Skewed for the Season
Holiday Hollywood Heartthrobs and Heroines
By Rob Hulsman
The escape! Every holiday season requires at least one. Ever notice how bars are usually open on December 25, and not lacking for business? Go figure. On the healthier side of holiday escapism is the local google-plex, chock full of Hollywood's visions of far away places, sensitive-yet-powerful men, and strong-yet-soft women (and if you're lucky, maybe a football-playing dog or a chimpanzee attending college).
Every year, Hollywood ladles steaming hunks of cinema onto America's plate. This season, however, isn't about the fiery holiday recipes involving aliens, exploding stuff, and buddy cops (although like coleslaw, they often show up whether you ordered 'em or not). No, Will Smith's time is the summer. This is comfort-food season, with heaping helpings of family crisis and resolve, sweeping epics and maybe, yes, a pair or two of buddy cops.
Leaving dysfunction and desserts behind for the dark comfort of the cinema can be a truly rewarding experience, or if Roberto Benigni is involved-HELL. So let us take your hand and walk you through this year's buffet line. There's a whole lot of Leo and "the Clooney" at the beginning, but don't fill up, cause there's also a big pot o'Clooney and Leo at the end of it all. But don't let that stop you, because there's also some Martin Scorsese, Spike Jonze, and Peter Jackson in there. And remember, if you don't go the terrorists win.
Once you've arrived at the buttery palace of surly teen soda-jockeys and befuddled suburbanites, don't worry that you're seeing double. This year's model comes in pairs. Space widow Clooney vs. Gong Show host-recruiter Clooney. Poet Streep vs. journalist Streep. Irish streetfightin' Leo vs. slippery check-kiting Leo. Cartoon Sandler vs. oh yeah, he's always a walking cartoon, no matter what Paul Thomas Anderson does. And then there's Kirk Douglas vs. Michael Douglas vs. Cameron Douglas in a three-way Douglas family winner-take-all bid for squintiest leading man.
It's dangerous out there. So let us line 'em up and shoot 'em down for you.
Spike Jonze is back to mess with your mind. The visionary behind half-floors, portals to minds of the famous, and Beastie Boys' videos brings his freshest chunk of insanity to the screen. The self-referential plot, involving a Florida flower enthusiast, a journalist, and the screenwriter writing himself in as a character, stars Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, and Chris Cooper. There's also a subplot involving a twin brother of Cage's character played by Cage. Got that?
Pierce Brosnan trades international intrigue for Irish family court. Best scene: Q rigs the judge's gavel to explode, and Brosnan escapes with his kids in a prominently placed BMW.
The Hot Chick
Rob Schneider's deal with Satan advances one more picture.
Maid in Manhattan
Jennifer Lopez as maid. [Insert booty joke here] Ralph Fiennes as eligible bachelor. [Insert Ben Affleck joke here] Unlikely romance develops, albeit with a few bumps along the way. [Insert Pretty Woman joke here] Couldn't Santa just put a lump of coal in my stocking? Sheesh.
Star Trek: Nemesis
Picard's canard may not have exactly been written by the Bard, but should please the fan whose core is hard. Ignoring past efforts' evidence of this being a bad idea, TV's Next Generation takes to the big screen again. Data getting in touch with his feelings is to Spock's emotional Trek, as Korn's attempt at metal is to Black Sabbath. Jonathan Frakes fans take notice: This is supposed to be the last movie for the 'Next Generation,' so get your fill of Number One's ever-evolving facial hair and Wellesian waistline now.
The Two Towers
Part two in what Gene Shalit might call a "thrillogy," The Two Towers promises more bombast and pseudo-mythology than a Rush/Dio double bill. Director Peter "Feebles" Jackson promises no cheesy re-cap at the beginning of this second part (the opening won't recap Rerun dropping his tape recorder in front of the Doobie Brothers), so warm up those DVD players for a brush-up on The Fellowship of the Ring and dig the Vig! (Though, you might want to skip all of the extra features, lest ye might not re-emerge from the black pit of home entertainment 'til part three rears its ugly head.)
Denzel puts that pretty face behind the camera for this take on the life of a troubled sailor by newcomer Antwone Fisher.
Gangs of New York
Living legend Scorsese switches from cannoli to corned beef and chronicles an Irish community's struggles in 19th-century New York. Leo gets his Irish up and leads titanic box office draws Cameron Diaz and Daniel Day-Lewis, as well as the unwashed masses in this cast of thousands. This is big with a capital Bizee, yo. Even Francis Ford Coppola must have gotten a chuckle or two over all of the tales leaking out of this production gone over budget and nearly awry. Still, this is Scorsese-so it's definitely the must-see of the season.
Ray "What is he in this film, a gangster or a cop?" Liotta and Jason Patrick lead this movie about an ex-junkie cop tracking down a murderer. Bonus: also features Busta Rhymes.
Two Weeks Notice
Hugh Grant described the film, in which he co-stars with Sandra Bullock, in the pages of Entertainment Weekly thusly, "An irresponsible billionaire and his attorney think they drive each other mad but, in fact, realize they're in love." Wow. The sheer daring originality is stupefying.
The Wild Thornberrys Movie
Kiddie crap cranked out by Nickelodeon/Viacom/Satan. The story of Liza Thornberry and her effeminate, talking chimpanzee companion, Darwin.
Jack Nicholson gives Oscar a coy nod, taking on the role of a man in his 60s looking back on his life and not seeing much about which to be excited. Alexander "Election" Payne directs this dark comedy, which also stars a hot-tubbing Kathy Bates.
Catch Me If You Can
The three musketeers of box office boffo, Spielberg, Hanks, and Leo, team up for a tale of bad checks and cool cons. Leo plays real-life grifter Frank Abagnale Jr., who as a teenager began passing millions in bad checks, and himself off as a teacher, pilot, and doctor before his ultimate capture (and book/movie deal). Watch for Leo vs. Leo as this one dukes it out with Gangs of New York for butts in seats.
A Few Good Years
Get yer warm 'n' fuzzies out as three generations of Douglas-Kirk, Michael, and Cameron-get in touch with their multi-generational feelings. More reason not to go: "film" also "stars" Bernadette Peters.
Written by Roberto Benigni, directed by Roberto Benigni, starring Roberto Benigni. 'Nuff said.
The 25th Hour
Edward Norton stars in this Spike Lee joint about a convicted drug dealer's last night in the city before heading off to the big house. Look for a resurrected Spike Lee role as he can be seen yelling "Baby, baby please!" in the background of a shot as Giuliani's legacy beats him down in front of Disney's new and improved Times Square (it's Squarific!).
No, not a reunion with Peter Cetera. This broadway-comes-to-the-screen movie is a true heartwarming holiday classic featuring Renee Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones in Fosse-esque routines with few clothes to get in the way. Vaudeville va-va-voom! I guess I really was good this year. (Downside: also stars Richard Gere.)
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
What name hasn't been attached to this project in the past? The Clooney reels in a film of Hollywood legend-the much-ballyhooed adaptation of The Gong Show host Chuck Barris' autobiography. According to the gong-leader's book, Barris was not only the person who discovered the Unknown Comic, but a CIA-recruited assassin as well. WWJPD-what would J.P. (Morgan) do?
What the second hand will feel like it's measuring for all poor men dragged to this estrogenerific tale of three women from three different time periods, all bound by Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway. Yes Virginia, there really is a hell.
Philip Seymour Hoffman's writer/brother Gordy tries to out-creepy him in this tale of a widowed man who becomes addicted to gas fumes after his wife takes her own life. Must run in the family.
A one-armed John Cusack hangs with Hitler. Hilarity ensues! This look at Hitler as young artist has raised some eyebrows. That's not all co-star Leelee Sobieski makes rise.
Alan Cumming and Nathan Lane in the same film scares the Dickens out of me.
Film about Jewish pianist that survives the Nazis. Not to be confused with upcoming Val Kilmer-fueled bio of John Holmes.