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Nothing Like the Holidays

Nothing Like the Holidays
There are no ingredients in Nothing Like the Holidays that you're not already familiar with from other big-crazy-family Christmas movies. Then again, so what? The Christmas breakfast my mom makes every year never has anything new either -- in fact, there would be open rebellion if it did -- and that suits everyone just fine.

Nothing Like the Holidays is warm and comfortable in that way, mostly pleasant, mostly well acted, and moderately entertaining. Directed by Alfredo De Villa (Washington Heights), it boasts a luminous ensemble of Latino actors as two generations of Puerto Ricans living in Chicago's Humboldt Park neighborhood. It captures the cultural flavor of their yuletide festivities and intra-family squabbling without being so specific that non-Latino audiences can't appreciate it. Details aside, anyone with a family can relate to most of what happens here.

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The Karate Kid

The Karate Kid
The fact of the matter is it's been 26 years since the first Karate Kid, and given how many other movies have relied on the exact same formula, a full-fledged remake is pretty fair game. By moving things to China and casting 11-year-old Jaden Smith (as opposed to the 25-year-old Ralph Macchio of the original), Sony successfully put a fresh coat of paint on the rickety old story, and despite a gargantuan running time and paper-thin characters, it's kind of nice to see yet another kid learn the crane pose.

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Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is the breezy directorial debut of Lethal Weapon screenwriter Shane Black. Black knows film noir inside and out, because he uses the basic template here. He jazzes things up by employing an aware and self-deprecating narrator and toying with many of the clichés. Yet, although the tone is never more than semi-serious, and Black's tongue is never far from his cheek, we grow to like the characters. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang offers a few thrills, a surprise or two, and several wholehearted laughs. It gives off the same kind of vibe as Get Shorty.

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Elegy
Elegy, based on Philip Roth's The Dying Animal, provides an incisive perspective of how a person's inability to believe in love destroys a single, fragile chance at happiness. The movie tells the poignant tale of how one man - intelligent, urbane, and witty - represents his own worst enemy when it comes to relationships. Borrowing text liberally from the source material, screenwriter Nicholas Meyer's script not only chronicles the relationship, but provides insight into the mind of the protagonist. We recognize that the love affair is both inevitable and doomed, but watch anyway to see if somehow these two will find away to overcome their self-imposed obstacles.

David Kepesh is a professor of cultural criticism with a history of having short affairs with female students. His latest would-be conquest is Consuela Castillo (Penélope Cruz), the daughter of Cuban immigrants. Consuela, by David's admission, is a beautiful woman who is aware of her beauty but "isn't sure yet how to use it." It doesn't take long before David and Conseula are lovers but, unlike his previous bed-mates, this turns into more than a one-night stand. He begins to feel something for her that he hasn't ever before experienced, and it makes him jealous and distrustful. His best friend, George (Dennis Hopper), urges him to end the relationship before Consuela humiliates him by leaving him for someone younger. And, while David doesn't heed George's advice, he engages in behavior that guarantees the affair will not last. His obsession about the age difference makes David certain Consuela will eventually discard him, and this becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. His insecurities, not her proclivities, endanger any future they might have.

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Dirty Deeds

Dirty Deeds
Dirty Deeds boasts a passably entertaining idea that is butchered in the telling. The underlying premise offers the opportunity for some Animal House/American Pie/Revenge of the Nerds-style entertainment, but the unfunny screenplay and inadequate direction turn this into a predictable and depressing experience. One needs look no further than The 40 Year Old Virgin, also currently playing in theaters, to see how to do a raunchy comedy properly. Dirty Deeds, on the other hand, is a handbook of how to do it wrong.

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Echelon Conspiracy

Echelon Conspiracy
Echelon Conspiracy is a more evocative title than a movie this stupid deserves. Once again, Hollywood displays a blatant ignorance of the capabilities of modern computers by providing a "God machine" that seemingly has no limits, except when it comes to the simple things. The storyline hinges on contrivances so exaggerated and circumstances so implausible that it's never possible to take the movie seriously. Yet director Greg Marcks and his screenwriters stumble forward, hoping no one in the audience will take a moment to think about how paper-thin their "conspiracy" is - something that should be evident to anyone whose condition is short of a persistent vegetative state. And, no, I didn't like it any better when it was called Eagle Eye.

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Hitcher

Hitcher
1986's The Hitcher is not representative of a classic of the 1980s horror boom, so the decision by Michael Bay and company to re-make it is merely unnecessary, not sacrilegious. 20 years later, the original stands up well; there is no need to re-imagine it for today's generation. Nevertheless, for reasons understood only in Hollywood and having to do with a "$" sign, there seems to be a movement to re-create every horror title made in the '70s and '80s. And, while it may be odd to refer to The Hitcher as possessing a "soul," that's precisely what's lost in the 2007 edition. This is a mechanical gore-fest that offers preposterous stunts in place of escalating tension and waxwork mannequins in place of marginally interesting characters.

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The: Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King

The: Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King
According to the calendar, Christmas is December 25. According to the movie release schedule, it's December 17. There can be no greater gift for a movie lover than the one bestowed upon audiences by Peter Jackson, whose The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is not only the best movie of 2003, but the crowning cinematic achievement of the past several years. In fact, labeling this as a "movie" is almost an injustice. This is an experience of epic scope and grandeur, amazing emotional power, and relentless momentum.

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There's Something About Mary

There's Something About Mary
Awkward and shy 16-year-old high-schooler Ted Stroehmann (Ben Stiller) lands a prom date with his dream girl Mary Jensen (Cameron Diaz), just to have it cut short by a painful and embarrassing zipper accident involving his penis and ends up going to the hospital. After that, they lose touch with each other.

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The Shipping News

The Shipping News
The film makes a multitude of changes from the book, notably: Quoyle had two daughters in the novel, but only one in the film; in the film he does not begin working as a reporter until after arriving in Newfoundland; and a number of characters, such as the younger Buggit family, were deleted or merged.

It climaxes with a storm which destroys the Quoyle's ancestral family home and almost drowns the Gammy Bird's editor Jack Buggit, caught in the rope of a lobster pot while fishing. Buggit is thought to have drowned but is actually in a state of shock resulting from hypothermia. He regains consciousness during his wake in front of a large crowd of mourners, central to the theme of rebirth in the optimistic ending of the story.

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Fallen Angel

Fallen Angel
When his father dies, Terry (Gary Sinese) returns to the house where he grew up, planning to stay only long enough to clean and settle the estate. Yet something indescribable keeps him there longer than expected. Soon, he is reunited with memories and people from his past and his life is changed forever.

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American Bandits: Frank and Jesse James

American Bandits: Frank and Jesse James
After Jesse James is wounded by a bullet to the chest, Frank James splits the gang up and plans a rendezvous in four days time. With U.S.-Marshall Kane in hot pursuit, and betrayal within the outlaw band, the stage is set for a blazing and climactic shootout in the deserted town of Gila Wells.

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Eye of the Beholder

Eye of the Beholder
A nameless private eye shadows the same woman (who happens to be a serial killer of men) all over the U.S. for 10 + years, without her ever knowing and he strangely enough occasionally acts as her guardian angel.

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Ghosted

Ghosted
A model prisoner risk his own life and sanity to help a newcomer who has fallen under the spell of a psychotic convict.

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Jolene

Jolene
A teenage orphan spends ten years traveling cross-country experiencing life, love and heartbreak. Based on E.L. Doctorows story, Jolene A Life.

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Lord of the Flies

Lord of the Flies
After a plane crash in the ocean, a group of military students reach an island. Ralph organizes the boys, assigning responsibilities for each one. When the rebel Jack Merridew neglects the fire camp and they lose the chance to be seen by a helicopter, the group split under the leadership of Jack. While Ralph rationalizes the procedures, Jack returns to the primitivism, using the fear for the unknown (in a metaphor to the religion) to control the other boys, and hunting and chasing pigs, stealing the possession of Ralphs group and even killing people.

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