Orson Scott Card’s wildly popular novel published in 1985 set into a motion a futuristic universe on the brink of war with a vicious race of aliens intent on extinguishing the human race, a recruiting school for international Earth heroes and a couple of wise men able to bend time far back enough to see into the future. In the first movie, which cost about $110 million and took 8 years to make, Fleet Commander Maser Rackham (Ben Kingsley) is the legendary and courageous leader who turned back the memorable invasion of the evil Formics years ago. At Rackham’s right hand is Colonel Hyrum Graff (Harrison Ford), who has a sense of what Formics are capable of and the conviction that when they return the aliens will be stronger than ever, is determined to find a young leader who can rally the international army and save humanity. The humble Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) is discovered in Battle School as he effortlessly fends off every physical and mental challenge presented to him. Ender becomes a commander in no time and prepares for the final battle, sure to be terrible and sure to be won. Using the expertise and knowledge of his teachers, Ender faces his enemy and the world, prepared to accept his mission as the savior and leader going into the future of the planet Earth.
2. ABOUT TIME
This is the third British sitcom (Britcom) directed by Richard Curtis and the right elements are all here: A holiday release, containing moments of both comedy and sad irony, with a lovable but jerky protagonist once played by Hugh Grant, who sees the light thanks to a pretty, gritty heroine like the one portrayed here by Rachel McAdams. You are likely to recognize a few of the standard “Love, Actually”(2003)-type sidekicks as well including a pair of charming, witty and, as it turns out talented, parents (Bill Nighy and Lindsay Duncan) a wealthy but hopelessly nerdy chum (Tom Hollander) , a wayward sister and a handicapped older relative. But there are two twists in this story; the hero---Domhnall Gleeson straight out of Harry Potter in the Hugh Grant character act---learns that the men in his family are mysteriously endowed with the ability to travel through time when they turn 21. The second unusual feature, at least according to critics in the UK where the movie debuted last month, is a nuanced performance by Gleeson, particularly in the scenes with his father played by the accomplished Nighy. The pursuit of the practically perfect and very American girl played by McAdams is entertaining at times, although the constant updating and time travel can get tedious and seem less than deeply motivated. The film has its heartfelt moments though and only speaking for myself, I liked “Love, Actually,” more than many of the critics just because it is the holidays, the time of year when you must suspend reality, at least for a few hours.
3. FREE BIRDS (3D)
If you think about it, you have to wonder why this movie hasn’t been made several times already. Turkeys are inherently pretty funny in the first place and Americans, in spite of our complete embrace of the Thanksgiving holiday in its entire edible splendor, seem to have an appetite for mock-the-bird humor that can never be truly satisfied. Maybe it’s that neck, or the gobbling noise or the small brain in the odd shaped head. Into this iteration of tales of turkeydom director Jimmy Hayward, who also directed the animated Dr. Seuss tale “Horton Hears a Who!”, injects time travel and a bit of brotherly love-hate between a pair of turkeys with the voices of Owen Wilson and Woody Harrelson. Though the turkeys may be rivals they share a mission to save their fellow turkeys from becoming a Thanksgiving tradition. Of course, this mission is doomed but no doubt comes about in a clever three-dimensional way.
The set-up for this comedy about three older gentleman who are going to throw the ultimate Vegas bachelor party for their friend Billy (Michael Douglas) who is about to get married for the first time to his much-younger girlfriend. The cast is the whole reason for this movie to exist—that and the first surprisingly successful Hangover movie. Of course, Las Vegas is not exactly the same as it used to be when this wannabe Rat Pack first prowled the Strip, so that is going to wreak some havoc and cheap laughs but as you might expect it will probably be the performances that will carry the party, or the night, as long as it lasts.
5.THOR:THE DARK WORLD
In the next installment of the Marvel Comic Avengers adventure featuring Thor (Chris Hemsworth), protector of the ancient world, constantly at odds with an enemy bent on the destruction of the Nine Realms led by Malekith (Christopher Eccleston). When Odin (Anthony Hopkins), the god of thunder and Thor’s life coach, realizes that a confrontation with the dark side is unavoidable and the destruction of Asgard may be inevitable, a reunion with Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is arranged. There is only one sure way to assure the continuation of mankind and the salvation of the world and the heroes get ready for the great denouement in the last minutes of the movie.
6.THE HUNGER GAMES:CATCHING FIRE
In the sequel to last year’s smash hit futuristic saga based on a science fiction trilogy by Suzanna Collins starring Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, the 16-year-old protagonist of the books. The second movie begins with Katniss and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) who were the surprise co-winners of the annual games in the first movie taking a victory lap around the fictional North American country where they live in one of the deteriorating districts. Fearing a revolution, the evil, manipulative totalitarian President Snow played by Donald Sutherland will do everything he can to thwart the winners who pose a grave threat to his regime, but he has to be careful because the couple is absolutely idolized by the entire country. Their youth, popularity and intelligence are powerful against a repressive government, though there are other demons complicating their fragile existence and public personas including relationships and family that have been traumatized by their success. In this episode, the gladiatorial reality show that are the hunger games is plays backdrop for the 25th anniversary of the Capitol district domination, as the lies and schemes of the overlords become increasingly visible.
7.THE BEST MAN HOLIDAY
This movie is a true reunion of a classic comedy from 1999. In this sequel to “The Best Man,” a group of college friends get back together for the holidays and re-unite in physical and psychological ways. Old grudges, romances, feuds, competitions and crushes are instantly revived no matter how lopsided or ridiculous they were the first time around. Malcolm D. Lee, who wrote and directed both movies, is driven to accentuate the positive and manages to keep the film fast and funny and the stars including Terrence Howard, Morris Chestnut, Taye Higgs, Monica Calhoun and Regina Hall on their toes.
8.THE BOOK THIEF
This film is based on a World War II novel by Markus Zusak with a narrator named Death who recalls the story of Liesel Meminger, taken to live with a working-class foster family in Germany when she is 9 years old. Liesel has already stolen her first book and established her love and awe for the power of literature. The Book Thief was widely praised when published in 2006 for the depiction through a filter of a child growing up in a punishing circumstance, coping through creativity and imagination. Liesl steals books, readers find out, because death cheated her first. Her brother has died and her mother has disappeared, but her foster family is delightful. Even though the town where the Hubermann family lives is close enough to Munich to see Jews being sent to nearby Dachau, they still manage to have a good time and save Liesel’s Jewish friend. As Liesel grows into adolescence she discovers more truth and invents more life-affirming fantasies that serve to make her more strong and courageous even as the intensity of war-torn Germany bears down on everything and everyone. The surprise in the story is, of course, that though you cannot cheat Death forever, you can certainly make a memorable story out of it.
9.THE WOLF OF WALL STREET
This Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio team effort is an adaptation of the true story of one of the most notorious players in the high-flying financial world of New York in the 1990s. Jordan Belfort was one of the top bankers at the investment firm of Stratton Oakmont, which became as famous for hard-partying as large profits. Belfort’s memoir charts his rise from a teenager selling Italian ice to a broker making hundreds of thousands of dollars a day, until the drugs, the debauchery, the full-time household staff of 22 people and a poorly-timed investment with a shoe designer, get out of control. Finally, the SEC and FBI figure it out and close the deal for good. The screenplay was written by Terrence Winter and Jonah Hill and Jean Dujardin co-star in the film.
10.THE DELIVERY MAN
In the tradition of the modern screwball male comedies, “The Delivery Man,” is a the story of a likeable regular guy who learns that through the anonymous donation of sperm to a fertility clinic 20 years earlier he is the paternal father of 533 children. The movie starring Vince Vaughn is a remake of “Starbuck,” a French Canadian version writer and director Ken Scott made in 2011. “Starbuck” is the alias used by David Wozniak at the clinic. But the drama starts as the central character must decide whether or not to acknowledge paternity when 142 of his descendants file suit to get him to reveal his identity. The lawsuit comes at an inopportune time as his girlfriend is trying to decide whether or not he is fit for fatherhood. “The Delivery Man” is a collaboration of Touchstone and Disney
You can see from the web site that this movie is a typically ambitious, over-the-top animated, musical fantasy-comedy that Walt Disney Pictures has a duty to release sometimes more often than once a year. In the spirit of “Beauty and the Beast,” “Cinderella,” “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Tangled” and dozens of other cartoon productions, this story is very loosely based on “The Snow Queen,” a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen. In the beginning there are two princesses in the kingdom, but Elsa (Idina Menzel) is the one who is to become the queen and is endowed with the power to create ice and snow. Elsa gets overly-emotional, goes into hiding and triggers an eternal winter that freezes the entire country. It is left to her sister Anna (Kristen Bell) to make a perilous journey with a mountain man Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and reindeer helper Sven to find Elsa and rescue the queen and the kingdom. Anna must also keep an eye on the troublesome villain the Duke of Weselton (Alan Tudyk), who plans a coup d’etat in the absence of the royal sisters. The rescuers path is strewn with distractions including Olaf (Josh Gad) the Snowman that will make the perfect Disney gifts this season. We think you know how this ends, but that really doesn’t matter.
12.GET A HORSE
This short black and white, hand drawn animated cartoon is the story of Mickey Mouse (Walt Disney), Minnie Mouse and their friends Horace Horsecollar and Clarabelle Cow go for a musical hayride, but are unexpectedly de-railed by Peg-Leg Pete who wants to spoil their fun. Directed by Lauren MacMullan and produced by Dorothy McKim, the original Disney cartoon “Get A Horse!” will be opening for the spectacular “Frozen,” on Thanksgiving Day.
This is a movie written and produced by Sylvester Stallone about an unsavory and unforgiving family of meth-heads with James Franco (Gator) as the lead dealer and patriarch in a clannish town that survives on making and selling drugs somewhere in the South. Everything is fine until a new guy, an undercover DEA-agent named Jason Statham (Phil Broker) arrives with his young daughter. There is an altercation at school and soon the whole world is up for grabs when Phil Broker’s occupation is revealed. Cheryl Gott (Winona Ryder) gets involved and so does Gator’s significant other Cassie Bodine played by Kate Bosworth. There is more violence than sexuality but both are mentioned in Wikipedia.
Spike Lee has re-made an award-winning South Korean film from ten years ago with a complex plot based on a Japanese manga (a kind of fable) that starts with the release of a prisoner who has been captive in a room for 15 years and doesn’t know why he was held and by whom. His journey takes him to some strange places and he learns things about his family, his captor, his capacity for revenge and the lack of purpose in most of the quest. He eventually learns that the wealthy man who held him all that time blamed him for an incestuous relationship that the captive seems unable to understand until he is set-up to fall in love with a woman he later finds out is his daughter. Or maybe not. The truth never quite emerges and when it does it is not very satisfying. The movie found an international audience, won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival in 2004 and made $15 million. Spike Lee is directing this version of the story from a script by Mark Protosevich and the cast includes Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen and Sharlto Copley.
Another Cannes film festival prize winner --- for Bruce Dern, Best Actor --- “Nebraska” is the work of filmmaker Alexander Payne, famous for “Election,” “Sideways,” “About Schmidt,” and “The Descendants,” eccentric simple stories with small casts that contain large truths about relationships and bridges of dark comedy and emotion. Bruce Dern is Woody Grant an alcoholic living in Montana, who, in his aging befuddlement, convinces himself that he has won a million dollar sweepstakes. The only way he can collect the prize money is by getting his estranged son David (Will Forte) to drive him to Nebraska. David’s mother and Woody’s wife is played by June Squibb and Stacy Keach is also cast as Ed Pegram. “Nebraska” was also a finalist for the Palme d’Or at Cannes and has received a lot of advance press this year mainly because of Alexander Payne, who is a Stanford graduate, who speaks fluent Spanish and lives and works part-time in his hometown in Nebraska.