Our 2013 Thanksgiving Week Movie Guide - '12 Years' to 'Philomena'
by Marco Cerritos
November 27, 2013
Continuing our annual tradition of posting Thanksgiving and Christmas Movie Guides every holiday season, our San Francisco contributor, Marco Cerritos, has once again put together a holiday movie guide for Thanksgiving 2013, giving a recap and rundown of what's playing and what's worth seeing (or skipping). Marco has seen everything playing, and while you may not always agree with his opinion, he provides the best reviews he can to make it a bit easier for everyone to choose. There are quite a few wonderful films now playing in theaters, so if you're still a bit unsure of what to watch or need extra tips, then look no further!
"I don't want to survive. I want to live." -Solomon Northup "Remember who the real enemy is." -Haymitch
This is an alphabetized list containing 10 films that, as of today, are playing in most theaters nationwide.
12 Years a Slave
Marco's Rating: A
Directed by: Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame)
Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong'o, Brad Pitt
Review: The brutality of slavery is laid bare in British filmmaker Steve McQueen's 12 Years A Slave, a beautifully structured film about a hideous time and place in history. Adapted from the 1855 novel of the same name and based on a true story, Chiwetel Ejiofor disappears into the role of Solomon Northup, a free man living in antebellum New York. Tricked and captured into slavery, we witness as Solomon's pride and anger turn into sadness and submission. Ejiofor shows the deterioration of his character in small, masterful touches and director McQueen along with cinematographer Sean Bobbitt successfully paint a portrait of inhumanity that some might find tough to sit through. (The film just received 7 Indie Spirit Awards nominations this week.)
Dallas Buyers Club
Marco's Rating: B
Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallée (Loser Love, C.R.A.Z.Y., The Young Victoria)
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner, Denis O'Hare
Review: Matthew McConaughey's career transformation continues with his turn in this true-life story of AIDS patient Ron Woodruff. Out of options and emotionally desperate, Woodruff strived not only to bring awareness and a cure to the disease for himself but to others as well. McConaughey digs deep to find a genuine connection to his character and Jared Leto also does great supporting work as a fellow patient dying of AIDS and looking for survival at all costs. Both actors have been discussed in this year's Oscar race for good reason but that's as far as the film's chances at gold statues go. While McConaughey and Leto are strong in their performances, the film as a whole is very pedestrian. Dallas Buyers Club has a captivating story to tell but does it in a straight-forward narrative that holds it back from being something more transcendent.
Marco's Rating: C
Directed by: Ken Scott (Sticky Fingers, Starbuck)
Starring: Vince Vaughn, Cobie Smulders, Chris Pratt, Britt Robertson
Review: Delivery Man is not the abomination that some critics have suggested but it certainly is lazy and unnecessary. Vince Vaughn's brand of rambling comedy has run its course and even when it was first popular ten years ago, it still felt forced. Here he desperately continues to coast on that same gimmick to get the plot moving forward and cover up abundant story issues. The film is based on the superior foreign film Starbuck released earlier this year and focuses on a middle-aged slacker who is the victim of a mix-up at the sperm clinic he donated to years before. The result has him fathering many wildly different children, all fully grown and each with their own sloppy character moment courtesy of writer-director Ken Scott, who also wrote/directed the original film Delivery Man is based on.
Marco's Rating: B
Directed by: Chris Buck (Tarzan, Surf's Up) & Jennifer Lee (Wreck-It Ralph)
Starring: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad
Review: For months, there hasn't been a strong marketing hook to Disney's new animated feature, Frozen. The closest we've gotten are a lot of cold exteriors and a snowman constantly falling down and losing his nose. The big, bad secret Disney was hiding all along wasn't worth hiding in the first place, in fact it's a welcome surprise. Frozen continues the trend of animated musicals with a female heroine at its center. In this case the adaptation is Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen and the film is very unassuming and lightly paced for kids. When compared to the canon of Disney's animated films this is more diet Disney but still worthy for the musical numbers alone. Also, the short film playing before the main feature is the much lauded Mickey Mouse cartoon, Get A Horse! The beauty and wit of those few minutes are worth the ticket price.
Marco's Rating: C
Directed by: Gary Fleder (Don't Say a Word, Runaway Jury, The Express)
Starring: Jason Statham, James Franco, Winona Ryder, Frank Grillo
Review: Homefront is the wild card choice this Thanksgiving movie holiday. It's a lightweight Jason Statham action thriller with a scene-chewing James Franco as its villain and no real compass to entertain. Statham's movies barely do well in slow movie months so the choice to dump it into one of the biggest holiday weekends seems to project the studio's lack of confidence in its product. If that's the case, I can't disagree. Homefront is loud and dumb but it's also harmless. It poses no real threat other than to steal your precious money which, let's be honest, is better spent on numerous other choices this holiday weekend. The film's loose story revolves around an undercover agent (Statham) whose identity is compromised by a gang of meth dealers led by Franco. There's not much more to it than that, unfortunately. The screenplay was written by Sylvester Stallone but that surprise quickly evaporates when you realize what a Stallone screenplay sounds like.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Marco's Rating: B
Directed by: Francis Lawrence (Constantine, I Am Legend, Water for Elephants)
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Sam Claflin
Review: The biggest surprise of Catching Fire isn't its monster opening weekend but the fact that it's actually good. This revelation has caught me and many critics off guard since the bar was set pretty low by the last installment. Credit is due to Lionsgate for raising the stakes and budget on this new chapter but also to director Francis Lawrence who jumped on this movie train while it was derailing and steered it back on course for the time being (we still have two more to go). The Hunger Games franchise is essentially a watered down take on Battle Royale but that's not a bad thing. The film is a bit over two hours but it moves fast, especially the last third in the arena which is shot with IMAX cameras. It also helps that this time around the screenplay has some Oscar pedigree behind it (courtesy of Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt).
Marco's Rating: A
Directed by: Alexander Payne (Election, Sideways, The Descendants)
Starring: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Bob Odenkirk
Review: Payne's Nebraska is one of the best films of the year and its strength lies in its subtlety. It's a quiet film with a simple story to tell and the emotion and thought it creates long after the movie ends are in large part due to director Alexander Payne and writer Bob Nelson. Bruce Dern (who we recently interviewed) commands every frame of his performance as an alcoholic dead-beat father, broken down by life and doing everything in his power to collect a million dollar sweepstakes prize he's just won. Along for the ride is his youngest son (Will Forte), the loudest and most sympathetic voice of reason for the old man. Bonding ensues along with many family skeletons giving both Dern and Forte a meaty screenplay to sink their teeth into. Nebraska takes its time to get where it's going and the result bears a truthful and powerful human element sorely lacking in most of the recent films on display this holiday weekend.
Marco's Rating: C+
Directed by: Spike Lee (Do the Right Thing, Malcom X, Inside Man)
Starring: Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Sharlto Copley, Samuel L. Jackson
Review: This version of Oldboy is for the most part a remake of Park Chan-Wook's original revenge thriller, that's the good news. The bad news is that while infamous filmmaker Spike Lee also gives the material his own spin, the result makes for a very interesting mess. Fans of the original film will immediately recognize the puzzle pieces starting to fit together as we witness a bumbling alcoholic (Josh Brolin) get kidnapped at the start of the film for very vague reasons. It's only after years of private imprisonment that he is released from captivity and must figure out who put him there and why. What was fresh and daring in the original is stale and anticlimactic here. This new Oldboy goes through the motions of a revenge thriller but feels forced and unnecessary. Your time is better spent revisiting the original (on Netflix) or discovering it for a first time.
Marco's Rating: B
Directed by: Stephen Frears (Dangerous Liaisons, High Fidelity, The Queen)
Starring: Judi Dench, Steve Coogan, Michelle Fairley
Review: Philomena is one of the safer choices to see this Thanksgiving week. The film is a mystery at its core but rarely gets too dark as it interprets the true story of Philomena Lee (Judi Dench), a woman who was forced to give up her child for adoption at a young age and still holds that scar into her twilight years. Steve Coogan plays the political journalist who helps Philomena track down the missing child and the duo have great chemistry together. Coogan also co-wrote the screenplay and his wit shines through in many of the film's best scenes. Anchored by a strong cast and screenplay, acclaimed British director Stephen Frears (of The Queen, High Fidelity) delivers a piece of solid entertainment that should play into the wheelhouse of most Academy voters this awards season.
Thor: The Dark World
Marco's Rating: C
Directed by: Alan Taylor (Kill the Poor, "Game of Thrones")
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins
Review: The word has been out on Thor: The Dark World for a few weeks and it's not good. Thor has never been one of the most interesting characters in the Marvel universe so to dedicate not one but two movies to this B-list superhero is really pushing it. Chris Hemsworth does what he can with wooden dialogue (cobbled together by a host of credited writers) and awkward direction (by gun-for-hire Alan Taylor) but that's not enough to make Thor: The Dark World watchable. Even a gauntlet of respected supporting actors try to bring the film to life without success. If you have Anthony Hopkins, Rene Russo, Idris Elba, Christopher Eccleston along with many others trying and failing to breathe life into a limp project, something is seriously wrong. Tom Hiddleston is the one who comes close to stealing the show in Thor: The Dark World but his scenes as the treacherous Loki are too brief to have a lasting impact.
Thanks for reading our latest Movie Guide! Up next, my annual Christmas Week Movie Guide will be posted next. This has been an outstanding year for movies and we hope you're all enjoying your time at the cinema.
Have you seen any of these movies yet? What are you planning to see this week, if anything?