This article was written for the November/December issue of Bazooka Magazine, which has been unavoidably delayed (but will hopefully be out in the near future). Since some of the movies are already out or about to be released, I'm posting a little early here. I'll also throw in some updates for the films I've seen since I wrote the original.
Big Holiday Movie Guide That I Should Have Come Up With A Better Title For, or,
Boy Will I Feel Foolish If The Muppet Movie Sucks
Movies, at their most basic level, are a form of escapism and there’s nothing people want to escape more than the unending Hell that is the holiday season. Hollywood, either because it loves you or because it wants your money (Full Disclosure: It wants your money.) responds to the basic human need to take a break from the mall (hopefully before going Columbine on Santa) by releasing a whole bunch of movies between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. The sheer volume of movies on the way may make it hard for you to decide which ones to see, so it’s a good thing I’m here to help you, absolutely free of charge. (Full Disclosure: Tips are greatly appreciated. Also, beer.)
Hugo (November 23)
When I first heard about this movie, I thought it seemed a little out of character for Scorsese, but the more I think about it, the more sense it makes. After all, Scorsese excels at telling big, epic stories, and no genre is bigger or more epic than fantasy. This also looks like a movie that’ll be worth the extra few bucks for 3-D. While stunning visuals are a dime a dozen these days, the trailer reminds me of Gilliam at his best--maybe it’s all the gears and moving parts. Throw in a cast that includes Gandhi, Dracula, Borat, Hit Girl, and Jude Law and this one looks like a winner.
Update: This wasn't even remotely what I expected except for the Gilliam vibe, which goes a lot farther than just the visuals (in fact, Gilliam really should have directed this). The pacing is a little too slow, but otherwise I've got no major complaints.
The Muppets (November 23)
It’s a well-known scientific fact that Muppets are awesome (Full Disclosure: This may not technically be a “scientific fact.”), so the only question here is whether or not the new flick lives up to the standard set by Jim Henson. I know Frank Oz has grumbled about the new movie, but I’m inclined to write off his complaints as old fartism. Jason Segel’s puppet thing on the Sarah Marshall DVD makes me think he’s the perfect choice to write and star in a Muppet film, so my biggest concern here is that my expectations for this one are unattainably high, especially when you throw in Amy Adams and a Chris Cooper villain. As if that’s not enough, Neil Patrick Harris has a cameo, which means there’s a chance for a NPH musical number. (Full Disclosure: It is my firm belief that anything--movie, job interview, nap, funeral, literally anything---can be improved by adding a musical number featuring Neil Patrick Harris.)
Update: Except for the fact that NPH doesn't sing, this movie is perfect. It's got everything you want from a Muppet movie, the entire cast is great, and watching Segel in the middle of it all is sort of like watching one of those cancer kids when they finally get their trip to Disneyworld or something.
My Week With Marilyn (November 23)
This movies stars Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe. Need I say more?
Answers To Nothing (December 2)
The title of this film is also a pretty good description of what you get from the trailer. There’s a missing kid and an operation and some cops and guys crying and I have absolutely no idea what the fuck this movie is about. To make matters worse, it stars Dane Cook, who’s apparently trying his hand at SERIOUS ACTING. I guess it can’t be any worse than his alleged “comedy,” but I’m not paying eight bucks to find out. The only thing even remotely appealing about this movie is Julie Benz, and that’s mainly due to residual Buffy fandom. To be honest, her role here looks like a less interesting variation on her character from the second Boondock Saints movie. Don’t bother.
New Year’s Eve (December 9)
This looks almost like a big-budget remake of 200 Cigarettes, only instead of Christina Ricci, Casey Affleck, and Elvis Costello you get Sarah Jessica Parker, Ashton Kutcher, and Jon Fucking Bon Jovi. Yeah, it’s got DeNiro and a few other people who don’t actively suck, but based on the trailer the shittiest cast members will be getting the bulk of the screen time. Do yourself a favor and watch 200 Cigarettes instead and see if you can spot Paul Rudd. (Full Disclosure: For all I know, Paul Rudd may be a major character in 200 Cigarettes. It’s been over a decade since I saw it, so I doubt I knew who the hell Paul Rudd was at the time. Also, I may remember it being better than it actually is, but I’m reasonably sure that its complete lack of Sarah Jessica Parker means it’s better than New Year’s Eve.)
The Sitter (December 9)
I want to believe that Jonah Hill and Sam Rockwell wouldn’t both agree to work on a steaming pile of shit, and the fact that this is from the director of Pineapple Express is promising. On the other hand, the “unlikely babysitter” formula has failed for everyone from Hulk Hogan to Jackie Chan, so historical precedent prevents me from recommending this one. The best reason to give this one a shot is that there’s really not much else coming out that weekend. (Full disclosure: I have never actually seen any of the previously referenced “unlikely babysitter” movies, but I don’t think that disqualifies me from stating that they suck ass.)
Young Adult (December 9)
This movie is kind of like Grosse Pointe Blank with Charleze Theron instead of John Cusack. And instead of a dark comedy about a hitman, it’s a bunch of predictable jokes about a woman trying to recapture her lost youth. Also, there’s no Jeremy Piven or Dan Ackroyd. (Full disclosure: This movie promises to be absolutely nothing like Grosse Pointe Blank.) So basically this one’s right up there with The Sitter in the “is very likely to make you lose whatever respect you still have for the star” category. So, you know, there’s that.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (December 16)
A gritty, borderline steampunk Sherlock Holmes action movie would be a terrible idea in the hands of most film makers, but Guy Ritchie made it work the first time around. The plot probably could have been a little tighter, but between Downey’s take on Holmes, the great banter between Holmes and Watson, the action sequences, and the visuals, the minor pacing problems didn’t hurt my feelings one bit. The new installment introduces Moriarty, so I’ve got high hopes.
Filmbrew at Maiden Alley: Die Hard (December 20)
If you haven’t been to a Filmbrew night at Maiden Alley yet, this is your last chance until next year. For the final installment of the 2011 series, they’re showing the single greatest Christmas movie ever made. I’m talking, of course, about Die Hard. This is the story of John McClane, a good cop who just wants to spend Christmas with his family. Before that can happen, though, he’s got to kill a shitload of terrorists. (Full Disclosure: They’re not really terrorists.) $20 gets you a couple drinks, free food, and one of the greatest action movies of all time, plus a special super-secret bonus double feature.
TinTin (December 21)
As a comic book geek, I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I don’t actually know anything about the comic that this is based on. It’s one of the world’s most celebrated strips, though, which probably means it’s pretty good. The film adaptation looks like a typical great big Spielberg adventure, so I can’t really imagine it sucking.
The Girl With The Dragon Tatoo (December 23)
I haven’t read the books, but I’ve seen the original movies, which were made in Denmark or Sweden or some other cold European place. I’m still not sure how I feel about them. The story’s fine, but there’s something about the gender politics of the series that kind of bothers me. On the surface, the titular “girl” appears to be a strong female lead, but most of her power is rooted in victimhood and she spends and awful lot of time waiting for Manly Hero Lead to save her. Also, there are some elements of the story (like the fact that she’s a lesbian except when Manly Hero Lead is around) that have a creepy “this character is basically just wank fodder for the guy who wrote the books” vibe. Still, the fact that I sat through three subtitled movies about these characters must mean there’s something worthwhile here.
War Horse (December 25)
This is a story about a horse. A horse that goes to war. A “war horse,” you might say. So if you like feel-good movies about the triumph of the equine soul--or if you’re, like, a furry or something--you might just be the target audience for this movie. (Full disclosure: If you are a furry, you’re not the target audience for this movie. In fact, if Spielberg hears that furries went to see this movie, he’ll probably cry. Do you really want to make the creator of E.T. cry? What kind of monster are you?)
The date for this one isn’t set yet, but Maiden Alley will be playing it sometime in December. This is the new movie from Lars Von Trier. He directed Anti-Christ, which overall was a little too artsy-fartsy and gratuitously “shocking” for my tastes. Still, Von Trier’s visuals are interesting and he does a great job of establishing mood, so I’m willing to give him another try before writing him off as a pretentious wannabe ateur. Also, the IMDB synopsis of the movie (“Two sisters find their already strained relationship challenged as a mysterious new planet threatens to collide into the Earth.”) is too intriguing to pass up.
These are just a few of the movies coming out in the next month or so. There’s also another Mission Impossible movie, a Christmas movie from Aardman (the company that does Wallace and Gromit), and a some other stuff that I didn’t have room to include. (Full disclosure: By “didn’t have room to include,” I mean I couldn’t think of anything clever to say about them). Hopefully my recommendations and warnings will help you choose the holiday movie that’s right for you. (Full disclosure: Unless you hate America, it’s The Muppets.)