It’s the end of the year, the traditional time to bank your billions and release the prestige pictures. The six titles selected for this section supposedly represent the cream of the cinematic crop, the very fabric of what the annual awards season is all about. There’s no denying the pedigree amongst the product. Charlie Wilson’s War (28 December) offers Oscar-bait heavyweight Tom Hanks, the always interesting Mike Nichols, and an intriguing true story centering on a Texas Congressman whose covert dealings in Afghanistan leave a lasting, negative impression in the region. It could be a terrifically timely indictment of the US’ overall Middle East policy, or a decent drama sullied by political prostylitizing. We’ll have to wait until almost New Years to find out.
Likewise, Stephen Sondheim’s musical Sweeney Todd (21 December) is getting the Tim Burton treatment, and the advanced word has shifted from sensational to scandalous. Apparently, Warner Brothers wants to tone down the bloodshed, preserving a PG-13 rating to guarantee it’s availability to the tween demographic (who love their song and dance spectacles, don’t you know). On the other hand, the choice of Johnny Depp will guarantee a lot of attention, and if the ditzy dark eccentric director with a penchant for the peculiar can make this work—especially with his lady love Helena Bonham Carter playing the all important Mrs. Lovett—there may be lots of statuettes come kudos time.
Another film with a lot of possibilities is Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest, There Will Be Blood (26 December). Based on Oil by Upton Sinclair and featuring Daniel Day Lewis in a Giant-like take on prospecting and prosperity, the man responsible for such brilliant, multilayered works such as Boogie Nights and Magnolia may have a substantial milestone on his hands. Known to get lost in his roles, Lewis looks the part of a turn of the century wildcatter, and with this director’s attention to detail, the results suggest a full-blown cinematic spectacle.
Gaining a similar sense of anticipation, but from a decidedly different artistic perspective, is Chris Weitz’s take on Phillip Pullman’s novel His Dark Materials: Northern Lights. Renamed The Golden Compass (7 December) we have yet another film mining Lord of the Rings fantasy fodder in hopes of hitting another phenomenal fiscal fortune. Originally geared toward adolescents, word has been building that this may actually be a worthy match-up to the rest of the seasonal standouts. Granted, it’s hard to see the CGI polar bear in the trailer and not think that he’s somehow escaped from the rest of his Coca-Cola drinking pack, but with supposedly solid turns from Nicole Kidman (yes, again!), Daniel Craig, Sam Elliot, and newcomer Dakota Blue Richards, this could be December’s potential sleeper.
|There Will Be Blood||The Golden Compass|
Last but not least are a couple of films whose box office value are apparent from the minute you read their IMDb write-up. In collaboration with merriment man of the hour Judd Apatow, Laurence Kasdan’s son, Jake, delivers a satire on all those ‘live fast and die young’ country/ soul/ rock ‘n’ roll musician biopics with Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (21 December). Starring John C. Reilly and Jenna Fischer among a cast of very familiar faces, this cornball comedy plans on tracing the career path of the fictional musician from his beginnings in the ‘50s through his comeback decades later. The trailer is tempting, especially with all its acknowledged nods to bands and idols past. With Apatow’s current cache among crowds, this could be one of the year’s solid surprises.
There’s no shock, however, surrounding I Am Legend (14 December), except the fact that this long-delayed project finally saw the light of day. Originally, Ridley Scott and Arnold Schwarzenegger were attached, among many, many others, and the budgetary concerns about adapting Richard Matheson’s novel kept the various screenplays in turnaround. Now, Will Smith rescues the dormant sci-fi thriller, except many in the fanbase are flush with the liberties taken with the source. Francis Lawrence, who did a decent job with the comic book effort Constantine, has replaced bigger name directors. Here’s hoping he has a solid handle on the whole post-apocalyptic/ last man on Earth ideal.
|Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story||I Am Legend|
The potential garbage being delivering come Christmas time is limited, at least at this point in the cinematic schedule. But make no mistake, the two titles discussed here could take out a small city with their accompanying stench of failure. The most obvious odiferous offering is Alvin and the Chipmunks (14 December), a slapdash CGI update of the famous novelty act from the ‘50s and ‘60s. Director Tim Hill, who tested our patience with such slop as Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties and Max Keeble’s Big Move, is calling the shots here, and Jason Lee steps in for the late, great David Seville as the singing rodent’s human counterpart. Yet neither individual is the most disturbing element, here. A recent teaser trailer has Alvin swallowing a piece of Theodore’s feces—yes, his feces—for the sake of a stupid, scatological joke. Gives new definition to the term ‘gag’.
Joining them in the junk department is Alien vs. Predator: Requiem (28 December). Hoping to clear out the cloud of crud created by Paul W.S. Anderson with the uninspired and insipid original (which has its defenders), the incredibly unnecessary sequel finds the title battle coming to modern Earth, of all places. The recently released “Red Band” trailers (meaning a preview that contains the gore and gratuity a “Green Band” version avoids) has gotten the fanboys nice and chuffed. This doesn’t mean the movie will be any good. It merely suggests a solid Friday of box office returns, followed by a massive weekend drop off.
|Alvin and the Chipmunks||Alien vs. Predator: Requiem|
Another sequel steps into the questionable category, more for how uneven the original film was vs. any potential pleasure this follow-up may contain. Still, National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets (21 December) has a very intriguing premise. Nicolas Cage and company plan on stealing the title tome, a book given to each President that contains all the answers to the nation’s greatest mysteries, including concepts like Area 51, who shot JFK, and the Lincoln assassination. While things were plenty pop-corny the first time around, here’s hoping the set-up plus past experience forges something fresh and exciting.
One should also keep their fingers crossed for George Clooney’s latest directorial effort, the intriguing screwball comedy Leatherheads (7 December). Using the Golden era Hollywood genre and football circa the 1920s as a backdrop, it sounds like standard Coen Brothers territory. Proving proficient in both the technical and aesthetic elements necessary to helm a successful period piece (Good Night and Good Luck was set in the ‘50s, and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind did a great deal of era hopping), here’s hoping the script lives up to the plain sight possibilities.
Speaking of intriguing ideas, the storyline for Jason Reitman’s follow-up to the well received Thank You for Smoking has been successfully kept under wraps during the film’s entire summer shoot. Even now, Juno‘s (14 December) tale of an unplanned pregnancy and the title character’s bizarre decision regarding its ‘viability’ provides an intriguing, if horribly incomplete, picture. What we do know is that the script was written by stripper turned blogger Diablo Cody (gotta love that name), which sounds like something out of a Woody Allen movie.
Speaking of the spiraling American artist, his latest English opus, Cassandra’s Dream (14 December) arrives with little fanfare or fan care. This one time giant of ‘70s cinema, a man who appeared to be ready to rightfully claim a place alongside Kubrick and Scorsese and his idol Bergman, is not doing the globe trotting, water treading thing, cranking out incomplete entertainments for an ever dwindling demo. Even with his high power A-list casts (this time including Colin Farrell, Ewan McGregor, and Tom Wilkinson), here’s betting on more late in life navel gazing than a real return to form.
And then there is The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep (25 December). Some are describing the family film with plenty of computer-generated antics as a combination of Pete’s Dragon and another Disney artifact, the Dino dropping ‘80s effort Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend. It centers on a small boy who finds an egg near Loch Ness. Bet you can’t guess what ends up hatching? Yep, Nessie has an offspring and its prehistoric hijinx all around. Nothing caps the Yuletide season better than a CGI sea monster scampering around a Scottish cottage, looking dopey and adorable.
|Cassandra’s Dream||The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep|
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