Nothing gets cinemaniacs more excited than the holiday season. It's not the smell of Kwanzaa cookies or the incessant tolling of Salvation Army bells that gets them going, though. It's the bounty of award-quality films making its way into local theatres to displace swill like I Spy and Sweet Home Alabama. This year is no different, but there are still a bunch of duds floating around out there like so many dangerous mines. Let us steer you around those evil threats because we want you --- the reader --- to have the happiest and safest holiday season ever.
Almost a year to the day after dropping Ocean's Eleven on us, the prolific Steven Soderbergh returns with Solaris (November 27), a remake of a 1972 Russian sci-fi thriller. Most of the buzz surrounding this film is about the MPAA and George Clooney's bare ass, but don't let that distract you. Soderbergh calls the film, which is about a deep-space psychologist and a potentially haunted spaceship, a cross between 2001 and Last Tango in Paris (!?!). With Soderbergh, Clooney, and producer James Cameron on board, we're all expecting big results. You can only hope it will be good enough to make us forget about Full Frontal.
Solaris is Soderbergh's second film this year, and his fifth in the last three. Phillip Noyce is hot on Soderbergh's tail, with two films in release in 2002. The Quiet American won't hit Rochester until 2003, but we'll be getting his Rabbit-Proof Fence on December 20. It's a period piece set in 1931 Australia, and its story focuses on three Aboriginal girls who escape the evil clutches of one Kenneth Branagh (or a character played by him, anyway), who stole the kids from their mother in an attempt to turn them into a domestic waitstaff. The story isn't too exciting, but the film is absolutely gorgeous as photographed by Christopher Doyle (of Wong Kar-Wai fame).
Every time we do one of these previews, I make sure to highlight the absolute dumbest-sounding movie I was able to dig up. This time, it's Drumline (December 13), the latest directorial effort from Charles Stone III, who is probably better known to you as the fat guy from those "Wazzup" commercials for Budweiser. If that doesn't raise any red flags for you, wait until you get a whiff of the plot --- Devon is a "street drummer" in Harlem who gets a scholarship to a prestigious college where he initially has trouble fitting in but eventually leads the school marching band to some kind of championship. Please kill me now.
It's bad enough when little kids score cooler Christmas presents than you do, but this year they get cooler movies, too. While adults are expected to pony up for same ol'-same ol' junk like Star Trek: Nemesis and Antwone Fisher, the ankle-biters kick it old-school with the IMAX release of The Lion King (December 25). And on top of that, those little monsters also get to unwrap Roberto Benigni's G-rated, English-dubbed Pinocchio (December 25). The 50-year-old double Oscar winner for Life is Beautiful plays (in addition to writing and directing) the wooden puppet who longs to become a real boy. (He also tackles the role of a manic little man who longs to become a triple Oscar winner and reclaim his foreign language box-office crown from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.)
The adults will have to wait until after the New Year for their goodies, like Adaptation (January 3), the Spike Jonze-directed, Charlie Kaufman-penned follow-up to Being John Malkovich about a screenwriter (Nicolas Cage) and his good-for-nothing (and possibly imaginary) twin brother (also Cage) who attempt to adapt a novel written by a character played by Meryl Streep. That sounds relatively tame, but Cage is actually playing Charlie Kaufman, and the story is about his real-life efforts to adapt the very same novel.
Adaptation might sound like enough Charlie Kaufman already, but you'll get even more with Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (January 3), a film about television game-show creator Chuck Barris (of The Gong Show fame). Kaufman adapted the script from Barris's autobiography, which melds the TV persona we all know with a much darker aspect of the entertainer --- his (presumably fictional) side gig as a CIA hitman. George Clooney was originally supposed to play Barris but backed out when he decided to direct instead. Mike Myers was going to be his replacement, but he opted out as well. So we're left with the super-creepy Sam Rockwell.
Finally, for those of you unlucky folks who couldn't score tickets to the sold-out High Falls Film Festival screening of Rebecca Miller's wonderful Personal Velocity --- you're in luck. Velocity will have a regular theatrical engagement at some point around the holidays. Miller adapts from her own novel (which features seven vignettes as compared to the film's three) and tells the stories of three women --- played by Kyra Sedgwick, Parker Posey, and Fairuza Balk --- concentrating on cookbooks, teenaged runaways, and somebody's glorious, traffic-stopping ass.
For more of Jon's movie ramblings, visit his site, Planet Sick-Boy (www.sick-boy.com).