— Dec. 24
More than thirty years after Victor Hugo’s renowned novel became a renowned musical, the logical next step has been long overdue. Rest assured, the legacy is in good hands. Director Tom Hooper (“The King’s Speech”) incorporates the original music with an all-star cast to bring back all the classic grit and romance in a powerful, new performance. Hugh Jackman plays ex-con Jean Valjean, who seeks redemption after he is freed from his twenty year prison sentence. Meanwhile, the young Fantine (Anne Hathaway) exists on the fringe of society, struggling to survive. The two must constantly evade their stigmatized pasts and the zealous police chief, Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe). Love serves to both spur on and damn the miserables as they battle time, chance and injustice in pursuit of their dreams. The intersecting story arcs move dynamically against the backdrop of the ensuing revolution. The “Les Misérables” film faces high expectations, but looks promising. Let’s hope the “Les Mis” film can complete the legacy of this legendary story of the pursuit of happiness.
Django Unchained — Dec. 25
The Tarantino name is sure to guarantee a kickass cinematic experience. From “Pulp Fiction” and “Kill Bill,” to his most recent “Inglourious Basterds,” Tarantino’s visionary expertise returns in the high-action, star-casted, slave owner-slashiang western, “Django Unchained.”
The film follows the unlikely pair of bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Academy-Award winner Christoph Waltz) and slave Django (Academy-Award winner Jamie Foxx) two years prior to the Civil War. Schultz acquires Django and promises him his freedom as a reward for his assistance in finding and killing the lethal Brittle Brothers. Django’s objective alongside his mission is to rescue his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), who was taken by the slave-trade years prior. Their search leads them to the Candyland plantation, where proprietor Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) runs a callous game of slave-on-slave fighting.
With it’s A-list cast and their award-winning reputations, “Django” reeks of Oscar gold. In addition to its expected exceptional acting, there is of course Tarantino’s visual style. Oscar-winning cinematographer Robert Richardson (“Kill Bill” and “Inglourious Basterds”) returns with his exemplary panoramic, continuous and close-up camera work in order to provide a full-fledged referential experience for all lovers of classic cinema. Tarantino’s method of transposing a serious subject into a fun, gun-toting spaghetti western is present in the trailer alone and is sure to bring much more to the table come this Christmas.
— Pablo Valdivia
Zero Dark Thirty — Dec. 19
Osama bin Laden’s death fostered a lot of celebration, but also a lot of curiosity. What happened leading up to that quintessential manhunt? Nearly a year and a half after Navy SEALS killed bin Laden in his Pakistan compound, “Zero Dark Thirty” might just provide some (dramatized) answers.
Director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal, whose last collaboration resulted in the Academy-Award winning film “The Hurt Locker,” were in the middle of adapting a script about bin Laden’s whereabouts when the news of his death came about, causing them to quickly change course. They aimed to create a hyper realistic, systematic account of events through the eyes of the CIA. Intensive research followed, along with a few accusations regarding just how much classified information was revealed to Bigelow and former war journalist Boal.
Jessica Chastain (“The Help,” “Tree of Life”) plays Maya, a young and headstrong CIA operative whose determination to hunt down al-Qaeda’s leader became an integral part of his capture. Her opposite is an off-kilter agent portrayed by Jason Clarke (“Lawless”), who’s just trying to keep himself together after years of torture-filled interrogations. Boal and Bigelow did not shy away from these controversial interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding and physical abuse. They wanted to depict the situations as accurately as possible, naming the movie after bin Laden’s supposed time of death. (“Zero Dark Thirty” means half-past midnight in military speak.) This is a film about the people who can never tell this story themselves. Kudos to Bigelow for that, and may Oscar nods yet again await her.
— Jacey Aldredge
On the Road — Dec. 21
“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or see a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like roman candles across the night.” These are the words written by Jack Kerouac in On the Road, his pulsating 1957 testament to beatnik life, now immortalized by director Walter Salles in his upcoming film adaptation. On the Road is Kerouac’s semi-autobiographical story about Sal Paradise (Sam Riley, “13”), an amateur novelist and our narrator throughout the film, who describes his ‘40s cross-country road trip and the interesting fellows that he encountered in the back of battered cars, swept-up cities or lonely country roads, particularly the charismatic, hard-living Dean Moriarty.
“On the Road,” was a long time in the making, as legendary Francis Ford Coppola first approached Salles in 2004 after the success of his film “The Motorcycle Diaries.” (Coppola had been holding on to the movie’s rights since 1979, after which many attempts to recreate the classic cult novel failed miserably.) Back in 2007, before the monster that is Twilight thrust Kristen Stewart into posters hung on thousands of tween girls’ rooms, Salles recruited her as Marylou, Dean’s young blonde wife who loves all and loves hard. It will be interesting to see how Salles conveys this counter-culture time period, as he brings back his gang from “The Motorcycle Diaries” — screenplay by Jose Rivera, composer Gustavo Santaolalla and cinematographer Eric Gautier. Clocking in at 137 minutes, “On the Road” has ample time to portray the vibrant, wayward perspectives of adolescence, jazz and drugs that made its literary counterpart a classic. Or it could just be a really long road.
— Jacey Aldredge
Amour — Dec. 19
Written and directed by famed filmmaker Michael Haneke (“Funny Games,” “Cache”), this French drama concentrates on the uneasy subject of dementia and its effect on a blissful marriage. The narrative focuses on an elderly married couple, Georges and Anne (Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva), whose breathtaking performances make this film so believably heartbreaking. The successful pair of retired music teachers lives comfortably in their Parisian apartment until suddenly the couple is plunged into a downward spiral when Anne begins to suffer a series of strokes, leading to paralysis in one arm and a consequent withdrawal from piano playing. Coupled with paralysis, Anne also faces progressive dementia and the person Georges loves quickly disappears before his eyes. He upholds his promise of not submitting his wife into a care home, to the dismay of their daughter (Isabelle Huppert).
A co-production between companies in Austria, France and Germany, “Amour” has already received much acclaim for its tender compassion and its confident portrayal of a confrontation with death and aging. At the film’s screening at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, it won the coveted Palme d’Or. It has been nominated in six categories at the 25th European Film Awards, including Best Film and Best Director, and has also been selected as the Austrian entry for the Best Foreign Language Oscar at the 85th Academy Awards.
— Lara Budge
This Is 40 — Dec. 21
In Judd Apatow’s fourth film and self-proclaimed “sort-of sequel” to “Knocked Up,” a bittersweet outlook on marriage and aging commits to the story much more than a run-of-the-mill comedic formula. Apatow’s decisive use of authentic human comedy is a common thread through all his works, and “This Is 40” will certainly be no exception.
The film focuses on the lives of “Knocked Up” characters Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) years after the Katherine Heigl pregnancy debacle. Upon turning forty, Pete and Debbie confront the adversities that a long marriage, maturing children and middle age can bring to a couple’s life. Pete struggles to keep to his record label afloat, while dealing with the unfiltered romance and sex life of his relationship.
Apatow returns with an ensemble of excellent comedy actors plucked from his previous projects, as well as other newcomers such as Melissa McCarthy (“Bridesmaids”) and Lena Dunham (“Girls”). Although his last original comedy “Funny People” left some audiences feeling sour, the trailer alone for this latest movie looks refreshingly funny and genuine. From Debbie’s fascination with how easy it would be to kill her husband via a cupcake, to Paul and his biking friend’s discussion about their wives peaceful deaths, this film doesn’t seem like it will lack in awkwardly engaging comedic banter. There’s no better way to ring in the holidays than by seeing Paul Rudd’s infatuation with Megan Fox swimming in a pool.
— Pablo Valdivia
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey — Dec. 15
For a limited time, Denny’s family-style diner will offer a pullout menu tribute to Peter Jackson’s upcoming fantasy three-part film adaptation “The Hobbit.” Not unlike the upcoming series (which reprises Elijah Wood’s and Sir Ian McKellen’s fan-favorite characters as well as an all-new cast), the Build Your Own Hobbit Slam is a clever and nostalgic update on the original — replacing the breakfast plate’s standard miniature sausages with an ugly and swollen (but surely delicious) beer brat called the “Shire Sausage.” But the menu — like the new trilogy — offers a few daring surprises as well. The Seed Cake French Toast, Pumpkin Patch Pancakes and Lone-Lands Campfire Cookie Milk Shake all promise a sweetness as pure as Galadriel’s love for her Elf king husband, Lord Celeborn.
It is unclear just how faithful the film will be to Tolkien’s original, though Jackson’s ambitious real-time approach, spanned over the three proposed films, will have significant time to include every minute detail — from the cast of lovably rugged dwarves, to the vast and monolithic Lonely Mountain, forever immortalized by Denny’s Lonely Mountain Treasure dip-able French toast bites.
— Ren Ebel