Concession stands ring -- are you listening? Yes indeedy, film fans, it's time for another holiday season at the box office, those magical final few weeks on the calendar when the studios dump off the last of their releases for the year. In some cases, these are movies we've been waiting months to see; in others, we're simply witnessing the end of a slow, undignified tumble down the schedule. We've got your requisite Christmas cheer ("The Perfect Holiday"), balanced out by one of the more eclectic end-of-year slates we can remember seeing. It all ends, of course, with the movies released on Christmas Day -- a tradition that makes more than a few theater employees regret their chosen profession, but one that the rest of us are enjoying on an increasingly regular basis. But enough with our yakking -- dash away to the rest of our 2007 Holiday Movie Preview! And for a more comprehensive look at the lineup, check out our December breakdown.
Grown-Up Christmas List
In the past, the holiday season was often a time for kids' stuff -- bright, adorable comedies with happy endings and quaint, obvious morals. More recently, however, the studios have started slipping a little extra spice in with the box-office eggnog, giving the grown-ups in the audience something to look forward to. It's often commercial suicide (how many of us ponied up to see "The Good Shepherd" last December?), but if you still bear the scars of sitting in a darkened theater and watching Jim Carrey as the Grinch for 90 minutes, you'll be happy to know that you've got better options this year.
Of course, they aren't necessarily happier options. On December 14, the long-awaited film adaptation of Khaled Hosseini's "The Kite Runner" reaches theaters, and though it's a virtual lock for widespread critical acclaim, it certainly isn't a comedy. In fact, it isn't even out yet and it's already gotten enough people upset that the Afghan kids who play younger versions of the leads have had to enter protective custody. Expect to be moved, but not necessarily taken where you want to go. A week later, if goth musicals are your thing, you'll want to be in line for opening night of Tim Burton's "Sweeney Todd," a predictably bloody take on the Sondheim musical, starring Johnny Depp as the titular cannibalistic barber. As if that weren't enough, how about Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and Philip Seymour Hoffman coming together to take a not-so-fond look back at the below-board shenanigans of a certain arms-dealing congressman in "Charlie Wilson's War"?
Now I have a machine gun. Ho ho ho.
Merry Christmas, baby. Let the bullets fly! If it's action you seek, this month has what you're looking for; this December brings a triple shot of the high-octane stuff, and it all starts on December 14 with Will Smith starring as the last man on Earth in "I Am Legend." Nominally speaking, this is a literary adaptation, but from this distance, it bears no more of a relation to Richard Matheson's classic novel than either of the other two "Legend"-derived flicks that have made it through the Hollywood machine since 1964. Still, it's got Smith, a machine gun and a slew of pissed-off plague survivors, so who's complaining?
We're feeling slightly less anticipation for "National Treasure: Book of Secrets," which finds Nicolas Cage taking his perpetually bewildered expression and increasingly unlikely hair into a second installment of the franchise history majors love to hate. The plot this time around centers on missing pages of John Wilkes Booth's diary, but who cares? If you're buying tickets for this, you just want to look at stuff blowing up, and "Book of Secrets" will no doubt deliver.
Finally, Christmas brings us to "Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem," the sequel to a spinoff that nobody asked for. Surprisingly, "Requiem" seems as though it might actually right the badly listing ship that these franchises have become. The filmmakers are promising a dark, action-heavy, effects-light return to the cramped, terrifying aesthetic that Ridley Scott pioneered with "Alien" way back in 1979. Could it be?
A Few Laughs
And we do mean a few, unfortunately -- this year, 'tis apparently not the season to be jolly. Apart from "The Perfect Holiday" -- which looks for all the world like a feature-length special commissioned by the UPN before it was swallowed up by the CW -- and the sure-to-be-unbearable rom-com "P.S. I Love You," your only option for chuckles this month is the John C. Reilly-led, Judd Apatow-produced "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story." The upside: Jenna Fischer struts her lovely stuff (and comedic chops) opposite Reilly in this tale of a fictionalized hybrid of Johnny Cash, Elvis, and pretty much everyone else who ever sold a million records with a guitar. The downside: Judging from the trailer, this marks the end of "Judd Apatow" as shorthand for "surefire hysterical hit." We're still keeping our fingers crossed.
Also falling somewhere near the comedy camp is "The Bucket List," starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman as a pair of terminally ill senior citizens from different ends of the economic spectrum. After making a list of all the stuff they'd like to do before they kick the bucket (get it?), they hit the road in pursuit of a few final thrills before their time runs out. The trailer promises at least a few laughs, but with an underlying subject this grim -- and Rob Reiner behind the camera -- "The Bucket List" is sure to aim for the tear ducts at least as often as it does the funny bone.
For the Kids
Finally, there's the stuff your kids are going to pester you into taking them to see, and we'd be out of line if we didn't at least provide you with fair warning. And actually, it doesn't all look bad -- on December 7, we get "The Golden Compass," the Chris Weitz-directed first installment in what promises to be the first of several adaptations of Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" series of books. It isn't for the young ones, but if you can trust your offspring to make it through CGI battle sequences involving polar bears -- and a whole bunch of kids in peril -- then feel free to pay full-price admission to see "The Golden Compass."
The same cannot be said for "Alvin and the Chipmunks." Jason Lee must have had his reasons for taking this role -- and we hope they were followed by a lot of zeroes -- but good Lord, this thing looks awful. When your trailer includes a gag about Alvin stuffing Theodore's droppings into his mouth, you can pretty much bank on tossing the animated series' charm right out the window in favor of "hip," "edgy" "humor" and plenty of embarrassing mugging from Lee. The CGI makeover for the chipmunks was unnecessary -- much like this entire movie.
So there you have it -- your moviegoing December in a nutshell. Make a list, check it twice and meet us at the theater. See you there!