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Cruise, Craig, Mortensen take us back to WWII

Just in time for the holidays: Loads of Nazis. There must be something in the air, because World War II is everywhere in this winter’s period dramas.
/ Source: msnbc.com

Just in time for the holidays: Loads of Nazis. There must be something in the air, because World War II is everywhere in this winter’s period dramas. Plots include: A plan to assassinate Hitler; a Nazi collaborator who starts to feel guilty; a boy who falls for a woman who may have worked in a concentration camp; and three Jewish brothers who decide to fight back. It’s not recommended to watch any of these as a double feature. OK, there is one more period drama, in which Beyonce Knowles plays Etta James — and she won’t be fighting any Nazis.

“Valkyrie”
Starring:
Tom Cruise, Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Patrick Wilson, Stephen Fry, Tom WilkinsonDirector: Bryan Singer Story: Cruise stars as Col. Claus von Stauffenberg, a Nazi officer who loyally serves during World War II, but secretly hopes that someone will take down Adolf Hitler before Europe is destroyed. He decides to take action himself and joins the German resistance. They devise a plan, called Operation Valkyrie, to assassinate Hitler, but the plot fails, and the men must face the consequences. Worth seeing? Yes. With all the focus on Cruise, it’s easy to forget that this film is written by Christopher McQuarrie and directed by Singer (the two men who made “The Usual Suspects”), and they know how to create suspense. This is one of those movies where all the “Germans” speak English (some with American accents, some with English, none with German), so you will be required to suspend some disbelief. Msnbc.com’s Scoop reported that early viewers found Cruise's performance laughable, writing, “The film is nowhere near as exciting as a thriller, but Cruise’s performance elicits uncomfortable and inappropriate laughs.” Still, it might be worth giving Singer and McQuarrie a chance.Web site: NA Release date: Dec. 26

“The Reader”
Starring:
Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes, David Kross Director: Stephen Daldry Story: Based on Bernhard Schlink's best-selling novel, the film tells the story of a young man’s (Kross) involvement with an older woman (Winslet) during post-World War II Germany. But at a war crimes trial, he finds out a dark secret about the woman he loves. The adult version of the young man is played by Fiennes. Worth seeing? Yes. Director Daldry and writer David Hare are the team that brought us “The Hours” and Winslet could face herself in the best actress Oscar category. This is the movie that the Weinstein Company dumped “The Road” into 2009 for. However, this movie has had some controversy attached to it. On Oct. 14, Rope of Silicon.com reported a rumor that editing on the film wasn’t even halfway completed and a composer had not been chosen for the score. Weinstein also had a public battle with producer Scott Rudin over the film’s release date and Rudin ended up taking his name off the film. What does all this mean to the film? Maybe nothing, but if Daldry felt rushed to make the Dec. 10 release date, he may have had to sacrifice quality. We shall see. Web site: NARelease date: Dec. 10

“Defiance”
Starring:
Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, Jamie Bell, Alexa Davalos, Allan Corduner, Mark FeuersteinDirector: Ed Zwick Story: Based on a true story, Craig, Schreiber and Bell play three Jewish brothers during World War II who escape the Nazis in West Belarus and then come back to rescue more Jews. They build a village in the forest that becomes the home for 1,200 Jewish people and other fugitives.Worth seeing? Doesn’t look promising. Director Zwick’s films (“Glory,” “The Last Samurai”) never seem to connect on a purely emotional level — perhaps because he tends to make films about such noble people, who are hard to really relate to. The film will get only a very limited release (for Oscar consideration) on Dec. 31, before coming out in theaters wide in January. Paramount claims the reason for this is purely economic. Variety’s Todd McCarthy wrote of the film: “A potentially exceptional story is told in a flatly unexceptional manner.” And he added that the film “becomes more conventional as it goes, topped by a climax straight out of countless war pics and Westerns.” Web site: NA Release date: Dec. 31

“Cadillac Records”
Starring:
Adrien Brody, Beyonce Knowles, Jeffrey Wright, Columbus Short, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Cedric the Entertainer Director: Darnell MartinStory: The film chronicles the rise and fall of Chess Records and its artists. Brody plays Polish immigrant and bar owner Leonard Chess, who decides to start his own record label. Knowles plays soul singer Etta James, Wright appears as bluesman Muddy Waters, Short is harmonica player Little Walter, Mos Def appears as Chuck Berry, and Cedric The Entertainer plays Willie Dixon. Worth seeing? Perhaps. All the actors do their own singing and this isn’t really a biopic, it’s more of a look at an era. “It’s not like ‘Walk the Line’ (where you follow) one guy,” Short told VH1. “It’s following Muddy Waters, Little Walter — it’s a love story. It’s how the blues brought these guys together and what the blues did in that time.” Web site: NA Release date: Dec. 5

Note: All release dates are subject to change.