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From Family Fare To Oscar Bait, The Big Pictures To See At Year's End


Along with too much dessert and shopping like crazy, going to the movies has become a holiday tradition in this country. And this year there are many movies to choose from - "Concussion," The Hateful Eight," "Daddy's Home," "The Revenant", "Point Break," "Joy." So here to talk about some of these films and maybe a word or two about "Star Wars" is Alynda Wheat. She writes about movies for People magazine, and she joins us from NPR West. Welcome, Melinda. Thanks for joining us.

ALYNDA WHEAT: Thanks for having me, Michel.

MARTIN: So why do so many movies come out on Christmas?

WHEAT: Well, that's because all the families are together then. And either it's a wonderful opportunity to go out and see a movie with the kids and with Mom and Dad, or it's a wonderful opportunity to escape the kids or Mom and Dad.

MARTIN: And is it also to get in under the deadline for awards?

WHEAT: That is part of it because you have to have your movie screened before the end of the year for at least a week in order to be considered for awards. So some of these are capitalizing on that, and some of them - it's just, you know, great timing for as many audience members as they can get.

MARTIN: So the list is long. We cannot talk about all of the movies coming out on Christmas because there are so many of them. But since it's Christmas, let's start with "Joy." This is David O. Russell's comedy-drama by Joy Mangano, the woman who invented the Miracle Mop, and it stars his muse Jennifer Lawrence. Let's listen to a clip.


JENNIFER LAWRENCE: (As Joy Mangano) I was valedictorian in high school. I got into a college in Boston, but I stayed here because my parents are getting divorced and stayed to help my mom. And I helped my dad with business stuff - accountant.

EDGAR RAMIREZ: (As Tony Miranne) Maybe your dreams on hold right now. No?

LAWRENCE: (As Joy Mangano) That's a nice way putting it.

MARTIN: What did you think of the film, Alynda?

WHEAT: Well, sadly for me, there is no joy this holiday season. David O. Russell has this knock against him of making movies that are really loose and jagged and don't have a clear through line. And I've never really bought that. I loved "Silver Linings Playbook." I adore "American Hustle." Here, it fails him. "Joy's" tone is all over the place. The characters - wildly inconsistent. It doesn't really make a whole lot of sense.

MARTIN: Oh, so not another Oscar in there possibly for Jennifer Lawrence?

WHEAT: I don't think so.

MARTIN: So another movie coming out on Christmas that's a hero's journey is "The Revenant" from the director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. He won the Oscar for best director last year for "Birdman." So what's this one about? And tell us if you think he might be one to bring home another little golden man, as Lupita Nyong'o called it when she won hers.

WHEAT: (Laughter) That is entirely possible. "The Revenant" is a big, bold, epic action-adventure movie in which Leonardo DiCaprio stars as a guy who gets mauled by a bear. And that's not even the worst thing that happens to him that day. So this is this wonderful epic about how he knits his bones back together to begin this great vengeance quest against the people who left him for dead, including Tom Hardy, who is absolutely amazing in the film. This is one of those epic film shoots that you hear about - you know, nine months in the wilderness up in Canada and Argentina. And can you see it in these performances. DiCaprio is fantastic. It's probably his best shot yet at an Oscar.

MARTIN: Wow. Well, that sounds exciting. So another kind of big movie is getting a lot of buzz, and that's Quentin Tarantino's three-plus-hour epic "The Hateful Eight." Could you tell us about that?

WHEAT: Well, the thing is it is three-plus-hours, but it is not an epic. This is actually a really tiny story about a couple of guys played by Kurt Russell and Samuel L. Jackson who both happen to be bounty hunters who meet on a stagecoach. And they all end up with a bunch of other guys in what's essentially an outpost kind of inn, restaurant, cafe place, and things happen. This being Tarantino, those things involve lots of blood and lots of violence, but not with the style of it that we're used to in Quentin Tarantino. This is like a greatest hits album of all the B-sides.

MARTIN: (Laughter) Oh, boy. That's harsh. Let me just play a short clip. I think I have one. Here it is.


SAMUEL L. JACKSON: (As Major Marquis Warren) So you taking in the (unintelligible) to hang?

KURT RUSSELL: (As John Ruth) You bet.

JACKSON: (As Major Marquis Warren) You going to wait around and watch it?

RUSSELL: (As John Ruth) Oh, you know I am.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (As character) Come on.

RUSSELL: (As John Ruth) I want to hear the neck snap with my own two ears.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (As character) Get up, boy.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (As character) You never wait to watch them hang?

JACKSON: (As Major Marquis Warren) My bodies never hang because I never bring them in alive.


WHEAT: Yeah, that's...

MARTIN: But you were not impressed. You know, there's always this thing about how he uses the N-word. Is race a part of this movie or not?

WHEAT: This movie is essentially entirely about race. I mean, it's set maybe five or six years after the Civil War. And, yes, that N-word comes out a whole lot of times. But unlike with "Django Unchained" where he used it a lot sort of lyrically and poetically, arguably, this time it's just sort of thrown out there a lot, just to see what happens to the audience when it's slung out there sort of like a slap. I mean, but that's what happens so much in the movie. People just get punched and beaten, kicked and all sorts of horrible things - just not the fun, creative ways we're used to Quenton Tarantino doing.

MARTIN: Another movie coming out on Christmas that's also gotten a lot of attention in advance is "Concussion." It's the story of the forensic pathologist who's credited with sounding the alarm about the effects of head trauma on football players. The movie stars Will Smith as Dr. Bennet Omalu. So how did he do?

WHEAT: You know, Will Smith is actually really fantastic in this film. The film itself is kind of revelatory. You know, the things that NFL players go through when they take those hits - it's quite an interesting watch.

MARTIN: And I do want to mention that I will speaking with the real Dr. Bennet Omalu for our program next weekend. I hope people will tune in for that if they're interested to know what he really is like. So finally, Alynda, we cannot let you go without acknowledging the elephant in the room. Or maybe it's the elephant in the galaxy.


MARTIN: So as one of the lucky people who did not have to buy your ticket six months in advance, how is it?

WHEAT: You know, "Star Wars"" fans can rejoice that this is exactly what they want. It's fun. It totally nods to the old franchise. Daisy Ridley, who plays a sort of scavenger named Rey, is as tough as they come. This character is new and fun, and it's exciting to see a woman take over the fanboy franchise.

MARTIN: Alynda Wheat is a senior writer for People magazine. Alynda, thanks so much for speaking with us, and happy holidays to you, too.

WHEAT: And to you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.