Daily Dish
How long does a turkey take to cook? Is it done? Answers to last-minute Thanksgiving questions
ENTERTAINMENT

From escapist franchise fare to festival darlings and awards hopefuls, the holiday season features some of Hollywood's most diverse slate of movies. One of the busiest box-office periods of the year, the films hitting theaters between now and mid January include "Justice League," "I, Tonya," "The Shape of Water," "Molly's Game" and more. Get a closer look at some of the most-anticipated films in the Times' 2017 Holiday Movie Preview. (This year's coverage excludes films from the Walt Disney Co. studios.)


A note to readers

The annual Holiday Movie Sneaks section published by the Los Angeles Times typically includes features on movies from all major studios, reflecting the diversity of films Hollywood offers during the holidays, one of the busiest box-office periods of the year. This year, Walt Disney Co. studios declined to offer The Times advance screenings, citing what it called unfair coverage of its business ties with Anaheim. The Times will continue to review and cover Disney movies and programs when they are available to the public.

Guillermo del Toro's 'The Shape of Water' is a genre-blending movie about loving 'otherness'

Sally Hawkins in "The Shape of Water." (Kerry Hayes / Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Sally Hawkins in "The Shape of Water." (Kerry Hayes / Fox Searchlight Pictures)

“Ach-Shun!”

Before a take during the shooting of “The Shape of Water,” director and co-writer Guillermo del Toro lets loose a cannon-shot growl that erupts with gusto from somewhere deep within him.

The same could be said of the finished movie, an emotional love story, espionage thriller and monster movie all rolled into one. Its eccentric mix of tones and genres could only come from the vivid, creative imagination of Del Toro.

In the film, Sally Hawkins plays Elisa Esposito, a mute cleaning woman at a high-security government facility in early 1960s Baltimore. When agent Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) brings in a mysterious creature (Doug Jones) — a part man, part fish captured in South America — Elisa feels an unexpected connection.

With the aid of her co-worker Zelda Fuller (Octavia Spencer), her neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) and scientist Dr. Robert Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg), Elisa spirits the creature away from the facility to fully realize their romantic bond.

L.A. Times critics discuss the movies to look for this holiday season

Pull up a chair and take notes as The Times’ film critics, Kenneth Turan and Justin Chang, discuss the holiday movies they’re most looking forward to, from franchise films "Justice League" and "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" to festival hits like "The Disaster Artist" and "Foxtrot."

The list of 2017 holiday movies includes 'Mudbound,' 'Coco,' 'Justice League' and 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi'

"Justice League," "Coco," "I, Tonya," "Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle" and "Bright" are among the movies on the holiday list. (Handout)
"Justice League," "Coco," "I, Tonya," "Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle" and "Bright" are among the movies on the holiday list. (Handout)

The 2017-18 Holiday Movie Preview is a glimpse at the films opening through mid-January. Release dates and other details are subject to change.

Nov. 10

Amanda & Jack Go Glamping

Romantic comedy about a writer and his wife trying to jump-start their marriage in nature. With David Arquette, Amy Acker, June Squibb. Written and directed by Brandon Dickerson. Gravitas Ventures

Art Show Bingo

A painter is tormented by his twin brother, an aggressive documentary filmmaker. With James Maslow, Lillian Solange Beaudoin, Ella Lentini. Written by Emile Husson, Matthew Fine. Directed by Fine. Indie Rights

Bad Grandmas

Four elderly women accidentally kill a con man and must deal with his partner. With Florence Henderson, Pam Grier, Randall Batinkoff, Judge Reinhold. Written by Srikant Chellappa, Jack Snyder. Directed by Chellappa. Parade Deck Films

Batman's Flying Fox is like the 'Batcave in flight,' and the 'Justice League' crew really built it

Concept art of the Flying Fox. (Warner Bros. Pictures / DC Comics)
Concept art of the Flying Fox. (Warner Bros. Pictures / DC Comics)

Riddle me this, Batman: How do you transport a group of five superheroes, none of whom possess flying abilities, around the world to battle evil in the most efficient (and cool-looking) manner?
 

For Warner Bros.’ superhero mash-up “Justice League” the job of working that out fell largely to production designer Patrick Tatopoulos.

The result? Batman’s newest vehicle, a massive transport plane with the maneuverability and firepower of a fighter jet, dubbed the Flying Fox.

Sketches of the Flying Fox from "Justice League." (Patrick Tatopoulos / Warner Bros. Pictures)
Sketches of the Flying Fox from "Justice League." (Patrick Tatopoulos / Warner Bros. Pictures)

A go-to scribe for Hollywood rom-coms, Steven Rogers was looking for a career reinvention with 'I, Tonya'

Screenwriter Steve Rogers, behind the Tonya Harding story, "I Tonya," is photographed at his home. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
Screenwriter Steve Rogers, behind the Tonya Harding story, "I Tonya," is photographed at his home. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

When you think of classic stories of redemption, disgraced figure skater Tonya Harding is not a name that comes to mind.

Although Harding was not directly involved in a 1994 attack on rival Nancy Kerrigan before the Winter Olympics, the ensuing scandal led to Harding pleading guilty in hindering the prosecution of the attackers and receiving a lifetime ban from the U.S. Figure Skating Association. She has rarely been heard from since.

But that transition from worldwide fame to relative obscurity is one of several reasons screenwriter Steven Rogers found Harding’s story so compelling. A go-to scribe for Hollywood rom-coms (including “Hope Floats” and “Kate & Leopold”), Rogers was looking for a career reinvention. After watching Nanette Burstein’s ESPN documentary about the skating saga “The Price of Gold” with his niece, he resolved to track down Harding and tell her story in a spec script.

'Ferdinand' director Carlos Saldanha 'wanted to create my own vision' of the classic tale

Ferdinand in a scene from the animated movie "Ferdinand." (Twentieth Century Fox / Blue Sky Studios)
Ferdinand in a scene from the animated movie "Ferdinand." (Twentieth Century Fox / Blue Sky Studios)

The book Franco couldn’t brook is now a 3-D, computer-animated film, and that’s no bull.

“The Story of Ferdinand,” a gentle, slender kids’ tome about a Spanish bull too peaceful to fight in the ring, was written by Munro Leaf, illustrated by Robert Lawson and originally published in 1936. Spain’s Gen. Francisco Franco banned it during that nation’s Civil War as pacifist propaganda; Adolf Hitler ordered it destroyed. Meanwhile, supporters such as Ernest Hemingway lauded it. And Leaf? He called it “Propaganda for laughter only.”

“Rio” and “Ice Age” director Carlos Saldanha acknowledges the book’s nonviolent bent, but sees a different theme: “If you’re at home with who you are, you find peace.”Presumably Hitler and co. would’ve beefed with that one, too. But His version of “Ferdinand,” opening Dec. 15, is no polemic; it’s a colorful adventure story, as opposed to the quiet book.

'Molly's Game' director Aaron Sorkin thinks his lead character is 'a feminist icon'

Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba star in "Molly's Game." (TIFF)
Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba star in "Molly's Game." (TIFF)

Amid all the movies that distinguished themselves at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, perhaps no movie did so with words more than “Molly’s Game.” The film is a motormouth-y throwback, the kind that in the age of images and spectacle grooves to what movies once grooved to: well-crafted dialogue.

But what else would you expect from the feature directorial debut of Aaron Sorkin?

“I don't think it will come as a surprise to anyone I love language. It’s the only way I have of communicating creatively,” Sorkin, the Emmy-winning creator of “The West Wing” and Oscar-winning screenwriter of “The Social Network,” told The Times in Toronto.

I can’t draw; I can’t write music. I don’t see in my head what David Lean saw with camels coming up [over the horizon]. This is how I do it.

Aaron Sorkin

Dee Rees' grandmother's journal let her 'own the story' of 'Mudbound'

The cover of Earnestine Smith's journal used by her granddaughter Dee Rees for "Mudbound." (Dee Rees)
The cover of Earnestine Smith's journal used by her granddaughter Dee Rees for "Mudbound." (Dee Rees)

For black folks, writing down our family histories is often a foreign concept. After all, because many of our enslaved ancestors could not read and write, they orally passed on legacies, using spoken word to maintain a connection to their homeland. Today, though literacy has drastically increased, such an oral tradition persists, at family reunions and around kitchen tables.

But for Earnestine Smith, grandmother of famed writer-director Dee Rees, making her family's history tangible, in the form of a journal she titled “Memories of My People,” was important.

Because if you don’t know from where you come, you don’t know how far you can go.

My grandmother did the thing that I’m not doing and my mother isn’t doing.

Dee Rees

Hong Chau is poised to break big in 'Downsizing,' her second film

 (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Big break. Hong Chau turns over the phrase. There have been many times the “Treme,” “Inherent Vice” and soon-to-be “Downsizing” star wondered if she was about to have one.

The New Orleans native has already gone from virtual unknown to budding television player to scene-stealer for directors Paul Thomas Anderson and Alexander Payne.

“Your first union job is like a break because now you’re in the union. ‘Treme’ was big, because that was my first time getting to return to a show,” said Chau, who played Linh for three seasons on the HBO series, as she sipped iced coffee in a booth in the corner of a bustling Melrose Avenue brasserie.

Her first movie role, playing a brothel employee with a heart of gold and secrets to share opposite Joaquin Phoenix in Anderson’s 1970s-set Los Angeles stoner noir “Inherent Vice,” effectively put her on the Hollywood map three years ago.

Overrated/Underrated: Alexander Payne’s 'Downsizing' and problematic filmmakers

Louis C.K. from the movie "I Love You, Daddy." (TIFF)
Louis C.K. from the movie "I Love You, Daddy." (TIFF)

UNDERRATED

Alexander Payne’s comic timing: It’s been six years since Payne has written last wrote a new feature film, and this year’s “Downsizing” (Dec. 22) — which looks to have only a philosophical relationship to corporate restructuring — finds him in a more absurd place than usual as it features a couple (Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig) who shrink themselves to a fraction of human size. While Payne is a master of a peculiarly Midwestern sort of dark comedy (see “Election” and “About Schmidt”), the idea of his comic gifts being applied to a broader, weirder concept seems like a solid fit.

Joachim Trier superhero: Creator of the grimly poetic “Louder Than Bombs” and the poetically grim “Oslo, August 31st,” this Norwegian director seems a strange choice for a story of supernatural powers. Yet that looks to be exactly what he’s done with “Thelma” (Nov. 24), a film about a young woman coming to terms with her sexuality and the very real dangers that brings. With Trier’s track record for raw emotions and delicately drawn atmosphere, “Thelma” has the potential to reinvent what’s become well-worn territory. Can we sign him up for an introspective branch of Marvel, please?

'Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri' could finally be Sam Rockwell's ticket to awards season

 (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
(Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Please excuse Sam Rockwell if he’s feeling a little exhausted lately. He’s been channeling former President George W. Bush for “The Big Short” director Adam McKay’s next film, “Backseat,” which stars Christian Bale as former Vice President Dick Cheney and Amy Adams as his wife, Lynne. The unusual role is just the latest in a wildly varied professional career that has averaged two movies a year for the last 20 years.

“I’d like to slow down. I think I need to slow down a little bit. I’m a little tired. But you take the work when you can get it, I guess,” the New York-based Rockwell said last month at Hollywood’s Chateau Marmont.

He was briefly in L.A. as part of an ongoing tour supporting “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” which won the coveted audience award at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival -- following a rapturous reception at the Venice Film Festival -- and is expected to be a major player in multiple categories this awards season.

READ MORE >

'La La Land' songwriters change their tune for risky new musical 'The Greatest Showman'

Songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

If you look up “Hot Streak” in the current edition of the musical dictionary, you’ll see a picture of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.

Collaborators since their freshman year at the University of Michigan, Pasek and Paul shared last year’s original song Oscar with Justin Hurwitz for “La La Land’s” “City of Stars.” They won this year’s original score Tony for “Dear Evan Hansen.” And they’re currently working on “A Christmas Story Live” — the upcoming live telecast of the musical for which they received their first Tony nom.

And then there’s “The Greatest Showman,” opening Dec. 20, the Hugh Jackman-starring big-screen musical about P.T. Barnum, directed by Michael Gracey — they provided the song score.

To quote our leading man from ‘Evan Hansen’ [Ben Platt], he had a great line at the Tonys: ‘The things that make you strange, make you powerful.’ 

Benj Pasek
Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
86°