Holiday Movie Preview 2011: Action & Thrillers

Action fans might be pining for the summer this Holiday Season as only three films can be considered pure action movies, yet all but one are among the season’s most anticipated. I’ve paired them up with the season’s two thrillers, which also could be two of the better films you’ll likely see between now and the end of the year.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (Dec. 9 – Limited)

Directed by Tomas Alfredson
Written by Peter Straughan, Bridget O’Connor, John le Carré (novel)
Starring: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt

Summary: A Cold War era thriller about a former MI6 agent named George Smiley asked to come out of retirement to investigate a failed operation in Budapest. The mission was actually meant to determine which of four senior officers in the Service was a Russian mole. Smiley must sort it all out.

The Word: An all-star lineup of British actors supports this adaptation of famed spy novelist John le Carré’s 1974 book of the same name featuring the author’s beloved character George Smiley. “TTSS” was previously adapted into a TV mini-series in 1979 starring Alec Guinness. Swedish director Alfredson (“Let the Right One In”) took on the new version, which received a positive reception when it debuted overseas this fall. Veterans Oldman, Firth, Hurt, Toby Jones, Ciarán Hinds and Mark Strong join up-and-comers like Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hardy.

My Thoughts: It’s understandable that for the general public this film wouldn’t have a ton of buzz other than Oscar-winner Firth, but something has to be said for a classic novel helmed by one of the more unknown promising directors out there filled with a cast of absolutely terrific names. This one looks to promise old-fashioned intellectual suspense.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (Dec. 16)

Directed by Guy Ritchie
Written by Michele and Kieran Mulroney, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (characters)
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Noomi Rapace, Jared Harris

Summary: Holmes is steeped in his most complex case yet, which will have him tracking down his notorious arch nemesis, Professor Moriarty.

The Word: It wasn’t your grandfather’s “Sherlock Holmes,” but the pleasant Christmas 2009 caper certainly earned its sequel, which in turn allowed Warner Bros. to give Ritchie a whole lot more money and it shows in the slow-motion explosions featured in the trailer. The plot remains mysterious, but expect some more quirkiness from Downey Jr. and some homo-erotic undertones between him and Watson. Swedish “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” star Noomi Rapace joins the cast in her first major Hollywood role.

My Thoughts: The original was an entertaining diversion for sure, and while nothing about it screamed a sequel, it seems by virtue of a bigger budget that this one could out-entertain its predecessor. The introduction of a more formidable villain (who likely relies less on the supernatural) in Moriarty could also help to make this surprisingly better, provided the “mysterious” story is equally improved.

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

(IMAX – Dec. 16, Wide – Dec. 21)

Directed by Brad Bird
Written by Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec, Bruce Geller (TV series)
Starring: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton, Simon Pegg

Summary: The IMF is shut down after it’s implicated in the bombing of the Kremlin and Ethan Hunt and his team must essentially go rogue in order to prove their innocence.

The Word: When the ball on this fourth installment got rolling, word was that Cruise had lost it and Renner would essentially take his place in the franchise. Either way, “The Incredibles” director Brad Bird, making his live-action debut, appears to have upped the stakes and the intensity with “Ghost Protocol,” enough so that he has convinced Paramount to premiere the film in IMAX theaters five days ahead of its official release. Parts of the film (like “The Dark Knight”) were filmed with IMAX cameras. It’s safe to say “M:I – GP” is the biggest action film of the season.

My Thoughts: As much as the “M:I” films have never titillated me, they’ve all been quite enjoyable movies. With Bird at the helm, some fresh talent and a measure of studio trust, I see no reason why not to be excited about this fourth Ethan Hunt adventure. Some of the negative press about Cruise’s bankability certainly hurt the buzz, but after seeing trailers, you have to ignore it.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Dec. 21)

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.”

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. After all, it is being touted as “the feel bad movie of the holiday season.”

The Darkest Hour (Dec. 25)

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.”

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” all coming out earlier in the month.


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