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Holidays In the Dark

Ten multiplex movies to relieve holiday-season stress

By Jason Gargano · November 22nd, 2011 · Holiday
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THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN: SECRET OF THE UNICORN

Director: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost

Lowdown: The first of two December offerings (War Horse being the other) from The Most Successful Director That Has Ever Lived is a motion-capture-rendered animated adventure that follows a young journalist (Bell) immersed in a treasure hunt. The trailer looks like Indiana Jones minus the geriatric nonsense of that series’ last entry, which is obviously a good thing. (Dec. 21)

THE DESCENDANTS

Director: Alexander Payne

Cast: George Clooney, Shailee Woodley, Amara Miller, Robert Forster

Lowdown: Payne’s first film since 2004’s Sideways is another droll delight — a slanted, deadpan comedy about a family man/Hawaiian land baron (a never-better Clooney) whose life goes terribly off course. The Descendants generates unexpected emotional depth via a bevy of flawed characters, and Hawaii has never been utilized as well on the big screen. (Nov. 23) 

EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE

Director: Stephen Daldry

Cast: Thomas Horn, Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, James Gandolfini, Viola Davis

Lowdown: A precocious 9-year-old boy (Horn) searches New York City to solve a mystery left behind by his father who was killed in the World Trade Center attacks. Based on Jonathan Safran Foer’s acclaimed novel, the film version will ultimately hinge on Daldry’s ability to translate its author’s fanciful literary notions into believable, flesh-and-blood characters. (Dec. 25)

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO

Director: David Fincher 

Cast: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard

Lowdown: The best director working in Hollywood today gives us an English-language version of the wildly successful Stieg Larsson book that started it all. Relative newcomer Mara plays the gothed-out tech-whiz heroine Lisbeth Salander, with Craig as her older, mystery-solving partner.

It will be interesting to see how Fincher’s take delineates from the recent Swedish version, which was quite effective in its own right. (Dec. 21)

HUGO

Director: Martin Scorsese

Cast: Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jude Law, Asa Butterfield, Chloe Moretz

Lowdown: Scorsese, the master of gritty urban realism, heads to 1930s Paris for this whimsical tale of an orphan living in the walls of a train station who seeks to solve a mystery involving his late father (hmm, sounds incredibly close to another synopsis). The story also features early cinema pioneer Georges Melies, and it was shot in 3-D, two more elements that make this a curious, highly anticipated venture for Scorsese. (Nov. 23)

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE — GHOST PROTOCOL

Director: Brad Bird

Cast: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Paula Patton

Lowdown: Sure, Cruise is back, this time with the dependably badass Renner in tow, but it’s the presence of animation guru Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille) behind that camera that makes this such an intriguing continuation of the big-screen action series that started as a 1960s TV show. One question: What is Pegg doing in this? Wait … one more: What is a ghost protocol? (Dec. 21)

THE MUPPETS

Director: James Bobbin

Cast: Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper

Lowdown: Everyone’s favorite talking puppets return via a script from longtime Muppet geek Segel and one of the goofy dudes behind the HBO series Flight of the Concords. The story centers on the Muppets’ desire to save their former theater from destruction, a theme that aligns nicely with Segel’s effort to revive Jim Henson’s ingenious creations for another generation. (Nov. 23)

PIRANHA 3D

Director: John Gulager

Cast: Danielle Panabaker, Christopher Lloyd, Ving Rhames, Gary Busey, David Hasselhoff

Lowdown: This sequel to the shamelessly campy 2010 remake of Joe Dante’s original is set in a water park where the prehistoric man-eating fish are sure to feast on ever more flesh. It also features a crazy-quilt cast of supporting old dudes (Hasselhoff?) in what is likely to be just as over the top as its predecessor. Should be a nice antidote to the more “prestigious” pictures of the season. (Nov. 23)

TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY

Director: Tomas Alfredson

Cast: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt

Lowdown: The gifted Swedish director of Let the Right One In heads to Hollywood to take on a big-screen version of John le Carre’s spy novel, and he’s gathered a top-flight cast to help him. It’s nice to see that Oldman can still grab a meaty role. Now let’s hope Alfredson’s move to the “big time” doesn’t mute his distinctive vision. (Dec. 9)

WE BOUGHT A ZOO

Director: Cameron Crowe

Cast: Matt Damon, Thomas Haden Church, Elle Fanning, Scarlett Johansson

Lowdown: Wow, Damon is a busy guy. He’s worked with the majority of interesting American directors currently drawing breath. Can we now add Crowe back onto that list? We Bought a Zoo will go a long way to answering that question after the ambitious but monumentally flawed Elizabethtown. The trailer looks promising — but so did E-town’s. (Dec. 23)

 
 
 
 

 

 
 
 
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