After last week’s big openings, the holiday movie season culminates this weekend with what else? A Christmas weekend blow-out. Now, we have patiently waited out the huge blockbusters (TRON: Legacy, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 1), kid flick after kid flick (Megamind, Tangled), and nibbled on the refreshing morsels the studios save for a last minute Oscar grab (Black Swan, The Fighter), but it’s finally here, our most anticipated movie of the holiday season, and it just so happens to be nestled between two unremarkable family comedies.
True Grit, the John Wayne classic that made “Rooster Cogburn” a household name, is getting the big-time remake treatment with an early week release this Wednesday, and couldn’t be helmed by a better pair of hands – make that two pairs of hands. The Coen brothers find themselves back in the wild wild West, scene of their last Oscar-binge with No Country for Old Men, and they reteam with old friend Jeff Bridges, fresh off an Oscar win himself, to tackle the revenge tale involving a tomboy, a drunk, and greedy lawman, as they hunt down the same man. With Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld rounding out the cast, every piece of the puzzle is put in place, and all the Coens literally have to do is let the cameras roll to catch all the magic, and just clean it up on the backend. A movie with action, emotion, tenderness, and you can bet some signature Coen weirdness, we can’t think of a better way to spend the holiday weekend.
The other two films, however, may have you gritting your teeth just to get through. Little Fockers, the third installment in the Meet the Parents franchise, also opens up on Wednesday, and promises to continue stretching out a premise to its near breaking point. Ben Stiller reprises his role as “Gaylord Focker”, the male nurse who has the worst luck this side of a ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ episode. But where the first one we met the parents, and the second one we met…..the other parents, this time we get to meet the kids, which brings a whole new dynamic to the awkward family moments. While the jokes may seem stale and that much more precious now that children are involved, it’s still fun to watch Stiller interact with screen legend Robert DeNiro, especially when one has to help the other subdue a four-hour Viagra-induced malady. But dick-jokes aside, if you’re looking for the magic that won fans over the first time, expect that we’ve probably already met all the good jokes, and the rest is just cold holiday leftovers.
Now if you were waiting for the 25th to unwrap that last big present, you’re putting a lot of faith in Jack Black and his brand of oafish, off-the-wall humor. Christmas Day marks the last big Hollywood film release of the year, and they’ve decided to hand the keys to Gulliver’s Travels, and told the PG rated retelling of the Jonathan Swift classic to lock up for the year. Co-starring Forgetting Sarah Marshall’s Jason Segel, it’s an interesting idea for a kids movie, and we like to think that despite some pandering to the under 10 crowd, there will probably be some laughs, as they mix comedy and fantasy in with a story we’re already pretty familiar with. But if anything has proven that old adage “it’s all in the execution,” it’s that Jack Black films can drop flatter than a fat guy pratfall; just look at Year One and Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny. Hopefully this one’s more School of Rock than Nacho Libre, but if you want to hedge your bets, look toward next year’s The Muppets, where Segel and Black will reteam to try to make Kermit and the gang popular again.
In limited release: Country Strong pits Gwyneth Paltrow as a hard-worn country singer, and promises to make our ears bleed, and The Illusionist brings the animated fare to the adults, as the creators behind 2003’s Oscar nominated The Triplets of Belleville come back with the story of an out-of-work French magician who winds up in Scotland (of all places); it’s already generating some award buzz. And finally, if you’re lucky enough to be in a city that’s carrying Somewhere, the Sofia Coppola film starring Stephen Dorff as a down-and-out actor who reunites with his 11 year-old daughter, we highly recommend you wind down the holiday season with that.