Saturday, December 31, 2011

Pleasant Time Travel

Three Stars

The film opens with the musical number, “I’ve got everything that I need!” and basically that’s the spirit of this film. When you’re a kid with a bowl of pop-corn, and the Muppet Show on your TV set, you do have everything you need. The cast and crew obviously love ‘The Muppets’, and the three main characters are absolutely giddy throughout the movie whenever they get a chance to talk to Kermit and the gang. It’s a childhood dream come true, obviously.

‘The Muppets’ isn’t really much of a reboot. That doesn’t mean it’s bad. It’s quite the opposite. It’s actually a clever way for the older people in the audience to be nostalgic. Thus, it’s a little bit of a baffling film in some ways because the intent had to be re-introducing the Muppets to a new audience instead of simply funding co-star and co-writer Jason Sigel’s childhood dream. Right away it dives right into nostalgia. The movie is really self aware, which once again, isn’t a bad thing. We are introduced to Walter (Jason Sigel) and his brother, Gary. I wasn’t sure if they meant brother as in best friend since childhood or actual brother. Gary is a Muppet and Walter is a human, but I guess I’m being an old scrooge. Sometimes I just have to put away the film critic hat and put on the movie lover hat. I mean, this film is about the Muppets. Not some serious art house piece. Gary and Walter are big fans of the Muppets. It just happens that it’s the 10th anniversary of Gary and his girlfriend, Mary (Amy Adams). So, along with Gary, they go to Los Angeles for a big trip after a song and dance number, of course. They go to the Muppets studio when they arrive, only to find it broken down and abandoned. Gary sneaks into Kermit The Frog’s old office and hears an evil plan to tear down the studio because there’s oil under the studio. The evil millionaire is played by Chris Cooper.

So, they go see Kermit The Frog, who tells them that he hasn’t seen the old gang in years. Kermit decides it’s worth a shot to get them back together. Everyone jumps on board except Miss. Piggy, who has an unexpected adult scene where she and Kermit talk alone. Kermit regrets some of the things he said to Miss. Piggy last time they were together.

The movie mostly works. It’s a pleasure to see Kermit and the old gang again. So, the Muppets try to put on a show to rescue the old studio. They are turned down by every network, all of them saying the Muppets are not-popular anymore. Once again, the kids in the audience do not know who the Muppets are, and that’s kind of the premise of the film. They even throw in the robot from the 80s science fiction fantasy movies, Short Circuit. He’s now Kermit’s butler. He serves New Coke and Tab. Once again, some of the jokes are really over the kids head. They even reference a Charlie Chaplin movie in one of their dance numbers.

That being said, it’s not a bad movie to take your kids to. It has a nice message about family and staying in touch. The Muppets are still charming all these years later. I remember when I was a kid, watching all the Muppet movies on VHS, watching the Muppet Show on TV, and watching Muppet Babies as well. It’s nice to see old friends again. Kermit and friends still charm. Gary, Walter and Mary still believe there’s a place for the type of entertainment the Muppets deliver. The Muppets struggle in this film to put on a show and save their name and theater. That being said, they all do pull together. There are some really funny cameos. A lot of cameos, including a song “Am I a Man or A Muppet?” where the Gary looks in the mirror and its Jim Parsons from The Big Bang Theory.

It’s nice however, it gets a little too heavy on this stuff, to have nostalgia for the older people in the audience. All the kids these days get to have their fun with being nostalgic over stuff like Harry Potter. While introducing the Muppets to today’s kids, the movie also reunites, in a way, the older people in the audience to their nostalgia. Yeah, the movie tries a bit too hard sometimes, but it’s got a good heart and a lot of innocence and that’s all that should matter in a movie starring an old frog and pig.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Hugo Is Enchanting

Four Stars

Hugo (Asa Butterfield) is an orphan who lives in the train station walls. He runs the clocks, after his uncle abandons him. His father (Jude Law) is dead from a fire. The opening long shot of the camera panning through the train station is breathtaking. We go through the entire train station and all the way into the clock hanging by a string that Hugo lives in before the camera pulls back to the entire train station. Then we get to the title of the film, “Hugo”. No one is denying that Martin Scorsese is a master. The film is about Paris in the 30s, and something I wasn’t expecting. It was about the birth of film. Based on a children’s novel by Brian Selznick, the film takes the viewer from Hugo’s life as an orphan to a mystery involving the early films of Georges Melies. Running at 130 minutes, the film presents a mystery for the kids to follow. It’s a treat when we get to see a Georges Melies film on the big screen, along with a clip of Harold Lloyd. That being said, Martin Scorsese presents a history lesson on film for kids presented through the tale of a lonely orphan worthy of J.K. Rowling.

Hugo steals from various vendors in the train station until one day he is caught by the man (Ben Kingsley) who runs the toy stand. The man takes away his notebook much to Hugo’s horror. In Hugo’s notebook is the layout for a robot he is building. If he can build the robot, and find the heart shaped key to the robot’s chest, then the robot can send him a message from his father. He meets in the train station Isabella (ChloĆ« Grace Moretz) another orphan, yet in a better situation than him. Hugo always lives in fear of the station inspector (Sasha Baron Cohen), who takes glee in catching orphans and sending them away to the orphanage. When Hugo finally does find the key shaped heart, he gets a message from his father. The message turns out to be a picture. He sets out on a mystery involving the films of Georges Melies. For those of you who don’t know who Georges Melies is, he’s one of the first pioneers of film.

Love of film is written all over this picture. It’s obvious why Martin Scorsese wanted to make this film. He wants to educate the kids in the audience on films, and it’s certainly interesting. Every shot of this film is beautiful. The film has a mystery involving old films and the history of film. That being said, I don’t want to give away the mystery. Certainly this picture is more interesting than a lot of other pictures out there. Often, I had to put away my film critic hat for this film, and put on my film lover hat. Georges Melies is thought to be dead, but alas that is where the mystery lies. Maybe he’s not.

I have no doubt that kids will be enchanted by this master filmmaker. Hugo is a lovable orphan like Harry Potter. It’s amazing this was directed by the same man who brought us films like “Taxi Driver”, “Raging Bull” and “Goodfellas”. I hate to admit it, but I wasn’t sure that Scorsese would be able to pull off a kid’s film, but he does very well here.

There were was the scene when boxes of letters fall onto the ground and go flying. I thought of the scene in “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”, where the letters from Hogwarts go down the chimney and go flying. The relationship between Hugo and Isabella is a bit charming, as well. They hold hands and a kiss on the cheek. It’s nothing too intense for younger viewers. The montages of classic films are wonderful, and really interesting. Martin Scorsese, at the heart of this picture, has a message not only about friendship and family, but about film. He obviously wants to teach the kids film is important. If anything, “Hugo” is an important film because it might make the kids in the audience know about well, film. “Hugo” is simply an enchanting film, and it invites kids to learn something close to Scorsese’s heart. Throughout the picture, Hugo talks about finding your purpose. Hugo’s purpose is to fix things. Scorese’s is to tell us stories, and in this film, teach us as well.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

An Unlikable Writer of Children’s Books Learns a Lesson or Two

Three and a half stars

Mavis (Charlize Theron) is a burned out queen bee, who was popular in high school. She is now a writer of a semi-popular young adult series of novels. One day, she gets an e-mail from her old flame announcing the birth of his child. She’s probably on some mailing list of his but I totally get why it gets to her. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s hearing about people’s successful lives through e-mail or Facebook. That’s not to say Mavis is likable. What she does in the film, is return to her old town, and tries to rekindle her relationship with her old high school flame. The problem is that her old flame, Matt (Patrick Wilson) is married with a new born. That’s not very nice of her. When she arrives back she checks into a hotel with her dog in her purse, goes to a bar and reconnects with Buddy (Paton Oswalt). She at first doesn’t remember who he is than she notices he walks on a crutch. She remembers him as the hate crime guy who got severely beaten up by a bunch of jocks in high school because they mistakenly thought he was gay. She spends the rest of the film meeting up with her old boyfriend, his wife and getting drunk with Buddy, who shows up everywhere she is.

Buddy serves as the moral compass of the film, constantly playing against Mavis. Paton Oswalt is very good in this film, and moves it along. He constantly is there to remind Mavis what being an adult means. Mavis doesn’t seem to want to grow up throughout the film. She says many uncomfortable things to Matt. She brings up little things about their high school past. Mavis is a perfect example of what a lot of people go through. Not getting over high school. She may have been popular in high school, but her life didn’t turn out the way she really wanted it to. She figured that Matt and her should have been together. What she fails to notice is that she is different then the people in her small, rinky dink town.

She has moved onto the big city of Minneapolis, and is a sort of success. She has her own condo. She’s a professional writer. So why would she want to go back to her old, small town and try to get back her high school boyfriend? I guess the film answers that question in a way. The thing about all these characters is that they are still stuck in their high school form, and I guess in a way, we all can relate to that. No one ever completely gets over their high school role but we all do move on. The only person in this film who knows how to be an adult is Buddy. Matt is still a boring hometown guy, who tells her that they are expanding the mall, and that way they won’t be a hick town anymore. Mavis is still obsessing over her teenage years.

Something I really did like about this film is its cynicism. In one scene, Mavis’s cousin who is in a wheelchair rolls up to Mavis and Buddy in the bar. Buddy groans and says “Here comes the happiest cripple in Minnesota”. Mavis’s cousin gives a speech about how happy he is, how he can do anything, and how being disbled means he can do more than a able body person because his passion for life is recharged. There’s no reason to be happy for people being more successful than you, and there’s reason to celebrate life’s screw over’s. Here’s a film that doesn’t do that.

Charlize Theron is very good as Mavis, and Mavis is definitely a character we aren’t supposed to exactly like. This is the second collaboration between Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman since ‘Juno’. They keep the quirky nature of their partnership alive throughout the film. In a way, this is an interesting character study because they don’t present a main character who we are cheering for. She is immature and can be totally over the top. At the same time, we kind of get reasons of why she is the way she is. Another thing I liked about this film was the constant little narrations we get from that trashy teen novel she is writing. She may be writing for teenagers, but she, herself, is no longer a teenager. She discovers that maybe she has no reason to be jealous. Once she learns to accept herself, than she can start to grow up. And write that ending to her book.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Six Seasons and a Movie: 6 Reasons to Save "Community"

I love “Community”, the brilliant NBC sitcom that’s sadly going on hiatus. “Community” is madly original, every single week. How many shows can you say that about? With a different style, pop culture references, well defined characters, “Community” is funny, sweet and wonderful. Jeff, Abed, Troy, Pierce, Shirley, Annie and Britta, need to be saved. We need to see these characters graduate Greendale Community College. For those of you who don’t watch, “Community”, the show is about a group of students at a community college in Colorado, who start as a study group but end up becoming more like a family.. So, here are the top six reasons why NBC should reconsider and renew “Community” ASAP.

1. The characters- Jeff (Joel McHale) started out as the central character. The show, though, has evolved to become equally about all of them. Jeff gives great speeches, and becomes the anchor of the group, while learning to become more human himself. Troy(Donald Glover) and Abed (Danny Pudi) (we will get to their relationship in a little bit) are wonderful as they form a unusual friendship. Piece (Chevy Chase) is a sweet inclusion into the group because they seem to want him in there even though he is way older than all of them. Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) is a sweet character, super religious but realistic as well. Annie (Alison Brie) is the youngest of the group, and is said to have a “Disney” face. Jeff is attracted to her and wants a relationship with her, but they are actually realistic about this. He’s older then her and feels uncomfortable forming a relationship with her. And Britta (Gillian Jacobs) is wonderful with all her odd causes, trying to be the voice of reason of the group but screwing it up. The best part of the characters of “Community” is that they are so realistic. We’ve all known people like them.

2. Abed and Troy’s relationship- In the pilot, Troy was shown as just a former high school jock but he has developed this relationship with Abed, where together, they have built a blanket fort the size of the school, dodged bullets together in paint ball wars, moved in together (Annie eventually moves in too), and bonded over a pop culture nerddom that’s awesome. I’ll be sad if I never hear the words “Troy and Abed in the Morning” ever again.

3. Chevy Chase- It’s just wonderful to see Chevy Chase having such a great time. Chevy Chase’s “Pierce” is such a lovable old guy, who is often considered the villain of the group but also is a beloved member of the group. He’s funny but there’s also sweetness to the character. He’s been in community college for like ten years, but for the first time, in this study group, he makes actual friends. It’s also great seeing a pro like Chevy Chase every week, who works with this younger cast. At the San Diego Comic Con, he said that he was so happy working on this wonderful show.

4. Syndication- NBC might not have a hit on their hands in the original run. And how could they? They put it up against the Big Bang Theory, which is ironic because these two shows have the same audience. As constantly versed on line, if they did have six seasons and a movie, than I bet this show would be a hit in reruns. “Arrested Development” only ran for 53 episodes, and it’s a bigger hit in syndication that ever was during its run. I bet if they made 88 to 120 episodes of “Community”, it would be a bigger hit in reruns than it would ever be on the air. Of course, I think CBS should pick up “Community”, and put it on after “The Big Bang Theory”. I think my TV would explodes from awesomeness if that happened.

5. It’s awesome- They did an episode that brilliantly spoofed “My Dinner with Andre”. Their paint ball wars episodes. Their fake clip show. The Dean going crazy making a commercial for the school. Senior Chang being a security guard. John Goodman as the director of the Air Conditioning department. An anime sequence in the fossball episode. The completely clay animated Christmas episode. And who can forget the six different timelines?

6. And finally, it’s actually a sweet show- The idea that all these misfits would be friends is really believable, and they always come through for each other. What shows these days usually end with the characters really coming through for each other? Like the last episode with the Foos Ball where Shirley and Jeff walk away with each other, reverting back to kids. That was heartwarming. Them throwing the surprise part for Abed. The speech at the end of the fake clip show, where Jeff believes they can form a super group like the Traveling Wilburys of Pain.