Thursday, December 23, 2010

Movie Openings: Week of December 24th, 2010 - Merry Christmas!

Here in Massachusetts, people have been wondering when the white stuff would arrive. We walked around in anticipation for weeks, waiting for a sign, any sign. First we had rain, and lots of it too. Then when the flakes did come, they were just in the form of passing flurries. Nothing stuck around long enough to coat the trees or grass. Then, dramatically, just days before Christmas, we had snow! Not a lot of it but enough to have a white Christmas.

Just by coincidence, Christmas this year falls on the weekend and what better time to spend the holidays than at the movies. Last week, "Tron: Legacy", as I predicted, made quite a splash at the box-office despite so-so reviews. It earned over $43 million on its opening weekend, with a quarter of that amount coming from its IMAX showings. The movie's 3-D showings also helped to boost its numbers by quite a bit. The Natalie Portman psychological thriller "Black Swan" continues to impress despite the fact that it is still in limited release mode (that should change soon). It has already raked in a total of $15 million over three weekends (on much, much fewer screens than "Tron: Legacy"). This number may sound pretty insignificant but consider this fact: the budget for "Tron: Legacy" and "Black Swan" stand at approximately $300 million and $17 million respectively. Now you see my point? Christmastime should see a rise in the number of people heading to the cinemas and all movies should get a boost, including the following new movies opening this weekend:



The biggest draw this weekend should be the Coen brothers' redo of True Grit, the 1969 Western best remembered not for its great storytelling but for earning John Wayne the only Oscar win of his illustrious career. With Jeff Bridges taking over Wayne's lead role of US Marshall Rooster Cogburn, the mighty brothers Coen, Ethan and Joel, have crafted a film that frankly, helps to redefine what a real Western should be. This is less a remake of the 1969 film than it is a new adaptation of the Charles Portis novel that both movies are based on. True to the Coen's reputation, this "True Grit" is graphically violent, uncompromising in its character portrayal and full of their trademark dark humor--just the way I like my movies (with Fargo and The Big Lebowski being my favorite Coens movies by far). If there is one movie you should watch this weekend, it is this one. It has been universally lauded by most critics and has received an astonishing 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes--a rare feat indeed. Here is the synopsis:

"Fourteen-year-old Mattie Ross's (Hailee Steinfeld) father has been shot in cold blood by the coward Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), and she is determined to bring him to justice. Enlisting the help of a trigger-happy, drunken U.S. Marshal, Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), she sets out with him -- over his objections -- to hunt down Chaney. Her father's blood demands that she pursue the criminal into Indian territory and find him before a Texas Ranger named LeBoeuf (Matt Damon) catches him and brings him back to Texas for the murder of another man. "


Remember Sofia Coppola? You know, the daughter of Francis Ford, the director of The Godfather movies? Yes, back in 2003, she was the flavor of the month, a hot, young and up and coming director with a great eye for moviemaking (given her lineage, who would have guessed?). That year, Coppola was nominated for Best Picture and Best Director Oscars for her film Lost in Translation but didn't win. Then she kind of disappeared for a few years, only surfacing in 2006 to direct the less-than-stellar retelling of the ill-fated French queen, Marie Antoinette. Fast-forward to 2010 and Sofia is back again, this time writing and directing a father-daughter relationship drama simply titled, "Somewhere." It stars Stephen Dorff and Elle Fanning (yes, Dakota's sister) and somewhat like Lost in Translation, is quite understated and nuanced, with broader meanings that might only be gleamed from careful viewing. It is now running at a pretty good 77% rating on RT. Here is the synopsis:

"From Academy Award-winning writer/director Sofia Coppola ("Lost in Translation," "The Virgin Suicides," "Marie Antoinette"), "Somewhere" is a witty, moving, and empathetic look into the orbit of actor Johnny Marco (played by Stephen Dorff). You have probably seen him in the tabloids; Johnny is living at the legendary Chateau Marmont hotel in Hollywood. He has a Ferrari to drive around in, and a constant stream of girls and pills to stay in with. Comfortably numbed, Johnny drifts along. Then, his 11-year-old daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning) from his failed marriage arrives unexpectedly at the Chateau. Their encounters encourage Johnny to face up to where he is in life and confront the question that we all must: which path in life will you take?"


Will Ferrell attempted to make a contemporary take on Land of the Lost and we all know how bad that one turned out. Well, good old Jack Black is now trying his hand at the same thing and you guessed it, it doesn't look so hot as well. Jack is back but not in a good way. Jonathan Swift must be turning in his grave by the way director Rob Letterman had treated his centuries-old classic tale. Modern special effects and 3-D technology does not a good film make. Like most family-oriented films, "Gulliver's Travels" find it hard to find a good balance between child-friendly fart jokes and more adult jokes, flunking out on more than one occasion. It is currently running at a poor 28% rating on RT. Here is the synopsis:

"In a contemporary re–imagining of the classic tale, Jack Black stars as Gulliver, a big–talking mailroom clerk who, after he's mistakenly assigned a travel piece on the Bermuda Triangle, suddenly finds himself a giant among men when he washes ashore on the hidden island of Lilliput, home to a population of very tiny people. At first enslaved by the diminutive and industrious Liliputians, and later declared their hero, Gulliver comes to learn that it’s how big you are on the inside that counts. "

Before you read the following, please be warned that it may result in some uncontrollable snickering. OK, here we go: Those crazy Fockers! I tell you, what would those Fockers come up with next. In the continuing saga of the Fockers, Gaylord (Ben Stiller) and Pam (Teri Polo) are back again, this time with two little Fockers in tow. I must admit that I enjoyed the first two Focker movies, Meet the Parents and its sequel, Meet the Fockers. While the latest one, "Little Fockers" may come with some name recognition (really?), the Fockers may finally be reaching the end of the line. Even the addition of two cute little Fockers and the return of Papa (Dustin Hoffman) and Mama (Barbra Streisand) Focker may not save this film. "Little Fockers" is only rated a paltry 10% on RT. It is probably better to wait for the Blu-ray and rent it then. Here is the synopsis:

"The test of wills between Jack Byrnes (Robert De Niro) and Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) escalates to new heights of comedy in the third installment of the blockbuster series -- "Little Fockers." Laura Dern, Jessica Alba and Harvey Keitel join the returning all-star cast for a new chapter of the worldwide hit franchise.

It has taken 10 years, two little Fockers with wife Pam (Polo) and countless hurdles for Greg to finally get "in" with his tightly wound father-in-law, Jack. After the cash-strapped dad takes a job moonlighting for a drug company, however, Jack's suspicions about his favorite male nurse come roaring back. When Greg and Pam's entire clan -- including Pam's lovelorn ex, Kevin (Owen Wilson) -- descends for the twins' birthday party, Greg must prove to the skeptical Jack that he's fully capable as the man of the house. But with all the misunderstandings, spying and covert missions, will Greg pass Jack's final test and become the family's next patriarch... or will the circle of trust be broken for good?"



Gwyneth Paltrow singing country music? Who knew? "Country Strong" is a country music-centric story of showbusiness and fame and all of the bad influences that come with it. It stars Paltrow, country music star Tim McGraw, Garrett Hedlund (last seen throwing glowing discs on "Tron: Legacy") and Leighton Meester (TV's Gossip Girl). "Country Strong" is only scoring a poor 22% on RT. Here is the rather brief synopsis:

"Soon after a rising young singer-songwriter (Hedlund) gets involved with a fallen, emotionally unstable country star (Paltrow), the pair embarks on a career resurrection tour helmed by her husband/manager (McGraw) and featuring a beauty-queen-turned-singer (Meester). Between concerts, romantic entanglements and old demons threaten to derail them all."


Finally, from Sony Pictures Classic comes a French animated film that has most critics raving about its return to classic non-3-D, non-CGI animation process. Simply titled "The Illusionist," it reminds me so much of another charming French animated film, The Triplets of Belleville (both films have the same director, Sylvain Chomet). This film is based on a previously unproduced semi-autobiographical script from the late French director and noted comedian, Jacques Tati (he was the legendary Monsieur Hulot of the classic film, M. Hulot's Holiday, which in turn inspired Rowan Atkinson to make Mr. Bean's Holiday). "The Illusionist" has garnered a very good 89% rating on RT. If you get the chance, you should check this one out. Here is the synopsis:

"The Illusionist is one of a dying breed of stage entertainers. With emerging rock stars stealing his thunder in the late 1950s, he is forced to accept increasingly obscure assignments in fringe theatres, at garden parties and in bars and cafés. Then, while performing in a village pub off the west coast of Scotland, he encounters Alice, an innocent young girl, who will change his life forever. Watching his performance for the excited villagers who are celebrating the arrival of electricity on their remote island, Alice is awestruck by his show and believes his tricks are real magic. Though they don‟t speak the same language, the two lonely strangers quickly bond through small kindnesses. Fascinated by The Illusionist, Alice stows away on his departing ship and follows him to Edinburgh. There, they quickly fall into a father - daughter relationship, with Alice keeping their home at a boarding house for vaudevillians, while he goes to work in a small local theatre. Enchanted by her enthusiasm for his act, The Illusionist rewards Alice with increasingly lavish gifts he has 'conjured' into existence. Desperate not to disappoint her, he cannot bring himself to reveal that magic does not exist and that he‟s driving himself to ruin working all night jobs to buy her gifts. As The Illusionist grows older, Alice grows up. She falls in love with a young man and is no longer so enchanted by The Illusionist‟s conjuring. She moves on with her life, and The Illusionist no longer has to pretend. Untangled from his own web of deceit, he resumes his life as a much wiser man."

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