Holiday Movie Guide 

Editors note: At presstime, Ed managed to deliver reviews for some of the films described below. See page 22 for his recommendations.

Some people can hang in there for the long haul on Christmas Day, but most of us need to get out of the house in the afternoon or evening to keep our heads from exploding. The best option is generally a movie, and this season there are a number of promising ones. Check out NUVO’s holiday movie guide, broken into handy categories. Please note that both Bedtime Stories and Marley and Me could easily fit into the “For Kids” category, but I listed them in the “Comedy” section because most single adults won’t even consider a movie listed in the kid’s section. Oh, and if you still can’t settle on a film after reviewing the new releases, don’t forget that Four Christmases, Bolt and Twilight are still playing.


The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Starring Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett and Tilda Swinton; directed by David Fincher
PG-13, 166 minutes

What’s It About? Based on a 1922 short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, this tale of a man (Pitt) who ages in reverse is an epic reflection on life, death and love.  

Comments: This marks the third time David Fincher and Brad Pitt have teamed up. The other two projects were Se7en in 1995 and Fight Club in 1999. Early reviews for the film are running quite positive. Button looks like a little old man as an infant and appears increasingly young as he travels through life, so be prepared for lots of state-of-the-art special effects. A note of caution: With a running time of two hours and 46 minutes, this isn’t a film for children, the impatient or anyone who just drank a Big Gulp.


Starring Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and Viola Davis; directed by John Patrick Shanley
PG-13, 104 minutes

What’s It About? Sister Aloysius (Streep), principal of a Catholic grade school in the Bronx in 1964, runs things with a firm hand. She is uncomfortable with the progressive Father Flynn (Hoffman), and when a young nun (Adams) voices concern over the relationship between the Father and one of his young students, Sister Aloysius quickly draws her own conclusions and goes on the attack.

Comments: Get ready for a heavy ethical drama, written and directed by John Patrick Shanley, based on his Pulitzer and Tony-winning play. Despite its realistic settings, the movie still comes off more like a play, and Shanley is far from subtle with his use of symbolism, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The movie packs a punch, and Streep and Hoffman offer big juicy gimme-an-Oscar-nomination performances.  

Seven Pounds

Starring Will Smith, Rosario Dawson, Woody Harrelson and Barry Pepper; directed by Gabriele Muccino
PG-13, 124 minutes

What’s It About? Will Smith stars as an IRS agent checking out a group of people being audited, but wait ... something odd is going on. The questions he asks, his approach and demeanor — nothing seems to fit. And what’s this, could he be falling in love with Rosario Dawson’s character, a woman he is investigating?

Comments: From the team responsible for Smith’s The Pursuit of Happyness comes a heartfelt drama that is morbid, sad and weird, with an ending both inspirational and tragic. The audience at the screening I attended applauded heartily at the end of the film, but I expect some people will be disturbed by the way the story wraps up. The performances are strong, especially from Smith and Dawson. And the actor playing Smith’s character when he was younger? That’s Connor Cruise, the 13-year-old adopted son of Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.

The Reader

Starring Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes, David Kross and Lena Olin; directed by Stephen Daltry
R, 123 minutes

What’s It About? In 1958 West Berlin, 15-year-old Michael Berg (Kross) meets train toll-taker Hanna Schmitz (Winslet) and has a brief affair with her. In 1966, the now-grown Michael (Fiennes) learns that Hanna is being tried for contributing to the murder of 300 Jews while she was an SS guard at Auschwitz.

Comments: While Kate Winslet’s performance in the adaptation of Bernard Schlink’s novel is being hailed, reviewers are divided on whether or not the film captures what worked so well in the book.


Starring Tom Cruise, Kenneth Branagh, Terence Stamp, Bill Nighy and Tom Wilkinson; directed by Bryan Singer
PG-13, 120 minutes

What’s It About? Fact-based account of the last of 15 known attempts to assassinate Adolph Hitler.

Comments: Cruise sports an eye patch as one of the soldiers planning the assassination and coup attempt. The early buzz on the film was negative, as writers made fun of Cruise, but once they actually saw the movie, the buzz grew more positive, with the film oft being cited as an efficient thriller.


Starring Sean Penn, Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, Diego Luna and James Franco; directed by Gus Van Sant
R, 127 minutes

What’s It About? Based-on-fact tale of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to a major public office, and the 1970s gay civil rights movement in general.

Comments: Sean Penn gives a remarkable performance as the title character in Van Sant’s rich, stirring celebration of the human spirit. This is not a gays-only film — the movie is entertaining, enlightening and life-affirming.


Bedtime Stories

Starring Adam Sandler, Keri Russell, Guy Pearce, Courteney Cox and Russell Brand; directed by Adam Shankman
PG, 104 minutes

What’s It About? Comedy with a bit of romance about a hotel handyman (Sandler) who reluctantly babysits his sister’s (Cox) kids for a week and discovers the bedtime stories they concoct each night are coming true.

Comments: Aside from a couple of fart jokes, Sandler tones down the rudeness for this family-friendly film packed with imaginative sets. Keri Russell and Sandler’s characters can’t stand each other, so you can guess where that will lead. Meanwhile, Russell Brand, the rock star from Forgetting Sarah Marshall, plays Sandler’s goofy best friend. Rob Schneider does his standard cultural stereotype cameo, this time as a “heap big-um Indian” in a Western sequence.

Marley and Me

Starring Owen Wilson, Jennifer Aniston, Eric Dane, Alan Arkin and Kathleen Turner; directed by David Frankel
PG, 115 minutes

What’s It About? A couple adopts a badly-behaved but lovable dog in this comedy based on John Grogan’s book about his Labrador retriever.

Comments: There’s not much to say really. A comedy with two well-liked stars and a lovable pooch that includes a few life lessons. And it’s family-friendly to boot. Hope it’s good.

Yes Man

Starring Jim Carrey, Zooey Deschanel, Bradley Cooper and Rhys Darby; directed by Peyton Reed
PG-13, 104 minutes

What’s It About? Comedy about an embittered man (Carrey) who, after a meeting with a self-help guru (Terence Stamp), agrees to say “yes” to every opportunity, no matter how much he wants to say “no.” Everything goes wrong at first, until he meets a free spirit (Deschanel) and sparks fly.

Comments: I’ve never been much of a Carrey fan — his geek-shtick leaves me cold and his dramatic efforts usually end up mawkish. This one I liked, though. It’s the closest thing he’s done to Liar Liar, my favorite Carrey movie. Not as funny as Liar Liar, but affable as can be, and the upbeat message is welcome. Plus, Mark Oliver Everett of The Eels provides the music and a movie packed with Eels songs is off to a good start.


The Day the Earth Stood Still

Starring Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, Jaden Smith, John Cleese; directed by Scott Derrickson
PG-13, 104 minutes

What’s It About? In this remake of the 1951 cautionary sci-fi classic, a spaceship lands in Central Park bearing an alien named Klaatu (Reeves) who was sent to Earth to ... well, what he’s up to is the question, isn’t it? As in the original, Klaatu spends a lot of time with a woman (Jennifer Connelly) and her kid (Jaden Smith — Will and Jada’s boy), while the spaceship is guarded by a giant robot.

Comments: Where the original played down the special effects, this one is all souped-up visually. Shame the script is so flat. The film is engaging for a while, but the wrap-up is a let down. Listen close during a noisy action scene towards the end and you can hear, just barely, Reeves shout the iconic phrase “Klaatu barada nikto.”

The Spirit

Starring Gabriel Macht, Samuel L. Jackson, Eva Mendes and Scarlett Johansson; directed by Frank Miller
PG-13, 103 minutes

What’s It About? Will Eisner’s classic noir-ish comic book champion is The Spirit (Macht), a former rookie cop who mysteriously returns from the dead to fight crime. He also meets women, lots of them. Jackson plays his nemesis, The Octopus.

Comments: Cross your fingers. Director Frank Miller was the man behind 300 and Sin City, so it’s easy to speculate on the look of the shadow-heavy film. Expect lots of action and considerable ranting and seething in the acting department from the boys.


A Christmas Tale

Starring Catherine Deneuve, Mathieu Amalric, Melvil Poupaud and Anne Consigny; directed by Arnaud Desplechin
NR, 151 minutes

What’s It About? Sprawling French feature, described as a big-hearted black comedy, about a dysfunctional family reunion. Deneuve plays the family matriarch, who must deal with a life-threatening illness. Everyone gathers together to deal with the situation, including the black sheep of the family (Amalric), who has been banished for six years.

Comments: The movie is two and a half hours long, so be sure to pee before you enter the theater. Reviews for the latest from Desplechin (Kings and Queen) have been positive with some qualifications. Many reviewers say the film isn’t all it could be, but remains entertaining and worthwhile. 


The Tale of Despereaux

Starring Matthew Broderick, Robbie Coltrane, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Watson; directed by Sam Fell and Rob Stevenhagen
G, 85 minutes

What’s It About? Animated adaptation of Kate DiCamillo’s book about an adventurous mouse (voiced by Matthew Broderick), a rat (Dustin Hoffman) who screws things up and a sad princess (Emma Watson).

Comments: The art in this children’s feature is handsome, the movie is dreary. Parents trying to stay awake can entertain themselves by picking out all the celebrity voices, which include narrator Sigourney Weaver and Frank Langella, Christopher Lloyd, Robbie Coltrane, Kevin Kline, Richard Jenkins, William H. Macy, Stanley Tucci and more.

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