Well, here we are. It's Christmastime at the movies once again. Well, it's Christmastime everywhere, but we're concerned with movies here so we'll focus on that. This year -- just to make things interesting, I guess -- the folks who make these decisions opted to hit us with seven new movies and one 3D-ified reissue in three volleys. The first hits on Dec. 19, the second on Dec. 21, and the heavy hitters make their bows on Christmas Day. Presumably, this is an attempt to spread things out more evenly. It will not, however, keep Christmas Day from being a madhouse where goodwill towards men extends only to the point of finding a seat.
Since this is award season, Mr. Souther and I have seen -- and reviewed -- most of the big titles. That means you can read about Les Miserables, Silver Linings Playbook, and This Is 40 in the paper. I'll go ahead and blab that Silver Linings Playbook -- opening on Christmas at The Carolina and the Fine Arts -- is far and away the best of the three, so far as I'm concerned. It will, in fact, probably end up on my Ten Best list -- though there's a wild card there that's yet to be seen. For that matter, This Is 40 -- which Justin reviewed -- is likely to end up on a list, too, but not the same one, if you catch my drift. (It opens on Dec. 21 at The Carolina, the Regal Biltmore Grande, and the Beaucatcher.) I'll also note that I fully expect to have a brickbat or two thrown my way for not loving (and that's putting it mildly) Les Miserables, which opens on Christmas at The Carolina, the Carmike, and the Regal Biltmore Grande.
OK. that touches on what has been seen and reviewed. That leaves four titles -- The Guilt Trip, Jack Reacher, Parental Guidance, and Django Unchained -- and that re-issue of Monsters, Inc. with its shiny new coat of 3D. (It opens on Dec. 19 at The Carolina, the Regal Biltmore Grande, and the Beaucatcher.) Thankfully, that one doesn't warrant reviewing. But let's explore the others in passing.
The first volley on Dec. 19 is represented by The Guilt Trip (opening at The Carolina, the Carmike, and the Regal Bitmore Grande). This is what is known as a high concept comedy -- the concept being to cast Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogen as a Jewish mother and her son on a cross country road trip. The novelty value lies in seeing La Streisand in a lead role for the first time in some considerable time -- since 1996 in fact. The very limited early reviews suggest that that novelty value isn't sufficient to put it over. That it was directed by the woman who gave us Step Up (2006), 27 Dresses (2008), and The Proposal (2009) certainly does not bode well. I've got to see it. You have a choice.
On Fri., Dec. 21, we're confronted with the aforementined This Is 40 and also the new Tom Cruise picture, Jack Reacher (at The Carolina, the Regal Biltmore Grande, and the Beaucatcher). Somewhat peculiarly, Cruise has been cast as the literary character of the title -- a character who is supposed to be six-foot-five and very bulky. I reckon this comes under the heading of star power trumping everything else. (It may be debatable just how powerful Cruise's star power is if he isn't in an established film series, but we'll see about that.) In any case, Reacher is an ex-military investigator who gets called in on a sniper case that appears to require his particular talents. The early reviews are mostly good, though none of those good reviews come from anyone I'd listen to with any great expectations. For me, the most intriguing aspect of the film is its casting of the world's most idiosyncratic director, Werner Herzog, as a Russian mobster. The film was written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, who hasn't directed anything in 12 years and is mostly known for having written The Usual Suspects -- a very long time ago. Your call. I'm using Mr. Souther as a kind of cinematic food taster myself.
That brings us to Christmas Day where in addition to the already named titles, we get what I called the wild card in my possible "best of" list. I refer, of course, to Quentin Tarentino's Django Unchained (opening at The Carolina, the Regal Biltmore Grande, and the Beaucatcher). Regardless of how you feel about Tarantino, it's hard to deny that a new film from him qualifies as an event. This one -- Tarantino-esque revisionism involving a vengeance-seeking ex-slave (Jamie Foxx), a bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz), and the proprietor (Leonardo DiCaprio) of a notorious plantation --appears to be of a similar sprawling piece with Inglourious Basterds. That's to say it's violent, pulpy fun that bears only the slightest resemblance to history, except as Tarantino can bend it to his own ends. So far, it hasn't gotten a single bad review, though it has the expected unfavorable comparisons to the director's earlier work. (Isn't that always the way?) I won't be there on Christmas Day, but I'll be there bright and early on the 26th, I assure you.
Bringing up the rear in every conceivable way on Christmas Day is Parental Guidance (at The Carolina, the Regal Biltmore Grande, and the Beaucatcher). This is apparently the movie industry's sop to opening something "family friendly." First off, let's look at the premise -- Billy Crystal and Bette Midler as grandparents stuck with babysitting chores. Then, let's look at director Andy Fickman's credits -- She's the Man (2006), The Game Plan (2007), Race to Witch Mountain (2009), You Again (2010). I've seen more impressive credentials for locust plagues. To date, it has one review -- a positive one from a notorious quote whore. (I fully expect to see TV ads with raves credited in very small print from very obscure reviewers for rural morning TV shows any day now.) I have a bad feeling that I agreed to review this, too -- something that must have happened during a sinking spell of stupidity.
Now, here we come to a problem. I don't know for sure what we're losing come Christmas Day. I could make some stabs at probable casualties, but I'd rather not. I'll simply note that it might be wise to catch Cloud Atlas and Argo (still at The Carolina) right away, if you haven't. I'll update this when I know more.
It should come as no surprise that the holidays are taking a toll on the special screenings. The Hendersonville Film Society, of course, has been out of commission all month and will continue to be till January. Since Christmas falls on Tuesday, there'll be no Asheville Film Society screening till Jan. 1. And there'll be a two week gap for World Cinema after this week. However, we do have a couple of things. This week the Thusday Horror Picture Show is running the Karloff-Lugosi film The Invisible Ray (1936) on Thu., Dec. 20 at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina. World Cinema closes out the year with Jean-Luc Godard's Alphaville (1965) at 8 p.m. on Fri. Dec. 21 in the Railroad Library in the Phil Mechanic Building, More on both films in this week's paper with extended coverage in the online edition.
I guess this is the "just in time for Christmas" push in DVD's because there's a raft of titles coming out. The best of these are Arbitrage, Killer Joe, and Liberal Arts. And then we have Premium Rush, Sleepwalk with Me, Resident Evil: Retribution, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days, Pitch Perfect, Total Recall, and Trouble with the Curve.
Notable TV Screenings
Normally, TCM gives us a fairly nice run of admittedly familiar titles on Christmas. The year Christmas Night finds us faced with six Andy Hardy movies. I can only conclude that we've all been naughty and this was as close as they could get to lumps of coal.
There are some bright spots, though. Richard Lester's The Bed-Sitting Room (1969) is on at noon on Fri., Dec. 21. That evening at 8 p.m. we get Ernst Lubitsch's first two talkies, The Love Parade (1929) and Monte Carlo (1930). Yes, they have a little creakiness in their early sound bones, but there are compensations aplenty. Following them there's Lubitsch's last Chevalier-MacDonald musical The Merry Widow (1934). I may or may not make another attempt to like this one.