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Holiday Movie Preview 2012
Posted By: Sam, on host
Date: Wednesday, September 26, 2012, at 16:12:07

It's that time again. And I am pleased to say that I think I'm looking forward
to an unusually large number of movies this year. Inevitably, some of them
will disappoint; on the other hand, others may rise to the fore that aren't
even on my radar yet. But here is a bunch of what we have to look forward to
over the next several weeks:

October 5 - Taken 2

The first Taken was a surprisingly good movie, though one that embraced
rather than transcended the Euro-thriller genre that Luc Besson more or
less invented and has at least an executive producer credit on every single
installment. That includes the Transporter series with Jason Statham, the
District B13 series, and indeed Taken, now also a series. They're crude
and substanceless but make up for it with the brazen audacity to go over the
top without apology.

Taken was a lot more serious than most of the others and somehow, despite still
going over the top, managed to make us feel something for the main character.
I don't know why I would assume it would happen again, though. My guess is
that Taken 2 will revert to the mean and that this will be entertaining in
kind of a stupid way and soon forgotten.

October 5 - Frankenweenie

You can know a Tim Burton movie before his name ever pops up in the preview.
The man's filmography is uneven, but it's hard to make the argument he doesn't
have a vision uniquely his own. I liked (but did not love) his recent takes on
Alice In Wonderland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Unlike many these
days, he understands the dark side of children's stories dating all the way
back to the Brothers Grimm and before. With Frankenweenie, it appears Burton
has not forgotten that, and the film marks a perhaps welcome return to his
original stories. It is, in fact, a remake of his short film from 1984, one
of his earliest works. It could be very interesting to see how Burton has
evolved as a filmmaker over the course of 28 years.

It's also promising that Burton's last animated movie, Corpse Bride, was a
macabre delight.

October 12 - Argo

I still can't wrap my brain around the idea that Ben Affleck is a great
director. Gone Baby Gone was possibly my favorite movie from that year, and
The Town, while a step down, was a grand and seamless in coordinating a
sprawling story that was continuously compelling when it might easily have
drifted astray.

His next film is Argo, which Roger Ebert is already predicting will win the
Best Picture Oscar this year. I have to think such a prediction is premature;
then again, he has seen it and I have not. What I'm more comfortable
guaranteeing is that it will be in the conversation.

The premise sounds wonderfully batty: It's a thriller about a CIA plan to
smuggle six Americans out of Iran during the thick of the Iranian hostage
crisis. What's the plan? Pose as a Hollywood film crew. Now you're thinking
it's a comedy; incredibly, the story is true, and the film is allegedly
a real nailbiter.

October 12 - Seven Psychopaths

The IMDb: "A struggling screenwriter inadvertently becomes entangled in the
Los Angeles criminal underworld after his oddball friends kidnap a gangster's
beloved Shih Tzu."

Two things catch my eye about this film: One, it's got a part for Christopher
Walken, and Walken in a gangster-related comedy, scientifically speaking,
requires attention. Two, it's the sophomore film by director Martin McDonagh,
whose In Bruges was one of my favorite films of 2008. Like this, it was a
gangster-related comedy, so while his track record is not long, it's exactly
in this ballpark.

October 19 - Alex Cross

If the name sounds familiar, it might be because Alex Cross is the name of
the detective hero of Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider. He was played
by Morgan Freeman in those films, but here he's played by...Tyler Perry?
It's a casting move that is so batty it just might work. Might, that is, if
Rob Cohen weren't helming the picture. Cohen, in his 30+ year career, has
never made a great movie and hasn't made a good one outside of his "Dragon"
duology in the 90s: "DragonHeart" and "Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story."
His recent work includes such impenetrable excesses as "The Mummy: Tomb of the
Dragon Emperor" and "Stealth." Why Tyler Perry, a director in his own right,
thought it a good idea to put himself in Cohen's hands is inexplicable.

October 19 - Paranormal Activity 4

The IMDb preview page says, "The plot is undisclosed at this time." Ok, but
why don't I take a stab at it anyway? Somebody lets a camera run overnight,
reviews the footage in the morning, and sees a spooky thing happen. Curiosity
evolves to terror as the spooky things grow into spookier things, and finally
everybody dies and/or is possessed in a horrifying climax of spookiest things.

October 26 - Cloud Atlas

See this, and I'm pretty sure you won't need to see another movie ever again.
From the extended trailer, this collaboration between the Wachowskis (The
Matrix) and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) tells a series of stories interleaved
through space and time that, collectively, do everything there is to do in a
movie. It even casts the same actors in multiple roles, who may or may not
in some existential sense be the same people, which after all is not so
different from watching actors we're familiar with (Tom Hanks, Halle Berry,
Hugh Grant, Hugo Weaving, Susan Sarandon, Jim Broadbent) in the different
installments of their filmographies.

It sounds pretentious, and if you have a cold memory of Aronofsky's The
Fountain, you might not be so hungry for this. But the movie doesn't seem to
cling too reverently to its fundamentally pretentious premise and instead
shoots unashamedly for the kind of honest emotion so unfashionable in today's
age of irony and cynicism. That, too, is appropriate for the Movie To End All

I don't know how Cloud Atlas can possibly live up to the enthusiasm it has
inspired in me, but I shall be unguarded.

October 26 - Chasing Mavericks

The IMDb: "When young Jay Moriarty discovers that the mythic Mavericks surf
break, one of the biggest waves on Earth, exists just miles from his Santa Cruz
home, he enlists the help of local legend Frosty Hesson to train him to survive

Curtis Hanson directed this until Michael Apted had to take over at the end
for health reasons. Hanson's L.A. Confidential is brilliant, but his last
few movies have been disposable comedies. I don't really know what to expect
here. The comparison to Soul Surfer, a movie I loved, feels too easy --
surface plot resemblance without necessarily the spiritual underpinnings.

October 26 - Silent Hill: Revelation 3D

What? No no no no. You got it all wrong. You make the THIRD installment of
a horror franchise in 3D so you can stick make the "3D" pun in the title.
This is the SECOND Silent Hill movie. It should be called "Silent Hill 2."
Blowing the punchline before you've set it up properly is a colossal failure
of timing.

November 2 - Wreck-It Ralph

In this Disney animated film, a video game villain aspires to be a hero but
can't help wreaking havoc every time he tries. The premise sounds a little
TOO good. When a premise is that catchy, sometimes the filmmakers get so
caught up trying to capitalize on it that they forget to tell a story. I
wish I could say that the track record of Disney animation bodes well, but
lately there have been more Mars Needs Momses than Meet the Robinsonses.

November 2 - The Man With the Iron Fists

Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu team up for this action movie set in feudal China.
I suspect Crowe is there more as a name than as the central character, which
may be "The Blacksmith" played by writer and first-time director RZA. I am
not heartened that the producer and co-writer is Eli Roth of the Hostel films,
but it's tough to know what to expect from this.

November 2 - Flight

A new Robert Zemeckis film is always something to pay attention to. This is
his first live-action movie since Cast Away, as presumably the money for his
3D motion capture films (The Polar Express, Beowulf, and A Christmas Carol)
dried up -- which is too bad, really, because all three were gloriously
inventive. But I do miss the Zemeckis that made Back To the Future,
Romancing the Stone, Contact, Death Becomes Her, and Forrest Gump.

This may still not be that Zemeckis, as Flight looks like it's got a harder
edge to it. It's about a pilot who saves a commercial flight from crashing,
and then the ensuing investigation "reveals something troubling." The cast
is topped by Denzel Washington, John Goodman, and Don Cheadle.

November 9 - Skyfall

007 is back. Inexplicably, Mr. White and the Quantum organization, gradually
revealed over the course of Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, is not. It
really felt like the Daniel Craig films were grooming new SPECTRE -- which is
not to say that they aren't and Skyfall isn't just a temporary diversion.

Never mind. The trailer looks amazing, and if you know me at all you know how
much of a Bond fan I am. Javier Bardem and Ralph Fiennes should prove to be
great additions to the Bond universe. I'm less sure about Sam Mendes
directing; at the same time, I approve of the general idea of hiring directors
of character-oriented films, rather than action films, to helm the Bond
pictures, despite that the second unit ran amok with Quantum of Solace and
Marc Forster couldn't or wouldn't rein them in. I liked Quantum of Solace --
a lot -- but the sheer incomprehensibility of the action scenes is a mistake
the series should never repeat.

With Stuart Baird editing, it may not. Baird edited Casino Royale but not
Quantum of Solace. And with Roger Deakins doing the cinematography, it's
likely that the film will look amazing.

The world premiere of Skyfall is scheduled within a few days of the 50th
anniversary of the release of Dr. No. Pretty sure this is the only film series
in history to run continuously for 50 years, a feat all the more remarkable
given that the films aren't cheap to make and require continuing box office
success to survive.

November 9 - Lincoln

Steven Spielberg's biopic of Abraham Lincoln strives, we are told, to cut
through to the man underneath the icon. It sounds like marketing spin, but
it's an important thing for this movie to do. Lincoln is such a prominent
figure in U.S. history that the recognizability of his name and the
accoutrements of his look -- the beard, the hat, and so forth -- overshadow
any view we might have had of him as a man. I suspect that the average person
roughly familiar with U.S. history knows, or at least thinks he knows,
somethingabout the personalities of Benjamin Franklin, Andrew Jackson, and
Teddy Roosevelt. But what we know of Lincoln -- Lincoln the man, I mean --
is that he wrote a speech on a train and died in a theater. These are not
revealing details about who he was.

Daniel Day-Lewis playing Lincoln sounds like one of the best casting decisions
of the year, and with solid actors like Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tommy Lee
Jones around for support, it's hard not to imagine this being a knock-out film.

November 16 - The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2

After not liking the first three Twilight films (and downright hating New Moon),
imagine my surprise when I discovered Breaking Dawn Part 1 to be solidly okay.
I guess, given that the two halves of the finale share the same story and
director (Bill Condon, who did Dreamgirls), this ought to be solidly okay, too.
I expect it will at least be a relief to see the story going somewhere. Having
the badguy vampires just sort of stand around and be generically threatening
throughout New Moon and Eclipse was kind of trying.

But you know these movies weren't made for me, right? So it doesn't really
matter what I think about them.

November 16 - Anna Karenina

Joe Wright is an inspired director with a heck of a visual sense. His
version of Pride and Prejudice was dirty and beautiful, and he followed up
with the simultaneously lush and gritty spectacle that was Atonement. The
Soloist didn't work out so well, and then came, inexplicably, Hanna, a
slick revenge story with a certain comic book logic to it. While not great,
Hanna was exciting and visually inventive.

An adaptation of Anna Karenina puts Joe Wright back in his comfort zone, and I
expect, at minimum, one of the most gorgeous movies of the year. Whether it's
great overall or not is tough to say -- I think Wright is a better director
than the material he's found -- but "good" is virtually a guarantee. He
reunites with Keira Knightley, by the way, his star from Pride and Prejudice
and Atonement. If all you've seen of Knightley is in the Pirates of the
Caribbean films, you might be surprised to learn she can act.

Tom Stoppard is the screenwriter here, adapting, of course, Leo Tolstoy's
novel, which has been filmed a couple dozen times since 1910. Stoppard's
most prominent credit is Shakespeare In Love, and if this is half as
well-written as that, we're in good shape.

November 23 - Silver Linings Playbook

I don't know what it is about David O. Russell and feuds with his cast. He
did the brilliant Three Kings with George Clooney, but they've had a public
feud ever since. Then he does the brilliant The Fighter with Mark Wahlberg,
but in turning down Wahlberg for the leading role in Silver Linings Playbook,
he created another feud.

However conducive he seems to be to personal friction, the man makes good
movies. (Well, let's merrily ignore I Heart Huckabees.) Silver Linings
Playbook has something to do with marital strife, depression, and a mysterious
girl. It's tough to gauge what the movie will ultimately be like, because
unlike the typical summer blockbuster, movies like this don't lend themselves
to ultra-condensation. That's a good thing.

November 23 - Life of Pi

Man, how long have I seen this as an upcoming title? Jean-Pierre Jeunet
(Amelie) was going to direct this for a while, and that probably would have
been a visual feast like no other. Then M. Night Shyamalan was attached for
a while, and I suspect that would have been an unqualified disaster.
Ultimately, it got made with Ang Lee, but I'll believe it when I see it.
Lee is hit or miss with me, by which I mean Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon
hit and everything else missed.

November 23 - Hitchcock

Say what? IMDb: "A love story between influential filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock
and wife Alma Reville during the filming of Psycho in 1959." Hitchcock is
played by Anthony Hopkins, which sounds delightful, given the macabre sense of
humor of the director and Hopkins' most famous role.

But I dunno. Hitchcock is my favorite director, and as such I know a little
about the man. Much is said in biographies of Hitchcock's darker side and the
paradoxical way he could be a timid and gentle man and yet also have a cruel
sense of humor. My sincere belief is that the tales of Hitchcock's darker
side are sensationalized and overstated. Something undeniably went awry with
his relationship with Tippi Hedren, the actress he plucked from obscurity and
cast as the lead in The Birds and Marnie. But the overwhelming testimony from
his colleagues is that he was a perfectly ordinary man, agreeable, and largely
averse to confrontation. His marriage to film editor Alma Reville lasted 54
years, until his death, and by all accounts he doted on her and was deeply
dependent upon her to be his creative guide.

What I'm getting at is that I'm skeptical of a movie about his personal life.
Drama requires conflict, and I'm worried that a story about conflict in his
personal life can only be overblown.

My fears may be unfounded. Certainly there was no shortage of drama behind
the filming of Psycho: the drama was primary between Hitchcock, the studios,
and doubters aghast that Hitch would make a low-budget black-and-white film
the crew from his TV series, rather than another glorious globetrotting
spectacle, like his previous film North By Northwest. And certainly there is
a plenitude of urban legends about the filming of Psycho -- in particular, the
famous shower scene -- that this movie could put to rest. But if it plays up
the legends about Alfred Hitchcock instead of the reality, it's going to leave
a bad taste in my mouth.

I am mindful, of course, of the famous quote from John Ford's The Man Who Shot
Liberty Valance: "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." In this
case, however, the legends are facile and unchallenging -- and so well known
that the truth just might be more intriguing.

Worth mentioning here is "The Girl," an HBO film set to be aired in October
2012. This film concerns the relationship of Alfred Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren
during the filming of The Birds. There's a story there.

November 23 - Rise of the Guardians

DreamWorks animation that feels reminiscent of their other recent sci-fi
comedies, Monsters Vs. Aliens and Megamind. I don't expect anything bad here,
but it's tough to envision this as the next How To Meet Your Dragon, arguably
the best DreamWorks animated film to date and one of the few that has enough
heart to be enduring.

November 23 - Rust and Bone

There's huge buzz for this French mystery film from director Jacques Audiard,
whose A Prophet garnered huge acclaim that broke out of indie circles and
snagged an Oscar nomination. I liked it but did not love it; on the other hand,
I have only great things to say about his thrillers Read My Lips and The Beat
That My Heart Skipped, which delve deep into character and derive suspense and
humor from who their characters are, rather than artificially forcing them
into a plot machine.

It's hard to know much about this film from a simple plot synopsis, and maybe
that's just as well. The early word from the festival circuit, though, is
that this is a knockout and might earn Marion Cotillard a second Oscar

November 30 - Killing Them Softly

This one feels like an August movie that got lost and found itself in
November. No Oscar aspirations here, nor family fun. It's a heist, a mob
racket, and Brad Pitt with a gun. Ray Liotta's in it too.

December 7 - Hyde Park On Hudson

Who decided to cast Bill Murray as FDR? Seriously, what's that about? It's
genius or madness, one of the two. It's about his love affair with his
(distant) cousin Margaret Stuckley (Laura Linney). The IMDb calls it
"America's response to season three of Downton Abbey." Or, given that director
Roger Michell resides in England and made the quintessentially British "Notting
Hill," maybe it's Britain's answer to season three of Downton Abbey.

You know, I just don't know what to say about this. Bill Murray is amazing,
and he proved long ago how much more there is to him than his SNL roots
suggest. But "Bill Murray as FDR" sounds more like something you imagine
as a joke than something that actually got put into production. But, you know,
why not?

December 14 - The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

I'm there. I know a lot of people are bewildered that it will take Peter
Jackson as many movies to tell the story of The Hobbit as it took him to tell
The Lord of the Rings, a work six times as long. But supposing the intimate
heart of the Bilbo storyline survives somehow -- and I am optimistic, given
that Jackson seems to be mindful that it needs to -- I'm all for the films
reaching beyond to the things Gandalf and others were up to that the book only
hints at (but which the appendixes to The Lord of the Rings later clarified).
And certainly we wouldn't have wanted the Battle of the Five Armies to take
place almost entirely off-screen either, right?

The nice thing about epic fantasy is that it CAN grow and balloon like this.
Obviously there is always a chance this will crash and burn, but surely
Jackson has built up enough good will from Lord of the Rings to give him the
benefit of the doubt.

December 21 - This Is 40

Judd Apatow takes the Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann characters from Knocked Up and
revisits them down the road. Apatow comedies aren't really my thing, but I
want to register my approval for the general idea. Although promoting a
supporting player to a leading role doesn't always work (just look at where
Jack Black's movies went after he became too popular to be a sidekick anymore),
it is certainly frustrating when you wish a movie would shut up about the
main characters already and talk about those more interesting people in the

December 21 - Zero Dark Thirty

Kathryn Bigelow's follow-up to The Hurt Locker has a pretty remarkable
backtstory. Bigelow and colleague Mark Boal set about writing a movie about
the attempt by the U.S. to capture or kill Bin Laden. Then, right when filming
was set to commence, the news broke that Bin Laden had actually been found
and killed. With their script already outdated, they gave it an overhaul and
now at least it is ready for release.

But in the meantime, starting even before shooting began, the project was
embroiled in political controversy. Ultimately, though, what matters is the
film itself. How will it be? Tough to say -- Bigelow's filmography is mixed,
but she hit The Hurt Locker out of the park. I think it's ample enough reason
to be optimistic and even excited about what she does next.

Besides, Jessica Chastain is in it, and after stunning and impressively
distinct performances in the 14 movies she did last year, she's one of my new
favorite actresses.

December 21 - Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away

"An original story featuring performances by Cirque du Soleil." Wait, what?
This movie season is throwing me more than its share of curve balls. I'm
always up for a good fantasy film, though, and if it has the sensational
visuals that you think of when you think of Cirque du Soleil, well, why can't
that work? The director is Andrew Adamson, who made the first two Narnia
films, and James Cameron is one of the producers.

December 21 - The Impossible

Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor are vacationing in Thailand when the 2004 tsunami
hits. It's easy to imagine a movie exploiting a real tragedy like this, but
the early word is that the film is honest and honorable in its portrayal of the
disaster. It's also worth noting that the main characters are based on a
real couple, and many of the extras are actual survivors of the incident.

With the word coming out of Toronto that this is a great and powerful film,
it's hard to imagine it not being utterly gut-wrenching. If it's done right,
films like this are that rare breed that transcend mere entertainment and
offer something more. United 93 something profound for me in the wake of 9/11
(not that these two events are especially comparable), and it remains one of
the few movie-watching experiences I've had that have been truly important.
It seems that this movie has already been important to at least some of those
who have seen it.

December 21 - Not Fade Away

A group of friends in 1960s-era New Jersey form a rock band and seek fame and
glory. This wouldn't even be on my radar, except that it's directed by David
Chase, creator of The Sopranos. Chase is a bit of an odd duck -- despite The
Sopranos looking and seeming for all the world like a genre mob story, the
show continually defied genre conventions and stubbornly refused to confirm
audience expectations. Well, should we have had it any other way? But I
couldn't possibly predict how Chase's storytelling sensibilities would play
out in a different format and with a different genre disguise.

December 21 - Amour

Is there a more frustrating filmmaker than Michael Haneke? I was just talking
about David Chase flouting genre conventions and audience expectations, but
he's downright mainstream compared to Michael Haneke, whose work is inevitably
frustrating. At times, it's almost like Haneke is so resentful of his viewers
that he makes a bad movie just to spite them. But the way Cache, for example,
gets under the skin is undeniable, and the way it provokes thought about the
answers it doesn't quite give is remarkable. His most recent film, The White
Ribbon, is a little uneven but astounding overall and packs a punch. I like
the way his better movies don't tell you everything: they understand that
there are some stories in life that we never completely know. It's tough to
pull this off, but these films cover for the gaps in what we know by inspiring
intriguing lines of thought about how the pieces might all fit together.

Although it's tough to say, it doesn't seem like Amour follows this theme.
It's about an elderly couple who have a daughter living abroad. The daughter
has an attack, and then...I don't really know. It sounds pretty dry, actually,
but Haneke movies are never quite what they seem.

Keith Simanton comments about it: "Leave it to Michael Haneke to take a
topic as enfeebled as the onset of old age and give it an almost urgent and
dangerous edge. The once beautiful accidents of nature, Jean-Louis Trintignant
and Emmanuelle Riva have become exquisite works of art. A measured but
gratifying work."

Isabelle Huppert is in this too, but you might have guessed that anyway.
Guessing that Huppert appears in a French movie is the rough equivalent to
guessing Jessica Chastain is in an American movie. Good thing they're both

December 28 - Django Unchained

What is it about a trailer for a Tarantino movie that is so exhilarating?
Well, okay, so I didn't really take to the one for Inglourious Basterds (loved
the movie itself, though). But I remember the first time I saw the trailer
for Kill Bill. I watched it several times in a row. It just looked FUN,
and of course the Battle Without Honor Or Humanity music was the kind of
inspired musical choice that Tarantino is uniquely good at. The Django
Unchained is exhilarating in much the same sort of way.

Like I was saying about Tim Burton earlier, you'd know a Tarantino movie even
without seeing his name on it. Nobody else could have made this. It stars
Jamie Foxx as an escaped slave wreaking havoc in 1800s Mississippi. He teams
up with Christoph Waltz (who stole Inglourious Basterds with that amazing first
scene and won an Oscar for it) and together seek to rescue Foxx's wife from a
plantation owner. I expect it to have as much reverence for historical
accuracy as Inglourious Basterds. Double feature with Lincoln?

December 28 - Les Miserables

Tom Hooper, who directed the Oscar winner from two years ago, The King's Speech,
now takes on Les Miserables. Why, you might ask? After all, Les Miserables
has been filmed approximately as often as, say, Anna Karenina. You know,
there's something about a truly classic story that stays fresh even after that
many tellings. Of course this is the musical, which has been filmed
somewhat fewer times than the Victor Hugo novel: incredibly, none at all.

I do worry that, in keeping with Hollywood's general insecurity with the
musical genre, the casting seems to have prioritized fame over musical talent.
That said, Hugh Jackman, playing Jean Valjean, absolutely can sing, and
Helema Bonham Carter is no stranger to musicals herself. And if I may further
qualify my brash statement, Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman turned out to be
terrific in Moulin Rouge, so what do I know?

Anne Hathaway (who is a delight in almost everything she does) plays Fantine,
Amanda Seyfried plays Cosette, and Russell Crowe (!) plays Javert.

January 4 - Texas Chainsaw 3D

No, no, no! You got it all WRONG.

January 18 - The Last Stand

There's something wonderfully nostalgic about Arnold Schwarzenegger doing
movies again, and specifically this kind of movie. He's the sheriff of a
Mexican border town and, as such, has to shoot a lot of people. I don't
foresee the movie being all that great, but I love that he's doing his thing.

That said, both this and the next Stallone movie make a point -- right there
in the trailers -- to make excuses for the age of the stars. It's a defensive
mechanism, I suppose, to take the sting out of the inevitably snarky remarks
from critics and commenters complaining about how old they are. But while
"I'm too old for this" was a funny line when Danny Glover said it in Lethal
Weapon -- when he was much younger than Schwarzenegger and Stone are now --
it needs to be retired. If you're gonna have Schwarzenegger or Stallone run
around and beat everybody up, just let them do it. (Eastwood gets a pass for
doing this in Gran Torino, since the character's advanced age was an important
part of the story.)

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