Our Complete 2012 Christmas Week Now Playing Movie Guide is Up
by Marco Cerritos
December 24, 2012
"You had my curiosity. But now, you have my attention." Continuing our tradition of posting Thanksgiving and Christmas Movie Guides every holiday season, our San Francisco-based contributor, Marco Cerritos, has once again put together another movie guide for Christmas 2012, providing a recap and rundown of what's playing and what's worth seeing. Marco has seen almost everything out there, and while you may not always agree with him, he provides the best reviews he can to make it a bit easier for everyone. There are some good movies now playing, so if you're still a bit unsure of what to watch this week, look no further!
This is an alphabetized list containing 12 films that, as of Christmas Day, are playing in most theaters.
Marco's Rating: A
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill, Inglourious Basterds)
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel Jackson
Review: Tarantino's return to the director's chair after the masterful Inglourious Basterds is a raw, bloody and surprisingly funny look at slavery in the deep south. Production problems have plagued this film since its inception and while the final creation does show signs of struggle and imperfection, Django Unchained as a whole is a glorious ride regardless. Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz start the film as a freed slave and his guardian trolling the south for cash rewards in the form of bounty hunting. This prologue could easily be a film in itself largely due to the great chemistry between the two leads. Tarantino's unique dialogue is best used in tense situations and Django Unchained has plenty of those peppered throughout its runtime. Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson help strengthen the second half as the action switches to Mississippi for a bloody rescue mission that at times threatens to reinvent history the same way Tarantino's own Basterds did. Django Unchained is not bottom-of-the-barrel Tarantino as some have suggested. It's a flawed film but its minor shortcomings are a small piece of this very entertaining, violent, wild ride.
The Guilt Trip
Marco's Rating: C
Directed by: Anne Fletcher (Step Up, 27 Dresses, The Proposal)
Starring: Seth Rogen, Barbra Streisand, Colin Hanks
Review: The concept of an out-of-touch mother bonding with her distant son isn't new but when the mother and son are played by Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogen, the comedic possibilities are definitely inspired. It's a shame that despite following the obvious story beats in The Guilt Trip both Streisand and Rogen fail to bring any excitement or charm to the movie. Rogen plays a desperate businessman whose latest invention is an immediate failure to everyone but himself. Streisand plays his overprotective mother with the dial turned more toward nagging than sweet. Circumstance brings them together on a road trip to San Francisco and laughs are meant to ensue, except they don't. Whatever chuckles do come over the course of this dull movie are very few and far between.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Marco's Rating: C
Directed by: Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings, King Kong, Dead Alive)
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Hugo Weaving
Review: It brings me no joy to proclaim Peter Jackson's return to Middle Earth a failure. The promise of a great film was definitely there in J.R.R. Tolkien's original foundation on which this first film of a planned trilogy is based. Call it greed, ambition, exuberance, or what have you, the problem with this first chapter and most likely this entire new trilogy of Hobbit films lies in Jackson's extra padding of material. There's no need to make two, let alone three movies (each no doubt running a robust three hour running time) based on one book. The original Lord of the Rings trilogy was split up into three films for the obvious reason that each film was based on each of the three books. Effective without adding unnecessary material that threatens to slow down the story. The Hobbit is the exact opposite, stretching the book as far as possible and in the process watering down the original text. The few bright spots in this three hour long Hobbit (namely a late-in-the-game Gollum sequence) are completely cancelled out by the endless padding. Here's hoping the next two chapters are more lean with their storytelling.
Hyde Park on Hudson
Marco's Rating: C-
Directed by: Roger Michell (Changing Lanes, Venus, Morning Glory)
Starring: Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Olivia Williams, Samuel West
Review: Roger Michell is a director whose films are quiet and sneak up on you as least expect them. Notting Hill, Changing Lanes, The Mother and Enduring Love are some of the best examples of his work while Morning Glory along with his latest Hyde Park on Hudson are some of his worst. Hyde Park gets off to a terrible start by employing the same lazy technique that nearly derailed The Descendants last year - constant expositive narration. In this case it's Laura Linney and not Clooney explaining every single detail of what is clearly onscreen in the most half-assed and alienating fashion. The film is a period piece set in the 1930's and has the inspired spirit to cast Bill Murray as Franklin Delano Roosevelt as he greets the King & Queen of England for a countryside getaway in upstate New York. What should be a straightforward and fun narrative is quickly stopped by Linney's detached narration (she plays his cousin and part-time lover) and immediate affirmation that this film is not about FDR at all. Hyde Park on Hudson juggles so many characters and subplots without ever sticking to a single voice, making it one of the most schizophrenic movies of the year.
Marco's Rating: B
Directed by: Juan Antonio Bayona (The Orphanage)
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Naomi Watts, Tom Holland, Oaklee Pendergast
Review: Family vacations in the movies are mostly played for laughs but The Impossible has anything but smiles in store for unsuspecting audiences. It tells the true story of a family vacationing in what appears to be one of the most safe and comfortable resorts in Thailand. That false feeling is quickly undermined as a devastating tsunami hits and destroys most things in its path. Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor play Maria and Henry, the parental unit of this family torn apart by mother nature as they struggle to reunite amidst chaos and devastation. "J.A." Bayona, who last directed a different kind of horror in The Orphanage, knows how to create genuine tension out of the most basic events. Despite most people knowing how The Impossible ends, the film is a very solid look at determination and triumph under the most harrowing conditions.
Marco's Rating: C
Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie (The Way of the Gun)
Starring: Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, David Oyelowo, Werner Herzog
Review: The story of a rogue detective investigating a series of sniper killings may not have the best timing on its side but that's the least of Jack Reacher's problems. This is a movie that has no intention of surprising or engaging its audience in any way. Its A-B-C storytelling technique telegraphs every move from miles away and ends up being more dull than entertaining. Tom Cruise sleepwalks through most of the film as the titular character but why shouldn't he since there isn't much for him to do except fake bravado every few minutes and squint at the camera. Lots of fanboy hype was made around critically-acclaimed director Werner Herzog being cast as the film's villain but he's barely in the thing! Even worse, his villain has some of the most boring and confusing motivation of any recent mainstream film. Jack Reacher's director Christopher McQuarrie was said to get along with Cruise so well that he has been tapped to helm the next Mission: Impossible film. If that turns out to be anything like Jack Reacher, now would be a good time to panic.
Marco's Rating: C+
Directed by: Tom Hooper (The Damned United, The King's Speech)
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe, Eddie Redmayne
Review: There is a lot to like in this most recent adaptation of Les Miserables, mostly in the film's costumes and set design but the problem with the film is the same problem that most of the filmic adaptations of Les Mis have had. This basic hurdle is the trouble of replicating a stage production on the big screen by cramming in too much and overstuffing the film as a result. Some things play great on stage and not on film but the mistake of trying to include everything in the hope that it somehow works has resulted in a mixed bag of entertainment for this recent adaptation. Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway are the acting and vocal standouts playing the misunderstood Jean Valjean and the seemingly cursed Fantine. Russell Crowe stands out in a different way altogether as the creepily obsessed police inspector Javert. He is the vocal weak link whose nails-on-a-chalkboard voice is only rivaled by Pierce Brosnan in Mamma Mia. Les Miserables is a sad tale at heart but try telling that to Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen who try to lighten the mood and end up bringing the worst comedy relief imaginable. Their portrayal of Mr. and Mrs. Thenardier is supposed to be fun and lively but comes across as brutish, stereotypical and annoying.
Not Fade Away
Marco's Rating: C-
Directed by: David Chase ("The Sopranos")
Starring: John Magaro, Jack Huston, Bella Heathcote, James Gandolfini
Review: If you have seen any coming-of-age movie you have seen Not Fade Away. If you have seen any coming-of-age movie involving music and/or a rock band, you have definitely seen Not Fade Away. This is unfortunate since the film's pedigree hints at so much more than a bland, by-the-numbers movie. The film's director is David Chase, the man responsible for creating "The Sopranos" and championing "Mad Men" in its infancy. He obviously knows how to create great storytelling but his tale of New Jersey kids finding love and rock and roll in the 1960's is painfully dry. It doesn't help the film's two young leads John Magaro and Bella Heathcote are just as bad at line delivery as their story is at being original. Only James Gandolfini and Steven van Zandt (both friends of Chase) rescue the film from total oblivion. Gandolfini in his brief portrayal of a no-nonsense dad and van Zandt as one of the film's producers, securing all of the amazing period rock and roll spread throughout the film.
On the Road
Marco's Rating: C-
Directed by: Walter Salles (Behind the Sun, The Motorcycle Diaries)
Starring: Sam Riley, Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart, Amy Adams
Review: I've seen both cuts of On the Road, the longer festival cut at Cannes and the more condensed version being released now. Both films are long, bloated affairs and they both strangely don't work for the same reason, there is too much story to condense in a single film. The longer cut has pacing issues but still doesn't fully adapt Jack Kerouac's massive novel while the shorter cut has less pacing problems but still feels like a Frankenstein of the novel's best moments. On the Road is a tough beast to adapt so my hat's off to director Walter Salles for trying but it's a failed experiment. Sam Riley, Garrett Hedlund and Kristen Stewart make up the young trio at the center of the film and that turns out to be another unfortunate misstep for the production. They give it their best shot but asking these three to carry an adaptation like On the Road despite good intentions and a wonderful supporting cast has resulted in a recipe for disaster.
Marco's Rating: B+
Directed by: Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting, Elephant, Milk, Restless)
Starring: Matt Damon, John Krasinski, Hal Holbrook
Review: I'm not sure what I was expecting from Promised Land but a heartfelt drama about natural gas was not it. Matt Damon and John Krasinski both star and have written the screenplay for the film about big city gas representatives (Damon and Frances McDormand) invading a small town in hopes of securing a drilling contract to better the hamlet's economy. Seemingly a sure thing, they quickly find opposition from a private resident (Krasinski) but instead of hijinks ensuing it's a battle of brains and human rights that prevails instead. Promised Land is very strong adult entertainment that is timely and well-made thanks in part to direction by Gus Van Sant who previously worked on another acclaimed Matt Damon screenplay, Good Will Hunting (the less said about Gerry the better).
This Is 40
Marco's Rating: D
Directed by: Judd Apatow (40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Funny People)
Starring: Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Maude & Iris Apatow
Review: There is a layer of mean-spirited entitlement at the heart of This Is 40, a film that on the surface doesn't seem to have that at all. Judging from the film's marketing campaign, the movie is supposed to be a rough and realistic look at Generation X growing into middle age and to an extent the film does show that. But the ridiculous and annoying things that brew underneath the surface are enough to scare you into an early grave. The entitlement, the bratty kids, the lavish house and lifestyle disguised as a sham underneath money problems. As the film's trailer mistakenly points out, "this is everyone's story." Well, I don't see myself or anyone I know in these upper-class predicaments and while suspension of disbelief is probably in order, character stupidity is something else to discuss. It's hard to identify and engage in characters whose first instinct when faced with money and life dilemmas is to do the exact opposite of what most sane human beings would do. Writer-director Judd Apatow has impressed me with his previous films (even though some of those border on being self-indulgent too) but This Is 40 is too alienating to take seriously.
Zero Dark Thirty
Marco's Rating: A
Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow (Blue Steel, Point Break, The Hurt Locker)
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Mark Strong
Review: Who knows what Oscar has in store for the movies of 2012 over the next few months but in my humble opinion this is the film to beat. Kathryn Bigelow has returned to make a different kind of war movie and she continues to prove that she makes better guy movies than most guys. In Zero Dark Thirty she tackles the hunt for Osama bin Laden as told through different branches of government. The result is a cerebral and tense look at the political gymnastics that resulted in the capture of one of the nation's most wanted fugitives. Heated discussions are bound to ensue from watching this film (or in some cases before seeing it at all) but as pure entertainment, Zero Dark Thirty is a gripping achievement spearheaded by Bigelow and her talented cast. Jessica Chastain leads the ensemble as a mysterious intelligence officer but other notable standouts include Joel Edgerton, Mark Strong, Jason Clarke and Jennifer Ehle.
Have you seen all these yet? What are you planning to catch in theaters this Christmas week?