Bad tidings we bring
Don’t hold out for feelgood flicks at the cinema this Christmas, writes Kerrie Murphy
SUMMER’S here. So after a post-beach shower, it’s time to head off to the cinema and kick back with err . . . a serious look at some of the grimmest moments in world history. The movie industry works on northern hemisphere time, launching popcorn fare mid-year and saving the earnest or dark films for its winter, when they’ll be fresh in the minds of voters come awards season.
Sure, Daniel Craig is doing his hot Bond in Quantum of Solace , but he’ll also be there in
( February 26) playing one of three Jewish brothers who take on the Nazis in a film based on a true story.
With serious films such as Defiance on the cards, this season differs from even a few years ago when Christmas meant a box-office-shaking return to Middle-earth. There’s nary even a Harry Potter, with the next instalment pushed back from its original November release to mid-2009.
You shouldn’t totally ditch the soft drink and popcorn for herbal tea just yet. The trailer for
( Boxing Day), a remake of the 1951 sci-fi classic, contains satisfying images of stadiums evaporating and city skylines going black. It also shows scientists testing Keanu Reeves to see if he’s really human, which many would argue is long overdue.
Romances such as The Lake House tend to highlight Reeves’s limitations — such as the fact that he is carved out of treated pine — so he’s wise to stick with science fiction, the genre that made him. But many of his mega-star contemporaries are looking to make the transition from action films into more serious roles as they age.
Most in need of making a transition somewhere is Tom Cruise, whose erratic media appearances left audiences too terrified to watch his movies. A hilarious, scene-stealing turn in the comedy Tropic Thunder rehabilitated his image, but there’s much riding on ( January 22), from Usual Suspects director Bryan Singer. Cruise plays Claus von Stauffenberg, the Nazi colonel who attempted to end World War II by blowing up Hitler ( spoiler alert: he failed). He’s back in intense mode, but at least he’s railing against something we can all agree is bad, such as Nazis, instead of, say, psychiatry.
Meanwhile, Brad Pitt again chooses an offbeat role and a movie with a really long title in David Fincher’s quirky
( December 26), which also stars Cate Blanchett. Pitt plays a man who ages backwards. Given how youthful the 45-year-old looked in Burn After Reading , he probably is not acting.
Hancock proved that Will Smith has plenty of action left in him, but that doesn’t get you Oscar nominations, while The Pursuit of Happyness does. He reunites with Happyness director Gabriele Muccino in ( January 8), playing a man who decides to change the life of seven strangers.
Mickey Rourke was never in the Smith, Pitt or Cruise league, but he may be mentioned in the same breath come Oscar nomination time, thanks to ( January 15). The film boasts a high-cred director, The Fountain ’ s Darron Aronofsky, and the Golden Lion award from the Venice film festival. So Rourke’s performance as a washed-up pro rassler on the comeback trail means finally he may live up to the promise of his early roles. And if it doesn’t, at least he has another career to fall back on.
This summer also reunites the stars of one of cinema’s biggest and most awarded movies, Titanic ’ s Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. Only instead of depicting love-struck youngsters against the backdrop of a maritime disaster, American Beauty director Sam Mendes has them as a married couple, stifled by the constraints of 1950s suburbia in an adaptation of Richard Yates’s novel ( January 22).
Not that there will be any shortage of lovecrossed youngsters overcoming insurmountable odds. In Titanic , Kate and Leo fought class strictures, but in ( December 11), one of the lovers is undead.
Based on Stephenie Meyer’s highly popular fantasy series for teenage girls, Twilight tells the story of teenager Bella ( Kristen Stewart) and Edward Cullen ( Robert Pattinson), the world’s sookiest-looking vampire. Since dating a human is the vampire equivalent of going out with a steak, this doesn’t go down well with Edward’s blood-sucking chums.
But it’s not just actors who are searching for more mature roles. The subject matter also is decidedly grown-up too.
After recent events, it’s no surprise that US politics has infiltrated entertainment. Whether George W. Bush or Richard Nixon deserves to be called the worst US president may still be up for debate, but both their careers are ripe for cinematic interpretation.
Given Oliver Stone is the director, ( February 12) is a surprisingly non-partisan portrait of Bush ( James Brolin). But the US election result suggests many people can’t wait to forget the 43rd president, so the timing is a little odd.
Not as odd as the idea of making a movie about doing a television interview. But David Frost’s 1977 talk with a disgraced Nixon is one of TV’s oddest moments, from the chat show host’s unexpectedly hard-hitting questions to Nixon’s claim that if the president does it, it’s not illegal, so it’s an intriguing one as well. Ron Howard adapts Peter Morgan’s play ( Boxing Day) with Michael Sheen and Frank Langella in the respective roles. At the other end of the political spectrum is
( January 29), Gus Van Sant’s biopic of Harvey Milk ( Sean Penn), who in the same year as the Frost-Nixon showdown became the first openly gay man to be voted into US public office when he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. The ending, unfortunately, is not a happy one.
Neither is there much cheer in another film based on a true story, the Clint Eastwooddirected ( February 5). Angelina Jolie plays Christine Collins, a woman who in 1928 pointed out to the Los Angeles police that the boy they returned to her wasn’t her kidnapped son and was institutionalised for her trouble.
So it falls to Australian director P. J. Hogan to lighten the mood. He’s directing an adaptation of Sophie Kinsella’s novel
( February 5), so he could have his work cut out for him. These days, a young woman who runs up huge debts on designer items is less frothy chick lit and more a depressing reminder of what’s going on in the world.