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Holiday Movie Guide 2010

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If you're like us, the week between Christmas and New Year is the perfect time to catch up on movie-going, especially the plethora of big-name box office winners (and losers) Hollywood likes to roll out at the end of the year, just in time for Oscar nominations. In order to make sense of the multitude of movie merriment, we asked NUVO Film Critic Ed Johnson-Ott to survey the marquees and let us know what's good, what's bad and what we choose at our own risk. Here's an even dozen of his recommendations:


Best of 2010: Five not to miss

James Franco in '127 Hours'
  • James Franco in '127 Hours'
127 HOURS
Starring James Franco, Amber Tamblyn, Kate Mara; Directed by Danny Boyle. Rated R; 94 minutes.

Who's It For? Adventure lovers, drama fans, people who don't get ill when the goings get grisly.

What's It About? Fact-based story of an adventurer (Franco) who becomes trapped under a boulder while rock-climbing alone and resorts to desperate measures in order to survive.

Comments: Director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) does an incredible job taking what is mostly a one-person story and making it wider without ever losing focus. The film is powerful, moving and genuinely thought-provoking, but be warned – some have had severe physical reactions to the scene depicting the "desperate measures." James Franco plays Aron Ralston, a charismatic soul who doesn't just step to the beat of a different drummer, he dances to it while videotaping himself and grinning at naysayers. Franco does a wonderful job presenting Ralston as a full-fledged human being and not a victim-in-waiting.
(Full review and local showtimes)



Natalie Portman in 'Black Swan.'
  • Natalie Portman in 'Black Swan.'
BLACK SWAN
Starring Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis,Barbara Hershey, Vincent Cassel and Winona Ryder; Directed by Darren Aronofsky; Rated R; 106 minutes.

Who's It For? Adventurous film fans, open-minded patrons of the arts, citizens of Twin Peaks.

What's It About? Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler) gets freaky with ballet, plunging into the tortured mind of a ballerina (Portman) preparing to star in a new production of Swan Lake. The movie is anything but straightforward, with the point of view leaping around as much as the dancers.

Comments: There's plenty to wrap your noggin around in this psychological drama, plus lots of juicy melodrama and a couple of erotic scenes. Embrace the trippiness. Drink in the beautiful, bizarre imagery. And watch as Natalie Portman gives the best performance of her career. Aronofsky has crafted a film that mixes art with schlock without degrading the former or overdoing the latter.
(Full review and local showtimes)



Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale in 'The Fighter.'
  • Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale in 'The Fighter.'
THE FIGHTER
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo; Directed by David O. Russell; Rated R; 115 minutes.

Who's It For? Adults looking for a drama that delivers, boxing fans, underdog sports movie buffs.

What's It About?Micky Ward (Wahlberg), a junior welterweight boxer living in Lowell, Mass., has a chance at hitting the big time. But will his crazy, clingy family get out of the way long enough to give him a chance?

Comments: If you're not a fan of boxing, don't worry. The Fighter is primarily about the dynamics of a family, about what it's like to be the brother in the back, about grandeur and denial and perseverance. Micky Ward is a real person, and Mark Wahlberg has been trying to get his story to the screen for years. His performance is very low-key, because Micky is a supporting player in his own life – swallowed by his family. Christian Bale is fantastic as brother Dicky, a big-talking crack addict who remains charismatic in his own weird way.
(Full review and local showtimes)



Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter in 'The King's Speech.'
  • Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter in 'The King's Speech.'
THE KING'S SPEECH
Starring Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter; Directed by Tom Hooper. Rated R; 118 minutes.

Who's It For?Grownups who enjoy grownup fare, inspirational movie fans who don't mind some cussing, Anglophiles.

What's It About? After King George V dies and King Edward VIII abdicates, Bertie is about to be crowned King George VI. But he stutters. And a stuttering king is not what England needs, particularly with the country on the brink of war.

Comments: The King's Speech is far more than a "good medicine" movie. The whole cast is wonderful, with Colin Firth giving a rich, layered performance – he's a man whose self-esteem has been battered terribly by his speech impediment, but he's also royalty and expects to be treated accordingly. Geoffrey Rush is every bit his match as the unorthodox therapist. There's a lot going on in this rich, rewarding production. (The film's R rating is for a therapy technique involving swearing. How fucking unjust!)
(Local showtimes)



Hailee Steinfeld and Jeff Bridges in 'True Grit.'
  • Hailee Steinfeld and Jeff Bridges in 'True Grit.'
TRUE GRIT
Starring Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, HaileeSteinfeld, Josh Brolin; Directed by the Coen brothers. Rated PG-13; 110 minutes.

Who's It For? Fans of Westerns, followers of Joel and Ethan Coen, devotees of gritty tales of adventure, people who read the book.

What's It About? The Coens (No Country for Old Men) offer their interpretation of Charles Portis' novel about a young girl (Steinfeld) in the Old West determined to bring the man who murdered her father to justice.

Comments: If you watched the 1969 version of True Grit starring John Wayne, get ready for a darker version with a more twisted sense of humor – deadpan. Steinfeld, Bridges and Damon make a wonderful ensemble, and the cinematography is gorgeous in the Coen brothers take on the book. If you're considering taking a young person, be aware that this is more adult fare than the John Wayne version and that the PG-13 rating is misleading – the violence and disturbing imagery seems more appropriate for an R rating.
(Full review and local showtimes)



Other Holiday Fare: Proceed with caution

Tron: Legacy
Starring Garrett Hedlund, Jeff Bridges, Olivia Wilde, Bruce Boxleitner. Directed by Joseph Kosinski. Rated PG; 127 minutes.
Who's It For?The sci-fi crowd, fans of the original, hallucinogen users looking for groovy visuals.
What's It About?Sequel to the 1982 Disney sci-fi film about a guy who gets caught in the digital world of his own video game. Sam Flynn (Hedlund), the 27-year-old son of Kevin Flynn (Bridges), looks into his father's disappearance and finds himself pulled into the cyber-universe of Tron, where his dad has been living for 25 years. Along with Kevin's confident Quorra (Wilde), the men embark on a journey to save the outside world from an aggressive perfection program run amok.
Comments: Some have expressed enthusiasm for the new Tron. I was bored and annoyed. The film is ponderous and pompous. There's a brief sequence with Michael Sheen playing a flamboyant David Bowie/Ziggy Stardust-type that's a hoot, but it lasts less than 10 minutes. The rest of the flick follows the template of the first movie, with far more sophisticated graphics but not much fun. What a drag. Tron: Legacy is interesting on a technical level, but dull and stagy otherwise. What a grandiose drag.
(Full review and local showtimes)

How Do You Know?
Starring Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd, Jack Nicholson. Directed by James L. Brooks. Rated R; 116 minutes.
Who's It For? Very undemanding romantic comedy fans, James L. Brooks loyalists.
What's It About? James L. Brooks' follow-up to Spanglish presents a softball star (Witherspoon) cut from the national team. She meets a cheerful Washington Nationals relief player (Wilson) and they soon decide to shack up. Meanwhile, a businessman (Rudd) about to be unjustly indicted for stock fraud, tries to stay positive as he becomes the third corner of the burgeoning romantic triangle.
Comments: What a great cast! So great that it's possible to sit through this mess of a movie just to enjoy hanging out with them. Oh sure, Witherspoon scrunches her face too much, but she's still charming. Rudd and Wilson are tremendously likable. What a shame that there's no chemistry in the romantic triangle. Still, spending time with them is rewarding. Not so much with Jack Nicholson, though. You see flashes of his legendary persona, but mostly he looks constipated. Everybody talks like they spend all their free time memorizing quotes from motivational seminars. The screenplay is made of Play-Doh straight out of the can – thick, rudimentary and formless. Despite all that, it was nice watching most of the cast give it their best shot.
(Local showtimes)

Gulliver's Travels
Starring Jack Black, Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Amanda Peet, Billy Connolly. Directed by Rob Letterman. Rated PG; 85 minutes.
Who's It For?Kids and families with kids.
What's It About? Travel writer Lemuel Gulliver (Black) takes an assignment in Bermuda, but ends up on the island of Lillput, where he towers over its tiny citizens.
Comments: The comedy/adventure is not being screened in advance of its Christmas Day opening.
(Local showtimes)

Little Fockers
Starring Robert De Niro, Ben Stiller, Jessica Alba, Owen Wilson, Dustin Hoffman, Teri Polo, Harvey Keitel, Barbara Streisand, Laura Dern, Blythe Danner. Directed by Paul Weitz. Rated PG-13; 98 minutes.
Who's It For? Comedy fans, people who like to almost swear.
What's It About? Remember Greg (Stiller) and Pam (Polo) from Meet the Parents and Meet the Fockers? Well now they've got a kid.
Comments: The first film was all about the comedy of discomfort. In the second film, the humor became broader. It remains to be seen what this installment will bring.
(Local showtimes)

The Tourist
Starring Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie. Directed by Paul Weitz. Rated PG-13; 103 minutes.
Who's It For?Depp and Jolie fans, romance and action/adventure buffs.
What's It About?Depp plays a tourist whose flirtatious encounter with Jolie draws him into a deadly game of cat and mouse.
Comments: Two big stars. Lots of scenery in Paris and Venice. Alas, Depp is dull, Jolie is on autopilot, the romance is unconvincing and the story is slow.
(Local showtimes)

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Starring Ben Barnes, Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, Will Poulter, Liam Neeson, Simon Pegg, TildaSwinton. Directed by Michael Apted. Rated PG; 113 minutes.
Who's It For? C.S. Lewis fans, Narnia lovers, fantasy buffs, families looking for mild adventure.
What's It About? In this installment of the franchise. Lucy (Henley) and Edmond (Keynes) return to Narnia with their cousin (Poulter) where they meet up with Prince Caspian (Barnes) for a trip across the sea aboard the royal ship, The Dawn Treader.
Comments: What this movie needs is a few more words in its title. The film hasn't been embraced by critics or the mass audience, but fans of the Chronicles of Narnia franchise like it. The fantasy received a 77% positive audience rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website, with the average viewer rating 3.9 out of 5 stars.
(Local showtimes)

Yogi Bear
Featuring the voices of Dan Aykroyd and Justin Timberlake, plus the voices and bodies of Tom Cavanagh and Anna Faris. Directed by Eric Brevig. Rated PG; 80 minutes.
Who's It For? Kids, nostalgic adults, people who thought Alvin and the Chipmunks was cute.
What's It About? In this blend of live-action and computer-animation, a documentary filmmaker (Faris) comes to Jellystone Park and encounters pic-a-nic basket aficionado Yogi Bear (Aykroyd), his little buddy Boo-Boo (Timberlake) and Ranger Smith (Cavanagh).
Comments: Why was Dan Aykroyd hired to do the voice of Yogi Bear? He doesn't sound like Yogi – he sounds like your brother-in-law doing a bad impression of Yogi. At least Justin Timberlake pretty much sounds like Boo-Boo. Poor Yogi has never had it easy. He was the product of Hanna-Barbera, a company infamous for their cheap, ugly animation and their roster of cartoon characters knocked off from popular celebrities. Yogi, whose style was reportedly based on Art Carney's Ed Norton character from The Honeymooners, became a star in the '60s. Daws Butler did his voice originally and it's a shame that some kids will grow up associating Aykroyd's voice with Yogi instead of Butler's.
(Local showtimes)

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