By Neil Pedley
Families heading to the multiplexes post-turkey this Thanksgiving can unbutton those tight belts in the dark after choosing from an eclectic mix of hard-hitting action, sweeping epics and prickly romance.
Never one to be rushed, director Baz Luhrmann has taken seven years since putting his so-called “red curtain trilogy” to bed before delivering this, the first installment in his announced trilogy of epics. Once more showcasing his fascination with great melodrama, old-school villainy and larger-than-life love stories, Luhrmann has reinvented himself without really reinventing himself with this grandiose romance set against the backdrop of a transforming nation. Returning muse Nicole Kidman stars as Sarah Ashley, a freshly widowed cattlewoman who falls in love with a rugged ranch hand named Drover (Hugh Jackman), as the two drive 1500 head of cattle to Darwin. Unfortunately, they arrive just in time to see the Japanese bombers appear on the horizon.
What better way to start ringing in the holiday season with your family and friends than a treacly romantic comedy about divorce where a self-absorbed yuppie couple pays lip service to parents and other family members they can’t stand the sight of. Looking to reassert herself after a brief stint wandering post-Oscar career wilderness, Reese Witherspoon joins Vince Vaughn to play the young couple pleased as punch to be avoiding the seasonal family get-togethers before a fogbank at the airport scuppers their plans. “King of Kong” director Seth Gordon looks after an all-star supporting cast boasting the likes of Robert Duvall, Mary Steenburgen, Jon Voight, Sissy Spacek and Jon Favreau, who fill out the roles within the extended and estranged family.
Director Gus Van Sant flirted with making a biopic of the late Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to public office, with Sean Penn as the lead all the way back to 1993 when Oliver Stone was looking to produce, but passed, citing script problems. Now, the inimitably divisive auteur returns with a script from “Big Love” scribe Dustin Lance Black that stars Penn as the shy, aging New Yorker who relocates to San Francisco and became a champion of the national gay rights movement. Wall-to-wall with indie darlings, the film stars James Franco, Alison Pill, Emile Hirsch and Joseph Cross, who round out Milk’s entourage, while Josh Brolin provides some political opposition.
Opens in limited release; expands on Dec. 5th.
“Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!”
Bollywood helmer Dibakar Banerjee’s sophomore feature sends up the story of Lucky, a scrawny 15-year-old street hoodlum who rises from the West Delhi ghetto to transform into a modern day Robin Hood. The film is said to have been inspired by the real-life exploits of Devender “Bunty” Singh, whose estimated 500 burglaries (stealing everything from classic cars to family pets), aided by his suave demeanor and remarkable ability to divert suspicion, made him something of a folk hero in his native India. In Hindi with subtitles.
Opens in limited release.
“Rome & Jewel”
While non-English majors the world over may perish the thought of reading brick-like Shakespeare anthologies on a daily basis, the Bard has perhaps done more to offer struggling catalogue models a bridge to screen stardom than any man in history. So here come the impossibly good-looking duo of Nate Parker and Lindsey Haun as star-crossed lovers, with Parker playing the son of an African-American minister in Compton and Haun the Caucasian daughter of the mayor of Los Angeles. This hip-hop infused “Romeo & Juliet” update is the brainchild of writer/director Charles T. Kanganis, whose last theatrical feature, 1996’s non-entity “Race the Sun,” starred the similarly attractive up-and-comers Eliza Dushku, Casey Affleck and Halle Berry.
Opens in limited release.
With this latest stirring melodrama, accomplished director Avi Nasher joins a growing list of Israeli filmmakers quietly raging against the ultra-orthodox practitioners of Judaism that continue to cast off women to a lifetime of domestic inconsequence. Fleeing this stiflingly conservative climate is Naomi (Ania Bokstein), a young girl who enrolls in a seminary to escape an unwanted marriage. At the seminary, she finds a kindred spirit in her roommate Sheine (Talli Oren), and the newfound allies hatch a plan to expunge the sins of a sickly French outcast (Fanny Ardant) with the aide of an ancient, mystical and fiercely forbidden Kabbalah ritual. In English, French and Hebrew with subtitles.
Opens in limited release.
It remains an unfathomable mystery how Luc Besson, director of such existential twaddle as “The Big Blue,” and Robert Mark Kamen, a guy with a Ph.D. in anthropology, became the guys who quietly transformed leading man Jason Statham into the closest thing we have these days to an Arnie or a Sly. Yet Besson and Kamen have teamed once more, with French director Olivier Megaton holding the megaphone, so that Statham can once again suit up as Frank Martin, the most reliable (read: hardest to kill) courier in all the underworld. This time, Frank’s task is to deliver Valentina (Natalya Rudakova), the kidnapped daughter of a Ukrainian official, while evading and dispatching the customary assortment of disposable goons that pop up along the way.
[Photo: “Australia,” Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation, 2008]