2006 Holiday Movie Preview: December - The New September
We’re sorry, but aren’t the Academy Award hopefuls supposed to come out this month? We see a wholly unnecessary National Lampoon sequel, another fantasy movie made by a bunch of first-timers, the sixth installment of a franchise that lost all meaning 20 years ago (“Rocky Balboa”), and a live-action version of a story that was told in animation 30 years ago, “Charlotte’s Web.” (Dakota Fanning wields more power than Tom Cruise. That’s kinda cool, isn’t it?) Oh, and then there’s Mel “Sugar Tits” Gibson’s newest, which Disney is trying to pawn off on someone, anyone. Wake us when “Spider-Man 3” arrives.
Turistas (Fox Atomic, December 1)
Starring: Josh Duhamel, Melissa George, Olivia Wilde, Desmond Askew, Beau Garrett, Max Brown, Raul Guterres, Andréa Leal
Director: John Stockwell
The Pitch: A group of young backpackers' vacation
turns sour when a bus accident leaves them marooned in a remote Brazilian
jungle that holds an ominous secret.
The Buzz: Coming from Fox’s new Atomic subdivision, it looks somewhat creepy, but expect audiences to watch the trailer and think, “Man, look at all those jungles. It kinda reminds me of ‘Lost.’”
Trailer Highlight: The underwater scenes look awesome…but, then, what would you expect from the director of “Blue Crush”?
Bottom Line: Probably won’t be any better than your average teen horror flick.
Official Web Site: http://www.myspace.com/turistasmovie
Van Wilder Deux: The Rise of Taj (MGM, December 1)
Starring: Kal Penn
Director: Mort Nathan
The Pitch: Four words: Taj Goes to Oxford. There’s
even a character named Pip, fer cryin’ out loud.
The Buzz: We hope that Penn was bound by some contractual obligation that would have cost him his limbs had he broken it. Otherwise, there’s no explanation for this movie’s existence. And if you need two more reasons to be concerned, the part of Oxford is played by Bucharest, Romania, and the only other movie that Mort Nathan has directed was “Boat Trip.” Yes, that “Boat Trip.”
Trailer Highlight: The, uh, the...ah, Christ. This just looks awful.
Bottom Line: If you must see Kal Penn…wait until the new season of “24.”
Official Web Site: http://www.riseoftaj.com/
Apocalypto (Touchstone, December 8)
Starring: Rudy Youngblood, Raoul Trujillo, Gerardo Taracena, Dalia Hernandez
Director: Mel Gibson
The Pitch: A Mayan boy (Youngblood) chosen for sacrifice flees his reeling kingdom in order to escape his fate.
The Buzz: How much does Tom Cruise love Mel “Sugar Tits” Gibson right now? Gibson’s latest foray with Los Angeles’ finest – we’re already looking forward to the “South Park” episode based on it – has knocked Lord Xenu’s first mate of crazy and his
child right off the front page. Touchstone, however, would surely offer
Gibson up as a sacrifice if it’ll mean that the box office gods will
be kind to their all-Mayan-all-the-time dissertation on the crumbling
of an empire (hint, hint). The rumors of Disney pawning this off to
a smaller studio aren’t helping matters, either.
Trailer Highlight: The panther. Gotta love big kitties.
Bottom Line: Pay close attention to the ground beneath Gibson’s career. Oh yes, there will be blood.
Official Web Site: http://apocalypto.movies.go.com/
Blood Diamond (Warner Bros., December 8)
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Connelly, Djimon Hounsou
Director: Edward Zwick
The Pitch: The lives of three strangers are entwined in the Sierra Leone in pursuit of the movie’s namesake.
The Buzz: So how long as it been since Zwick last directed something that made you feel something, anything? “Courage Under Fire”? That was ten years ago. “Glory”? Seventeen years ago. “About Last Night…”? Dude, that movie’s nearly old enough to buy its own alcohol.
Trailer Highlight: Leo's accent. Wait -- they're playing this for laughs, right?
Bottom Line: It’s good to see Leo working again, but “The Departed” looks like the better bet.
Official Web Site: http://www.blooddiamondmovie.com/
DOA: Dead or Alive (MGM, December 8)
Starring: Devon Aoki, Jaime Pressly, Brian J. White, Kevin Nash, Sarah Carter, Silvio Simac, Holly Valance, Derek Boyer, Natassia Malthe, Matthew Marsden, Robin Shou
Director: Corey Yuen
The Pitch: Based on the bestselling game franchise about a group of female fighters in a competition to the death.
The Buzz: The game is great eye candy and the animated feature was entertaining, but whose idea was it to turn this into a live action film? The first trailer isn’t very promising, complete with candy color-haired girls running around with samurai swords.
Trailer Highlight: Jaime Pressly in an American flag bikini.
Bottom Line: We’ve seen this movie before. It was called “Mortal Kombat.”
Official Web Site: N/A
The Holiday (Columbia, December 8)
Starring: Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Jack Black, Eli Wallach, Edward Burns, Rufus Sewell
Director: Nancy Myers
The Pitch: Two women troubled with guy-problems (Diaz and Winslet) swap homes in each other's countries, where they each meet a local guy and fall in love.
The Buzz: Cough, cough…chickflick…cough, cough. Sorry, must’ve had something in my throat there. My apologies. What I meant to say was…oh, damn, I can’t even pretend; this is totally a chick flick.
Trailer Highlight: When Jack Black assures Winslet, “Okay, uh-uh, no, I did not just graze your boob.”
Bottom Line: Guys, send your ladies out with their buddies; if you feel the need to see a Jack Black film, go see the Tenacious D movie again.
Official Web Site: http://www.sony.com/theholiday
Unaccompanied Minors (Warner Bros., December 8)
Starring: Lewis Black, Wilmer Valderrama, Rob Corddry, Donny Osmond, Al Roker, Teri Garr, Jessica Walter, Tony Hale, Rob Riggle, BJ Novak, David Koechner
Director: Paul Feig
The Pitch: A group of kids bond while snowed in at a Chicago airport the day after Christmas and ultimately create a makeshift holiday for themselves.
The Buzz: Great cast, great behind-the-scenes pedigree, great...wait, did someone say Donny Osmond?
Trailer Highlight: The end, definitely the end. Dear God.
Bottom Line: Lewis Black clearly needs money; there's no other sane explanation for his decision to take this role. So here's an idea, America: if all of us send him our spare change, he should be able to pass on the next half-dozen turkeys that cross his desk. Deal?
Official Web Site: http://unaccompaniedminors.warnerbros.com/
Eragon (20th Century Fox, December 15)
Starring: Edward Speleers, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Guillory, Djimon Hounsou, John Malkovich, Robert Carlyle
Director: Stefan Fangmeier
The Pitch: The big-screen adaptation of the fantasy written by then-15-year-old Christopher Paolini about a young boy discovering a dragon’s egg and standing up to an evil king.
The Buzz: Red flag alert! The lead character is making his motion picture debut, and director Fangmeier is a first-timer, too (he handled special effects on “Lemony Snicket” and “Master and Commander,” among other things). Lots of new blood, blood that would, who knows, be afraid to tell Malkovich that he’s overacting?
Trailer Highlight: Giant flying cinematic lizards sure have come a long way since "Pete's Dragon," haven't they?
Bottom Line: Listen, we love the “Lord of the Rings” and “Harry Potter” movies, but…
Official Web Site: http://www.eragonmovie.com/
The Pursuit of Happyness (Columbia, December 15)
Starring: Will Smith, Thandie Newton, Jaden Smith
Director: Gabriele Muccino
The Pitch: A struggling salesman (Will Smith) takes custody of his son (Jaden Smith) as he's poised to begin a life-changing professional endeavor: an unpaid internship that, if he gets it, will provide a whole new life for him and his son.
The Buzz: The film, which takes place in the early ‘80s, finds Smith sporting an era-appropriate ‘fro and demonstrating more dramatic chops than he has since “Ali.”
Trailer Highlight: Will Smith being informed by a co-worker that it’s impossible to solve the Rubik’s Cube…then solving it before said co-worker’s very eyes.
Bottom Line: Smith gets an Oscar nod for Best Actor…and his hair gets one for Best Special Effects.
Official Web Site: http://www.sonypictures.com/movies/thepursuitofhappyness/index.html
Charlotte's Web (Paramount, December 20)
Starring: Dakota Fanning, Julia Roberts, Steve Buscemi, John Cleese, Oprah Winfrey, Cedric the Entertainer, André Benjamin, Thomas Haden Church, Robert Redford, Reba McEntire, Kathy Bates, Dominic Scott Kay
Director: Gary Winick
The Pitch: Wilbur the pig (Kay) is scared of the end of the season, because he knows that come that time, he will end up on the dinner table. He hatches a plan with Charlotte (Roberts), a spider that lives in his pen, to ensure that this will never happen.
The Buzz: The classic animated version of this E.B. White tale is left in the dust by a live-action version featuring an all-star cast voicing the barnyard animals…but Steve Buscemi has some big shoes to fill as Templeton the Rat; surely we’d all agree that Paul Lynde gave the definitive performance in the role.
Trailer Highlight: When the horse shrieks, “Oh! A spider!!!” then falls over.
Bottom Line: Even though a generation of cynical teenagers will say, “Uh, hello, I saw this movie already, it’s called ‘Babe,’” expect a huge box office take from both the little ones and their parents, who will gladly revisit this heartwarming tale.
Official Web Site: http://www.charlotteswebmovie.com/
The Good German (Warner Bros., December 22)
Starring: George Clooney, Cate Blanchett, Tobey Maguire, Leland Orser, Beau Bridges, Tony Curran
Director: Steven Soderbergh
The Pitch: An Army war correspondent (Clooney) gets himself mixed up in the disappearance of the husband of his former flame (Blanchett).
The Buzz: Joseph Kanon's novel makes for good source material, and the cast is stellar, but how many folks feel like seeing a black & white post-WWII political thriller for the holidays?
Trailer Highlight: As the trailer makes clear, this picture rests pretty squarely on Clooney's shoulders, and he looks like he's having a ball.
Bottom Line: Looks more like an homage than a must-see film, but given its pedigree, you probably won't come away disappointed.
Official Web Site: http://thegoodgerman.com/
The Good Shepherd (Universal, December 22)
Starring: Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, William Hurt, John Turturro, Robert De Niro, Alec Baldwin, Billy Crudup, Michael Gambon, Gabriel Macht, Joe Pesci
Director: Robert De Niro
The Pitch: The tumultuous early history of the Central Intelligence Agency is viewed through the prism of one man's (Damon) life.
The Buzz: Mixed. For every review that says it’s a fascinating tale of American history full of great performances, there’s another saying it’s a boring mess (actually, we could only find two reviews)…but, c’mon, it’s DeNiro and Pesci together again, baby! Plus, the screenplay’s by Eric Roth, who wrote “Ali” and “The Insider” for Michael Mann.
Trailer Highlight: Damon goes from idealist boy crusader to haunted shell in a matter of minutes, using little more than his eyes. Ben's buddy is at or near the top of his game.
Bottom Line: It probably won’t be a blockbuster, but if it’s coming out that close to Christmas, the studio must smell an Oscar nomination.
Official Web Site: N/A
Night at the Museum (20th Century Fox, December 22)
Starring: Ben Stiller, Carla Gugino, Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney, Bill Cobbs, Ricky Gervais, Kim Raver, Robin Williams
Director: Shawn Levy
The Pitch: An inexperienced security guard (Stiller) at the Museum of Natural History unleashes an ancient curse that causes all of the displays to come to life.
The Buzz: An early trailer proves that the studio is 110% behind this holiday film, but whether or not the obvious “Jumanji” comparisons will affect its box office draw is yet to be seen. Stiller usually has at least one good film in him a year, however, so we’re incredibly optimistic that this is it.
Trailer Highlight: The T-rex skeleton drinking from the water fountain.
Bottom Line: Hands-down the best family film of the year.
Official Web Site: http://www.nightatthemuseum.com/
Rocky Balboa (MGM/Columbia/Revolution, December 22)
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Antonio Tarver, Milo Ventimiglia, Burt Young
Director: Sylvester Stallone
The Pitch: An aging Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) comes out of retirement, intending to fight a few low-profile local fighters. Instead, he is approached to fight a match with the reigning heavyweight champion, Mason Dixon (Antonio Tarver), and soon his comeback sets off a media firestorm.
The Buzz: God help us, this actually looks awesome. It’s like they’re pretending the four sequels never happened. (They’re also pretending that this isn’t totally a make-or-break career move for Stallone, whose star has descended so far that most of his flicks go straight to video now.)
Trailer Highlight: The whole thing’s great, but it’s still gotta be when the familiar opening of “Gonna Fly Now” kicks in.
Bottom Line: C’mon, it’s a “Rocky” movie…and this time, it has to really be the last one. This is the must-see sequel of the holiday season.
Official Web Site: http://www.rockythemovie.com/
We Are Marshall (Warner Bros., December 22)
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Matthew Fox, David Strathairn, Kate Mara
The Pitch: When a plane crash claims the lives of members of the Marshall University football team and some of its fans, the team's new coach (McConaughey) and his surviving players try to keep the football program alive.
The Buzz: Virtually nonexistent; it’s not even listed in the “coming soon” section on the WB’s website. But we know this much: McG’s trademark picture is one that looks flashy and has a great soundtrack, but an hour after leaving the theater, you’re hungry for an actual movie.
Trailer Highlight: Then again, this doesn't look flashy at all. In fact, for yet another inspirational sports movie, it looks pretty damn good.
Bottom Line: Pity poor Warner Brothers. Coming just a month after “Gridiron Gang,” box office will suffer, no matter how good the film might be…but with no advance word out there, it’s probably safe to fear the worst.
Official Web Site: http://www.wearemarshall-themovie.com/
Black Christmas (Warner Brothers, December 25)
Starring: Michelle Trachtenberg, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Lacy Chabert, Katie Cassidy, Crystal Lowe
Director: Glen Morgan
The Pitch: A group of sorority sisters are harassed by an obscene caller, and get picked off one by one.
The Buzz: The 1974 original version of this vaguely rings in our subconscious (something about a glass unicorn, though we could be totally off), and what better franchise from which to crib your victims than “Final Destination” (two from the third one, one from the first one)? Of course, that may have a lot to do with director Morgan, who happened to write both the first and third “Final Destination” installments. But we’d feel a lot better about things if the last movie Morgan directed wasn’t “Willard.”
Trailer Highlight: Why, the obligatory shower scene, of course.
Bottom Line: Please tell us Dawn Summers dies first, oh please.
Official Web Site: N/A
Children of Men (Universal, December 25)
Starring: Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Charlie Hunnam, Michael Caine, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Claire-Hope Ashitey
Director: Alfonso Cuaraon
The Pitch: In 2027, in a chaotic world in which man
can no longer procreate, a former activist (Owen) agrees to help transport
a miraculously pregnant woman (Ashitey) to a sanctuary at sea where
her child's birth may help scientists save the future of mankind.
The Buzz: Cuaron has followed up his adventures in the “Harry Potter” universe by exploring his inner Kubrick, moving from fantasy into something that’s slightly – though not dramatically – science fiction.
Trailer Highlight: After Michael Caine’s hippy-professor hairdo, it’s the claustrophobic shots which show the world’s overpopulation, as well as how citizens are imprisoned on the streets and treated less than humanely.
Bottom Line: It feels a bit heavy-handed, a political and moral message masquerading as a sci-fi thriller (a la “Gattaca”), but, damn, it sure does look good.
Official Web Site: http://www.childrenofmen.net/
Dreamgirls (DreamWorks, December 25)
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Beyoncé Knowles, Eddie Murphy, Danny Glover, Anika Noni Rose, Jennifer Hudson, Keith Robinson, Bobby Slayton
Director: Billy Condon
The Pitch: Based on the Broadway musical, a trio of
black female soul singers (Knowles, Rose, and Hudson) – not a little
bit inspired by the Supremes – cross over to the pop charts in the early
The Buzz: Director Condon wrote “Chicago,” so he has a solid musical pedigree, and, believe it or not, there’s already talk that Eddie Murphy’s performance is Oscar-worthy. Someday, this’ll make a great double feature with Robert Townsend’s “The Five Heartbeats,” which followed the career of a Temptations-like R&B group.
Trailer Highlight: The music. Mostly because there’s not much else to it.
Bottom Line: The draw of Foxx alone should make this into a hit, but odds are the soundtrack will be a far bigger success.
Official Web Site: http://www.dreamgirlsmovie.com/