MOVIE BUFF-ET: Race to the end of year filled with anticipated movies

Time is running short. It’s just 13 days until Christmas and 18 days until New Year’s Day. Everything seems to be speeding up as the sands on Father Time’s 2019 hour glass fall ever so quickly.

This is the time of year when even your friendly neighborhood movie buff falls behind in checking out the latest films filling our local theaters. Even though it’s frustrating to feel behind, I’m thankful there are several fine movies in theaters now and several more coming very soon.

For the kids, you can’t go wrong with “Frozen 2” (review). It’s not as strong as the original, but with old friends like Elsa, Olaf, Anna and Kristoff returning, the kids will love it.

For general audiences, “Ford vs. Ferrari” (review) is the hot ticket with Matt Damon and particularly Christian Bale shinning in the autoracing film that transcends the sport.

For adults, “Knives Out” (review) is a beautifully shot, witty whodunit featuring an excellent ensemble, led by Daniel Craig, who gives a hoot of a performance as a Southern detective looking into a suicide that might be more than it first seems.

If you don’t mind your drama with a make-believe Hitler character as comic relief, the coming-of-age drama “Jojo Rabbit” is more than it seems, and an excellent movie to boot. It’s a film about how a young German boy viewed the final months of World War II.

Here’s a list of several highly anticipated films that will be opening before the New Year:

Jumanji: The Next Level (Dec. 13)

“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” was the surprise hit of the 2017 Christmas season, and if you enjoy the brand of humor and adventure that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Kevin Hart, and Jack Black dish out, here’s another serving, but this time with a side order of Danny De Vito and Danny Glover. The movie should be fun for families that have already seen “Frozen II.” I’ll definitely see this movie, but it probably won’t be until after the holidays or maybe when it makes it to a streaming platform.

Richard Jewell (Dec. 13)

Director Clint Eastwood’s latest film is catching a good bit of flack for its depiction of a female reporter, played by Rose Byrne. The movie is getting mixed reviews, but this film about how the FBI wrongly made an Atlanta security guard the prime suspect for the pipe bombing at the 1996 Summer Olympics when he actually acted heroically is my type of movie. I was working late the night of the bombing at a local newspaper when a colleague got to yell, “Stop the presses!” so we could get the story of the bombing in the next morning’s paper. The paper had a reporter on site, who dictated eye-witness reports over the phone.

Bombshell (Dec. 20)

Bombshell is the story of how three women set out to expose Fox News CEO Roger Ailes for sexual harassment. The meaty story, directed by Jay Roach, stars an outstanding cast including Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, and Margot Robbie as victims who turn the tables on Ailes, who is played by John Lithgow in heavy prosthetic makeup. Kate McKinnon, Connie Britton, Malcolm McDowell, and Allison Janney lend support.

Cats (Dec. 20)

I spent one of the most confounding, confusing, and boring nights of my life trying to figure out what “Cats” was all about a couple of decades or so ago during a performance at the Walton Arts Center. That was more than enough feline fun for me. However, this a huge movie that’s bound to please some Andrew Lloyd Webber fans, if not T.S. Eliot’s. The cast is fantastic with Jennifer Hudson, Idris Elba, Dame Judi Dench, James Corden, Taylor Swift, Rebel Wilson, Ian McKellen and many others. But I’ve learned my lesson.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (Dec. 20)

I was 9 years old when”Star Wars” debuted in 1977, and maybe a year or three older when I read in Starlog magazine that George Lucas envisioned nine movies in his space opera franchise of films. So yeah, I’ve been waiting more than 40 years for this movie, and yes, I already have tickets. A word of warning, showings are already selling out. I’ve got no clue what’s going to happen, and I don’t have any theories. I just hope somehow Luke Skywalker plays an active role, even if it’s ghostly.

Little Women (Dec. 25)

Sherlock Holmes and Dracula are the literary figures that have inspired the most movies, but Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women” has to join them in the top 10, maybe even top five. Just last year, there was a modernized version celebrating the 150th anniversary of the novel, and here we are again with another period adaption of the beloved coming-of-age drama of the March sisters. Just to get our accounting right, this is the eighth film adaptation and reportedly a very good one by director Greta Gerwig. Saoirse Ronan stars as the indomitable Jo with Emma Watson as Meg, Florence Pugh as Amy in a reportedly scene-stealing performance, and Eliza Scalen as Beth. Timothee Chalamet plays poor Laurie with Laura Dern as Marmee and Meryl Streep as Aunt March. The story is a timeless classic, and while I find it hard to believe this movie will match the excellent 1949 version, this is one I want to see.

Uncut Gems (Dec. 25)

It’s not a popular thing to admit you are an Adam Sandler fan, but I unfortunately am. I think I’ve seen all his movies, yes, even the really rotten ones that went straight to Netflix. “Uncut Gems” is said to be the exact opposite of those movies. There’s a real chance Sandler and/or the film could receive Oscar nominations. Sandler plays a charming hustler Howard Ratner, a New York jeweler, who’s looking to score big on a series of high-stakes sports bets that could set him for life or possibly end his life. I’m hopeful this one will make up for a lot of Sandler’s dreck I’ve sat through the last 15 years or so.

New In Local Movie Theaters

  • Jumanji: The Next Level(PG-13) 2 hr. 2 min. (watch trailer)
    Playing at: AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Rogers Towne, Malco Pinnacle, Bentonville Skylight
  • Richard Jewell(R) 2 hr. 12 min. (watch trailer)
    Playing at: AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Pinnacle
  • Black Christmas(PG-13) 1 hr. 32 min. (watch trailer)
    Playing at: AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Pinnacle

Classic Corner – Christmas Story

Hannu-Pekka Björkman and Laura Birn in Joulutarina (Christmas Story)

“Christmas Story” isn’t the movie you’re thinking about.

No, it’s not the one where Ralphie asks for the official Red Ryder Carbine-action 200-shot Range Model Air Rifle to which the department store Santa replies, “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid.”

“A Christmas Story” is a certified classic thanks to those 24-hour marathons on WTBS back in the day, but this film is totally different.

“Christmas Story” is a 2007 Finnish movie that details one of the many versions of the origin of Santa Claus. The movie beautifully filmed in Lapland. It’s a gorgeous film featuring snow-covered terrain — the real stuff not the bubbles and fluff that fill the scores of Hallmark romances that have been playing since before Halloween. The harsh but gorgeous setting lends an authenticity to the film that you’d be hard pressed to find in any other Christmas movie.

The plot is a sad tale of a young boy named Nikolas, who is orphaned when his parents and baby sister die in a Christmas Eve accident on the frozen river that runs by their village. The townspeople are poor, eking out what living they can through fishing before the river freezes over each winter. No family can take on the burden of feeding another mouth, but the families decided to each take the boy for a year before passing him along to the next home.

Nikolas is a gifted at carving with a knife his father left him. Each year when he moves to a new family, he leaves carved wooden toys for the children of the family on their doorstep on Christmas Eve.

For six years the trading of Nikolas on Christmas Eve works out, but a bad year leaves the townspeople starving. The town council is at its wits end what to do with the 12-year-old when Crazy Isaac, a woodworker and carpenter, who looks like the heavy-set brother of KISS bassist Gene Simmons, offers to take the boy as an apprentice of sorts.

Crazy Isaac is thought to be a hermit peddler, but the gifted craftsman has a basement workshop where he makes custom furniture for the wealthy as well as the items he peddles in the village. At first, Isaac is a tough —even mean — taskmaster to the boy, but he slowly begins to not only admire Nikolas’ talent but also his eagerness to learn and his work ethic.

You can probably guess exactly where the story is headed. There’s a smidgeon of adventure and bit of danger, but no real twists and turns., The movie is an earnest take on Santa Claus’ beginnings that is charming and again gorgeous to watch.

The film, which is available on Amazon Prime and DVD, has become one of my Christmas favorites for its folk-story feel and again that magnificent scenery. The movie is dubbed, but it’s not too off-putting once you get into the story.