Movies to see on Thanksgiving weekend: 11/23-25/11

posted by Rolocop

THE MUPPETS – Let me get this out of the way right now.  I am a HUGE Muppet fanatic!  The Muppet Movie is in my Top Ten of all time, and The Great Muppet Caper is in my Top 100.  The Muppet Show is my favorite TV show of all time, so I was thrilled when I heard that Jason Segel was going to reboot the franchise the way it should be, because quite frankly, it needed to be.  I thought Brian Henson did a great job taking over for his father with MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL and MUPPET TREASURE ISLAND, but when he stepped down we got the very mediocre MUPPETS FROM SPACE.  Since then, we’ve been subjected to uninspired television movies that just didn’t quite have the heart that the Muppets are supposed to have.  Then, I saw the first trailer for THE MUPPETS, and I got a little worried.  From what I saw, it looked like Segel cast all of his friends and made himself the main star in a Muppet movie.  And what was up with Fozzie saying the word “Fart”.  He’s my favorite muppet!  He’s never said “fart” before.  So it was quite worried.  Since I’m a Muppet purist, I’m going to be harder on this than most.

The story begins with Gary (Segal) and his Muppet buddy Walter in their small town.  They are both big fans of the Muppets and it’s a big inspiration in their lives.  Gary and his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) are planning on a trip to L.A. for  their 10th anniversary, and they let Walter come with them as they plan on visiting the famous Muppet Studios.  Then, out of nowhere, a spectacular musical number begins, complete with hundreds of extras, swooping crane shots, and energetic dance choreography.  It was from that moment on that all of my worries disappeared, for I was about to embark on the most joyous film going experience I was going to have the entire year!

When Gary, Mary and Walter get to the Muppet studios, they discover than an evil oil tycoon (Chris Cooper) is going to buy the place and tear it down to drill for oil.  So our heroes track down Kermit and convince him to get the gang back together to put on a telethon to save Muppet Studios.  That’s the basic premise, but I don’t want to get into many details since I loved discovering everything for myself.

This film is absolutely sensational.  A perfect reboot!  Segel (who also co-wrote the flick) brilliantly has his characters re-introduce us to the muppets, and then it becomes about them.  The Muppet spirit is spot on.  Early on there is a song that Kermit sings about getting everyone together again that brought me to tears.  And that wasn’t the only time I cried either (4 in total).  There were even moments when I was crying of laughter.   All of the gang is back, even some lesser known muppets from the short-lived late 90’s TV series MUPPETS TONIGHT!  It was humorous to see what became of all the muppets after they split up, and how they get everyone back (Rowlf’s introduction is really funny).  The story is so sweet and genuine that you honestly want everything to work out.  Not just in the movie, but in real life.  I want everyone to love this movie so the muppets can truly be back.  That’s how this movie made me feel.  The magic is back. Everything is handled wonderfully.  Kermit’s and Piggy’s relationship, Kermit and Fozzie’s friendship, Gonzo’s craziness, and much more.

All of the songs made me tap my toes as I was smiling from ear to ear (Amy Adams’ “Me Party” is definitely one of the highlights, as is “Am I a Muppet or a Man”).  Everyone does a great job in this.  Segel and Adams are so wholesome that you just want to love them.  The everyman muppet Walter is a nice addition to the legendary characters.  Chris Cooper is perfect as the villain and has one of the funniest scenes in the movie (three words: Chris Cooper Rap!).  There are many cameos that are quite amusing and even some actors that I hate were actually funny in this (I’m looking at you Zach Galifinakis).  The last 30 minutes is actually a version of The Muppet Show in the old Muppet theater to raise the money.  This hit every “geek” chord in my body.  I LOVED this movie!

I am a biased muppet freak (I even wore my Kermit Adidas to my screening), but I can honestly say that Segel has pulled of the impossible.  He introduces a dying franchise to a new generation, and at the same time has made a true muppet movie that die hard fans will love (there’s even some great references to past films).  It’s not the best muppet movie, but I would say it’s at least the 3rd best, and coming from me that’s high praise.  I sure hope this does well (I suspect it may not) because I want to see many more Muppet films in the theaters again.  It’s been far too long.  This is easily the most fun I’ve had at a movie all year, and it’s well written, acted and directed with real care.  Do NOT miss this movie.  Needs to be seen in the theater, and you don’t have to bring a kid to enjoy it.  It’s The Muppets!  Remember they weren’t initially intended for kids.  It’s for everyone!  Opens Wednesday in wide release.  Rating:

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HUGO – I wouldn’t be a film geek if I didn’t have enormous amounts of respect for Martin Scorsese as a director.  He will become something of a legend in film history books to come.  TAXI DRIVER is one of my top 3 films of all time, and several of his films are in my top 100: GOODFELLAS, MEAN STREETS, ALICE DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE, CAPE FEAR, RAGING BULL, THE KING OF COMEDY, and CASINO.  One thing that he has shown in the past decade is that he is more than just a “mafia movie” storyteller.  He loves all kinds of cinema as it was made evident in THE AVIATOR, THE AGE OF INNOCENCE, KUNDUN and SHUTTER ISLAND.  I was excited when I heard he was going to be making his first children’s film, but when I saw the first trailer (which mainly consisted of “wacky” Sacha Baron Cohen chasing a boy through a train station for 2 minutes), it left me underwhelmed.  Fortunately, the film is almost entirely different than the trailers.  In fact, they don’t even tell you the plot!

Asa Butterfield plays Hugo Cabret, a boy who lives in a train station during 1920’s France.  After his father (Jude Law) died in a fire, he was taken in by his drunken uncle (Ray Winstone) who works at the station and it’s there where Hugo makes sure the clocks are running at all times (his dad was a clockmaker).  Hugo meets all sorts of various characters: An old man who has a crush on a woman whose dog will not let him get the time of day, an angry station officer (Cohen) who has been made bitter because of the war (and is always after Hugo who constantly steals food to eat), a lonely flower girl (Emily Mortimer), a cranky old toymaker (Ben Kingsley) and his Goddaughter Isabelle (Chloe Moretz).  The boy goes through his day crawling his way through the vents of the station, observing everyone and getting into adventures.  Also, in Hugo’s lair, is a broken mechanical man that his father never finished fixing.  He believes that fixing it, will give him answers about his father.

I am hesitant to say more, but I will do my best not to give much away as in terms of the plot.  Hugo meets Isabelle after stealing something of her Godfather’s and end up having their own adventure.  She loves books and imagination, and Hugo introduces to her a new form of adventure.  Also, her family somehow holds the key to the secret of the mechanical man.  What follows is pure movie magic.  The movie opens with a spectacular (nearly wordless) 12 minute pre-title sequence that introduces the fantastic environment that Hugo lives in, as the camera follows him (in unbroken takes) through the vents of the station.  It’s absolutely breathtaking!  The rest of the film is just as good bringing a sense of wonderment to the viewer.

The acting is sensational all around, with everyone giving slightly exaggerated performances to match the fantastical element of the story.  Butterfield is perfect as Hugo, making the boy an old fashioned character like the ones we used to see in Disney films from the 60’s and 70’s.  Moretz is enchanting as the boy’s new playmate, giving a very infectious and charming performances.  Ben Kingsley has the most important role as Papa Georges, and is perfectly iconic.  Sacha Baron Cohen brings the nice blend of zaniness to his role.  Christopher Lee is just awesome as a librarian.  The way the supporting players fit in to the story reminded me very much of Amelie.  Howard Shore’s accordion-laced score helps to give it that flavor as does Robert Richardson’s stunning and free-flowing cinematography.

But what really holds the film together is it’s central story, which is really hard not to give away.  In fact, most reviews do give it away.  But I will say this.  What you will see is a film history lesson disguised as a whimsical family film.  I had no idea that this was going to be a film lover’s dream come true.  If you love movies and filmmaking, you are going to absolutely be entranced.  Scorsese has captured the essence of what it’s like to go to the movies (and to make them).  Lately, we as an audience have been taking films for granted.  In fact, I know many of us put on a movie in the background why we do other things (which I think is totally disrespectful to cinema, by the way).  But Scorsese reminds us why movies are magical and special, quite literally.  It took me back to when I began to discover my love for cinema and it made me remember just how important it is in my life.

Now, children who don’t have cool parents (like me) who show them silent movies and movies from all different eras will probably not be able to sit through it.  The screening I was at, kids were constantly walking up and down the stairs.  They were bored.  They didn’t understand the sense of wonder that films can do.  HUGO does not have any fart jokes, no pop culture references, or Justin Bieber songs.  It’s a pure cinematic treat, that kids should love, but society has almost deemed it impossible.  I know my 8 year old is going to absolutely love this movie.  She’s even seen many of the films that are referenced in this movie.  She is going to go bonkers.  So if you plan on bringing your kids, make sure they understand that this is a movie about the beginning of cinema.

I must also add that the 3D in this is some of the best I have ever seen.  Almost every shot takes advantage of the technology and adds to the sense of marvel to Hugo’s story.  I normally don’t recommend 3D, but if you are going to see this (and you really should), it’s definitely worth the upgrade.

In a world where movies are merely seen as entertainment, HUGO reminds us just why we go to the movies and how special this entertainment is.  Scorsese has created his masterpiece and if he decided that this was to be his last film (it won’t be), this would be a perfect swan song.  Absolute film geek heaven.  DO NOT MISS THIS MOVIE!!!  In Wide Release.  Rating:

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MY WEEK WITH MARILYN – I’m a big fan of Marilyn Monroe, even if I’ve only seen a handful of her films.  This movie is based on what happened during the filming of THE PRINCE AND THE SHOWGIRL, which starred and was directed by Laurence Olivier.  The main character is a young man named Colin (Eddie Redmayne) who gets a job as a production assistant on the film for Mr. Olivier (Kenneth Branagh).  When he finally meets Marilyn (a stunning Michelle Williams), she immediately takes to him and sees him as a way to (temporarily) escape her unhappy marriage with Arthur Miller.  Colin eventually gets a little more involved than he should.

It’s pretty much a coming of age story, one that we have seen many times before (and recently in ME AND ORSON WELLES), but it’s executed wonderfully.  The film opens with an expertly crafted recreation of one of Monroe’s films musical numbers as Colin watches in a movie theater.  It’s a stylish and boisterous sequence that really sets the playful mood of the movie.  Redmayne has an infectious boyish charm that makes him a likable protagonist.  Kenneth Branagh is obviously having a blast hamming it up playing a, um… well… a ham.  The supporting cast (Judi Dench, Emma Watson, and Julia “what the heck happened to my acting career?” Ormond) is really good too.  But of course the real reason to see this movie is Michelle Williams.  I’m sure it would have been real easy for her to just imitate Monroe (like Cate Blanchett in THE AVIATOR), but she embodies her, giving her humility and a heart.  She is exceptional in every scene and in my opinion is the front runner for the Oscars for best actress.  She has always been a fantastic actress and continues to astound me with every role she tackles.

This is a terrific, breezy film that is just a joy to watch.  It’s never boring and always held my interest.  It’s extremely predictable, but the movie is so well done that it shouldn’t bother you.  Just have fun!  Opens on Wednesday at The Lagoon.  Rating:

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THE DESCENDANTS – I have liked all of Alexander Payne’s films I’ve seen (ABOUT SCHMIDT is my favorite one), so I was definitely looking forward to seeing this movie about man whose wife is in a coma.  George Clooney plays Matt, a man who discovers his dying wife was cheating on him, so he brings his two daughters (who he really hasn’t spent time with) on a trip to find this man.  It’s not the happiest story, but Payne injects enough humor and hope to make it quite enjoyable.  George Clooney gives the performance of his career as a man who has been betrayed and ultimately finds himself as he connects with his kids.  Shaileme Woodley is also remarkable as Matt’s 17 year old rebellious daughter.  The rest of the supporting cast is good as well.  Robert Forster has the film’s funniest moment, Judy Greer is great and Beau Bridges is solid.  The story is endearing.  I really got into this. Payne’s script is very good, even if it gets a little silly sometimes.  The ending shot is one of the most honest moments in a movie I’ve seen all year.  The only reason I can’t give this 4 stars, is because Matthew Lillard (playing the “other” man) is not a good actor at all.  I have no idea what compelled Payne to cast him.  Granted, it’s his best performance, but when seeing Lillard trying to act serious next to an established actor like Clooney, his weak acting ability certainly shows.  Thankfully, he’s only on screen for about 10 minutes.  The rest of the movie is really good and definitely worth your time. Opened on 11/18.  Now playing at The Lagoon.   Rating:

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THE OTHER F WORD – This is a documentary about various punk musicians and how they have adapted to being a father figure for their kids.  I would say at least half the film follows the singer from Pennywise.  The other musicians featured are Flea and various members of NOFX, RISE AGAINST, EVERCLEAR, RANCID, and many more.  Being a former musician and a dad, I found it very interesting to see the different ways these guys treat fatherhood.  It’s one of those movies that if you like this kind of music and seeing your favorite punk idols adapting to “real life” peaks your interest, you’ll love it.  And besides the fatherhood element, it has a lot to say about the history of punk rock and what it all means.  It’s perfect for the target audience. Opens 11/25 at Lagoon.   Rating:

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BEING ELMO: A PUPPETEER’S JOURNEY – As you may have noticed by my first review, I LOVE MUPPETS!  So this documentary about the creator of Elmo, Kevin Clash, was fascinating to me.  If you’re not really a fan of Elmo, don’t worry.  It’s not really about him.  In fact, they don’t even show Elmo until the final third of the film.  Instead, it’s about how Clash broke into the business and how he eventually worked with master puppeteer Jim Henson.  I love anything Henson, so any new behind-the-scenes on the subject is wonderful for me.  It’s nothing really more than a fluff piece, but I can’t deny how truly inspirational Clash’s story is.  I can’t wait to show this to my daughter and then tell her that she can be anything she wants to be.  This would be a great double feature with THE MUPPETS this weekend too.  I highly recommend doing that. Opened on 11/18 at The Edina.   Rating:

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IMMORTALS – I didn’t really care for 300, but I thought this one was all right.  From the director of THE CELL and THE FALL, I found this to be visually stunning and lots of fun.  The story is your usual CLASH OF THE TITANS type thing, and the dialogue is corny, but it all looks so pretty.  The production design and costumes are spectacular and I really liked the direction.  The action scenes are really well put together and it’s very clear.  No shaky cam here, thank Pete!  The performances are hokey fun, especially Mickey Rourke, who mumbles and growls deliciously through his scenes.  If you enjoy a good popcorn movie loaded with action and eye candy, this one should be up your alley.  Opened on 11/11 in wide release. Rating:

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MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE – This one is getting lots of praise, mainly due to Elizabeth Olsen.  She plays a teen who has been brainwashed while living at a commune.  When she runs away she has to try to cope coming back to reality while living with her older sister.  For most of it’s running time it’s a pretty compelling movie that had me curious as to where it was going next.  The one thing that is going to make it or break if for most folks is the ending, or the lack of one.  I, myself, love open ended movies.  But I found this to be too much.  It doesn’t have an open ending, it just STOPS.  I feel like it was bit of a self indulgent trick for the filmmaker to do.  That said, it’s still worth checking out for Olsen’s star making performance.  She is very good and deserves all the praise that’s coming to her.  John Hawkes is also very effective as the man who took her in.  I just wish the WHOLE movie would have been as great.  Still worth a look.  Opened on 11/4 and is now playing at The Lagoon.  Rating:

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YOUNG GOETHE IN LOVE – This is about the German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and his first love, inspiring him to make his first novel.  The film starts off a little slow but Alexander Fehling’s peppy performance as Goethe was infectious enough to eventually reel me in.  It’s a beautiful looking movie set in the 1700’s and the sets and costumes are spot on.  The story is pretty ordinary but it’s told with elegance.  If you like period romantic tragedies, I suggest checking it out.  Opening on Wed at The Edina.  Rating:

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Other films in theaters:

ARTHUR CHRISTMAS – A very slight family film that has some inventive scenes but can’t overcome a boring lead character. Opens Wed in wide release.   Rating:

HAPPY FEET 2 – Not as good as the first one.  This one is more of the same, lots of singing, dancing, and preachy environmental stuff, but the plot doesn’t seem to have a whole lot going on this time.  Opened on 11/18 in Wide ReleaseRating:

MELANCHOLIA – I loved DOGVILLE, ANTICHRIST and DANCER IN THE DARK, so I was a bit disappointed by this one.  Kirsten Dunst is fine, but I though Charlotte Gainsbourg was much better.  I was also surprised by how good Kiefer Sutherland is in this too.  It’s a beautiful movie with some gorgeous photography and stunning images (including a nude Dunst), but the story and characters weren’t compelling enough this time for me.  By the time the film’s conclusion came about, I was checked out.  Opens Wed at The Uptown.  Rating:

J. EDGAR – Too bad accurate costumes and art direction don’t make a good movie.  Leo is fine,  but his makeup isn’t.  Armie Hammer’s old man makeup is ludicrous, and I will be outraged if the makeup is nominated.  The story is also not very involving and some dramatic scenes come across unintentionally hilarious. Opened on 11/11 in Wide Release.  Rating:

JACK AND JILL – Al Pacino (who is in this a lot more than you may think)  is pretty awesome in this, and that’s it.  Adam Sandler is NOT funny for one second.  And that’s a shame cause I used to love his movies (like BILLY MADISON and HAPPY GILMORE).  He needs to stop making crap.  I know he can do better than this.  Opened on 11/11 in Wide Release Rating:

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Films I missed:

THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN PART I:  Couldn’t make the press screening and I didn’t like the first ones enough (or at all) to pay to see this one.

TOWER HEIST – Was having a bad day and knew that this wouldn’t cheer me up.

A VERY HAROLD AND KUMAR CHRISTMAS – Missed the screening, though I heard it’s not all bad.  Maybe I’ll see it someday.

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011 at 11:15 pm