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'Tis The Season For Coming Attractions: What To Watch For At The Multiplex
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'Tis The Season For Coming Attractions: What To Watch For At The Multiplex

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'Tis The Season For Coming Attractions: What To Watch For At The Multiplex

'Tis The Season For Coming Attractions: What To Watch For At The Multiplex
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NPR film critic Bob Mondello offers a selective preview of the likely blockbusters and Oscar contenders that Hollywood has in store for the end of the year.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Happy Thanksgiving, and also welcome to holiday movie season. Boxers and animated dinosaurs are joining Katniss Everdeen and the other "Hunger Games" rebels at a theater near you. And what else does Hollywood have in store this season? Well, droids and light sabers for one thing. NPR critic Bob Mondello serves up his selections in this end-of-year preview.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STAR WARS MAIN THEME")

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Yeah, yeah, we'll come back to that. Most years, there are several blockbuster wannabes for the holidays. This year, even the superheroes have scooted out of the way of J.J. Abrams' intergalactic juggernaut. But that does not mean these star warriors will have the Cineplex to themselves. They'll be joined by seafarers, stockbrokers, Shakespeareans and a small army of "Saturday Night Live" alumni, including Will Ferrell as a step-dad who has to compete for his step-kids' affections with their real dad, Mark Wahlberg. In "Daddy's Home," the two of them have a kind of dad-off, even during bedtime stories.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DADDY'S HOME")

MARK WAHLBERG: (As Dusty) So the king raised his mighty sword. And he rained steel down upon the step-king.

WILL FERRELL: (As Brad) But the step-king blocked it with the shield.

WAHLBERG: (As Dusty) Step-king was very upset because when the real king pulled out his sword, it was long and shiny.

FERRELL: (As Brad) All the ladies of the land preferred the more average-sized step-king's sword because it knew how to listen.

MONDELLO: Elsewhere, Ferrell's "Saturday Night Live" gal-pals Amy Poehler and Tina Fey will be plowing similar comic ground, playing siblings who want to spruce up their family home for sale in "Sisters."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SISTERS")

TINA FEY: (As Kate Ellis) We are looking for a yard artisan to do some work on our bushes.

AMY POEHLER: (As Maura Ellis) I bet working on other people's bushes really makes you want to whack your weeds.

FEY: (As Kate Ellis) That was dirtier than I thought.

POEHLER: (As Maura Ellis) I'm sorry. That got dirty really fast.

MONDELLO: Other comedies include "Christmas Eve," in which six groups of New Yorkers get stuck in elevators during a power outage, "Christmas Again," in which a Brooklyn guy staves off holiday loneliness by selling Christmas trees, and "The Lady In The Van," the true story of what happened when a homeless woman parked one day on playwright Alan Bennett's street in London.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LADY IN THE VAN")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Sorry, you can't park here.

MAGGIE SMITH: (As Miss Shepherd) No, I've had guidance. This is where it should go.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Guidance? Who from?

SMITH: (As Miss Shepherd) The Virgin Mary. I spoke to her yesterday. She was outside the post office.

MONDELLO: That's Maggie Smith as the prickly Miss Shepherd, whom Bennett offered refuge in his driveway for a couple of weeks. She stayed - and remember, this is a true story - for 15 years.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LADY IN THE VAN")

ALEX JENNINGS: (As Alan Bennett) Would you like me to get you a cup of coffee?

SMITH: (As Miss Shepherd) No, no. I don't want you to go to all that trouble. I'll just have half a cup.

MONDELLO: Other true stories are more serious than "Lady In The Van." "Concussion," for instance, features Will Smith as the Nigerian-born doctor who saw professional athletes becoming incapacitated in their primes and thought he knew why.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CONCUSSION")

WILL SMITH: (As Dr. Bennet Omalu) Repetitive head trauma chokes the brain. It turns you into someone else.

MONDELLO: The NFL, though, didn't want to hear that.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CONCUSSION")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Tape, needles, Vicodin, Toradol, whatever it takes to keep them in the game. It's business.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Get me a meeting with the commissioner.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) They don't want to talk to you.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) The NFL has known about the concussion issue for years.

MONDELLO: Also making drama of a real-life scandal, "The Big Short" is the story of the mortgage meltdown that led up to the global economic collapse in 2008, based on a best-seller. And featuring Christian Bale, Steve Carell and Brad Pitt, it's told from the point of view of the very few folks who saw the crash coming.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE BIG SHORT")

RYAN GOSLING: (As Jared Vennett) No one's paying attention.

STEVE CARELL: (As Mark Baum) The banks got greedy. And we can profit off of their stupidity.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As character) You want to bet against the banks?

BRAD PITT: (As Ben Rickert) They'll think we're either high or having a stroke - kind of brilliant.

MONDELLO: Think of "The Big Short" as a heist movie with real-life consequences and a good deal of humor.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE BIG SHORT")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #5: (As character) How could the banks let this happen?

GOSLING: (As Jared Vennett) It's fueled by stupidity.

CARELL: (As Mark Baum) But that's not stupidity. That's fraud.

GOSLING: (As Jared Vennett) Tell me the difference between stupid and illegal, and I'll have my wife's brother arrested.

MONDELLO: Also drawn from real life and providing another chance for Eddie Redmayne to show his versatility, "The Danish Girl," in which last year's Oscar winner plays a 1920s character.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE DANISH GIRL")

EDDIE REDMAYNE: (As Lili Elbe) Every morning, I promise myself that I will spend the entire day as a man.

MONDELLO: He plays Lili Elbe, a transgender woman.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE DANISH GIRL")

REDMAYNE: (As Lili Elbe) I think Lili's thoughts. I dream her dreams.

MONDELLO: Speaking of dreams, enough of real life. The holidays are a time for fantasy, for legend, for conflicts of sweep and grandeur.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STAR WARS MAIN THEME")

MONDELLO: No, no, not yet. Some of the holidays' biggest spectacles come with literary pedigrees, Michael Fassbender in a grizzly Shakespearean tragedy.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MACBETH")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS #1: (As character) All hail Macbeth, that shall be king hereafter.

MONDELLO: A "Moby Dick" origin story from Ron Howard, called "In The Heart Of The Sea."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "IN THE HEART OF THE SEA")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #6: (As character) Abandon ship.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #7: (As character) We can't row away home.

MONDELLO: A thousand-and-one tales of economic distress in a three-part, six-hour, "Arabian Nights."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ARABIAN NIGHTS")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #8: (As character) Do you think we'll get fired?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #9: (As character) Most probably, it occurs (unintelligible).

MONDELLO: And perhaps the grandest of all the Christmas season movies in presentation, at least, more than three hours long, shot in 70 millimeter and presented with both an intermission and an overture...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STAR WARS MAIN THEME")

MONDELLO: No, not that one. It's a western that Quentin Tarantino has titled to sound bigger than "The Magnificent Seven." It's called, "The Hateful Eight."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE HATEFUL EIGHT")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #10: (As character) One of them fellas is not what he says he is.

MONDELLO: "The Hateful Eight" is not the only western out there. There's also "The Revenant," with a left-for-dead and out-for-vengeance Leonardo DiCaprio. Spike Lee, meanwhile, has made a movie that's anti-violence, "Chi-Raq," an update of the ancient Greek satire "'Les Estrada," in which women end a war by withholding sex.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CHI-RAQ")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS #2: (As character) Repeat after me. I will deny all rights of access or entrance.

MONDELLO: In "Chi-Raq," the women of in Chicago use this strategy to end gang warfare.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CHI-RAQ")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #11: (As character) Les Estrada had them all take a solemn oath.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #12: (As character)The situation's out of control because I'm in front of an empty stripper pole.

MONDELLO: Empowered women will show up elsewhere over the holidays as well. The shorthand description of the movie "Joy," is that it's the story of Joy Mangano, housewife, mother and inventor of the Miracle Mop.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "JOY")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS #3: Making an invention, and it's very serious.

MONDELLO: But director David O. Russell and star Jennifer Lawrence have a grander story in mind of the strength of will it took to create a corporate empire.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "JOY")

JENNIFER LAWRENCE: (As Joy) Never speak on my behalf about my business again.

MONDELLO: Jennifer Lawrence's performance is garnering Oscar buzz, as is Charlotte Rampling's quietly devastating turn as a woman who is blindsided by a revelation from long ago and who all but shreds a long and happy marriage in the film "45 Years."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "45 YEARS")

CHARLOTTE RAMPLING: (As Kate Mercer) We never talked about it in all the years that we've known each other. And it's tainted everything.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #13: (As character) You didn't know her.

RAMPLING: (As Kate Mercer) No. I didn't.

MONDELLO: Another relationship drama with an odd twist - actually, lots of odd twists, the least of which is that it involves puppets - is "Anomalisa." Filmmaker Charlie Kaufman is the creator of some very strange films, "Being John Malkovich," "Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind." But this may be his oddest yet, an affair between a guy that sees a world where everyone's the same...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ANOMALISA")

DAVID THEWLIS: (As Michael Stone) Remember there is someone out there for everyone.

MONDELLO: And a gal named Lisa, who he sees as different, an anomaly - "Anomalisa."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ANOMALISA")

THEWLIS: (As Michael Stone) I think you're extraordinary.

JENNIFER JASON LEIGH: (As Lisa) Why?

THEWLIS: (As Michael Stone) I don't know yet. It's just obvious to me that you are.

MONDELLO: The idea is that you'll forget that these two are made of felt and just experience the emotions they've felt. That's the best of the rest. Now let's acknowledge the holiday movie to which all these others must bow, the 800 pound Wookiee at the multiplex - cue the Jedi Knights.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS")

HARRISON FORD: (As Han Solo) The dark side.

MONDELLO: Harrison Ford's back. So are Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS")

FORD: (As Han Solo) The Jedi.

MONDELLO: Along with Lawrence Kasdan, the writer of two of the first three movies, to let us know that the force awakens, and with it the fantasies of generations.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS")

FORD: (As Han Solo) They're real.

MONDELLO: Well, who doesn't know that? Catch you in line? I'm Bob Mondello.

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