Holidays Filled With Fact-Based Films
LOS ANGELES – Movies are getting real for the holidays. Along with such fictional folks as Santa, a Christmas grinch, a bottom-dweller named SpongeBob, a womanizer named Alfie and a romantic named Bridget, Hollywood’s festive season is packed with fact-based films.
Among the real-life figures: are eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes, played by Leonardo DiCaprio in Martin Scorsese’s “The Aviator”; sex researcher Alfred Kinsey in “Kinsey,” starring Liam Neeson and directed by Bill Condon (“Gods and Monsters”); singer Bobby Darin in “Beyond the Sea,” starring Kevin Spacey, who also directed; “Peter Pan” creator J.M. Barrie, portrayed by Johnny Depp in “Finding Neverland,” from director Marc Forster (“Monster’s Ball”); and “Alexander,” with Colin Farrell as the legendary Greek ruler in Oliver Stone’s epic.
The movie has a built-in Oedipal complex, with Angelina Jolie ó one year older than Farrell, 28 ó co-starring as Alexander the Great’s mother. Jolie gets to play a sort of Mommie Dearest of ancient times, with Alexander never quite able to cut the apron strings even as he conquers the world, Farrell said.
“She very much had Alexander in the palm of her hand for much of his life,” Farrell said. “He adored her, reviled her at times, was afraid of her. She always had kind of a certain amount of control over him even when he was 10,000 miles away.”
More contemporary real-life stories feature Don Cheadle as a hotel manager who risks his life and family to shelter refugees displaced by the Rwandan genocide in “Hotel Rwanda”; Javier Bardem as a paralyzed Spaniard who fights for his right to die in “The Sea Inside,” directed by Alejandro Amenabar (“The Others”); and Sean Penn as a 1970s business failure who plots to kill the president in “The Assassination of Richard Nixon.”
The holiday season kicks off Friday with “The Incredibles,” the latest cartoon collaboration between distributor Disney and the creative team at Pixar Animation, makers of “Finding Nemo,” “Monsters, Inc.” and the “Toy Story” flicks.
“The Incredibles” features the voices of Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson and Jason Lee in an action comedy about retired superheroes recalled to action after 15 years of humdrum life in the ‘burbs.
“The premise is that superheroes are real, they’re unionized, they’re members of society, and a series of unfortunate events happens where they are forced underground,” said “The Incredibles” writer-director Brad Bird (“The Iron Giant”). “Almost like a witness protection program for superheroes, where they must assume normal identities and can’t engage in any activities that would expose them.”
Also on the animated front: “The SpongeBob Squarepants Movie,” the big-screen debut for the underwater guy from the Nickelodeon series, and the Christmas tale “The Polar Express,” featuring Tom Hanks in multiple roles for the adaptation of the best-selling picture book.
Director Robert Zemeckis said “The Polar Express” represents a breakthrough in computer-generated, performance-capture technology. Hanks and his co-stars performed on an empty soundstage, their movements and expressions recorded in minute detail by infrared cameras keyed to receptors all over their faces and bodies.
“It was unbelievably liberating,” Zemeckis said. “It worked perfectly and it did what I hoped it would do. It allowed us to be unchained from the limits of conventional filmmaking. The actors just acted and didn’t have to deal with any of the technology or archaic kind of process we have to go through to shoot a movie.”
Hanks, who starred in Zemeckis’ “Forrest Gump” and “Cast Away,” plays a young boy whisked by train to the North Pole, the rail conductor and Santa Claus, among other roles.
The season’s other holiday tale features one of Hollywood’s favorite Kris Kringles, Tim Allen, in “Christmas With the Kranks,” based on John Grisham’s “Skipping Christmas,” about a modern grinch who decides to forgo the yule festivities.
Allen, who starred in “The Santa Clause” and its sequel, said his character and his wife (Jamie Lee Curtis) find themselves treated like lepers by friends and neighbors who cannot fathom why anyone would abandon the Christmas trappings.
“It’s like if you have a good friend who, God forbid, just goes cold turkey on cigarettes or alcohol or even worse, starts working out and losing weight, and the rest of you don’t,” Allen said. “You will besiege that person because his choice calls your life into question.”
The holiday season also includes: Jude Law in “Alfie,” a remake of the 1960s tale about a man questioning his womanizing ways; “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events,” adapted from the children’s books, with Jim Carrey as a villain trying to swindle three orphans; “Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera,” starring Gerard Butler as the disfigured fiend in Joel Schumacher’s musical adaptation; “Fat Albert,” a live-action and animation combo that updates Bill Cosby’s old TV cartoon; and “Closer,” with Julia Roberts, Law, Natalie Portman and Clive Owen in a drama of passion and betrayal involving two couples.
Adapted from Patrick Marber’s play, “Closer” takes director Mike Nichols back to the territory he mined in such early films as “Carnal Knowledge” and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
“It’s about extreme closeness. It’s about falling in love, all the charming things about falling in love. And then about the difficulties and dangers that come from wanting to get closer and closer,” Nichols said. “Wanting to know, `What did you do with the other guy? Was he any better?’ … You learn over the course of your life how extremely dangerous those questions are. If you can possibly shut up, my advice is to shut up, but we often don’t.”
Among other upcoming films: Adam Sandler in “Spanglish,” a culture-clash comedy centered on a family, their new Mexican maid and her daughter; the remake “Flight of the Phoenix,” with Dennis Quaid taking on James Stewart’s role as a pilot working with crash survivors to build a new plane from the old one’s wreckage; John Travolta and Scarlett Johansson in “A Love Song for Bobby Long,” about a woman who finds her inherited house inhabited by a couple of lost souls; “After the Sunset,” with Pierce Brosnan and Salma Hayek as retired thieves lured back into the game by an FBI agent (Woody Harrelson); “Bad Education,” from Pedro Almodovar (“All About My Mother”), a twisting reunion tale focused on two boys and the priest who ruined their romance; and “The Dark,” starring Anna Paquin as a teen whose family moves to a house possessed by ancient evil.
Also, Kevin Bacon in a daring role as a child molester trying to turn his life around after prison in “The Woodsman”; “Bride and Prejudice,” from director Gurinder Chadha (“Bend It Like Beckham”), retelling Jane Austen’s nuptial tale as a Bollywood musical; “In Good Company,” with Dennis Quaid as a veteran ad man working for a new boss (Topher Grace) half his age; the boxing tale “Million Dollar Baby,” directed by Clint Eastwood, who also co-stars with Morgan Freeman and Hilary Swank; “The Merchant of Venice,” with Al Pacino and Jeremy Irons in an update of Shakespeare’s tale of romance and vengeance; and Renee Zellweger returning in “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason,” with Britain’s favorite lonelyheart wondering if her happy ending from “Bridget Jones’s Diary” is what she wanted, after all.
“It’s about finding what it is you presume will be your happiness and finding out it might not be your idealized version,” Zellweger said. “It might not be what you anticipated, but does that make it less of a good thing? She’s discovering her fantasy idea of love might not necessarily be what she needs in her life.”
Other sequels are the heist adventure “Ocean’s Twelve,” reuniting George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Matt Damon and the rest of the “Ocean’s Eleven” gang; Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller in “Meet the Fockers,” their follow-up to “Meet the Parents”; “Blade: Trinity,” with Wesley Snipes returning for his third time out as the vampire hunter, squaring off against Dracula; and “Seed of Chucky,” resurrecting the killer doll of the “Child’s Play” horror flicks.
The season brings notable reunions between actors and filmmakers, including “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou,” from filmmaker Wes Anderson and featuring his “The Royal Tenenbaums” co-stars Bill Murray, Anjelica Huston and Owen Wilson. Murray plays an oceanographer tracking a shark that ate his partner. Cate Blanchett co-stars.
“A Very Long Engagement” reteams director Jean-Pierre Jeunet with his “Amelie” star Audrey Tautou in a whimsical drama about a woman who refuses to give up hope that her missing fiance survived the trenches of World War I.
The sumptuous martial-arts epic “House of Flying Daggers” from director Zhang Yimou (“Hero”) stars his frequent leading lady, Zhang Ziyi, as a ninth century rebel caught in a tragic love triangle with the two men who love her.
Nicolas Cage and producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who previously collaborated on “The Rock,” “Con Air” and “Gone in Sixty ,” reunite for “National Treasure.” Cage plays an adventurer competing with a bad guy to steal the Declaration of Independence, which bears a map in invisible ink leading to a fortune hidden by the founding fathers.
With symbols and landmarks such as the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall as clues to the treasure’s whereabouts, the movie becomes a bit of a lesson in U.S. heritage and patriotism at a time when the country’s values are being called into question, Cage said.
“With everything happening in the world, this movie really celebrates the tremendous history and accomplishments of our founding fathers and reinvigorates our interest again in the wonders that are right here at home,” Cage said.
Holidays Filled With Fact-Based Films