The MT Holiday-rific Movie Preview-stravaganza
Fortunately, snow's not the only thing winter
Sure, there're the lousy road conditions and an irrational lust for milk and bread, along with abundant references to Old Man Winter, who, with each passing winter, seems more like a malevolent centenarian prowler with an ice-axe.
But on the other glove, winter has plenty of good to go around: Idyllic snowscapes, roaring fireplaces, winter ales, dog-sledding, rationalization for leaving that ice-scraper in your car year-round, and movies.
With summer blockbusters and autumn leftovers effectively frozen over, winter often prompts Hollywood to bring out its holiday best. But there are always exceptions, and that's where The Mountain Times comes in. Let the MT Holiday-rific Movie Preview-stravaganza - and your conscience - be your guide to holiday cinema.
Now, bear in mind that not all of the following will play at the local cinema, so a trip off the mountain, or possibly to one of Appalachian State University's two theaters ( http://films.appstate.edu), might be in order.
(Dates indicate wide release; most new features open Fridays in Boone.)
Tangled (Nov. 24)
Director: Nathan Greno, Byron Howard
Stars: Mandy Moore, Zachary Levi
Mandy Moore lends her voice to Rapunzel, a princess with exceptionally long hair who's trapped in a tower for years on end. When dashing thief Flynn Rider (Levi) takes refuge in that same tower, the two make a pact to make good on each other's escape.
Disney's computer-animated take on the 'Rapunzel' story seems affable enough, featuring top-notch animation, an exceptional voice cast (including the long-lost Richard Kiel of 'James Bond' fame) and an anthropomorphic horse.
Burlesque (Nov. 24)
Director: Steve Antin
Stars: Cher, Christina Aguilera, Stanley Tucci
Christina Aguilera plays a small-town girl with stars in her eyes, seeking fame and fortune in a Los Angeles burlesque club. Instead, she winds up working as a waitress, until club owner Cher sees her true potential.
What "Burlesque" will undoubtedly lack in story and plot, it'll attempt to make up for with extravagant song and dance sequences, featuring Aguilera at her scantiest and booty-shakiest. Oh, and Stanley Tucci's in it.
Love and Other Drugs (Nov. 24)
Director: Edward Zwick
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway
Gyllenhaal plays a womanizing Viagra salesman (go figure) who gets a taste of his own medicine when he falls head-over-heels for free-spirited Maggie (Hathaway).
While this looks like standard rom-com fare, funny fat roommate and all, "Love" could have some potential, what with the pharmaceutical company commentary and Hathaway's winning smile.
Faster (Nov. 24)
Director: George Tillman Jr.
Stars: Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Billy Bob Thornton
Like a modern-day "Death Wish," The Rock plays an ex-con who's out to avenge his brother's death, while evading a dogged cop (Thornton).
Though it doesn't seem to boast anything original, "Faster" looks like a return to the old-school action movies of yesteryear.
The King's Speech (Nov. 26, limited)
Director: Tom Hooper
Stars: Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter, Geoffrey Rush
Based on the story of Britain's King George VI, "The King's Speech" recounts the monarch's (Firth) battle with a speech impediment, aided by his wife, Queen Elizabeth (Bonham Carter) and a speech tutor (Rush).
Having directed HBO's acclaimed mini-series, "John Adams," Hooper obviously has a talent for period pieces. And with eight nominations for the 2010 British Independent Film Awards, including Best Actor, Best Director and Best British Independent Film, it's likely "The King's Speech" will find its way to the Oscars.
Black Swan (Dec. 3, limited)
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Stars: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Winona Ryder
Professional ballerina Nina (Portman) is threatened by the growing popularity of rival dancer Lilly (Kunis), when both seek the lead role in a production of "Swan Lake." Nina's obsession with dance and the spotlight begin to consume her, in director Darren Aronofsy's ("Requiem for a Dream") latest dark drama.
Granted, a ballet movie doesn't sound very compelling, but in Aronofsky's hands, expecting the unexpected is a gross understatement. Judging by its chilling trailer, "Swan" could mark a return to "Requiem" territory.
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (Dec. 3)
Director: Jalmari Helander
Stars: Jorma Tommila, Onni Tommila
A Finnish archaeological dig unearths a malevolent Santa Claus, whose surfacing results in the disappearance of children and ensuing mayhem.
Though it's almost a surefire bet this won't play in Boone, this Finnish action-comedy has the trappings for a cult classic - a scary Santa, his loyal minions and a father and son duo who take to arms to stop him.
The Warrior's Way (Dec. 3)
Director: Sngmoo Lee
Stars: Dong-gun Jang, Kate Bosworth, Geoffrey Rush
When samurai assassin Dong-gun refuses a mission, he flees to a small town in the United States' Wild West, where the inevitable standoff forges new friendships with the locals.
"The Warrior's Way" has that "300" look to it, as well as beaucoups of ninjas flying around on wires in computer-enhanced, stylized fight sequences. If "Warrior" doesn't take itself too seriously, this could be a competent popcorn flick.
The Tourist (Dec. 10)
Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Stars: Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie, Paul Bettany
Rebounding from a broken relationship, tourist Depp travels to Italy, only to be caught up in international intrigue and conspiracy after meeting the mysterious and seductive Jolie.
It's a movie with pretty people and pretty scenery, but, hopefully, some substance lies under the surface of this comedy-thriller.
The Tempest (Dec. 10)
Director: Julie Taymor
Stars: Helen Mirren, Felicity Jones, Djimon Hounsou
Tweaking William Shakespeare's classic to feature a female protagonist, directory Taymore presents award-winning Helen Mirren as Prospera (see, it's with an "a"), a sorceress in exile who contrives to restore power and prosperity to her family name.
In a day when Shakespeare productions seldom take place in their intended time periods, modifying the sex of a character doesn't seem like that bold of a move. But the prospect of Mirren and Hounsou (portraying Caliban), along with the always impressive Alfred Molina and comedian Russell Brand, performing this classic tale seems intriguing enough.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Dec. 10)
Director: Michael Apted
Stars: Ben Barnes, Skandar Keynes, Georgie Henley
The Pevensies return to Narnia for a voyage on the royal ship Dawn Treader, where they encounter newfound dangers and fantastical intrigue.
Fox determinedly continues the adaptation of C.S. Lewis' beloved fantasy series. Though it's never quite picked up steam like, say, "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, "Narnia" maintains a high standard of family storytelling and visual effects. With veteran director Apted ("Coal Miner's Daughter") taking the reins from Andrew Adamson, this "Voyage" could offer a change of scenery.
The Fighter (Dec. 10)
Director: David O. Russell
Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Melissa Leo
This biopic depicts the early days of boxer "Irish" Micky Ward (Wahlberg) and his rise to the pros, under the tutelage of his troubled brother (Bale).
Darren Aronofsky almost directed "The Fighter," which bears a striking resemblance to his award-winning, 2008 film, "The Wrestler." Though Aronofsky's more than capable, the subject matter's just too similar, and Russell ("Three Kings") could very well be the man for the job. And with a nearly unrecognizable Bale (in full method acting mode, to boot) "The Fighter" could pack a dramatic punch.
TRON: Legacy (Dec. 17)
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Stars: Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde
The legacy continues - 28 years later - as Sam (Hedlund), son of the original's protagonist, Kevin Flynn (Bridges), enters the digital arena in search of his long lost father.
Let's face it: The main thing "TRON" had going for it was the groundbreaking special effects, and "Legacy" boasts a stunning 3D presentation that could amount to similar results (also considering it's director Kosinski's first feature film). But that doesn't mean the slick visuals won't be worth the ride.
Director: Eric Brevig
Stars: Dan Aykroyd, Justin Timberlake, Anna Faris
The eponymous Hanna-Barbera neck-tied bear with a penchant for pic-a-nic baskets comes to computer-generated life in this full-length blend of animated and live action, featuring the voices of Aykroyd as Yogi and Timberlake as Boo-Boo.
The trailers do not look promising, showing what looks like another perversion of childhood memories. Rest assured that there will be an obligatory dance sequence, featuring rapping animals and stale pop culture references. Oh, and there's a "Smurfs" movie on the way, too, along with another "Alvin and the Chipmunks" sequel (I can't bring myself to say "squeakquel" aloud).
How Do You Know (Dec. 17)
Director: James L. Brooks
Stars: Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd, Owen Wilson, Jack Nicholson
Twenty-seven-year-old former athlete Witherspoon (in her first live-action role since 2008) is caught in the middle of a love triangle, with businessman Rudd butting heads with baseball player Wilson for her affection.
What would otherwise seem like a run-of-the-mill romantic comedy gains automatic brownie points for director Brooks ("As Good as It Gets"), best known for his television writing on favorites like "The Simpsons," and "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." However, I'm required by decency to mention that he also wrote for "My Mother the Car."
Rabbit Hole (Dec. 17, limited)
Director: John Cameron Mitchell
Stars: Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart
Kidman and Eckhart play a couple struggling to cope after their young son is killed in a car accident.
Based on the critically acclaimed play by David Lindsay-Abaire, the subject matter seems more morose than a mortician's funeral, but strong performances from Kidman and Eckhart could spell poignancy, a degree of humor, and maybe even some awards for "Rabbit Hole."
Little Fockers (Dec. 22)
Director: Paul Weitz
Stars: Ben Stiller, Robert De Niro, Teri Polo
The Fockers and Byrneses return for their third cinematic outing, this time centering on the birth of Greg (Stiller) and Pamela's (Polo) first child.
What do filmmakers do when their product is looking to be more of the same? Throw in a Viagra gag. Though "Little Fockers" could prove funny at times, this series is treading water in a sea of redundancy.
True Grit (Dec. 22)
Director: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Stars: Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Hailee Steinfeld
Based on the Charles Portis novel that spawned the classic John Wayne feature of the same name, "True Grit" is the tale of a young girl (Steinfeld) seeking retribution for the death of her father at the hands of outlaw Brolin. To track her quarry, she enlists the help of washed-up U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn (Bridges) and Texas Ranger La Boeuf (Damon).
Though it'd be easy to call this a remake (or, even worse, a "reimagining"), the Coens ("Fargo") don't make films just for the box office's sake (take "A Serious Man"). "True Grit" is prime material for their signature style, and Bridges the perfect choice for the iconic, eyepatch-sporting anti-hero.
Gulliver's Travels (Dec. 22)
Director: Rob Letterman
Stars: Jack Black, Emily Blunt, Jason Segel
Jack Black plays literary hero Lemuel Gulliver in this modern-day retelling of Jonathan Swift's classic satire.
Satire in this interpretation, however, seems forsaken for standard-issue Jack Black jokes, as the trailer focuses primarily on Gulliver's stay on Lilliput, where's he's a giant fish-out-of-water among the short-stacked natives.
Country Strong (Dec. 22)
Director: Shana Feste
Stars: Gwyneth Paltrow, Tim McGraw, Garrett Hedlund
Gwyneth Paltrow plays a disgraced country music star who takes a rising starlet under her broken wing.
"Country Strong" seems like Paltrow's version of "Crazy Heart," but with Tim McGraw instead of Maggie Gyllenhaal. Like Bridges in "Crazy Heart," Paltrow takes a crack at country music, but let's hope that's the only similar ground it treads.