Holiday movie guide

by gabeatkinson / 19 December, 2012
Listener film reviewers David Larsen and Helene Wong pick movie highlights for the holiday season.


1. Parental Guidance
Billy Crystal and Bette Midler play old-school grandparents in charge of over-parented grandkids for the holidays. Worlds will collide, lessons will be learnt, etc. Sentimental Christmas mush? Very likely. Great casting, though.

2. Quartet
Dustin Hoffman’s first directorial outing features a palatial home for retired classical musicians, and a genial ensemble cast of senior actors. Will Maggie Smith’s prima donna headline Michael Gambon’s fundraising concert? One guess. Too sleepy and formulaic for much generational crossover appeal.


3. Sightseers
Comedy does not get darker than this deadpan little British number about passive-aggressive caravaners on a killing spree. Hilarious and appalling. The easily offended should run a mile.

4. To Rome with Love
Woody Allen’s follow-up to Midnight in Paris is best approached as a tossed-off improv piece, not particularly cohesive but full of unlikely little pleasures. The A-list smorgasbord cast includes several fine Italian actors and, for the first time in years, Woody himself.

5. Wreck-It Ralph
What a great concept for an animated film for kids: the villain in an old arcade game gets tired of being the bad guy and defects to another game. Cameos from too many classic games to count. Geek heaven, and clever family fun.


6. Life of Pi
If you plan to see Ang Lee’s adaptation of the Booker Prize-winning novel, catch the 3D version. Banality has never looked better. A boy, a tiger, a lifeboat, some of the most beautiful ocean footage ever shot – it’s worth watching, yet curiously forgettable.


Jack Reacher

7. Jack Reacher
Tom Cruise as a hard-man drifter who wanders into people’s lives, solves their problems, metes out justice and goes his saintly way; easy to mock, especially given the physical gulf between the star (1.7m) and Lee Child’s action hero (1.9m). But it could be fun. Fingers crossed.

8. Rise of the Guardians
Various childhood fantasy figures (Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, etc) band together to save the world in this animated film for children. Can it match Wreck-It Ralph? We have our doubts. More fingers crossed.


9. Celeste & Jesse Forever
A flawed but charming love-on-the-rocks comedy-drama, several degrees quirkier than the Hollywood norm. Rashida Jones (Parks and Recreation) co-writes and co-stars, playing a woman who decides her relationship is too comfortable and walks out. Will she have second thoughts? Will it be too late?

10. The Imposter
File under “holiday counter-programming”: a documentary about an abducted Texan teen who resurfaced three years later. Or did he? The title would seem to answer that question, but overseas reviews promise thrills, gothic chills, surprises and reversals.

Les Misérables

11. Les Misérables
A screen version of the great stage musical about revolution and justice in 19th-century France, starring Hugh Jackman (can definitely sing) and Russell Crowe (definitely believes he can sing). Will Crowe’s big solo fall flat? We’ll be on the edge of our seats.


12. The Master
The sixth film from Paul Thomas Anderson (Magnolia, There Will Be Blood ) finally makes it to New Zealand. A study of the relationship between a burnt out World War II vet and a cult leader, it is magnificent, but also Anderson’s least accessible film to date. Plan to see it more than once if you see it at all.

13. Paranorman 3D
An odd kid out has to wrangle dead people to save his town from a witch’s curse. Scary stop-motion fun and scatological bits.

14. Monsters, Inc (3D)
Can you believe it’s been 11 years? Frankly, we’re not sure this Pixar lily needed to be gilded with 3D, but maybe we’ll think differently when Sulley and Mike burst through the wardrobe door. All together now – “Arrrgggghhh!!!”

15. Gangster Squad
LAPD forms a secret force to take down an East Coast gang boss – Sean Penn with an alarming prosthetic job – who’s looking to expand his business their way. And in other crime news, Whole Lotta Sole is an Irish comedy with, yes, a fishy theme – but we sense there are too many characters and subplots for it to be a good catch.


16. Django Unchained
Quentin Tarantino’s western set in the South, with Jamie Foxx a slave recruited as a bounty hunter by Christoph Waltz – well, that’s trouble right there. So there will be guns, and – yay! – Zoë Bell.

The Impossible

17. The Guilt Trip
The mother-and-son road trip from hell, possibly, with Barbra Streisand as Mom and Seth Rogen as her inventor son. Let’s hope for inventiveness in the cringing and kvetching.

18. The Impossible
Spanish production about the tsunami in Thailand on Boxing Day 2004, drawn from the experiences of locals and a holidaying family from Britain. Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor are the parents.

19. You Will Be My Son
No doubt there will be wine spilt in this family drama of a Bordeaux vigneron (Niels Arestrup) who doesn’t think his son is up to being his successor.


20. Anna Karenina
A reputedly bold staging of Tolstoy’s epic melodrama of love and Russian society may well prove Joe Wright is not just a director of the pretty but bland. A Tom Stoppard script presumably helps.

21. Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters 3D
Talk about not moving on. Fifteen years down the track, this action/horror adventure has the intrepid siblings (Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton) hunting witches for bounty. Crumbs.

22. Lincoln
Spielberg directs, Tony Kushner (Angels in America) writes, Daniel Day-Lewis adds another distinctive American to his oeuvre. Forget that vampire hunting diversion earlier this year; this is about the political machinations to abolish slavery and end the Civil War.

Zero Dark Thirty

23. Silver Linings Playbook
Can’t wait to see Australia’s Jacki Weaver opposite Robert De Niro as the parents of a man returning home after being in a mental institution. Relax; it’s a comedy, by David O Russell (Flirting with Disaster), so it’s likely to be a roller coaster slightly out of control.

24. Step Up to the Plate
Contemplative real-life story of Michelin-starred chef Michel Bras passing the baton to his son.

25. Zero Dark Thirty
A military action thriller about the hunt for and demise of Osama bin Laden? It was always going to be made – and who better than The Hurt Locker’s Kathryn Bigelow, and writer Mark Boal, to make it.
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