This Week In Cinema: December 18-24, 2011

Merry Christmas everyone, and nothing says Christmas like Kermit the Frog!

There are a ton of movies reviewed below, blame a Netflix Instant expiration tidal wave, that’s what I’m doing.

The Adventures Of Elmo In Grouchland (1999, Gary Halvorson,United States Of America) ***

I was prepared to couch this capsule review in the fact that I recently decided there’s no reason there should be any DVDs in my home collection that I have not seen. To rectify that I plan on spending time, when I can, going through said collection and watching all of the unwatched DVDs, including those that belong to my wife or daughter. But, I don’t need to couch my capsule review of The Adventures Of Elmo In Grouchland in that fact, even though I kinda just did, because it’s a legitimately fun movie. Sure, there’s some stupid stuff in it, but the message is strong, it’s good for kids, and from an adult perspective I had fun with the imagination on display.

Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas (1998, Terry Gilliam, United States Of America) ***1/2

Terry Gilliam has constructed a feverish dream, or more to the point a feverish nightmare. Locked within the drug addled visage of Hunter S. Thompson, or Duke if you prefer, is the mind of a brilliant writer. The drugs don’t serve to dim his writing prowess, his profound vernacular, but they do cause his usage of said vernacular to be far more scattershot than it otherwise might be. Truth be told, the brilliance of the main character is not what I came away from Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas the most impressed with. That honor resides with Mr. Gilliam. The dream haze of a drug induced point of view that he has so brilliantly constructed slowly morphs as the movie progresses into a nightmare from which I sensed there was no escape. He shows the genius of Mr. Thompson but he also shows how scary his world was and how it is not something that his fans could ever truly relate to. Johnny Depp is fantastic, as is Benicio del Toro, but Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas is the Terry Gilliam show through and through. The images he creates are acidic in their bite, inventive, and illuminating, much like the career of the man Mr. Gilliam is profiling.

Alferd Packer: The Musical (Cannibal! The Musical, 1993, Trey Parker, United States Of America) **1/2

There are some really funny, and very absurd, bits in this early film from the minds behind South Park. Sadly, Alferd Packer: The Musical misses more than it hits with its comedic bits and it overstays its welcome. By about the hour mark the film has said all it has to say and told all the jokes it wants to tell. Yet, it keeps going for another very redundant thirty plus minutes. Still, in that first hour there are songs and moments that did make me laugh and showed the same eye, or ear, for the absurdly observational humor that would serve Trey Parker and Matt Stone well for years to come.

The Doom Generation (1995, Gregg Araki, France/United States Of America) **1/2

I know some people who absolutely love the films of Gregg Araki. The Doom Generation was my first exposure to the work of Mr. Araki, and I left slightly unimpressed. He definitely shows skill in The Doom Generation, but I don’t think he did much with said skill. Within twenty minutes The Doom Generation has run its course, and the rest of the film is useless overkill. When the film ends it hadn’t said all that much, exposed much, or given me much to think about. Certain shots and sequences are expertly crafted, but they are empty, existing within a vacuous shell devoid of emotion or connection. Maybe if I had been able to form a connection to The Doom Generation I would have appreciated it more, but for that to be the case Mr. Araki needed to do something with his film after those first twenty minutes.

Heavenly Creatures (1994, Peter Jackson, Germany/New Zealand) ***

The main issue I had with Heavenly Creatures is that in most ways it is a very obvious film. There will be a lesbian love scene. There will be a scene where one of the girls does something to upset and distance herself from the other girl. There will then be a scene where the two girls make up. There will be a death at some point along the way. There will be a young boy/man who makes an idiot of himself in his attempts to woo one of the girls. All of those are present in Heavenly Creatures and the banality of the film is what most holds Peter Jackson’s feature back. That being said, the imagination on display (both in terms of the imaginations of the girls and the imaginative ways Mr. Jackson frames scenes) is a major boon to the picture. You bring in a pair of very good lead performances, including yet another great one from Kate Winslet, and Heavenly Creatures ends up being a worthwhile picture.

Home Alone (1990, Chris Columbus, United States Of America) ***

All these years, and many viewings, later Home Alone still holds up. It holds up for a trio of reasons. First is obviously Macaulay Culkin. I don’t care what happened to the kid after this, but in this film he shows great comedic timing and he is very interesting to watch. Second is Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern, et al; who are in on the having of the fun. That makes a huge difference, because if the mom doesn’t look bad and the crooks don’t take all the pratfalls Home Alone is a very boring movie. Lastly there is the fun of it all. Home Alone may be preposterous and it may take a lot of shortcuts to get to its end goal, but it is a lot of fun being on the journey to that end goal. So yeah, Home Alone is still a lot of fun, and that is good enough for me.

Starman (1984, John Carpenter, United States Of America) ***

John Carpenter, along with a team of writers, touch on some fascinating ground in Starman. There are times when it seems like the film is going to go where most films of its ilk are not willing to go. Language plays a large part in that, specifically the way that Starman, the character, has to learn our language. As it is explained to him it becomes clear how we strive to use simplistic terms to describe the most complex of emotions, issues, and ideas. Sadly, the film slowly drifts away from the exploration of this aspect of humanity and ventures instead into much more common ground. By its end Starman has become a rote sci-fi film, ditching its original complex ideas for standard tropes of sci-fi that could be found in any number of 50s sci-fi films. Mr. Carpenter keeps the film steady throughout with his cinematic eye, but the film never reaches the levels it promises early on.

Beethoven’s Christmas Adventure (2011, John Putch, Canada/United States Of America) 1/2*

I like a lot of the more kid friendly movies I end up watching because of my daughter. However occasionally we do pick out a movie for her to watch that ends up being abysmally bad. Beethoven’s Christmas Adventure is one such movie, it was so bad my daughter struggled to pay attention to the movie at times. Beethoven’s Christmas Adventure has all the usual problems of a bad movie- it looks cheap, it’s badly acted, scored, directed, and so on. What pushes Beethoven’s Christmas Adventure from bad to terrible is the fact that it’s one long commercial for the ASPCA. Admittedly I am biased against this organization because of the fact that their ultimate goal is not to help animals but to remove them from homes as pets because they think that’s cruel. Still, I do think it’s terrible film making to push your sponsor as much as this film does when said sponsor has campaigned in the past, and will do so again in the future, against the usage of animals in film and TV. You add in the ASPCA crap with all the other crap from the film and Beethoven’s Christmas Adventure is one of the worst movies I’ve seen.

Fred Claus (2007, David Dobkin, United States Of America) ***

There’s a lot of silly, ridiculous, stupid, and outright bad in Fred Claus. That being said, I’m judging Fred Claus by how much I laughed. The jokes hit more than they missed, and what can I say I’m a sucker for Paul Giamatti as a schlub and Vince Vaughn’s usual fast talking snarky shtick. I laughed quite a bit during Fred Claus, probably more than I should have. But, I did laugh and that’s what mattered to me while watching this movie. Fred Claus is a surprisingly funny, if odd and sometimes “meh”, Christmas movie.

Le Notti Di Cabiria (Nights Of Cabiria, 1957, Federico Fellini, France/Italy) ***1/2

Giulietta Masina’s face can’t help but be optimistic, that’s why it’s not surprising that Le Notti Di Cabiria is such an optimistic film. On the surface it appears harsh, the life of Cabiria is not nice. She is put through the ringer by everyone she knows and even some people she’s just met. But, in that final shot when Federico Fellini moves in towards Cabiria’s face for a close-up eternal optimism shines through. In many of his films Maestro Fellini takes what could be construed as a less than celebratory view of humanity. That same viewpoint colors a lot of Le Notti Di Cabiria, but at the same time the more optimistic stance that Maestro Fellini would show in films like Amarcord is present. As Cabiria walks among the raucous crowd she smiles, because there will always be another day, always another day.

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992, Brian Henson, United States Of America) ***1/2

If not for the iffy visual effect of the spirit of Christmas past The Muppet Christmas Carol would probably be the best of all the Muppets movies. It’s a lot of fun, but it’s more than just fun. The songs are catchy, but they’re more than just catchy. The Muppet Christmas Carol is just a bit more in every possible way and that’s why it’s such a great movie. Michael Caine isn’t just here for a paycheck, he gives a great performance, and that helps the poignant moments with the Muppets to be that much more effective. Brian Henson shows considerable craft behind the camera, filling the frames of the film with as many Muppets as possible and getting more laughs as a result. The Muppet Christmas Carol is a great film, and easily the best of all the adaptations of the classic Charles Dickens tale.

Insomnia (2002, Christopher Nolan, Canada/United States Of America) **

Like a bad feature length CSI: Crime Scene Investigation movie, that’s what I kept thinking about Insomnia. It didn’t start off all that bad, I was on board until the film first reached the cabin. Yeah, up until that point everything had been old hat, but it was miles better than the obvious turns that the rest of the film took. I don’t need innovation in my cinema, but I do need more than a movie that makes sure to follow every single cliche there is in the cop procedural book and does so without an ounce of sincere emotion behind it. Insomnia in every way speaks to the extreme flaws found in Christopher Nolan as a director. There are no real characters in Insomnia, rather there exist soulless automatons serving their purpose within the story. The women are nonexistent as characters, existing only as foils to the more important male characters. The story is so rote that it hurts, the aforementioned scene at the cabin was so obvious and took the movie in such an obvious direction that it almost hurt my senses. Yet another giant swing and a miss from Christopher Nolan, Insomnia is a bad TV movie masquerading as a feature film with nothing to say.

Wrap-Up:

Holy crap I watched a lot of movies this week. Funnily enough, despite all the movies I watched there were only three that ever had a shot at movie of the week. I was sure that absolutely nothing would unseat Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, that movie intrigued me that much. Then I decided to pop in The Muppet Christmas Carol and the choice crystallized. It is an all time Christmas classic for a reason, and The Muppet Christmas Carol takes home movie of the week honors. Until next week, watch more movies!

Cheers,
Bill

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4 responses to “This Week In Cinema: December 18-24, 2011

  1. Have you seen the original version of Insomnia with Stellan Skarsgard? I plan on doing an Auteurs piece on Christopher Nolan in the summer but this and Following are the films I need to see but I want to see the original 1997 Swedish version?

  2. I watched it years ago, around its US DVD release I think. I don’t remember much from it, I can’t give you any thoughts without a rewatch. Sorry :(

  3. A bit of Nolan thrashing really capped off that marathon of mini reviews nicely. Is it just me or is that the best rating you’ve ever given his movies? I mean, two stars! That’s kind of, sort of, almost decent. Not bad! Here comes The Dark Knight Rises!

    More seriously, I like Insomnia, but what hurt the movie for me was the editing. Even though it isn’t an action film, I feel it suffers from the same spotty editing Batman Begins did (a movie I like a lot for its story, less so its visuals).

    Heh, Joe Pesci. He makes movies good.

    I’m with you on Araki, even though we haven’t seen the same film from him (mine was Nowhere). I think Doom is from the period in his career when he was trying to make films about the difficulties teenagers live when they are outsiders and not like what you and I would consider normal. I have to say, I respect his attempts. It takes some balls to make the movies he made, but they are a bit off putting in how they pretty much make an effort in being weird. I didn’t feel that the ‘weird factor’ was always organic in Nowhere. Sort of like how some Lynch films turn me off (even though I like him more than I used to) in how I can almost hear him behind the camera saying ‘I have to make this stranger even if it doesn’t make any sense!’

  4. Hey Edgar, Nolan bashing is my specialty, but I do try and back it up with legitimate reasons. :) Seriously though, I’ve given Insomnia, The Dark Knight, and Inception two stars, which is the best rating I have given a Nolan film.

    I respect Araki’s attempts as well, at least I do in The Doom Generation. I’d like to consider myself a bit outside the normal, at least I can be at times. But, you hit the nail on the head for why after one movie Araki left me less than impressed. He’s trying so hard to be weird for what I found to be the sake of being weird that his film suffers.

    Thanks for the thoughts man. :)

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