Winter Movie Preview: O Starry Night (2023)

November 30, 2006

The Good German

Winter Movie Preview: O Starry Night (1)

Courtesy of Sony Pictures

It’s a black-and-white Christmas, and all through the house, this audience will snore while Toby Maguire squeals like a mouse. If your holiday wish is a somber and stylistically authentic recollection of the Cold War paranoia your grandparents still drone on about – with a taste of modern Hollywood that only Danny Ocean and Spiderman can offer – Steven Soderbergh is your Santa Claus. His latest ode to a time before color follows two superpowers: the United States and the USSR, as they compete for control of post-WWII Germany; and two superstars: George Clooney and Maguire, as they duke it out over the affections of a conniving prostitute (Cate Blanchett) for a “”Casablanca””-inspired dose of espionage and intrigue. Dec. 25.

– Josh Christensen

Staff Writer

The Blood Diamond

The crew and cast of “”Blood Diamond”” isn’t shy about it: Their film is meant as a commentary. And while most of the prerelease gossip whispers about the film’s stance on the global diamond industry, actor Djimon Hounsou says the film, in which he plays a slave miner who happens upon some rare bling, touches on other African troubles.

“”We’re not just talking about the illicit trade of diamonds,”” Hounsou said in an interview. “”It’s about child soldiers, the displacement of villages, wide-spread corruption throughout the country and so many other things that afflict Africans.””

Joining Hounsou on the crusade is Leonardo DiCaprio, playing a heartless but conflicted arms dealer, and Jennifer Connelly as a fresh-faced journalist investigating diamond commerce’s shameless rape of slave workers in Africa’s diamond fields. They all wrangle and rile in the messy, war-torn backdrop of Sierra Leone, where Hounsou races to save his family from the clutches of Arnold Vosloo in his umpteenth tour as a villain.

Pick any standard film-with-a-political-message element (for example: children at risk and families dismantled because of a syndicate of evil people), and “”Blood Diamond”” has it. But the film’s emotional gravitas, DiCaprio said, sets it apart from its pedestrian counterparts, and drawing him to his second critically hyped role this year.

“”A political film doesn’t bring any tangible change to audience,”” he said. “”One hand feeds another. But it’s rare that such a moving story be attached to something political like this, and I jumped at the opportunity.””

Shooting on location, the crew was slammed by the worst of the African environment. Flaring heat, sudden rainstorms and layers of dust made the production unforgiving, but nothing can rattle a Hollywood star with an agenda.

“”It was harsh,”” DiCaprio said of the filming. “”It was physically and emotionally demanding. But it was for a greater cause, for the people of Africa. And that was what changed all of us.””

Amnesty International has thrown its support behind the film, and an official off-shoot Web site encourages audiences to support the film’s cause.

But if you’re more inclined to believe DiCaprio himself – and missed Don Cheadle’s “”Hotel Rwanda””, Tim Robbins’ “”Catch a Fire”” and the classic “”Tsotsi”” – a trip to see “”Blood Diamond”” could convince you of Africa’s economic and social corrosion, then part you from a dollar or two in donations. Dec. 8.

– Charles Nguyen, Senior Staff Writer

Children of Men

In 2009, all women will suddenly become infertile. By 2027, humanity will have descended into chaotic dystopia. Activist-turned-bureaucrat Clive Owen is recruited by ex-wife Julianne Moore and her band of humanitarian rebels to save the world’s last hope: a mysteriously pregnant teenager, the first in 18 years. Not only does this sci-fi film take a frightening look at the future, it does so with pure realism – London 2027 has every last technological detail, coupled with street grit and grime that shows a society long devastated and without hope for survival. Director Alfonso Cuaron is known for his breathtaking and innovative style, from the sexual tour-de-force “”Y Tu Mama Tambien”” to the family fare of “”Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”” – and his latest seems to be no exception. Dec. 25.

– Chris Mertan, Staff Writer

Black Christmas

What could beat watching a group of sorority girls getting hacked to bits over the holiday season? Throw in cookies made out of family members and possible nudity – Christmastime gold. “”Black Christmas”” is a remake of the 1974 classic, where eight “”sisters”” receive menacing phone calls from a previous house resident and begin to die – yes, you guessed it – one by one! The original, a brilliant little gem predating the rise of the “”slasher flick”” in the 1970s, was remarkably scary and surprisingly tidy, as it relied on the unseen rather than smearing it across the screen.

Unfortunately for every horror buff out there, remakes usually translate into “”Add more blood!,”” and director Glen Morgan hasn’t picked actresses we can root for – or even gawk at. However, one of the originals – the talented Andrea Martin, who played Phyllis in the ’74 version – now tackles the role of Mrs. Mac. Dec. 25.

– Autumn Schuster, Contributing Writer

The Pursuit of Happyness

Inspired by a true story, “”The Pursuit of Happyness”” stars Will Smith – with graying roots and some mean facial hair – as Chris Gardner, who has just stumbled onto custody of his son (played by Smith’s own, Jaden) after the kid is abandoned by his mother. Realizing that his stagnant career won’t sufficiently provide for two, Gardner makes a decision to shoot for a high-paying, professional job. But while struggling to land an internship, father and son must first endure the trials of being broke: The two are evicted, and at one point forced to sleep in public restrooms at the subway station. “”Pursuit”” is the holiday’s ultimate feel-good movie – because what could better capture the Christmas spirit than a family’s realization that the pursuit of happiness revolves around cold, hard cash? Dec. 15.

– Quynh Nhu Nguyen, Staff Writer

Notes on a Scandal

A story about loneliness, lust and envy, “”Notes on a Scandal”” reads like a headline from the National Enquirer and will – hopefully – be just as juicy. The new art teacher on campus, Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett), becomes involved in an illicit affair with a younger student, while her lonely cat-lady colleague Barbara Covett (Judi Dench) edges on lesbian obsession: After learning of the affair, she uses it to gain control by documenting her every move. As if things could be any more twisted, Mr. Hart (Bill Nighy) has taken similar advantage of students in the past. Pedophilic sex scandals, a Dench-ization of every high school’s token butch history teacher and some home-wrecking blackmail – it doesn’t get much better than this. Dec. 25.

– Lindsay Brothers, Staff Writer

The Good Shepherd

A college graduate is recruited in the late 1940s to help jump-start America’s new spy ring – the CIA – but gets caught up in the paranoia and deception of the Cold War. Doesn’t sound interesting yet? Add a script by Eric Roth (“”Forrest Gump””), a cast featuring Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, Robert De Niro (who also directed), Joe Pesci (his first film after an eight-year absence) and Alec Baldwin. The film looks like gold, shiny and worth every pound – especially with everyone swooning over the formulaic Jason Bourne and James Bond films. “”The Good Shepherd”” takes the spy game to its earliest days of bare-bone secrecy and trench-coat intelligence, not necessarily the thoroughly refined organization we have come to know. Fear not – guns will be drawn, bodies will disappear and trust will be shattered all along the narrow European alleyways colored in Cold War shades and film noir shadows. And hopefully we’ll see Pesci do what he does best: beat the living hell out of everyone. Dec. 22.

– Chris Mertan, Staff Writer


Forget Rocky Balboa as a filmic parallel to Sly’s decomposed career ­- “”Apocalypto”” matches up pretty well with creator Mel Gibson’s recent drunk-induced flub-fest. Think about it: A man tries to escape sacrifice at the clutches of a mad, ravenous mob of assassins. Gibson’s version: a drunk (who might also be racist and misogynistic, or just really drunk) tries to slip away from a slew of verbal lynchings by the likes of Denis Leary. Both yarns have epic ambience, too, with Gibson writing/producing/directing/financing his period piece about the cessation of the grand Mayan civilization. Meanwhile, Gibson’s illustrious, Oscar-laden career is facing the same end, somehow all coming down to this.

All scandals aside, expect the freshest Hollywood take on Mayans ever made. Wait, that’s still “”From Dust Til Dawn.”” Dec. 8.

– Charles Nguyen, Senior Staff Writer


If you liked the uninhibited gore and reckless violence of “”Hostel,”” but wanted a little more Latin flavor and a lot more sex, “”Turistas”” will deliver. A party-hearty troupe of drugged American backpackers becomes lost in the depths of a tropical jungle surrounded by merciless natives when they stumble upon a terrible secret that may cost them their lives. Director John Stockwell (“”Blue Crush,”” “”Into the Blue””) pays tribute to the season’s brightest colors, painting his scenes with the leaves of the Brazilian rain forest and the blood of unwelcome travelers. While his latest film has a little less blue and a lot more red than usual, it does keep the bronze – skin, that is – because there’s nothing like bad-acting bikini babes to warm up the cold winter months. Dec. 1.

– Josh Christensen, Staff Writer

The Holiday

The new cut from veteran chick-flick screenwriter and director Nancy Meyers (“”Father of the Bride””) promises to fill the holiday’s feel-good-romantic-comedy gap. Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet decide to swap houses (and countries) after their respective relationships fail, and find love where they least expect it. With ditzy blonde comedy from the girls, British gag-me lines from Jude Law and a few Jack Black cracks, “”Holiday”” will provide that annual warm fuzzy feeling, but not much else.

– Jenna Brogan, Staff Writer

Home of the Brave

In the footsteps of “”Jarhead,”” MTV’s hardest rapper and “”7th Heaven””‘s biggest booty bring to light the horrors of post-battle Iraq. 50 Cent, real name Curtis Jackson, plays an army specialist with traumatic anger issues, one of four soldiers who have returned home from the war, and struggling to readjust to civilian life. Each has painful memories of their final mission – 50 tries to forget a humanitarian operation that ended violently; mother Jessica Biel is left with debilitating emotional and physical wounds; battlefield doctor Samuel L. Jackson suffers from flashbacks of the comrades he failed to save; and new face Brian Presley, after losing his best friend in the war (who, of course, died in his arms) eventually decides to re-enlist. With such a colorful cast, we can’t help but to get patriotic – or at least die tryin’. Dec. 15.

– Lindsay Brothers, Staff Writer

DOA: Dead or Alive

An international martial arts championship to which fighters arrive by plane and parachute out mid-flight: Who could possibly handle the challenge? Pro wrestler Jaime Pressly, English thief/assassin Holly Valance and rebellious Japanese princess Devon Aoki can – and do so half-naked to boot. The violent video game of the same title is officially silver-screened by director Corey Yuen, which means plenty of action for our girls, while the girls mean plenty of excitement for teenage boys in the theater. “”DOA: Dead or Alive”” takes place on an exotic island, run by an evil genius (Eric Roberts). His tournament consists of fighters facing each other “”Mortal Kombat”” style, while the protagonists are reminiscent of “”Charlie’s Angels,”” brawling in as little clothes as possible. Although “”DOA”” appears to be a two-hour version of an old issue of Maxim, this is one film that 14-year-old boys everywhere can get excited about. Dec. 8.

– Lindsay Brothers, Staff Writer

Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj

Ever had one of those days where you piss your pants in public, step into a slimy mountain of week-old dog feces and – just when you think things can’t get any worse – a pigeon from hell takes a semen-colored shit on your head? Welcome to “”Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj.”” Not only is it another teen sex comedy about a confused Indian fob speaking like he’s got a dildo up his ass, but it’s a sequel – and we all know what that means.

To make things worse, the film is directed by Mort Nathan, who hasn’t directed a good movie in his entire life. The plot revolves around Taj’s mission to fill in Van Wilder’s shoes at Camford University, but let’s face it: Taj could never hope to be as wild, perverse or over-the-top as Van – and come on, how can you make a Van Wilder movie without Van Wilder? Dec. 1.

– Daniel Nguyen, Staff Writer


The tinseltown oracles have a vision: “”Dreamgirls”” will be the biggest single-film splash that black America has ever made at the Oscars. And since the hype has touched just about everyone in the film, it’s a bit hard to split delirium from truth. It’s shaky ground for Eddie Murphy, who needs to put up a good stint after “”Daddy Day Care,”” “”Adventures of Pluto Nash”” and “”Haunted Mansion”” (Does he even belong in Hollywood anymore?). Music-film hybrids Beyonce Knowles and Jennifer Hudson, of “”American Idol”” fame, are getting similar kudos, with gossip hoisting the latter as the next underdog, Halle Barry-esque win at the Academy Awards. Plus, the film gets golden touch of Jaime Foxx, who somehow managed to salvage the deflated “”Miami Vice,”” and a soulful score worthy of Broadway recognition, with which the original play won at the Tony Awards many times over. Dec. 15.

– Charles Nguyen, Senior Staff Writer


Fantasy junkies, come out of hiding: Veteran special effects supervisor Stefen Fangmeier (“”Jurassic Park,”” “”Saving Private Ryan””) makes a bid for Peter Jackson’s throne with his directorial debut, a visual orgy of clashing steel, soaring dragons and blazing fireballs. It also boasts an unlikely cast, with John Malkovich as the perfunctory evil king, Jeremy Irons as the token magic-wielding mentor and virgin-to-the-big-screen Edward Speleers as the unsuspecting hero (complete with identifying birthmark). Just another formulaic, effect-driven fluff piece for socially askew teens, or is it the next multi-million-dollar fantasy franchise? With a game of the same name released last month to rave reviews, probably both. Dec. 15.

– Josh Christensen, Staff Writer

A Night at the Museum

When will Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson give up a chance to work on a film together? The answer is, probably never – but more often then not they strike comedic gold in light-hearted comedies like “”Zoolander”” and “”Starsky and Hutch.”” “”A Night at the Museum”” should be no exception, following nocturnal activities at the Museum of Natural History, where exhibits come to life nightly. Stiller plays a down-on-his-luck security guard who grapples with his unusual responsibilities, while a “”nefarious plot”” develops and he is forced to save the museum.

In addition to Wilson’s mini-diorama cowboy, Robin Williams moonlights as a wax figure of Teddy Roosevelt who offers Stiller’s character, Daley, advice amid the chaos. Williams is a guaranteed laugh with his typical rapid-fire machine-gun jokes and thunderous yells. The computer-generated effects look breathtaking and even a bit frightening, as a giant T-Rex skeleton chases a petrified Stiller through the museum.

With no sequel or third installment of any children’s book in sight for December, “”Museum”” will certainly fit the bill for cuddly adventures, gentle laughs and some sort of moral packaged into the end. Just one question: Where’s Vince Vaughn? Dec. 20.

– Autumn Schuster, Contributing Writer

A Nativity Story

Joseph meets Mary, Joseph likes Mary and Joseph marries Mary. Then, when Mary gets pregnant, everyone points a finger at God. Strangely incongruent logic there, but that’s Christianity for you.

Yes, this is a religious story, and one that will stay within anally conventional lines (if the Republicans have anything to say about it). It’s not as gory as “”The Passion”” or as epic as “”The Ten Commandments,”” but if the trailer is true, it will be just as tear-jerking and visually engrossing as the next overbudgeted religious film. It will also be more ethnically conscious, with Mary looking a shade more Jewish than usual.

At age 16, Keisha Castle-Hughes, who was once a role model to whale riders around the world, has bigger, more-divine shoes to fill in her role as the Virgin Mary. But naysayers, fret not! She’s already pregnant by her 19-year-old boyfriend, filling the mother (if not the virgin) role quite well. For those shaking their heads, let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

If you’re not keen on shilling out $10 for a reiteration of Sunday school, you can always just read the book. It’s free in most hotels. Dec. 1.

– Jia Gu, Associate Hiatus Editor

Rocky Balboa

Does anyone else notice how Sylvester Stallone never leaves any space between his words? It’s as if his sentences are just one long monosyllabic sound, and it only seems to worsen with age. In “”Rocky Balboa,”” a ridiculously unnecessary sixth installment of the underdog franchise, Stallone attempts to grunt, slur and punch his way back out of mediocrity. Confronted by his most deadly foe – old age – Rocky seeks to build up to face reigning heavyweight champion Mason “”The Line”” Dixon (real-life boxer Antonio Tarver). The concept would seem novel enough, if it weren’t for the rest of the equation: Stallone in both the acting and directing chair, Antonio Tarver in general (was no one else available?) and the fact that the Rocky films have been DOA since the first installment. Stallone has fought Mr. T, Apollo Creed (twice – and joined him in the most homoerotic training montage ever), communism and now arthritis? Give me a break. The tagline for the film is “”It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over.”” Sorry Sly, it was over in 1976. Dec. 22.

– Chris Mertan, Staff Writer

We Are Marshall

In Hollywood’s latest inspirational football movie, Matthew McConaughey becomes the new head coach of the Marshall University football team after most of its players die in a plane crash. His mission: to rebuild the program with the few surviving members, restore hope within a devastated community and take home the coveted championship. While the possibility remains that director McG will transcend “”Remember the Titans”” and “”The Replacements”” and deliver a new spin on the typical plot – new coach miraculously unites team, together they beat all odds and win the big game (or at least the invaluable prize of friendship, self-discovery, etc.) – things aren’t looking up. It’s difficult to say how much longer the American public can enjoy this genre, but McConaughey will no doubt bring in ticket sales regardless – with or without the combover.

– Jenna Brogan, Staff Writer

Letters from Iwo Jima

Arriving shortly after Clint Eastwood’s revered “”Flags of Our Fathers,”” his newest film is a similar account of the gruesome fight over the island of Iwo Jima during World War II – this time, as told by the Japanese. Entirely subtitled and without an A-list pretty-boy cast, it is difficult to imagine how “”Letters from Iwo Jima”” could compare to its predecessor’s hyped popularity. Gross income aside, Eastwood’s unprecedented approach to keeping an open mind will no doubt earn the back-to-back war epics a respected spot in film history. Dec. 20.

– Jenna Brogan, Staff Writer


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