Fa La La La LaAaaand Cut!

Deck the halls with boughs of Hollywood

No amount of whining, tantrum throwing or pants peeing has gotten me out of the holiday ritual I most loathe: daylong, weekend trips to Shiny, Happy Temples of Capitalism Run Amok. Fortunately, most local malls have within them or very close by a movie theater—that sticky oasis amid countless identical stores hawking overpriced gifts for people who don't really need anything. Simply duck into the nearest cineplex after breaking away to "go find something special" for the loved one who dragged you to the flippin' mall in the first place and let Hollywood gently brainwash your holiday blues away. As a bonus, movies are also a great place to take out-of-town relatives with whom you'd rather not yak.

So here, brothers and sisters in checkout-line/forced-social-interaction hell, is a guide to what you'll find on the big screens between now and Xmas, arranged by their scheduled release dates*.

*Actual release dates may vary. All are scheduled to at least open in Los Angeles before year's end, but not necessarily in Orange County. May increase chance of a heart attack or stroke or excessive bleeding or serious skin reactions or intestinal problems, such as bleeding and ulcers, which can occur without warning and may cause death.

FRIDAY, DEC. 15

Eragon(20th Century Fox)

The story:
In a fantasy world of kingdoms and dragons—no, not Scottsdale—young lad Eragon (Edward Speleers) finds a dragon's egg, which means he's either destined to save the world from an evil king or start the land of Alagaësia's first Denny's franchise.

What it's got going for it:Bestseller source material by teen prodigy Christopher Paolini; the directing debut of Stefen Fangmeier, who produced jaw-dropping visual effects in Signs, The Bourne Identityand The Perfect Storm; highfalutin supporting players such as Jeremy Irons, Robert Carlyle and John Malkovich.

What it's got going against it: Unless the Monty Python troupe is involved, castles and dragons and English accents make me sleeeeeepy.

Home of the Brave(MGM)

The story:After they return home from Iraq and try to adjust to civilian life—including acceptance of the painful Kid Rock-Pam Anderson split—American soldiers Jessica Biel, 50 Cent, Brian Presley and Mr. Samuel L. Jackson suffer from postwar trauma.

What it's got going for it:The first big-budget, non-documentary take on the current Iraq War; a modern retelling of that 1946 classic, seven-time Oscar-winning, warts-and-all look at after-wartime readjustment, The Best Years of Our Lives; no muthafuckin' snakes on the muthafuckin' plane!

What it's got going against it:Director Irwin Winkler has impressive Hollywood cred—as a producer (They Shoot Horses Don't They, Raging Bull, The Right Stuff and Goodfellas—best-picture Oscar nominees all—and Rocky, which won him a best-pic statuette). But Winkler only began directing in the 1990s, and his films—The Net, At First Sight, Life as a House, 28 Days and De-Lovely—were marginal at best.

The Pursuit of Happyness(Columbia)

The story:A struggling salesman (Will Smith) takes custody of his 5-year-old son (Smith's real-life son, Jaden) as he faces a life-changing professional endeavor.

What it's got going for it:Thandie Newton, presumably not getting groped by a cop this time, and Dan Castellaneta, presumably not Homer Simpson this time.

What it's got going against it: Spellcheck.

Venus(Miramax)

The story:Aging actors Peter O'Toole and Leslie Phillips (now there's a stretch!) have their lives turned upside down when one's brash young niece (Jodie Whittaker) comes to stay with them.

What it's got going for it:A not-so-much-for-this-but-for-your-body-of-work best actor Oscar for forever-shunned O'Toole, according to early betting at the track; writer Hanif Kureishi and director Roger Michell, who last teamed on 2003 indie The Mother, for which our crit Ella Taylor singled out each for praise, especially Michell's ease with small movies (which Venus and The Motherare) rather than with "pandering big-ticket items."

What it's got going against it: Michell's pandering big-ticket item Notting Hill.

*   *   *

WEDNESDAY, DEC. 20

Charlotte's Web(Paramount)

The story:Naïve little pig Wilbur befriends whip-smart spider Charlotte, who tries to save her pal from becoming the Other White Meat.

What it's got going for it:The source material, E.B. White's children's book, is a gen-u-ine classic; instead of another lame animated flick, this one's live action, with Dakota Fanning as Fern and such talents as Julia Roberts, Robert Redford, Thomas Haden Church, André Benjamin and Oprah Winfrey giving voice to barnyard critters (now there's a stretch!); co-writer Susannah Grant's credits include Erin Brockovich.

What it's got going against it: Grant's credits also include In Her Shoes.

*   *   *

THURSDAY, DEC. 21

Dreamgirls(Dreamworks/Paramount)

The story:It's the cinematic version of the Tony Award-winning musical loosely based on the rise of Diana Ross and the Supremes.

What it's got going for it:Beyoncè Knowles, Jamie Foxx, Danny Glover, Jennifer Hudson and—in a turn that's also generating Oscar buzz—Eddie Murphy; director Bill Condon also adapted from a stage musical the screenplay for a little something called Chicago. Hmm, wonder how that went?

What it's got going against it:What the . . . ? No Miss Diana Ross!?! Baby, baby, where did our love go?

*   *   *

FRIDAY, DEC. 22

The Good German(Warner Bros.)

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