Holiday Film Column - Malibu Magazine

My film column that appeared in Malibu Magazine. In this one, I picked a few movies for the winter/holiday film season. Some of my early Oscar picks were right on, while there's one in there that stinks up the joint.



Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire
Release date: 11/18

I know a lot of adults who’ve begrudgingly said something to the order of, “You know, I thought they were kids books…but I really liked ‘um.” The same can finally be said for the Harry Potter films. For me, I started with the third book, and think the fourth, “Goblet of Fire” is the best of the book series thus far and the movie version looks to be the best of the films. It’ll be interesting to see how much of the 734 pages they get on the screen as Harry, Ron, and Hermione face evil head-on and are forced once more to grow up as fast in the story as the three actors seem to do in real life. The Tri-Wizard Tournament and the looming shadow of a re-emerging He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named might be one thing, but how on Hogwarts are our heroes going to deal with all these new hormones they seem to be developing?

Walk the Line
Release Date: 11/18

Believe it or not, there was a time when a musician could truly be a “rebel” and was not packaged to only appear as one to attract sales from a particular focus group. Johnny Cash did that and still had time to spare before turning 30. James Mangold’s (“Identity,” “Girl Interrupted”) “Walk the Line” chronicles the early years of Johnny Cash as his legendary career begins in Sun Studios up to his infamous concert at Folsom Prison. Being the betting man I am, I’m willing to venture that like last year with “Ray,” we’re going to see a whole lot more Johnny Cash fans all of a sudden. I would also go double or nothing and bet that both Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon emerge as favorites for the Oscar as well, though I wouldn’t bet on any future duets with Kanye West.

The Libertine
Release Date: 11/23 – one-week run in LA & NY. Opens wide in early 2006

In the opening of this film, John Wilmot, otherwise known as The Earl of Rochester, informs the audience that most likely we will not like him by the end of the movie. Be that as it may, Mr. Wilmot, you may be a scoundrel and a rogue poet and playwright, you have one thing conspiring against you: you’re portrayed by Johnny Depp. Granted you lived life in all excesses of drink and sex until it killed you off far before your time, your story takes place in 17th century England and if it’s one thing people have come to like in movies, it’s Johnny Depp in a period film. Even when you abandon you wife once more, this time for actress Elizabeth Berry (played by Samantha Morton, who is the best actress of her day. For proof of said claim, see “Sweet and Lowdown” and “In America”), we may not approve, but we’ll still like you.

Rent
Release Date: 11/23

More often than not, the potential of a movie musical, or even the stage musical, is missed or glossed over in exchange for big budget spectacle and entertainment. When it debuted in New York on April 29th, 1996, “Rent” (based on Puccini’s “La Boheme”) was a breath of fresh air to American Theater and the film version has the potential to do the same for American cinema. “Rent” is going to illustrate that a movie musical can survive on the old faithful’s such as story and character and doesn’t need to rely on glitz and glamor typical of film musicals to entertain people. Much of the original cast has returned for the Chris Columbus helmed film. Quite simply, “Rent” was and still is a story for its generation.

Syriana
Release Date: 11/23 – Wide Release on 12/9

The Academy seems to love it when a star drastically changes their normally wonderful features for a movie role as evidence by Robert DeNiro (Best Actor for “Raging Bull”), Nicole Kidman (Best Actress for “The Hours”) and most recently by Charlize Theron (Best Actress for “Monster”). After gaining 35 pounds for his role of CIA agent Robert Barnes for “Syriana,” is it George Clooney’s turn? In the film set against the world of global oil, Clooney plays a CIA who learns more than he thought he did about his employer in this proverbial web of intrigue that includes an ambitious oil broker (Matt Damon), a corporate attorney, and a Pakistani youth who is recruited by a persuasive Muslim cleric. Academy Award winning writer Stephen Gaghan (“Traffic”) wrote and directed the film.

Brokeback Mountain
Release Date: 12/9

On the surface, this film has something to offer for everyone. Guys could go to see surly cowboys drinking, fishing, shooting guns, camping, rodeo, and all sorts of rugged manly activities. Plus, it has a couple of real pretty girls in Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway to look at. For the ladies, they have favorites Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal playing cowboys to swoon over for two hours. There’s pretty scenery and wedding scenes and romance. So, the girls drag their boyfriends and the guys go check out this new Western movie…and then they find out that the two cowboys are in fact gay. Director Ang Lee has a pretty good track record (“The Hulk,” “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” and “The Ice Storm”) when it comes to films that have, at their core, characters with inner secrets and desires to break free from sexual norms.

Memoirs of a Geisha
Release Date: 12/9

If any film listed here has Oscar written on it, it’s Rob Marshall’s “Memoirs of a Geisha,” adapted from the best-selling book by Arthur Golden. Controversy has followed this story since the publication of the novel in 1997, when the Geisha that Golden interviewed sued him for breach of contract after he put her real name in the book. This violated a code of silence in the Geisha community and Golden settled out of court for an undisclosed amount of money. As the film went into production, controversy surrounded the film’s casting. The lead, Zhang Ziyi is of Chinese descent and is playing a Japanese woman. In China, some were upset because a Chinese woman played a Geisha, a role that many mistook for a prostitute. Controversy aside, if the movie is half as powerful as the novel is, this could be the best film of 2005.

King Kong
Release Date: 12/14

As per the cliché, the only sure things in life are death and taxes. You might have to add Peter Jackson’s “King Kong” to that list. Jackson seems to do OK with films that come out in December and he’s been known to make a pretty mean epic or two (or three). The film clocks in at just over three hours in length and should be full of what American audiences love best in their entertainment: giant creatures, dinosaurs, mysterious uncharted islands, and plenty of action and destruction. The cast includes Jack Black, who, if anyone could match the energy of Kong, he could, Naomi Watts, and Adrien Brody. Lord of the Rings favorite, Andy Serkis (who we loved and hated as the CGI character Gollum) performed the on-set and motion capture role of Kong, and we also get to see him in person as Lumpy the cook.

All the King's Men
Release Date: Early 2006

Conservatives that uttered a gasp of fear when Sean Penn stood at the speaker’s podium at the U.N. in “The Interpreter” might get some solace seeing Penn as the idealistic turned corrupt Louisiana Governor Willie Stark in Steven Zaillian’s “All the King’s Men.” The film is adapted from Robert Penn Warren’s novel of the same name, my favorite novel and arguably the best American novel of the 20th Century, and follows the rise and fall of Stark (a portrait based lightly on Louisiana Governor Huey Long) in the world of corrupt Louisiana politics. To my knowledge, this is the first time a film has been remade after the original won the Oscar for Best Picture (in 1950, along with Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor), but a cast that includes Jude Law, Kate Winslet, James Gandolfini, and Anthony Hopkins looks prepared to fill some awfully big shoes.

The New World
Release Date: 12/25

Perspective is a very powerful word. In 1607, to the men in ships that had traveled 3000 miles, the land they saw was brand new. To the people who had on that land for the past few thousand years, it was home and it was untouched. Terrence Malick’s “The New World” tells the story of the first English settlement in America and love story between John Smith (Colin Farrell) and Pocahontas (Q’Orianka Kilcher in her feature debut), in what would become the first great American love story.

Special Bonus:

Rocky VI
Release Date: Not soon enough!

I add this to the list only it I will feel like it’s Christmas when I can utter the following sentence aloud and with full sincerity, “Hello, I’d like to purchase one adult ticket to see Rocky 6, please.”

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