Voices of James McAvoy, Hugh Laurie
UK-based Aardman Studios became famous for Nick Park’s stop motion animated misadventures of a claymation man and his dog, or Wallace & Gromit as they’re better known. All together, this twosome’s short adventures bagged two Academy Awards and helped launch the studio into feature filmmaking. The box office success of Chicken Run led to Aardman trying their hand at computer animation. The result was Flushed Away. Now comes their second feature computer-animated movie, Arthur Christmas.
In this PG-rated family flick, Santa’s son Arthur (McAvoy) throws a wrench in the works of the North Pole’s stream-lined, high-tech operation by trying to complete an urgent mission before Christmas morning dawns. The Plus: The players. Ardman went on to win the Oscar for Best Animated Feature for Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Here, they’ve assembled the vocal talents of McAvoy (X-Men: First Class), Laurie (Fox’s House), Bill Nighy (Rango), Jim Broadbent (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), Imelda Staunton (Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince), Eva Longoria (ABC’s Desperate Housewives), Laura Linney (Showtime’s The C Word), Michael Palin (A Fish Called Wanda), Robbie Coltrane (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2), Joan Cusack (Toy Story 3), Rhys Darby (Yes Man), Andy Serkis (Rise of the Planet of the Apes), and Dominic West (Johnny English Reborn). The Minus: The competition. In terms of box office and quality, Aardman still has a long way to go to beat Pixar, which gave moviegoers Toy Story 3, an Oscar winner and the highest earning animated movie of all time.
Asa Butterfield, Chloe Moretz
(For coverage on the following flicks, please turn to “Jeff Boam’s Holiday Movie Preview” on page 16).
Jason Segel, Amy Adams
(Why didn’t you turn the page already?! That’s it, for every second you waste, a Muppet dies).
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1
Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart
An overlong Bella Swan song, Breaking Dawn – Part 1 vamps up the visuals, but defangs the thrills for what’s turned into the soapiest monster tale since Dark Shadows. But let’s be honest. These adaptations of the popular teen vampire series have never aimed for Harry Potter heights in terms of quality storytelling and blockbusting action. They’ve been faithful to Stephenie Meyer’s best-selling series, which is more about moody high school angst than monster mash-ups. Based on the rabidly dedicated fan base, however, it’s sure to be a lucrative trip to the blood bank for Summit Entertainment.
In this first chapter of the PG-13-rated two-part conclusion, mortal Bella (Stewart) and vampire Edward (Pattinson) consummate their love – unaware of the effects it will have on themselves and werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner).
True, these movies have gotten progressively better, but that’s as empty an accolade as being crowned Oz’s Tallest Munchkin. The one thing that the first movie got right was the casting. Stewart, Pattinson, and Lautner brood like the best of them and Oscar-nominated director Bill Condon gives them a lot to brood about, Bella’s abstinence going the way of the dodo. But not a lot happens. Still, despite some lush aesthetics (this is certainly the best looking Twilight), Breaking Dawn feels quite padded. The characters and moviegoers spend a lot of the movie sitting around and waiting for something to happen. Granted, that ‘something’ is a corker, but some screenplay nips and tucks could’ve provided one exciting conclusion as opposed to this unnecessarily long two-part goodbye. Bottom line: Breaking not bad.
Happy Feet Two
Voices of Elijah Wood, Robin Williams
Mo small feat, cold leftover Happy Feet Two defrosts some age-old morals for a glacial spectacle. Dancing in place, this flightless water fowl musical makes practically the same moves as its forebear, moralizing on everything from turtle soup to seal nuts. It takes a village. Everybody has a place in the world. All you need is love. Oh, the ecology! Thank god for the musical interludes, however. Even the most persnickety movie reviewer can’t help but tap their toes when the energetic song and dance numbers drop. When it moves, you move – just like that. There’s no denying that it’s more of the same darn thing.
In this PG-rated redo of the animated family musical, dancing penguin Mumbles (Wood) has a son who isn’t interested in hoofing it, but they must put aside their differences once the penguin nation gets trapped by ice.
With photo-realistic animation and an ear-popping jukebox songbook, the scenery is breathtaking even if it’s crumbling beneath the character’s feet. Ah, but there’s the rub! Moviegoers were spoon-fed this and the other ones-to-grow-on the last go-round, which sorta kinda serves up a frostbitten dish. Did the wheel need to be re-invented?
No, but how about some new moves at least? Wood (The Lord of the Rings), Williams (Old Dogs), Pink (Get Him to the Greek), Hank Azaria (The Smurfs), Sofia Vergara (ABC’s Modern Family), and Common (Date Night) all do their due diligence providing their celebrity pipes, but Matt Damon (The Adjustment Bureau) and Brad Pitt (Inglourious Basterds) nearly steal the show as two wise-cracking Krills. Bottom line: Same old song and dance.
Henry Cavill, Luke Evans
Blessed with godly visuals but beset with lowly storytelling, 301, er, Immortals definitely isn’t heavenly entertainment, but it’s not quite rock bottom either. In this R-rated, 3D adventure, a commoner-turned-warrior (Cavill) must lead the fight against ruthless King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke)’s evil army to save all of mankind. Between the jaw-droppingly ace use of technology and passable handling of Greek mythology, the movie definitely one-ups Clash of the Titans, but that’s as empty an accolade as being crowned the world’s longest short film. Perhaps, the best compliment that can be paid is acknowledging the movie’s great use of amazing style over near-inconsequential substance, which actually keeps 3D relevant. Surprisingly violent, this actioner is more swords than sandals, but this tale of titans won’t clash with moviegoers unless they’re looking for a godly amount of intellectual stimulation. Bottom line: The gods smile on this flick.
Leonardo DiCaprio, Josh Lucas
A Gee Whiz history lesson about a G-Man by an Old G director, J. Edgar teeters between average and incomplete on its H’wood exams. In this R-rated bio-pic, the life and secrets of longtime FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover (DiCaprio) are explored – including his hard-nosed investigations into Lindbergh (Lucas), RFK, Martin Luther King, and Richard Nixon. For a director once known for demonstrating very little style, Clint Eastwood sure colors in the dark edges of this carousel slideshow with some noirish verve. Aside from strong performances, it proves to be this occasionally bland film’s best talking point, which crams the subject-rewriting-history device of Chaplin and behind-closed-doors-psychological-unraveling angle of Nixon into the filmstrip simplicity of HBO’s Truman. When Dustin Lance Black’s script investigates Hoover’s association with longtime ‘friend’ Clyde Tolson (Arnie Hammer), however, J. gets really interesting. Bottom line: B-Grade detective.
Jack and Jill
Adam Sandler, Katie Holmes
So ridiculously over the top that it’s abhorrent to both sexes, this lowball drag comedy is a drag from the word no. In this PG-rated so-called comedy, a family man (Sandler) and his wife (Holmes) are forced to deal with his abrasively obnoxious sister (also Sandler) who comes for a visit and won’t seem to leave. Ironically, Sandler parodied such lowbrow notches on his cinematic bedpost in the in-on-the-joke dramedy Funny People, aping flicks like Jack and Jill with hilariously fake, but undeniably possible titles, like Merman. This drag-queen pantomime would’ve been the funniest faux movie…if it weren’t sadly unfurling before moviegoers’ eyes as an all-too-real comedy of horrors.
What’s worse, he brings a host of cameoing stars down into this unfunny abyss with him (Al Pacino must’ve lost a bet to Robert Little Fockers’ De Niro). Bottom line: Jacked and jilted.
Eddie Murphy, Ben Stiller
Madoffing out like a bandit, slick old school caper Tower Heist pleasingly steals away with a decent mix of excitement and laughs. In this PG-13-rated caper comedy, a group of working stiffs (Murphy, Stiller, Matthew Broderick, Casey Affleck, Michael Pena, Gabourey Sidibe) find out that they’ve all fallen victim to a greedy businessman’s (Alan Alda) Ponzi Scheme, so they plan to rob his high-rise condo. Here, with an ace ensemble cast and crackling script, director Brett Ratner crafts a sort of Blue Collar Oceans Eleven that’s – though far from great – solidly well made and played. It helps that Murphy is back to doing what he does best – foul-mouthed, motor-mouthed comedy. Between him, Stiller and the rest operating like a well-oiled crew pulling a crack bank job, the whipsmart, wit-smarmy script lams away some laughs. Bottom line: Penthouse view, studio laughs.
A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas
John Cho, Kal Penn
Making up for their last bad trip, Harold & Kumar ring in a holiday tale that’s lewd, crude, and often hilariously blue. In this R-rated third installment of the stoner comedy series, Cho and Penn return for some yuletide hi-jinks involving a burnt-down prize Christmas tree and ill-advised journey to cover their tracks. Though rightly savaged by critics, Escape from Guantanamo Bay made a tidy profit, which thankfully paved the way for this oftentimes offensive but funny early stocking stuffer. As both a send-up and, strangely, loving embrace of light-hearted seasonal romps, this stoned-cool duo light up a buncha laughs well worth the price of admission. What’s more, director Todd Strauss-Schulson makes wittily winning use of 3D technology. Granted, this is not a 7-course holiday feast, but it’s an enjoyable, albeit laced, slice of fruitcake. Bottom line: You’ll smoke your eyes outâ¦chuckling.