'Avatar,' Family Films To Dominate Movie Screens

Vampires and werewolves are so last weekend. Get ready for the blue-tailed navie in a special-effects blowout called Avatar. The movie's claim that its special effects will be an industry game-changer has scared away the season's usual sci-fi and sorcery flicks. This December features mostly down-to-earth stories about families, romance, crime-solvers and the occasional singing chipmunk.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News on this Thanksgiving Day. I'm Melissa Block.

It is the season for Oscar hopefuls and aspiring holiday hits. Theaters will be packed with films for the rest of the year. There are 35 days left in the year, and 31 movie openings.

We asked Bob Mondello for a selective holiday preview.

BOB MONDELLO: Vampires and werewolves are so last weekend. Get ready for the blue-tailed Navi. In a special effects blowout called �Avatar,� they populate a whole planet, and they have something we want.

(Soundbite of movie, �Avatar�)

Unidentified Man #1: This is why we are here - because this little gray rock sells for $20 million a kilo. Their village happens to be resting on the richest deposit, and they need to relocate.

MONDELLO: So, how to remove the Navi? Send in the Marines.

(Soundbite of movie, �Avatar�)

Unidentified Man #2: The concept is to drive these remotely controlled bodies with avatars.

Unidentified Man #3: They're grown from human DNA mixed with DNA of the natives.

Unidentified Man #4: Marines in an avatar body - that's a potent mix.

MONDELLO: Directed by James Cameron, the guy who made �Titanic,� �Avatar� is touted as having special effects so special, they'll be an industry game changer. Guess we'll see about that. But just that claim has scared away the season's usual sci-fi and sorcery flicks. This December features mostly down-to-earth stories about families, romance, crime solvers - and the occasional singing chipmunk.

(Soundbite of song)

MONDELLO: �Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel� is about a battle of the bands and general mayhem.

Unidentified Man #5: Are you boys behaving?

Unidentified Charactor: I don't know - maybe, maybe.

(Soundbite of noise)

Unidentified Man #5: What was that?

Unidentified Charactor: (Unintelligible).

MONDELLO: The only other upcoming family film is Disney's �Princess and the Frog,� but there are plenty of films about families. A French one called �Ricky� has an infant who goes airborne and, no, he's not the balloon boy. Germany's �The White Ribbon� is about a choir full of children whose families start having bizarre accidents. And a thriller called �The Lovely Bones� is about a child who is dead but still around.

(Soundbite of movie, �The Lovely Bones�)

Unidentified Child: I might be gone, but I was alive in in my own perfect world. But in my heart, I know it wasn't perfect. My murderer is still haunting me.

MONDELLO: �The Lovely Bones� is directed by Peter Jackson, and represents something of a change from his �Lord of the Rings� trilogy. Family is also central in �Everybody's Fine,� where Robert De Niro pays surprise visits to his four adult children, discovering everybody is not fine. And in �Brothers,� when a soldier is declared missing in action, his younger sibling steps up to take care of his family, becoming a new dad to the kid.

(Soundbite of movie, �Brothers�)

Mr. JAKE GYLLENHAAL (Actor): (As Tommy Cahill) Know your dad saved me in that water when we were kids. You know, you're like your dad.

MONDELLO: And a new lover for the wife. Then comes that unexpected phone call.

(Soundbite of movie, �Brothers�)

(Soundbite of phone ring)

Ms. NATALIE PORTMAN (Actor): (As Grace Cahill) Hello?

Mr. TOBEY MAGUIRE (Actor): (As Captain Sam Cahill): I want to talk to my wife.

MONDELLO: Toby Maguire is the soldier; Jake Gyllenhaal his younger brother. But enough seriousness, it's the holidays, a time for a escapism - say, a thrill ride version of �Sherlock Holmes,� starring Robert Downey Jr. as the sleuth and Jude Law as a put-upon Dr. Watson.

(Soundbite of movie, �Sherlock Holmes�)

Mr. ROBERT DOWNEY JR. (Actor): (As Sherlock Homes) You've never complained about my methods before.

Mr. JUDE LAW (Actor): (As Dr. John Watson) I never complain. When do I complain about you practicing your violin at 3 in the morning or your mess, your general lack of hygiene and the fact that you steal my clothes? Holmes, does your depravity know no bounds?

Mr. DOWNEY JR.: No�

MONDELLO: Another period piece, �The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus,� features an antice final screen performance by Heath Ledger as a magician's assistant.

(Soundbite of movie, �The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus�)

Mr. HEATH LEDGER (Actor): (As Tony) Oh, late, late for a very important date - I can't say how many times I've heard that in my life. Listen, can I ask you a question? Do you dream - or should I say, can you put a price on your dreams?

MONDELLO: When Ledger died midway through the film shoot, director Terry Gilliam recruited Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell to act his remaining scenes. If that sounds unlikely, it's not nearly as odd as some of the holiday season's plotlines, especially the ones for romantic comedies. In �Serious Moonlight,� Meg Ryan will keep her hubby from leaving her by duct taping him to a toilet.

(Soundbite of movie, �Serious Moonlight�)

Mr. TIMOTHY HUTTON (Actor): (As Ian) You can't keep a person hostage until they love you.

Ms. MEG RYAN (Actor): (As Louise) Come on, Ian, I'm sure it's been done before.

MONDELLO: There's also �Did You Hear About the Morgans?� which sends a soon-to-divorce couple, Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker, into the witness-protection program together. Then �It's Complicated� makes Meryl Streep the other woman in her ex-husband's new marriage. And �Up in the Air,� pairs frequent flier George Clooney with someone who's attracted to his mileage.

(Soundbite of movie, �Up in the Air�)

Ms. VERA FARMIGA (Actor): (As Alex Goran) I put up pretty pedestrian numbers, 60,000 domestic.

Mr. GEORGE CLOONEY (Actor): (As Ryan Bingham) That's not bad.

Ms. FARMIGA: (As Alex Goran) Don't patronize me. What's your total?

Mr. CLOONEY: (As Ryan Bingham) That's a personal question.

Ms. FARMIGA: (As Alex Goran) Please.

Mr. CLOONEY: (As Ryan Bingham) We hardly know each other.

Ms. FARMIGA: (As Alex Goran) Oh, come on, impress me.

Oh, that is huge.

Mr. CLOONEY: (As Ryan Bingham) You have no idea.

MONDELLO: Comparatively down to earth, if not entirely conventional, is the more serious gay love story told in �A Single Man,� which is garnering Oscar talk about its star, Colin Firth. Oscar season is also a time for biopics. And this year, they're so classy that Clint Eastwood has given the one he's directed a title in Latin, �Invictus,� which means undefeated. It stars Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela, and Matt Damon as a very surprised South African rugby player.

(Soundbite of movie, �Invictus�)

Mr. MATT DAMON (Actor): (As Francois Pienaar) I've been invited to tea.

Unidentified Woman: Who?

Mr. DAMON: (As Francois Pienaar) The president.

Mr. MORGAN FREEMAN (Actor): (As Nelson Mandela) Tell me, Francois, how do we inspire ourselves to greatness where nothing less will do? How do we inspire everyone around us?

Unidentified Woman: What did he want?

Mr. DAMON: (As Francois Pienaar) I think he wants us to win the World Cup.

MONDELLO: From �Invictus� to a literary biography, �The Last Station,� about Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy and his wife, played by Helen Mirren, who struggled with Tolstoy's followers to control his legacy.

(Soundbite of movie, �The Last Station�)

Ms. HELEN MIRREN (Actor): (As Sofya Tolstoy) Do you forget that I'm an experienced reader so I can read your face, every letter. It's not something made to understand by a circle of disciples of my husband's. They've never understood a word he's ever written.

MONDELLO: �The Last Station� is based on a historical novel, while �The Young Victoria� leans on historical facts about an isolated royal teenager.

(Soundbite of movies, �The Young Victoria�)

Ms. EMILY BLUNT (Actor): (As Young Victoria) Do you ever feel like a chess piece in a game being played against your will?

Mr. RUPERT FRIEND (Actor): (As Prince Albert) Do you?

Ms. BLUNT: (As Young Victoria) Constantly.

Mr. FRIEND: (As Prince Albert) Then you had better master the rules of the game until you play it better than they can.

Ms. BLUNT: (As Young Victoria) You don't recommend that I find a husband to play it for me?

Mr. FRIEND: (As Prince Albert) Not for you - with you.

MONDELLO: Emily Blunt plays the young Victoria. And then there is �Nine,� which is sort of a biopic though one where the bio part is the least of it. Italian director Federico Fellini was telling his own story in his movie �8 1/2,� then Broadway added music and called it �Nine.� And now �Nine,� about the director and his women, comes to the screen.

(Soundbite of movie, �Nine�)

Ms. JUDI DENCH (Actor): (As Lilli) Directing a movie is a very overrated job, we all know it. You just have to say yes or no. What else do you do? Nothing. Maestro, should this be red? Yes. Green? No. More extras? Yes. More lipstick? No. Yes. No. Yes. No. That's directing.

MONDELLO: Actually, directing is Rob Marshall, looking to top his Oscar-winning �Chicago� with an even starrier musical cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Penelope Cruz, Nicole Kidman, Judi Dench, Sophia Loren - in short, a lot of Oscar dates.

I'm Bob Mondello.

(Soundbite of music)

BLOCK: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

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