2022 Holiday Movie Preview: Avatar, Emancipation, Babylon, Women Talking, Living Avatar returns, Will Smith stars in a Civil War epic and Bill Nighy is Living. Also, a compelling novel adaptation and three hours of Jazz-era decadence. Find out what else the studios have in store.

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5 films we can't wait to see: Here's Hollywood's holiday bounty

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

With Spielberg, Disney and "Wakanda Forever" as incentives, audiences are finally returning to movie theaters this weekend. So how will the film industry keep the momentum going? Critic Bob Mondello is here to tell us in his holiday movie preview.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Even if nothing else were opening between now and New Year's Eve, Hollywood would be pumped about the sequel to the biggest box-office smash of all time. "Avatar: The Way Of Water" has been aborning for more than a decade.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER")

SIGOURNEY WEAVER: (As Kiri) I hear her heartbeat.

MONDELLO: That appears to be Pandora she hears - the planet itself.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER")

WEAVER: (As Kiri) Just so close.

MONDELLO: And Sigourney Weaver's an entirely new character - a Na'vi teenager and part of the Blue Defenders, led by former human, Jake Scully (ph).

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER")

SAM WORTHINGTON: (As Jake Sully) So what does her heartbeat sound like?

MONDELLO: Where the first "Avatar" marked big advances in film technology, director James Cameron says Pandora this time will be...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER")

WEAVER: (As Kiri) Mighty.

MONDELLO: It had better be. This is the first of four planned sequels. "Avatar: Way Of Water" is expected to dominate the holidays at the box office, but it's hardly the season's only big film. The Civil War epic, "Emancipation" is based on the true story of a man who became a potent symbol for the cruelty of slavery.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "EMANCIPATION")

WILL SMITH: (As Peter) They beat me. They whipped me. They break the bones in my body more times than I can count.

MONDELLO: This was cruelty made undeniable, when photos of horrific whipping scars, disfiguring his back, were published in 1863.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "EMANCIPATION")

SMITH: (As Peter) But they never, never break me.

MONDELLO: Will Smith stars - his first role after an Oscar ceremony where he won best actor and slapped Chris Rock.

Scandals of an earlier Hollywood era are the subject of a gargantuan comedy called "Babylon."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BABYLON")

BRAD PITT: (As Jack Conrad) When I first moved to LA, the signs on all the doors said, no actors or dogs allowed. I changed that.

MONDELLO: Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie are directed by "La La Land's" Damien Chazelle in a more than three-hour romp through Tinseltown's Roaring '20s.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BABYLON")

MARGOT ROBBIE: (As Nellie LaRoy) If I had money, I would only spend it on things that were fun - not boring things, like taxes. I just want for everyone to party forever.

MONDELLO: Comedies with a lighter footprint than three hours include "A Man Called Otto," a remake of a Swedish cranky old man dramedy. They've cast the remake seriously against type. The cranky old man is played by Tom Hanks.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "A MAN CALLED OTTO")

TOM HANKS: (As Otto) You cannot use this road without a permit.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Have a nice day, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character, speaking Spanish).

HANKS: (As Otto) No, no. No, no no. Stop.

MONDELLO: Think maybe a new neighbor will soften him up?

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "A MAN CALLED OTTO")

MARIANA TREVINO: (As Marisol) I brought you some food.

HANKS: (As Otto) OK.

TREVINO: (As Marisol) OK.

HANKS: (As Otto) Bye.

TREVINO: (As Marisol) Are you always this unfriendly?

HANKS: (As Otto) I am not unfriendly.

TREVINO: (As Marisol) OK, you're not. Every word you say is like a warm cuddle.

MONDELLO: Not a lot of cuddling in other winter comedies either. "Four Samosas" is about a South Asian American rapper determined to break up his former girlfriend's engagement.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "FOUR SAMOSAS")

VENK POTULA: (As Vinny) We were meant to be together.

SUMMER BISHIL: (As Rina) I got tired of waiting for you.

POTULA: (As Vinny) That makes no sense.

BISHIL: (As Rina) Life makes no sense. But still, we persist.

MONDELLO: And for R-rated Christmas cheer, there's "Violent Night," in which a family's holiday celebrations are disrupted by a home invasion.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "VIOLENT NIGHT")

JOHN LEGUIZAMO: (As Mr. Scrooge) All right, revelers. Welcome to your worst Christmas ever.

MONDELLO: And the disruption gets disrupted by...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "VIOLENT NIGHT")

LEAH BRADY: (As Trudy Lightstone) Santa?

MONDELLO: The real one.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "VIOLENT NIGHT")

DAVID HARBOUR: (As Santa Claus) Santa Claus is coming to town for some season's beatings.

MONDELLO: But comedy and even action aren't the rule this holiday season. Serious dramas, many with Oscar hopes, have been waiting out the pandemic, and they'll arrive in force as award season gets underway. Stories of parent-child conflict - specifically, father and son in "The Son," which stars Hugh Jackman...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "FATHER AND SON")

HUGH JACKMAN: (As Peter) What's going on? Are you on drugs?

ZEN MCGRATH: (As Nicholas) I don't know what's happening to me.

MONDELLO: ...Mother and daughter in "The Eternal Daughter," in which Tilda Swinton plays both a middle-aged woman and her elderly mother...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE ETERNAL DAUGHTER")

TILDA SWINTON: (As Julie) Mom, we're here.

(As Rosalind) Are we the only people staying here?

MONDELLO: ...And father and daughter in "The Whale," with Brendan Fraser as a 600-pound man who is determined to reconnect with his estranged daughter.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE WHALE")

BRENDAN FRASER: (As Charlie) Do you ever get the feeling people are incapable of not caring?

MONDELLO: Other family stories include Noah Baumbach's decidedly weird look at a college professor and his brood coping with what seems to be an ongoing apocalypse.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "WHITE NOISE")

MAY NIVOLA: (As Steffie) They don't look scared in the Crown Victoria.

RAFFEY CASSIDY: (As Denise) No, they're laughing.

SAM NIVOLA: (As Heinrich) These guys aren't laughing.

M NIVOLA: (As Steffie) Where?

S NIVOLA: (As Heinrich) In the Country Squire.

ADAM DRIVER: (As Jack Gladney) What does it matter what they're doing in other cars?

M NIVOLA: (As Steffie) I want to know how scared I should be.

MONDELLO: Pretty scared, actually. And that also describes Jim Parsons' situation, when his boyfriend falls ill. In a film based on the memoir, "Spoiler Alert," the hero dies.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SPOILER ALERT")

JIM PARSONS: (As Michael Ausiello) What is going on? Are you all right?

BEN ALDRIDGE: (As Kit Cowan) Come down off the ledge, Mike. I'm seeing a doctor tomorrow.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ONE LIFE")

JAMES BAY: (Singing) I've been having dreams...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SPOILER ALERT")

SHUNORI RAMANATHAN: (As Dr. Lucas) I'm afraid the news isn't good.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ONE LIFE")

BAY: (Singing) Forever ain't forever if we're not together.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SPOILER ALERT")

PARSONS: (As Michael Ausiello) I was always afraid Kit would break my heart, and eventually he did. He broke it open.

MONDELLO: Bottled-up feelings also an issue in another film for Olivia Colman...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "EMPIRE OF LIGHT")

OLIVIA COLMAN: (As Hilary Small) You can't just give up.

MONDELLO: ...Stuck in a dead end job at the Empire movie theater in the 1980s.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "EMPIRE OF LIGHT")

COLMAN: (As Hilary Small) Don't let them tell you what you can or can't do.

MONDELLO: She all but explodes when she goes off her meds and finally lets her feelings out in the Sam Mendes ode to cinema, "Empire Of Light."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "EMPIRE OF LIGHT")

COLMAN: (As Hilary Small) All these people. I'm the only one who knows the truth. Do you understand me? I'm the only one.

MONDELLO: Another film based on a Kurosawa classic that would likely have played at the Empire theater is about a reserved 1950s office drone who's far too buttoned-down for that sort of outburst.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LIVING")

BILL NIGHY: (As Mr. Williams) Life just crept up on me, one day preceding the next.

Good morning, gentlemen.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS #1: (As characters) Good morning, Mr. Williams.

NIGHY: (As Mr. Williams) Not happy, not unhappy. A small wonder I didn't notice.

MONDELLO: The film is called "Living," and it stars Bill Nighy.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LIVING")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) Mr. Williams - doctor will see you now.

NIGHY: (As Mr. Williams) Quite.

MONDELLO: Even when Mr. Williams cuts loose in "Living," he retains his reserve.

In Sarah Polley's adaptation of the novel, "Women Talking," the women in a religious commune are also reserved because they've been instructed that it's not their place to express themselves until...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "WOMEN TALKING")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As character) And we could not endure any more violence.

MONDELLO: Now, they have a brief respite. Their abusers - all the community's men - are in jail, posting bond. And while they're away, the women discuss what should come next.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "WOMEN TALKING")

SHEILA MCCARTHY: (As Greta) We have been preyed upon like animals. Maybe we should respond like animals.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #5: (As character) How would you feel if, in your entire life, it never mattered what you thought? When we liberated ourselves, we will have to ask ourselves who we are.

MONDELLO: Things aren't much better for women in foreign films, though their filmmakers also tend to find ways for them to assert themselves. In Korea's "Broker," a young mom has to contend with con-men baby brokers. And in Austria's "Corsage," a 19th-century empress is expected to be attractive, slender and decorative.

Happily, kid flicks to the rescue - in a corner of the "Shrek" universe, male vanity is on full display.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "PUSS IN BOOTS: THE LAST WISH")

ANTONIO BANDERAS: (As Puss in Boots) I am Puss in Boots.

MONDELLO: In "The Last Wish," our hero is down to the last of his nine lives...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "PUSS IN BOOTS: THE LAST WISH")

BANDERAS: (As Puss in Boots) So this is where dignity goes to die.

MONDELLO: ...And a pint-sized schoolgirl who was last seen on Broadway is putting her foot down.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MATILDA THE MUSICAL")

ALISHA WEIR: (As Matilda Wormwood) No. That's not right.

MONDELLO: In "Matilda The Musical."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MATILDA THE MUSICAL")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS #2: (As characters, singing) We are revolting children, living in revolting times.

MONDELLO: There are also films based a little more closely on real life - a lot more closely in the case of a full dozen December documentaries on everything from climate crisis in "To The End" to a pair of literary lions in "Turn Every Page" - political writer Robert Caro and his editor, Robert Gottlieb.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "TURN EVERY PAGE")

ROBERT GOTTLEIB: He does the work. I do the cleanup. Then we fight.

MONDELLO: And speaking of fighting, the holidays wouldn't be the holidays without a celebrity biopic. This year's is "I Want to Dance With Somebody" about the troubled life and majestic voice of singer Whitney Houston.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "I WANT TO DANCE WITH SOMEBODY")

CLARKE PETERS: (As John Houston) We're building something here, so you just keep singing.

NAOMI ACKIE: (As Whitney Houston) Daddy - my money. I trusted you. You were meant to look out for me.

MONDELLO: A movie ticket to stuff every stocking from a dream factory sometimes known as Tinseltown. I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU")

WHITNEY HOUSTON: (Singing) I will always love you. I will always love you. I will always...

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