“There Must be More Celebrities Here Than Rehab”

Movie Review: New Year’s Eve (2011)
Summary: The lives of several couples and singles in New York intertwine over the course of New Year’s Eve.
Spoilers: none

Everyone is obsessed with the ball dropping in the holiday movie New Year’s Eve. In fact, the obsession is downright unnatural, if not unhealthy.

And “unnatural” is a term that can almost describe the movie overall, with its sleigh-full of celebrities in a film that basically gloats as it gets fatter in aim than it is in content with a near-shameless show-off of roles.

The movie follows six couples as they cope with drama in their respective lives, each wanting
different things. And there’s a Grinch-type in every holiday crowd. Aston Kutcher is that Grinch here.

I won’t even attempt to explain who is who because this film has more than a dozen “main characters” and no one of them is in focus for long enough to be appreciated. I’ll just mention some other celebrities (although I don’t need to): De Niro, Berry, Parker, Biel, Meyers, Efron, Bon Jovi.

The entire effort is like a New York informercial, a sadly bloated one. The real problems show up and compound themselves quickly with others.

The film feels too well scripted to allow for chemistry or any natural spontaneity (as though anyone on screen had time for it). Everyone talks with responses that sound like they’ve been crafted. The plot is spread so thin, and with characters like those found in a soap opera series crammed into a 2-hour movie.

And we have girl fits, elevators stopping working just long enough to start romances, and couples trying to win the money from having the first baby of the year. Now couples getting awarded prizes for having the first baby of the year is the kind of thing some want to hear about on the evening news, but not watch a movie about.

There’s too much star power, and the flick knows it – and counts on it – which is why we should hate it for having nothing else. We’d have less of a problem with it if the celebs were appearing as themselves, but most aren’t. They’re playing other people, which only makes it seem more like an empty and hollow effort.

There are some legitimate brief moments of touching emotional impact – and yes, some hurried scenes consisting of more than fair performances – but the movie itself doesn’t leave much to think on or like.

The congested plot makes it almost impossible to appreciate the humor when it is found. The one-liner quips one can get used to, but the story’s tendency to throw in a bunch of heartache (like a soldier abroad longing to be home and a dying patient) is presented so that it is perceived as yet more eye-rolling blockage tucked underneath the warm blanket of emotional manipulation. Blah!


Grade: D+ (1 ½ stars)
Rated: PG-13 (for language, including some sexual references)
Director: Garry Marshall
Starring: “Ingrid” (Michelle Pfeiffer), “Paul” (Zac Efron), “Murray” (Michael Mandell), “Stan Harris” (Robert De Niro), “Nurse Aimee” (Halle Berry), “Nurse Mindy” (Alyssa Milano), “Tess Byrne” (Jessica Biel), “Griffin Byrne” (Seth Meyers)
Genre: Comedy / Romance

It’s a Mission Impossible-style Christmas Movie for Kids

Movie Review: Arthur Christmas (2011)
Summary: On Christmas night at the North Pole, Santa’s youngest son looks to use his father’s high-tech operation for an urgent mission.
Spoilers: none

James McAvoy (voice) as Arthur
Parents may or may not want to bother taking their kids to see Arthur Christmas, an animated film directed by Sarah Smith about Santa and the Elves and what happens at the North Pole when so much as one child is missed in the delivery of Christmas presents.

Despite what the title may suggest, this film has nothing whatever to do with the Arthur
children’s series by Marc Brown on PBS and Cartoon Network. This film focuses on efforts made by “Santa” (Jim Broadbent, voice), Santa’s son “Steve” (Hugh Laurie, voice), and Steve’s brother “Arthur” (James McAvoy) who go all out to ensure that no child is left behind for Christmas. Behind the scenes is retired “Grand Santa” (Bill Nighy) who, at 136 years old, is still ready for a sleigh ride.

Evidently, because we walk around with phones stuck in our ears these days, some think it’s time for Christmas movies to change from what they used to be, which is perhaps why they have Santa and team getting toys to kids in a spaceship rather than a sleigh and using PDAs, smartphones, and advanced cloaking devices to stay off the (literal) radar.

If Mission Impossible-style Christmas movies are the future of holiday entertainment, far be it from old me to stand in their way, although it has yet to be seen how well the masses will identify with the film’s extravagant efforts to revamp Christmas.

The CGI performances are as good as anything a real-life actor could do, and the presentation is drop-dead adorable, but it won’t engage younger kids as well as it should, which is a downright disappointment since the film misses much of its audience. Compare this film to Santa and the Three Bears (1970) and you’ll see an exact contrast. Kids will watch the latter all the way through. Arthur Christmas doesn’t bring the innocence of Christmas and it lacks most of the appeal.

The film holds a PG rating for some suggestive and sometimes crude humor, some of which is obnoxious. When we do get more than halfway in, it is only then that the characters grow on us enough to be at least somewhat memorable and likable. With this, the work loses the majority of points, and for not distinguishing itself from the competition in a market now bursting-at-the-seams full of finely animated kids movies and their characters with distinct features and crisply accented voices.
Yes, it will tug at your heartstrings, but it had better in order to make up for lost ground. Two and a half stars for the good – but nowhere near great – Arthur Christmas.


Grade: C+ (2 ½ stars)
Rated: PG (for some mild rude humor)
Director: Sarah Smith
Starring: “Arthur” (voice, James McAvoy), “Steve” (voice, Hugh Laurie), “Grandsanta” (voice, Bill Nighy), “Santa” (voice, Jim Broadbent), “Mrs. Santa” (voice, Imelda Staunton)
Genre: Animation / Comedy / Drama


Movie Review: Hugo (2011)
Summary: An orphan who lives in the walls of a train station is wrapped up in a mystery involving his late father and an automaton.
Spoilers: none

Hugo is the enchanting story of “Hugo Cabret” (Asa Butterfield), a boy who lives within the walls of a train station in the early 1930s in Paris.

With the death of his father (Jude Law), Hugo is left to be cared for by his alcoholic uncle “Claude” (Ray Winstone). All Hugo has left from father is a wind-up automaton discarded from a museum.

While working as a clock apprentice, Hugo meets “Georges Méliès” (Ben Kingsley) with his wife (Helen McCrory) and goddaughter “Isabelle” (Chloë Grace Moretz). Isabelle and Hugo
become close friends.

Living without school or tutoring and having to keep his whereabouts secret to avoid the humorously garnished but seriously dutiful “Inspector” (Sacha Baron Cohen), Hugo tries to rebuild the automaton while piecing together the meaning behind his father’s death and his own existence.

Hugo is brought to us in well-fortified 3D, but with what is offered, it certainly wasn’t necessary. There is enough visual splendor here to go around, as Hugo graciously works its visual wonders in the likeness of Mary Poppins crossed with elements from a whole slew of Disney movies.

The somber mood created by the settings and lighting builds us up, allowing audiences to reap the full benefits of a lustrously emotive and heartwarming tale. By the time we learn of the plight of our strong young lead, we are already enthralled with what can only be listed as first-class family viewing.

You don’t expect it to appeal on as many levels as it does, but this isn’t just due to our two leads that happen to be so piercingly charismatic. In Hugo, no one fails to play a part in a story christened with Martin Scorsese’s directorial touch.

Cohen's Inspector opens up to us and immediately we recognize him as the successful comedian taking his talents in an awkward-but-still-funny direction. He reminds us a little of Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther, although no one is prepared for his work in such a remarkably reserved role as this one, which features an often understated humor. When the antics are otherwise for the sake of younger audiences, adults don't mind too much.

At every step, Hugo is a fine screenplay. It radiates the utmost quality from the edge of competent storytelling skills. Scorsese knows how to touch our soft spots while maintaining his usual stylistic eccentricities, and he does so in a film that can’t help but play on our sympathies and our sense of adventure while knowing when and where to pull back to keep us watching, hoping, and guessing.

Hugo is nearly unstoppable as it goes after the imaginations of every kid – and with an innocence rarely equaled in film today – but there are no subclasses of viewers here. Everyone stands to have a heart-to-heart with a movie that will affect adults in the same eye-watering way it affects kids.

When the final cuts have been called and a script has been flushed out to this degree, Hugo is the result—endowed with the magic that allows it to take off. This is the film to beat in 2011.


Grade: A+ (4 stars)
Rated: PG (for mild thematic material, some action/peril and smoking)
Director: Martin Scorsese
Starring: “Georges Méliès” (Ben Kingsley), “Station Inspector” (Sacha Baron Cohen), “Hugo Cabret” (Asa Butterfield), “Isabelle” (Chloë Grace Moretz), “Uncle Claude” (Ray Winstone), “Lisette” (Emily Mortimer), “Monsieur Labisse” (Christopher Lee), “Mama Jeanne” (Helen McCrory), “Rene Tabard” (Michael Stuhlbarg), “Madame Emilie” (Frances de la Tour), “Hugo’s Father” (Jude Law)
Genre: Adventure / Drama / Family / Fantasy / Mystery

The Muppet Movie

Movie Review: The Muppets (2011)
Summary: With the help of three fans, The Muppets must reunite to save their old theater from a greedy oil tycoon.
Spoilers: none

Someone decided to really treat us with the first Disney-produced Muppet movie since 1996. The result: a release of a dam-breaking flood of memories. The Muppets have returned and it’s like they walked through a time portal.

But truth be told, I went in wanting to like the movie more than I did. With any series’ resurrection comes the responsibility not just to be nostalgic, but to tread at least some new ground. It fails at the latter, but in the case of the Muppets, who really gives a care, right?

“Gary” (Jason Segel) and “Mary” (Amy Adams) are engaged—if in a very storybook sort of way. They appear to have come right out of the 1950s. Gary’s brother “Walter” (Peter Linz, voice) is only three feet tall. He’s always felt out of place in a human world, and for good reason, as he never ended up with a family decent enough to acknowledge that he has the body of a puppet, a piece of cloth with a man’s hand in it. He is the quiet and withdrawn type. He even dresses the part. Poor Walter.

But he has always loved the Muppets. And lucky for Walter, Gary is taking Mary to LA to site-see and spend some time together. Out of pity for his undying Muppet-fan bro, who has lived with him in the same room until age 40, he’s taking Walter to see the Muppet studios.

When they arrive, Walter finds the studios in a terrible state of disrepair. In Kermit’s old office, he overhears a conversation between “Tex Richman” (Chris Cooper) who plans to buy the old, delapidated Muppet property and turn it into an oil field. I guess it’s easy to figure, why not go democrat and portray the villain as a greedy oil tycoon? It’s a Hollywood favorite.

With this unsettling news, Gary, Mary, and Walter go in search of Kermit the Frog. When they find him, they inform him, thus sparking up motivation to find and reunite the Muppets. The added challenge is to find a way to raise the necessary $10,000,000 dollars to keep the property.

The Muppet movie is a comedy-musical first for those who grew up loving the show, but it leaves no one out and is aggressive enough to capture audiences young and old. Not all of that humor gets a pass, but, as stated, we're pulling punches. And with everyone periodically breaking into musicals – some of them flamboyantly street-wide – we don’t find ourselves wanting to keep a running deductive count. Spontaneous contortions and twitching from a cast in overly-spirited dances is very disarming to critics. It throws off our radars.

Cameo appearances are too many to count, including Jack Black, Whoopi Goldberg, Selena Gomez, Neil Patrick Harris, and Sarah Silverman. We have an old-fashioned villain in Cooper who serves as a laughably rough parody of mega-villains. He dresses up in white gear and practices fencing in his spare time and throws things at the TV when mad. But Richman can’t do the villain laugh. His henchman must do it for him.

Miss Piggy's Competition
It is heartwarming to get to see the Muppets again, and to see them jam out to songs we’ve heard a thousand times before. A few of these furry characters you might have trouble remembering, especially the big blobbish ones that just seem to show up to fill the screen and then are not seen again. But I guess the Muppets truly are timeless. And Miss Piggy is still a bitch. She even meets competition this time around.

The movie often lags under the load of an almost insultingly predictable story. But again, we're pulling punches. Mid-way thru, there is a brief cut-down on musicals, and that’s for the better because they get somewhat cartoonish and start to seem like karaoke night at a redneck bar. Not all of these songs are written with a creative touch, I’m sorry to say.

Does the new movie stand to be counted? It does. Will it draw up new memories? Well, it kind of already has. And the film is presented to us as a high-energy and oh-so-relevant entertainment commodity. It’s like it never left our TV sets.


Grade: C+ (2 ½ stars)
Rated: G (for some mild rude humor)
Director: James Bobin
Starring: “Gary” (Jason Segel), “Mary” (Amy Adams), “Tex Richman” (Chris Cooper), “Veronica Martin” (Rashida Jones), “Kermit” / “Beaker” / “Statler” / “Rizzo” / “Link Hogthrob” / “The Newsman” (Steve Whitmire), “Miss Piggy” / “Fozzie Bear” / “Animal” / “Sam Eagle” / “Marvin Suggs” (Eric Jacobson), “Walter” (Peter Linz)
Genre: Comedy / Family / Musical

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