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Winter Guide 07: Christmas Movies: The Horror!

November 21, 2007, 12:00 am
By
Separate the keepers from the duds with this guide to holiday films.

This holiday season, everyone's goal is to avoid, as much as possible, actual face-to-face interaction with the family. And the best way to achieve that goal is by sneaking away to the local cinema, right? But will there be anything decent to see when you get there? The icy cold winter often can shrink Hollywood studios' balls, causing them to guiltily dump sickeningly sweet family features and moronic Christmas-themed comedies. Still, a few golden-tinged Oscar hopefuls have yet, like the very last leaves of fall, to be dropped. In this guide, SFR takes a look at what's under the studio's Christmas tree and lets you know if their movie gifts are good or "for goodnes f-ing sake."

December 7

The Amateurs
What's under the tree?
In one small town a group of guys comes up with a plan to deal with the stagnant economy and their stagnant middle-aged lives. They fall back on that product that never goes out of style: sex. Jeff Bridges leads the dopey crew, which also includes Ted Danson, as it sets out to make a ridiculously amateur adult movie. Of course, everything goes terribly wrong.

Good or "For goodness f-ing sake"?
This one comes down to a wild card, the director Michael Traeger. Although he did write the screenplay for the cheesy, MTV-produced Dead Man on Campus, this is his first time directing. To give him the benefit of the doubt, maybe he was just paying dues with MTV. On the other hand, he could have a predilection for clichés and a penchant for the lame. The subject of direction aside, we can't forget that The Amateurs stars Jeff Bridges. If Bridges can produce even half the pleasure he did with his bumbling stoner character "The Dude," in The Big Lebowski, then The Amateurs will be well worth seeing.

The Golden Compass

What's under the tree?
The Golden Compass is the latest in a rash of fantasy-adventure films, based on some series of kids' books, that are trying to rake in a little Harry***image1*** Potter-style cash. Here, a young girl who lives among books and scholars at Oxford (why is it always Britain?) sets out on a quest to find a microscopic particle that unites worlds. It stars some little girl plus Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig and a CG polar bear that looks like it escaped from a Coke commercial.

Good or "For goodness f-ing sake"?
Face it: You're going to see this movie. Not because you want to, but because your son, daughter, grandson, granddaughter, niece, nephew or cousin does and it's easier to go than to listen to the whining.


December 14

Alvin and the Chipmunks

What's under the tree?
Alpha chipmunk Alvin, studious Simon and portly Theodore are back and ready to raise a ruckus. The rascally rodents scamper around and converse in their high-pitched voices-annoying animated adults and thereby bringing joy to the hearts of real-life children.

Good or "For goodness f-ing sake"?
Alvin, Simon, Theodore! Do! Do! Do, do, do, do they have to remake everything that was once good into a lame, computer-animated mess?

I Am Legend
What's under the tree?
Will Smith is the last non-plague-infected man in New York and possibly the whole world. For three years he has been hiding from blood-sucking mutants, wearing his fly gear and sending out beacons of hope by radio. Coincidentally, he's also a brilliant scientist. So he sets out to discover why his blood is***image2*** immune and to use that knowledge to make an anti-plague cure.

Good or "For goodness f-ing sake"?
Originally, Will Smith was set to make this film with Michael Bay, but they made Bad Boys II instead. Now the director is Francis Lawrence, who, until now, has wiled away his days making music videos for Britney Spears, Green Day and J-Lo. It's possible Smith will get jiggy wit it, but probably nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah.

Youth Without Youth
What's under the tree?
After 10 years away from directing, Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather trilogy, Apocalypse Now, Dracula) is back with Youth Without Youth. Tim Roth (Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs) stars as Dominic, a meek professor who, in pre-WWII Europe, discovers the secret to eternal youth. Dominic criss-crosses Europe, avoiding Nazis, finding romance and discovering metaphysical truths along the way.

Good or "For goodness f-ing sake"?
Coppola has obviously made some classic cinema in his day. The question is, does his day stretch to the present? Has Coppola gotten soft? The subject matter certainly sounds interesting. Maybe we shouldn't expect a masterpiece on the level of Apocalypse Now, but Youth Without Youth will definitely be one of the more highly anticipated films of the winter season.


December 21

National Treasure: Book of Secrets

What's under the tree?
In this sequel to 2004's National Treasure, Nicholas Cage once again stars as seventh-generation treasure hunter Ben Gates. Gates is hot in pursuit of a***image3*** huge cache of treasure buried by the Founding Fathers back in the 1700s. A clue points Gates toward a secret map drawn on the back of the Declaration of Independence. But bad-guy treasure hunters-who are only in it for material gain, instead of for the noble cause of coming up on a bunch of treasure-are after the Declaration of Independence, too.

Good or "For goodness f-ing sake"?
Like the first National Treasure, Book of Secrets will appeal to lovers of The Da Vinci Code. But, without that hint of connection to reality, it will most likely remain forgettable entertainment.

Sweeney Todd
What's under the tree?
Based on the 19th century legend and the hit Broadway musical about a revenge-seeking barber who cuts his customers' necks along with their locks, Sweeney Todd is Tim Burton's sixth collaboration with Johnny Depp (after Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Sleepy Hollow, Charlie and the Chocolate***image4*** Factory and Corpse Bride). Sweeney's collaboration with Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), the proprietor of "London's worst pie-shop," will make you feel good about your Aunt Fay's Kwanzaa cobbler.

Good or "For goodness f-ing sake?"
Burton is the holiday-season filmmaker par excellence. The skies are always pale, if not dark; the trees either rustle with final leaves or are dead bare; flesh is gothic-grey. Those of you with a love for macabre comedy ought to always celebrate an upcoming Burton release. But for Edward Scissorhands lovers in particular, the anticipation of Sweeney Todd should bring "shear" joy. Additional coolness: Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan) plays Signor Adolfo Pirelli.



December 25


Persepolis
What's under the tree?
Persepolis is a cinematic adaptation of an incredible***image5*** graphic-novel/coming-of-age memoir by Marjane Satrapi. Growing up as a precocious little girl in 1970s Iran, Satrapi experienced culture shock when the Islamic Revolution took place. And then the Iran-Iraq war came. Sean Penn and Iggy Pop are among the cast voicing the English version.

Good or "For goodness f-ing sake"?
Persepolis is an absolute must-see for those who have read the graphic-novel and those who haven't. That is to say: everybody. This writer, for one, is excited as hell to see this!



January 4

One Missed Call
What's under the tree?
One Missed Call, a remake of the 2003 Japanese horror flick Chakushin Ari, stars Shannyn Sossamon (Wristcutters: A Love Story) as Beth, a young woman who witnesses the grizzly deaths of her two closest friends. The weird thing is that, before the two died, they both received messages on their cell phones that foretold of their unhappy endings. Now Beth's phone reads, "One missed call." Cue scary music.

Good or "For goodness f-ing sake?"
The poster for One Missed Call bears one of the stupidest-looking poster images ever: A comically idiotic looking "creature," whose eyes are two gaping mouths, is engaged in a cell phone call on what looks to be a Motorola Razor. This movie may be one of those rare exceptions to the "never judge a book by its cover" aphorism. On the other hand, it may be worth it just to see some demonic being tapping its grey-as-death foot in impatience as its soon-to-be victim's outgoing message robotically intones, "To leave a call-back number, press five now."


January 18


Mad Money
What's under the tree?***image6***
In Mad Money, three employees of the Federal Reserve (Diane Keaton, Queen Latifah and Katie Holmes) conspire to steal some money that's scheduled to be destroyed. Although it's based on a true story in which the women end up caught, that shouldn't make a surprise impossible. Hollywood is notorious for tacking on happy endings.

Good or "For goodness f-ing sake"?
Mad Money director Callie Khouri, who made Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood and won an Oscar for her work on the screenplay for Thelma & Louise, appears to possess a gift for plumbing the intricacies of female bonding through conspiratorial covenants. Look for that pattern to hold, and for Mad Money to be a touching good time.



January 25


Be Kind Rewind
What's under the tree?
When junkyard employee Jerry (Jack Black) attempts a terrorist-style attack on the power plant he suspects of causing his migraines, he somehow accidentally magnetizes his brain. Thus magnetized, he then accidentally***image7*** ruins the entire stock of VHS movies in his friend Mike's (Mos Def) video store. In order to satisfy the store's single loyal customer, an elderly lady displaying signs of dementia, the duo set out to recreate enough films to keep her coming back. These include The Lion King, Rush Hour, Ghost Busters, When We Were Kings, Back to the Future, Driving Miss Daisy and Robocop.

Good or "For goodness f-ing sake?"
How can you not expect great things from Be Kind Rewind? The idea is breathtakingly, brilliantly stupid-and it comes from the weirdly wonderful mind of Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Science of Sleep).

 

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