There are plenty of options for those of you seeking refuge in a dark movie theater from family fights, creepy uncles and the increasingly annoying and endless loop of Christmas carols in every mall across America. But a word of advice? If it has a big budget, stay the hell away. A number of options are hitting multiplexes this week, a couple boasting A-list names as mistletoe to get into your wallet, but they probably aren’t worth your time. Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro return for “Little Fockers” which, if the trailers have been anything to go by, is a penis-stabbing comedy of some kind. Meanwhile, Jack Black gets supersized in “Gulliver’s Travels” and comes out of it all wet. Much more promising, Paramount serves the Coen Brothers’ oater “True Grit,” while over at the arthouse, Sofia Coppola goes “Somewhere” while animation fans get a nice stocking stuffer with Sylvain Chomet‘s “The Illusionist.”
“Little Fockers” is the oh-so hilarious name of the this third installment of the wheezing comedy franchise, but it might just be what you mutter under your breath at the movie executives who allowed this thing to get made. Not much has changed as Greg Focker (Stiller) stills seeks the approval of Jack Byrne (De Niro) with results that include appendage-severing, mega-boners and Jessica Alba. Oh yeah, Dustin Hoffman shows up to earn a Christmas bonus. We said the film was “as pleasant as enduring a rum-and-whiskey-fueled shouting match over the merits of the healthcare bill,” so you’ve been amply warned. RT: 10% MC: 27
More stars — including Jack Black, Jason Segel and Emily Blunt — show up for the 3D family adventure “Gulliver’s Travels” but they pretty much look bored to death. Much like the audience of kids we saw this with. The film takes a halfway decent idea of having the spazzy Jack Black land on Lilliput and then quickly resorts to piss jokes and “Star Wars” references. And that 3D? One of the worst conversion jobs of the year that adds absolutely nothing to the tedious happenings of the film. RT: 23% MC: 27
While studios keep grinding their pictures through the 3D machine to amp up thrillers, real filmmakers like the Coens realize that if the story is solid and the cast is great, half of your work is done for you. Sibling directing duo return with wickedly entertaining “True Grit” which comes with our highest recommendation for your dollars this weekend. Based on the Charles Portis novel that served as the basis for the John Wayne film, the Coens’ approach focuses squarely on fourteen year old Mattie Ross who is played with peppery defiance by Hailee Steinfeld which, if there is any justice, should earn the newcomer an easy Oscar nod. Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin and a great, unrecognizable Barry Pepper round out the cast and really, it doesn’t get much better than this. RT: 96% MC: 80
But not all the critically acclaimed filmmakers are delivering slam dunks this week. Sofia Coppola’s Venice-winning “Somewhere” is an ossified, shallow misfire. It turns out the woes of a Hollywood star languishing at the Chateau Marmont just isn’t all that compelling but if anything, the film marks the arrival of Elle Fanning who is quickly catching up to her sister Dakota on the Hollywood ladder. RT: 77% MC: 68
However, if you’re looking for a truly original escape, Sylvain Chomet’s “The Illusionist” may just be what you’re looking for. Based on a Jacques Tati script that was unmade, this whimsical film chronicles a magician trying to remain relevant during the rise of rock ‘n roll. This pretty much silent, hand drawn animated picture will capture your heart and might be the perfect antidote to the season’s in your face festivities. RT: 89% MC: 85
But if you’re truly looking to keep your foreign film cred this week, you can seek out Bruno Dumont‘s religious drama “Hadewijch” but don’t be shocked if grandma doesn’t want to join you (or has no idea what you’re talking about). RT: 71% MC: 84
And just a heads up: if some of the year’s most acclaimed films haven’t hit your town yet you might want to check your local listings. “Black Swan,” “The King’s Speech” and “Rabbit Hole” all expand this weekend.