Big stars, big budgets team up to ring in the holiday season

You can always tell it’s the holiday season when a) the temperature starts dropping, b) your bank account is racing the temperature to the zero mark and c) Hollywood blitzes the market with a barrage of late-year flicks featuring the biggest stars teamed up with even larger budgets. Since you only have so much money to spend (especially after your meal plan dries up), The Signal proudly presents the annual Winter Movie Extravaganza.

It’s not every day you see four A-list actors competing for attention in a winter flick. However, Mike Nichols has succeeded in bringing together Jude Law, Julia Roberts, Natalie Portman and Clive Owen for the highly anticipated “Closer.” The film centers around two couples whose philandering ways cause each to reach the breaking point. Portman, who plays an enigmatic stripper, is taking a risk here in one of her more mature roles so far and with all of the buzz (and not just over the alleged cut nude scene) she is getting from early viewings, she could get an Oscar nomination along with the film.

The only setback to the film is the concept – how many couple-switches have we seen so far? The crystal ball predicts four of five stars. Coming Dec. 3.

So you’re not up for a drama – how about “The Da Vinci Co- uh, I mean “National Treasure,” the latest Bruckheimer blockbuster? Here, Nicholas Cage attempts to locate a massive treasure hidden by America’s presidents of old. His clues and location? Hidden on the back of the Declaration of Independence. Now if only Bruckheimer could find a clue as to how to make a movie that doesn’t smack off a certain Dan Brown best seller. You can be assured that Nicholas Cage will be quirky as ever and as this is a Bruckheimer-bash, explosions will occur. Not even Sean Bean – who seems to always bring more to the table – can save this one. This is destined to be a mainstay on DVD to be sure – methinks this will be a generous two out of five stars. Due Nov. 19.

Am I the only one getting kind of tired of the sword-and-sandals genre? A few years ago, I would have been shocked at my own statement here, but after “Gladiator,” “Troy,” a half a dozen TV movies and now “Alexander,” it’s almost like clockwork now to expect a major epic like these.

The inspirational tale of Alexander the Great needs to be told in a bold manner, to be sure, but I have misgivings here. The trailers shows plenty of the overused sweeping battle shots, coupled with dime-a-dozen “Braveheart”-esque speeches … yawn. No offense Colin, but if you expect to be taken seriously as an actor, quit whining about your “talent being deleted from films” – and I don’t mean acting Talent.

Sure, Oliver Stone is a great filmmaker and I’m sure this work will be solid – but I’ve heard so much about how this is groundbreaking because of the Alexander-had-a-male-lover angle that I’m already bored.

I’ll be generous and predict a three out of five stars, even if early reviews are coming in on a harsher tangent. Due out Nov. 24.

Tim Allen is Santa Claus. He has to be! The man never seems to find work except at Christmas time! This year, we are not treated with “Santa Clause 3: Ho Ho Homygoshwemadeanotherone” but instead are treated to “Christmas with the Kranks,” based on the best-selling novel “Skipping Christmas” by John Grisham.

When the daughter of Luther (Tim Allen) and Nora (Jamie Lee Curtis) Krank decides to unexpectedly come home from the Peace Corps in Peru to celebrate Christmas, the parents must ditch their tropical getaway plans to salvage any kind of yuletide spirit.

The competition from “Alexander” will take away some of this flick’s box office cash, but could this be a happy holiday for Tooltime Tim again? If the film stays around long enough into December, who knows?

With the unstoppable Dan Aykroyd supporting, you can’t go wrong. A hopeful three out of five stars. Due out Nov. 24.

Finally, you have two Oscar-buzz films coming out Dec. 10 and 17: the Bill Murray-led “Life Aquatic” and the Leonardo “Don’t Think Titanic” DiCaprio biopic “The Aviator.”

Both have star presence and strong casts but feature very different plots. While Murray’s Jacques Cousteau-based film is more of a comedy, DiCaprio’s straight-up take on a millionaire adventurer has more of a dramatic edge – especially since DiCaprio’s career may depend on it making a splash.

Despite the success of “Catch Me If You Can” and “Gangs of New York,” DiCaprio stands to gain more than Murray, who at best gets another Oscar nomination (please let the man win just once!). Both are strong-looking films and will likely get four stars from me.

So until next time, enjoy the movies, roll the camera and I’ll see you at the theater!