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Early Wed Thanksgiving Openings

23 Nov 2011

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Three early openings today for the U.S. Thanksgiving Weekend.

Of the three, HUGO, THE MUPPETS and ARTHUR CHRISTMAS opening this week, the best of the lot is ARTHUR CHRISTMAS.  HUGO tries too hard and emerges flat and too slow paced despite its ambitious tale of the origins of cinema while THE MUPPETS is stale rehashed material.  Trust the Brits to come up with a manic fresh and original ARTHUR CHRISTMAS to answer every kid’s question of how Santa delivers all those presents to every child in the world in one night!

ARTHUR CHRISTMAS (UK/USA 2011) ***1/2

Directed by Sarah Smith


It has been quite the spell since Aardman Studios released CHICKEN RUN, FLUSHED AWAY and the WALLACE AND GROMIT movies.  This time around, the Studios produce a 3D CG-animated comedy for Sony Pictures Animation and as expected is pure delight.

Gone away is the meticulous Claymation process but replaced is the high technology used in modern animated films.  The high technology is reflected in Santa’s highly modern operation of computerized present delivery hidden beneath the North Pole.

Entwined within this story is another one regarding a dysfunctional family – the Santa family. Grandpa Santa (Bill Nighy) is forcefully retired and the present Santa (Jim Broadbent) has the entire operation mechanized with computers, aided though still by thousands of elves who now work the machines.  Santa’s elder son, Steve (Hugh Laurie) oversees the operations successfully doggedly recording its efficiency while the protagonist ARTHUR CHRISTMAS (James McAvoy) answers the letters to Santa.  Everything work perfectly till the discovery is made that one child has been missed.  Steve dismisses the problem as a negligible percentage error but Arthur leaves the North Pole to deliver the bicycle to the little girl in Cornwall, England.

The story offers lots of opportunities for high hilarity – from jokes on the characters of the Santa family, to the Christmas jokes on the Santa operations.  At times the film goes overboard with the high tech.  During Christmas Eve, all the elves and Santa are shown clouding the skies with their ropes, pulleys and sleighs jumping down and out of chimneys, delivering the presents while the kids are still asleep.  All the movements are computerized and if a child is awake, the appropriate elf is notified to solve the problem.  All these manic events might be a bit over the head for the littler ones, but teens and adults should not complain.  The jokes come fast and furious, more than a dozen a minute and if a few are missed; the hits still come from start to finish.

ARTHUR CHRISTMAS is more British than American with everything from the voices to the script.  Here Santa is served milk with cookies and minced pies.  Half the Canadians I know do not know that a mince or minced pie is a small British sweet pie traditionally served during the Christmas season.  The voices characterizations are from the best of the current British actors today, but their voices will be unrecognized by many.

But ARTHUR CHRISTMAS works best when the film abandons all the CGI and special effects and dwells on the simplicity of storytelling involving the charm of Christmas.  The look on the child’s face as she receives her present is priceless and the most touching part of the movie.

Of the three Christmas movies HUGO, THE MUPPETS and ARTHUR CHRISTMAS opening this week, the best of the lot is ARTHUR CHRISTMAS.  HUGO tries too hard and emerges flat and too slow paced despite its ambitious tale of the origins of cinema while THE MUPPETS is stale rehashed material.  Trust the Brits to come up with a manic fresh and original ARTHUR CHRISTMAS to answer every kid’s question of how Santa delivers all those presents to every child in the world in one night!

HUGO (USA 2011) **
Directed by Martin Scorcese


Based on Brian Sleznick’s novel “The Invention of Hugo Cabret”, HUGO has been praised as Martin Scorcese’s masterpiece, but in reality, the film is an outrageously proud work that falls flat due to its slow pacing and monotonous storytelling.

The story is a classic one.  Legendary filmmaker Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley) is supposedly done with film after losing money during the war and operates a toy repair store out of a train station in Paris.  He confiscates the notebook of an orphan Hugo (Asa Butterfield) who keeps the clocks running by secretly winding up each of them.  Through events that include Hugo’s father’s (Jude Law) discovery of a broken automation, Hugo and company discover the toy repairer to be the lost Georges Méliès.  In the meantime, Hugo has to escape the clutches of the station inspector (Sasha Baron Cohen) who wants to put Hugo in an orphanage.  The film’s climax has Georges Méliès and his films restored to their past glory.

Scorcese’s film looks more than stunning with the 3D put to full effect.  One never forgets the film being shot in 3D unlike other 3D films.  The sets, especially the inner walls of the station housing the workings of the clocks are meticulously created with Hugo running in and out as well as sliding through the hidden passageways.

But these escapades are repeated once too many times.  The story also unfolds at slower than a snail’s pace with the actors uttering their lines almost in slow motion.  Scorcese lingers on almost every frame as if he wants the audience to realize what he has done with the art direction.  The boredom quickly sets in despite the tremendous appeal of a story involving the beginning of the cinema.

Scorcese leaves too many loose ends in the story.  The reason for Hugo’s father death by burning is never explained.  The automation that draws hardly reveals any of his father’s secrets and what is its link to Georges Méliès?  The uncle figure (Ray Winstone) disappears midway during the film.

Scorcese has the cheek to compare 3D with the mastery genius of the early cinematic classics of the Lumiere Brothers and Georges Méliès.  The famous screening of an audience avoiding a train as it appears onscreen is shamelessly redone with 3D effect.  The colourization of Georges Méliès’ LE VOYAGE DANS LA LUNE is also accepted as superior to the original black and white.  Other imitations include Hugo’s copy of Harold Lloyd’s dangling from the clock stunt and the station inspector (Sasha Baron Cohen) reprising a Keystone Cop and the romance between Hugo and a flower girl (Emily Mortimer) paralleling Chaplin’s MONSIER VERDOUX though these are not milked for any laughs.  :Last but not least, a videogame based on the movie is to be soon released.

But cineastes will no doubt fall in love with this flawed attempt to glamorize this past nostalgic era of film.  It is just too sad, as Scorcese’s HUGO should have succeeded as a masterwork as the film is based on a grand premise.

THE MUPPETS (USA 2011) **
Directed by James Bobin

After a 12 year absence, THE MUPPETS are reunited by big fan Jason Segel who pitched with co-writer Nicholas Stoller of the script the film concept to Disney Studios.

The main character in the story is Gary (Segel) whose brother, Walter (performed by Peter Linz) is the biggest Muppet fan.  Together with Gary’s girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams), they travel to Hollywood where they together with the Muppets try to raise the $10 million in a telethon show to save the Muppet theatre.  Or Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) will demolish the Theatre to drill for oil.  This is nothing new in terms of story concept, but one cannot be too picky for a kid’s film.

But THE MUPPETS should succeed on several levels as the Muppet fans include countless in the older generation who loved the Muppets from the 70’s, myself included.  The series which featured stars in cameos from Deborah Harry (who sung “The Rainbow Connection” in a duet with Kermit the Frog) to Steve Martin were a highlight of the week for many.  The series were fresh full of ideas, funny, childish but hilarious and appealed to the silliness in all of us.

But alas the film lacks the freshness of any one of the series.  Besides the well-worn story, the film contains re-hashed material with hardly a novel idea, except the last whistling number performed by Walter.  The film also re-uses 3 of the famous Muppet tunes which are the Muppets theme, The Rainbow Connection and Mah Na Mah Na.  The six new musical numbers are far from illustrious and include what I consider the worst song (Muppet or Man) I have heard this year.  There is also a solo number horridly performed by Amy Adams in a restaurant.  She looks uncomfortable as if she had to do the number because she has to and cannot wait to be done with it.  The other numbers are musical song and dance types.

The climax which includes putting up a show with a kidnapped celebrity Jack Black is like watching a substandard of a Muppets series episode on TV.

It is good to watch the Muppets again after a 12-year span.  Their TV series was top notch and their films just so-so.  When Kermit and friends perform the Paul Williams written The Rainbow Connection number, the magic appears to be lost.  This movie which banged so much on the past success of the Muppets ends up with stale material and a large dull portion in the middle.

Opening Friday 25th Nov

My Week with Marilyn (2011)


Weekend Box Office Director: Simon Curtis
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Michelle Williams, Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench
Country: UK/USA
Year: 2011
Score: **

 

MY WEEK WITH MARILYN (UK/USA 2011) **
Directed by Simon Curtis

MY WEEK WITH MARILYN, based on the two books my Colin Clark depicting the making of Marilyn Monroe’s 1957 film with Laurence Olivier is film assistant Clark’s vanity project spotlighting his success on the film set and his relationship with the at the time, most famous actress in film.

Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) is a total movie buff and would do anything for the movies.  He is shown as 100% efficient in whatever he does, like scouting locations and making the actress, uncomfortable for the first time in London, feel at ease.  During his week with Marilyn, the audience is led to believe that he succeeds in a brief romance with her.  When the filming ends, all goes back to normal.

The period piece is well constructed in sets and design with the 1950’s handsomely shot on film.  The story is believable but one cannot run away from the fact that it is a slight story, one of hero worship rather than anything else.  When the film finally ends, one feels as if one has gone on a brief forgettable outing.

The character revealed of Marilyn Monroe in the film is not flattering.  She is shown as nervous half the time, forgetting her lines and getting on the nerves of Olivier (Kenneth Branagh), the director of THE PRINCE AND THE SNOWGIRL.  At one point in the film a producer says that when she does get her lines correct, she is able to outshine anyone on screen.  Unfortunately, this point does not come across in the film.  Monroe is also shown as silly, spoilt, short tempered, pill popping and unreasonable.  In real life, the actress is a really bright individual.  Michelle Williams, who plays her, does more imitation of her mannerisms than act, though she does look like her with the make up and dress.  Branagh, who has always been touted as the next Olivier, is the sure shoo-in to play that part.  Life on the film set is shown in all its madness and difficulty.

MY WEEK WITH MARILYN turns out to be a slight film, clumsily put together on a topic that is placed with more importance that it should have been.

BEST BETS OF THE WEEK:

Best Film Opening This Week:  Arthur Christmas
Best Film Playing: Le Havre
Best Comedy: Tower Heist
Best Family: Arthur Christmas
Best Documentary: Revenge of the Electric Car
Best Foreign: Le Havre

Avoid:  Abduction

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