'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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Animated Arthur Returns

Emily Blunt in "The Young Victoria."On Dec. 18, Luc Besson and Celine Garcia bring the delightful animated young hero they created in "Arthur and the Minamoys" (2006) back to the screen for "Arthur and the Vengeance of Malthazar." Freddie Highmore voices the virtuous Arthur and Mia Farrow is strong support as his Granny. Arthur, as you may remember from his first adventure, is keenly aware of the importance of respecting nature and all its species and creatures, and the positive and non-repressive moral values presented in the film make for good family viewing and discussion.

Nancy Meyers, one of Hollywood's most successful female directors, presents again on screens nationwide with "It's Complicated," a romantic comedy starring Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin. They play a divorced couple who have a romantic interlude when they reconnect at their son's college graduation, although Streep is actually there with another guy.

Meyer's "Something's Gotta Give" (2003), about a midlife romance that happened in spite of itself, won critical acclaim. Three years later, in 2006, she released "The Holiday." The film focuses on two women who swap their homes for the holidays to escape male-related angst and, in doing so, find love, failed to impress. Now, another three years have gone by. I haven't seen the film yet, but the media machine's early buzz offers little in the way of serious critical reaction to "It's Complicated." Instead, attention seems focused on Baldwin's butt (which actually belongs to his double who plays the nude scene). Well, that's Hollywood for you.

"Nine," a musical extravaganza based on the Tony Award-winning 1982 Broadway musical, splashes onto screens on Dec. 25. Both the film and play are based on Federico Fellini's 1963 Oscar-winning film "8 ½." It tells the tale of an acclaimed film director, Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis), whose personal and professional midlife crisis reflects his relationships with a stockpile of women: his wife (Marion Cotillard), mistress (Penelope Cruz), movie star muse (Nicole Kidman), confidant and costume designer (Judi Dench), mother (Sophia Loren), U.S. journalist (Kate Hudson) and a "puta," or prostitute, from his childhood (Stacy Ferguson, aka "Fergie").

Directed by Rob Marshall and scripted by Michael Tolkin and Anthony Minghella, the female characters appear as figments of a man's troubled memories and illusions. But even if the women are processed through a male psyche they offer a formidable display of female acting talent. See the film for that.

Another Dec. 25 musical release is the animated "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakuel," directed by Betty Thomas. It finds the charming chipmunk 'tweens trio coping with the challenges of celebrity and competing with a female singing group called the Chipettes.

Closing out the month--and the year--actress-turned-director Jodie Markell's first feature, "The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond," opens in New York and Los Angeles on Dec. 30. Based on a little known and previously unproduced screenplay by Tennessee Williams, with female characters predictably complex and compelling, the film is a 1920s period piece about a recalcitrant Southern belle, Fisher Willow (Bryce Dallas Howard), who risks her heritage and inheritance for love. There are strong performances, too, by Ellen Burstyn, Ann Margret and Mamie Gummer.

In addition to covering film for Women's eNews, Jennifer Merin writes about documentaries for ( and is president of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists (, a nonprofit organization of the leading women film journalists in the U.S. and Canada.

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