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'Curious Case of Benjamin Button,' 'Valkyrie' and Others in Theaters This Holiday


Every year at this time, Hollywood releases the Christmas and holiday blockbusters, counting on family audiences to fill the theaters. As long as a film's character in the seasonal red costume makes one funny blunder after another, the holiday spirit lives on.

This is also the season when movie heavyweights shine. A number of expensive productions with mega-stars are coming out these days. Some have already been released. The champions will take the road to February's Oscars.

Australia

Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman pair up in the epic film Australia. The movie opens in 1939 in the Australian outback. Kidman plays Lady Sarah Ashley, a young widow who arrives from England to take care of her late husband's ranch. There, she meets cattleman Drover. He helps her drive her livestock across vast stretches of land, saves her business and wins her heart.

This fictional melodrama is impressive for its cinematic splendor and for the solid performances of its two mega-stars. Unfortunately, the romance is smothered by a meandering screenplay that spans corrupt cattle barons, local politics, Australia's preparation for World War II, and social injustice against Aborigines. Inevitably, the movie runs too long.

Valkyrie

On July 20, 1944, a group of military officers conspired to kill Hitler. The plot, dubbed "Operation Valkyrie," failed. Director Bryan Singer brings this historic event onto the big screen in his drama Valkyrie. The film is more thriller than history and has already won good reviews for its cast, its trim scenes and its historical accuracy. Tom Cruise stars as Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, the operation's mastermind.

Cruise is convincing as a German officer, although his American accent undermines the performance. All in all, this is a gripping film. The question is whether moviegoers will want to see a film about Adolph Hitler on Christmas Day, when the movie premieres.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

One of the most impressive films this season is The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. This adaptation of a 1920s story by F. Scott Fitzgerald is about a man who ages backwards.

Visually and conceptually, David Finch's film is magical. Brad Pitt delivers a powerful performance as a man whose life story transcends time.

Benjamin, as a child, has the wrinkled face of an 80-year-old, but brimming with innocence. As he gets older, his face turns youthful but it carries the weariness of age.

Actress Kate Blanchet plays Daisy, Benjamin's love.

The younger Benjamin becomes, the older those close to him get. One by one, they die. The only thing that transcends life is love and its memory. Benjamin's and Daisy's relationship embodies that message. The film received a Golden Globe nomination for best picture, making it an Oscar contender.

More Movies in Store

Other films are the heartwarming drama Seven Pounds, starring Will Smith as a mysterious man called Ben. Ben carries a dark secret he intends to take with him to the grave. And he plans to kill himself. Before he commits suicide, he decides to help transform the lives of seven strangers.

The sci-fi remake of the 1951 classic The Day the Earth Stood Still showcases Keanu Reeves as an alien who comes to earth with a message: Time is up for the human race. Klaatu's mission is to save the earth. To do that, he has to destroy the human species, which is killing the planet.

Shot during the Cold War, the original version dealt effectively with the realities of its time. Unfortunately, the remake loses its meaning to a mindless script.

Reeves is expressionless as a messenger from outer space. Then again, who knows? Maybe aliens tend to be expressionless. But the biggest star in this film turns out to be the special effects.

Finally, The Tale of Desperaux, is a story of an astoundingly brave mouse who sets out to find and save kidnapped Princess Pea. Desperaux is tiny but fearless. He also speaks human.

Matthew Broderick is the voice behind Desperaux's animated image. Emma Watson, the famous Hermione from the Harry Potter films, interprets Princess Pea. This artfully animated film will delight kids and entertain parents on Christmas Day.

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