News Column

Ho-Ho-Holiday movies: Films opening through Christmas will be naughty, nice

October 26, 2013


Oct. 26--There will be an interesting mixture of new movies hitting local theaters over the next two months.

This holiday season, the lineup includes big-budget, family-friendly offerings guaranteed to pack theaters during breaks at Thanksgiving and Christmas. At the same time, movies with a more serious edge -- the kind that make Oscar voters take notice -- also will open.

It's such an interesting mix that it could mean a new take on the words for "The 12 Days of Christmas." There will be "12 Years a Slave," 11 snowy scenes in "Frozen," 10 whining kids in "Delivery Man," nine cool bow shots in "Catching Fire," eight Harrison Ford snarls in "Ender's Game," seven snappy comebacks by Madea, six huge stars in "American Hustle" ... gold "Hobbit" rings ... fourth actor playing Jack Ryan, three counts in "Grudge Match," number two "Anchorman" movie and a Norse god in a perilous city.

Here are some of the movies opening in theaters between now and Christmas.

Nov. 1

"Ender's Game"

Stars: Asa Butterfield, Hailee Steinfeld, Harrison Ford

Director: Gavin Hood

Plot: A teen has the powers to save the world from an alien threat.

My take: Will appeal to fans of the books and will be "Game" over for others.

"Last Vegas"

Stars: Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline

Director: Jon Turteltaub

Plot: Four longtime buddies reunite in Las Vegas for a bachelor party.

My take: What's filmed in Vegas should stay in Vegas.

"Free Birds"

Stars: Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson, Amy Poehler

Director: Jimmy Hayward

Plot: Two turkeys travel through time to change the Thanksgiving menu.

My take: Won't gobble up big box office numbers.

Nov. 8

"Thor: The Dark World"

Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston

Director: Alan Taylor

Plot: Thor and Loki join forces to stop a major threat.

My take: Won't cause as much box office thunder and lightning as the first movie.

"12 Years a Slave"

Stars: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender

Director: Steve McQueen

Plot: Free man in the pre-Civil War era is kidnapped and made to work as a slave.

My take: Powerful story that will be a force at this year's Oscars.

Nov. 15

"The Best Man Holiday"

Stars: Morris Chestnut, Taye Diggs, Regina Hall

Director: Malcolm Lee

Plot: College friends get together during the Christmas holidays.

My Take: I now pronounce this a holiday treat if it is as good as "The Best Man."

"The Book Thief"

Cast: Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson

Director: Brian Percival

The plot: A young girl deals with the horrors of World War II by stealing books.

My take: Look for Oscar buzz around film and actors.

Nov. 22

"The Hunger Games: Catching Fire"

Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson

Director: Francis Lawrence

Plot: Katniss Everdeen must return to fight in the Games.

My take: Reaction will be warm but no box office bonfire.

"Dallas Buyers Club"

Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto

Director: Jean-Marc Vall e

Plot: Texas electrician figures out a way to get HIV medication.

My take: McConaughey and Leto make this an Oscar contender.

"Delivery Man"

Stars: Vince Vaughn, Chris Pratt, Cobie Smulders

Director: Ken Scott

Plot: A man learns he's fathered 533 children through sperm donations.

My take: It depends on whether the funny Vince Vaughn shows up or not.

Nov. 27

"Black Nativity"

Stars: Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Tyrese Gibson

Director: Kasi Lemmons

Plot: Street-wise teen embarks on a surprising and inspirational journey.

My Take: Success depends on how well the Langston Hughes play is adapted for the screen.


Cast: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad

Directors: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee

Plot: A young woman must save a kingdom from eternal winter.

My take: Icy setting will leave some very cold.

Dec. 6

"Out of the Furnace"

Cast: Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson

Director: Scott Cooper

Plot: A man must decide between his own freedom or clearing his brother's name.

My take: This film would have done much better opening at a less jolly time of the year.

Dec. 13

"The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug"

Cast: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Cate Blanchett

Director: Peter Jackson

Plot: Bilbo Baggins continues his quest to reclaim the Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor.

My take: Loyal fans will come but won't think it's precious.

"Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas"

Cast: Tyler Perry

Director: Tyler Perry, Alicia Witt, Chad Michael Murray

Plot: Madea goes with a friend to pay her daughter a surprise visit for Christmas.

My take: Perry's got a proven track record with hitting the right emotional notes.

Dec. 18

"American Hustle"

Stars: Bradley Cooper, Christian Bale, Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams

Director: David O. Russell

Plot: Con man is forced to work for an FBI agent.

My take: Cooper and Lawrence were magical in "Silver Linings Playbook."

Dec. 20

"Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues"

Cast: Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, Paul Rudd

Director: Adam McKay

Plot: San Diego TV personality is back behind the desk.

My take: Only works if the jokes aren't reruns.

"Saving Mr. Banks"

Cast: Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson

Director: John Lee Hancock

Plot: Walt Disney looks to bring "Mary Poppins" to the big screen.

My take: With Hanks, the movie should be supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

Dec. 25

"Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit"

Cast: Chris Pine, Kenneth Branagh, Keira Knightley

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Plot: Jack Ryan uncovers a plot by his employer to back a terrorist attack.

My take: Pine's no Harrison Ford, or Ben Affleck, or Adam Baldwin. OK, maybe he's a Ben Affleck.

"Grudge Match"

Cast: Robert De Niro, Sylvester Stallone, Kevin Hart

Director: Peter Segal

Plot: Aging boxers are coaxed out of retirement.

My take: Italian Stallion vs. Raging Bull. Too bad the film's about 30 years too late.

"The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"

Cast: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Adam Scott

Director: Ben Stiller

Plot: Daydreamer goes on a real adventure.

My take: Potential to be surprise hit of the holidays -- or I may only be daydreaming.

TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at


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