MOVIE BUFF-ET: Christmas delivers a big week for film fans at local theaters

Amazon Studios, Roadside Attractions

Usually the latest films open on Fridays, but with the Christmas holiday falling this Sunday, several films got a jump on the weekend and opened on Wednesday.

A comedy with Bryan Cranston and James Franco also opens Friday, and two of the most ballyhooed films of Oscar season arrive in Northwest Arkansas on Christmas Day.

New In Local Theaters


  • Assassin’s Creed (PG-13) 1hr. 55 min.
    (AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Rogers Towne)
    » Watch trailer
  • Dangal (NR) 2 hr. 35 min.
    (AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Rogers Towne)
    » Watch trailer
  • Passengers (PG-13) 1 hr., 56 min.
    (AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Rogers Towne)
    » Watch trailer
  • Sing (PG) 1 hr. 48 min.
    (AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Pinnacle)
    » Watch trailer


  • Why Him? (R) 1 hr. 51 min.
    (AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Pinnacle)
    » Watch trailer


  • Fences (PG-13) 2 hr. 19 min.
    (AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Rogers Towne)
    » Watch trailer
  • La La Land (PG-13) (PG-13) 2 hr. 8 min.
    (Malco Razorback, Malco Rogers Towne)
    » Watch trailer
  • La La Land (PG-13) (PG-13) 2 hr. 8 min.
    (Malco Razorback, Malco Rogers Towne)
    » Watch trailer

The video-game inspired Assassin’s Creed opens Wednesday. It stars Michael Fassbender as man who discovers one of his ancestors was a member of a secret assassins society and that he also has mastery of the those assassins skills.

The animated musical Sing also takes its bow Wednesday. The movie that features the voice talents of Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, and Seth McFarlane among others is about anthropomorphic animals that step out of their comfort zone to compete for the grand prize in an American Idol-type singing competition.

Passengers is the third movie opening Wednesday, and it stars Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt as two passengers on a spacecraft that is transporting thousands of people to populate a colony on a distant planet. However, the two awaken from suspended animation 90 years earlier than they are supposed to.

On Friday, the promising comedy Why Him? hits theaters, starring Cranston playing a dad who forms a bitter rivalry with his daughter’s rich but off-the-wall fiancée, played by Franco.

Two movies with serious Oscar buzz open Sunday with the drama Fences and the musical La La Land.

Fences stars Denzell Washington and Viola Davis as an African-American couple who struggle together to raise their son and deal with the trials racism creates for their family in the 1950s.

La La Land is the reportedly enchanting story of jazz pianist, Ryan Gosling, who falls for an aspiring actress, Emma Stone, as they attempt to make their dreams and aspirations come true in Hollywood.

And of course that little space opera Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is still playing, too.

Expect a full parking lot most of the rest of the week.

Manchester By the Sea

Manchester by the Sea is a simple drama written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan about anything but simple issues facing an uncle and his nephew.

Casey Affleck gives a subtle but affecting performance as Lee Chandler, a seemingly easy-going, hard-working janitor, who is suppressing his feelings concerning a nearly unimaginable personal tragedy. Pushed a little too far, though, and Chandler’ laconic personality can turn feisty if not fisty when he lashes out from his frustration and depression.

In the midst of attempting to cope with the results of an accident he caused, Chandler is called upon to rise to the occasion for his extended family when tragedy strikes again.

Affleck has reeled off an impressive array of performances over the last decade in strong yet smallish films. He is an underappreciated actor, who likely will get an Oscar nomination and possibly the trophy itself for this performance. Though not a showy role, you feel the pain and guilt swimming around Affleck’s character with every word and move.

Michelle Williams matches Affleck’s prowess in a supporting role as his ex-wife, who is now remarried and pregnant. Lucas Hedges is also pitch perfect as Affleck’s 16-year-old nephew Patrick, whose moods and desires swing greatly as a teen struggling to hold on to his old life and both of his girlfriends despite his world being turned upside down.

The movie is set near Boston and the view of the bay dominates the movie with his choppy waters setting an uneasy mood for a film that somehow finds a way to be humorous despite the issues facing its characters.

The film isn’t a feel-good movie, though, and it’s ending is abrupt. It’s about a broken man who despite his best efforts lacks the ability to be the man he desperately would like to be. Just surviving is about all Chandler can manage.

(R) 2 hr. 17 min.
Grade: A

Classic Corner

A Christmas Carol (1938)
Outside of the birth of Jesus recorded in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, the most enduring Christmas story has to be Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, first published in serial format in 1843.

The timeless story of Tiny Tim, Ebenezer Scrooge, and the four ghosts that haunt him on Christmas Eve has been fodder for movies since the very beginning of film. Thomas Edison, yes, the creator of the light bulb, first adapted the novella to film first in 1910, and since then scores of directors have followed suit.

From animated versions featuring Mr. Magoo, Bugs Bunny, and the Flintstones and sit-com adaptations on the Jeffersons, Good Times, and Sanford & Son just to name a few to the many bigger-budget versions featuring the talents of stars as varied as Bill Murray, George C. Scott, Jim Carrey, Patrick Stewart and the Muppets, Dickens’ heart-warming tale of redemption continues to resonate with audiences nearly 175 years after the tale’s initial publication. Even Will Smith’s latest film Collateral Beauty borrows a bit from the venerable story.

Everyone has his or her own personal favorite. Many critics point to the 1951 British adaptation Scrooge, starring Alastair Sim as the mean old miser, as the best of the bunch. It’s hard to argue with that assessment. It’s a fine film. However, my personal favorite is the 1938 MGM version of A Christmas Carol. It stars Reginald Owen as Scrooge, Gene Lockhart as Bob Cratchit, Terry Kilburn as Tiny Tim and Barry MacKay as Fred, Scrooge’s nephew.

To me it’s a merrier version of the story. Oh, Scrooge is just as ornery as ever, but there seems to be true Christmas joy and warmth in the other performances, which creates a stark contrast with Scrooge that I don’t find in other adaptations.

MacKay’s performance as Fred is particularly jolly. There’s a nice scene featuring him and Lynne Carver as Fred’s fiancée Bess outside of church where they enjoy a “slide” on the ice that is quite fun.

Another delightful scene features Lockhart as the good-hearted Cratchit heading home from work. When some teens pelt him with snowballs instead of getting upset, he joins in the fun. When he attempts to show the boys how to make the perfect snowball, he lofts the icy sphere knocking off the top hat of his old boss Scrooge.

The 1938 version was my introduction to Scrooge and Dickens when I was in elementary school in the mid 1970s. I remember watching it one Saturday afternoon on TV during the Christmas season before going to see a Godzilla movie with a good friend.

We were both so excited about the approaching holiday as well as getting to see Godzilla romp and stomp on the big screen. However, as I think back I don’t remember what either of us got for Christmas that year. I don’t even remember which Godzilla movie we saw. It was possibly the one with the Smog Monster? But, I do remember the adaptation of Dickens’ tale making a strong impression that sticks with me today.

I’d suggest taking the opportunity to see Sim in Scrooge as well as Owen as the old miser in MGM’s version, if not this year then during some future Christmas season. Both are excellent. Maybe one or the other will become a sentimental favorite of your own?