Christmas Movie Preview (12.23.11)

To put it politely, the box office still needs a kick in the pants. The Holiday Season has yet to fully take off, and this weekend is its last shot. Plenty of new movies for all ages and tastes hit theaters between Wednesday and Sunday, from “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” to two Steven Spielberg films: “The Adventures of Tintin” and “War Horse.” But will any of them be able to top “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol,” which expanded wide on Wednesday?

New This Week

We Bought A Zoo

Directed by Cameron Crowe
Written by Aline Brosh McKenna and Cameron Crowe, Benjamin Mee (book)
Starring: Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Elle Fanning, Thomas Haden Church

Summary: A single father decides he and his kids need a change, so they move away and end up buying a home with a zoo attached to it, but the zoo needs upkeep or they risk losing the animals.

The Word: Not unlike Alexander Payne, Cameron Crowe returns to directing after six years off after “Elizabethtown” failed to impress anyone. With a career including “Jerry Maguire” and “Almost Famous,” the man hasn’t messed up very much, so perhaps he gets back on track with this story of a broken family despite a likely predictable outcome of the zoo bringing them closer. Writer Aline Brosh McKenna could also use a boost from something more dramatic as her string of rom-coms have continually fizzled since she became a commodity with “The Devil Wears Prada.”

Rotten Tomatoes: 58% (mixed)

My Thoughts: Crowe and Damon are two names not to take lightly, but looks more and more to me as just your run-of-the-mill feel-good Holiday movie — with animals. There’s definitely a place for that in this season of all seasons, but a lot of movies are trying to sell the same goods. I guess none of them have nearly as many animals. Sorry “War Horse” and “Alvin and the Chipmunks.”

Recommendation: For families looking for a movie free of commercial Hollywood.


The Adventures of Tintin

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish, Hergé (comics)
Starring: Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost

Summary: Investigative reporter Tintin (Bell) buys a little model of the ship The Unicorn, and soon finds that the sinister Ivanovich Sakharine (Craig) is strangely willing to do just about anything including kidnap Tintin in order to have it himself. To get answers, Tintin and his faithful pup, Snowy, embark on a journey aboard a cargo ship that entangles them with the drunken Captain Haddock, whose family history sheds some light on the secret of The Unicorn.

The Word: Americans aren’t privy to everything, and Hergé’s globally adored “Tintin” comics fall into that category. The comic series has been given new life by none other than Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson through use of motion-capture technology; the entire film was shot this way.  “Tintin” already received a U.K. release back in late October and is doing well in global markets.

Rotten Tomatoes: 75% (very good)

My Thoughts: Although its success won’t be dictated by American box-office receipts, “Tintin” should have some appeal here and without any animated films slated to come after it for quite some time, it could do well in January too. With Jackson and Spielberg behind it, it’s a must-see to some degree, and the mo-cap looks stunning.

Recommendation: For adventure in the purest sense of the word. This movie offers the most fun families can have this Christmas outside of “Arthur Christmas.”



The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Directed by David Fincher
Written by Steve Zaillian, Stieg Larsson (novel)
Starring: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Stellan Skarsgård, Christopher Plummer

Summary: Disgraced journalist Mikael Blomqvist gets recruited by a wealthy Swedish businessman who wants him to investigate the 40-year-old mystery of his niece’s disappearance. He teams up with expert hacker Lisbeth Salander to solve the case.

The Word: Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium Trilogy” has captivated readers all over the world and already spawned three well-regarded Swedish films. But Hollywood can’t let the Swedes have all the fun, so Sony decided to give it ago, handing the keys to none other than the revered David Fincher, who missed out on an Oscar many thought he deserved with last year’s “The Social Network.” Fincher is somewhat of an expert on serial killer movies. He directed one of the genre’s best in “Se7en” as well as the underrated period thriller “Zodiac.”

Rotten Tomatoes: 85% (great)

My Thoughts: Honestly, the cold case story of what happened to Harriet Vanger could not be in better hands than with Fincher. With a best-selling story at his disposal, it makes “Dragon Tattoo” a must-see this season provided you can stomach it. It might not find its way into the Oscar conversation, but we could do for a quality murder mystery.

Recommendation: Fans of the books or fans of the genre should enjoy this a lot.


War Horse (on Sun.)

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Lee Hall and Richard Curtis, Michael Morpurgo (novel)
Starring: Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, Tom Hiddleston, David Thewlis

Summary: A young man’s close companion in the form of a horse named Joey is sold to the British cavalry in World War I to “serve” in the trenches. Devastated and fearing the worst, he journeys to save him.

The Word: In terms of Academy attention “War Horse” might be the more potent of Spielberg’s one-two punch this year (“Tintin” being the other). The film, based on the same source material as this year’s Tony Award-winning play, has gotten excellent reviews. So despite being more than two hours long and having no big names, it should still do well with that revered name on the poster.

Rotten Tomatoes: 77% (very good)

My Thoughts: It’s nice to have ’90s Spielberg back, the man who brought us “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan.” Nothing he’s done in the past 10 years has quite the same vibe, and while I love his sci-fi and adventure catalog, the through-line has always been the heart and that’s what this one looks to be serving up.

Recommendation: Not exactly the most appealing movie, but one of the surest bets for a moving experience.



The Darkest Hour (on Sun.)

Directed by Chris Gorak
Written by Jon Spaihts, Leslie Bohem, M.T. Ahern
Starring: Emile Hirsch, Olivia Thirlby, Rachael Taylor, Max Minghella

Summary: A group of young Americans on a trip to Russia find themselves fighting off an alien invasion where the invaders are invisible and seek to absorb Earth’s energy and destroy its population. Electricity is the only thing that gives them away.

The Word: ”Wanted” producer Timur Bekmambetov presents this sci-fi thriller, an unusual offering for Christmas Day. Still, Hirsch, Thirlby and Minghella are among some of the brightest young talents working today and a good alien invasion movie tends to be a real crowd-pleaser. The problem is there hasn’t been a good one since “District 9.”

Rotten Tomatoes: N/A

My Thoughts: It will have to fend off a lot of competition to make sparks fly at the box office, and while movie usually don’t just get “dumped” on Christmas Day, it seems that’s exactly what Fox has done, considering the studio has “The Sitter,” “We Bought A Zoo” and the latest “Alvin and the Chipmunks” already in theaters.

Recommendation: A DVD bet for alien invasion fans.



My Week with Marilyn

Directed by Simon Curtis
Written by Adrian Hodges, Colin Clark (books)
Starring: Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne, Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench

Summary: Based on the autobiographical tale of Colin Clark (Redmayne), a young assistant to Sir Laurence Olivier (Branagh) who had a brief affair with the ephemeral starlet Marilyn Monroe (Williams) when the two made a film together in 1957.

The Word: We’d previously yet to see any biopics on the enigmatic beauty that was Marilyn Monroe, but Oscar nominee Williams appears to have captured some of that essence. This film in particular comes from British pedigree as the team of Curtis and Hodges has been mostly known across the pond, as well as emerging star Eddie Redmayne.

Rotten Tomatoes: 83% (great)

My Thoughts: Expanding after a respectable run in limited release, “My Week with Marilyn” showcases Oscar nominee Michelle Williams, who will likely be able to put “two-time” before that when the time rolls around. The film doesn’t look to contend for the big prize, but Williams and co-star Branagh look to land honors for their roles as movie stars from back in the day.

Recommendation: Not atop the list of Oscar contenders to see, but good for the performances if you’re most fond of acting.



Box Office Predictions

With so many damn options and screwy release windows thanks to Christmas on Sunday, while the box office should improve this weekend, there will be no eye-popping numbers. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol has a lot going for it now that it’s in wide release. To make $12.7 million in just 400 theaters or so is impressive. Having been available to the public for a week will hurt its numbers, but I think it could make $25-30 million, making its opening week gross something close to $70 million.

Popularity of the books and early-week projections have The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo likely to come in second. For an R-rated thriller, $20-25 million is a great success.

With too much competition any more than $20 million would be lucky for Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, but plenty of families bypassed it last weekend identifying it as their Christmas Day choice. I think $20 million should be achievable.

Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked will continue to be the choice of families with little kids, though family options are by no means scarce. Although “Tintin” might be a better film, it has little marketing juice and simply doesn’t appeal to North American audiences. I see it falling just short of the top five, with We Bought A Zoo using star power and a feel-good vibe to claim around $12 million.


1. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
3. Sherlock Homes: A Game of Shadows
4. Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked
5. We Bought A Zoo


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