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Entertainment News

Holiday films: Big stars, big budgets, big expectations

jsanford@kalamazoogazette.com 388-8553

You've already learned the secret identities of "The Incredibles." You've had your ride on "The Polar Express." You learned what sprouted from the "Seed of Chucky" (or maybe you elected to remain blissfully ignorant about that).

What's next?

Big stars, big budgets and, in many cases, big dreams of Oscar-night glory. In the next six weeks, you'll have Adam Sandler, Julia Roberts (in two films), Colin Farrell, Tim Allen, Jim Carrey and Leonardo DiCaprio vying for your box-office dollars.

If it's first-class filmmakers you desire, think about Martin Scorsese, James L. Brooks, Oliver Stone and Mike Nichols, all of whom have new projects.

There's no telling who will score and who will self-destruct, but one thing is always certain: All release dates are subject to change. So don't blame us if that cinematic present you've been eagerly awaiting is delayed until after New Year's.

Nov. 24

"Alexander"

What it is: Colin Farrell portrays Alexander the Great, who conquered most of the known world during his brief life (356-323 B.C.) but, according to what Farrell told Gentleman's Quarterly, "never got to a place of comfort, a place of joy, a place where he ever felt like he was achieving enough. He was never surrounded by the love that he really wanted, even though he was lauded and applauded and deified." Val Kilmer, Anthony Hopkins, Angelina Jolie and Rosario Dawson co-star, under the direction of the always-understated (yeah, right) Oliver Stone, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Patrick Marber of "Closer" fame.

What the trailer makes it look like: The stars are showcased to premium advantage and the money is all up there on the screen: scores of extras, sprawling battles, charging elephants, etc.

But after the quick fall of "Troy" earlier this year, Stone and company may be fighting an uphill battle to get audiences excited about this similar-looking spectacular.

"Christmas with the Kranks"

What it is: Based on John Grisham's "Skipping Christmas," it's a comic look at what happens when suburbanites Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis shock their friends and neighbors by deciding to pass on participating in holiday hoopla. A last-minute change of heart means the couple must scramble to assemble the necessary items for a traditional celebration.

What the trailer makes it look like: A goofy sitcom episode blown up to big-screen size, complete with lots of mugging, screaming and the latest in a seemingly endless string of bad Botox jokes. But could it really be any worse than Ben Affleck's already-DOA "Surviving Christmas"?

Dec. 3

"Closer"

What it is: Patrick Marber's acclaimed anti-love story (a stage hit in London and New York) examines the tragically entangled lives of a photographer (Julia Roberts), a stripper (Natalie Portman), a dermatologist (Clive Owen) and a journalist (Jude Law) in London. The play was heavy on dialogue and light on action, but Mike Nichols is directing, which is a definite plus.

What the trailer makes it look like: Suzanne Vega's melancholy, mesmerizing song "Caramel" underscores beautifully shot scenes that lay out the mechanics of the love quadrangle, with plenty of angst and numerous hints of steamy encounters. "If you believe in love at first sight, you never stop looking," a title tells us.

Dec. 8

"Blade: Trinity"

What it is: In what's said to be the final installment of the "Blade" series, the half-human/half-vampire Blade (Wesley Snipes) works alongside the daughter of an old friend (Jessica Biel) and a rehabilitated vampire (Ryan Reynolds) to defeat what the publicity materials call "the powerful and ruthless villain Danica Talos." If the first two "Blade" installments are any indication, expect a tidal wave of blood and a surplus of martial arts action.

What the trailer makes it look like: Snipes keeps looking cool as bullets and arrows fly and cars explode during battles between Blade and the bloodsuckers. "There's nothing stopping them now!" a guy says. "There's me," Blade hisses.

Dec. 10

"Ocean's Twelve"

What it is: Hey, Julia Roberts! It's been a whole week since we last saw you. But she's back -- along with George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and the rest of the "Ocean's Eleven" gang -- in this sequel to the 2001 hit, which finds the crew pulling off heists in Paris, Rome and Amsterdam. A special added bonus is Catherine Zeta-Jones as the agent on their trail.

What the trailer makes it look like: If you liked the first one, you'll be pleased to hear this looks exactly the same, with the comic chumminess among the cast members still intact and a similar retro-chic look. Titles announce "George Clooney is the Smooth Operator!" and "Brad Pitt is Criminally Irresistible!"

Dec. 17

"The Aviator"

What it is: Leonardo DiCaprio plays the youthful, capricious billionaire Howard Hughes in what's said to be a reasonably lighthearted look at his fondness for airplanes, airlines, movies and movie stars. (Gwen Stefani plays Jean Harlow, Cate Blanchett plays Katharine Hepburn and Kate Beckinsale plays Ava Gardner.) The story's time frame runs from the late 1920s to the mid-1940s. Martin Scorsese, perhaps in his low-key "Age of Innocence" mode, directs.

What the trailer makes it look like: Apparently it's being sold as the holiday epic with something for just about everyone: a glossy, lavish biography full of exquisite period sets and clothes and larger-than-life characters. DiCaprio and his female co-stars all look sensational.

"Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events"

What it is: The plots of the first three books of the enormously successful Daniel Handler series ("The Bad Beginning," "The Reptile Room" and "The Wide Window") are melded together in this twisted comedy about the efforts of the long-suffering Baudelaire orphans to escape from their sinister, money-hungry uncle, Count Olaf (Jim Carrey). Meryl Streep plays the perpetually terrified Aunt Josephine (who dreads having to deal with telephones, ovens and doorknobs), Timothy Spall is cast as the ill-fated snake lover Uncle Monty, and Jude Law narrates.

What the trailer makes it look like: It begins with the sweeping strains of the "Edward Scissorhands" score as we see the orphans standing in the burnt-out ruins of their family home, but a more manic, comic/Gothic mood quickly takes over as Carrey bursts onto the scene in a variety of disguises. "December 17, Christmas cheer takes a holiday -- don't say we didn't warn you," the end title says.

"Spanglish"

What it is: Writer-director James L. Brooks, in his first film since "As Good as It Gets," tells the story of a Mexican beauty named Flor (Paz Vega) and her gifted 12-year-old daughter who emigrate to Los Angeles and threaten to bring a bit of stability to the hectic household of a renowned chef (Adam Sandler), his control-freak wife (Tea Leoni) and his boozy mother-in-law (Cloris Leachman). If the enticing script excerpts on the Web site (www.sonypictures.com/movies/spanglish/) are any indication, Brooks has another winner on his hands.

What the trailer makes it look like: Although it doesn't offer many clues about the plot, there are some great lines ("Lately, your low self-esteem is just good common sense," the mother-in-law tells her son's neurotic wife), suggestions of domestic discord and indications of a possible love triangle involving Vega, Leoni and Sandler.

Dec. 22

"Andrew Lloyd Webber's

The Phantom of the Opera"

What it is: The long-, long-delayed screen adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's phenomenally successful pop-opera stars Gerard Butler as the love-starved Phantom, Emmy Rossum as the star-in-training Christine and Patrick Wilson as Raoul, Christine's longtime admirer. Miranda Richardson, Minnie Driver and Ciarin Hinds are in the supporting cast. Joel Schumacher, who has always made great-looking -- if not always great -- films is the director.

What the trailer makes it look like: The teaser, the trailer and the clip available at the Web site (phantomthemovie.warnerbros.com) indicate that Schumacher's visual sense has not deserted him. And when those familiar chords boom out and that chandelier starts swinging, it's hard not to pay attention. But it remains to be seen if he's created something stately and sophisticated (like the screen version of "Evita") or a sensual crowd-pleaser (like "Chicago").

"Flight of the Phoenix"

What it is: Pilot Dennis Quaid and a planeload of passengers (including Giovanni Ribisi, Miranda Otto and Tyrese Gibson) crash-land in the Mongolian desert and must rebuild their aircraft before their limited water supply runs dry. If it sounds familiar, perhaps it's because you've seen the 1965 "Flight of the Phoenix," starring James Stewart and Ernest Borgnine.

What the trailer makes it look like: Some startling scenes of the plane falling apart in midair, attacks by desert brigands and brief glimpses of simmering tensions between Quaid and Ribisi (who plays the engineer responsible for overseeing the design of the new plane) are backed up by classic rock tunes like "Gimme Some Lovin'" and "Spirit in the Sky." It seems to give away an awful lot of the story, but perhaps there are still some surprises to be unveiled.

"Meet the Fockers"

What it is: The sequel to "Meet the Parents" finds Greg (Ben Stiller), Pam (Teri Polo), Jack (Robert DeNiro) and Dina (Blythe Danner) traveling to Detroit to get acquainted with Greg's predictably nutty parents, Bernie (Dustin Hoffman) and Roz (Barbra Streisand). If you think the visit goes smoothly, you're not thinking.

What the trailer makes it look like: Well, it doesn't look like a shocking change of pace from the first installment, that's for sure: Roz -- a "senior sex therapist" -- gives Jack a memorably enthusiastic massage, Greg suffers new humiliations, a dog gets flushed down a toilet by a cat, etc. Millions enjoyed the original, and these clips promise that the formula hasn't been diluted.

Dec. 25

"Fat Albert"

What it is: Hey, hey, hey! Bill Cosby's creation Fat Albert (Kenan Thompson) and his buddies are magically zapped out of the cartoon universe into the real world, where they have to deal with the kinds of problems unknown to children of the late 1960s. There's sad news for dads who might have to accompany their kids to this: Jessica Rabbit, Mulan and Pocahontas don't follow the Cosby kids' path.

What the trailer makes it look like: Sheer agony. You'd have to search far and wide to find a less appealing trailer than this one, which makes the movie look like one more loud, cheaply made, utterly insipid slapstick farce for kids. Plus, a Cosby cameo slapped on at the end reminds us of such cinematic jewels as "Leonard, Part VI" and "Ghost Dad." Still, if you liked "Garfield: The Movie"...

"The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou"

What it is: Wes Anderson reteams with his "Rushmore" and "Royal Tenenbaums" star Bill Murray for another quirky tale, this one involving the friction between a Jacques Cousteau-style TV star named Steve Zissou (Murray) and his estranged son, Ned (Owen Wilson) during a mission to kill the shark that devoured Steve's buddy. Also on board: Anjelica Huston as "the brains behind Team Zissou" and the author of "Tragedy of the Red Octopus"; Cate Blanchett as reporter Jane Winslett-Richardson, who becomes the star of her own story; and Willem Dafoe as the disgruntled crewman, Klaus.

What the trailer makes it look like: There's no mistaking it for anything except a Wes Anderson film. Eccentricities, oddball dialogue and a general air of genial goofiness abounds. It's calculated to whet the appetites of those who loved Anderson's earlier pictures -- and it has.



© 2004 Kalamazoo. Used with permission

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