True Grit: I’ve managed to somehow avoid seeing True Grit through this point (thanks, office holiday party!), so I guess this will be my Christmas present to myself. It’s a Coen Brothers western starring a who’s-who of Coen alums and people who should be Coen alums by now (I guess by that I really just mean Matt Damon—but seriously, how did he go this along without jumping into the Coen orbit?), so not much consideration about whether this will be awesome is really warranted, except whether old people might avoid it out of misguided loyalty to the John Wayne version that won him an Oscar at the end of his career. It seems unlikely, though, that old people who haven’t had the opportunity to see a big star-laden western in years, let alone on Christmas, would look a gift horse (see what I did there?!) in the mouth.
Somewhere: I think what everyone needs to keep in mind is that Sofia Coppola is kind of a niche act; a misunderstanding about this might explain why people were so surprised when Marie Antoinette turned out to be, you know, a Sofia Coppola type of movie. So, yes, Somewhere looks like a rejiggered Lost in Translation: a washed-up actor at home instead of abroad meets his sweet, precocious daughter instead of a sour, precocious hottie. But it’s been a few years since we’ve tasted that bittersweet Sofia-style ennui, and even longer (an actual eternity?) since Stephen Dorff did anything of interest, so there should be built-up demand for this. Maybe nothing happens in it, but nothing happening in a movie is sometimes underrated [Oh, wooooooord. –Ed]. Very little happens in How Do You Know, to take one recent example, but the lack of busy rom-com incident makes it feel enjoyably unhurried and well-considered, even when it’s also sort of stilted and bizarre.
The Illusionist: I know people love Triplets of Belleville, and I liked it too, but it also felt to me like a movie that could’ve easily been half, a quarter, or three times the length: less a story than a charming, rambling art piece. The Illusionist looks a little more focused, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it also lacks some urgency. I’m saving this one for January after I’ve seen the other Oscar-y movies plus Season of the Witch.
Gulliver’s Travels: I hoped maybe it was just a bad trailer, but no: Gulliver’s Travels is a whole movie that looks like everyone agreed to do it under some kind of false pretenses, the most prominent of which was probably “we will make a cool, funny update of Gulliver’s Travels.” I assume that one landed Jack Black, and Jason Segel figured if Jables was in, it might be fun, and Amanda Peet thought if this was some kind of Black/Segel buddy comedy, it’s probably not too terrible, and Emily Blunt, well, from what I’ve read she was more or less contractually obligated, and it’s a sad note for the other actors that she seems no less engaged than they do, and maybe even, via a silliness on the order of (though not as awesome as) Anne Hathaway’s in Alice in Wonderland, a little more. The director, Rob Letterman, is making his first live-action feature after a stint at DreamWorks animation, and you can kind of tell, especially when the movie ends with a nonsensical musical number that is somehow supposed to be much cooler and more irreverent than an actual musical number because it involves a musty pop hit. Also migrating over from animation is co-screenwriter Joe Stillman, who once upon a time did scripts for Beavis and Butthead and King of the Hill, but also has credits on some Shreks and this. If you’re in the mood for a movie that’s sort of like a DreamWorks cartoon, but uglier and more cheap-looking, by all means, spend your holiday with Gulliver’s Travels.
Little Fockers: Conventional wisdom holds that this is the bottom of the Focker barrel, but I’d put Little Fockers maybe a notch or two above Meet the Fockers simply because I chuckled a handful of times as De Niro’s deadpan-taskmaster shtick before it hardens back into sitcom conflict in the back half of the movie—and I remember nothing about Meet the Fockers except appalled silence that they didn’t write anything better for the genius casting of Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Steisand as Ben Stiller’s parents. Little Fockers is little more (and often quite less) than a series of loosely connected quasi-comic vignettes so transparently arranged around the shooting schedules of these actors that you start expecting scenes to end with the limo driver honking and Hoffman or Streisand or Owen Wilson saying “OK, gotta go!” Further shame: Stiller, Wilson, De Niro, and Hoffman all come perilously close to having their scenes stolen by an uncharacteristically loose, goofy Jessica Alba, as a pharm rep with her eyes on a parnership with Stiller’s Greg Focker. She’s not hilarious, mind, but she performs with a lot of good cheer, maybe because she’s the only cast member for whom this might constitute a step up from routine, not a depressingly well-paid comedown. Stiller and De Niro already did some artistically adventurous penance earlier this year via Greenberg and Stone, but Hoffman owes us one. If you’re in the mood to marvel at the pure, insane waste that so many relatively to extremely prominent comedians, actors, and filmmakers with better credits can indulge in because someone decided it was extremely marketable waste, by all means, spend your holiday with a Little Fockers/Gulliver’s Travels double feature.