Spend the Holidays with Great Entertainment: Theater, Film, DVDs, CDs
By Ellis Nassour
Still shopping? What better gift for the loved ones in your life than the gift of entertainment? Theater tickets always are great stocking stuffers. The holiday drop-in shows will soon be on their way, but an unbelievable array of long-running hits, new musicals and plays are at your fingertips. Sadly, several shows will be leaving in mid-to late January, so hurry.
Many shows are having terrific sales – especially if you use those codes at the box office, where you can save on those ever escalating service charges. Shows have their holiday schedules posted at www.ILoveNYTheater.com, a service of the Broadway League. Seats are available at every price to the majority of shows [not that there’s much of a price-spread any longer].
Movies: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Warner Bros./M-G-M), the first of a prequel trilogy [set 60 years earlier] adapted from J.R.R. Tolkien’s thin volume, is breaking box office records. Oscar-winning director Peter Jackson [The Lord of the Rings trilogy] makes incredible use of 3-D – few gimmick in-your-face pop-outs; instead, amazing depth of field – especially when showing New Zealand’s scenic wonders.
The run time’s a half hour too long. Bilbo and the dwarves have a slow journey to Lonely Mountain. Sometimes, as Radagst’s sleigh race using superrabbit power, the CGI’s lacking. However, there’re awesome sequences, such as the fateful meeting at the underground lake of Bilbo and the Gollum [voiced by Andy Serkis] and his capture of the gold ring; and Bilbo’s encounter with the gigantic glob, the Grand Godlin [voiced by Barry Humpries, a.k.a. Dame Edna].
It would be great to have Cher sing "Dwarves, Wizards, Elves, Goblins, and Trolls" to lighten the mood. Instead, there’s a rousing score by multiple Oscar-winner Howard Shore [The Lord of the Rings trilogy scores], available in a two-CD set (WaterTower Music).
Barbara Streisand and Seth Rogen have great chemistry in The Guilt Trip (Paramount): they appear to be the real thing — hardly agreeing on anything, laying on the guilt, often flaring tempers, such as when mom becomes a backseat driver or son acts like a jerk. Babs and hubby James Brolin like taking road trips in their pickup. She seems quite a home in a tiny car going cross-country in eight days. You know this is a bad idea, don’t you? However, there’s an interesting reveal early on which adds poignancy to the hilarity. Stresisand doesn’t like extended stays far from home, and that dislike glaringly shows in the all-too-brief Grand Canyon moment when we her stand-in from back. Thanks to two pros with comic timing, it’s not your typical road movie.
Who says women can’t direct combat? Kathryn Bigelow, Oscar-winner for The Hurt Locker, has done it again. In a year of extraordinary films, can lightning strike twice? The controversial Zero Dark Thirty (Columbia) is the chronicle of the decade-long hunt and ultimate killing of Osama Bin Laden by Navy Seals. Jessica Chastain [currently on Broadway in The Heiress], Kyle Chandler, and stage and screen’s Jennifer Ehle headline.
Tom Cruise is Jack Reacher, in the film adapted from Lee Child’s novel, One Shot, about a former MP, now a drifter, who’s called to duty to find a hired killer. ‘Tis the season to be merry! Robert Duvall, Rosamund Pike, Werner Herzog, and Richard Jenkins co-star.
Cirque du Soleil fans of are awaiting their holiday bonus with Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away (Paramount) opening. Against the pageantry and outrageousness of the Felliniesque Cirque du Soleil, a.k.a. Circus Marvelous , a couple journey through 3-D dreamlike worlds to find each other.
Opening Christmas Day: Cameron Macintosh’s dreamed a dream of adapting his mega musical Les Misérables (Universal), from the Victor Hugo classic, into a film 10 years ago. It was worth the wait. . In a huge departure from the way movie musicals are made, the stars sang Claude-Michel Schönberg’s score and the English lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer [from the French by Alain Boublil] on set instead of lip syncing to pre-recorded takes. Tom Hooper’s film adds clarity to the story set in revolution crazy19th Century Paris, of broken dreams, passion, sacrifice, love, and redemption. Brutal policeman Javert, Russell Crowe [who makes an impressive effort to sing] is on a decades-long hunt for parole-breaking prisoner Jean Valjean, awesomely played by Hugh Jackman [there’s an Oscar nomination on his plate!].
Now, a successful factory owner, he aids ostracized worker Fantine, brilliant, heart-wrenching Anne Hathaway, and raises her daughter Cosette (Amanda Seyfried), snatching her out of the care of con-artists supreme, the Thénardiers, wonderfully overplayed by Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen. As the revelation builds steam, romance blossoms between Cosette and well-heeled rebel Marius (Eddie Redmayne). Samatha Barks (Eponine), Aaron Tveit (Enjolras), and Daniel Huttlestone (Gavroche) are excellent. Appearing in a cameo is Broadway’s original Valjean, Colm Wilkinson. Les Misérables: Highlights from the Motion Picture (Universal Republic; SRP $11.88), is available. Advisory: stock tissue! There’s no way even cynics will be dry-eyed. Don’t go see this movie if you have un Noël misérable . Wait a day or two!
The same might be said of Quentin Tarantino’s vigilante Spaghetti western set in the ante-bellum South, Django Unchained (Weinstein/Columbia ). We’ll never know what type of filmmaker the director/writer would’ve become had his mom not shipped him off to granny’s in Tennessee, and if granny had only arrived an hour or two earlier at that K-Mart to buy him the Evel Knievel toy he wanted for Christmas.
This film set against the shameful background of slavery is wild ‘n wooly ‘n raw, with tons of operatic violence. Books and films have noted there were field and house slaves; but who knew [if it’s to be believed] that hyporcritical owners also had fancy slaves dressed as showgirls and a slave as a father figure. Tarantino’s mind works in mysterious and wonderous ways.
He’s abetted by a superb cast: Jamie Foxx is a slave, bought and soon to be given his freedom by a bounty hunter, masquerading as a seemingly mild-mannered dentist, the excellent Viennese character actor Christoph Waltz (Supporting Oscar, Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds). Django [the "D" is silent] is of one mind: to find his legal wife, sold and separated from him [Kerry Washington]. This leads to the plantation owned by Calvin Candie, portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio, channeling all of Rhett Butler’s suaveness and the brutality of an ogre. Don Johnson appears briefly as plantation owner Big Daddy. Ted Neeley, Michael Parks, Don Stroud, Russ Tamblyn, Tom Wopat, and Franco Nero, the original Django, have cameos.
Samuel L. Jackson co-stars in the pivotal role of Uncle Stephen. I point this out because, thanks to incredible make-up artist Heba Thorisdottir and her team, you won’t ever recognize him. Snippets of memorable music by Ennio Morricone
from Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti westerns are featured.
Parental Guidance (20th Century Fox/Walden) with Bette Midler and Billy Crystal mistakenly offering to take care of the grandkids as the parents (Oscar winner Marisa Tomei, Tom Everett Scott) fly off.
DVDs: After all the Christmas festivities and between football games, you might be looking for a blockbuster movie to watch.
How about The Hunger Games (Lionsgate; DVD, SRP $15/two-disc Blu-ray; SRP $18.78 ), though more than a bit long at two hours and 23 minutes, is nonetheless the perfect antidote for all that holiday eating. The first film, and a controversial one at that, in the franchise based on Suzanne Collins 2008 young adult novel, is in the voice of 16-year-old Katniss, livings in the post-apocalyptic nation of Panem. The highly advanced Capitol holds the annual Hunger Games, where teenagers from various districts are selected by lottery to compete in a battle to the death. Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, and Donald Sutherland co-star. The Blu-ray Disc 2 features a watch-anywhere digital copy and bonus material galore.
These days, many wish to be transported to a different place or time. That’s possible in two DVDs suitable for watching nestled around a blazing fire with hot, buttered popcorn and egg nog. Martin Scorsese’s Hugo (three-disc Blu-ray 3-D with digital copy, SRP $55; two-disc Blu-ray with digital copy, SRP $27; DVD, SRP $20), 11 Oscars nominations, including Best Picture (excellent use of 3-D); is all about trains and magic. Ben Kinglsey and newcomers Asa Butterfield and Chloë Grace co-star, with a cameo by Jude Law.
Set sail for a fun-filled, swashbuckling adventure with a ragtag bunch of underdogs struggling to keep up with real booty-hunters in the hilarious, animated The Pirates: Band of Misfits (Columbia; Blu-ray 3-D; Blu-ray; SRP $13), loosely adapted from Gideon Defoe’s novel. Hugh Grant, Martin Freeman, Imelda Staunton, Jeremy Piven, and Salma Hayek are among the voices.
CDs: Susan Boyle in TV appearances looks as frightened as a deer in headlights; and all that fuss to try to make her into a babe doesn’t work. What does is her amazing voice. On Susan Boyle: Standing Ovation: The Greatest Songs from the Stage (Columbia; SRP, $11.88) you won’t a stranger to the tunes – "Bring Him Home," "Memory," "Over the Rainbow," "Send in the Clowns," "You’ll Never Walk Alone," for example — but this time round Boyle reinvents them. She duets on "The Music of the Night" with Michael Crawford and, with her new best friend, Donny Osmond, on "All I Ask of You" and "This Is the Moment."
An uplifting holiday collectible, and a memorable gift to a religious friend or your church’s music director is Advent at Ephesus (Decca) by Missouri’s Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles nuns (recently featured in People and on NPR), who’re reigning in the #1 position on Billboard’s Classical Traditional Chart for the fourth straight week. The 16 tracks, celebrating the anticipation during Advent of the anniversary of Christ’s birth, features traditional English and Latin hymns, Gregorian chants, medieval harmonies, and an hymn by the nuns.