If the summer movie season- with its mindless blockbusters, sequels and cleavage- can be compared to a big, sugary Appletini, then the winter movie season is like a deep, plummy merlot. Sure, there are treats for the kids- notably The Polar Express, The Incredibles and A Series of Unfortunate Events- but the majority of winter's offerings are designed to warm, satisfy and even ever-so-agreeably inebriate.
Here at The Inlander, we've been spending the last few weeks immersed in winter moviedom. We've been poring over entertainment magazines, following movie gossip on the Web, and yes, watching countless film trailers from the comfort of our desks. It's the least we can do, watching mini-movies at work, to keep our readers up to date on all the must-see, not-TV coming up November through December.
In addition to all the wide releases Spokane is sure to get on opening day, we threw in a few art films and long shots- films you'll be hearing about but that Spokane most likely won't get until a bit later into the season.
And now, without further ado, the winter movie season of 2004:
What's it all about? Remake, that's what. Here handsome Jude Law reinterprets the role Michael Caine so famously crafted in the 1966 original, that of an incorrigible womanizer named Alfie who eventually gets his comeuppance. In this Charles Shyer-directed version, the cockney seducer is given more of a soul, perhaps, but somehow less overall charm than in the original. Still, it begs the question: Will 21st-century audiences warm up to a character, a story and a sexual sensibility lifted from the shagadelic '60s? Beats me, baby. (MC) Rated: R.
Even superheroes get old and fat. While working as an insurance claims adjuster, Mr. Incredible discovers just that. He used to be Mr. Incredible the super hero - fighting crime and saving lives - but now he's just chubby. When duty calls, however, he and his former-superhero wife decide to snap back into action. This animated-film is the newest from the creators of Toy Story and Monsters, Inc., and features Samuel L. Jackson, Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter and Jason Lee as the voices behind these animated conquerors of evil. (LS) Rated: PG
The Polar Express
Chris Van Allsburg's lovely, mysterious picture book has saved many a story hour. Pull that sucker out - no matter what the season - and suddenly you've got the hyperactive, distractible little bedwetters in the palm of your hand. This CGI adaptation, years in the making, looks like it will have the same effect as the book. What kid can resist the story of a skeptical little boy who is awakened on Christmas Eve and taken on a magical train ride - with a bunch of other pajama-ed kids - to the North Pole? And for that matter, what adult can resist the on-screen reunion (in voices and animation at least) of former Bosom Buddies Tom Hanks and Peter Scolari? Throw in an IMAX screen (or regular, the choice is up to you) and Christmas has practically wrapped itself. (SB) Rated: G
After the Sunset
Pierce Brosnan, Salma Hayek and Woody Harrelson star in this slightly familiar tale of a master career jewel thief (Brosnan), comfortably retired after his last big score (very comfortably, thank you, with statuesque partner Hayek). But he's drawn back into the cat-and-mouse shadow world by his lifelong nemesis, a tenacious FBI agent (Harrelson). Expect improbably snappy dialogue and a James Bond-esque level of international intrigue set in beautiful locations. (MC) Rated: PG-13
James Barrie (portrayed here with dapper pathos by Johnny Depp) is just another frustrated Scottish playwright until he meets a winsome young war widow (Kate Winslet) and her four rambunctious sons. The friendship - and resulting difficulty as Barrie is quite unhappily married - provides the impetus for Barrie's beloved bit of literary wish fulfillment, Peter Pan. Unfortunately the filmmakers seem to have left out Barrie's other inspiration, the dastardly theater critic Mr. Hook. (SB) Rated: PG
Written and directed by Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters), Kinsey casts the damn-good-in-everything Liam Neeson as the titular sex researcher whose pioneering work -- published in 1948 as Sexual Behavior in the Human Male -- represented one of the first truly scientific studies of sexual behavior. Unfortunately, postwar America wasn't quite ready for what he had to tell them. Kinsey's findings, in fact, caused quite a ruckus and even led to members of Congress labeling him a Communist. All of which makes for a smashing film. (MC) Rated: R.
Seed of Chucky
Could anyone still be scared by this husky-voiced plastic doll? If you know anybody who is, they're lame - and you'll probably find them this holiday season watching this latest addition to the Child's Play series. It's no Halloween and no Friday the 13th as far as holding a place in the history of scare - it's just campy. Chucky was married when we last left him, and in this episode, their child resurrects him and his wife Tiffany (Jennifer Tilly). The three of them go on a bloody joy ride of death and destruction. Yawn. (LS) Rated: R
Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason
When we last left Bridget, she was standing in the middle of a London snowstorm wearing nothing but silly panties, a dreadful sweater and her boyfriend's trench coat. In Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, we find our heroine in ever more humiliating circumstances - falling off ski-lifts, falling flat in speaking engagements, falling out of her top and of course, falling in love. The situations may be absurd but the dialogue is as smirky and sharp as ever. Colin Firth returns as conservative barrister and love interest Mark Darcy; Hugh Grant cads about as Bridget's former boss. (SB) Rated: R
I want to be a treasure hunter. In this flick, Nicolas Cage is one, and he's been searching for one particular lot of booty for his entire life. (What is it? Dunno.) When he finally realizes that he's getting close after finding an invisible map on the back of the Declaration of Independence, word gets out to global enemies who try to nab it, Cage steals the Declaration before they can - hoping to recover the treasure first. Stars Harvey Keitel and John Voigt. (LS) Rated: PG
The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie
I suppose it was only a matter of time before television's most famous animated member of the phylum Porifera got a movie of his own in which to spread his, um, porous structure and fibrous skeleton. Well, it couldn't happen to a nicer guy. SpongeBob SquarePants is pretty darn funny (and sexually ambiguous) in his own irrepressibly cheery way. Here the moist and clueless little fella sets out on a dangerous mission to recover King Neptune's stolen crown. Will he end up the hero or the goat? Don't tell me. (MC) Rated: PG.
It's hard to imagine a movie more suited to Colin Farrell's gargantuan and oft-reported ego than Alexander. Oliver Stone's interpretation of the legendary figure stars a bleached blonde Farrell as the Macedonian king, who, by the age of 25 had pretty much conquered the ancient world. If the trailers are any indication, things get pretty hot, hot, hot in the Mediterranean, as Alexander includes not only a controversial gay sex scene but prodigious footage of Farrell and co-star Angelina Jolie and hissing at each other like alley cats. (SB) Rated: R
Christmas With the Kranks
All I want for Christmas is a new hairdo for Jamie. The formerly stylish star of A Fish Called Wanda has traded in her short cool hair for something that can only be described as a "mom-mop." Worse yet, she plays Tim Allen's wife in this wacky domestic comedy about a suburban couple who decides to forego Christmas in favor of a trip to the Caribbean. Unfortunately for them, hell hath no fury like a Christmas scorned. (SB) Rated: PG-13
A Very Long Engagement
Here's a potential holiday heartwarmer. Based on the novel by Sebastien Japrisot, the director and star of Amelie (Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Audrey Tautou) tell this tale of a young woman trying to find her fianc & eacute; near the end of World War I. He's been court-martialed out of the Somme trenches, and into an area where death seems imminent. The story focuses on the illogicality of war and the endurance of the human heart. (LS) Rated: R
What better to watch so close to the holidays than one of those cozy little movies about cheating couples? Following on the heels of We Don't Live Here Anymore, Closer is the story of two seemingly head-over-heels-in-love pairings gone awry which the man from Couple A (Jude Law) gets a sudden sexual fixation on the woman from Couple B (Julia Roberts). Natalie Portman and Clive Owen play their respective, somewhat miffed partners; all players have nice clothes and live in stylish digs. (SB) Rated: R
House of Flying Daggers
The romance of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon meets the sheer physical beauty of Hero. A dancer (Zhang Ziyi) with ties to a revolutionary group known only as the House of Flying Daggers needs protection; unlikely salvation comes in the form of a recent combatant and police deputy (Takeshi Kaneshiro). (SB) Rated: PG-13
I Am David
A loaf of bread, a compass and a sealed letter directing him to Copenhagen - those are all the belongings 12-year-old David has on his back when he escapes the Communist concentration camp where he's lived for most of his life. Problem is, he doesn't even know where Denmark is. This film tells the story of a boy learning to trust his fellow man and learning to break down all of the emotional barriers that his life in imprisonment has built around him. Starring Jim Caviezel and Ben Tibber. (LS) Rated: PG
Wesley Snipes is back -- was there a clamor for that? -- as the undead avenger, the vampire slayer known as Blade. In this third -- and purportedly last -- installment of the Blade franchise, our anti-hero is beset by new threats, including an uber-vampire named "Drake" and a nasty public relations smear campaign carried out by the vampire leadership. Fortunately, Blade also has some help in the form of a vampire-slaying force called the Nightstalkers. (MC) Rated: R
The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou
We're peeing our pants on a daily basis waiting for this one - the newest from Wes Anderson - to hit the silver screens. Bill Murray plays the quirky Steve Zissou, an oceanographer trying to track down the elusive "jaguar shark" - who ate his partner during a film shooting. Cate Blanchett plays a journalist writing his biography, and Owen Wilson stars as the newest member of his crew (who might also be Zissou's long-lost son). Anjelica Huston, Willem Dafoe and Jeff Goldblum play members of his blue spandex and orange hat-clad crew. (LS) Rated: R
Sticking up a casino? That's just kid's stuff. In this flick, Danny and Tess Ocean (George Clooney and Julia Roberts) are plotting a three-way heist in Amsterdam, Rome and Paris - all to be pulled off at the same time. They've got the same star-encrusted cast of henchman as 11: Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Casey Affleck, Don Cheadle and few others. Andy Garcia is back as the PO'd casino owner they duped in the first movie, with Catherine Zeta-Jones joining the cast. (LS) Rated: PG-13
Martin Scorsese directed this Howard Hughes biopic, which focuses on the director/aviator/millionaire's early career, aeronautical lust and celebrity hobnobbing salad days (late 1920s to mid-1940s). Can Leonardo DiCaprio (as the young Hughes) pull it off? No matter. It's probably worth seeing if only for all the living celebrities vamping it up as dead celebrities (Cate Blanchett as Katharine Hepburn, Kate Beckinsale as Ava Gardner, Jude Law as Errol Flynn and Gwen Stefani as Jean Harlow). (MC) Rated: PG-13.
Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events
Call me a heretic, but I would take the bleak little Baudelaire orphans and their gleefully dreadful circumstances over Harry Potter any day. I don't know whether it's the frequent and amusingly woeful author intrusions or the darker humor that I find most appealing, but I'm pleased that the movie adaptation looks to maintain all the ghoulish fun of the books. After the unfortunate demise of their parents, the young Baudelaires go to live with their Count Olaf, who, among other things has big designs on their inheritance. (SB) Rated: PG
In another movie signaling the much-welcomed seriousness of Adam Sandler's acting career, he plays a gourmet chef struggling with his wife's (Tea Leone) low self-esteem, a house full of kids and communicating with their new housekeeper, Flor (Paz Vega) - who speaks no English. And while caring for the eccentric family, Flor deals with the struggles of life in America and watching her daughter grow up in an unfamiliar country. (LS) Not Yet Rated
Flight of the Phoenix
It's gritty do-or-die survival time as cocky tough guy pilot Dennis Quaid and egghead Giovanni Ribisi work against time, each other and the many dangers of the deep Mongolian desert to save themselves and the rest of the survivors of a plane crash by rebuilding a new plane from the wreckage of the old one. Improbable you say? Probably. But for these guys, the only way out is up. (MC) Not Yet Rated
Here's a contender in the vein of Schindler's List - also based on a true story. Hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle) has a decent life running a four-star operation in Rwanda when all hell breaks loose. As Rwanda erupts in civil unrest and systematic mass genocide, Rusesabagina sees that no one is coming to the aid of his people, and that he is in the unique position to do something about it. Rusesabagina saved more than 1,200 people by sheltering them in his hotel; this is a remarkable story of one man's willingness to risk his life in order to do the right thing. Also stars Nick Nolte, Joaquin Phoenix and Sophie Okonendo. (SB) Rated: R
Meet the Fockers
As he asked in Meet the Parents, "What sort of people name their son Gay M. Focker?" - and in this sequel, Jack Byrnes (Robert De Niro) finds out. In fact, the kind of people are Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand (!!), and the Byrnes are off to meet the Fockers before their daughter marries Gay forever. We're betting they meet and that De Niro investigates the Fockers, with wackiness ensuing. (LS) Rated: PG-13
Phantom of the Opera
If it's a sweeping period drama with lush costumes, booming sound and more romantic excess than you can shake a stick at, then Phantom of the Opera is the big winter movie for you. Based on Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber's version of the Gaston Leroux tale, Phantom is a lavish retelling of spurned love, professional jealousy and unfettered ambition. Beware the chandelier! (SB) Rated: PG-13
Kevin Bacon takes on a difficult and controversial role as a pedophile returning home after serving a 12-year sentence in prison. Now he wants to live a normal life, but getting a job causes him to live in fear of his boss finding out about his past, and moving into an apartment near an elementary school threatens the return of his past demons. Kyra Sedgwick plays a woman he befriends in spite of his past, and Mos Def hounds him as a snoopy police detective. (LS) Rated: R
Bride and Prejudice
Bollywood's take on the classic Jane Austen story pits an independent young woman against her mother's wishes for a traditional Indian match. Strong-minded Lalita (Aishwarya Rai) meets aloof American Will Darcy (Martin Henderson) and suddenly transcontinental romance is on the menu. Set in London, India and America, Bride and Prejudice looks to capture Monsoon Wedding's ebullient goodwill. (SB) Rated: PG-13
"Hey, hey, ho. Say it ain't so." Sorry Albert, but it is. Bill Cosby, who created and did all the voices in the beloved 1970s animated TV series Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, is largely responsible for Hollywood's latest assault on beloved childhood memories. Here the big guy and his goofy friends literally step out of the animated past and into the live action present -- with predictably abhorrent results. No Junkyard Band. This time, Albert raps. (MC) Not Yet Rated
The Merchant of Venice
Taken from a play by some old dead guy named William Shakespeare, this lavish treatment of the classic tale of revenge boasts a stellar cast including Jeremy Irons as Antonio and Al Pacino as Shylock. It's a risky undertaking for a number of reasons, but early reviews seem to suggest that screenwriter and director Michael Radford (Il Postino) has nailed it, striking the necessary balance between high brow and melodrama, between gravitas and entertainment value. (MC) Not Yet Rated.