One or two new films heading our way over the next week.

In Theaters

Opening Dec. 19

The Guilt Trip
(Paramount Pictures)

Barbara Streisand and Seth Rogen play a mother and son (in that order…I think…) who hit the road for a cross-country trek in The Guilt Trip.  Rogen’s Andrew is an inventor with a new product to pitch, and after a quick stop at his mom’s house before embarking on his salesman journey, he determines that her life needs a boost and invites her along.  In terms of casting for these roles, few combinations are as appealing as these two.  Rogen has yet to play off a mother figure in his films, so I’m curious to see what he brings to this brand of comedy.  As for names behind the camera, director Anne Fletcher’s previous two films, The Proposal and 27 Dresses, were each surprisingly pleasant comedies, especially the latter.  The script by Dan Fogelman (Crazy, Stupid, Love) is also promising.

Monsters, Inc. 3D
(Walt Disney Pictures)

Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sully (John Goodman) get the super duper tech upgrade in Monsters, Inc. 3D.  I’ll admit that this is the Pixar film that I remember the least, having only seen it the one time in theaters, though I recall being impressed with its willingness to go a little dark.  Seeing as the studio’s intervening years have featured lighter (though also more refined) fare, a graphics-popping second round with the professional bumps in the night is fairly appealing.  In the realm of fun for the entire family, you won’t find a better offering this Christmas.  Plus, if you haven’t heard, the crew will be back next year in Monsters University, a feature-length look at their college days, so a refresher wouldn’t hurt.

Opening Dec. 21

This Is 40
(Universal Pictures)

A sequel of sorts to Knocked Up, Judd Apatow’s This Is 40 puts the spotlight on Debbie (Leslie Mann) and Pete (Paul Rudd), each of whom turn the titular age in the same week and are struggling with acceptance in various ways.  These problems extend to their personal, professional, parental, matrimonial, and economical sides of life as the two attempt to figure it out via plentiful funny dialogue.  Though I much prefer Apatow’s television work, his films offer a distinct brand of comedy that, though overly reliant on of-the-moment pop culture references, works more often than not.  Since The 40 Year Old Virgin, however, his films have been a series of diminishing returns as he’s gotten farther from the lovable struggling schlubs on which he made his name and turned increasingly to the world of the wealthy.  I will go ahead and say that his latest film unfortunately continues the trend.  Look for my review on Friday.

Jack Reacher
(Paramount Pictures)

Attempting to erase all memory of Rock of Ages, Tom Cruise returns to bread-and-butter action films with Jack Reacher.  As the eponymous policeman-turned-drifter, Cruise investigates the work of The Zec (Werner Herzog, an intriguing choice), a sniper who’s been terrorizing Pittsburgh, using any means necessary.  Lee Child’s source material novels are extremely popular, so there’s a sizable built-in audience…few of whom seem excited with the casting of Cruise as their beloved hero.  The trailer is silly at best, making for fairly low expectations.  Somewhat encouraging is The Usual Suspects scribe Christopher McQuarrie behind the camera, though not having helmed a film since 2000’s The Way of the Gun, his directorial skills could be rusty.

Opening Dec. 25

Django Unchained
(The Weinstein Company)

By far the most appealing title this Christmas is Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained.  The writer/director’s long-promised stab at a Western follows the titular slave-turned-bounty hunter (Jamie Foxx) and his mentor (Christoph Waltz) on their mission to rescue Django’s wife (Kerry Washington) from an evil Mississippi plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio).  Excessive violence and profanity are certain to play a big supporting role, even bigger than those of Samuel L. Jackson, Jonah Hill, and Tarantino’s latest career-salvation project, Don Johnson.  It’s all so appetizing that I’ve reserved a spot for it on my year-end Top 10 list.

Les Miserables
(Universal Pictures)

Sure to draw big crowds is Les Miserables as envisioned by Tom Hooper, last seen accepting the Best Director Oscar for The King’s Speech.  This artsy yet majestic take on the revered musical showcases the struggles of ex-con Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) and his attempts to lead an honest life in an early 19th-century France that appears set on keeping him down.  Russell Crowe, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, and (most impressively) Anne Hathaway round out the star-studded cast, who recorded their vocals on-camera as opposed to the usual post-production dub, thereby elevating the story’s raw emotions.  Broadway diehards have already blocked out time to see the 157 minute epic, but there’s plenty to enjoy for Les Mis novices like me.  Look for my review early next week.

Silver Linings Playbook
(The Weinstein Co.)

A sold out crowd got first dibs on Silver Linings Playbook nearly two months ago at the Asheville Cinema Festival.  Now it’s time for the masses to descend upon the latest work from David O. Russell (Three Kings, I Heart Huckabees).  Bradley Cooper stars as Pat, a former teacher back home in Philadelphia with his parents (Robert De Niro and Jackie Weaver) after a stint in a mental institution.  With a delusional tragicomic optimism, Pat sets his sights on repairing his fractured marriage and generally getting his life back on track.  Befriending the similarly off-kilter Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), he begins to reconnect with life in his own special way, to various success.  Though not quite the big bag of awesomeness that the Weinsteins think it is, Russell’s film is still pretty darn good.  I’ll dust off my review and post it early next week.

Parental Guidance
(Twentieth Century Fox)

Filling the live-action family-friendly quota is Parental Guidance.  Bette Midler and Billy Crystal play grandparents who look after their sheltered grandchildren while the parents (Marisa Tomei and Tom Everett Scott) are out of town.  Generational culture clashes ensue; some level of hilarity, lesson-learning, and feel-good familial unity are sure to follow.  What else may be expected from the writers of Surf’s Up and the director of The Game Plan and She’s The Man?

Fleeing the Scene

As of now, it’s unclear what will be dropped to make room for the new titles, but if you’ve yet to see Cloud Atlas, Life of Pi, Skyfall, or Argo, this could be the last week to do so at the Carolina.

On DVD

A Forrest Gump-approved box of chocolates this week. Those that should be eaten first are Arbitrage, Killer Joe, Pitch Perfect, Premium Rush, and Sleepwalk With Me.  Feel free to nibble around Liberal Arts, though an actual bite may result in an upset stomach.  Unidentifiable offerings (no Whitman’s Sampler map here, folks) include the ubiquitous Channing Tatum’s high school reunion flick 10 Years; the third Diary of a Wimpy Kid installment, Dog Days; the fifth Resident Evil action event, Retribution; and something called The Good Doctor, a PG-13 thriller featuring the long lost (but soon to be resurrected in 2013, thanks to the second Hobbit film) Orlando Bloom.  Also, unless you want a trip to the emergency room, steer clear of Trouble With the Curve and Total Recall.  Not even the world’s best eggnog can wash away the taste of these factory rejects.

On Netflix Instant

It’s a downright feast of indie films this week.  The Dardenne brothers’ universally praised The Kid With a Bike is a fine main course, followed by heaping sides of quality documentaries Bones Brigade: An AutobiographyPina, and, despite burnt edges, The Queen of Versailles.  In need of a little salt, but still worth consuming, are 2 Days in New York and Sleepwalk With Me.

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