Mainstream Chick’s 2015 Xmas Day Cheat Sheet

For those who celebrate ‘Winter Break’ with a visit to the movies, here’s my quick take on a dozen recent flicks that may or may not influence your selection!

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Oh my, such anticipation! Is it worth it? The answer is a resounding, yet somewhat surprising ‘yes’ given my lack of fandom obsession. I’m sorry, I can’t really tell you why it works. The less you know going into this movie, the better. No spoilers here, I promise! In fact, I will speak (or write) in broad generalities because if you already have your tickets, are planning to see it in the days or weeks ahead, or might be still be on the fence, here’s all you need to know as you contemplate transport back in time, to a galaxy far, far away:

In the Heart of the Sea

They should have had a bigger boat.

In the Heart of the Sea is sort of like The Perfect Storm meets Jaws – in the year 1820. It’s an epic ‘big fish’ tale with a title nearly as long as the tail of the whale that inspired Herman Melville’s literary classic, “Moby-Dick” (which I have yet to read). The best thing the movie has going for it is Chris Hemsworth (Thor). If not for him, I would likely have skipped this cinematic voyage altogether, despite its being helmed by one of my favorite directors, Ron Howard. The pair worked together on the excellent, under-appreciated 2013 movie Rush, in which Hemsworth proved that he’s got a lot more to offer than Nordic-god good looks and proficiency with a hammer. Turns out, he’s quite handy with a harpoon too!

Carol

The film Carol is gorgeous.The clothes, the sets, the cinematography. And the actresses – Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara – are both fabulous in this 1950s era forbidden love drama directed by Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven) and adapted from a Patricia Highsmith (The Talented Mr. Ripley) novel. It is a lesbian love story told more through furtive, adoring glances and unspoken understandings than big dramatic moments. It is languid storytelling, but somehow it is effective.

Brooklyn

Brooklyn is a beautifully crafted old-fashioned story about a young Irish immigrant coming to America in the 50s. Saoirse Ronan (Hanna, The Grand Budapest Hotel) plays Eilis who is struggling to find her place in Ireland and jumps at the chance to emigrate when Father Flood (Jim Broadbent) offers to set her up with a job and a place to live in Brooklyn. The excellent script by Nick Hornby (About a Boy, An Education) adapted from Colm Tóibín’s 2009 novel deftly mixes comedy, tragedy, and romance, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Tangerine

There’s a whole lot of buzz around this one. The characters are interesting, to be sure. And the way it was shot on iPhones is pretty cool, too. But I’m not going to go so far as to say it deserves Oscar consideration, as some have. The film is a day in the life of couple of BFFs who happen to be transgender prostitutes on the streets of Los Angeles. It’s Christmas eve and Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) just got out of jail. Alexandra (Mya Taylor) is there for her, and she’s also trying to scare up an audience for her singing debut later in the evening. But when Sin-Dee mentions her boyfriend, Alexandra hints that he hasn’t exactly been faithful while she was away. And that kicks the film into gear as Sin-Dee goes on a rampage to find the “other woman” and show her who’s boss.

Creed

All things considered, Creed does the Rocky franchise proud. Buzz suggesting that it should be an Oscar contender is a bit over the top, but the movie is certainly satisfying in a Rocky meets The Karate Kid sort of way. Think of Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) as the new Mr. Miagi. “Wax on, wax off Adonis-san!” It’s part sports drama, part chick flick, and therefore, has broad mainstream appeal. It also has the appealing presence of rising star Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station, Friday Night Lights) as the son of Rocky’s late friend and former rival Apollo Creed.

For the kids: The Peanuts Movie; The Good Dinosaur

I’ll make this quick since The Peanuts Movie and The Good Dinosaur are the only options out there right now for the under-10 set. Neither movie blew me away, but both are fine choices to keep the kids occupied. Youngsters will generally enjoy the movies more than their adult chaperones – unless those adults have a built-in soft spot for a classic Peanuts cartoon. The characters and the endearing messages ring a familiar bell as the Peanuts gang created by Charles Schulz make their big-screen debut, in 3-D no less. But at 92 minutes, this G-rated film feels quite long. There’s something to be said for a half-hour (or maximum one-hour) Great Pumpkin or Christmas special, especially when the story is – as it should be – a very simple one.

Trumbo

Trumbo is set in Hollywood in the 1940s and 50s during the Red Scare, when the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) was convinced that there were Commie spies planting propaganda in movies, and a lot of once bright careers were destroyed as a blacklist kept them from getting any work. The film centers on Dalton Trumbo, one of the highest paid screenwriters in town who begins the film at the height of his career. But after refusing to testify in front of the HUAC, he’s sent to jail and once released has to find creative ways to continue his craft. Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) plays Trumbo, and his Oscar-worthy performance elevates a less than exciting script.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part Two

I had to re-read my review – from exactly one year ago – of Mockingjay – Part One to reaffirm what I already knew: Mockingjay, Part Two is definitely my least favorite of the four-movie franchise. Not surprising, considering “Mockingjay” was my least favorite of the best-selling “Hunger Games” trilogy by Suzanne Collins and never should have been split into two movies. It just doubled the disappointment. That’s not to say fans of the book and the movies shouldn’t see Mockingjay, Part Two. OF COURSE they should. You need the closure… that final cinematic salute to symbolic rebel leader Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), her rival love interests Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), and the whole nation of Panem. One last chance to declare, “May the odds be ever in your favor!”