Holiday Movie Preview

Dec. 12

“”Ocean’s 11″”

Who to look for: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts and Andy Garcia.

Story line: “”Ocean’s 11″” is a Steven Soderbergh (“”Erin Brokovich””) remake of the Rat Pack film of the same name. Daniel Ocean (Clooney) has just been released from prison, and what’s the first thought on his mind? Rob three casinos for $150 million. Working with him on his crew of 11 is a card-shark (Pitt) and a pickpocket (Damon), among other crafty criminals. Using his ex-wife Tess (Roberts) to get to casino owner (Garcia), whom she is dating, Ocean quickly hatches a plan that is guaranteed to go anything but smoothly. But then again, gambling when the odds are in your favor is boring.

Outlook: $150 million alone is probably what it took to pay the salary of the Hollywood hotshots in this film. Roberts seems a little out of her league in this one; she’s just not tough enough. It appears, however, that Pitt and Clooney may actually be the only two people with on-screen chemistry. If anything, this movie will serve as eye candy. Where else are you going to find the megawatt grins of Pitt, Roberts and Damon all on one screen?

Dec. 14

“”The Royal Tenenbaums””

Who to look for: Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson, Bill Murray and Danny Glover.

Story line: The Tenenbaums are a family of geniuses. The children (Paltrow, Stiller and Wilson) who were award-winning playwrites, star tennis players and real-estate moguls before they hit puberty, have been estranged from their father, Royal Tenenbaum (Hackman), for many years. Wanting to reconnect with his family and his wife (Huston), Tenenbaum gives himself a six-week prognosis to live as an excuse to bring the family together.

Outlook: Hackman does excellent comedy (remember his moment in drag in “”The Bird Cage””?), and as Tenenbaum he’s definitely going to exercise his talent. It’ll be especially entertaining to see how Paltrow carries off as the moody playwrite. Directed by Wes Anderson, who brought us the off-center “”Rushmore,”” “”The Royal Tenenbaums”” could prove to be a quirky winter hit. There’s nothing better than a family crazier than your own during the holiday season.

“”Vanilla Sky””

Who to look for: Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz and Penelope Cruz.

Story line: Multitalented director-writer Cameron Crowe has adapted the 1998 Spanish film “”Open Your Eyes”” to bring us a more cutting edge, New York-version of the film. Cruise plays Diaz’s lover — that is, until he meets his soulmate, Cruz, and consequently severs his relationship with the psychotically jealous Diaz (should this have been titled “”Tom and Nicole’s Story””?). After surviving a horrendous car crash and subsequently being accused of Diaz’s murder, Cruise must somehow make things right.

Outlook: The most interesting thing is that no one really knows what this film is about. Obviously we’re dealing with two star-crossed lovers (Cruise and Cruz), but there could be an element of timewarp in addition to Cruise dealing with disfigurement. The trailers really don’t reveal much; it’s evident that things start out hunky-dory and then get ugly, which leaves this critic pretty skeptical. The only hope is that Crowe’s good fortune with his past films will rub off on the entertainment value of this one. Cross your fingers.

Dec. 19

“”The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings””

Who to look for: Elijah Wood, Liv Tyler, Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving.

Story line: The first of a trilogy of films from J.R. Tolkin’s novels, “”The Lord of the Rings”” follows Frodo Baggins (Wood), a hobbit who comes into possession of a powerful ring. Baggins’ mission, should he choose to accept it, is to travel to the Cracks of Doom and destroy the ancient ring, thus ending the Dark Lord’s reign of terror. No easy task, considering the hordes of evil creatures out to stop him. But hey, what’s a fairytale without a little adventure?

Outlook: A film to rival the computer graphics of “”Star Wars”” with a plot of its very own. Nevertheless, those who are unfamiliar with the life of Baggins may be unable to tell Legolus the elf from Gimli the dwarf and may ask, “”Who the hell is Galadriel?”” However, the Tolkein faithful should be pleased. With his young gobsmacked look, Wood is perfect as the unlikely warrior, and the rest of the cast looks promising as well. Seeing that audiences are going to be hit with three films over three years, we should probably decide now whether to become ardent Arwen (Tyler) fans or give this hobbit the old heave-ho and save ourselves the trouble.

Dec. 21:

“”The Majestic””

Who to look for: Jim Carey, Laurie Holden and Martin Landau.

Story line: Peter Appleton (Carey) is a screenwriter who goes for a car ride in 1951 that results in an accident and his subsequent loss of memory. Saved by a kind old man and taken to the town of Lawson, Appleton is mistaken as a long-lost war hero and so begins his life under a mistaken identity. As he falls in love with Holden’s character and discovers the magic of the silver screen at the town’s movie theater, The Majestic, Appleton also begins to remember who he was before he arrived in Lawson.

Outlook: Trying to break away from his famous facial contortions, Carey has found himself another “”Truman Show.”” While Carey can still charm his audience with comedic timing alone, it may not be enough for an already tried-and-true plot. However, “”The Majestic”” does incorporate the procedings of the House of Un-American Activities Committee into its plot, bringing to the audiences’ attention how Hollywood was associated with communism in the ’50s.

“”How High””

Who to look for: Redman and Method Man.

Story line: Two boys from the hood find themselves in possession of some “”Super Mary Jane,”” and by smoking the fantastic dope, they raise their grades and get accepted to Harvard. Since they only have to smoke themselves senseless to pass their classes, the boys instead split their time getting to know the Harvard honeys and their weed. But when their stash runs dry, so does their luck and so do their grades. To get back on track, they try everything, even smoking the bones of “”dead smart guy”” President John Quincy Adams. Can we say desperate?

Outlook: For crying out loud! What is it with Hollywood and the Harvard cliche? First they send a bum to class (remember Joe Pesci in “”With Honors””?), then a legally not-so-dumb blond and finally some pot heads. At least Harvard can stake a claim to a diverse student body. Whoever decided to let this film get off the ground must have been smokin’ some damn good “”Super Mary Jane”” themselves. This one will do anything but get you high.

‘Kate and Leopold’

Who to look for: Meg Ryan, Hugh Jackman, Brekin Meyer, Natasha Lyonne and Bradley Whitford.

Story line: Kate (Ryan) and Leopold (Jackman) live separate lives 100 years apart, but when Kate’s genius ex-boyfriend discovers a portal that will connect the two centuries, the 21st-century career woman finds a well-mannered nobleman by her side. As Kate and Leopold explore their cross-era love affair, Meyer provides support as Kate’s brother with Lyonne as her assistant, Darci. Whitford counterbalances the romantic shenanigans as Kate’s boss.

Outlook: While unfortunately not another “”Sleepless in Seattle,”” (although it will try to be) “”Kate and Leopold”” is just one of those romantic comedies that the holiday season cannot do without. Audiences may be disappointed when Jackman doesn’t shoot steal claws from his knuckles, but this X-man has gone elegantly legit. Ryan is her old bumbling, spastic self with lots of hair-pulling and eye-rolling. Whitford, however, may turn heads by breaking out of the “”West Wing”” box and onto the big screen.

Dec. 25

“”Ali””

Who to look for: Will Smith, Jamie Foxx, Mario Van Peebles, Mykelti Williamson, Jada Pinkett-Smith and Jon Voight.

Story line: Hollywood brings you the life of Mohammed Ali: champion fighter, champion showman and champion with the women. Tied into the plot following the life of The Champ is a look at the lives of African-Americans in the 1950s and ’60s. Contributing to the career of Ali (Smith) is Don King (Williamson) and Malcom X (Van Peebles). As we follow Ali through the rise of his career, we realize (if we didn’t already know) that he battled not only his opponents, but also public opinion and the Vietnam draft.

Outlook: Smith obviously wanted to fight more than aliens and he wanted to look good while doing it — maybe even coming out with an Oscar. While “”Ali”” may “”float like a butterfly”” from all the publicity, it probably won’t “”sting like a bee.”” As Ali romps around the ring and the bedroom, we can’t help but wonder how many egos this film helped to fuel. A word of advice, though: If you’re interested in a film with some real Ali action, rent the Oscar-winning documentary “”When We Were Kings,”” which chronicles the fight between Ali and George Foreman in the Congo. No actor (and I don’t care how much you worked out, Will) can entertain better than The Champ himself when he’s doing what he does best.

“”The Shipping News””

Who to look for: Kevin Spacey, Judi Dench, Cate Blanchett and Julianne Moore.

Story line: Based on Annie Proulx’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name, “”The Shipping News”” is a story full of mystery. When Quoyle’s (Spacey’s) estranged wife (Blanchett) dies, he takes the advice of his aunt (Dench) and returns to his childhood home in Newfoundland. Moving with his two daughters into a dilapidated house during a seemingly perpetual winter, Quoyle embarks on a period of self-discovery. Finding a job as a reporter for the local newspaper, Quoyle quickly begins to discover the layers of mystery around him, including those of the women he is falling in love with (Moore).

Outlook: The cast of “”The Shipping News”” boasts more Oscar nominees and winners than any other movie this winter. Need more be said? How about: “”The Shipping News”” shares the same director as “”Chocolat,”” a visually appealing film in its own right. Plus, with Spacey taking a new approach as a character full of innocence and Blanchett playing a woman caught on the wild side, entertainment is guaranteed. If anything, seeing the snow of Newfoundland will remind us why we all live in San Diego.

Dec. 28

‘I am Sam’

Who to look for: Sean Penn and Michelle Pfeiffer.

Story line: Sam (Penn) is a mentally disabled man who loves his daughter Lucy, but when she is taken away from him by authorities who claim that Sam is unfit to care for her, Sam’s life seems ready to fall apart. That is, until he finds himself a good lawyer (Pfeiffer) who is willing to take on his case and help him bring back his daughter who, when she turns eight, will have a mental capacity greater than that of her father.

Outlook: While the story is compelling, the execution reeks of Hollywood schmaltz. The characters, even Penn, are too glossy and too beautiful for a story that needs to be much grittier. Pfeiffer is her gorgeous self and it’s hard to tell whether she falls in love with Lucy or Sam. Needless to say, this is the movie that’s meant to yank our heartstrings, and at the dawn of 2002, make us thankful for our not-so-Hollywood lives.

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