December 2008 Reviews
By Shawn McKenzie 12/29/2008
Here are my reviews of the movies that were released in December of 2008. Check back later as the month progresses for more reviews.
Adam Sandler may never be a critic’s favorite, but this movie may at least have parents love him. Skeeter Bronson (Sandler) grew up in the Sunny Vista Hotel with his father Marty (Jonathan Pryce.) As a kid, Skeeter (Thomas Hoffman, Skeeter as a kid) loved living and working there, while his sister Wendy (Abigail Leone Droeger, Wendy as a kid) didn’t like it. Unfortunately, Marty wasn’t a good businessman, so he was forced to sell the hotel to Barry Nottingham (Richard Griffiths) under the provision that he make Skeeter the manager of the hotel someday when he grows up. Twenty-five years later, the Sunny Vista Nottingham Hotel has expanded to a huge hotel, but Barry reneged on his promise to make Skeeter the manager. He still works there though, but as the handyman working for manager Kendall Duncan (Guy Pearce), who, along with front desk attendant Aspen (Lucy Lawless), think of him as a common employee, and Barry’s high society Paris Hilton-like daughter, Violet (Teresa Palmer), barely acknowledges his existence. One day, Barry announces that Kendall will be the general manager of their newest, yet-to-be-built property, which makes Skeeter all that much disappointed. The hard times for the Bronson family get even harder though, because his divorced elementary school principal sister, Wendy (Courtney Cox), has lost her job (due to the school being closed down), and she needs to go out of town to look for another one. She asks Skeeter to watch her two kids, Bobbi (Laura Ann Kesling) and Patrick (Jonathan Morgan Heit), while going on the job hunt. Wendy is very strict, in that she makes them eat yucky health food and doesn’t even have a TV, so Skeeter needs to find a way to entertain them. Since their mom’s selections of bedtime stories are a little boring, he decides to make up stories in the same way his father did. Injecting himself, the kids, their wide-eyed guinea pig Bugsy, Wendy’s teacher friend Jill Hastings (Keri Russell), and his co-workers…including his hotel waiter friend Mickey (Russell Brand)…into the stories, he makes up fantastic tales of cowboys, knights, and spacemen. The next day, some of the elements of the stories start happening to Skeeter in real life. When Barry changes his mind and allows Skeeter to compete against Kendall for the new position (which was something that happened in one of his stories), his reasons that he can use those bedtime stories to guarantee that he gets the job. As he starts falling for Jill, Skeeter begins to realize that the kids control the specifics of his stories…including the benefits and dangers of them. Family film director Adam Shankman (2005’s The Pacifier and Cheaper by the Dozen 2, 2007’s Hairspray) has taken frequent Sandler screenwriter Tim Herlihy’s script (based on his co-writer Matt Lopez’s original story) and turned it into something that will please both families and Sandler’s fanbase. For one, Sandler has all of his frequent players in it (Herlihy, Nick Swardson, Allen Covert, Rob Schneider…who does a variation of his “You can do it!” line), so Sandler fans will be pleased. Since Sandler movies usually include many sophomoric hard-PG-13-rated gags in them, parents usually don’t like having their kids watching them. Under the Disney banner though, parents can be relieved that the movie’s PG-rating is appropriate. Just because it’s marketed for kids doesn’t mean adults…Sandler fans or not…won’t like it. It’s very funny, and fast-paced enough that parents won’t feel bored in the slightest. As long as he doesn’t try to be the next comic to be stuck in PG movie heck (a la Eddie Murphy), I’d welcome another family friendly Sandler flick.
Tom Cruise may possibly still be a couch-jumping freak, but man…he can make a good movie! He plays Claus Philipp Maria Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, a colonel in the German army who is severely wounded in Tunisia, Africa, in 1943, resulting in the loss of his left eye, his right hand, and the fourth and fifth fingers of his left hand. He loves his country, but he isn’t the biggest fan of German dictator Adolf Hitler (David Bamber) or the Nazi party, because of their actions regarding the war and the treatment of Jews. Major-General Henning von Tresckow (Kenneth Branagh), the man who’s been leading the underground resistance movement against the Führer (he attempts to assassinate him by delivering a bomb in a wine case to kill Hitler on his plane in mid-air in the beginning of the movie, but it doesn’t go off), contacts von Stauffenberg. He and war hero General Friedrich Olbricht (Bill Nighy) recruit von Stauffenberg in hopes that he’ll help them revise Operation Valkyrie, Hitler’s emergency plan to have a Reserve Army, overseen by General Friedrich Fromm (Tom Wilkinson) and directly controlled by Major Otto Ernst Remer (Thomas Kretschmann), deployed to maintain order. Their plan is to make it look like the SS (a.k.a. Schutzstaffel, a Nazi paramilitary force) killed Hitler, giving them the ability to take control of the government and arrest any that are loyal to Hitler. First, they would need to write up a new version of the plan and get Hitler to sign it; after that, they would need to…you know…kill Hitler. Von Stauffenberg and his personal assistant, Lieutenant Werner von Haeften (Jamie Parker) work with retired General Ludwig Beck (Terence Stamp), resistance leader Dr. Carl Goerdeler (Kevin R. McNally), resistance fighter Colonel Mertz von Quirnheim (Christian Berkel), chief of communications Gen. Erich Fellgiebel (Eddie Izzard), among many others, to attempt to rewrite Valkyrie’s operational status in 1944. After sending off his wife, Nina (Carice Van Houten), and their four children to safety, von Stauffenberg himself risks his life by going into the “Wolf’s Lair” (Hitler’s Eastern Front military headquarters) in order to ensure that the assassination and coup plot goes well. Director Bryan Singer re-teams with Usual Suspects screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie (and first-time writer/producer Nathan Alexander) to produce a factual recreation of the final assassination attempt on Hitler’s life (“factual” at least from all reports that I’ve read.) The story is tense and not boring at all, but the accents are a little off. Nighy and Wilkinson use their British accents, while Cruise does his American accent. All other actors use either British or German accents. I’m not saying that the movie has to be fully subtitled…but having all actors learn effective German accents might make things feel a little more authentic. After a while, you really don’t even care about that though and you just take in the cinematic experience. So far, the movie hasn’t gotten any award show love. Cruise himself is getting some though…for his supporting role in the comedy Tropic Thunder. I would just go for the fact that it features an exciting story of the attempted takedown of one of the most evil men in history, and to prove that Cruise can still entertain…no matter how many off-screen incidents he gets in.
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