With box office receipts sagging and more people waiting to watch DVDs in the comfort of their own homes, it’s no secret that Hollywood is ready to do anything to bolster ticket sales.
Anything, that is, so long as it’s exactly what they’ve done every year before — that is, release a bevy of movies during the holiday season in an attempt to lure people from the warmth of their homes and into the theaters. This year’s selection is little different, running the gamut of family-friendly films to big budget special effects extravaganzas and down to high drama with the Oscars in mind. Adaptations of books (or shows, in the case of Aeon Flux, and a Broadway show when it comes to Rent) abound, begging the question of whether or not the best material has all been done before.
The real question is this, however: with months of high gas prices behind us and the cold winter months settling in with no relief in sight on energy costs, how hard a blow will Hollywood — and the rest of the economy that depends on holiday consumers — take? Will the lure of King Kong and Johnny Cash be enough to bring people to the theater?
We’ll find out. Here’s a look at some (note: some) of the forthcoming releases:
Chicken Little (Nov. 4)
Disney’s first attempt at a CG film without Pixar may hold the future of the company’s animated films in its little chicken hand. With voice talent like Zach Braff, Steve Zahn, and John Cusack, it may be enough, but if this film doesn’t pull in the numbers, the future of Disney animation may be sketchy. It seems a lot to risk on the story of one wolf-crying (or not, in this tale?) chicken.
Jarhead (Nov. 4)
The first of the major adaptations to debut this year, Jarhead seems like a risky proposition considering the ongoing situation in Iraq. The book, by Anthony Swofford, takes a nihilistic look at the brutality of war, and soldiers, and may well tank for that reason despite two Oscar winners (Jamie Foxx and Chris Cooper) supporting Jake Gyllenhaal in a role for which he is pitch perfect. For anyone willing to take a long hard look at war, this will probably pay off. I loved the book too much to hope for the best, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed behind my back.
Shopgirl (Nov. 4)
Adapted from a novella by Steve Martin and starring the same, along with Claire Danes and Jason Schwartzman, the buzz for this little film is surprisingly strong. Critics hearken back to Danes in My So-Called Life, the show in which Danes starred when she was only 15. But it’s an old story — younger woman, older man, and for all the good words, this one is not going to get the play of some of the bigger films.
Nine Lives (Nov. 4)
Oscar does love an ensemble cast, and many are wondering if this film will fulfill the promise of director Rodrigo Garcia (son of Gabriel Garcia Marquez) that was hinted at in Mi Vida Loca, his 1993 look at Latina gangsters. Garcia has been quiet since the late ’90s, though after a segment in Four Rooms and the acclaimed Gia, he seemed poised for great things. With a cast that boasts Holly Hunter, Glenn Close, and young darling Dakota Fanning, perhaps these nine vignettes, already being touted as a love song to the strength of women, will finally push him firmly into the spotlight.
Get Rich or Die Tryin’ (Nov. 9)
Rapper 50 Cent in a movie about a drug dealer trying to become… a rapper? Yawn. Wait, directed by Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot, In America)? Hmm. Screenwriter Terence Winter earned his chops in television, and with his work in The Sopranos, he’s certainly got the experience to take on the story of one man’s struggle to leave behind a life of crime. Don’t write this one off as another half-assed gangsta film. It may be the real deal.
Pride and Prejudice (Nov. 11)
Will Keira Knightly and Donald Sutherland be enough to trump the wonderful miniseries starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle? Probably not, from early reviews. Early buzz points to a lack of charisma between Knightly as Elizabeth Bennet and Matthew MacFayden as Mr. Darcy, and as that is the lynchpin for the story… my hopes aren’t high. And as I recently got around to reading the book at last, this monkey may get virulently angry if it is really bad. Knightly is talented enough to pull it off, however, so who knows? All I can say is I’d rather be surprised than disappointed.
Paradise Now (Nov. 11)
This looks like a very interesting film which may not get a lot of mainstream attention. Paradise Now is the story of two Palestinian friends recruited to be suicide bombers. The film follows the last day of their life. This film’s been getting some play at the smaller international film festivals and will probably see a limited release here in the U.S.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Nov. 18)
The grandaddy of holiday films for the last several years! The fourth Potter film looks great, features several new additions to the cast, and is helmed by Mike Newell, whose past credits range from Donnie Brasco and Four Weddings and a Funeral to the offbeat and fabulous film An Awfully Big Adventure. The only question with this one is… how did they ever manage to fit everything into one film? If any of the Potter adaptations will suffer major cuts, it’s this one, which is the most highly detailed and action-packed of all the books so far. Regardless, it’s going to be a big hit, and certainly exciting. Big things happen in this installment, and this is the turning point for the series. It’s also the first of the films to be rated PG-13, and that may well have an effect on the movie’s box office take.
Walk the Line (Nov. 18)
Oscar buzz is shaking the walls on this one already, but will the Academy honor a musical biopic twice in a row? It’s not going to slow this movie down, whatever the answer. Walk the Line follows the early career of Johnny Cash, with Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon in the principle roles. Should be fascinating to see what molded the Man in Black, and Phoenix’s turn as Cash is rumored to be tremendous.
Rent (Nov. 23)
I can’t think of a film I’m less excited about. Maybe if this had been done years ago, when the show was still hot… and more timely. But the cast is aging, and the film is relying on a lot of the same cast as the show. There’s no telling if it will work or not. Chris Columbus is a solid director, but not one to inject a lot of life into films, and that is even reflected in the trailers. I have a feeling this film will disappear pretty quickly. Broadway nuts will be waiting for The Producers.
The Ice Harvest (Nov. 23)
Lighter fare for the holidays, but with a few criminal thrills to keep it from being fluff, The Ice Harvest is the answer if you want something that isn’t kneeling at the throne of Oscar, family-friendly, or action fluff (not that I think action is fluff, but hey… you might!) Looks to be a somewhat intelligent comedy directed by Harold Ramis, and with John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton. Sure to have some slapstick, but probably a nice film to relax with.
Aeon Flux (Dec. 2)
It is very hard for me to reconcile the trailers for Aeon Flux with the show I occasionally watched on MTV. Director Karyn Kusama had a fabulous debut with 2000′s Girlfight, but it just doesn’t come close to the abstract weirdness of Aeon Flux. I don’t know how anyone could have visualized this in live action in the first place. I suspect drugs were involved. Lots and lots of drugs. Either way, if she doesn’t die in the film (preferably more than once), I’m going to be very upset.
Chronicles of Narnia (Dec. 9)
I never read these as a child, but the trailers make me wish I had. This film, an adaptation of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by renowned author and theologian C.S. Lewis. This film is being marketed very aggressively and is obviously going to try to steal the Potter audience. Relax, folks. It looks pretty enough that people will go to see both even if they’re not familiar with the story. Look for the always fabulous Tilda Swinton in the role of the witch.
Syriana (Dec. 9)
Oscar winner Stephen Gaghan, who wrote 2000′s Traffi helms this political thriller starring George Clooney. This is even riskier than Jarhead, but looks interesting. Anything that hints at conspiracies, or at least connections, within the global oil industry is likely to foster some discussion.
King Kong (Dec. 14)
Perhaps THE most anticipated holiday film of the season, King Kong is set to be the Next Big Thing. Peter Jackson (one of my absolute favorite directors; go get Heavenly Creatures now if you’ve never seen it) seems to be the latest talent blessed with the Midas touch… but he’s got his own recent work (Lord of the Rings) to follow, as well as the original classic film. This could be tremendous, but I’m not making any bets. Just another one to cross fingers over, and maybe hold a breath or two. A side note: I mentally cast Naomi Watts as the female lead months before it was announced. Someone should hire me as a casting director, eh? Or maybe it’s just the monkey connection.
Brokeback Mountain (Dec. 16)
Yet another adaptation, Brokeback Mountain has been generating critical buzz at all the festivals, but it’s so hard to avoid the gay-cowboys-and-pudding jokes, thanks to South Park. Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal do indeed play cowboys in love, and with Ang Lee behind the camera, it’s safe to say that the story will get the subtle and lovely treatment that has marked Lee’s best films (like the fabulous Ice Storm and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). This is on my list of Must See Films, but I’m a sucker for an Ang Lee movie.
All the King’s Men (Dec. 16)
An adaptation AND a cast loaded with stars right here — they’re really reaching for the heights of holiday season glory. Writer/director Steven Zaillian has a rather super hit (see Schindler’s List; he wrote the script) and near miss (Hannibal, same… ouch), but as a director, he may not have the experience. This one is a big question mark, and an ambitious undertaking. Will Sean Penn overact? Will the direction and writing be too heavy? There’s a lot of potential here for the story of Willie Stark to hit the big screen in the modern world, but there are also a lot of opportunities for this to go wrong. This could be the Cold Mountain for 2005 — loved by some, ignored by the rest.
Fun with Dick and Jane (Dec. 21)
Jim Carrey and Tea Leoni star in this update of the 1977 original with George Segal and Jane Fonda. The story? A struggling couple finds a creative solution to handling their debt — armed robbery. Well, it might be creative if it weren’t yet another remake… didn’t you guys pay any attention to the box office take on Bewitched?
Memoirs of a Geisha (Dec. 23)
I would really like to be excited about this film, based on the novel by Arthur Golden. I adore the book, after all, and I like Rob Marshall (of Chicago) as director for this better than Spielberg, who originally showed interest — but I’d rather it not have been made at all. A lot of concessions have been made to tone down the culture aspects of the film, for various reasons. Traditional makeup is not used as it seemed “creepy” on film. Traditional geisha hairstyles were not used, because the process of waxing the hair is too arduous, and wigs imitating geisha hairstyles can weigh as much as sixty pounds, so there was no solution there. Worse yet, as much as I adore Zhang Ziyi, this is her first major role in English and it shows in the voiceover narration in the trailer. The film is also seriously lacking in Japanese actors; none of the three main female characters are played by Japanese actresses. The one thing that convinces me that I have to see it anyway is that rumor points toward this being the performance of Michelle Yeoh’s career, and she does seem well cast as the graceful and wise Mameha, the geisha who shepherds Zhang’s Sayuri.
Casanova (Dec. 25)
Heath Ledger and Sienna Miller star in this look at the legendary lover. One would thing that with director Lasse Hallström behind it, good things await us here, but one look at the trailer and I’ve not given the film another thought until I sat down to write this. Let’s just say I won’t be rushing out to catch this one.
The Producers (Dec. 25)
Here’s where you’ll find all those people who didn’t run out to see Rent (come back in a month and a half and see if I was right). With Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick reprising their roles from the Broadway show, this is one of the few guaranteed successes of the season.
This is only a look at a few of the films set to roll out in the coming months, but let’s hope there will really be something for everyone — so long as you’re into remakes and adaptations!