Now that we’ve plundered the bottom of Hollywood’s barrel the last few months, it’s high time for both Oscar bait and yuletide offerings throughout November. While one of the two Christmas flicks will undoubtedly be better than the other, there’s always room for possible guilty pleasures. Let’s take a gander and see what’s being thrown under the tree for cinemagoers this year.
Maybe giving themselves a little too much room for repeat value comes those loveably bumbling stoners (Kal Penn and John Cho) in A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas. Todd Strauss-Schulson is making his directing debut so we’ll have to see if the series’ creator’s (Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg) have left us some Christmas cheer while they’re off handling directing duties (or would that be doodies?) on the fourth official sequel for Universal’s American Reunion. Face-shot Santas, naked nubiles, and claymation all make this ripe for the course of hilarity but we shall see if Harold & Kumar can keep the old saying true about the third time being the charm.
While the original idea for Tower Heist has been claimed by star Eddie Murphy to have been conceived as a “black Ocean’s Eleven,” it seems that director Brett Ratner got his hands all over this thing and the end was nigh. Now filled to the brim with the likes of Casey Affleck, Matthew Broderick, Michael Peña, Gabourey Sidibe, Judd Hirsch, and Téa Leoni, it seems like lead Ben Stiller and Ratner have just called on a few of their friends to pick up the slack. How Alan Alda got culled into this is beyond me.
Featuring a screenplay by Ted Griffin (the man who gloriously updated Eleven himself), however, it was co-written by Jeff Nathanson who just so happens to have treated us to the Indy IV story, along with the screenplays for Rush Hour 2 and 3 and Speed 2: Cruise Control. Just because he co-wrote Spielberg’s The Terminal and Catch Me If You Can means nothing with the rest of his credits working so hard against him. But word-of-mouth isn’t horrible and maybe Ratner has finally learned there’s more to making an action film than flashy special effects (X-Men: The Last Stand) and chop suey editing (the Rush Hours) but let’s not hold our breath, nobody likes a funeral.
There hasn’t been a mid-week opening in a while now (even if limited) so why not let it be for a man of such high acclaim as Clint Eastwood. Sure his last few films have been a mixture of snooze fests (Gran Torino, Changeling, Million Dollar Baby), the inexplicable (Hereafter), and occasionally accolade deserving (Letters from Iwo Jima, Invictus), the man knows what’s he’s doing most of the time. Hopefully J. Edgar can liven up his oeuvre with Leonardo DiCaprio as the titular head of the FBI. The trailer makes the film look like a cross between The Aviator and The Departed which is a huge step up in terms of entertainment value for Eastwood as of late. I hope it lives up to either of those films. Maybe it’s a case of working with a Dustin Lance Black (Milk) screenplay. All I know is Eastwood’s films could sure use the adrenaline.
When your marketing campaign consists solely of making sure you know it’s “From the Producers of 300” and features a no-name cast, save for Mickey Rourke, maybe you should also mention that it’s from the director of the cult classic The Cell, Tarsem Singh. Oh wait, they used that strategy for his last film, The Fall, and attracted absolutely no one. So now they’ve upped the gladiator-esque angle and made it look like a 300/Watchmen hybrid. The R-rating on Immortals is just about the only possible saving grace as it could be a guilty pleasure gore fest. Unfortunately, I’m suspecting that writers Charley and Vlas Parlapanides have only conjured up another 3-D borefest.
As if the date 11/11/11 wasn’t ominous enough, the producers of Grown Ups are promising to deliver an even worse film with Adam Sandler’s Jack and Jill. While he may have spoofed these types of films in Judd Apatow’s Funny People, we all know he’s never above actually making them. Now he’s back with director Dennis Dugan (single-handedly responsible for no less than eight Happy Madison efforts since his only good film Happy Gilmore back in 1996). Hard to believe that a man can make each film worse than the previous so repeatedly for 15 years and still find work. Must be nice to have friends in Hollywood who keep letting you ruin all of their own endeavors; not that they start out any better in the story stage. Now Sandler is playing his own fatter sister version of himself, making the audience want to puke “oy vey” in the process. Prepare to have your sense of good taste thrown out the window if you’re even considering sitting threw this dreck.
The second film of the month to get a limited mid-week release falls upon director Alexander Payne’s The Descendants. While he may not be a household name by any means, you’ve at least heard of his films. Payne is the man behind Citizen Ruth, Election, About Schmidt, Sideways, and Jurassic Park III. Now he brings us another novel adaptation. This time working from Kaui Hart Hemmings’ book about a father (George Clooney) trying to reconnect with his two daughters. The eldest played by none other than The Secret Life of the American Teenager’s own Shailene Woodley. Not my first choice for an Oscar-bait flick, but then again, Payne was able to finagle a hilarious performance out of Chris Klein in Election so who knows. With backup from Beau Bridges, Robert Forster, Judy Greer, and Matthew Lillard, this surely looks like it’s after at least one of those coveted gold statues.
As if the end wasn’t already nigh enough with Jack and Jill headed our way on 11/11/11, the beginning of the end rears its head with the first part of the Twilight saga finale, Breaking Dawn – Part 1. I have never, nor will ever, read any of this so-called “worldwide phenomenon” and from what I hear, the books aren’t really that much better. The only reason for attending a Twilight film in theaters is to laugh at how ludicrous it all is while being shushed by the “Twi-hards.” If this is what sets a teenage girl’s heart aflutter these days, thank Jeebus I grew up in the ‘80s for these be sad times. The best parts of this pregnancy-induced fourthquel are the prospects of the easiest porn spoof name yet, Breaking Dong (unfortunately, even that wouldn’t be anywhere near as hilarious on purpose as this will be unintentionally), and the fact that now there’s only one more film to suffer through.
Speaking of suffering through, another unnecessary computer-animated sequel marches forth with Happy Feet Two. Why George Miller thought this was a good idea instead of stepping back into his post-apocalyptic Mad Max world we’ll never know. All we know is that now Mumble (voiced by Elijah Wood) is back, this time bringing with him a tail-feather-shaking chick of his own. The only thing here that sparks my interest is the voice casting of Brad Pitt and Matt Damon as a couple of krill. Maybe if those two had written their own film featuring their characters it would have been worth noting. However, they’re stuck playing second fiddle along with everyone else to Robin Williams continuing to do his voice “acting” that has never reached his own bar set so high in Disney’s Aladdin.
In no particular order, there are three big family films opening today: Arthur Christmas, Hugo, and The Muppets. There’s not a whole lot that can be said to make expectations any higher for each of these films, save for maybe Arthur Christmas. What you may not know is that it’s Aardman Animations’ first feature since 2006’s Flushed Away. While that one didn’t quite live up to their own reputation for the house that Wallace & Gromit built, this one should set them back on track. Featuring an all-star voice cast including James McAvoy as the titular Arthur, along with Hugh Laurie, Bill Nighy, Jim Broadbent, and Will Sasso playing “American James,” the trailer should help seal the deal. Hilarity will surely ensue.
Speaking of which, leave it to the man behind a brilliant Dracula-musical-within-a-movie (Jason Segel’s Forgetting Sarah Marshall ) to give us a brand spanking new Muppets movie. Yes, The Muppets are finally back on the big screen for the first time since 1999. Muppets from Space may not have been their finest achievement but it’s been far too long since the whole gang was together in true form. No one is spared as Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie, Gonzo, Rowlf, Swedish Chef, Pepe the Prawn, Waldorf, Statler, Animal, Dr. Teeth, and Beaker all gave us something to really laugh about. Segel has a deep understanding and true love for these characters and everyone will undoubtedly be given their due. Along with his Sarah Marshall cohort, Nicholas Stoller, and director James Bobin (Flight of the Conchords), they’ve even wrangled up Bret McKenzie as music supervisor just to put the icing on the cake. This is the movie I’ve been most excited for all year. Yes, even more so than Super 8! Can. Not. Wait!
To round out our Thanksgiving offerings comes the first kid-friendly flick of Martin Scorsese’s four and a half decade career. With John Logan (Rango) adapting Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret about a boy who lives in the walls of a train station, and a cast consisting of Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Ray Winstone, Emily Mortimer, Christopher Lee, Richard Griffiths, Jude Law, and our heroes Chloë Grace Moretz and Asa Butterfield as Hugo himself, this thing looks primed and ready. Let alone that Scorsese is also making his first foray into 3-D filmmaking. Will he come back to the format? Only time shall tell, along with how well the film works out. But between these three family offerings, I’m personally excited for all three and I’m 31 years old. That should definitely say something.
So alas, we’ve finally got lots of things to look forward to here, even if none of them are really expected to be tempting Oscar to look their way. While there’s a slight lull mid-month, at least it looks to be going out with a bang. In the meantime, there are more than enough offerings to tide us over as December actually looks pretty barren. But we’ll get to that when it gets here. Now everyone have a safe and happy holiday!
Photos courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures, Columbia Pictures, Summit Entertainment, Walt Disney Pictures