Thursday, November 24, 2011

Cinema Siren has good news and great news for this holiday weekend. The good news is there are three wonderful new movies you can see this weekend. The great news is whatever your kids like, there will something in these three for them!

Lately, you may have been thinking “do i REALLY have to take my precocious 12 year old to see a dubiously scripted vampire movie? Isn’t there something I can take them to where I can feel like they’re learning something positive? Well, movie loving parents, you’re in luck! With the new releases The Muppets, Arthur Christmas, and Hugo, lessons about self sufficiency, standing up for what’s right, and staying connected with your family in a loving way are all featured strongly and well.

Perhaps you glanced at my last column, “The Dysfunctional Family Holiday Movie Guide”. I prefaced that article by saying all holiday movies have some aspect of dysfunction to be addressed. Conflict resolution is at the heart of most good movies, and these three new releases are no different. Let’s get to them, shall we?

By the time the collection of furry puppets sing “It’s time to play the music, it’s time to light the lights”, even surrounded by other movie critics, Cinema Siren and Siren Sister were holding hands, swaying, and singing along. Looking around, we discovered we were not alone. It is nigh unto impossible to stay cynical or hardened after more than an hour of watching the wholly earnest irony-free resurgence of Jim Henson’s collection of classic characters who don’t hold a mean bone in their felt-covered bodies.

(Human) Lead Jason Segel, co-wrote the screenplay for this valentine to his favorite childhood show with friend and director of “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” Nicholas Stoller. Instead of phoning in a Shrek-like of-the-moment story with the usual ironic winks to Hollywood and current pop culture, he rightly chooses to stay in the sweet, authentic bubble world of the Muppets, where no explanations are needed for why his brother is a Muppet or Miss Piggy can work at Vogue Paris.

There are lots of surprise cameos you’ll enjoy, although it feels like a few more big guns should have begged to be part of this.

The movie is about three fans Gary, his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams), and his (muppet) brother Walter, reuniting the Muppets from the old show to save their old theatre from greedy oil tycoon Tex Richman, played by Chris Cooper. Walter is the world’s biggest Muppet fan. He accidentally overhears Richman revealing his intention to buy and tear down the theatre to drill for oil. He appeals to Kermit, who, like the rest of the Muppets, has put the show years behind him, to bring the gang back together for a telethon to raise enough money to save the theatre. There’s Gary and Mary’s relationship, Kermit and Miss Piggy’s relationship, Walter’s self discovery, Tex Richman’s bad badness (maniacal laugh!), and Muppet awesomeness, all featured in songs which are amusing or recognizable, and three of which are so great they are worth the price of admission. Did you think you’d enjoy seeing Chris Cooper rap, and imagine he could get away with it, or that his white Texan rich man rap could actually be great? Yup. The other two are “Man or Muppet” and “Me Party”. They manage to be both hilarious and sweet, which isn’t easily accomplished.

All this earnestness doesn’t stop them from including The Muppets Barbershop Quartet doing Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” or Camilla and the Chickens from doing Cee-Lo’s “Forget You”. Of course in this alternate world the Muppets have been listening to the top 40 all these years, so why not?

This first of the three is a great choice to bring your 6 year old or older to, and unless your teenager is the most bored and ironic kid in his or her school, they’ll find something to like about it. No one needs to talk the 30 and 40 somethings into going, these film makers had them at “Mah-na mah-na”.

LOVED THIS MOVIE! Cinema Siren had a smile for 97 minutes. This is the pick for the youngest kids, as it has lots of elements a younger movie goer will find eyepopping (not least of which is its 3D), it offers wonderful added mythology to Santa’s story, and teaches great lessons about embracing your quirky individuality and holding the spirit of Christmas in your heart.

Deep beneath the North Pole is an ultra high tech facility run by an army of elves that has made delivery of millions of gifts on Christmas eve an operation of military precision. A long history of Santas have served as chief and figure head, and Santa’s joyless by-the-book son Steve (Hugh Laurie) is poised to take over for his dad, the current work-worn Santa (Jim Broadbent). Awkward accident-prone younger brother Arthur (James McAvoy), who is perpetually full of the Christmas spirit, discovers a present has been forgotten. As head of Santa’s correspondence office, he knows the child and has written her of Santa’s greatness, and decides to find a way to deliver the gift. With the help of grandsanta (Bill Nighy), the archaic trad-sleigh, and reindeer we all know and love, Arthur puts his phobias and fears aside to get the job done.

There are lots of aspects of this that the geekier adults (like the Siren, who loves her Star Trek) will find funny, like the way the new sleek S1 looks like one of the more recent Enterprises, and features a cloaking device. This movie is incredibly clever, but not in a wholly British way as Aardman studios can often be (they gave us Wallace and Gromit). We can largely credit that to (huzzah! female!) director and co-writer Sarah Smith. She talked about wanting to balance the sophistication of Aardman’s movies with the passion and heart of the Pixar films. Arthur Christmas achieves that balance. The heart of this movie is really about a very important dysfunctional family who have to work together for the good of everyone, and the lessons they all learn along the way. That it mostly centers around aging men and their egos, and a young man finding what makes him special makes direction by a woman all the more interesting.

There are lots of unique characters and little touches that make this movie so much fun. Grandsanta’s old pet perpetually neck-coned reindeer is immediately endearing. Bryony the gift-wrapping expert elf (played by Ugly Betty’s Ashley Jensen) is going to become a cult favorite to fans of this movie for sure. She’s the cucumber-cool eyebrow pierced badass you want in any high stress situation on Christmas eve.

Cinema Siren wants to see this wonderful story of the underdog winning to do well at the box office. Few folks who walk into that movie will come out without a smile. Arthur Christmas the character can make the holiday better for that one child, and Arthur Christmas the movie will make it brighter for you and yours as well.

Warning from the Siren: She loves Scorsese films. This is a bone of contention with her family, who doesn’t like the gritty blood ballets for which he’s known. She also loves the book “The Invention of Hugo Cabret”, written by Brian Selznick. So much so that she wrote to Brian on behalf of her gallery ArtInsights begging to have a show of the book’s art the day after the its release in 2007… Even given those passions, there was concern for how Marty was going to interpret the book on film.

The movie, however, turns out to be exquisitely acted and a heretofore unequalled artistic use of 3D.

However gorgeous it is, It is not a very fast paced film, and has an intensity that makes the best audience precocious kids 10 and up, brainy or passionate film lovers teenaged or over, historians of film, and lovers of all things Parisian. An adventure it is, indeed, but one that marries the emotional, spiritual, and physical together.

The movie and the book on which it is based are inspired by the true story of the turn of the century pioneer filmmaker Georges Melies, his films, and his collection of mechanical wind up figures called automata. In the story, Hugo (the luminous and exceptional Asa Butterfield) lives inside the clockworks of a Paris train station, (fans of steampunk will fall in love with the movie for the clockwork constructions alone), and struggles to survive while fixing the automaton his father was working on before he died. He slowly discovers the connection between it, a reserved and broken man who runs a toy shop in the station, Georges (Sir Ben Kingsley), and Georges’s eccentric ward (Chloe Moretz). Both he and Georges are damaged and the cinematic journey is about how they find ways to repair themselves and each other.

“Everything has a purpose, even machines. If you lose your purpose, it’s like you’re broken”. This is what Hugo says, though he may not realize he is referring to himself as well as Georges.

What is most exciting about this movie is seeing the visual beauty that the team Scorsese uses in his productions turned towards an optimistic family movie about the joys and magic of film making, and about finding or holding onto your own magic. Since Scorsese is himself a renowned expert on the history of film and an essential champion to the cause of film restoration, he and this story, that celebrates the genius of little known Georges Melies, his films, and their importance to film history, are a match made in movie heaven. You can see his passion in every frame. There is a respect for and warmth towards the subject matter that comes through, and anyone interested in early films should see this movie.

At one point, a younger Georges showing an excited audience his film studio says, “If you’ve ever wondered where dreams come from, look around. This is where they’re made”. Leaving the theatre, there was no doubt Martin Scorsese and his cast and crew took that to heart. Not a holiday movie, per se, but a wonderful way to experience magic, so part of the season, onscreen.

Here’s hoping you find time to celebrate the magic of the movies this weekend, whether with bits of felt frog and a Chanel-wearing pig, a scruffy e-collared reindeer and an army of elves, or a small blue eyed boy, an underappreciated film making genius, and an automaton.

That’s the kind of magic that we can all be thankful for!