There’s something good to see wherever you live this holiday weekend though the openings are all scattered across the week as kids are out of school and the studios jockey for your attention. As a result, several films have already opened, several more open today and still more open on Christmas Day. Opening dates for films opening on a different day from today are noted.

  • Pina  I went into Wim Wender’s documentary on legendary dancer/choreographer Pina Bausch knowing nothing about her or her Tanztheater Wuppertal ensemble and having very little familiarity with modern dance. I came away totally captivated and eager to know more. Pina focuses mostly on the ensemble itself as they perform four different pieces choreographed by Bausch’s during her tenure. In between Wenders captures commentary from Bausch’s dancers and colleagues as the talk about what she meant to them. Making perfect use of 3D, Pina is a joyous, thrilling, funny, dramatic, sexy and altogether transporting celebration of a woman, of a dance troupe and of the very language of movement. (NY)
  • War Horse  Based on the 2007 stage adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 children’s novel, Steven Spielberg’s War Horse is likely going to divide audiences depending upon their tolerance for the director’s more sentimental tendencies. It tells the story of war and peace as seen through the eyes of Joey, a young thoroughbred who is first purchased for farm work before being recruited to battle on the eve of World War I. It’s an epic and episodic tale that changes focus each time Joey changes hands. From the idyllic peace of rural England, through the muddy, bloody horrors of war on both sides, past innocent bystanders caught up in the fighting and out the other side again into a world that will never be the same, Joey sees it all. The opening sequences where Joey is trained by young Albert to work his father’s farm are unabashedly corny and old-fashioned in a way that movies haven’t been able to get away with since before the 1960s, but it’s meant to reflect a more innocent time, a time about to be shattered by a worldwide war fought with brutal modern weapons using outdated tactics. Aimed at young and old and everyone in between, War Horse is a classic tear-jerker that doesn’t bother to try and hide its manipulations. If you’re not ok with that, then look elsewhere. If you’re open to it, however, prepare to be moved. With David Thewlis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, Tom Hiddleston, and Peter Mullan. (12/25 Wide)

  • The Adventures of Tintin  Steven Spielberg takes on the beloved Belgian comic character in 3D motion-capture animation. The eye-popping results make up in thrilling action and visual splendor what they lack in heart and soul. The story follows the boy reporter Tintin (voiced by Jamie Bell), his dog Snowy and his pal Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis) on an adventure beginning with a model ship and leading up to a very real pirate treasure. Daniel Craig voices the villain Ivan Sakharine who his own interest in the mystery. (Review) (Opened 12/21 Wide)
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo  David Fincher re-adapts the popular Swedish pulp novel and we’re left to wonder why. On the bright side, his two leads Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara (especially Mara) are much more charismatic than their Swedish counterparts. On the downside, it’s still pretty much the same ordinary mystery at heart. That mystery, if you haven’t read the book or seen the original film, involves the daughter of Sweden’s wealthiest and most influential family who went missing 45 years before, but who continues to haunt her uncle played by Christopher Plummer. Could there be a connection to the religiously motivated serial murders which plagued the country around the same time? (Review) (Opened 12/20 Wide)
  • We Bought a Zoo  Here’s the official synopsis: “This holiday season, acclaimed filmmaker Cameron Crowe (Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous) directs an amazing and true story about a single dad who decides his family needs a fresh start, so he and his two children move to the most unlikely of places: a zoo. With the help of an eclectic staff, and with many misadventures along the way, the family works to return the dilapidated zoo to its former wonder and glory.” Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Haden Church, Patrick Fugit and Elle Fanning star. (Review) (Wide)
  • In the Land of Blood and Honey  Angelina Jolie makes her narrative feature directorial debut with this story of sex and war set against the backdrop of the Bosnian conflict of the 1990s. Jolie has a keen eye for sexual politics, here heightened by the two lovers being from opposite sides of the cultural divide. He’s a Serbian officer in charge of a camp of prisoners, she’s a captive Bosnian. Does he love her or does his interest lie in being able to control her? Does she love him or only the protection he can provide? It’s gender politics writ large well performed by the two leads Goran Kostic and Zana Marjanovic, but ultimately mired in a stock “horrors of war” story that has been executed more effectively dozens of times before. (Review) (Limited)
  • Albert Nobbs  This story of a woman (Glenn Close) passing as a male butler at a 19th century Dublin hotel starts off promisingly enough, a quietly sweet and sad examination of the loneliness of a life lived in secret, but it never quite takes off. Instead, it crashes and burns at the end of the runway. Some terrific production design plus a nice performance by Close, her co-star Janet McTeer and a fine supporting cast including Aaron Johnson and Mia Wasikowska are sadly wasted. (Review) (Limited)
  • Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Since I don’t really know what to make of this one, here’s official synopsis: “Oskar (Thomas Horn) is convinced that his father (Tom Hanks), who died in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, has left a final message for him hidden somewhere in the city. Feeling disconnected from his grieving mother (Sandra Bullock) and driven by a relentlessly active mind that refuses to believe in things that can’t be observed, Oskar begins searching New York City for the lock that fits a mysterious key he found in his father’s closet. His journey through the five boroughs takes him beyond his own loss to a greater understanding of the observable world around him.” Stephen Daldry (The Hours) directs. (12/25 Limited)
  • The Darkest Hour. This Timur Bekmambetov produced and co-written alien invasion flick starring Emile Hirsch and Olivia Thirlby was apparently not screened for critics before release as there isn’t a single review on Rotten Tomatoes as of this writing. That’s never a good sign. (Wide)
  • The Flowers of War. Zhang Yimou (Raise the Red Lantern, Hero) directs the most expensive Chinese film ever produced. Against the backdrop of Sino-Japanese War of the 1930s and the Rape of Nanking, Christian Bale plays a Westerner who helps rescue a collection of schoolgirls and prostitutes who have taken shelter from their Japanese victimizers inside a Catholic church. (NY, LA, SF)

6 Responses to “The Holiday Forecast”

  1. I am extremely excited to see PINA and will immediately map out a strategy to work it in the schedule based in good measure on that excciting and rare five-star assessment from you.

    I saw TIN TIN and DRAGON TATTOO over the last two days and truthfully was not impressed with either. But I recognize both have their fans.

    WAR HORSE will be the Christmas night film. I am heartened by the solid assessment, and will be seeing it with the entire family.

    I have tentative plans to see MARGARET tonight during a return run at the Cinema Village, and will approach ALBERT NOBBS with great trepidation.

  2. Not totally surprised Tintin didn’t melt your butter. It’s fun, but there’s no there there. What’d the family think of it?

    Hope I didn’t raise your expectations for Pina too high.

  3. You know, Craig, in Europe Steven Spielberg is considered not cool by film critics. Fincher is hip, Tarantino, even Scorsese. Spielberg represents the middle of the road entertainment (with exeptions in his filmography like Schindler’s List), the manipulator, a commercial hack. In other words many (not the majority but a vocal minority) critics have the same opinion about Spielberg as has Jeff Wells. That’s why i love your paragraph about War Horse. I haven’t seen it but i believe it must be an honest tear jerker. Nothing wrong about this. Spielberg loves to manipulate his audience but what director does not? Art itself is manipulative, and i speak as a musician. Spielberg takes the blame of course because he is more simple in his ideas (or so THEY think). You, on the other hand, seem to understand the essence of this film. I guess you don’t think S. is uncool. Or you think you are ..and bravo for that!

  4. There’s the same attitude about Spielberg in the US though not as pronounced as elsewhere. I like being manipulated if it’s skillfully done. I don’t usually get very emotional with movies so when one does move me like War Horse, I go for it. If that makes me uncool, then so be it.

  5. Craig: Lucille fell asleep again, my great friend (and site colleague Dennis Polifroni, who worships the group Spielberg walks on, gives it 2 of 5, and both Sammy and Danny said it was no more than “average.”

    But I can see why some others were smitten with it, and I respect that.

    As far as PINA, let’s just say that the subject of the film is really right up my alley?

    Does this mean I like dancing myself? LOL!!!! I’d fall down on the first step, but I do love films about this art, and I am thinking it will work for me.

  6. Believe me, I can totally see where Tintin might not grab some people. I was taken by the visuals and the inventiveness of the action. I wish it had more to it, but it was fun for what it was.

    There’s a chance I might not have been as knocked out by Pina as much if I’d been an expert on modern dance and had seen a lot of it. The dancing itself was revelation to me probably more than the filmmaking, but I’m not sure the distinction matters in this case.

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