E: Now we’re getting down to it! November begins the holiday movie season, bringing a blend of family adventure, cartoon, comedy, and awards-bait drama that’s hard to beat.
C: November is also, apparently, the month of movies about one man. But there’s still plenty of variety, depending on whether you prefer a super-spy, a president, a pilot, an actor, a director, an Indian teenager, a video game villain, or a real-life rockstar.
E: Disney’s pretty adorable-looking (and oh so heavily promoted) story of a sweet video game villain desperately tired of being bad.
C: Isn’t it funny how many children’s movies lately are all about sympathy for the villain? One can’t help wondering if we might not be raising a generation of absolute relativists. “I know he blew up town hall, mommy, but see how nice he was to that kitten!”
M: While I agree with you to an extent on this, I think the idea of being able to bring about change in yourself from bad to good is something worthy of presenting. Now, this is certainly no Dead Man Walking, don’t get me wrong, but a story telling kids that their past transgressions don’t doom them to a life of villainy is a good thing.
C: Wondering how many American kids of the age group this movie is meant for might otherwise believe villainy to be their only life option… but okay.
E: I think it’s more nuanced than Despicable Me or Megamind (which I loved, by the way): Wreck-It-Ralph isn’t a villain; he plays a villain in the videogame. It’s his job, and he just doesn’t enjoy being personally misrepresented.
M: And I think it looks like a lot of fun. Now, lately I’ve been wondering if it’s really going to be good, or if I am just liking the previews because they use really good songs, and put a good montage up behind them. Still I think there are enough good lines in them to make me think (hope?) I’m over-analyzing.
E: I’ll be waiting on the reviews, but it could be a great flick for families. So we’ll see.
E: Denzel Washington stars in this rather intense looking piece about a pilot who makes a spectacular crash landing – but is found to have been under the influence when he saved the crew and passengers.
M: I’m surprised that you’re not leading with something about this being total Oscar-bait. Denzel? A story that looks loosely based on Sully Sullenberger, but with complications? Robert Zemeckis? I’m in.
E: It’s definitely that – total Oscar bait – but you wouldn’t have to be an Oscar junkie like me to go for it. Washington is one of the greats, and the subject matter offers him some good meat to gnaw on.
The Man With the Iron Fists
E: What is Russell Crowe doing in a martial arts movie? Can this be a good thing?
M: Well, if you recall Chris Rock’s opening monologue at the Oscars a couple years ago when he hosted, Russell Crowe is supposed to be in anything that’s a period piece, right?
C: Evidence suggest that’s far from true.
M: Evidence schmevidence!
C: Um… right. Anyway, what I want to know is, why does this have a title so easily confusable with The Man in the Iron Mask?
M: Totally been thinking that, too.
E: Oh, I don’t know – it sounds very old school martial arts to me.
M: What I can’t figure out is how former Wu-Tang Clan member RZA got the budget and cast together for this, his writing and directing debut. I mean, Crowe, Lucy Liu and Rick Yune are some pretty big gets…
E: I’m with you on that one, big time.
E: A pack of raccoons trash the perfect house (and perfect-seeming marriage) of Tobey Maguire and Elizabeth Banks. They’re both appealing performers, but I loathe that kind of set up.
M: And yet the one sitcom you will watch is Suburgatory? You baffle me.
E: Dude, I don’t know what you think you know about Suburgatory, but the “perfect” shallow suburbanites are not actually the main characters. In this movie they are.
C: They need to deal like the citizens of Pawnee did with their raccoon problem. “They have their part of the town and we have ours.”
This Must be the Place
E: Sean Penn stars as a former rock star still hanging on to his goth look in Dublin.
C: That’s a premise for a film? It sound like a premise for a still image.
M: And one I’d rather not have to look at, at that.
E: Alicia Silverstone and Kristen Ritter light up the club scene, all the while hiding their true identity as vampires. Will they give up life eternal for true love? Find out in this – er – unusual romantic comedy written and directed by Amy Hecklering, best known for Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Clueless.
M: It does reunite Silverstone with Clueless co-star (and family favorite) Wallace Shawn, so it has that going for it.
C: I think this looks like it has real potential! As a friend said, this seems to be putting a dose of “womanly humor” into the Twilight phenomenon – not a bad idea. Also, Dan Stevens is in it as a Van Helsing-descended love interest for one of the vampire gals. Yum.
E: Amy Heckerling’s smart and funny, and she makes very few movies, so despite the unexpected premise, I’m super curious about the reviews.
E: You want a big name franchise? You got it. James Bond – you really can’t get more franchise-y than that.
C: How do you guys feel about Bond? I kind of think that, to enjoy the movies, I would have to have grown up watching them with my dad while he taught me valuable lessons on manliness and fair play and scoring chicks. So basically, I would have to be of a different gender and have a different father.
M: You may be right about the gender, perhaps, but you’re wrong about the circumstances and the dad. I enjoy the Bond flicks a lot when they are good (you hear that, Timothy Dalton?). I love the gadgets, the high class spy stuff, the intrigue and mystery, the exotic locations and the actions sequences. More movies, like the Bourne movies, and a lot of individual movies, can approximate it, making it less of a novelty than it was when they first came out and made Sean Connery a star.
C: Funny, I enjoyed Bourne (the first movie, anyway) much more than I’ve ever enjoyed a Bond film. Because, I think, there was some novelty to the concept.
E: Well, I’m sort of half and half on Bond. Yes to the action, no to the sexism. I prefer the less suave Jason Bourne. I have to admit, I’m no longer as sold on Daniel Craig’s muscly tough Bond as I expected to still be.
M: Still, there’s something about the cool toys that Q provides, the great villains, and the suave super-spy hero. From what I’m hearing this one is good, which makes me happy. That said, I hope that they lose the trend of the last two or three (I think it’s three) Bond movies where he “goes rogue” and is operating against the will of the British Secret Service, because that’s gotten really old. Casino Royale was very good so it worked, but Quantum of Solace‘s plot was a bit of a mess (as was its name), and it didn’t. Let’s just give Bond a super-villain with quirky minions, a great one-off mission, a cool car, some fun toys, and send him to spectacular places, and let it be.
E: Here we’ve got all the prestige and Oscar buzz you could want – Daniel Day Lewis takes on the role of America’s 16th president under the direction of Steven Spielberg.
C: As you’d expect in a Spielberg movie, the rest of the cast is great too: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, David Strathairn, Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field, and more. And Lee Pace, only he’s apparently playing a pro-slavery meanie. Woe. But obviously, it all hinges on Day Lewis here. I believe he can handle the role, but can he handle the hairdo? The trailer suggests… he cannot. And the other question is, will too many people confuse this with Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter?
M: I don’t think we have to worry about the Vampire Hunter version. The one thing that I think could actually hurt it is election fatigue. We’ll have wrapped up (hopefully! please let there be no repeat of Florida 2000!) our presidential election a few days before, and with the election cycle growing longer and longer, and the ads more and more omnipresent, I’m wondering if people will be too spent to go to a bio-pic about a president, even one that has the pedigree of this one.
C: Yeah, I could see this getting dragged into various political discussions, no matter who’s elected. But that would probably be inevitable anyway; as you point out, the real problem might be public political burnout.
E: I’m incredibly sick of political ads (and I don’t even live in a swing state) but I think there’ll be an appeal in seeing this movie. No matter how gritty, the movie talks about a long ended conflict; there’s something comfortably clear and heroic about the past, much more so than our own muddled times.
M: Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it will make it a flop, just maybe not as big as it should be given everything it has going for it. That said, there is the issue of the uber left-wing Steven Spielberg making a political movie about a Republican president, even if it’s one from 150 years ago, and if that will turn people off, at least until they hear the reviews or buzz.
C: Not to start our own political debate, but calling a politician from the 1860s “Republican” – while historically accurate – is essentially a misconstruction when you assert that classification within today’s political structure. The parties were totally different then. The term doesn’t even have the same meaning.
E: Even if M’s critique were historically correct, I can’t imagine many moviegoers being dissuaded for that reason.
M: That would be because neither of you are members of the party that Lincoln created… but let’s move on, shall we?
C: Oh, brother.
E: A Chinese adaptation of the classic eighteenth-century French novel. Which perhaps is no weirder than the many American versions, I guess, from the Glenn Close/John Malkovich/Uma Thurman/Michelle Pfeiffer vehicle in the 80s, to the camp high school drama Cruel Intentions in the 90s.
M: To quote Frances McDormand in Fargo, not sure I agree with your police work there. I think a Chinese version is weirder. Culturally, Victorian-era France and Victorian-era America were similar places. China, not so much. Now, I’ll give you the Cruel Intentions style adaptation is divergent, so that would be the better comparison, not all the versions.
E: Sigh. How can you be our brother and think Queen Victoria lived for 150 years? Anything in fancy dress is Victorian to you.
M: Ok, when is this supposed to be set? I thought it was mid 19th century, which would be Victorian.
C: It’s pre-Revolution France, latter 18th C. I’m always fascinated by contextually divergent adaptations, and the “weirder” – if by that you guys mean more widely separated from the culture of the source – the more interesting they often are. I saw a sumptuous version of Hamlet recently set in dynastic-period China, also starring Zhang Ziyi, and it was quite cool. I would probably watch this adaptation, though the story of manipulations and seductions is not one that appeals much to me.
E: It’s mostly people being punished for their Machiavellian sex lives, but I take your point.
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2
E: And so it ends. Finally.
C: And not a minute too soon. In fact, at least a hundred minutes too long. I saw Part 1 (only because it was riffed) and even the sterling humorous commentary couldn’t do much with the ridiculous dragging length and complete plotlessness of that film.
M: In case you couldn’t tell, readers, we’re not exactly the world’s biggest Twi-hards.
E: Drama set in 1942 featuring the great Christopher Plummer as the great actor John Barrymore.
C: Oh my gosh, that’s so cool! One great playing another. I totally love John Barrymore. It’s hard to picture Plummer doing his characteristic crazy faces, but this should be interesting.
M: I am less enthused. What’s the hook, exactly?
E: No idea. Could it garner Plummer his second Oscar nomination (and even win) in two years? I’m not sure – it’s an appealing idea, but it also looks like a one-man show, and those don’t do very well as films. One to investigate, for sure.
C: Okay, after looking up the play it’s based on and watching the movie trailer, I’m considerably less interested. It’s basically about Barrymore’s alcoholic decline and demise, with reminiscences of his glory days thrown in. Not only does that sound depressing, but watching the clips they offer, I really don’t see Barrymore – I just see Plummer. One to skip, I think.
M: Again, what’s the hook, exactly?
E: The latest remake of the classic Russian novel reunites Kiera Knightley with director Joe Wright in a theatrically staged version of a noblewoman’s tragic undoing.
C: This is one of those adaptations that you know, just after watching the trailer, will be studied in college courses on literary adaptation. It may not be great (if it’s anything like the last four films I’ve seen by Wright, it will be gorgeous but ultimately unsatisfying), but the layers of metatheatricality guarantee that it’ll be talked about. At least by the people who talk about that kind of thing.
E: Like you and I.
M: I’m waiting for the Chinese version.
Silver Linings Playbook
E: No, it’s not based on classic literature, history, or a disabled character, but this contemporary film has generated enormous buzz on the festival circuit. Bradley Cooper’s looking for that silver lining when his wife divorces him and he’s forced to move in with his Philadelphia Eagles-obsessed parents (Robert De Niro and Animal Kingdom‘s ferocious Jacki Weaver – youch!) – and it might have arrived in the person of sexy and mysterious Jennifer Lawrence.
C: Uggghhhhhh. I loved Bradley Cooper on Alias but nothing in his recent career makes me want to see him in an Oscar race. And even ignoring his recent record, nothing would make me want to see him romancing a girl 15 years his junior.
E: I don’t like the romantic pairing at all either; let’s hope he gets back together with his wife. At any rate, the buzz is for Lawrence, Weaver and DeNiro, not just for Cooper. And I’m not too sanguine about his chances. It’s the Hugh Grant syndrome; he’s too cute to get award nominations, especially for a somewhat comic contemporary piece.
M: One thing in this movie’s favor, apparently Cooper and De Niro liked working together, so there is that.
C: Bully for them?
C: This film is only just coming out? LOL. They must have put it off for ages, then, since the trailers came out a year or two ago. That’s always a bad sign. Not that this remake of a classically wacko, jingoistic 80s film needed that to confirm it would be terrible!
M: I think it was at least two years ago, and yeah, very bad sign.
E: Agreed. On the other hand, stars Chris Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson are much more famous than they were two years ago, which could help out its box office hopes.
Rise of the Guardians
C: Is it just me, or does that sound like it should be subtitle, not a title? It sounds weirdly incomplete on its own.
M: I hadn’t thought of it, but yeah, it does!
C: On the other hand, almost anything would sound generically cool with that subtitle. Star Trek: Rise of the Guardians. Bambi: Rise of the Guardians. Watermelon Picnic: Rise of the Guardians. Okay, maybe not that last one…
M: Sorry sis, really only the first one. You know what would totally work, though? Dr Who: Rise of the Guardians, or the spin off Amy and Rory: Rise of the Guardians.
E: Oooo, I want to see that one! Wondering what to do with your kids during Thanksgiving break? Here’s what the studio is hoping you’ll pick: a robust adventure featuring brawny versions of every kid’s favorite people – Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and their ilk – saving the world.
M: And here’s what Mrs M and I will be doing with our kids during Thanksgiving break… not that!
C: Honestly, from the trailer, it looks too scary for elementary school kids to me. Even the premise – ‘your warm fuzzy childhood legends are actually tattooed, sword-weilding warriors’ – seems better suited to a young adult graphic novel or the like.
Life of Pi
M: The ad blitz for this has started for this adventure tale of an Indian boy who is shipwrecked in the Pacific with a tiger and some other animals on his life raft, and I have to say, I’m on the fence.
C: Me too. But then, I didn’t even love the book the way most people did.
E: I’m terrified by that tiger! And I’m even more terrified because this movie’s huge Oscar bait and I’ll have to see it. I’d heard of the book, of course, but I didn’t know diddly about the subject matter and now I’m freaked out.
C: Teen boy ends up in a lifeboat with a tiger. That’s the basics.
M: It looks like it could either be an unmitigated disaster (which is Mrs M’s VERY strongly held opinion), or it could be very cool. I’m definitely leaning toward disaster, but there’s something that’s giving me pause. Maybe it’s that M. Night Shyamalan dropped out of this, because I really don’t think it’s Ang Lee’s presence.
E: (Raises hand) It’s the tiger. In a boat. Is it really an entire movie about a kid in a boat with a tiger? Ang Lee’s a genius, but good lord.
E: Will Anthony Hopkins snag his first Oscar nomination in 14 years for playing the celebrated director? Playing Nixon did the trick for him in 1995…
C: It’s just possible, though he might have too many funny lines in this to win. On another note, don’t you feel there must be an ironic frustration for a director in making a movie about a great director, knowing he probably would’ve made the movie way better than you?
E: Hee. I suppose in the same way a critique writes about movies or biographers tell the lives of great writers. Maybe it’s an homage, just biography as fan art.
C: I’m intrigued by this confluence of old Hollywood biopics. As with Barrymore, the title Hitchcock doesn’t give you any notion of what the actual plot might be.
M: Exactly. Despite the spectacular cast, and as much as I love Hitchcock’s films, and I LOVE his films, I’m not sure I care enough about his biography.
C: In this case, though, it’s not his life story, it’s the story of the making of Psycho. And you know what? The trailer really sells it! Not only do you have Anthony Hopkins looking totally unlike himself in the title role (doing a waaaay better job of disappearing into the part than either Day Lewis or Plummer in their surname-titled biopics), you have the always amazing Helen Mirren co-starring as Mrs. Hitchcock, not to mention Scarlett Johansson as shower scene victim Janet Leigh. What’s more, the film appears to have both style and panache. Pending reviews, this is going on my to-see list!
Rust and Bone
E: Oscar winner Marion Cotillard seems likely to return to the awards circuit in this French film about a whale trainer who’s lost her will to live after an accident leaves her wheelchair bound.
C: Are you kidding me with that plot summary???
E: Nope. Not even a little.
M: Does she regain it when the whales she used to train are kidnapped by a Starfleet crew and used to save the planet and repopulate the species hundreds of years in the future?
C: Oh, I would definitely see that movie. But I don’t need to see a high-profile French re-imagining of Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken.
Bon Jovi Inside Out
M: Really, we’re including this? I thought November wasn’t a slow month.
E: Hey. People should just know something this atypical is coming out, that’s what I think. You don’t get a lot of concert movies in the winter, and I don’t ever remember a Bon Jovi one.
C: Perfect timing, just when nobody would possibly expect one…
Killing Them Softly
E: I know it sounds like a Halloween horror fest, but the caliber of the cast points to something a little different – this mob drama stars Brad Pitt, Sam Rockwell, Richard Jenkins and Ray Liotta.
M: The backing of Harvey Weinstein and Megan Ellison (mentioned in the preview of The Master) makes me think this has some serious potential. Plus, it’s supposed to be a hard-boiled thriller, and you forgot to mention James Gandolfini and Sam Sheppard in the cast. Looks very promising.
E: I don’t like mob movies, but it really is quite a cast.
Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning
M: On the opposite end from promising…
C: They wanted to call it Universal Soldier: Rise of the Guardians, but changed their minds when DreamWorks complained that people would confuse Van Damme with Santa.
E: Snort. Wait. Jean-Claude Van Damme still makes movies? No way!
M: To be fair, both he and Dolph Lundgren, who is also back for this installment, were in Expendables 2, which came out in August. A more appropriate question is why anyone would think JCVD can still headline a movie, or why anyone would pay to make another Universal Soldier movie.