Tuesday, November 29, 2011

At the Movies – December 2011 – Part 2: Hollywood Films

Romance and Rom-Coms:

New Year’s Eve (Garry Marshall) – Romantic Comedy Ensemble – Dec 9
Summary: The film is an amalgamation of intertwining stories involving singles and couples over the course of New Year’s Eve (much the same at Valentine’s Day). Filmmakers: Director Garry Marshall is best known for his romantic comedies like Pretty Woman and Overboard (probably my favorite of his films) and his comedy The Princess Diaries, but now seems to be relegated to making these celebrity-packed meaningless glorified holiday movies. He is working with previous collaborators: composer John Debney and cinematographer Charles Minsky from Valentine’s Day and production designer Mark Friedberg from Runaway Bride (though he has since done brilliant work on films like The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Darjeeling Limited and Synecdoche, New York). Cast: The ensemble cast is stuffed with famous faces (see the whole list here), highlighted by Robert De Niro, Hilary Swank, Jessica Biel, Abigail Breslin, and John Lithgow. Expectations: I am not sure what gave rise to these films – was it He’s Just Not That Into You or The Holiday or something else?  Whatever it was, these movies feel like expensive Hallmark cards – capturing the commercial sentiment but void of any real emotion or meaning. They are essentially the big Hollywood mindless action movie equivalent for romance –which is fine, as they are somewhat entertaining and sometimes we do not need or even want entertainment that is also engaging and meaningful (but just do not expect it to be good). While Valentine’s Day focused on LA, this takes place in New York – next we will have President’s Day in DC or some other over commercialized holiday set in Las Vegas. Anyway, there are some good actors collecting paychecks in this and Garry Marshall has probably checked out at this point, but it will probably be somewhat entertaining. Trailer: Here.

Serious Films:

The Iron Lady (Phyllida Lloyd) – Biography – Dec 16
Summary: The film is a biography of Margaret Thatcher, a former Prime Minister of the U.K. with the focus of the price she paid for power. Filmmakers: Director Phyllida Lloyd made the adaptation of Mamma Mia! as her first feature, this is her second (and we can only hope it is much better, because let us be honest, that film is terrible). She is working with great composers Clint Mansell (Black Swan) and Thomas Newman (WALL-E), cinematographer Elliot Davis (Out of Sight) and production Simon Elliot (North & South). Cast: Meryl Streep stars, and Anthony Head, Jim Broadbent, Richard E. Grant, Roger Allam, Nick Dunning, and Hugh Ross provide supporting work. Expectations: Of course Streep is being mentioned in the Best Actress Oscar buzz, and is also the main reason this is even anticipated or relevant to Awards Season. I am suspect of it because of director Lloyd (as I was not a fan at all of Mamma Mia!, and I like musicals; it was just a poorly made film). However, Streep and my love of biographies will still see this make my Netflix queue. Trailer: Here.

Summary: The film is about a nine-year-old boy who searches New York for the lock that matches a mysterious key left by his father when he was killed in the September 11th attacks. Filmmakers: Stephen Daldry is one of the best dramatic directors (he made Billy Elliot, The Hours and The Reader). He is working with an excellent group including producer Scott Rudin (pretty much every great film to come out lately), cinematographer Chris Menges (The Mission), composer Alexandre Desplat (the hardest working man in cinema), and production designer K.K. Barrett (Lost in Translation). Cast: Thomas Horn stars, Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock co-star and John Goodman, Max von Sydow, Viola Davis, James Gandolfini, and Jeffrey Wright feature in support. Expectations: With Daldry directing, Rudin producing and actors like Hanks and Bullock, there is a very good chance this will be in the Best Picture conversation come February 2012 – in fact, it is probably the front runner along with War Horse. Von Sydow also has a ton of positive buzz surrounding is supporting performance. Daldry is a wonderful filmmaker, and therefor this is a film worth seeing. Trailer: Here.

War Horse (Steven Spielberg) – War Drama – Dec 25
Summary: Set during WWI, the film is about the friendship a young man, Albert, has with his horse. However, when his horse is sold to the military and sent to the front lines, Albert goes to France to rescue his friend, despite being too young to enlist. Filmmakers: Director Steven Spielberg brings his “A-Team” to the picture with composer John Williams (Jurassic Park), cinematographer Janusz Kaminski (Saving Private Ryan), editor Michael Kahn (Schindler’s List), and production designer Rick Carter (Munich). Cast: While the cast does not feature any A-List stars, it is quite good with Tom Hoddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch, Emily Watson, David Thewlis (side note, see his film Naked), Peter Mullan, Eddie Marsan, Jeremy Irvine (the star of this film), David Kross, and Niels Arestrup. Expectations: Many critics are projecting this to be among the Best Picture nominees at the 2012 Oscars, but based on the trailers I just do not see it. Sure, the filmmakers and cast are both very good, but the story seems a bit suspect – it is a film about a boy, his horse and WWI. And sure, this will be a tearjerker, but how much more powerful would this be if the horse were his brother or a human? That said, will I still see it? Yes. Too much quality behind the camera to dismiss based on the trailer. Trailer: Here. Review.


Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (Guy Ritchie) – Action Adventure – Dec 16
Summary: Following up on where Sherlock Holmes left off, Holmes and Watson are on the trail of their most dangerous adversary Professor Moriarty. Filmmakers: Director Guy Ritchie returns, as do composer Hans Zimmer, cinematographer Philippe Rousselot and production designer Sarah Greenwood. Cast: Also returning are stars Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law. Supporting players Kelly Reilly and Eddie Marsan and Rachel McAdams are back too. New to the film are Noomi Rapace, Jared Harris and Stephen Fry. Expectations: The first film was a lot of fun, and this looks to be in the same style as if has all the key ingredients returning. However, most alluring (at least for me) is the prospect of a fantastic villain performance from Harris playing one of the great villains. Since this is a sequel, expect more action and explosions (certainly the trailer is living up to this), but hopefully story and characters remain the focus. Trailer: Here. Review.

The Adventures of Tintin (Steven Spielberg) – Animation Adventure – Dec 21
Summary: Likely the first part in a series (we will see how this one does and go from there), the film is about a young (Belgian) detective Tintin who sets off on a treasure hunt to find a famous sunken ship. He is helped by Captain Haddock, whose ancestor commanded the ship. Filmmakers: This has a dream-team, so to speak, of filmmaking talent behind it. Steven Spielberg (Raider of the Lost Ark) is directing, Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings) is producing, Edgar Wright (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) and Joe Cornish (Attack the Block) wrote the script, John Williams (Star Wars) is scoring, and Janusz Kaminski (Saving Private Ryan) is the D.P. Hard to beat that. Cast: The film stars the voice work of Jamie Bell and Andy Serkis, and features the supporting voice work of Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg, Cary Elwes, Toby Jones, Nick Frost, Mackenzie Crook, Daniel Mays, and Gad Elmaleh. Expectations: This has opened oversees to strong but not universal praise. The animation looks decent, but not amazing. However, as a film primarily targeted towards children, it will probably be a success. I will likely see it in theatres due to its grand scope and scale, but if I just end up renting it, that would be fine too. Really, with the cast and crew that it has, it should be amazing – too bad it fell just a bit short, but still good. Trailer: Here. Review.

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (Brad Bird) – Action – Dec 23 [Dec 16 IMAX only]
Summary: The fourth installment in the franchise finds Ethan Hunt on the run after the IMF is shut down due to their implication in the bombing of the Kremlin. Hunt and his team must go rogue to clear the organization’s name. Filmmakers: The film marks the live-action debut of animation great Brad Bird (he has only made the films Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, and worked on The Simpsons). He has a very good crew with producer (and director of MI 3) J.J. Abrams, composer Michael Giacchino (Super 8), cinematographer Robert Elswit (The Town), and production designer James Bissell (300). Cast: Returning to the series are star Tom Cruise and supporters Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames. While not officially listed as a cast member, it would make sense for Michelle Monaghan to have a cameo (she plays Ethan Hunt’s wife after all). New to the cast are a number of fantastic additions: Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton, Josh Holloway, Lea Seydoux, Tom Wilkinson, Michael Nyqvist, and Anil Kapoor. Expectations: As a big fan of MI 3, I am very interested in this film – yes, I would have rather Abrams directed, but at the same time I am enthusiastic to see how Bird approached the material (for all I know he may have made an even better film). The teaser trailer and full trailer are both quite good and action packed. Another reason to see this is that the prologue for The Dark Knight Rises apparently will play before the movie (much like how The Dark Knight’s prologue was a special feature on the Batman Begins Blu-ray release). Nothing against Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, but I think this will be the best action film of the month (and among the five best of the year). Trailer: Here. Review.


The Sitter (David Gordon Green) – Comedy – Dec 9
Summary: The film is about a college student who is tricked into babysitting the kids next door. It should be an easy job, but when he takes the kids into the city so he can meet up with a girl he likes things get out of hand. Filmmakers: Director David Gordon Green is giving comedy yet another crack – he has had success with Pineapple Express and Eastbound & Down, but his latest, Your Highness, was not well received (though, I thought it was funny). He is working with frequent collaborators composers Jeff McIlwain and David Wingo, cinematographer Tim Orr and production designer Richard Wright. Cast: The film has a good comedic cast with Jonah Hill starring (and executively producing) and supporting work from Sam Rockwell, Ari Graynor, Method Man, J.B. Smoove, Max Records, Alex Wolff, Landry Bender, and Kevin Hernandez. Expectations: The Sitter looks basically like an R-rated Adventures in Babysitting (which by the way is a lot of fun and worth checking out), but that is not a bad thing. Advanced screenings have resulted in positive critical buzz and it does look funny. Hill is a good fit to take on a comedy of this type (though, narratively it sort of resembles Get Him to the Greek). I think it will make for good alternative programming against the Oscar hopefuls and blockbusters. Trailer: Here. Review.


The Darkest Hour (Chris Gorak) – Action Sci-Fi Thriller – Dec 25
Summary: Aliens invade Earth, kill almost everyone, but in Russia a few young adults struggle to survive. Filmmakers: Chris Gorak is back with his second feature (his first was the thriller Right at Your Door). He has an action thriller specialty crew with producer Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted), composer Tyler Bates (Sucker Punch), cinematographer Scott Kevan (The Losers), and production designer Valeri Viktorov (Night Watch). Cast: It stars Emile Hirsch, Rachel Taylor, Olivia Thirlby, and Max Minghella. Expectations: While conceptually the film sounds cool, the stuff I have seen thus far has been less than compelling – I think this is directly due to the aliens being invisible, maybe. The cast is decent and the director should make an okay thriller, but this is probably only for fans of sci-fi thrillers and sci-fi horror. Trailer: Here.

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