'Young Victoria' Rules the Holiday Movie Lineup

Monday, November 23, 2009

The winter solstice brings plenty of movies to brighten the darkest days of the year. One head-turner, opening Dec. 18, is the lush romantic tale of the tumultuous early years of England's Queen Victoria.

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Jennifer Merin(WOMENSENEWS)--The year's big holiday season brings a special cinematic gift on Dec. 18 with the limited release of "The Young Victoria," directed by Jean-Marc Vallee.

This is a decidedly femme-centric biopic about the tumultuous early years of the epic reign of England's Queen Victoria and the evolution of her famous and enduring romance with her consort, Prince Albert. Emily Blunt's convincing portrayal of Victoria is superbly supported by an extraordinary ensemble, including Miranda Richardson as the Duchess of Kent, Rupert Friend as Prince Albert, Paul Bettany as Lord Melbourne and Jim Broadbent as King William.

"The Young Victoria" begins a wider release on Dec. 25.

Backing up a bit: "Serious Moonlight," opening Dec. 4, is a poignant reminder of the death of its scriptwriter, Adrienne Shelly. In 2006, the actress and writer-director was murdered by a construction worker who entered Shelly's Greenwich Village apartment intent on robbery. Shelly left behind this quirky romantic comedy script with eerie echoes of her own murder. The film is about a couple (Meg Ryan and Timothy Hutton) whose marriage is restored after they--along with his mistress--are held captive by a bad-boy robber and his gang of thugs during a home invasion.

"Serious Moonlight" was produced by Andy Ostroy, Shelly's husband. Ostroy also has created the Adrienne Shelly Foundation to benefit female filmmakers. The movie marks the directorial debut of Cheryl Hines, a good friend and colleague of Shelly. As laudatory a legacy project as this may be, it just doesn't seem destined to become a classic comedy. The plot is too much of an ongoing gag and the characters seem too one-dimensional. Who knows how it would have turned out had Shelly lived to see it through.

Another Failing Marriage

Writer-director Michael Hoffman's drama, "The Last Station," concerns a failing marriage, as well. The casting is superb. Helen Mirren stars as Sofya Tolstoy, the drama- queen wife of Leo Tolstoy, played by Christopher Plummer. James McAvoy, Anne-Marie Duff and Kerry Condon all perform well in smaller parts.

But the plot, which twists through the final chapter in the great Russian writer's life, winds itself around the infighting about who will inherit the rights to Tolstoy's writings and seems disjointed, ponderous and sprawling. "The Last Station" opens in limited release on Dec. 4.

"Brothers," Jim Sheridan's English language remake of Danish director Susanne Bier's "Brodre" (2004), also hits theaters on Dec. 4. The film is about a young man (Jake Gyllenhaal) who becomes involved with the wife (Natalie Portman) of his older brother, a soldier who has gone missing while on a peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan. It's a strong and timely treatment of the tangential ravages of war.

On Dec. 11, Peter Jackson's "The Lovely Bones" opens in limited release, with wider rollout on Dec. 25 and Jan. 15. Based on Alice Sebold's bestselling novel of the same title, the screenplay by Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens revolves around Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan), a slain teen who lives on, dramatically, from the vantage point of heaven. From there she weighs her wishes to see her family heal from the trauma of her murder against her desire for revenge against the neighbor (Stanley Tucci) who raped, murdered and dismembered her. The femme-centric film is faithful to the spirit of

Sebold's creation and anyone who liked the book--who didn't?--will likely feel the same about the film.

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