This Weekend At The Movies (Christmas Edition)

So there are quite a few movies being released between now and Christmas and I’ve compiled them all here in this edition of This Weekend At The Movies.  This post will cover the releases for this weekend (Dec. 16-18) as well as for next week since some of them are opening sporadically through all of next week up until Christmas Day.

OPENING 12/16/11

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL

IMAX EXCLUSIVE RELEASE (Regular screenings start on 12/21)

MP’s PICK OF THE WEEK

Directed by Brad Bird.  Starring Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Paula Patton and Michael Nyqvist.

The IMF is shut down when it’s implicated in a global terrorist bombing plot. Ghost Protocol is initiated and Ethan Hunt and his rogue new team must go undercover to clear their organization’s name. No help, no contact, off the grid. You have never seen a mission grittier and more intense than this.

I’m really excited for this fourth entry into the Mission: Impossible franchise.  The main draw for me is Tom Cruise, love him or hate him, since he does as much of the film’s stunts as he’s allowed and I have great respect for him because of that.  He knows that as an entertainer, he’s got to take some risks if he wants to really be able to thrill audiences in high-stakes action scenes.  He knows it can be a bit of a disappointment to an audience when it is obvious a stuntman came in and did the work for him.  So he takes it upon himself to do the stunts, danger be damned.  He reminds me of Stallone when it comes to this bit of work ethic.  Besides Cruise, we have Simon Pegg taking a larger role this time, which is always welcome, and the extremely versatile Jeremy Renner joins the IMF ranks.  I’m actually really looking forward to seeing what Renner brings to the screen as he can be pretty intense and it looks like he and Cruise may square off a bit in the film.  On top of the great cast, Brad Bird (Iron Giant, The Incredibles) is making his live action debut with this movie.  From what I hear, he’s made a very entertaining film and may be the series best entry yet.  If you are going to see the film, spend the extra few bucks to see it on a real IMAX screen.   There are sequences in the film that were shot for IMAX and I’ve heard they are really awesome to see in their intended setting.

SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS

Directed by Guy Ritchie.  Starring Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Noomi Rapace, Jared Harris, Stephen Fry and Rachel McAdams.

Sherlock Holmes has always been the smartest man in the room…until now.  There is a new criminal mastermind at large—Professor Moriarty—and not only is he Holmes’ intellectual equal, but his capacity for evil, coupled with a complete lack of conscience, may actually give him an advantage over the renowned detective.  When the Crown Prince of Austria is found dead, the evidence, as construed by Inspector Lestrade, points to suicide.  But Sherlock Holmes deduces that the prince has been the victim of murder—a murder that is only one piece of a larger and much more portentous puzzle, designed by one Professor Moriarty.  Mixing business with pleasure, Holmes tracks the clues to an underground gentlemen’s club, where he and his brother, Mycroft Holmes are toasting Dr. Watson on his last night of bachelorhood.  It is there that Holmes encounters Sim, a Gypsy fortune teller, who sees more than she is telling and whose unwitting involvement in the prince’s murder makes her the killer’s next target.  Holmes barely manages to save her life and, in return, she reluctantly agrees to help him.  The investigation becomes ever more dangerous as it leads Holmes, Watson and Sim across the continent, from England to France to Germany and finally to Switzerland.  But the cunning Moriarty is always one step ahead as he spins a web of death and destruction—all part of a greater plan that, if he succeeds, will change the course of history.

Wow, that was a mouthful of a synopsis.  I can’t really say that I’m that excited to see this movie.  I like all the cast and I especially like seeing Noomi Rapace, who perfectly embodied the role of Lisbeth Salander in the Swedish version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, getting some higher profile roles outside of her native country.  But I saw the first film when it came out and it sort of entertained me in a boring kind of way.  I’ve seen the trailer for the sequel now a dozen times and each time I see it, the less interested I become.  If you enjoyed the first one, you should definitely check this one out, but I think I’m going to wait until it hits blu-ray to give it a shot.

YOUNG ADULT

Written by Diablo Cody.  Directed by Jason Reitman.  Starring Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt, Elizabeth Reaser, Collette Wolfe and Patrick Wilson.

Soon after her divorce, a fiction writer returns to her home in small-town Minnesota, looking to rekindle a romance with her ex-boyfriend, who is now married with kids.

Diablo Cody is a screenwriter that, thus far, I’ve been keeping an eye out for.  I thought Juno was well written and I really dug Jennifer’s Body.  For Young Adult, she’s teamed up with Jason Reitman (Juno) again and their second outing together looks like it should be a good character piece.  Patton Oswalt’s performance in this film has been touted about the interwebs as being the best of his career, some even saying that an Oscar nomination is probably in the cards for him.  I’m definitely going to make some time to check this film out at the local independent theater here and suggest you do the same if it’s playing near you (I’m pretty sure it’s in wide release starting today).  I really like the look of the poster for Young Adult.  The main character is an author of adolescent books and I think the poster does a great job capturing the look of teen books from when I grew up.

BURKE & HARE

(LIMITED RELEASE)

Directed by John Landis.  Starring Simon Pegg, Andy Serkis, Isla Fisher, Tim Curry and Tom Wilkinson.

Burke & Hare is a black comedy based on the true story of the body-snatchers William Burke (Simon Pegg) and William Hare (Andy Serkis), directed by Hollywood legend, John Landis. These two Irish entrepreneurs discover that a dead body can fetch a hefty price when the demands of the leading medical professors Dr. Knox (Tom Wilkinson) and Dr. Monroe (Tim Curry) reach beyond that of the local supply.

This film might make some people ponder as to why it is here in this weekend’s release schedule since the film technically was released in October of 2010.  Well, John Landis’ latest hasn’t had a wide release of any sort here in the U.S. and has very slowly been making its appearance here and there in theaters across the country.  I saw my local theater had it playing this weekend and so here it is on the list of new releases.  This is definitely going to be a rare movie to see in a theater so if you enjoy John Landis or Simon Pegg or Andy Serkis, keep your eyes peeled for screenings near you.  I’ve been wanting to see this for quite some time now and it is all due to the talent involved.  Plus, anytime you say John Landis and horror comedy, I’ll pretty much line up to see it.  I’m also always happy to see a film that stars Andy Serkis, especially when he’s not doing mo-cap performances (which he is the king of, in my opinion), as he’s one of my favorite working actors right now.  The screenings seem to be limited in times where I’m at but I really hope I can catch one of them.

MY WEEK WITH MARILYN

Directed by Simon Curtis.  Starring Michelle Williams, Kenneth Branagh, Eddie Redmayne, Julia Ormond, Emma Watson, Dominic Cooper, Dougray Scott, Toby Jones and Judi Dench.

In the early summer of 1956, 23 year-old Colin Clark, just down from Oxford and determined to make his way in the film business, worked as a lowly assistant on the set of The Prince and the Showgirl.  The film that famously united Sir Laurence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe, who was also on honeymoon with her new husband, the playwright Arthur Miller.  Nearly 40 years later, his diary account The Prince, the Showgirl and Me was published, but one week was missing and this was published some years later as My Week With Marilyn – this is the story of that week.  When Arthur Miller leaves England, the coast is clear for Colin to introduce Marilyn to some of the pleasures of British life; an idyllic week in which he escorted a Monroe desperate to get away from her retinue of Hollywood hangers-on and the pressures of work.

Marilyn Monroe is not necessarily subject matter that would get me interested in a story but after watching the trailer, I have to say that this looks like it’d be worth watching.  Michelle Williams has been heralded for her role as Monroe and it’s not hard to see why.  For one, she’s got the look down quite well and Williams has been giving some pretty great performances in recent years, especially with her role in Blue Valentine.  While I don’t suspect that I will be rushing out to see this due to the overwhelming amount of films to see over the holiday, I will happily check this out when I have the opportunity.

ALVIN & THE CHIPMUNKS: CHIPWRECKED

Directed by Mike Mitchell.  Starring Jason Lee, David Cross and Jenny Slate.  Featuring the voices of Justin Long, Jesse McCartney, Matthew Gray Gubler, Amy Poehler, Anna Faris, Christina Applegate and Alan Tudyk.

On vacation aboard a luxury cruise ship, Alvin, Simon, Theodore and the Chipettes are up to their usual antics, turning the ship into their personal playground, until they become ‘chipwrecked’ on a desert island.  As Dave Seville frantically searches for his AWOL charges, the ‘Munks and Chipettes do what they do best – sing, dance and wreak havoc.  But they’re in for a surprise when they embark on an island adventure with their new friend – a castaway who’s more than a match for Alvin and the Chipmunks.

I had to force myself to watch the trailer for this movie to write a little blurb here.  I thought to myself, it only lasts for about two minutes, I can survive that right?  So I did and not only does the trailer make me want to go insane but it’s just yet another example of why kid/family films are in dire need of an overhaul.  Why do the Chipmunks have to sing Lady Gaga, Beyonce and Willow Smith’s god awful “Whip My Hair” song?  I don’t remember watching the Alvin & the Chipmunks cartoon when I was a kid and seeing inane pop culture references galore.  It’s not like the Chipmunks are sacred ground or anything but what’s wrong with creating something fun for all ages that has substance to it and doesn’t rely on cheap jokes/references to try to entertain the masses.  I highly suggest skipping this film for the infinitely better options of The Muppets or Hugo.  Both are quality family films that will entertain you but leave you feeling enriched.

OPENING 12/20/11

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO

MP’s PICK OF THE WEEK

Directed by David Fincher.  Starring Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgård, Joely Richardson, Goran Visnjic and Robin Wright.

Hoping to distance himself from the fallout of a libel conviction, journalist Mikael Blomkvist retreats to a remote island in Sweden’s far north where the unsolved murder of a young girl still haunts her industrialist uncle forty years later.  Ensconced in a cottage on the island where the killer may still roam, Blomkvist’s investigation draws him into the secrets and lies of the rich and powerful, and throws him together with one unlikely ally – tattooed, punk hacker, Lisbeth Salander.

First off, a side note – the film is scheduled to be released on Dec. 20th, but screenings won’t start until 7pm, so plan accordingly if you want to see this as soon as possible.  Now with that little tidbit out of the way, I can say that this remake of the Swedish original is the most highly anticipated movie out of all the christmas holiday offerings for me.  I love the original Swedish trilogy, even if they aren’t perfect movies, and was initially against an American remake so soon.  Then it was announced David Fincher was directing it and I was instantly on board.  When I first watched the original The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, I kept thinking to myself how Fincher-esque this movie feels and, apparently, MGM thought so as well.  My favorite thing about the original trilogy is Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander and how she blew that role completely out of the water.  I’m curious to see how Rooney Mara does in Fincher’s version and if both actresses can exist side by side as Lisbeth for me.  I’ve heard good things about Mara’s performance and am excited to see her take on the strong but damaged hacker.  On top of all of that, we have Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails) and Atticus Ross doing the score for the film and that is a very cool thing indeed.  But what it all comes down to is that this is a new film from David Fincher, one of my favorite filmmakers, and I’m extremely pumped to watch Fincher do what he does so very well.  In addition to seeing this film, I highly recommend checking out the originals as well.

OPENING 12/21/11

THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN 3D

Directed by Steven Spielberg.  Featuring Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Cary Elwes, Tony Curran and Toby Jones.

Based on the internationally beloved and irrepressible characters created by Hergé, the story follows the unquenchably curious young reporter Tintin and his fiercely loyal dog Snowy as they discover a model ship carrying an explosive secret.  Drawn into a centuries-old mystery, Tintin finds himself in the sightlines of Ivan Ivanovitch Sakharine, a diabolical villain who believes Tintin has stolen a priceless treasure tied to a dastardly pirate named Red Rackham.  But with the help of his dog, the salty and cantankerous Captain Haddock and the bumbling detectives Thompson & Thomson, Tintin will travel half the world, outwitting and outrunning his enemies in a breathless chase to find the final resting place of The Unicorn, a shipwreck that may hold the key to vast fortune.. and an ancient curse.

Directed by Steven Speilberg, produced by Peter Jackson, co-written by Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish and Steven Moffat, with cast members of the likes of Andy Serkis, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.. where’s the nearest theater box office?!?  I’m not familiar with the Tintin comics at all but it looks like a really fun movie and the talent involved just has me that much more excited for it.  Not only do I hope to really enjoy it, but I hope that american audiences embrace the film as well as I’d like to see the intended trilogy actually come to fruition.  I believe Peter Jackson is supposed to be handling directing duties for the second film with a possible team-up of Spielberg and Jackson on the third and final film.  As a film fan, who doesn’t want to see that happen?  Definitely check this one out in 3D if you can spare the extra bucks since this is intended to be seen in 3D.

OPENING 12/23/11

WE BOUGHT A ZOO

Directed by Cameron Crowe.  Starring Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Haden Church, Elle Fanning, Patrick Fugit and John Michael Higgins.

Based on a true story, Benjamin Mee is a recently-widowed father who moves his family to a beautiful estate miles outside the city. The only catch is that the estate is also a dilapidated zoo replete with 200 animals, and the purchase of the home is conditional on the new owner keeping the zoo and its entire staff. The Mee family subsequently sets out to rebuild and refurbish the zoo to its former glory, making new friends along the way.

Cameron Crowe hasn’t had a new film in six years and I can’t say that his newest effort excites me all that much, but then again, I’m not really a fan of his work.  His movies arent’ terrible but they just aren’t ones that allow me to invest anything in them.  I did like Vanilla Sky but that wasn’t so much a Cameron Crowe film as it was an adaptation of the foreign film, Abre Los Ojos.  Zoo looks like it’s sappy and overly sentimental but I do like Matt Damon a lot and I think Scarlett Johansson is a perfectly capable actress.  The romantic angle between her and Damon’s character intrigues me a little but the rest of the movie kind of disinterests me.  I’ll be passing on this one at the theater I think.

OPENING 12/25/11

WAR HORSE

Directed by Steven Speilberg.  Starring Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, David Thewlis, Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch and Celine Buckens.

This epic adventure is a tale of loyalty, hope and tenacity set against a sweeping canvas of rural England and Europe during the first World War.  It begins with the remarkable friendship between a horse named Joey and a young man called Albert, who tames and trains him.  When they are forcefully parted, the film follows the extraordinary journey of the horse as he moves through the war, changing and inspiring the lives of all those he meets—British cavalry, German soldiers, and a French farmer and his granddaughter—before the story reaches its emotional climax in the heart of No Man’s Land.

Two Spielberg movies for Christmas!  Guess we’ve all been good this year!  (lame joke)  With War Horse I can’t help but get some sort of Homeward Bound feel about this movie that undercuts my desire to see it a bit.  That being said, it’s a Speilberg film, and while that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m going to love it, it’s a movie that I should see as a fan of the movies and of Spielberg’s many great entries into cinematic history.  (For film history buffs, this film apparently marks the first film in which Spielberg has edited the film digitally as he’s continued the actual process of editing physical film up until now.)  The perspective of War Horse intrigues me a little as the story apparently follows the horse more than any other character and the story is told through all the people the horse comes into contact with.  I think the thing that makes me put up a red flag of caution is the fact that an animal is at the center of the film and in doing so, makes it easy to get wrapped up in its outcome.  It’s almost a cheat in that, if an animal is used in a film, people will almost immediately become emotionally involved.  A horse or a dog, or whatever animal it may be, is something we see as being helpless in that it can’t talk or defend itself like a human could and because of this helpless nature, we empathize with the animal and become invested in its outcome.  I don’t think Spielberg is using the horse in the story as a cheat but he has a character in the film that he doesn’t need to do a whole lot with to be invested in.  But Spielberg isn’t a lazy filmmaker, so despite my feeling towards that aspect of the film, I don’t think he’s going to rely on anything cheap to get you invested in the outcome of the movie.  If you are wanting to see something moving and inspirational on Christmas, I don’t think you can go wrong with War Horse.

THE DARKEST HOUR

Directed by Chris Gorak.  Starring Emile Hirsch, Olivia Thirlby, Max Minghella, Rachael Taylor and Joel Kinnaman.

In Moscow, five young people lead the charge against an alien race who have attacked Earth via our power supply.

Chris Gorak is a relatively new director.  He’s been working as an Art Director on numerous films such as Tombstone, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Fight Club and Minority Report.  He wrote and directed the film, Right At Your Door, in 2006.  It was a very low budget film but I think showed some promise from Gorak.  Now, he’s got a bigger budget, though still low by today’s standards, and producer Timur Bekmambetov behind him on his sophmore effort.  The film looks visually interesting but the aliens’ lack of a physical body may make or break this one.  I am intrigued by Darkest Hour but I think the film will more than likely be a bit of a bomb at the box office.  There are no A-list actors to attract audiences and then there’s the fact that this is a sci-fi/horror film being released on Christmas.  I don’t think this can compete with more appealing offerings like Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and War Horse.

EXTREMELY LOUD & INCREDIBLY CLOSE

Directed by Stephen Daldry.  Starring Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Thomas Horn, John Goodman, Viola Davis, Jeffrey Wright and Max von Sydow.

Based on the acclaimed novel of the same name, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close tells the story of one young boy’s journey from heartbreaking loss to self-discovery, set against the backdrop of the tragic events of September 11.  Eleven-year-old Oskar Schell is an exceptional child: amateur inventor, Francophile, pacifist.  And after finding a mysterious key that belonged to his father, who died in the World Trade Center on 9/11, he embarks on an urgent, secret search through the five boroughs of New York.  As Oskar roams the city, he encounters a variety of individuals, all survivors in their own way.  Ultimately, Oskar’s journey ends where it began, but with the solace of that most human experience: community.

I saw the trailer for this film and it instantly reminded me of Hugo, which at its most basic premise is about a young boy who loses his father and goes on a journey to find the key to unlocking something his father left behind as well as to his purpose in life.  I’m sure that the two films are different, especially since Hugo is a fantastic tale about the magic of the movies, but the similarity makes me less enthused to see this one.  I like both Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock, as well as most of the supporting cast, but I’m finding it difficult to want to watch this movie.  I think I’ll wait to see what the reviews are for this film and make an informed decision based on that.  Either way, I don’t see myself seeing this until it hits blu-ray.

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