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Off To See The Wizards

CL's 2001 Holiday Film Preview

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Contrary to popular belief, there are more than just two movies being released during the upcoming holiday film season. No, really: Between all the requisite hype and fever-pitch audience anticipation, it just seems like the first entry in the Harry Potter franchise and the first chapter in the Lord of the Rings trilogy are the only two pictures being released by Hollywood between now and the end of the year.

In actuality, the holiday cinema season begins this Friday with the one movie guaranteed not to get buried in all the hoopla surrounding the J.R.R. Tolkien and J.K. Rowling adaptations: Monsters, Inc., the one film I expect to earn even more than the highly anticipated magic shows.

In other cinematic news, several of our most durable stars -- Tom Hanks, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson -- will be MIA this season, but other A-listers, like Tom Cruise, Julia Roberts and Jim Carrey, will be very much in the public spotlight. And then there are the double-dippers, actors each appearing in two of the upcoming titles: Gene Hackman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kristin Scott Thomas and Cate Blanchett are among those doubling their chances at grabbing Oscar nominations.

Speaking of Oscars, 'tis the season during which we can expect to see lots of contenders, movies on the order of The Shipping News, A Beautiful Mind and Vanilla Sky. Of course, as counter-programming to this sort of highfalutin' fare, expect to see a number of pure popcorn pictures like Black Knight, Not Another Teen Movie and the Charlotte-shot Shallow Hal.

Following is a roundup of 31 movies expected to open locally in the coming months, including the half-dozen slated to open here in 2002 after testing the year-end waters in New York and Los Angeles. And don't be surprised if some titles not on this list also turn up at your friendly neighborhood multiplex: Some films that have already opened elsewhere in the country (e.g., Waking Life, Liam, Fat Girl) will likely trickle into town over the course of the next few months.

NOVEMBER 2

DOMESTIC DISTURBANCEPlot: When a boy (Matthew O'Leary) known for telling lies insists that his new stepdad (Vince Vaughn) is a murderer, no one believes him except for his father (John Travolta).

The Good: Despite stumbling more often than a blind calf (in his career choices, that is), Travolta remains a highly charismatic actor, and playing an out-and-out hero might do wonders for his ailing image.

The Bad: As is too often the case these days, the preview reveals waaay too much. Are audiences ready to forgive Travolta for putting them through Swordfish, Lucky Numbers and Battlefield Earth during a 14-month span?

The Outlook: Thrillers, even good ones like Joy Ride, are no longer guaranteed money machines at the box office; still, if this can avoid getting torn asunder by the week's frightful competition, it should demonstrate that Travolta can still open a movie.

LIFE AS A HOUSE

Plot: After learning he's going to die, an architect (Kevin Kline) tries to make amends with his ex-wife (Kristin Scott Thomas) and his troubled teenage son (Hayden Christensen).

The Good: Kline and Thomas, of course. Christensen will be playing the teenage Anakin Skywalker in the next Star Wars film, so this allows audiences to get an early peek at him.

The Bad: Early reviews have run the gamut from one to four stars; if this pattern holds, New Line won't have the sort of unanimous raves this type of picture needs to survive.

The Outlook: A few discerning adults may turn out, but not enough to prevent this from collapsing. (See review in this issue's Film Clips section.)

MONSTERS, INC.

Plot: The truth about those creatures that hide in children's closets? They're actually more afraid of the kids than the kids are of them.

The Good: Based on the very funny preview, the Disney and Pixar studios may have another animated winner to go along with their Bug's Life and Toy Story triumphs. Among the funny folks providing voices are Billy Crystal, John Goodman and Steve Buscemi.

The Bad: The memorable monsters populating Shrek may have stolen some of this film's thunder.

The Outlook: A monster smash.

THE ONE

Plot: A man (Jet Li) learns that his alter ego from a parallel universe is trying to kill him.

The Good: James Wong (writer-director) and Glen Morgan (writer) are responsible for a number of popular X-Files episodes.

The Bad: After the dazzling stunts displayed in Iron Monkey, this has its work cut out for it in terms of being able to wow us with its moves.

The Outlook: By costing only $25 million apiece, Jet Li's last two films (Kiss of the Dragon and Romeo Must Die) both ended up in the black. With a reported gross of $70 million, The One won't be able to make that boast.

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