Holiday Movie Preview 2012: Action & Thrillers

Action shines in the summer time, but there’s usually one ultra-reliable action offering during the Holidays. This year an old friend returns to transport us back to a very reliable place in movie history and a reliable filmmaker brings us a hell of an adult genre offering.


Red Dawn (Nov. 21)

Directed by Dan Bradley
Written by Carl Ellsworth, Jeremy Passmore, Kevin Reynolds and John Milius (1984 screenplay)
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Josh Peck, Isabel Lucas, Adrianne Palicki

Summary: The U.S. awakens one morning to find all of its military assets down and the North Koreans invading. A group of teens from a small community band together to fight them off.

The Word: This remake of the 1984 film starring Patrick Swayze has been gestating for a long time, but unlike a similar Chris Hemsworth film that sat on the shelf (“Cabin in the Woods”), this one has not been fairing well with critics. Even with young stars Hutcherson and Peck, this one appears to be boring and make little sense. Much of the same was said for the original, to be honest.

My Thoughts: A Thanksgiving release seems especially odd for a movie that belongs in the dumping ground of January. I don’t think many people will indulge this one, even with Hemsworth’s notoriety.


Killing Them Softly (Nov. 30)

Directed by Andrew Dominik
Written by Andrew Dominik, George V. Higgins (novel)
Starring: Brad Pitt, Ray Liotta, Richard Jenkins, Scoot McNairy

Summary: Mob enforcer Jackie Cogan investigates a gambling a heist that occurred during a mob-protected poker game.

The Word: Dominik’s return to the director’s chair has been long awaited by the cinephiles who saw his last feature, 2007’s “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.” After debuting at Cannes to great but not outstanding praise, “Killing Them Softly” has opened pretty much all over the world at this point and The Weinstein Co. will finally unveil it in the U.S. on the weekend after Thanksgiving, notoriously one of the worst movie weekends of the year. That’s not common when your stare is Brad pitt.

My Thoughts: “Jesse James” was a stunning and chilling Western and it will be interesting to see if Dominik can make that visual style work in the modern mob world. It’s a crowded season in terms of dramas, but this is something you have to check out eventually if you’re a big fan of independent filmmaking. Pitt’s likely great too — we’ll see if this manages to make up even a small piece of the Oscar conversation.


The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Dec. 14)

Directed by Peter Jackson
Written by Phillipa Boyens, Fran Walsh, Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro, J.R.R. Tolkein (novel)
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan, Richard Armitage

Summary: Before Frodo and the fellowship sought to return and destroy the Ring, Bilbo Baggins went on a journey with a company of dwarves to retrieve a treasure from the angry dragon Smaug.

The Word: It’s been nearly 10 years (wow) since we last returned to Middle Earth and we do so with Peter Jackson as our guide yet again. Production troubles seemed to plague this prequel, which has been split into three films (so expect a lot of detail), but it’s here and looking as good as the “Lord of the Rings” films ever did if not better. The film will be the first ever presented in HFR 3D (in select theaters), or a higher frame rate (48 fps compared to 24) that more closely resemble the way the human eye sees things.

My Thoughts: For many, “Lord of the Rings” is still pretty fresh, but I’m excited to revisit the Middle Earth aesthetic and see a true adventure on the big screen again. “An Unexpected Journey” seems to be going for a lighter tone (that’s how these things usually start, however) which should make it fun and a bit less brooding.


Jack Reacher (Dec. 21)

Directed by Christopher McQuarrie
Written by Christopher McQuarrie, Lee Child (novel “One Shot”)
Starring: Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Werner Herzog, Richard Jenkins

Summary: A handful of people are shot dead by a sniper and the police believe they’ve got the man. But when Jack Reacher’s name comes into the equation, he sets out to dispense justice his own way, only to find there’s more to the case than he imagined.

The Word: When fans of Lee Child’s hulking literary anti-hero Jack Reacher heard he’d be played by the 5’7″ Tom Cruise, they weren’t too happy, but based on the success of “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol,” stoic action heroes are the roles he still does best at this point in his career. McQuarrie directs his first major film, but he’s been best known as the Oscar-winning writer of “The Usual Suspects,” so he’s not lacking experience. Whether this one ends up more like “Suspects” or more like “The Tourist” is the bigger question.

My Thoughts: I have no tie to the books and think it’s silly that we have another hero who doesn’t care what the law has to say and we’re being presented the idea as if its totally original. I also have a beef with the name of the film being “Jack Reacher” but I guess if that’s what gets Lee Child fans in the door, that’s what it has to be. I’ll be optimistic though given the success of that last “Mission: Impossible.”


Django Unchained (Dec. 25)

Written and Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington

Summary: A bounty hunter (Waltz) encounters a slave named Django (Foxx) and buys his freedom in order to train him to be a bounty hunter and help him track some highly rewarding targets. Their training ultimately leads them on a quest to find Django’s wife and free her from the plantation owner Calvin Candie (DiCaprio).

The Word: After the improbable Oscar run of “Inglourious Basterds,” there hasn’t been this much hype for a Tarantino film in a long time. High-profile actors like Foxx and DiCaprio and a Christmas Day release should help ensure that “Django” is one of Tarantino’s more profitable endeavors. “Django” is a Southern-set Western, and frankly, those are the films Tarantino idolizes, so this should be perfectly in his wheelhouse.

My Thoughts: I would expect more of a genre effort than something that will make a run at countless Oscars. I liked parts of “Basterds” but didn’t care much for the lack of taste and disregard for a sensitive part of history. That seems as though it could be the case, though it appears a bit more detached from history.



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