MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
James Bond has played poker, Borat has raised hackles, penguins have danced, and together, these films have managed to help Hollywood bounce back from last year's box-office slump. 2006 will not be setting records, but it's on track to break the $9 billion mark for only the fourth time in history, that's if the holiday films that open before the end of the year do well. With 38 days left in 2006, there are some 40 films still to open, including quite a few that hope to qualify for the Academy Awards.
Bob Mondello has a selective preview of the holiday season.
BOB MONDELLO: Hollywood is starting the season with a film about the season. A director known for movies about teenagers, Catherine Hardwicke, turns her attention to teens some 2,000 years ago who are dealing with an unexpected pregnancy on a lonely road far from home. Their names, Mary and Joseph. Their story, "The Nativity Story."
(Soundbite of film, "The Nativity Story")
Unidentified Man #1: You have found favor with God. You will give birth to a son.
Unidentified Woman #1: Do you know how much disgrace you have brought upon yourself, upon Joseph? Mary!
Ms. KEISHA CASTLE-HUGHES (Actress): (As Mary) I have broken no vow.
Unidentified Woman #1: Women have been put to death for this.
MONDELLO: "The Nativity Story" is a, shall we say, by the book recounting of the events leading up to the birth of Jesus, and the Good Book is just one of many that will be brought to the screen for the holidays. Among the others, "The Painted Veil," W. Somerset Maugham's novel about a young doctor who takes his wife deep into China in the 1920s.
(Soundbite of movie, "The Painted Veil")
Unidentified Man #2: It's the worst epidemic anyone's seen in a long time. I have volunteered to take charge.
Unidentified Woman #2: You can't be serious about taking me into the middle of the cholera epidemic.
Unidentified Man #2: Do you think that I'm not?
MONDELLO: Actually he is serious, to punish her for having an affair, while in the screen version of the bestseller "The Good German," George Clooney finds himself on the other side of an affair, one that gets him involved in black market intrigue in post-war Berlin.
And there's more from the library shelf, including the most expensive film ever made in Europe, an English language German picture about an 18th-century Frenchman who becomes notorious for his nose. It's "Perfume: The Story of a Murderer."
(Soundbite of film, "Perfume: The Story of a Murderer")
Unidentified Man #3: His phenomenal sense of smell was a gift that had been given to him and him alone.
MONDELLO: And what does he do with that gift? Well, from the title you know it's going to be lethal.
(Soundbite of film, "Perfume: The Story of a Murderer")
Unidentified Man #4: I'm creating a perfume.
Unidentified Man #5: A perfume of such power that every person on earth believed they were in paradise.
MONDELLO: Epic in sweep, gorgeous to look at, "Perfume: The Story of a Murderer" is a really dark holiday attraction, which is something you could also say about "Children of Men," which leaps from page to screen with a portrait of a future in which mankind doesn't seem to have a future.
(Soundbite of film, "Children of Men")
Unidentified Woman #4: The world was stunned today by the death of Diego Ricardo, the youngest person on the planet. The youngest person on earth was 18 years, 4 months, 20 days, 16 hours and 8 minutes old.
Mr. MICHAEL CAINE (Actor): (As Jasper Palmer) The ultimate mystery: Why are women infertile? Some say it's genetic experiments, pollution. Why do you think we can't make babies anymore?
Unidentified Man #7: It doesn't matter. It's all over in 50 years. It's too late.
MONDELLO: It makes global warming seem almost irrelevant, no? And while we're talking books, let's not forget the children's classic "Charlotte's Web," which arrives on screen with its live action barnyard populated by such vocal talents as Oprah Winfrey, Robert Redford, John Cleese and Julia Roberts.
(Soundbite of film, "Charlotte's Web")
Ms. JULIA ROBERTS (Actress): (As Charlotte A. Cavatica) My name is Charlotte, Charlotte A. Cavatica.
Unidentified Child #1: Hi. I've never met a spider before. What are you doing?
Ms. ROBERTS: Making breakfast.
Unidentified Child #1: Do you eat flies?
Ms. ROBERTS: No. I drink their blood.
(Soundbite of fainting)
Unidentified Man #8: Please don't hurt me.
MONDELLO: Also for kids are a couple of pictures with less literary pedigrees -An animated film called "Arthur and the Invisibles," about a boy on a quest for treasure in his own backyard, and a slapstick comedy called "Unaccompanied Minors," about an airport staff that has to deal the day before Christmas with a whole plane full of, well, unaccompanied minors.
(Soundbite of film, "Unaccompanied Minors")
Unidentified Man #9: I got unaccompanied minors.
(Soundbite of children screaming)
(Soundbite of angry cat)
Unidentified Child #2: Is this some kind of prison?
Unidentified Man #10: It could be worse.
(Soundbite of belching)
MONDELLO: Parents will no doubt be overjoyed. Happily, there are lighthearted films for adults too - a star-studded, house-swapping romance called "The Holiday," a May-December romantic comedy that's prompting Oscar talk for Peter O'Toole called "Venus," and a special effects comedy called "Night at the Museum" that seems to want to be this year's "Ghostbusters."
(Soundbite of film, "Night at the Museum")
Mr. DICK VAN DYKE (Actor): (As Cecil Fredericks) It can get a little spooky around here at night, so you might want to put a few lights on. And the most important thing of all to remember: Don't let anything in or out.
Unidentified Man #11: Out?
MONDELLO: Also relying on digital effects are a trio of spectacles - "Eragon," in which a farm boy fights dragons in a mythical kingdom, "Pan's Labyrinth," which explores the fantasies of a little girl during the Spanish Civil War, and "Curse of the Golden Flower," the latest martial-arts pageant from Chinese director Zhang Yimou.
(Soundbite of film, "Curse of the Golden Flower")
(Soundbite of sword fight)
MONDELLO: Another picture that's said to be pretty spectacular, though without so many digital effects, is Mel Gibson's "Apocalypto," a portrait of human sacrifice in the end times of the Mayan Empire. And sacrifice in pursuit of precious gems is what spurs Leonardo DiCaprio in "Blood Diamond." It also gives him a chance to try on a new accent. A few weeks ago in The Departed, he sounded Bostonian. This time he's South African.
(Soundbite of film, "Blood Diamond")
Mr. LEONARDO DICAPRIO (Actor): (As Danny Archer) Don't tell me you're here to make a difference, huh?
Unidentified Woman #5: And you're here to make a buck?
Mr. DICAPRIO: Now, in America it's bling-bling, but up here it's bling-bang.
MONDELLO: If the grandness and the suspense that are everywhere this holiday season seem like too much, there will also be what looks like a heaping helping of uplift and Christmas treacle, as Will Smith plays a homeless dad in "The Pursuit of Happyness," a town and a team come back from a horrendous football tragedy in "We Are Marshall," and a boxer returns who we all thought was finished - many times over.
(Soundbite of "Rocky Balboa")
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. SYLVESTER STALLONE (Actor): (As Rocky Balboa) I think I want to, like, fight. You know, nothing big - small stuff like locally.
Mr. MILO VENTIMIGLIA (Actor): (As Rocky Balboa, Jr.) What are you trying to prove, Pop?
Mr. STALLONE: I thought you might want to get involved.
Mr. VENTIMIGLIA: Don't you think you're too, you know, old?
MONDELLO: Rocky Balboa, back for one more final jab at glory, with Sylvester Stallone both in front of the camera and behind it, where he joins two other actors who will be sitting in the director's chair this Oscar season - Robert De Niro with his CIA story "The Good Shepherd" and Clint Eastwood with the Japanese side of his "Flags of Our Fathers" story, in "Letters from Iwo Jima."
But what's garnering the most Oscar talk is the film version of a Broadway musical from the 1980s, about a group not unlike the Supremes, called the Dreams. They are "Dreamgirls."
(Soundbite of film "Dreamgirls")
(Soundbite of song, "One Night Only")
Ms. BEYONCE KNOWLES (Actress): (Singing) One night only, one night only, that's all I have to spare. One night only, let's not pretend to care. I've got one night only, one night only.
MONDELLO: "Dreamgirls," dreaming of the one night only that matters, Oscar night, just like all the other kids in Tinseltown.
I'm Bob Mondello.