Bad tidings we bring

Don’t hold out for feel­good flicks at the cin­ema this Christ­mas, writes Kerrie Mur­phy

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film -

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.

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