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Winter Movie Survey - 2

6/13/2014

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Franchise faves

Sparkly skinned vamps, big-footed hobbits and Ian Fleming's ultra-suave Bond ... James Bond -- old friends all -- return to up the ante on our holiday moviegoing cheer. Thank the Volturi gods that Bella and her baby daddy have made up, after Snow White's little indiscretion. After all, they have a precocious vampire child to raise in "Breaking Dawn," the long-awaited (by fans and detractors) final chapter of "The Twilight Saga."

Also long-awaited and much-anticipated, Peter Jackson delivers "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," the first of three chapters that follow the quest of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman, the excellent Watson of BBC's "Sherlock") and a cadre of 13 dwarves to recover treasure stolen by Smaug the dragon (Benedict Cumberbatch, superb Holmes to Freeman's Watson). Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" finale raked in 11 Oscars. Can another questing hobbit take home such treasure?

As every popcult publication of note has trumpeted, 2012 is the 50th anniversary of the birth of the cinematic James Bond, and "Skyfall" will be the 23rd film in the longest-running film franchise of all time. For the occasion, Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes ("American Beauty") helms secret-agent action that pits Daniel Craig against Javier Bardem (topped by another distinctive wig) in defense of Dame Judi Dench's M -- and the future of M16. And, yes, there will be sex, hot cars, elaborate fight sequences and far-flung locales, all of the familiar ingredients that spice the Bond bouillabaisse.

Bing: More on Daniel Craig | More about Javier Bardem

Buddy Holly, beatniks, kung fu and other assorted wild cards

David Chase graduates from producing "The Sopranos" to feature filmmaking with "Not Fade Away." The titular Buddy Holly rock anthem conjures that time in the mid-'60s when everything from politics to pop culture was in flux. Baby boomers will go gaga for this coming-of-age tale, featuring a trio of New Jersey kids inspired by the music of the Rolling Stones to start a band of their own. Chase catches the impact and texture of change, for young people, their parents, America.

Change was also in the air a decade or so earlier, when Jack Kerouac authored "On the Road," his famously autobiographical novel about the Beat Generation, rebellious youngsters looking for truth and freedom. Walter Salles, Brazil-born director of "The Motorcycle Diaries," maps the erratic American pilgrimage of a trio of hipsters, fueled by sex and drugs. Beats and squares include Kristen Stewart, Viggo Mortensen, Steve Buscemi, Garrett Hedlund, Kirsten Dunst, Amy Adams, Elisabeth Moss.

Not quite sure how helming "Anvil: The Story of Anvil" (documentary paean to a perpetually failing Canadian heavy-metal band) prepared Sacha Gervasi to delve into the perverse psyche of "Hitchcock," admirer-abuser of blond actresses like Tippi Hedren ("The Birds"). The story allegedly focuses on Hitch's "love affair" with his wife and working partner Alma Reville (Helen Mirren) during the making of "Psycho." Seems tricky, since by 1959, the couple had been married for over 30 years! Anthony Hopkins bulks up to embody the Master of Suspense, Scarlet Johansson's Janet Leigh and Jessica Biel plays Vera Miles, another blond obsession.

As it happens, Gus Van Sant directed an almost shot-for-shot remake of "Psycho" in 1998, a movie few besides Quentin Tarantino loved. A more conventional effort, Van Sant's "Promised Land" mourns the looming death of a rural town, courtesy of corporate expansion. Trouble is, a trio of locals have taken up arms against big business in hopes of saving their community. Are Van Sant and his star Matt Damon (originally slated to direct) taking a shot at Bain-style capitalism?

Capitalizing on the geriatric charm and golden British cast that drew audiences to "The Best Exotic Hotel Marigold," "Quartet" books us into Beecham House, a retirement home full of endearing and eccentric artists and opera singers (Maggie Smith, of course, along with Billy Connolly, Tom Courtenay, Michael Gambon, et al.). Look for treacle and brimstone in 74-year-old Dustin Hoffman's directorial debut!

Sure to soar with its own bombastically operatic style, "The Man With the Iron Fists" celebrates kung fu action-adventure epics, filtered through the super-hip sensibilities of RZA (the Wu-Tang Clan rapper directs and stars), Eli Roth (producer and co-scripter) and Quentin Tarantino (presenter). Standing out among the film's colorfully disreputable crew of assassins and warriors in feudal China are Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu and Pam Grier. MIA? The Deadly Viper Assassination Squad.

The first "Red Dawn" inspired a slew of controversy: How could anyone, even ballsy director John Milius, imagine an America invaded by Russians and Cubans, with only high school kids left to defend the homeland? Post-9/11, the idea's not so harebrained. Still, the remake had to replace Chinese invaders (big market for American movies, don't you know) with North Koreans (broke and universally unpopular). "Dawn"'s release has been delayed for so many years that two of its stars -- Chris Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson -- have had time to get seriously famous.

Action! Good guys vs. gangsters

The season's big-ticket crime stories are festively adorned with stars like Brad Pitt ("Killing Them Softly"), Tom Cruise ("Jack Reacher") and tough-guy trifecta Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling and Nick Nolte ("Gangster Squad"). Adapted from a George V. Higgins' novel, the serio-comic "Softly" hooks us up with Pitt's goateed mob enforcer as he hunts down some hapless goombahs who've unknowingly robbed a mob-protected poker game. James Gandolfini, Ray Liotta and Vincent Curatola, old hands in the gangster game, show up, as well as super-thesps Sam Rockwell and Richard Jenkins.

Tom Cruise reunites with Christopher McQuarrie (the director here; he wrote "Valkyrie") for "Jack Reacher," the screen adaptation of Lee Child's popular novel. When the cops pin a series of sniper murders on Reacher's old friend, the vigilante-detective goes after the real killer. Child fans didn't like the idea of the diminutive Cruise playing their 6-foot-plus hero, but if he manifests the kind of lethal cool he brought to Michael Mann's "Collateral," "Reacher" could mark the start of a brand-new Cruise franchise.

"Gangster Squad" is set in 1949 Los Angeles, when Brooklyn-born mobster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) rules every illicit game in town, keeping police and politicians in his pocket with generous payoffs. All hell breaks loose when a cadre of LAPD misfits and outsiders decide to bring down the mafia kingpin. In addition to Brolin, Gosling and Nolte, Michael Pena (so terrific in "End of Watch"), Giovanni Ribisi and Anthony Mackie ("The Hurt Locker") police the City of Angels' mean streets. (Aficionados will be reminded of "Mulholland Falls," that lush 1996 Nolte-starrer about an elite L.A. cop squad uncovering a radioactive government conspiracy.)

The geriatric-gangster action-comedy category is dominated by "Stand Up Guys," starring Oscar winners Al Pacino, Christopher Walken and Alan Arkin. A wild and crazy night of post-prison carousing culminates in an unpleasant revelation: One of the old pals has been charged to perform an ugly chore by his old mob boss. No matter if the movie's a dud, this trio of high-wire actors can be depended upon to show us a real good time.

Speaking of geriatric, Arnold Schwarzenegger has escaped "The Expendables" to play a beleaguered sheriff in "The Last Stand." Suggesting a modern take on the classic western "High Noon," Arnold's aging cop must defend his sleepy little town from a drug lord speeding toward the border in something like an armored war wagon. Director Kim Jee-woon was responsible for the totally insane Korean Western "The Good, the Bad, the Weird" (2008); that title might describe the rogue's gallery of unforgettable mugs in "The Last Stand," including Luis Guzman, Peter Stormare, Harry Dean Stanton, Rodrigo Santoro and Johnny Knoxville.

It goes without saying that Jason Statham has another film out, "Parker" -- is it the 10th just this year? I don't mean to imply that this Brit plays the same role over and over, but here he is again, an outlaw with ethics, screwed over by less scrupulous crooks. Not a good idea: Pretty quick baldy and his curvaceous sidekick (Jennifer Lopez) embark on big-time revenge. Maybe Statham can move into his own franchise home: "Parker"'s one of a strong series of best-selling crime thrillers by Donald E. Westlake.

Though more than serviceable as a genre tough-guy, Statham can't match Mark Wahlberg's acting chops. The latter always brings both heart and brains to his super-buff brawlers. In "Broken City," Billy Taggart's an ex-cop betrayed and framed by a ruthless mayor (Russell Crowe). As single-mindedly as any disgraced samurai, Billy fights to clear his name and bring down the man who's broken his world. Director Allen Hughes, traditionally paired with brother Albert from "Menace II Society" through "The Book of Eli," flies solo this time out.

"Deadfall" sounds like an intriguing intersection of crime thriller and psychological study, family-style. On the run after a heist gone very wrong (a cop gets killed), sibling thieves (Eric Bana and Olivia Wilde) fetch up in the home of a retired sheriff (Kris Kristofferson) and his wife (Sissy Spacek), just in time for Thanksgiving. Am I wrong, or does it seem like "Deadfall"'s destined to celebrate a decidedly dysfunctional holiday, full of squabbling and misunderstanding? Good news: Charlie Hunnam, hunky star of "Sons of Anarchy," is home for the holidays.

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