Winter Movie Preview

    What: The computer-generated effects-laden epic trilogy to end all computer-generated effects-laden epic trilogies ends with a massive bang, effectively closing the story of some medieval stuff. Everybody who is planning to attend the midnight premiere of this film in a hobbit costume of their own design, raise your hands. Now, everybody who is still a virgin, keep your hands up. Yeah, that’s what I thought.

    The Good: Massive battles and neato imagery. This includes the completely computer-generated character of Gollum, who should be put in a steel-cage death match with Jar Jar Binks, another massive trilogy’s computer generated character.

    The Bad: The trailer shows a giant, scary spider. This would be impressive, except that the giant spider in the last “”Harry Potter”” movie was scarier.

    The Verdict: This film will most likely follow the trend of the previous two by offering nice cardboard character pin-ups and a story that paces itself like a hyperactive lap dog with narcolepsy. Recommended for those who like their films like their crayons: long and pointless.

    What: Tom Cruise plays a white man whose job is to modernize some Japanese armies with guns, but is then captured by his samurai enemies. Normally this is a bad thing, but our buddy Cruise decides he wants to become a samurai because he’s impressed by the honor code.

    The Good: “”The Last Samurai”” has beautiful cinematography and a compelling story. Its fight scenes are more exciting than “”Lord of the Rings”” and it has 50 percent fewer ogres.

    The Bad: The script is written by John Logan, who has penned such turds as “”The Time Machine,”” the latest animated Sinbad flick, and “”Star Trek: Nemesis,”” which holds the title of the worst script since “”Batman & Robin.”” Hopefully most of this film will be subtitled so the audience won’t have to hear too much of Logan’s brilliant writing.

    The Verdict: Like Cruise’s last dramatic action epic, “”Minority Report,”” this one looks like it will be a flawed masterpiece that’s well worth the ride.

    What: Poor Universal. Warner Bros. has unfairly stolen the entire market for exciting children’s movies with the wildly popular “”Harry Potter”” series. Guess it’s time to make a Universal Potter-like movie, complete with the sort of dark and British production design. Surprisingly enough, Disney didn’t think of this one first. But then again, Disney has the decision-making skills of a drunk primate, as evidenced by the Lizzie McGuire phenomenon.

    The Good: Jason Isaacs is on loan from “”Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”” to play Captain Hook, and it looks like he’s going to pull off an amazing performance a la Johnny Depp in the other refurbished Disney property, “”Pirates of the Caribbean.”” Pirates have all of the fun. We’re going to see some Peter and Wendy flirtation, which will considerably raise the sex appeal of a film marketed to eight-year-olds.

    The Bad: If the film is anything like the trailer, Coldplay’s “”Clocks”” will be the flying-to-Neverland anthem. Something about a Brit-pop group in 19th-century London seems very, very wrong.

    The Verdict: This Christmas, take your kids to see “”Harry Potter.”” What, there’s no “”Harry Potter”” movie? Well, take them to see this one instead, if it strikes your fancy.

    What: Who remembers “”Amelie””? Good. That’s a movie from France. This film, too, is from France, and revolves around such French things as the Tour de France, Citroen 2CVs, the French Mafia and silly little old ladies.

    The Good: Spinning a web of hallucinatory and stunning visions second only to Salvador Dali or Terry Gilliam, this film is likely to be the most original and fantastic vision of the year. Never mind sleepy Disney flicks or staccato Japanese anime, this film breathes new life into animation and is proof positive that moving drawings aren’t completely doomed. On top of the stunning visuals, its soundtrack is filled with some of the coolest jazz since “”Jeeves and Woostier.”” Not only that, the film is filled with plenty of racy humor which makes it fully earn its PG-13 rating. So shove the kids into a showing of “”Peter Pan”” and sit back to view some sophisticated “”South Park.””

    The Bad: Some people’s noses are drawn out of proportion, and you may have to read some subtitles.

    The Verdict: See this film, and see it on the big screen. Your dreams will thank you.

    What: In this flagrantly indie film, a young runaway is dumped into the seedy world of truck-stop prostitution.

    The Good: Sundance gave this one a Special Jury Prize for “”artistic merit and emotional truth,”” and for good reason. It’s a snarling little gem of a story, brought kicking and screaming to life by accomplished actress Judith Ivey and newcomer Emily Grace. You’re not likely to see a drama with this amount of honesty and danger in it for a very long time.

    The Bad: The problem with being so down to earth is that you end up with a gritty digital video film shot on handheld cameras. It’s not as bad as the “”Blair Witch Project,”” but the actual filmmaking leaves something to be desired.

    The Verdict: Pretend it’s reality TV instead of a film so you can ignore the cinematography, and check this one out if you’re in the mood for a chilling and hard-hitting drama. This is somewhat akin to asking somebody if they’re in the mood for walking on glass, but with the film, you get the satisfaction of knowing that someone else is doing the walking for you.

    What: The Farelly brothers are at it again. This time, Cameron Diaz won’t have objectionable hair gel, Jim Carrey won’t beat the crap out of himself and Jack Black won’t see Gwyneth Paltrow as a pig. No, this time, the gimmick is that Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear are conjoined twins. This opens a whole can of immensely funny comedic whoop-ass, as we watch the twins date (Surprise! One of them gets in the way!), as we watch the twins play sports (Surprise! One of them gets in the way!), and even as one of the twins attempts to have sex (Surprise! One of them gets in the way!). This film is full of many surprises, but let’s not ruin them.

    The Good: This film will be no longer than two hours long. It might be funny.

    The Bad: The Farelly brothers have run out of steam. Instead of sticking to gagfests like “”There’s Something About Mary”” or “”Dumb and Dumber,”” their latest films have been formulaic comedy-dramas where a single gimmick is used as a crutch to carry the film.

    The Verdict: If you enjoy an R-rated “”Saturday Night Live”” sketch that runs for over an hour, or you’re a big fan of the Farellys, check this one out. Otherwise, avoid it like a plague in theaters and steal it from a video store when the special edition three-disc set is released.

    What: Ewan McGreggor plays a young version of Albert Finney who plays a dying salesman. And, like all good salesmen, Finney/McGreggor has spent his life telling great big lies about the world. Instead of bragging about lascivious secretaries or great amounts of money, Finney/McGreggor tells tall tales of epic proportion. So tall, in fact, that only Tim Burton could bring them to life.

    The Good: Tim Burton has come back to earth for the first time since “”Ed Wood,”” and his little forays into Scissorhands-land and Batman-land have done him well. The film has a glorious touch to it, with just enough magic to spark that childish sign of wonder and just enough reality to make it a serious drama. As well, the all-star cast brings this ensemble to life in a way that gives “”The Royal Tenenbaums”” sweaty nightmares.

    The Bad: Albert Finney looks nothing like Ewan McGreggor, so be on the lookout for some extreme makeup.

    The Verdict: Whether or not this film will fall prey to the dreaded “”Forrest Gump”” syndrome and end up completely wishy-washy, it’s well worth a look to see Tim Burton dust off his toys and go play.

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