything about The Hobbit, I would listen to Led Zeppelin songs.” — Prospector
Jack Reacher (12/21)
Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike
The 21st century didn’t start out so well for the biggest movie star in the world. After Tom Cruise’s headline-grabbing departure (ahem, firing) from Paramount in 2006 (he and producing partner Paula Wagner had been producing movies at the studio for 14 years), the actor began his tenure as the new head of United Artists. After Lions for Lambs and Valkyrie failed to ignite many critical or commercial sparks at the box office, however, the actor reinvented himself and won back moviegoers’ love … in a hilarious cameo as a paunchy, bald, foul-mouthed studioexec in Tropic Thunder. Now that Cruise and Paramount put aside their differences with the gi-normous success of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, the movie star is spreading his wings and taking aim at realizing Lee Child’s immensely popular literary character, Jack Reacher.
In this PG-13-rated crime thriller adapted from Lee’s bestselling novel One Shot, a homicide investigation into a trained military sniper who shot five random victims dregs up a former military policeman (Cruise) with a knack for seeking out justice. The Plus: The players. Cruise can still be box office gold if Protocol’s 3/4 of a billion dollar worldwide take has anything to say about it. Just in case, Pike (Wrath of the Titans), Richard Jenkins (The Cabin in the Woods), and Robert Duvall (Get Low) are doing back-up under the direction of Christopher McQuarrie (The Way of the Gun). The Minus: The gamble. With more than 17 novels, the phenomenally popular Jack Reacher has ruled bestseller lists … as a 6’ 5” former Army major with a 50-inch chest and weight that ranges between 210 and 250 pounds. Call it a stretch, but moviegoers — and, frankly, readers — might have a hard time envisioning the 5’ 7” Cruise as this particular action hero.
The other line: “Tom Cruise as an MP? Please. He’d never make minimum height requirements for the U.S. Army.” — DiRienzo
“Unless Cruise is agent Ethan Hunt I am not interested in seeing him act.” — Prospector
On the Road (12/21)
Garret Hedlund, Sam Riley
In the 55 years since the publication of Jack Kerouac’s American literature masterwork, there have been many attempts to adapt On the Road for the big screen, but none really hit the, ahem, Road running. Soon after its publication, the author reached out to Marlon Brando via letter, suggesting the actor play main character Sal to the author playing the second lead, Dean.
Ever since Francis Ford Coppola acquired the rights in 1980, however, the only director to really gain steam with the project was Joel Schumacher in the late ’90s … until now, that is. In this R-rated adaptation of Kerouac’s classic novel, aspiring writer Sal Paradise (Riley) travels cross-country with 20-year-old ex-jailbird Dean Moriarty (Hedlund) and his beautiful wife Marylou (Kristen Stewart) in a search for meaning in post-World War II America. The Plus: The material. This is the Bible of the Beat Generation and the team behind The Motorcycle Diaries — director Walter Salles and screenwriter Jose Rivera — are the men responsible for finally bringing it to the big screen. A cast that includes Hedlund (Tron: Legacy), Riley (Brighton Rock), Stewart (The Twilight Saga), Kirsten Dunst (Bachelorette), and Viggo Mortenson (The Road) can only aid this long-gestating project. The Minus: The expectation. The spontaneous jazz-infused prose of On the Road was long thought inadaptable, even by Kerouac himself. Perhaps, there’s a reason why it’s this American classic taken 55 years to hit cinemas.
The other line: “Jack Kerouac’s long thought to be unfilmmable novel comes to the big screen with Kristin Stewart — easily the least liked Actress on the planet aside from Lindsay Lohan. What could possibly go wrong?” — Colwell
“I’m confused by the description. It says “…his beautiful wife Marylou” will be played by Kristen Stewart. Are they doing some special CGI work for her or something?” — DiRienzo
“Oh, a movie with Kristen Stewart in it and it’s not part of the Twilight franchise. Trust me: She is box office poison outside of that bloodsucking crap.” — Prospector
This is 40 (12/21)
Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann
With former T.V. staples Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and 21 Jump Street striking it big on the big screen, moviegoers are left to ponder the film prospects of their other favorite programs … like, say, NBC’s critically acclaimed but little watched Freaks and Geeks? When executive producer Judd Apatow launched the ’80s high school dramedy on NBC back in 2000, he did not have the back-to-back successes of 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up under his belt yet. He did, however, help to launch more than a few careers including those of Linda Cardellini (NBC’s ER), Jason Segel (The Muppets), James Franco (Rise of the Planet of the Apes), Seth Rogen (The Green Hornet), and Leslie Mann (ParaNorman), his wife and the star of his current comedy, This is 40. In this R-rated comedy spun off from Knocked Up, moviegoers get caught up on the married-with-children lives of Paul (Rudd) and Debbie (Mann) as they fearfully approach the big Four Oh. The Plus: The players. Judd Apatow, who also produced blockbuster comedies Superbad and Bridesmaids, directs a cast that includes Rudd (Wanderlust), Mann (The Change-Up), Segel (The Five-Year Engagement), Megan Fox (Friends with Kids), and Albert Brooks (Drive). The Minus: The odds. Apatow’s Funny People was not a huge success with moviegoers or critics despite having Adam Sandler as its star. Staging a sorta, kinda sequel to Knocked Up without original stars Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl might put This is 40 in that category.
The other line: “Twenty bucks says they smoke weed in at least one scene.” — DiRienzo
“Looks funny and Albert Brooks as the father-in-law in an Apatow film? Comedy gold.” — Evans
“Finally an R-rated movie. I think this looks great, but since it’s Judd Apatow, I’m betting they could cut 20 minutes from this film.” — Prospector
Zero Dark Thirty (12/21)
Joel Edgerton, Jessica Chastain
Prior to 2009, the flicks that director Kathryn Bigelow was most often associated with were 1991’s bank robbery and surfing drama Point Break and 1995’s trippy sci-fi take Strange Days. Then came The Hurt Locker. At the 82nd Annual Academy Awards, the film won 6 Oscars including Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay (for Mark Boal), and Best Director, which made Bigelow the first woman to ever win this award … like ever. Now comes her follow-up, Zero Dark Thirty. In this as-yet-unrated thriller based on real events, an elite team of black ops intelligence and military operatives (Edgerton, Chastain, Jason Clarke, Mark Strong, Edgar Ramirez) zero in on a common goal: to find and eliminate Osama bin Laden. The Plus: The players. The Oscar-winning team behind The Hurt Locker is realizing a story based on real events. What’s there not to love come Oscar time? Oh, you want more?! Well the cast includes Chastain — hot off of turns in The Help and The Tree of Life — as well as Edgerton (Warrior), Clarke (Lawless), Strong (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), and Ramirez (Wrath of the Titans). Beat that. The Minus: The odds. Awards aside, The Hurt Locker only netted $15 million domestically, which doesn’t bode well for this film’s box office chances.
The other line: “USA! USA!” — DiRienzo
“I liked The Hurt Locker, but my favorite part was when it beat Avatar for the Best Picture Oscar a couple of years ago. In other words, I didn’t love it. This one looks good, but I’m not exactly pumped for it.” — Evans
“One question: Is Gandolfini going to play Leon Panetta more Tony Soprano and less DC-policy wonk? I hope so. And Paulie Walnuts as Joe Biden!” — Falbo
“So, it’s Hurt Locker 2…” — Prospector
Django Unchained (12/25)
Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz
In emulating the schlocky drive-in double features from the ’70s, indie mavericks Quentin Tarantino (Jackie Brown) and Robert Rodriguez (Sin City) put together a Grindhouse two-fer to die for … only nobody came. Though Tarantino’s entry Death Proof was eventually given some plaudits by critics after a longer cut was released on DVD, the movie’s financial stall was seen as the first chink in this auteur’s armor (both Kill Bill chapters had netted healthy returns for Miramax). With the box office success and awards (Waltz, Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor) afforded Inglourious Basterds, however, Q found himself back on top. In his follow-up, this R-rated revisionist western, the director presents the story of Django (Foxx), a slave whose brutal history with his former owners lands him face-to-face with German-born bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Waltz), man who can help him to rescue his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from a sadistic plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio). The Plus: The players. Tarantino gave film audiences Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, for Chrissakes, so his Spaghetti Western throwback deserves John Q. Filmgoer’s full attention. Also, having an A-list cast that includes Foxx (Mr. and Mrs. Smith), Waltz (The Green Hornet), DiCaprio (J. Edgar), Washington (ABC’s Scandal), and Samuel L. Jackson (The Avengers) on board certainly help matters. The Minus: The competition. Tarantino opened Basterds in the dog days of August against little competition. Django, however, faces a full slate of star-studded holiday blockbusters.
The other line: “Quentin Tarantino returns for his eighth foray into the pop culture nerve of Hollywood. 20 years after he jolted Hollywood with his debut feature Reservoir Dogs, he has assembled what may be the greatest cast in the history of Spaghetti Westerns. Yes! Now! Please!” — Colwell
“So, is Tarantino’s career going to be just re-imagining how things could have turned out in history and trying to right wrongs? So he’s a movie-making Dr. Sam Beckett from Quantum Leap?”— DiRienzo
“I’ve been in line since the 4th of July.” — Evans
“Tarantino + spaghetti western = heart-stopping awesomeness!” — Falbo
“Quentin, will you bring me an Inglorious Basterds masterpiece or a From Dusk Till Dawn stinkeroo?” — Prospector
Les Miserables (12/25)
Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe
Australian-born Hugh Jackman is best known for his portrayal of Adamantium-clawed mutant Wolverine in the X-Men movie series (X-Men, X2: X-Men United, X-Men: The Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine), but he’s truly an actor who easily transitions from stage (Oklahoma! on Broadway) to big screen (Real Steel) to small screen (host, 81st Annual Academy Awards) with ease. True, moviegoers are already lining up for his Wolverine sequel, the fact that he has won a Tony award (2003, The Boy from Oz) speaks well for his involvement in this adaptation of Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil’s long-running Broadway musical Les Miserables, itself an adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic novel. In this as-yet-unrated musical set in 19th-century France, an ex-prisoner named Jean Valjean (Jackman) seeks redemption with a ruthless policeman (Crowe) in dogged pursuit. The Plus: The material. Les Miserables is an international stage sensation that’s been seen by 60 million people and adapted into 21 different languages (read: there’s definitely an audience). Here, Oscar-winner Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) directs a cast that includes Jackman (Real Steel), Crowe (The Man with the Iron Fists), Anne Hathaway (The Dark Knight Rises), Amanda Seyfried (In Time), Eddie Redmayne (My Week with Marilyn), Helena Bonham Carter (Dark Shadows), Geoffrey Rush (Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides), and Sacha Baron Cohen (The Dictator). The Minus: The odds. For the box office success of every star-studded Chicago and Mamma Mia!, there’s a Nine or Sparkle waiting in the wings.
The other line: “One of the most popular and depressing musicals of all time comes to theaters Christmas Day just in time for all the Oscar Buzz it can handle and all the tears that usually go along with big family holidays. Even cooler is that all the singing was actually shot on film as the scenes played out instead of voice tracked over, director Tom Hooper can put himself into the Oscar race if it all works.” — Colwell
“Never saw the musical, don’t know the tunes or even the basic story. But the cast and director knock me out! And I get to go in completely cold. So yeah, I’m really looking forward to this one.” — Evans
“I’ll confess to loving the Broadway show. And seeing Jackman and Crowe opposite each other has real potential. But Anne Hathaway, really? I’m not wild about Hollywood-types messing with songs I like. For example, Scarlett Johanson’s cover of Tom Waits’ ‘Anywhere I Lay My Head.’ When I heard it, I knew we could never be together.” — Falbo
“Finally this fantastic Musical hits the Big Screen with an All Star cast. Can you say Les Fantastique?” — Marko Marcinko, Music for Models musician; educator
“I am quite certain I will be less miserable if I don’t see this movie!” — Prospector
Please also keep your peepers peeled for: In Hyde Park on Hudson (12/7), an R-rated drama based on real events, Bill Murray stars as President FDR, who’s having an affair with his distant cousin Margaret Stuckley (Laura Linney) on a weekend in 1939 when the King and Queen of the United Kingdom are visiting upstate New York; in the R-rated comedy Lay the Favorite (12/7), a Las Vegas cocktail waitress (Rebecca Hall) falls in with Dink (Bruce Willis), a sports gambler who swoons for her as she proves to be something of a gambling prodigy … even though he’s already married to Tulip (Catherine Zeta-Jones); in the PG-13-rated sports drama Playing for Keeps (12/7), a former sports star who’s fallen on hard times (Gerald Butler) starts coaching his son’s soccer team in an attempt to get his life together … oh, and maybe falls in love with a player’s mom (Jessica Biel); in the as-yet-unrated Cirque de Soleil: Worlds Away, moviegoers get gifted with an original story featuring performances by Cirque du Soleil on the big screen ; in the as-yet-unrated comedy The Guilt Trip (12/14), an inventor (Seth Rogen) and his mom (Barbra Streisand) hit the road together so he can sell his latest invention; in the PG-rated Monsters, Inc. 3D, Sulley & Mike (voices of Billy Crystal and John Goodman) return to Monstropolis … in three dimensions, no less; Sopranos creator David Chase brings filmgoers Not Fade Away, an R-rated drama set in suburban New Jersey the 1960s in which a group of friends form a rock band and tries to make it big … oh, and Tony Soprano, er, James Gandolfini has a part in it too; in The Impossible (12/21), a PG-13-rated drama based on real events surrounding the 2004 tsunami disaster, a family (Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor) vacationing in Thailand find themselves separated and fighting to find one another amidst one of the worst natural catastrophes of our time; in the PG-rated comedy Parental Guidance (12/28), problems arise when grandparents Artie and Diane’s (Billy Crystal, Bette Midler) old-school babysitting methods clash with their grandkids’ 21st-century behaviors; in the PG-13-rated drama Promised Land, director Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting, Milk) brings filmgoers the story of a salesman for a natural gas company (Matt Damon) experiences life-changing events after arriving in a small town where his corporation wants to tap into the available resources; and, in the as-yet-unrated dramedy Quartet (12/28), Dustin Hoffman makes his directorial debut with the story of a home for retired opera singers (Maggie Smith, Billy Connolly, Michael Gambon) set to stage their annual concert to celebrate Verdi’s birthday, only the event gets disrupted by the arrival of Jean, an eternal diva and the former wife of one of the residents.