Holiday Preview

Will Hollywood Give Us a Good Christmas?

by Danny Minton

    I can’t think of a year when I wasn’t absolutely thrilled by what was coming to the local cineplex over the holidays.  For years Hollywood has saved up its best offerings for a Thanksgiving or Christmas release and while they do this to make it fresh in voters’ minds, it also leads to great times spent in a darkened theater with family and friends while you wind the year down. 

    For the first time in my life, I am less than thrilled at what is on the November and December calendar.  2013 hasn’t been the best year for movies, although there have been some truly great ones.  If I were to bet on it, I would put my money down that we’ve already seen our big Oscar contenders for this year.  With such terrific movies as 12 Years A Slave, Gravity and Captain Phillips, its hard to imagine any of the upcoming pictures will be able to surprise us in the awards season. 

    But I am hopeful.  Every year there are films that sneak up and bat me upside the head.  I’ve no clue what film has that potential this holiday, but here are the ten films that I am most looking forward to seeing in the coming weeks.

10) Anchorman 2. The Legend Continues.  Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd, Steve Carell and company are back as Ron Burgundy attempts to make a name for himself on cable news.  The early indications are that this could be a really good comedy filled with many more raunchy one-liners for us to copycat for years to come. 

9) August Osage County.  Sure to garner tons of acting accolades, Tracy Letts’s Tony-winning Broadway play is getting the big screen treatment with an all-star cast including Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor and many others.  This could easily be the next Steel Magnolias. 

8) The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.  Part two in Peter Jackson’s new Hobbit trilogy looks to be yet another grand Tolkien adventure.  While not as rich and sophisticated a story as Lord of the Rings, Jackson’s first third proved worth the buzz and part two looks even better. 

7) The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.  This screenplay has seen many names attached through the years, including Steven Spielberg, but finally found a home with director and star Ben Stiller.  I really don’t have a clue why its such a big deal, but i’m anxious to find out.  If the long-time buzz holds true, this could be the surprise smash hit of the holiday. 

6) Walking with the Dinosaurs 3D.  I’m not sure how original this big-budgeted CG dino tale will be but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited to see it.  Not necessarily for me but for my three-year-old who knows more about dinosaurs than anyone I’ve ever met.  His desire to see it, and he’s been talking about it for months, has me jonesing to take him. 

5) Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.  This has been an amazing year for films about the black experience.  With such amazing films as 12 Years a Slave, Fruitvale Station, The Butler and Captain Phillips I think we’ve all learned and grown a lot.  While this new film about Nelson Mandela is sure to bring controversy, many, including myself, are looking forward to see this long awaited account of the legendary figure’s life. 

4) Inside Llewyn Davis.  While I have no idea what this film is about, and don’t want to know until I see it, I’ve learned one thing over the last two decades: true the Coen Brothers.  They always deliver a great film, and yes I even liked Intolerable Cruelty. 

3) Her.  Another filmmaker I’ve learned to trust is Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich).  The story follows Joaquin Phoenix as a man who develops an unusual relationship with the voice on his new computer.  I just love weird and wonderful films and I hope this fills the void. 

2) American Hustle.  Combine writer/director David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook) with Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams, Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner and Robert De Niro and its hard not imagine a huge hit.  I can almost guarantee this will be a much talked-about pic with huge twists and turns that you’ll hate when your friends accidentally give them away. 

1) Saving Mr. Banks.  As a life-long Disney fan and even a former employee,  I have long been waiting to see one of my heroes come to life.  In this new sure to be sappy but sweet comedy, Tom Hanks plays Walt Disney as he tries to convince Marry Poppins writer P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) to allow him to bring her story to life on the big screen.  Of all the films on the horizon, this is the only one that has me a little giddy. 

New in Home Entertainment – November 19, 2013

New in Home Entertainment

November 19, 2013

The World’s End
Rated R for pervasive language including sexual references
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

From writer/director Edgar Wright and stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, whose great teamwork brought us Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, comes yet another terrific end of the world comedy.  This time around Pegg and Frost, as well as some other wonderful British actors, attempt to recreate an epic pub crawl from their youths and are bound and determined to get to the 12th pub, The World’s End, even in light of an alien invasion serving as a blockade.  While not quite as good as their other two movies, this is still an incredibly entertaining comedy with huge laughs coming off of a sophisticated sense of humor.  While the characters aren’t as likable as you’d expect, you still manage to cheer for them to win out in the end.  A-

We’re the Millers
Rated R for crude sexual content, pervasive language, drug material and brief graphic nudity
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

When a down-on-his-luck drug dealer (Jason Sudeikis) is forced to go to Mexico and pick up an RV full of weed and bring it back to the states, he hires a stripper (Jennifer Aniston) and two teens to pose as his happy family in order to keep his cover safe and get across the border.  I heard from so many people that this was one of the funniest comedies of the year, but honestly, I just wasn’t as entertained.  Don’t get me wrong – its funny at times and also occasionally clever, but many of the jokes are overly contrived and some of the jokes are flat out not funny.  B-

Rated PG for some mild action and rude humor
Available on DVD, Blu-ray, and Blu-ray 3D

What was supposed to be a straight-to-DVD animated film from Disney ended up being released in theaters to make a quick buck before stealing more money from audiences right before Christmas.  No one said Disney wasn’t smart if not a little cruel in this case.  Planes is basically Cars in plane form except Pixar didn’t participate.  While it’s probably meant for toddlers with weak attention spans, it failed my three-year-old’s test as he was begging to watch the Lion King 30 minutes in.  Everything is lame here including the writing, directing and voice acting.  The only thing of any value is the animation which manages to make the film only partly watchable.  D+

2 Guns
Rated R for violence throughout, language and brief nudity
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Denzel Washington, an undercover DEA agent, is teamed up with Mark Wahlberg, an undercover naval officer, who are both after the other until they find out they might need to collaborate in order to survive a setup.  The script is good enough with an interesting plot and 2 very likable actors.  Unfortunately, the amount of violence is excessive and while a lot has cooled down since the theatrical release, it’s definitely not going to be a film for everyone.  Personally, my attitude toward this type of violence has changed and I am thankful that Hollywood has decided to shift away from these sorts of ultra-bloody movies over the last several months.  B-

Thor: The Dark World

Thor: The Dark World
Starring Christ Hemsworth, Natalie Portman and Tom Hiddleston
Directed by Alan Taylor
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, and some suggestive content

    Set two years after the events of the last Thor film, upon learning that his lost love, Dr. Jane Foster (Portman) could be in trouble, Thor (Hemsworth) travels to Earth again to rescue her.  Upon bringing her back to Asgard, his home is attacked by the leader of the dark elves who is after Foster for an ancient evil power she has stumbled upon. 

    It’s hard for me to complain about this film too much since it feels like all of my complaints of Thor’s first outing were corrected here. 

    First I thought the first Thor was just a giant commercial for The Avengers movie.  It felt like it had little identity of its own and served as a prequel for a film yet unreleased.  This new Thor feels more epic and individual.  SHIELD and The Avengers are nowhere to be found (aside for a hilarious cameo by Captain America).

    Secondly I thought the directing and overall production was weak.  Here, relative newcomer Alan Taylor does a fine job directing the Norse super hero and Asgard has a stunning look that should satisfy his fans.  I was also deeply disappointed by the music of the first film which was written by its director’s close friend Patrick Doyle.  Doyle’s scores are typically spectacular but Thor was disjointed and so overly percussive that it distracted rather than elevated the film.  Here the very young but talented Brian Tyler gives a dramatically beautiful score worthy of such a film. 

    Where both films come up short is in the writing.  The dialog and humor are fine here, but ask me what the plot is really about and I could hardly tell you.  I know hardcore Thor fans are well familiar with the nine realms, but most normal folks are not and I was confused when I had time to stop and think about it.  Then again, they kept the action so non-stop that you really didn’t have to think it through so this complaint didn’t ruin it for me.

    And while I was satisfied that this wasn’t a setup film for the Avengers sequel, I was also plagued by the sudden lack of SHIELD or any other heroes.  This seemed to be a serious and potentially world-ending event and only Thor was there to save the day.  Hmmm. 

    So while not a hugely impressive feature, Thor: The Dark World is a vast improvement over the first film and provides a fun couple of mindless hours of entertainment.  B

New in Home Entertainment – November 12, 2013

New in Home Entertainment

November 12, 2013

Man of Steel
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, and for some language
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D

300 director Zack Snyder’s epic reimagining of the Superman story still stands as one of my favorite films of 2013.  Henry Cavill is fantastic as the greatest of all super heroes and villain General Zod is masterfully portrayed by Michael Shannon.  And with great performances by Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Amy Adams and a very talented supporting cast, Man of Steel turns out to be not only a visionary production, but one with acting muscle as well.  So its a tad violent for the younger kids and the mass destruction of Earth is underplayed, but for teens on up this is a remarkable film.  Now I can’t wait for my toddler to grow up so I can watch this with him and have his little mind blown.  A

Dexter: The Final Season
Rated TV-MA
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Some shows like Breaking Bad know how to end a series and some shows, like Dexter here, haven’t a clue.  In our favorite TV vigilante’s last season, he faces a new killer with close ties to the new criminal psychologist working with the Miami police department.  Unfortunately there is a lot of been there/done that played out here and the drama seems forced to say the least.  And with a finale that shows how not to end a series, my advice is to pretend Dexter is already over and if you are catching up on Netflix, let his universe end with John Lithgow’s exit.  C-

New in Home Entertainment – November 5, 2013

New in Home Entertainment

November 5, 2013

White House Down
Rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action and violence including intense gunfire and explosions, some language and a brief sexual image
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

The second of the 2013 White House under attack films has our president under the gun of rogue agents and rednecks rather than the North Koreans but the results are just as silly.  Just like Antoine Fuqua’s Olympus Has Fallen, the White House is attacked and its up to someone not on his security team to rescue him.  While both films are over the top, White House Down differs in its tone as it chooses to be more sarcastic towards our government and very much less believable.  The script is incredibly weak with dialog worthy of a film by Roland Emmerich, director of 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow.  That being said, the action, while much of it doesn’t make sense, is packed and there are enough gunfights and explosions to keep you occupied through the lame storyline.  C-

Clear History
Rated TV-MA
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Larry David and Mad Men’s Jon Hamm lead an all-star cast in this very typical Larry David comedy.  Here David, a marketing executive from Hamm’s car company, is justifiably fired right before the launch of a vehicle that changes the world.  Years later David seeks his revenge on Hamm for making him look like a fool.  Of course he is a fool and that doesn’t stop.  He is practically the same character he always is as he lacks the filter that prevents most people from saying whatever comes to mind.  While it probably could have been released theatrically, HBO took it straight to TV but that doesn’t mean it’s any less hilarious.  The actors look like they had a blast making the project and I had a blast watching it.  A-

Mad Men: Season 6
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

We’ve already seen Don Draper (Jon Hamm) at his worst and here in season 6 he attempts to put his life back together again.  With a new moral compass that occasionally falls apart, his work and home life begin to suffer from his past and present sins.  As we gear up for what should be a jaw-dropping series finale, hopefully like AMC’s other hit show Breaking Bad, season 6 allows a last long look at what Draper has accomplished before it all might be taken away.  A-