Thanksgiving movie preview: “Life of Pi,” “Silver Linings Playbook,” “Red Dawn,” “Rise of the Guardians,” and “Anna Karenina”

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This past weekend at Twin Cities area theaters, the final Twilight film, Breaking Dawn: Part 2, was released—so now we can all rest easy that the final Twilight film is out in the theaters, grossing an astounding $141 million at the box office this past weekend in the U.S. alone. The timing of the film seemed perfect, as it got a jump on other releases opening this Wednesday, November 21 at local theaters and there will sure to be repeat ticket buyers for Breaking Dawn: Part 2, throughout the week and into the Thanksgiving weekend. There are five other films opening around the Twin Cities on Wednesday, but none will challenge the make-believe vampire fantasy juggernaut for the top box office spot. In fact, even if Skyfall were opening on Wednesday, it probably would still not surpass those two heartbroken kids for the top spot.

Among the five films opening, there seems to be something for everyone this week. I have seen three of them: Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina, David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook, and Ang Lee’s Life of Pi. I chose not to see the advance screenings of he other two: Red Dawn and Rise of the Guardians. Red Dawn, a remake of the 1985 original—the first film to ever receive a PG-13 rating from the MPAA—looks to be a complete mess, and the original was not even that good to begin with. The 2012 version was filmed in 2009, and has been sitting on the shelf for over two years, largely in part to MGM’s financial troubles. Another distributor, Film District, picked up the rights in September 2011 to release the film this week. When a film sits on the shelf for longer than a year, that usually spells trouble, but what Film District representatives were probably thinking was that stars Chris Hemsworth (ThorThe Avengers) and Josh Hutcherson (The Hunger Games) were relatively unknown back in 2009, but in 2012 both have starred in big films and could now be draws for younger audiences.

Rise of the Guardians, a 3D computer animated film based on William Joyce’s Guardians of Childhood series, looks to be decent enough, but also has a very confusing trailer but features the likes of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, Jack Frost, and the Sandman teaming up to protect children of the world from the Nightmare King. That sentence alone could make anyone’s head spin, and what I was most surprised to hear about the film was that Pulitzer-Prize-winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire (Rabbit Hole) wrote the screenplay. Some of the talented actors who lend their voices include Chris Pine, Alec Baldwin, Jude Law, Hugh Jackman, and Isla Fisher. Whether or not Rise of the Guardians becomes a franchise series is yet to be determined, but my initial thought is that this will be a one-and-done series.

The new lavish costume drama and umpteenth adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, opening exclusively at the Uptown Theatre, is a serious but helter-skelter interpretation from English director Joe Wright (Atonement, Pride & PrejudiceHanna) and Oscar-winning screenwriter and world-renowned playwright Tom Stoppard. While the classic is beloved by millions across the globe, I cannot imagine many will love this new film version (though Daily Planet editor Jay Gabler did enjoy this rendition). From the get-go, we are brought into a stage setting of the film and within seconds, it feels like Baz Luhrmann has taken the film hostage as the scenery collapses and suddenly we taken away from the stage into another setting. This herky-jerky gimmick continues for a painstaking two-plus hours. The lead actors give their best, but nothing ever feels believable, including Keira Knightley. Portraying Anna (and looking like the Bride of Frankenstein), Knightley musters enough facial tics to leave you wondering if she seriously needs some medication or just a good sleep. She must chose between her overbearing husband, played by a somber Jude Law, and a completely miscast Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Count Vronsky. I couldn’t wait for this train wreck to be over, despite a wonderful musical score by Dario Marianelli and beautiful cinematography by Seamus McGarvey.

The new goofy dramedy from David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook, turned out to be a pleasant surprise despite a few flaws. Based on Matthew Quick’s 2008 novel of the same name (read my interview with Quick here) stars Bradley Cooper as Pat, a man returning home after being away in a mental institution for eight months and trying to reconnect with his wife and get his life back in order. Once home, he meets Tiffany (an Oscar-worthy Jennifer Lawrence), who has recently lost her husband and is also to make sense of her own life. She becomes friends with Pat and both work together to help each other out. Russell’s screenplay delivers plenty of charm, wit, and understanding for each character, especially Lawrence’s Tiffany, and even Australian actress Jackie Weaver and American legend Robert DeNiro have some terrific moments, playing mother and father to Cooper’s stop-and-go Pat. Silver Linings Playbook is poised to be a heavy hitter come Oscar time and pushes all the right buttons to make for an enjoyable entertaining two hours.

In film circles, the term “unfilmable” gets often thrown around, and when it was announced that Academy-Award-winning Taiwanese director Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, The Ice Storm, Brokeback Mountain) would turn Yann Martel’s enormous 2001 novel Life of Pi into not only a film, but a 3D film, critics and book-lovers wondered if this was one of those beloved books, that should stay a novel (i.e., Catcher in the Rye). I haven’t read the novel, but I can say the film works, and the 3D is a big reason why! I was surprised at how impactful the film was in terms of color, staging, and movement, with gorgeous cinematography by Claudio Miranda. If you take Avatar out of the equation, Life of Pi is the most thrilling live-action 3D film I’ve seen yet. First-time actor Suraj Sharma, who plays teenage Pi—one of three actors to play Pi through the character’s life—really shines in the role and should have a bright future if he continues to act. See this beauty of a film on a screen as large as possible.