BIG RELEASE: Jack Reacher (Dec. 21)
THE BIG PICTURE: When I first saw this trailer, I thought it was a documentary. I figured Hollywood's former top gun, Tom Cruise, had finally lost it. The poor guy can't catch a break. Katie has left him, little Suri is no longer destined for Scientology school... and the church will probably hook him up with Lindsay Lohan next. What else is an emotionally repressed man to do but start beating up strangers on the streets? But it turns out Jack Reacher is an action-blockbuster based on the titular character of Lee Child's novels -- part Dirty Harry, part Vic Mackey from The Shield... and part Batman (minus the mask, the Marlboro Man vocals and the leather fetish).
FORECAST: Jack Reacher is a vigilante cop who breaks the law to uphold justice. Cruise might be reaching on this one, but we should reserve judgement. He did, after all, resurrect his action mojo in Mission Impossible III and he plays amoral characters eerily well (Collateral, Magnolia). But see this one for the fight scenes, the car chases and the style - NOT the dialogue. Sample: "I am not a hero and if you're smart, that scares you." For morally-depraved thugs who also ply in witty banter, Killing Them Softly with Brad Pitt is your current cinematic bet.
HONOURABLE MENTION: The Guilt Trip (Dec. 19). It's like Planes, Trains & Automobiles - only replace John Candy with Barbra Streisand and Steve Martin with Seth Rogen. Streisand and Rogen play a mother-son combo that head out on a road trip in which EVERY song on the soundtrack is nagging (3,000 miles of it). Along the way, they talk awkwardly about sex, pick up a hitchhiker, visit a strip club, perpetuate a multitude of Jewish stereotypes and, of course, smooth over all the rough spots in their relationship. See, Tom Cruise? Not everything needs to be solved with violence.
BIG EVENT: Stars & Scandals That Shook 2012 (Dec. 20, CTV, 9 p.m.
BIG PICTURE: A helpful countdown of the 10 most scandalous stories of the year. If you've been in hibernation for the last 12 months, this special is for you. Never heard of 6-year-old red neck reality sensation Honey Boo Boo? There's no time like the present. Looking for a recap on Prince Harry's exploits in Las Vegas (which has forever destroyed the mantra "what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas")? You're in luck. Pre-shot in front of a live studio audience at Toronto's Masonic Temple, Stars & Scandals offered a select few the ultimate dream date in our celebrity-obsessed age. People used to opt for a candlelit dinner or an evening of the performing arts. Now they can hold hands and watch host Ben Mulroney and company talk about Kate Middleton's topless photos and Kristen Stewart's cheating heart. Sigh.
FORECAST: Yes, I will be watching. I love scandal. But that's not the point. I'll also be quietly wondering whether the Mayans had the whole "end of the world" thing right. Isn't it a wee bit coincidental that the world is prophesized to end less than 24 hours after Stars & Scandals goes to air? I think not.
HONOURABLE MENTION: 2012 The End is Now (Dec. 21, 8 p.m., History). If we survive doomsday, you can follow Brad Meltzer's investigation into how gullible we all are. He promises to unveil "the truth" behind centuries of speculation, a journey that will take him to "the darkest reaches of the U.S. (which I presume is either Cleveland or Rush Limbaugh's basement)."
BIG RELEASE ON DEC. 18: Buddy Guy (Live at Legends)
BIG PICTURE: You think Tom Cruise has the blues? He's got nothing on Buddy Guy. The blues legend serves us a batch of final live recordings from his now defunct Legends blues club in Chicago. Recorded in 2010, the collection includes Guy's take on John Lee Hooker's Boom Boom and Jimi Hendrix's Voodoo Child. Beyond the live material, it also features three unreleased tracks from Guy's Living Proof album sessions: Polka Dot Love, Coming For You, and Country Boy.
FORECAST: Guy fans will get a double dose this month. He will also receive this year's Kennedy Center Honors alongside the likes of Dustin Hoffman and Led Zeppelin (airing on Dec. 26th on CBS). Damn right, he got the blues... I'm just glad "topless Buddy Guy photos" didn't make the list for Stars & Scandals. See humanity? The bar can still be lowered.
"You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows," but these days, a guide through the seemingly endless flurry of pop culture offerings is just what we need. With that in mind, here is what's on the radar screen in TV, music and film for the coming week.