Sick of being stuck inside the house, or running around shopping, or trying to think of an activity everyone will enjoy?
Go to the movies, Friendo, like you do every year.
This holiday season, the most promising films include Peter Jackson's eagerly anticipated prequel to "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, "The Hobbit," starring Martin Freeman (whom you might remember from the BBC version of "The Office"); or Oscar winning director Tom Hooper's update of "Les Miserables." Oscar-winning filmmaker Amy Berg offers a strong documentary, "West of Memphis," the shocking story of three wrongfully convicted men. (Although it might not be lighthearted enough for a family outing.) Also amazing (but maybe not hits with both Gramma and Tiny Tim): "Hyde Park on Hudson," starring Bill Murray as Franklin D. Roosevelt, and "Any Day Now" -- a tearjerker, starring Alan Cummings, about a gay couple adopting a special-needs child.
Should you actively need to avoid wholesome holiday movie fare, fret not: Quentin Tarantino has your back with "D'jango Unchained," a bloody update of an old spaghetti western, with QT's obligatory, well-heeled soundtrack. Not anti-holiday enough for you? Go see "The Collection," a bona fide slasher film.
Keep in mind, the following release dates are subject to change.
In theaters Nov. 30
A serial killer calling himself The Collector (Randall Archer) throws a big rave party for all his new friends -- and then chops them up using what looks like some kind of tractor attachment. The word "thresh" comes to mind; I'd say they thrashed and then he threshed. Anyhow, a dude named Arkin (Josh Stewart) somehow escapes but is soon thrown back into harm's way when somebody's daddy (Christopher McDonald) hires Arkin and a bunch of other dudes to go rescue his little girl (Emma Fitzpatrick) -- she wasn't threshed; she was tossed into a steam trunk.
Friday, Dec. 7
Bad Kids Go to Hell
What a great title. Six good-looking "kids" (they all look to be at least 25) from different cliques at Crestview High are tossed into an eight-hour Saturday detention, required to write an essay about the history of the school and subsequently abandoned by the teacher on duty -- ala "The Breakfast Club." (In fact, Judd Nelson plays Headmaster Nash in this one.) These kids are so bad, they even ripped off "Carrie" and tossed what appears to be pig's blood atop their mascot during an assembly. But they're not bad enough for whatever evil spirit makes the athlete fall down the stairs or the brunette girl grip her throat or the redhead go out of focus or the blonde girl act like a bitchy blonde girl.
This holiday season, if you're looking for a dark thriller about a couple of extremely good-looking siblings (Eric Bana and Olivia Wilde) who utterly screw up a casino heist, crash their car, shoot a cop and then attempt to escape to Canada in the middle of a snowstorm after ruining Kris Kristofferson, Sissy Spacek and Charlie Hunnam's Thanksgiving dinner, look no further; this is that film.
Hyde Park on Hudson
Is it wrong that the very idea of Bill Murray playing FDR makes me happy? If it is, then I don't wanna be talking to you any longer. But I have to. Murray is FDR, Laura Linney is his distant/kissing cousin, Margaret Stuckle, and Olivia Williams is Eleanor Roosevelt. The flick, directed by Roger "Notting Hill" Michell, focuses on the weekend that King George VI (Samuel West) and Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) stay as FDR's guests in upstate New York. Cue delightful hijinks, culture clashes and general Bill Murray magic.
Lay the Favorite
Journalist Beth Raymer's autobiographical account of her years stripping, boxing and betting high-stakes games was snatched up by director Stephen Frears ("High Fidelity," "The Queen" and "Dangerous Liasons") and stars Rebecca Hall as the young Raymer. Bruce Willis and Catherine Zeta-Jones play her lighthearted-yet-criminally-insane parents, and Joshua Jackson plays her naive boyfriend/straightman. I'd put my money on this film being decent enough to see in the theater, consistently funny enough to watch a second time sitting next to a bong, but not quite awesome enough to be remembered in five years. Thankfully, I don't bet.
Playing for Keeps
Sometimes I read such a title and automatically think, "This is either another gambling movie straightaway, or it's a movie wherein Gerard Butler coaches his kid's soccer team while trying to get back into the pants of his ex-wife, who's probably played by Jessica Biel." And if -- like me -- that was the first thing you thought, you should pat yourself on the back, because we were right.
Friday, Dec. 14
Any Day Now
This limited-release flick revolves around the prejudice a gay couple (Alan Cumming, Garret Dillahunt) encounter as they struggle to adopt and then raise a child (Isaac Leyva) with Down syndrome, and the joy he brings to their lives. All you'll have to bring is Kleenex.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
No idea about this one. No idea where the source material came from, what it's about, who directed it or if Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman and Cate Blanchett are in it. If pressed, I'd have to guess it's a tourism vehicle for New Zealand.
Wednesday, Dec. 19
Zero Dark Thirty
"Zero Dark Thirty" isn't closing time at the bar, it's the title of an action flick about the hunting and killing of Osama bin Laden, starring Joel Edgerton, Jessica Chastain and Edgar Ramirez.
Friday, Dec. 21
Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away
Can't afford tickets to the real thing? Then watch it at the movie theater. Of course, once you've bought your tickets, popcorn, soda and Raisinets, your wallet might feel as if it's been to the circus. Directed by Andrew Adamson, who directed a couple of "Shrek" movies and a couple of "Chronicles of Narnia," it looks just as gorgeous and otherworldly as you'd expect -- and also weird and nightmarish. So perfect for a quiet night at home, just you and your bag of psychedelic 'shrooms.
The spritely Tom Cruise plays Jack Reacher, a homicide detective trying to collar Jai Courtney's rogue sniper, while driving around in a sweet mustang with a blonde lawyer played by Rosamund Pike. Also, Reacher is a veritable ghost who once served in the military police, a brilliant investigator and a troublemaker, if the trailer's voice-over is to be believed. If you're a fan of the Jack Reacher novels written by Lee Child, however, you might spend the movie gritting your teeth, since Child's Reacher isn't a homicide detective, is 6-foot-5 and doesn't even have a driver's license. There's yer fair warning.
On the Road
Director Walter Salles and screenwriter Jose Rivera (who previously worked together on "The Motorcycle Diaries") adapt Jack Kerouac's novel following writer Sal Paradise (Sam Riley) across the country with a wild couple (Garrett Hedlund and Kristen Stewart) in tow.
This Is 40
Judd Apatow writes and directs Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Jason Segal, Albert Brooks, Chris O'Dowd, Melissa McCarthy, Lena Dunham, John Lithgow ... Heck, the cast reads like a Who's Rad of Comedy, as you'd expect an Apatow production to do. Touted as a "sort of sequel" to "Knocked Up," the film wades into the secret shames of aging while married with children: sneaking cupcakes outside next to the trash can so your wife won't see you, daydreaming about how your husband could maybe quietly, peacefully die and you could move on to another one, and pretending you don't know who Tom Petty is because you're younger and hipper than that. It'll probably be a safe happy movie to go see with the family, provided your family has a slightly sick sense of humor and they're all over 17.
Tuesday, Dec. 25
Despite my fervent love of westerns, I haven't seen the 1966 spaghetti western, "Django." In it, a white dude with a "sad, impenetrable face" (Franco Nero speaking in Italian and dubbed in English) lands himself on the border of Mexico, fights the KKK and some Mexican bandits and tells a prostitute, "I'm glad I made you feel like a woman. I'm glad of that." Quentin Tarantino, that lover of all things old, broken and grindhouse, resurrects the film with Jamie Foxx in the title role and co-starring Don Johnson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson, Kerry Washington and Amber Tamblyn. This go 'round, Django aides a bounty hunter in return for help rescuing his enslaved wife. It will be bloody, foul-mouthed, dark and loud -- sorta like some folks feel on the inside during the holidays.
The Guilt Trip
This comedic flick by Anne Fletcher is exactly like "On the Road," if you swap out the beat poet for a dorky inventor (Seth Rogan) and exchange the nutty, sex-crazed couple for a crazy Jewish mother (Barbara Streisand.) Otherwise, yeah, exactly the same thing.
Hugh Jackman plays Jean Valjean, the paroled prisoner whose attempts at redemption involve lifting a horse cart off a dude, rescuing a cute blonde girl and singing. Anne Hathaway is Fantine, Amanda Seyfried is the grown Cosette, Russell Crowe is Javert, Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter are the Thenardiers, and Eddie Redmayne is Marius. Did you know the 1862 novel, by Victor Hugo, is one of the longest novels of all time? Me neither. But I suspect that's a reason most of us prefer the shorter version with all the singing.
Billy Crystal and Bette Midler take over the care of their grandkids (Bailee Madison, Joshua Rush and Kyle Harrison Breitkopf) when their own children (Marisa Tomei and Tom Everett Scott) become swamped with work. The differences in parenting styles and approaches to sugar intake supposedly create comedy. I think this just looks like an excuse to film a cake fight. And now that I've said it, I suppose that's a perfectly good reason to make a movie.
Friday, Dec. 28
West of Memphis
Amy Berg's documentary explores the lies, misdirection and lack of evidence in the wrongful conviction and sentencing of Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr. for the brutal killing of three boys in West Memphis, Ark. It's believed the true killer remains at large. Berg's previous documentary, "Deliver Us From Evil," garnered her an Oscar nomination, and word on the street is her latest work is headed that way, too.