Winter break movie guide

by Tony Libera

The holidays can be a time of great familial bonding, or a time of heated skirmishes with the ogres you call parents. Regardless of where your family stands, the movies offer a chance to get together, shut your collective mouth holes and be dazzled by the magic of the silver screen.

This winter break features a surprising number of quality films from some of today’s finest directors, including Darren Aronofsky, Michel Gondry, Sofia Coppola, David O. Russell and the Coen brothers.


Now playing:

“Black Swan” — 3.5/4 Stars

The term “visionary director” gets thrown around a lot these days, usually when referring to some jag like Zack Snyder or Brett Ratner. Those two shmohawks are about as visionary as a plank of wood; Darren Aronofsky, however, is worthy of the mantle.

In “Black Swan,” Aronofsky uses his bag of cinematic tricks to frame the life of a virginal young ballerina (Natalie Portman) as a psychological thriller. Portman’s character has landed a role in a production of Tchaikovsky’s awesome ballet (yeah, I said it), “Swan Lake,” but a vivacious newcomer’s arrival begins to take its toll on the quiet perfectionist.

Aronofsky’s efforts make “Black Swan” both creepy and profoundly moving, but Portman is the real standout in what is undoubtedly an Oscar-worthy performance.


“TRON: Legacy” — 2.5/4 Stars

What is there to say about “TRON: Legacy” that hasn’t been said about its predecessor? The storyline is basic, bordering on tedious, but the visuals — by the beard of Jeff Bridges! — the visuals are worth every penny of the outrageous 3D admission fee. With its digital metropolitan backdrop, gladiatorial mayhem and smokin’ hot, latex-clad robo-babes, “TRON: Legacy” comes to epitomize the term eye candy. It will surely dazzle its two intended demographics: Stoners and children (three demographics if you count stoner-children).


“True Grit” — 3/4 Stars

The Coen bros. helm this adaptation of the 1969 John Wayne vehicle, juxtaposing classic Western grandeur with their signature dialogical flourishes. Jeff Bridges stands in for the Duke as the iconic Rooster Cogburn, trading in the royal Dudeness found in “TRON: Legacy” for a drunken, dragging swagger that’s as comedic as it is badass. Matt Damon is hilarious as a vain Texas Ranger, and Hailee Steinfeld shows off considerable acting chops for a fourteen-year-old.

“True Grit” doesn’t reinvent the wheel, nor does it try; instead it functions as a solid throwback Western.


“The Fighter”— 2.5/4

Aronofsky was set to direct this one, too, but after some work on “The Fighter” he dropped out, making way for another solid director, David O. Russell (thank goodness it wasn’t Zack Snyder).

“The Fighter” tells the true story of pugilistic brothers Dick Ecklund (Christian Bale) and Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), the former a cocky boxer who went the distance with Sugar Ray Leonard, the latter his foil, a humble Joe trying to get his shot at the title.

The film drags at times, losing tension because of a two-hour runtime and the fact that we know the real life outcome. Still, “The Fighter” is enjoyable in the way that all boxing movies are enjoyable, and the performances by Messrs. Wahlberg and Bale are nothing short of phenomenal. Bale could snag a Best Supporting Actor statue for this one.


January releases:

“Somewhere” — Sofia Coppola’s take on celebrity meets parenthood has already won the Venice Film Festival’s top prize, The Golden Lion. That’s a good sign for an indie film crowd divided over her last film, “Marie Antoinette.”

“The Green Hornet” — It kind of bizarre that Michel Gondry, another man deserving the casually applied “visionary” moniker, is directing “The Green Hornet” movie, but I definitely won’t complain. Seth Rogan will be hilarious, Christoph Waltz will be menacing; the only wild card is Jay Chou, who will have to fill Bruce Lee’s legendary shoes (What are things that will never happen, Alex?)

“Ong Bak 3” —This movie could have horrendous acting and zero plot and it would still be worth seeing thanks to Tony Jaa’s unbelievable martial artistry. Jaa is not human.