See/Skip

Movies to See or Skip Thanksgiving Weekend: ‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,’ ‘Oldboy,’ and More

Go see ‘Catching Fire’ and ‘Frozen.’ Stay far, far away from ‘Oldboy’ and ‘Delivery Man.’ A complete guide to this holiday weekend.

Merie W. Wallace; Jay Maidment; Keith Bernstein; Murray Close; Disney

Merie W. Wallace; Jay Maidment; Keith Bernstein; Murray Close; Disney

Home for the holidays? What better way to kill some time with the family than by taking a trip to the local movie theater (or multiplex)? Unfortunately for you, there are a plethora of movie options available, from blockbuster sequels like The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Thor: The Dark World to Oscar bait like Nebraska and Dallas Buyers Club. But the movies ain’t cheap and nobody wants to waste their hard-earned money on lame Hollywood crap, so here’s what to see or skip this Thanksgiving weekend. —by Marlow Stern

Murray Close

SEE: ‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’

Based on the novels by Suzanne Collins, this sequel to last year’s kids-maiming-kids blockbuster sees filmmaker Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend) take over the director’s chair. Set after the events of the first film, Hunger Games champs Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) return home to District 12. There is an uprising brewing inspired by Katniss’s heroics so, in order to quell it, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) orders the pair to go on a victory tour to the other districts and act like a loving couple. But they soon find themselves double-crossed when Snow throws them into the 75th annual Hunger Games—the Quarter Quell—against other past winners. The film features eye-catching cinematography, excellent set/costume design, and plenty of exhilarating action. And Lawrence is terrific. Make sure to catch it in IMAX.

Jay Maidment

SKIP: ‘Thor: The Dark World’

Directed by Alan Taylor (Game of Thrones), this sequel to the Marvel superhero film sees the Norse God Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and his human squeeze Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) square off against the Dark Elf Malekith (Christopher Eccleston)—a treacherous villain who seeks to destroy the universe using a weapon dubbed the Aether. Thor teams up with Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to save his parents, Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and Frigga (Rene Russo), Asgard, and the galaxy. The only thing really worthwhile about this sequel is Hiddleston, who is wildly entertaining as the campy Loki, but sadly, the 3-D is terrible, the battle scenes are far from thrilling, and the romantic chemistry between Hemsworth and Portman is virtually nonexistent.

Disney

SEE: ‘Frozen’

Ever since The Lion King, the more traditional Walt Disney Animation Studios has played the role of ugly stepchild to Pixar. But, with Tangled, Wreck-It-Ralph, and now Frozen—and Pixar on the wane—the shoe is clearly on the other (Disney-owned) foot. In the 3-D animated fantasy-musical Frozen, Anna (voiced by Kristen Bell) goes on a journey to find her princess sister, Elsa (Idina Menzel), whose emotions have trapped their kingdom in eternal winter. Anna’s joined by a mountain man, mystical snow man, and a magical reindeer in this wonderfully satisfying film featuring excellent musical numbers, eye-catching animations, and a solid, heart-tugging storyline. We think it’s the best animated film to emanate from Walt Disney Animation Studios since The Lion King.

Jessica Miglio

SKIP: ‘Delivery Man’

Just two years after his 2011 Canadian film Starbuck proved a left field hit, director Ken Scott has decided to helm this remake of his own film. In it, Vince Vaughn stars as a Joe Schmo sperm donor who learns he’s fathered 533 children through donor insemination. The revelation affects his relationships with his friend (Chris Pratt), and girlfriend, played by How I Met Your Mother’s Cobie Smulders. The one-note film’s one saving grace is Chris Pratt, but otherwise, it wears its cryo conceit very thin, is relentlessly saccharine, and feels like Vaughn is sleepwalking through it.

Merie W. Wallace

SEE: ‘Nebraska’

The latest from acclaimed filmmaker Alexander Payne (Election, Sideways) is a black-and-white road dramedy that follows Woody Grant (Bruce Dern), an elderly man suffering from dementia who, along with his son (Will Forte), embarks on a trip from Montana to Nebraska to cash in a junk lotto ticket. Payne’s film features gorgeous lensing, framing his Midwest characters like a Grant Wood painting, some very clever writing, a career-defining turn by journeyman actor Bruce Dern, and a scene-stealing one from June Squibb as Woody’s curse-happy, take-no-prisoners wife, Kate.

Keith Bernstein

SKIP: ‘Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom’

Most of the images we’re privy to of Nelson Mandela, the great ex-South African President and anti-apartheid crusader, is of an older, angular man. But Mandela grew up a bruising lawyer-boxer—a point driven home by the casting of Idris Elba as Mandela in Justin Chadwick’s biopic. Based on Mandela’s autobiography of the same name, the film chronicles Mandela’s early life as a revolutionary, 27 years of imprisonment, and his work desegregating South Africa. Despite solid turns by Elba and Naomie Harris as his embattled wife, Winnie, the film—which runs two and a half hours—drags along at a snails pace, feels like a very Disney-fied, glossy production where it should have been gritty, and tries to cover way too much ground, thus coming off as a by-the-numbers history lesson. This feels like a first edit of a potentially good film.

Anne Marie Fox

SEE: ‘Dallas Buyers Club’

Directed by Jean Marc-Vallee, this biographical drama is based on the true story of Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey), a homophobic Texan in 1985 who, after contracting HIV, begins smuggling non-FDA approved antiviral medications into the U.S. from abroad. With the help of his trans pal, Rayon (Jared Leto), they start up the Dallas Buyers Club—a subscription network where, for a monthly fee, AIDS victims can get the medications they need. The film is anchored by outstanding, award-worthy turns by both McConaughey (who lost 47 pounds to play Woodroof), and an unrecognizable Leto in his first film role in seven years. It’s a gritty drama boasting real, unsentimental characters and one hell of a story.

 

SKIP: 'Oldboy'

The original Oldboy, a South Korean film by Park Chan-wook released stateside in 2005, was a hyper-stylized, borderline operatic thriller featuring a towering turn by Choi Min-sik as a man abducted one day off the street, imprisoned for 15 years, and then mysteriously released, who must find out why he was held for so long and subsequently freed. The U.S. remake, directed by Spike Lee, sees Josh Brolin playing the title character with Elizabeth Olsen as his love interest. Problems abound in Lee’s adaptation, including eschewing Chan-wook’s beautiful cinematography for ugly lensing, having the protagonist be an unrelatable asshole to begin with, and having the villain, played by Sharlto Copley, be ridiculously camp. Yes, Brolin and Olsen are solid, and the film ups the violence quotient considerably, but the original movie’s conceit juxtaposing two wronged men’s disparate paths towards revenge is totally lost here. Go see the original.

Alex Bailey

SEE: ‘Philomena’

Directed by Stephen Frears (Dangerous Liaisons), this film is based on a non-fiction tome by Martin Sixsmith titled The Lost Child of Philomena Lee. It centers on Philomena (Dame Judi Dench), an elderly woman who confides to Sixsmith (Steve Coogan, also co-writer) that she was forced to give up her child 50 years earlier in Ireland because she was unmarried. The two then go on a journey to locate her long lost son. The film, which features a sharp script and outstanding turn by Dench, won best screenplay at the Venice Film Festival and was the runner-up for the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Jules Heath

SKIP: ‘The Book Thief’

Based on the bestselling novel of the same name by Markus Zusak, this historical drama tells the tale of Liesel Meminger (Sophie Nelisse), a young girl living with her foster parents Hans (Geoffrey Rush) and Rose (Emily Watson), in a working class German neighborhood. Liesel finds joy in stealing books and sharing them with other children. When World War II breaks out, her book-stealing habit becomes more intense, and the family eventually risks all to shelter a Jewish refugee named Max (Ben Schnetzer). Every year there seems to be an awards-seeking Holocaust film released, and sadly, The Book Thief is a shamelessly schmaltzy enterprise seemingly designed to emotionally manipulate and pimp itself out for awards. Nelisse is a gifted child actor, but can’t rise above this kitschy material.

Francois Duhamel/Fox Searchlight Pictures

SEE: ’12 Years A Slave’

12 Years a Slave is based on the 1853 biography of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free man and ace fiddler living with his wife and two children in Saratoga, N.Y., who is kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841. Northup is eventually sold to Edwin Epps, played by Michael Fassbender—a brutal slave owner in the Antebellum South who harbors a sadistic obsession with his prized cotton-picking slave, “Patsy” (Lupita Nyong’o). The film, directed by British visual artist-cum-filmmaker Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame), is the most uncompromising depiction of slavery ever put to film, as well as one of the most exquisitely composed films of the year replete with many poetic images that will haunt you long after you’ve left the cinema. Ejiofor, Fassbender, and in particular Nyong’o all deliver mesmerizing performances in what will undoubtedly be one of the front runners for the Best Picture Oscar.