December 2015 Movie Preview: Star Wars… Nothing but Star Wars

M: Okay, if you don’t understand the title, you need to do one of two things. First, if you don’t understand it because you don’t know that the first new Star Wars movie in the post-George Lucas era, directed by J.J. Abrams, is coming out this month, then you need to climb out from whatever rock you’ve been under for the last year or two. Second, if it’s because you don’t get the reference, you need to watch this old Bill Murry SNL sketch.

C: I actually did not get that reference, and now feel shame.

E: The key point is, it’s all about Star Wars. And Oscar movies. Star Wars and awards bait.  You know what?  It’s a lot of movies, period.

M: Well, not the SNL sketch, our December movie post. The sketch is only about Star Wars. However, since as E said, we won’t actually be talking “nothing but Star Wars,” a quick note. There are about a billion movies of note being released the first weekend this month.

C: Actually, it’s 10.

M: …fine, 10. There are 10 movies of note being released the first weekend this month. Most of them, really all but the Christmas comedy-horror flick Krampus, are limited, small releases, but still, that’s a lot even for the small releases. The month evens out a bit after that, but ramps up again in time for the Christmas school break.

E: Well, those Oscar movies have to play somewhere in December or they don’t qualify!  Not that all of these are exactly Oscar-bait.

C: That is a crazy lot, anyway. So brace yourselves!

Week 1 – Krampus, The Letters, Youth, Macbeth, Chi-Raq, Life, Christmas Eve, MI-5, A Royal Night Out, The Lady In The Van

Week 2 – In The Heart of the Sea, The Big Short, Don Verdean, Bleeding Heart

Week 3 – Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Sisters, Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip, Son of Saul, Extraction, He Never Died

Week 4 – The Hateful Eight, Joy, Concussion, Daddy’s Home, Point Break, The Revenant, 45 Years, Yellow Day

December 4

Krampus (wide)

M: As mentioned, this is the only truly wide release this weekend, and oh does it look like a bundle of fun. The mythical krampus is a nasty creature in German folk-lore that punished bad kids at Christmas time. Really, who else but the Germans. C, the movie version stars your boy Adam Scott.

E: Last year I read a really fun short story about Krampus, which was the first I ever heard of the pre-Christian ritual now tied to the story of St. Nick in Austria, about a goat-like trickster who punishes the naughty at Christmas.

M: Believe it or not, the first I ever heard of it was on The League a few years back.

E: Of course you did. Well done them.

C: And for me, a Grimm episode.

E: Our family’s references come from TV? Yup, that checks out.

M: Wait, how does you reading a short story count as TV? You know what, nevermind. Let’s get back to the movie.

E: Allowing me to ignore your snark? Yes, let’s. So in the new film, a feuding family gets more than coal in their stockings.  Toni Collette and Adam Scott, an unusual pairing for a horror action flick…

M: …or any flick, IMHO…

E: …play a married couple desperately trying to make a perfect, civil holiday with a house full of relatives including Fargo‘s Allison Tolman and comedian/character actor David Koechner (Anchorman).  And, no, I feel like both Scott and Collette lean toward comedy, though I suppose Collette has done enough of both.

C: I can see both of them being tempted by something with Krampus in the name, as comedians. It’s just odd because I’ve never thought of them in the same sphere before.

M: Agreed. Such a strange cast.

E: I’m not sure I entirely get the tone of this entire endeavor. It starts off like a typical Christmas comedy.  People fight over food, over decorations, over the close quarters, and then a disillusioned kid throws away his letter to Santa, and Santa’s shadow Krampus and his minions toss up a storm and wreck the family mansion.  Wait, what?  Are they there to terrorize the family into being nice?  Is it a more gruesome Christmas Carol or It’s a Wonderful Life, where in the end everybody wakes up to a beautiful Christmas morning, having learned to appreciate each other?

M: Or does it turn into Saw or Hostel, and everyone just dies?

E: To get a fun look at the actual Austrian tradition, check out this group and their parade videos.  Those costumes bring me a lot of joy, anyway — who doesn’t love a goat-man with jingle butt?

C: Let’s just leave that question there to speak for itself, M.

M: Done.

The Letters (wide-ish)

M: So, transitioning from goat-men with jingle butts to Mother Theresa. Pretty common transition, right? Quick technical note, I said that Krampus is the only truly wide release, because this is opening in about 1000 theaters nationwide. Most wide releases open in somewhere between 3 and 5 thousand, so this is kind of wide, but not wide-wide.

E: Agreed; it’s a peculiar number. Critics have been absolutely excoriating this Mother Theresa story, calling it hagiography rather than biography.

C: I’m not sure there’s technically anything wrong with making a hagiography about a literal saint-to-be. (Unless you want to argue they’ve jumped the gun, I guess.) Not to mention that, even for non-Catholics, she’s a cultural byword for “extremely good person.”

E: I agree (again): it feels like a very pointed criticism.

M: A quick look at Rotten Tomatoes shows me that the only people to review it so far hate religion, or at least Christianity.

E: Leaving aside whether those critics have an issue with religion or just with positive story-telling, they’ve also been suggesting that the narrative structure falls flat despite the presence of a deeply talented cast.

M: I’m not throwing out their bias so quickly. Seeing comments that denigrate the role of religion in society while knocking the movie make me question the ability of the reviewer to fairly judge the film on its own merit.

C: It’s definitely true that not all reviewers will be open to positive depictions of religious life, period, or Teresa’s beliefs in particular. A really well-written movie would, you’d hope, overcome that prejudice, but not necessarily in all cases. And we don’t know how well-written this is.

M: Fair enough.

E: Getting back to the cast: Max Von Sydow and Rutger Hauer play priests, and the terrific yet underrated Juliet Stevenson (Truly Madly Deeply, Emma) stars as the saint who worked through her own abject loneliness and isolation to serve the poorest of the poor in Calcutta’s slums.

C: Hold up. Juliet Stevenson plays Mother Teresa? What the what now? The woman who I primarily know from playing smug British witchy types in Emma and Bend it Like Beckham? That’s some odd casting right there.

M: Yep. That aside, we’ve talked about the need for Hollywood to make more movies with strong female characters. Mother Theresa, like Rosa Parks, has long been on my list of bio-pics waiting to be tackled.

E: Absolutely.  If nothing else, it should serve as a good reminder during the holiday season that we already have so much more than we need.

Youth (limited)

E: Melancholy-looking meditation on aging, starring Oscar winner Michael Caine as an elderly composer vacationing in a swanky Swiss chalet with his filmmaker best friend and his resentful daughter; Caine wanders about in a funk, no longer interested in composing or much else.

C: Oh my gosh, nothing about that sounds even a little bit bearable, right down to the way-too-on-the-nose ironic title.

M: Elderly male buddy movies have become a thing in recent years, and I’m not entirely sure why.

C: Because they get laughs and make money?

M: Okay, but unlike recent examples of the genre, like The Bucket List or this year’s A Walk In The Woods, this one does not appear to be played for laughs. Instead, in what looks beautifully filmed and put together, Caine’s retired composer grapples with the loss of his wife.

E: Oscar-winner Rachel Weisz plays the daughter (angry that her father didn’t spend more time with her mother while she was alive), Harvey Keitel the best friend longing to make one last film, and Paul Dano and Oscar-winner Jane Fonda fellow guests who liven things up a bit.

M: I’m not sure Weisz is upset Caine didn’t spend enough time with his late wife, but that he was self-centered and didn’t get to know her like he should of. But that’s quibbling.

E: Why can’t it be both?

M: It can, I’m just saying it’s not necessarily the former. Anyway, let’s move on.

E: You’re wrong, but fine. Caine’s role has plenty of Oscar buzz; it’s always the most overstuffed category (movies with male leads, who knew the industry would keep making so many?) so he may not get one, but he’s certainly a contenders at this early date.  So obviously, the advanced word on this is good, even though a lot of what the trailer shows us is Caine off by himself conducting cows or imaginary people in picturesque green fields.

M: There’s nothing in the trailer to indicate it, but apparently Caine’s character is summoned to perform for the Queen.

E: And yes, M, before you ask, this is definitely typical Hollywood awards bait: like last year’s Birdman, it’s about the struggles of the creative process, about living after one’s outlet might be gone. That hits elderly Oscar voters right where they live. Fonda and Weisz also have some buzz going into supporting actress; Keitel’s part of the supporting actor long list, too, but Dano has talk for Love & Mercy, so won’t be campaigned for this one.

M: Should I know who the heck he is? Because I don’t.

E: Oh.  I would think you did.  Little Miss Sunshine. There Will Be Blood. Cowboys & Aliens.  12 Years a Slave.

C: The Lifetime movie Too Young to be a Dad. (Okay, I had to look him up, but that is 100% true.)

M: And I’ve seen none of those, so it makes sense now.

Macbeth (limited)

E: Macbeth is not one of my favorite Shakespearean tragedies — and if I’m being honest, I prefer the comedies and even some of the histories to the tragedies.

C: With you there, even if that makes us improper English majors.

M: To be honest, I’ve never read it. Then again, I was a Math major.

E: That said, I’m absolutely fascinated to see this particular cast take on classic story of hubris, ambition and destruction.  Michael Fassbender as the title character?  The luminous Marion Cotillard (so effecting in last year’s Two Days, Three Nights) as Lady Macbeth?  Yes please.

M: This looks like a very action-oriented version.

E: Not to mention visually stunning.

M: It struck me as the evolutionary equivalent of Branaugh’s Henry V, if that makes sense.

E: Oh, it absolutely does.  Going for realism and battles with the gore turned up.

C: I don’t know about this. The truth is, even though these are drop-dead-gorgeous, stellar actors who I’m sure will knock these roles out of the park, I’ve got the feeling I can easily picture the whole movie in my head. Do you know what I mean? Maybe it’s that I’ve already seen a million versions of Macbeth with equally gifted and compelling actors from across the globe, or that I’ve seen Fassbender play intense-sexy-egomaniac and Cotillard play intense-sexy-crazy, but I just feel somehow like I’ve already seen this one.

M: That might be your experience talking. Not knowing Macbeth, I definitely don’t feel like I’ve seen it.

E: I think it’s fair, but we’re probably in the minority on that one.  Although, hmm, maybe not the minority of art house moviegoers.  Anyway. If he hadn’t already given a stellar award-bait performance in Steve Jobs, one time nominee Fassbender would certainly be in the mix for this role.  Oscar winner Cotillard’s on the long list for best actress, but most Oscar-watchers would have said she was on the long list last year, too; never count her out.  And I would never count out the costumes that demarcate the Scottish lord’s rise from rough-hewn battlefield to the sumptuous throne.

M: Mmmmmm… throne. Wait, did you say sumptuous or scrumptious?

C: Thrones are not food, brother.

Chi-Raq (limited)

M: Spike Lee returns to the director’s chair, and brings a slew of talented actors and actresses to his latest “joint.” It’s a modernization of the ancient Greek comedy Lysistrata, set in Chicago, or as it is called due to it’s murder rate being higher than that of war-torn Iraq, Chi-raq. It stars … hold on while I limber up my fingers to type all the names… Dear White People‘s Teyonah Parris, Nick Cannon, Wesley Snipes, Angela Bassett, Samuel L. Jackson (of course), John Cusack (as a minister!), D.B. Sweeney, Jennifer Hudson, Steve Harris and in a small, but apparently huge comeback role, Dave Chappelle.

E: Lee definitely had a very specific, even provocative point of view, but Chicago definitely needs someone shining a light on their issues now.  Will anyone see it who doesn’t already know and care?  Perhaps not.  But what is art at all if artists don’t cry out when their voices are needed?

M: As best I can tell, the big set up is that attempt by the women of Chicag… er, Chi-raq to convince the men of the city to put aside violence by refusing sex until they do. Looking at it honestly, I think that’d have a decent chance of actually working.

C: Oh, ha! Like the ancient classical play? That’s pretty hilarious.

M: The one I mentioned above, yeah. Thanks for paying attention.

C: Oh. Oops.

E: The most important thing is that it’s a cool idea, right? I love Lysistrata (my first introduction to Greek comedy); the play about ending the Peloponnesian War is still hysterically funny, so that gives me a lot of hope for this version. A sex strike is never not going to be funny.  It’s been a long time since Spike Lee was on top of his game, but I think this looks pretty brilliant, actually.

M: I was never a big fan when he was on top of his game (unless you include the Michael Jordan Nike commercials), but at least he made stuff that prompted discussion. It’s been a long time since he did even that.

E: Oh, and because I can’t help myself.  You know what Chicago set-television show featured Teyonah (wearing actual clothes, unlike in this film) before Dear White People?  That’s right.  The Good Wife.

M: Shocker.

Life (limited)

E: Dean DeHaan plays James Dean, and Robert Pattinson the photographer who helped make him famous with a Life Magazine cover story. Problem is, of course, that Dean didn’t really want to be an icon.  He didn’t want to be caught up in the studio machine (as represented by executive Ben Kingsley or editor Joel Edergton).  He just wanted to act.

C: Which is funny since he became in icon for rebellion and getting to do what you want…

E: I’m sure the irony is well discussed in the film.

M: Pattinson has been trying to break away from the long shadow of Twilight since those movies ended, and there is some thought that this might be the flick to get that done. Personally, I think it’ll have to be something bigger.

E: This could be a good movie, but here’s my problem from the very first second. How can you put Pattinson in a movie and then expect the someone else to be the charming, photogenic heart-throb?  You’ve sabotaged yourself from the start.

M: Hmmm, not sure I agree with you on that front. I think it’s possible to have two good-looking actors in the same film.

C: It has been done, once or twice, before.

E: Yes, but I specifically do not think DeHaan is that person.

M: And that’s the real question for this, isn’t it? Can DeHaan pull off Dean?

Christmas Eve (limited)

E: Here’s the heartwarming ensemble tale of 20 people who get stuck in 6 elevators on Christmas Eve during a blackout (implausibly caused, the trailer implies, by a car crash), and how their lives are changed by the time spent stuck there.

C: Oh, yawn. Is this another one of those ensemble movies that have been ripping off Love Actually with a bunch of hot lonely people on Valentine’s Day or, like, Flag Day or whatever? And now they have actually come back around to Christmas?

M: I agree, this is clearly going for the same vibe as Love Actually.

E: Among the cast we have Napoleon Dynamite‘s Jon Heder stuck at work with the uncaring executive who just laid him off and Scrooge-like businessman Patrick Stewart alone on a construction site.

M: Hmmm, can’t imagine why Stewart would get cast as a Scrooge-like businessman!

C: Wait, PATRICK STEWART is in it? Um, this picture just got seriously classed up. Now my feelings are confused.

E: Another group consists of doctors (including atheist Gary Cole) taking a faith-filled woman up to surgery, the inevitable romantic pairing, and a group of classical musicians late for a performance.

M: I actually really liked the doctors/patient clips in the trailer. The patient’s faith seemed very genuine, which is really rare for Hollywood, even in a trailer.

E: This is the type of movie that I think, well… it’s definitely better than a Lifetime Christmas movie, but I don’t have to leave my house to see one of those.  I’m sure I’d happily rent it next holiday season. Will it be a new Love Actually, and actually worth leaving the house for?  There’s the question.

M: I know you love it, but I really wasn’t crazy about that one. At least half the stories are a mess, and most of them don’t end well. I didn’t not like it, but…

C: It’s not solid on all fronts, but the parts that are good are so charming…

E: Oh, we’re seriously not having this conversation.  Hush your mouth, blasphemers.

MI-5 (limited)

M: In a movie continuation of the long-running BBC show of the same name, the dude from the show (Peter Firth, no relation) needs a little help cleaning house.

C: Wow, interesting that this is getting a movie. The show first came on air ages ago.

M: Yep. 2002, to be exact. And it’s been over since 2011.

E: Far be it from us to say no to devoted fans wanting a movie version of their favorite show (Veronica Mars, cough cough).

M: I don’t think we were saying that it shouldn’t, just that it was interesting that it’s happening now. Let’s move on.

E: Game of Thrones‘ Kit Harington stars as a former agent in Britain’s spy service who’s brought back in by spy-master Firth to suss out an inside job.  Which top level operatives allowed terrorist Qasim (Scorpion‘s Elyes Gabel) to escape custody?

M: In the attempt to catch him, there are lots of chases, and lots of things blow up.

E: Yes. Shocking. Can Harington and his few allies figure it out in time to stop a major terrorist attack on London?  (Continuing the pile up of actors from American TV, Supergirl‘s David Harewood makes an appearance as well.)

M: I thought I spotted him in the trailer!

E: You did! It looks like it could be fun, but not amazing.

M: Oh yeah, it’s definitely not going for amazing, though. Just entertaining.

E: Also stars a young actress with the extraordinarily British name of Tuppence Middleton.  Seriously.  Tuppence?  Could that be better?

C: It could not. It really could not.

M: To quote the old Guinness commercials, “Brilliant!”

A Royal Night Out (limited)

M: The supposedly true story of Queen (then Princess) Elizabeth having a night out on the town in London on V.E. day.

C: Or at least, the cute fairy tale story of Princess Elizabeth (and her sister) having a night out on the town, incognito.

E: C and I were just having a conversation about this one.  Roman Holiday for real, this claims.  If you can get over the fact that they might be playing fast and loose with the truth, it looks like a pretty adorable story.

M: Might? Might!?

C: Yeah, and that bugs me a little, like fictionalized stories about real people (especially living real people!) always do. But it does look awfully darn cute.

E: Not wise or deep or meaningful, just a couple of girls who spent years driving ambulances during a war wanting to have little anonymous fun with their countrymen. Come for the costumes and stay for the innocent shenanigans and the inevitably bittersweet ending.

The Lady In The Van (limited)

M: There is some confusion as to whether this limited release is happening this weekend or next. Either way, it’s coming soon to a theater nowhere near you.

E: Well, even though we don’t live in cinema meccas like New York City or L.A., we’re still surrounded by terrific small theaters that allow us to see pretty nearly every significant small movie that gets a release.  So eventually I’m sure we’ll see this truth-inspired story of an old lady who lives in a van she’s parked in the same guy’s drive way for fifteen years.

M: Regardless, it looks like something well worth watching, especially if you’re as big a Dame Maggie Smith fan as we are.

E: Best work of her career, I keep hearing.  And who does crotchety, mean old lady better?

C: Who does anything better than Maggie Smith? I’d watch her as James Bond.

M: That would be either hilariously funny, or seriously badass. Back to this, I love the bits in the trailer where she steadfastly refutes people thinking she’s homeless (which she may actually be), and snarks at the people trying to help her. Just fantastic.

C: “May be”? I think living in a van qualifies as homelessness, yeah.

M: Yeah, that wasn’t clear to me in the trailer, mostly because of her denials. Or because I think I watched it a 1:30 am.

December 11

In The Heart Of The Sea (wide)

M: Speaking of supposedly true stories, how is it that until I saw a commercial for this Ron Howard movie I’d never had even the slightest inkling that Moby Dick was based on a true story? Seriously, it’s Moby bloody Dick.

E: Have you actually read Moby Dick?  I didn’t study it until college, where I think I heard it was based on an old whaling tale, but I’m not sure it’s based on a true story in the way we think of that today.

M: I read it in high school, and suffered trying to get through it. Of course, I read at a rate of about 20 words an hour back then.

E: I guess you must have just blocked out everything you could.  So come for the history. Or just come to see Chris Hemsworth dress up as a sailor and get really, really wet.

M: Not surprisingly, that’s not a huge draw for me.

C: I thought from the title that this was going to be a Titanic spin-off, so at least it’s not that.

M: Thank heaven.

E: Maybe this is weird, but I don’t love the idea of whales as villains. First of all, whales aren’t like that.

M: Don’t doubt her folks, she’s the Jane Goodall of whales. Oh, wait…

C: Um, dude. You don’t have to be Jane Goodall to know basic stuff about whale behavior, like their lack of villainy. Stories that show benign animals or mostly-benign animals as scary and dangerous to humans do all kinds of bad. Look at the science some time.

M: You’re right. How dare I poke fun at our non-marine biologist sister for claiming knowledge of whale temperament! That’s totally dangerous to whales everywhere.

E: Ahem. And second, I don’t know, I get really creeped out by all that water. That wouldn’t stop me from seeing the movie and enjoying it (Titanic and Master & Commander were both terrific) but it’s just not my favorite.  I’m getting the heebie jeebies just thinking about it.

M: I’ll agree with you that the vastly underrated Master & Commander was terrific. The vastly overrated Titanic, on the other hand, I will not.

The Big Short (limited)

E: Having made statistics driven baseball understandable to the masses in Moneyball, author Michael Lewis turned his talents to the mortgage crisis of 2008, and the team of analysts who began sounding the alarm three years earlier.

M: Lewis also wrote The Blind Side, can’t forget that. He’s not only about numbers.

E: Yeah, but The Blind Side isn’t exactly tricky subject matter to understand, that was my point in leaving it out. Like baseball stats, the subprime mortgage crisis is fiendishly complex and confusing.

C: Indeed.

M: This time you’re wrong. Because racism, adoption, the strange world of major college football recruiting, and specifically an instance of it that ends up in court, are not simple and easy to understand.

C: Okay but her point is there’s like a level of technical expertise and terminology involved in certain–you know what, not worth it.

M: Good. Let’s get back to this one of Lewis’ works.

E: These prophets are played by Oscar winner Christian Bale and Oscar nominees Steve Carrell, Ryan Reynolds, and Brad Pitt.  The movie, eager to be taken seriously and definitely campaigning for whatever nominations it can get, wants you to know their cred.

M: It looks fantastically made and acted, with great make-up, making especially Pitt and Carrell look wildly different so they can fit in a ‘period’ movie. The problem is, the period is only 7 years ago, and we all know what Pitt and Carrell looked like then… it’s what they look like now.

E: I just figured that they were trying to make them look like the real people.

M: Then why’d they make them look like real people from the 70’s?

E: Do they?  I didn’t think so.

M: Wrong again.

E: Whatever. Here’s the thing about this trailer that’s a bummer for me, and it’s actually not the costuming or make up.  (Or the obvious.)  There are two women who speak in the trailer. One’s a frumpy functionary who laughs at the idea that the banks would be motivated by greed.  And the other is a cash-rich stripper (marketed to by Max Greenfield’s unscrupulous broker) who worries about her six houses while Carell is interviewing her during a lap dance.  Ask me what’s weird about that.

M: What’s weird about that?

C: Nothing, as we sadly all know. Movies = stories about men. 95% of the time.

E: The movie isn’t exactly the testosterone fest this implies: it costars Oscar winners Marissa Tomei and Melissa Leo, and Doctor Who‘s Karen Gillen.  So what the heck?

M: Hey, Mark Hamill has been absent in the Force Awakens trailers, it could be for dramatic impact.

C: That would imply the general public knowing of and expecting some woman to have an important role.

E: I generally find the trailer confusing.  It kind of implies that these guys go to Vegas and bet against the banks, though how they’d even do that I have no idea.

M: They try to warn people, no one listens, so they decide to make a ton of money off it. How they do it is by “shorting” (hence the title), which is a way to make a futures trade that assumes that a stock is going to go down. If it does, you make money. The trick is knowing exactly when to make that bet.

C: Wow. That’s seriously depressing and morally dismal.

M: Yep.

E: The early reviews glow, and I can certainly get behind the concept of a film about important real world subjects. If this subject can work, excellent. The movie has an outside shot at best picture, a real feat for writer/director Adam McKay, best known for his comic collaborations with Will Ferrell.

Don Verdean (limited)

M:  Oh, Lord, this looks awful.

E: You know what?  It goes out of its way to be offensive to Christians, but it’s also kind of funny.

M: Agree to disagree there, sis. Sam Rockwell stars, alongside the likes of Danny McBride, Will Forte and Leslie Bibb, all poking fun at those gullible, boneheaded (pun intended) Bible-thumpers.

E: Yes. Every character is completely morally bankrupt.

M: To explain the pun, Rockwell plays the titular Don Verdean, a Biblical archaeologist of sorts who, in an effort to drive up attendance at his local southern church, decides to pass off a giant ape skull as the skull of Goliath.

E: Which is absurd.  But when Jemaine Stewart tells Verdean that they need to find the holy grail of all Bible-related archaeology,  and then clarifies that he means the actually Holy Grail?  I laughed.

Bleeding Heart (limited)

M: Jessica Biel stars in a gritty film about a woman who searches for and finds her sister, played by Zosia Mamet (yes, that Mamet). The sister turns out to be a hooker with an abusive boyfriend, who Biel tries to protect her from. Seems fitting that the daughter of the man who wrote Glengary Glen Ross, The Untouchables and Hannibal would be in such a dark movie.

E: You know she’s one of the main ensemble in Girls, right?  And that her father David (“that Mamet”) was first famous for writing seminal plays like American Buffalo and Speed-the-Plow?

M: I didn’t know that, as I’ve never watched it (again, don’t have HBO, even if I was interested). And I don’t know those Mamet plays. What’s your point?

E: That she’s famous in her own right and that she does more than brood in darkness. As does her father, whose Winslow Boy is a family favorite film.

M: I wasn’t saying that she wasn’t famous, or that either of them only brood in darkness. Just that he has some very, very dark works, and it seemed fitting for his daughter to be in this, one, very dark film. Sheesh.

December 18

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (wide)

M: Geeeeeeeeee! Not sure I’ll be able to speak in coherent sentences here.

E: Because the trailers have just been so stunning.  Drool.

C: I have to agree. And I have been so hesitant to get excited.

M: I stopped watching the promotional material after the last trailer. Don’t need or want to know any more until I see it.

E: I stopped reading about it.  I’ll watch the trailers, but I don’t want to know anything else.  I just want the experience.

M: Now that I’m regaining coherence, I’ll explain why I’m so excited.

C: If you know us in person you probably don’t need this explanation, but for those who don’t: settle in for the long haul.

M: Yeah, sorry, C’s right, settle in. As E knows, we saw Star Wars in the theater when she was five and I was four. I’d say that my fandom of it dominated my interests for probably a good 20 to 25 years from that point. However, starting with the special editions, and growing exponentially from there, I became increasingly disillusioned with George Lucas. His incessant tinkering, almost never for the better, and his refusal to allow other voices who, like Lawrence Kasdan and Irving Kirschner, to keep him in check, and his over-reliance on CGI and willingness to do anything for a buck, really pushed me almost completely away from the franchise. The he sold to Disney, and Disney was handling Marvel pretty well, so I started to gain some hope. Then they announced J.J. Abrams, who I’ve been a fan of since Alias, would helm the next movie. Then came word that the original cast would be part. Then came Abrams saying he wanted to do anything they possibly could with models, sets animatronics, and people in costume, as opposed to CGI. Then came pictures of sets, and finally the trailers. I’m 100% back in now. So, you know, no pressure J.J.

C: I went through a similar arc, though scratch the “since I was four” and replace with “big siblings teaching me all things Star Wars since birth.” I still have some skepticism about Abrams — I find his Star Trek reboot films extremely unmemorable (not bad, but for me, they miss what I liked about Star Trek) — but all signs on this one are pointing to the good.

E: Yeah. I’m trying to contain my excitement; that’s a lot of expectations to live up to.  But hey.  We’ve had our tickets for more than a month, and nearly the entire Quibbling family (including our parents and C’s fiancé) are going together.  It’ll be the first time seeing a Star Wars film in the theaters for our kids, M!  I get chills thinking about that.

C: And for my fiancé.

E: It was considerate of the powers that be to make this possible before you marry him, C.

C: One of us! One of us!

Sisters (wide)

M: Amy Poelher and Tina Fey team up again, this time as odd couple sisters whose parents are selling their childhood home. They decide to throw one last party, and wackiness ensues.

E: Really wacky.  I love these two, but wow is it a broad comedy.  I hope it’s good.  I can’t really tell from the previews,  and I wasn’t really drawn to any of their previous costarring efforts, but I want it to be awesome.

C: It’s funny, isn’t it? I love these two as awards show hosts, Mean Girls is one of my favorite movies, and Parks & Rec is in my all-time Top 5 for TV shows. But Baby Mama didn’t even earn a chuckle and generally speaking their broader comedy work leaves me cold. So I’m surprisingly not too stoked for this.

M: Now picture what they said, except without the affection for Fey and especially Poelher, and that’s my take.

Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip (wide)

C: The road chip? What the heck is a road chip? A chip of a road? I get the chipmunk reference but…

M: Like road trip, C.

E: Only with chipmunks.

C: Ohhhhhhhhhhh. I feel stupid now. But that is also not a good pun.

M: It isn’t, and don’t worry, I didn’t get it when I first read it, either. Oh, and you wanna know when you shouldn’t be making another sequel?

E: When you’re making an Alvin and The Chipmunks sequel?

M: Well, yes, but not what I was going for. How about when you have so little material that you literally repeat multiple scenes in your two minute trailer.

E: Yep.  Lame road trip to prevent Dave from proposing to his new girlfriend, Kimberley Williams-Paisley, involving a temporary truce with her heinous teenage son, Josh Green.  I wonder how that’ll turn out?  Not with a happy reunion and a wedding.  (Oh.  Should I put a spoiler alert on that?)

C: No, you really didn’t need to. And aw, I like KWP. But admittedly her career choices have not been so great.

Son of Saul (limited)

M: A holocaust film set in Auschwitz in 1944, and the Grand Prize winner at the Cannes film festival. I can tell next to nothing about the plot from the trailer, and yet in this case that’s not a bad thing. The trailer is stunning, without showing a word of dialog.

E: I’m sure that’s just for the benefit of international audiences.  I agree, though.  In the trailer, we see a lot of meaningful stares, a lot of soldiers, a lot of ash, a lot of defeat, a lot of fire, and a lot of men getting dragged around by the back of their shirts or jackets.  Really, it’s almost continuous dragging and pushing.  But considering all those festival awards, and the fact that it’s Hungary’s official Foreign Film Oscar entry, I expect this is probably terrific.

M: Agreed.

E: Speaking of ancient Greek plays, this one seems to riff off Antigone: according to promotional materials, the main character shovels bodies into the crematorium, yet finds his moral salvation by hiding a body (which may or may not be his son’s) until he can find a rabbi to properly bury it.  You know, about the dignity of life and ritual in the face of horror.

M: Right, Anti-gone. Whatever that is.

C: M, just the fact that you wrote it that way is a dead giveaway that you know it’s really pronounced ann-tig-oh-nee. So stop the pose of lacking literary knowledge!

M: You know me too well.

Extraction (limited)

E: In a nutshell, terrorists have kidnapped CIA agent Bruce Willis, and made him their mouthpiece.  They’ve also gained control of the world’s satellites (?) and will use that to launch all the world’s missiles (?) at the continental United States if their demands aren’t met.  Time to move to Hawaii!  Or it would be, if Bruce Willis didn’t have the fate of the world in his capable hands.

C: I have no doubt he will save us all. But I’d rather go to Hawaii.

M: Totally believable plot here, where all satellites in the world are hackable and controllable by one person, and where doing that gives you access to all nukes on the planet. Realism at its finest.

E: On the same level of realism, there’s also Twilight‘s Kellan Lutz as Willis’ fellow agent/son, who’ll stop at nothing to save his dad.  And Gina Carano as the younger agent’s love interest/butt-kicking ally.

He Never Died (limited)

M:  What an odd little flick this looks like. Henry Rollins stars as, well, Cain. Yes, of Cain and Able. Living in modern times, trying hard not to get mad and kill (and, apparently eat) people. Title make sense now?

E: Oh, yes.  Lots of sense.  What in the heck?

C: Um. What now?

M: So bizarre, right?!?!

E: So this is clearly intended for a specific horror/comedy audience, which is not us.  Cain tries to live a quiet life, but he keeps getting pursued by these gangster types. Doesn’t matter how much they shoot him; he just can’t die.  He’s content to lay low until the day a daughter he never knew he had bounces into town.  She’s quickly kidnapped by his enemies, which leads to a rage and cannibalism fueled explosion of gore.  Sound like your cup of tea?  Then Merry Christmas.

C: Good grief.

December 25 (yes, Christmas day)

The Hateful Eight (wide)

M: Looking at the major Christmas Day slate, I see a Tarantino shoot-’em-up flick about eight angry people, an aptly titled movie (Joy) about a hardscrabble woman who becomes a huge success being tough and independent, a movie about brain damage and potential covering up of it, a comedy pitting father against stepfather for the love of the kids, an adrenaline rush movie about thieves and a movie about a cowboy left for dead who seeks his revenge. I don’t think Hollywood gets the true spirit of Christmas.

C: To be fair, most of the people going to the movies on Christmas probably aren’t too big into a spiritual Christmas. Or Christmas, period.

E: No, you’re wrong. The gifts of the magi, all of them!  More precious than frankincense is the fake blood Tarantino will spill in this grubby Western!  (Actually, I only wish he wasn’t so profligate with all that blood.  There were moments of brilliance, but I couldn’t stand Django Unchained.  Or Inglourious Basterds, for that matter.  He’s just got this love of gore that I can’t handle.)

M: I agree completely. There are moments in his movies, usually centered around spectacular dialog, that show that he *can* be a brilliant filmmaker. Then someone’s ear gets cut off. This latest Tarantino movie does look like a return to his roots or ensemble quirky characters and hyper dialog, potentially with more mystery than actual gore. Kind of like an old west version of Reservoir Dogs.

E: M, I hate to be the one to remind you, but Reservoir Dogs was pretty bloody too.

M: No, that’s a funny one. There are really only one or two bloody scenes in it. The last one especially is brutally bloody, but like 90% of the movie isn’t. It’s weird. Anyway, he’s also cast a lot of his old favorites, like Samuel L, Tim Roth and Michael Madsen.

E: Then there are newbies like Walter Goggins, Demian Bichir, and Jennifer Jason Leigh, who just won the National Board of Review’s supporting actress prize for this.  And, not surprisingly, Tarantino picked up an award for the screenplay.  So the point is, I’m going to have see this, and I hate that.

M: “Have.” You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

C: He’s right, you know.

Joy (wide)

E: Jennifer Lawrence re-teams with David O. Russell, the writer-director who helped her to a best actress Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook (not to mention another nomination for American Hustle).

C: And Bradley Cooper. Is America really that interested in this (super-age-imbalanced) pairing, or is Russell just creepily obsessed with making the two of them his real live Barbie and Ken dolls? Because I’m getting a creepy vibe.

M: To be fair, it doesn’t look like they’re a couple in this one. I could be wrong, though.

E: They aren’t.  She’s with someone named Edgar Ramirez, who’s only 13 years older than Lawrence (as opposed to Cooper’s 15).  I’m quite eager to see where this third outing takes them all. Russell has been absolutely on fire in the last half decade, making tremendous films with a devoted ensemble of actors who leave a big mark on the acting nominee slate.  In fact, since 2010 his films have wracked up 25 nominations, five of them for Russell personally.  It’s a pretty impressive record.  Though I definitely enjoy some of his films more than others, his work is always captivating and well made.

M: Like Playbook, this one also stars Robert DeNiro, this time as J-Law’s dad, not Cooper’s.

E: Amazing!  So different!

M: Undoubtedly.

E: Snark aside, I love that they’re making a movie about an amazing inventor and business tycoon, who is also a woman.

M: I just wish it looked more watchable, honestly.

C: Agreed on both counts.

Concussion (wide)

E: Will Smith sees his first Oscar buzz since The Pursuit of Happyness in this true life story about the doctor who first began sounding the alarm about repeated head injuries among football players and the traumatic brain damage that results from them.

M: Based on a true story, this continues a REALLY bad stretch of about a year and a half for the NFL. From their ongoing issues with domestic violence and concussions, to officiating disasters practically every week, to botching the Ray Rice suspension, the Adrian Peterson child abuse issue, then the crazy witch hunt after Tom Brady and getting slapped all over federal court for that, to their stupidity with Junior Seau’s daughter, to this high production, Oscar-buzz movie damning them for the way they’ve handled, and possibly covered up head trauma. They may be making billions, but it’s been a bad two years.

C: Almost all 100% deserved, to be fair.

M: Not sure I agree with the “almost.”

E: Yeah, and I’m sure they’re laughing all the way to the bank.  Do you think one fewer person is going to watch the Superbowl or buy an NFL jersey because of any of this?  Talk about too big to fail.

M: Actually, they have been seeing some backlash this year. Including folks like me who have fully boycotted ESPN (TV and web), and skipped MNF every week but the one the Pats played in (which was broadcast on local TV). Give it time.

E: I hope you’re right.  In the meantime, this looks like a story worth spending your time on.

Daddy’s Home (wide)

M: Will Ferrell stars as the second husband to Freaks and Geeks and Avengers: Age of Ultron‘s Linda Cardellini, and step-dad to her two kids. He’s the classic straight laced stereotype, who has to compete for their affection when their bad boy dad comes back into the picture. Sight gags, stereotypes and embarrassment humor abound in a movie that has a very small chance of making me laugh.

E: I don’t think this could look less appealing. There wasn’t a funny moment in the trailer; their excessive competition (which includes a pony and a real stunt at a basketball game) makes me nauseous.

M: Yeah, like Krampus or He Never Died, this is not up our alley. For different reasons, obviously, but you get the point.

Point Break (wide)

C: Wait, isn’t Point Break already a movie?

M: Yes it is. This is called a remake (or rather, a re-imagining.) And, full disclosure. I actually really enjoyed the Keanu Reeves-Patrick Swayze original. Further disclosure, I think this re-imagining actually looks pretty entertaining.

E: It’s definitely not a remake of Kathryn Bigelow’s original — instead of just surfing or jumping out of planes, the stunt team here went over the top with the extreme sports, base jumping off the Alps among other crazy things.  In fact a stuntman was killed a month after filming wrapped making a jump.  Anyway, it actually looks more interesting to me than the original, even if I don’t really know the actors involved (the real draw of the first flick).

C: That all sounds kind of haphazard. Is there a plot here?

M: Why yes. Much like the first one, we have a former athlete FBI agent (Luke Bracey) going under cover with a suspected gang of robbers. In the original it was surfers robbing banks. Now it’s extreme athletes robbing, well, lots of stuff. The agent gets in perhaps too deep, identifies with the gang, but will eventually have to confront the charismatic leader (Edgar Ramirez, who, as mentioned above, is also in Joy).

The Revenant (limited)

M: Two quick comments. First, absolutely, positively nothing in the trailer for this makes me interested in seeing this, even though I really like both DiCaprio and Hardy. Second, didn’t a friend of both of you write a book named The Revenant?

E: Yep. This is the second movie to come out with that title since she wrote it, so it’s our second opportunity to say so.

M: Huh, that’s probably why I know about the book.

C: But not this movie.

E: And I’d far rather read her excellent YA ghost story again than see this Martin Scorsese* flick about a man who sees his young son murdered, gets left for dead (literally buried in a grave), and then drags himself through the Alaskan wilderness in order to wreck vengeance on his son’s killer.

M: And, apparently, gets raped by a bear.

C: EXCUSE ME WHAT?

M: Um, yeah, that’s what I’ve heard. And as much as I love Scorsese, I’m totally out on this unless I hear something seriously compelling otherwise.

E: Please, please let Leo not get nominated…

45 Years (limited)

M: Even in this drama about a married couple preparing to celebrate their 45th anniversary, the male lead is almost 10 years older than the female lead. WTF Hollywood!

C: Oh for pity’s sake!!!!!!!!!

M: As for the movie itself, it looks to be an emotional look into the resolve of a couple who have been married for 45 years, yet have to deal with a revelation from their past that rocks their relationship. All while planning and preparing for a huge anniversary party.

C: Hm, sounds tense but possibly compelling.

M: The trailer looks compelling, and the acting from leads Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay looks to be top notch.

E: Rampling, as you might guess, has Oscar buzz for lead actress. Since no one knows who Courtenay is, he’s been overshadowed by the likes of Michael Caine, Johnny Depp, Will Smith, Matt Damon, Michael Fassbender and Leonardo DiCaprio, just to name a few.

M: Right, because you need to be famous to win, not the best.

C: Mostly true, with occasional exceptions.

E: Well, it helps to be famous.  And powerful.  And well liked in the industry. And have an Oscar campaign built into your contract, so the studio has to lay out all sorts of money in ads and special screenings and parties to toast you.

Yellow Day (limited)

M: Christmas day, and we get one Christian movie. And we get it in a strange, summer camp-themed mix of animation and live action starring Drew Seeley. If you don’t know who he is, don’t feel too bad. However, you’ve likely heard him sing, as in addition to writing a bunch of songs for hugely popular Disney Channel “original” movies, he was the singing voice of Troy Bolton in High School Musical (which, yes, he wrote at least one of the songs for). That’s right, Zac Efron didn’t do his own singing.

E: The animation/action mix is very confusing.  The live action story feels fairly obvious, but how the cartoons fit in, and who the audience for all this is, I’m not so sure.

M: Agreed.

C: I reiterate my point that religious people celebrating Christmas can probably find other stuff to that day. And this sounds rather like an unholy mess!

 

*Totally not Scorcese.  I’m so embarrassed.

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3 comments on “December 2015 Movie Preview: Star Wars… Nothing but Star Wars

  1. mitchteemley says:

    Gosh, what would the Christmas season be without an ultra-violent revenge fantasy from Quentin? If he ever gets out of middle school, he could end up making some terrific films.

    • M says:

      So true Mitch! He’s got a great eye and a great feel behind the camera, and his dialog can at times be spectacular, but he really is still an early-pubescent boy with his stories and subject matter. I would LOVE to see a more mature Tarantino make a movie.

  2. M says:

    Quick correction (not sure how we botched this in the first place)… The Revenant is directed by Alejandro Inarritu (Birdman, Babel, etc), not Marty Scorsese.

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