A deep chill falls across the land as, for the first time in three years, fantasy-prone film freaks feel the conspicuous void left by the lack of a new Lord of the Rings flick in the fourth quarter. Here's a look at what Hollywood has to offer instead.
❆ NOVEMBER ❆
All aboard for Merry Olde England, where Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason finds Oscar-winning chicken killer Renee Zellweger ("let's put 'im in a pot!") affecting a British accent and shaking her "wobbly bits" at Colin Firth and Hugh Grant. Meanwhile, Nicolas ***image6***Cage-possibly inspired by South Park's Terrance and Phillip-goes "searching for treasure"...National Treasure, that is. Turns out the clues to unearthing the Founding Fathers' hidden loot were right there in front of us all along-woven into the cryptic material only conspiracy nuts pay attention to on the backs of US currency. Expect a (sort-of) grown-up remake of The Goonies, minus the charms of Mouth and Chunk. For young moviegoers and recreational marijuana users, the hot ticket this week is The Spongebob Squarepants Movie. The closest thing to real cinema comes courtesy of Zellweger's fellow Academy honoree Pedro Almodovar. Making its debut on the coasts today, Bad Education plays like a long-lost Hitchcock classic, spiced up with sweaty gay sex and the grand Spanish-intellectual tradition of pent-up hostility towards the Church. Expect it to gradually creep towards those of us in the heartland.
Apart from an early dalliance involving Michael Caine and a sentient, severed extremity, Oliver ***image4***Stone's never made a really bad movie...but there's a first (or second) time for everything, right? Alexander opens today, and it would be a lot easier to drum up some enthusiasm for the historical drama starring Colin Farrell, Angelina Jolie, Val Kilmer and Anthony Hopkins if it didn't follow the string of quasi-epic quackery most recently represented by Troy and King Arthur. Your only Turkey Day alternative, at least at the multiplexes, is Christmas with the Kranks-a holly-jolly affair wherein Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis play a pair of Santa-saturated suburbanites bent on "skipping Christmas" and playing hooky in the Bahamas. Decisions, decisions...
❆ DECEMBER ❆
Fans of Hero, take heart-Zhang Yimou's second martial art-house flick is even better than his first. Equally gorgeous to look at but more human-oriented in terms of its story, House of Flying Daggers not only reinforces Yimou's reputation as an director of action, it also confirms suspicions that the East is the place to look for today's successors to Star Wars and Indiana Jones. The final act squanders much of the buildup in laughable melodrama, but the thrill ride that leads up to it represents some of the best moviemaking on the planet today. Daggers opens in initially limited release, but you can bet your bottom dollar it's flying this way. Also hitting theaters today: Closer, another Mike Nichols investigation into the emotional slicing and dicing that inevitably accompanies a stirring libido. Nichols has explored similar territory before, most notably in Carnal Knowledge. What we can't figure out is what Natalie Portman's doing in that pink wig. Did Scarlett Johanssen loan it to her after Lost in Translation?
Nothing says "the holidays are here" like a cinematic visit from everyone's favorite high-tech vampire hunter. Wesley Snipes rolls out the red carpet for old Saint Nick in Blade: Trinity-it started out as a ***image2***white carpet, but after Snipes finishes dismembering his bloodsucking foes, well, you get the idea. And what would the chestnut-roasting season be without a caper flick? This year's is on Steven Soderbergh, who's reunited a mammoth ensemble cast for Ocean's Twelve. Expect George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts and just about everyone else in Hollywood to show up for December's European vacation (this time, the crew goes after targets in Rome, Paris and Amsterdam).
According to Miramax's publicity, The Aviator is no stuffy biopic, it's a good old-fashioned tale of greed and lust that just happens to be based on the life of aviation pioneer Howard ***image3***Hughes. Whether Martin Scorsese's treatment will task Leonardo DiCaprio with conveying Hughes' alleged enthusiasm for lovers of both sexes remains to be seen. Meanwhile, Adam Sandler and Tea Leoni play an awkward, affluent couple whose lives are changed by a touching encounter with their live-in help in Spanglish. Sounds like a project with high disaster potential, but if anyone can pull this off it's writer/director James L Brooks, the legendarily big-hearted miracle worker behind Terms of Endearment, As Good As It Gets and (along with a few collaborators) The Simpsons. And after mentally unravelling on-camera in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Jim ***image1***Carrey returns to manipulating his face like so much physiological Play-Doh in Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, based on the popular series of darkly humorous children's books. Smokin'!
The last week or so of 2004 will see various and sundry holiday releases tossed out among all the last-minute shopping and general overindulgence. Those with refined tastes can mark The Merchant of Venice and The Phantom of the Opera on their cultural calendars. Merchant features Al Pacino and Joseph Fiennes in lead roles; Phantom is a filmed version of the long-running Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. These are both opening in New York and LA during this time frame, but should be headed to Santa Fe, yada yada, etc. For the unwashed masses, there's Flight of the Phoenix, a fun-looking bit of nonsense about Dennis Quaid and Giovanni ***image5***Ribisi's efforts to free a wrecked plane from the unforgiving Gobi desert...and then you've got Meet the Fockers-do we really need to say anything about that one? Located somewhere between those cinematic poles you'll find The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, the latest from quick-witted quirkster Wes Anderson (Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums). As usual, Anderson's got a wildly overqualified cast lined up: Anjelica Huston, Cate Blanchett, Willem Dafoe and Michael Gambon, to name a few. But here at SFR, all eyes are on Bill Cosby, who's personally writing the script for the live-action version of Fat Albert. Hey hey hey!