This week we can immerse ourselves in tales of American sentiment, French fantasy, English history, Italian romance and alien invasion.
After more than a decade on hiatus, James Cameron returns from his days as “King of the World” with a mind on conquering a few new ones in this sci-fi epic that the director maintains will alter the face of moviemaking forever. (Early reviews seem to agree.) A galaxy away from Cameron’s days as a miniature maker on Roger Corman’s “Battle Beyond the Stars,” “Avatar” blends performance capture technology with real world photography to create Pandora, where a troubled U.S. marine (Sam Worthington) is tasked with infiltrating the Na’vi, a tribe of primitive but proud aliens, via a genetically created body, though he finds his loyalties torn when he falls in love with one of their own (Zoe Saldana). The film’s reported $300 million price tag is surely the stuff of Hollywood accountant’s nightmares, especially since some have been quick to jump all over the oddly familiar premise as merely “Dances With Smurfs.” But hey, it’s James Cameron, so if he wants to film Julian Sands reading from a take-out menu inside a darkened cupboard, we’d still line up around the block to go and see it.
Opens wide and in 3D and IMAX.
Having scooped up a trio of nominations at the forthcoming Spirit Awards, writer/director Scott Cooper’s adaptation of Thomas Cobb’s novel finds Jeff Bridges stepping into the worn boots of Bad Blake, an over-the-hill country crooner subsisting on a steady diet of tips and regrets as he travels the Midwest bowling alley circuit for low-paying gigs. While in Santa Fe, he meets a curious feature writer (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who inspires him to face the humbling prospect of opening for his former protégé Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell) and getting his life back on track. The film’s country bonafides are affirmed by the producing presence of “O Brother Where Art Thou”‘s music supervisor T Bone Burnett and Robert Duvall, whose supporting role in “Crazy Heart” will remind many of his Oscar-winning performance at the center of the similarly themed “Tender Mercies.”
Opens in New York and Los Angeles on December 16th.
“Did You Hear About The Morgans?”
The holiday season is upon us, and that means peace on Earth and goodwill to all men — unless, of course, they’re insufferable yuppies, in which case they must be abused, tormented and ultimately shamed into repentance. For his first film since 2007’s “Music and Lyrics,” Hugh Grant reunites with writer/director Marc Lawrence for something of a reverse country-bumpkin riff on “The Out-of-Towners,” the 1970 Neil Simon comedy that Lawrence coincidentally remade once already in 1999. Also reuniting with Grant is his “Extreme Measures” co-star Sarah Jessica Parker, who plays Grant’s better half in a loveless Manhattan couple that is relocated to Wyoming after witnessing a mob murder and find their disintegrating marriage reinvigorated by small-town charm and the disarmingly slow pace of life.
Were someone sophisticated (read: nerdy) enough to devise a Fantasy Football-type game based on the movies, you’d be hard pressed to pick a stronger starting lineup than director Rob Marshall has cobbled together for this likely statuette magnet. For starters, Michael Tolkin and the late Anthony Minghella penned the adaptation of the Tony Award-winning musical inspired by Federico Fellini’s beloved autobiographical opus “8 1/2,” with Daniel Day-Lewis taking on the part of filmmaker and mercurial lothario Guido Contini. Delivering a raucous serenade to the enchanting enigma of women in all their guises, Contini, in desperate need of a hit, sweats out a script while dodging irate producers and curious journalists as his mind and memory drifts between thoughts of his wife (Marion Cotillard), his mistress (Penélope Cruz), his confidante (Judi Dench), his mother (Sophia Loren), his muse (Nicole Kidman), a reporter (Kate Hudson) and a whore from his old neighborhood (Fergie).
Opens in limited release; opens wide on December 25th.
“The Other Side of Paradise”
Husband-and-wife team of director Justin D. Hilliard and co-writer/star Arianne Martin offer up a semi-autobiographical interpretation of their courtship in the form of a meandering road trip that sees two longtime friends dance around their deeper feelings and are periodically distracted by American indie staples like unwanted familial obligation and kooky backwater folk. Martin stars as Rose Hewitt, a free-spirited photographer who invites her recently dumped BFF Alex (John Elliott) to join her on a drive to a gallery opening in Austin, stopping en route to pick up her recently paroled brother Jamie (Frank Mosley) and drop him off with their dad (Jodie Moore).
Opens in New York.
It’s a brave director (or merely a French one) that will play parental anxiety over infant mortality for chuckles, but that’s exactly what festival darling François Ozon does with this perplexing mixture of working class worry and far out fantasy about a diapered protag who literally wants to fly the nest. Born out of a bizarre short story by English author Rose Tremain, this surrealist portrait of primal fear stars Alexandra Lamy as Katie, a factory worker who conceives a child with her co-worker (Sergi López) that wreaks havoc on the couple’s simple domestic life as Katie begins to notice something strange about her new baby and her older daughter becomes jealous. In French with subtitles.
Opens in New York on December 16th and available on VOD.
“A Town Called Panic”
Originally a stop-motion series of whimsical tales about a trio of Plastiscine figurines in their remote prairie town, this Belgian animated feature could be best described as a less vulgar “Robot Chicken,” although Vincent Patar and Stéphane Aubier’s puppetoon in fact predates Seth Green’s Cartoon Network hit by several years. This bigscreen adventure centers on the Cowboy (voiced by Aubier) and Indian’s (Bruce Ellison) search for the perfect gift for their friend Horse (Patar) that lets loose a world of trouble for all three when an internet shopping mishap results in the unfortunate delivery of 50 million bricks that wind up crushing the gang’s house.
Opens in New York on December 16th; opens in Los Angeles on January 29th.
“The Young Victoria”
Reflective of the, shall we say, “selectively” multicultural nature of the European monarchies, this lush slice of squabbling aristocracy is produced by an American (Martin Scorsese no less), an Englishman (Graham King), and a former member of the British Royal Family (Sarah Ferguson), directed by a French-Canadian (Jean-Marc Vallée), and tells how Queen Victoria came to marry a Saxon Duke of German ancestry dispatched from Luxembourg at the behest of a scheming Belgian. (Phew!) As much a love story as a history lesson, the film follows Victoria (Emily Blunt) from her melancholic childhood prior to ascension to her many battles with her devious comptroller Sir John Conroy (Mark Strong), her dangerous alliance with elitist Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany), and her singular relationship with the future Prince Albert (Rupert Friend), whose letters back-and-forth from Buckingham were the 19th century equivalent of going steady.
Opens in limited release.