Holiday movie season preview
LOS ANGELES – Among your choices on Hollywood’s holiday menu, you can have talking bees and chipmunks or savage aliens and predators. You can have jolly elves and pretty princesses or vicious gangsters and the mother of all mythic monsters. You can have music, or you can have blood. And in at least one case, you can have both.
“I remember I did try to pitch it as a musical with lots of blood,” director Tim Burton recalled of his early attempts many years ago to make a movie version of Stephen Sondheim’s stage hit “Sweeney Todd.”
With frequent collaborator Johnny Depp in the title role, Burton finally succeeds with an adaptation of the musical about the murderous 18th century Londoner who turns his barber business into a shop of horrors.
This time of year is Hollywood’s most diverse, offering a mix of dark drama vying for Academy Award attention, action, horror and fantasy sagas, and light comedy and animated films.
Among the comic and cartoon offerings: “Bee Movie,” with Jerry Seinfeld providing the voice of a worker bee who sues humanity for stealing honey; “Alvin and the Chipmunks,” a blend of live-action and computer animation featuring Jason Lee and the little cartoon rodents; “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium,” starring Dustin Hoffman and Natalie Portman in the tale of a magical toy shop; “Enchanted,” with Amy Adams as a cartoon fairy-tale princess exiled by a wicked queen (Susan Sarandon) into very real Manhattan; and “Fred Claus,” with Vince Vaughn as the black-sheep brother of old St. Nick (Paul Giamatti).
Reuniting Vaughn with “Wedding Crashers” director David Dobkin, “Fred Claus” casts Santa’s brother as a guy who’s lived for centuries in Santa’s shadow.
“There’s definitely a sense of sibling rivalry,” said Giamatti, who wears a fat suit to play Santa. “I was always kind of the favourite, I become Santa Claus and everybody loves me. Everywhere he looks, Santa is everywhere, and he’s just a screw-up who can’t hold a job.”
The season offers a couple of real-world holiday stories with “This Christmas,” a family-reunion flick whose ensemble cast includes Delroy Lindo, Regina King and Mekhi Phifer, and “The Perfect Holiday,” featuring Gabrielle Union, Morris Chestnut, Queen Latifah and Terrence Howard in a romance between a single mom and a store Santa.
In his first big project since his sitcom went off the air, Seinfeld also co-wrote “Bee Movie,” the idea stemming from his childhood fascination for nature documentaries. Seinfeld liked the drama – and unintentional laughs – those shows brought to the natural world.
“I found them kind of funny, because they make one species the hero. That week, whatever his prey is, you want him to kill it. The next week, the one that was the hero becomes the prey, and you want that one to die,” Seinfeld said. “Your allegiance changes with whoever is the star of the show that week.”
Disney’s “Enchanted” tweaks the studio’s legacy by forcing a classic animated princess to survive in an unfamiliar realm.
“It begins in the animated kingdom. My character is looking for her true love, and she immediately meets him, but the prince’s jealous stepmother casts her into Manhattan,” Adams said. “She confronts all sorts of realities. There’s an old man who steals her crown, she learns the truth about gravity. She learns what food tastes like. It just tastes different in the real world.”
A look at other highlights this season:
CRIME AND PUNISHMENT:
Two grave, violent, brilliantly executed crime sagas could emerge as front-runners for this year’s best-picture Oscar. Ridley Scott’s “American Gangster,” with Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe, and Joel and Ethan Coen’s “No Country for Old Men,” featuring Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem and Josh Brolin, have caught strong buzz in advance screenings.
Based on a true story, “American Gangster” stars Washington as a 1970s Harlem drug lord who balances brutality with altruism and Crowe as a freewheeling but upright Jersey cop on his trail.
“No Country for Old Men” is adapted from Cormac McCarthy’s novel and features Jones as a sheriff tracking a merciless killer (Bardem), who in turn is pursuing a good old Texas boy (Brolin) who made off with a fortune in drug money.
Also on the crime front is “Hitman,” with Timothy Olyphant starring as a genetically engineered assassin in an adaptation of the video game, and Woody Allen’s “Cassandra’s Dream,” the filmmaker’s third-straight tale set in England.
“Cassandra’s Dream” is Allen at his darkest, with Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell as brothers lured into a murder scheme. Allen said he set out to craft a tragedy among ordinary people, McGregor playing an ambitious son stuck toiling in his ailing father’s restaurant, Farrell an auto mechanic with modest aspirations.
“I wanted two nice brothers. Ewan a sweet guy who works for his father even though he doesn’t want to,” Allen said. “And Colin a decent guy who just wants to have a nice little house with his wife and all that. They get into this terrible situation because of their ambition, because of their flaws, and they get swept up in this tragic thing.”
LANDS OF MAKE-BELIEVE:
In the fantasy footsteps of “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Chronicles of Narnia” comes “The Golden Compass,” with Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig leading the cast in the adventure of a young girl trying to rescue a friend in an alternate reality.
Robert Zemeckis brings the Norse legend of “Beowulf” to life with similar technology he used on “The Polar Express” to capture live actors whose performances are then digitally animated. The film features Anthony Hopkins, Ray Winstone and Angelina Jolie as Beowulf’s vile foe, Grendel’s mother.
Emily Watson leads the cast of “The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep,” about a Scottish boy whose magical egg hatches into a legendary creature that lives in a little body of water called Loch Ness.
BLACK GOLD AND LEGENDARY RICHES:
Daniel Day-Lewis stars as a fortune-seeker in California’s oil boom of the early 1900s in “There Will Be Blood,” a saga loosely based on an Upton Sinclair novel and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (“Magnolia”).
Nicolas Cage reunites with producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Jon Turteltaub for “National Treasure: Book of Secrets,” the sequel to their 2004 smash.
This time, Cage’s history-minded treasure hunter sets out to clear the name of an ancestor implicated in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the quest leading to a mythic cache of wealth and a secret text intended only for the eyes of U.S. leaders.
“A book only presidents are privy to, and in the book are all the secrets of the great myths, like Area 51, the Kennedy assassination or who was involved with this conspiracy, or Cibola,” a legendary city of vast riches sought by early Spanish explorers, Cage said. “What becomes revealed to us is there was this enormous treasure, kind of a Native American sacred temple that was a city of gold.”
Robert Redford directs himself, Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep in “Lions for Lambs,” an ideological saga set against the war in Afghanistan involving a presidential hopeful, an inspirational professor and a story-hungry journalist.
“Charlie Wilson’s War,” from director Mike Nichols, stars Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and Philip Seymour Hoffman in a drama about the architects of the U.S. response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
“The Kite Runner” is the stark story of an Afghan boy who flees with his father to America after the Soviet invasion but returns as an adult to rescue the son of an old childhood friend.
In “Grace Is Gone,” John Cusack plays a man who takes his daughters on a road trip to put off breaking the news that their mother has died in action in Iraq.
DEATH AND DYING:
Francis Ford Coppola returns with his first film in 10 years. The fantastical “Youth Without Youth” stars Tim Roth as an elderly scholar filled with regret. His whose life’s work, a tome on the origins of language, remains unfinished; when a freak lightning strike restores his youth, he has a chance to correct past mistakes.
The second-chance theme resonated with Coppola, who spent much of the last decade developing an epic film that never got off the ground. He wound up financing “Youth Without Youth” himself and shot it like a young maverick director fresh out of film school.
“I found lots of parallels in the character’s life and my life,” Coppola said. “I had the big work I hadn’t been able to finish. I got a chance to reinvent myself and make a film not as a big Hollywood producer but as kind of a new wave filmmaker.”
“P.S. I Love You” stars Hilary Swank as a widow whose husband left behind a series of tasks for her to cope with her grief and get on with her life.
Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney team for “The Savages,” playing a brother and sister reluctantly forced to care for their estranged, dying father.
“The Bucket List” features Jack Nicholson as a wealthy business executive and Morgan Freeman as an auto mechanic, both dying of cancer, who form an unlikely friendship and set out to do all the things they wish they’d done with their lives.
“Two older guys who have cancer and are going to die, that doesn’t sound like a blockbuster,” said Rob Reiner, who directed “The Bucket List.” “But when you see the movie, it’s emotional, it’s uplifting, and it’s not about dying. It’s a movie about living and embracing life.”
LOVE AND MARRIAGE:
Nicole Kidman plays a writer sowing discontent as the marriage of her sister (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to an out-of-work artist (Jack Black) approaches in “Margot at the Wedding.”
Javier Bardem, Catalina Sandino Moreno and Benjamin Bratt star in “Love in the Time of Cholera,” an adaptation of the novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez that traces the half-century wait of a man to win his true love.
“Atonement” features Keira Knightley and James McAvoy in a chronicle of the repercussions that follow a teenage girl’s false accusations against her sister’s lover.
Last man alive Will Smith fends off the remnants of humanity, who have been transformed into nocturnal fiends in “I Am Legend,” a new adaptation of the novel that also was the basis for Charlton Heston’s “The Omega Man” and Vincent Price’s “The Last Man on Earth.”
“There’s something primal about being the last person on Earth,” said Smith, who spends much of the movie alone and in silence. “It’s me and a dog for the first probably hour and 15 minutes.”
“Stephen King’s the Mist” is the third adaptation of the horror master by director Frank Darabont (“The Green Mile,” “The Shawshank Redemption”). Thomas Jane and Marcia Gay Harden lead the cast in the tale of townsfolk threatened by creatures from a mysterious mist.
The grudge match continues between two breeds of space monster in “Aliens Vs. Predator: Requiem.”
BALLADS, BLUES AND BOB:
Not one, but six Bob Dylans come to the screen in “I’m Not There,” director Todd Haynes’ dreamlike portrait of the rock icon. Among the performers doing Dylan: Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, Christian Bale and Cate Blanchett, who plays a Dylan-esque folk idol enraging his fans by going electric.
Blanchett’s character comes the closest to the real Dylan, a spot-on rendering of the musician in the mid-1960s as he confounded fans and critics with oblique prattle and unpredictable musical turns.
“That’s why Todd wanted a woman to play it, because if you had a man play it, you would have been looking for the impersonation,” Blanchett said. “And so you would have been seeing the shortfall, whereas you’re automatically saying there’s a Brechtian distance here between character and performer, and that allows for the poetry and kind of the irony to really breathe.”
John Sayles’ “Honeydripper” stars Danny Glover as a Deep South proprietor making one last stab to save his failing juke joint, hiring an electric-guitar whiz amid the transition from blues to rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950s.
John C. Reilly stars in “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story,” a comedy chronicling the sordid life of a musician who lives the extreme rock-star life as he sleeps around, sires kids and does every drug he can find.
“August Rush” features Robin Williams, Keri Russell, Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Freddie Highmore in the story of an orphaned musical prodigy seeking his parents.
And the season’s big musical question: Can Johnny Depp sing?
“He’s a very musical person, but when he said he would do it, nobody had any idea if he could sing. I knew him well enough to know that he wouldn’t have said yes to doing it if he couldn’t,” said “Sweeney Todd” director Burton, adding that he was pleasantly surprised at how well the vocals of Depp and co-stars Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen and Alan Rickman turned out.
“It’s pretty much all actors, not professional singers, and they really did a great job. It’s one of my favourite roles that Johnny has done.”
Holiday movie season preview