Silver screen serves up veritable feast

Category: Phantom of the Opera News | Posted by: admin
Article Date: December 2, 2004 | Publication: Newhouse News Service | Author: LISA ROSE
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The holidays bring feasting not only at dinner tables, but also at the box office.

Hollywood is prepping to serve its seasonal super combo of Yuletide rollicks and Oscar candidates. Now that the "Lord of the Rings" cycle is complete, it looks to be a particularly heady year-end stretch at the multiplex.

Whatever your hankering, there's something coming out of the kitchen for you, from such master chefs as Martin Scorsese ("The Aviator") and Clint Eastwood ("Million Dollar Baby") as well as younger artistes like Wes Anderson ("The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou") and Jean-Pierre Jeunet ("A Very Long Engagement").

There'll be blockbuster fast food ("Meet the Parents"), indie fine dining ("The Merchant of Venice" with Al Pacino) and fusion cuisine (stage-to-screen adaptation "Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera").

Foreign fare comes from China ("House of Flying Daggers"), Spain ("Bad Education"), France ("Notre Musique"), and Britain/India ("Bride & Prejudice").

Kids plates include "Lemony Snicket's 'A Series of Unfortunate Events'" and a live action take on the classic cartoon "Fat Albert."

In the second course section, Robert De Niro will finally "Meet the Fockers," George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Co. reteam for another round of swindling in "Ocean's Twelve," and Wesley Snipes squares off against more neck-biters in "Blade: Trinity."

The options are so vast and varied, film fans may feel overstuffed just perusing the movie time clock.

That is why we're presenting you with this holiday menu, highlighting all the cinematic flavors of the season. Remember, the dieting doesn't start till January.

Dec. 3

"Closer," an Oscar prospect from director Mike Nichols, centers on the carnal entanglements of two cheating couples, played by Julia Roberts and Clive Owen, and Natalie Portman and Jude Law.

Dec. 8

Getting a jump on the weekend traffic with a Wednesday release is "Blade: Trinity," which initially had been planned as a summer tentpole. The third installment in the vampire franchise, helmed by returning director David S. Goyer, has the title action hero (Wesley Snipes) battling the ultimate in fanged foes: Count Dracula (Dominic Purcell). "Van Helsing," anyone?

Dec. 10

The all-star gang from the Rat Pack remake "Ocean's Eleven" looks beyond the Vegas Strip for fun and profit in the sequel, "Ocean's Twelve," which depicts a multi-city European heist. Making it an even dozen is the addition of Catherine Zeta-Jones, who catches the eye of Brad Pitt's character. As sure a thing as we'll see this season, the film could be just what director Steven Soderbergh needs to pull himself out of his "Solaris" slump.

Dec. 15

Hilary Swank steps into the ring, playing a woman with prize-fighting ambitions in "Million Dollar Baby." Clint Eastwood directs and also stars as a reluctant mentor. The movie reunites the veteran actor/filmmaker with his "Unforgiven" cohort, Morgan Freeman, cast as a gym owner who agrees to help prep Swank's character for a big match.

Dec. 17

The early career of obsessive-compulsive tycoon Howard Hughes is chronicled in "The Aviator," with Martin Scorsese at the helm and "Gangs of New York" star Leonardo DiCaprio in the main role. Cate Blanchett, Kate Beckinsale and Gwen Stefani are on hand as Tinseltown ingenues romanced by Hughes. Given Scorsese's uneven track record of late, this could be a Spruce Goose-scale misfire, but with such an intriguing central character and eclectic cast, we're more than willing to hop in.

Jim Carrey hosts an open house at a curious mansion in "Lemony Snicket's 'A Series of Unfortunate Events,'" based on the darkly comical children's books. The troubled production is arriving in theaters a year after its planned release due to budget battles and the departure of producer Scott Rudin and director Barry Sonnenfeld, who was replaced by Brad Silberling ("Casper").

With "Spanglish," Adam Sandler continues building his dramatic resume. The former doofus plays a family man whose domestic harmony is disturbed by the arrival of a beautiful housekeeper (Spanish actress Paz Vega) and her 12-year-old daughter. James L. Brooks ("As Good as It Gets") is behind the camera, and Tea Leoni and Cloris Leachman co-star.

Kevin Spacey does double duty, serving as director and star of the pop music biopic "Beyond the Sea," about the life of Bobby Darin. Spacey, an amateur singer, also belts the teen idol's hits on the soundtrack. The actor could use a breakthrough, since he's had some lean years post-"American Beauty." This may not be the project to revitalize his career, however, given its nickname on the festival scene, "Beyond the Sane."

Dec. 22

After four years and countless rewrites, Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro serve up another helping of familial discord in "Meet the Fockers," a sequel to the uncomfortably hilarious hit "Meet the Parents." The second chapter centers on a gathering of the in-laws, with Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand portraying the father and mother of Stiller's high-strung character.

A Broadway pop musical is transcribed to the screen with "Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera." Master of the overwrought, Joel Schumacher oversees the chandelier-dropping action, and sexy Scottish actor/rocker Gerard Butler stars as the disfigured music lover. Emmy Rossum, who crooned bluegrass tunes in the 2000 indie "Songcatcher," plays the aria-singing object of obsession. The impetus for this seemingly unnecessary adaptation can be summed up in one word: "Chicago."

The first of two Dennis Quaid holiday offerings, "Flight of the Phoenix" is a remake of a 1965 flick that followed a group of air crash survivors stranded in the dunes of the Sahara. This time out, it's same story, new desert, with the outer reaches of the Gobi serving as the site of the wreckage. Cast as the pilot of the ill-fated flight, Quaid leads an ensemble that includes Giovanni Ribisi, Miranda Otto ("Lord of the Rings") and British comedian Hugh Laurie.

Dec. 25

Ho, ho, ho. Actually, make that, "Hey, hey, hey." Bowing in theaters on Christmas Day is "Fat Albert," a live action version of the animated Bill Cosby series. Kenan Thompson ("Good Burger") stars as the scale-tipping title character, who pals around with a group of misfit kids in inner-city Philadelphia.

"The Darkness" has been haunting the release schedule since 2002. The horror film stars Anna Paquin as a teenage girl who moves to a spooky house in the countryside.

"Bride & Prejudice" brings Bollywood pizzazz to Jane Austen's similarly titled novel. The meta-cultural spectacle, directed by Gurinder Chadha ("Bend It Like Beckham"), concerns a young Indian woman (Aishwarya Rai) who goes through a love/hate courtship with a moneyed American (Martin Henderson). Though this year's other hybrid of classic literature and Hindi dazzle, "Vanity Fair," wasn't hot as vindaloo at the box office, the kitschy-fun trailer for this one looks promising.

Dec. 29

The comedy "Synergy" (previously titled "In Good Company") stars Dennis Quaid as an advertising executive demoted to "wing man" for a boardroom prodigy half his age (Topher Grace). The two strike up a tenuous friendship that is jeopardized when the boss falls for his subordinate's daughter (Scarlett Johansson). Paul Weitz ("About a Boy") serves as writer-director.

Shakespeare's ever-controversial comedy "The Merchant of Venice" is reinterpreted for the screen by director Michael Radford ("Il Postino"), with a cast that includes Al Pacino (who has much scenery to chomp as Shylock), Jeremy Irons and Joseph Fiennes.

Elsewhere in the controversy department, there's "The Assassination of Richard Nixon," which dramatizes the true story of a disillusioned salesman who plotted to crash a plane into the White House in the wake of Watergate. Sean Penn plays the main character and Naomi Watts co-stars as his estranged wife.

John Travolta makes an effort to restore his indie credibility with "A Love Song for Bobby Long." He portrays an unemployed literature professor loafing in a dilapidated New Orleans residence with a young writer (Gabriel Macht). Their living arrangement is compromised when the rightful owner of the house (Scarlett Johansson, again) moves in after her mother's death.