November 2009 Reviews
By Shawn McKenzie 11/6/2009
Here are my reviews of the movies that were released in November of 2009. Check back later as the month progresses for more reviews.
There have been dozens of adaptations of the 1843 Charles Dickens novel A Christmas Carol, but this one is the first one to be presented in IMAX 3D. The story’s the same: Sometime in London in the 19th Century, rich and miserly banker Ebenezer Scrooge (voice of Jim Carrey) hates Christmas. He has been alone essentially since his business partner, Jacob Marley (voice of Gary Oldman), died seven years ago on Christmas Eve. His only other employee is Bob Cratchit (voice of Gary Oldman), a clerk who Scrooge pays very poorly…despite the fact that he has a wife (voice of Lesley Manville) and six kids (voices of Ryan Ochoa in two roles, Daryl Sabara, Sammi Hanratty, Molly C. Quinn, and Fay Masterson.) Bob’s son Tiny Tim (voice of Ochoa and Oldman) has an illness that requires him to use a crutch. Scrooge is annoyed by his nephew Fred (voice of Colin Firth) inviting him over to a holiday dinner and that he has to give Bob Christmas Day off (unpaid.) That Christmas Eve night, Scrooge is alone in his house when the ghost of Marley visits him wrapped in the chains to represent the people he was mean to when he was still alive. He wants to scare Scrooge straight by telling him that three spirits will visit him that night. The first one is The Ghost of Christmas Past (also the voice of Carrey), who takes Scrooge back into his past where he sees that he was a lonely child, but he was a happy man when he met a woman named Belle (voice of Robin Wright Penn.) They were engaged, but she left him when she saw that he valued money above their relationship. The second spirit is The Ghost of Christmas Present (Carrey yet again) who shows Scrooge Fred’s holiday party (including all the fun he was missing, which included mocking Scrooge in a game) and the loving but poor Christmas of Bob and his family. Finally, The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (Carrey as well, but in appearance only, since the character doesn’t speak) shows Scrooge his gravestone. He becomes a nice man after the visits from the spirits (if you’ve never seen any adaptation of A Christmas Carol…sorry for the spoiler.) This is director Robert Zemeckis’ third animated feature using “motion capture” (the visual appearance of the motion of an actor is filmed, then the film used as a guide for the frame-by-frame motion of a computer-animated character), following 2004’s The Polar Express and 2007’s Beowulf. Those previous movies were also shot in IMAX 3D. This is the first one for Disney though, and it’s the studio’s third adaptation of A Christmas Carol, following 1983’s Mickey’s Christmas Carol and 1992’s The Muppet Christmas Carol (one of my favorite versions.) Zemeckis made the movie very faithful to the Dickens novel, and Carrey plays Scrooge exactly in the way a fan of the book would want it. I’ve heard that some parents are a little concerned about the dark tone and scariness of some scenes, but I think that most kids could handle it much better than the horrible live-action adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are from this year. Zemeckis takes full advantage of the 3D by making Scrooge zoom all around the London sky on his journeys with the spirits. The animation of some of the actors are more lifelike (Carrey, Oldman, Firth, Wright Penn) than others (everyone else), but overall, I liked the movie, and it should be a fun one to take the kids to while the parents are out Christmas shopping.
In 1966, British artists…like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, etc….are making some of the most important rock and roll in history, but nationally owned British radio won’t play any of the music because the government finds it too dirty. Rock stations have found a loophole around the law…by transmitting their stations aboard ships anchored in the middle of the North Sea (just beyond British jurisdiction) in international waters with towers strong enough to be heard almost anywhere in Britain. One of the most successful stations is Radio Rock, run by Quentin (Bill Nighy) on an old fishing trawler. Quentin’s godson Carl (Tom Sturridge) arrives one day after having been expelled from school. His mother Charlotte (Emma Thompson) hopes that spending some time with Quentin will straighten his act out. He meets the deejays, who are a motley crew. American DJ The Count (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is the station’s biggest star, who is actually a replacement for the station’s previously biggest talent, Gavin (Rhys Ifans.) The overweight but suave ladies man Dr. Dave (Nick Frost) has no women to hit on…because there are no women who live onboard permanently…except for a shy lesbian cook named Felicity (Katherine Parkinson.) DJ Simon Swafford (Chris O’Dowd) is getting married to Elenore (January Jones) though, and she is going to live onboard with him. The mysterious Jim Morrison-like Midnight Mark (Tom Wisdom) is truly successful with the ladies (when they’re occasionally brought onboard.) Neither New Zealand DJ Angus “The Knut” Knutsford (Rhys Darby) nor radio assistants Harold (Ike Hamilton) and the idiotic Thick Kevin (Tom Brooke) are successful at all with the ladies either. Reclusive and disillusioned hippie DJ Smooth Bob (Ralph Brown) is hardly ever seen by the others due to his late-night/early morning broadcast schedule, and John (Will Adamsdale) reads the news. Part of Quentin’s attempt to help Carl grow up is by arranging for the attractive Marianne (Talulah Riley) to be Carl’s date, with the hopes that he might get lucky. The more time Carl spends with Quentin, the more he thinks that Quentin might really be his long-lost missing father. Meanwhile, uptight government minister Dormandy (Kenneth Branagh) wants to shut down all pirate radio, and he orders his assistant, Twatt (Jack Davenport), to find a way to shut them down. Richard Curtis…the writer of many successful hits, like Four Weddings and a Funeral, Bean, Notting Hill, Bridget Jones’s Diary (and its sequel), and Love Actually (which is his directorial debut)…wrote and directed this movie (which is his second attempt at directing.) In the UK, is was released last April as The Boat That Rocked (a title I liked better than Pirate Radio), but it was a critical and commercial failure. I’m one critic that actually liked it. While it’s not nearly as good as his hits mentioned above, I thought that it was a fun little flick. My biggest gripe though would have to be the musical continuity. It takes place in 1966/early 1967, but many of the songs in the movie were released after that period. Practically half of the songs were released after the events in the movie (some songs were from the ‘70s, and one David Bowie song is from the early ‘80s!) I know that this is a fictional event (Branagh’s character Dormandy is loosely based on then-Postmaster General Tony Benn), but if you are going to base it on actual events…then the music should be accurate. That being said, the music in the movie is awesome. There are 60 songs in the movie, and the soundtrack has 36 of them on a two-disc set (it would be cool to see a second soundtrack with the rest of the songs on it.) There are two things though that might dissuade some potential moviegoers. For one…it’s being marketed as if it’s a Hoffman-led movie. Hoffman has a relatively small part compared to the big ensemble cast. The movie mostly focuses on Sturridge’s character. Secondly…aside from Bean, all of Curtis’ movies have been romantic comedies. Since the potential relationship between Sturridge’s character and Riley’s character is barely shown, I doubt anyone would confuse this with a romantic comedy. If you are going to this movie, keep in mind…it’s a funny movie starring a large talented cast that is horribly inaccurate musically but entertaining anyway.
Charlie Reed (John Travolta) and Dan Rayburn (Robin Williams) are lifelong friends and business partners in a Manhattan-based sports marketing firm that they co-own together. Charlie is a fun-loving never-married womanizer, while Dan is a depressed divorcee. Back in 2002, Charlie took Dan to South Beach in Miami in order to help him get over his recent divorce. They met a beautiful tree-hugger named Vicki (Kelly Preston) and her cross-eyed, hand model best friend Jenna (Rita Wilson.) They all partied hardy, and Dan and Vicki got drunkenly married. They wised up the next day and had the marriage annulled. Seven years later, we’re in 2009 (a.k.a. “the present.”) Charlie and Dan are about to close a $47 million deal with a Japanese corporation when Vicki suddenly comes back into Dan’s life. She tells him that on the night of their wedding, they consummated their marriage, which resulted in her having 7-year-old fraternal twins, a boy named Zach (Conner Rayburn) and girl named Emily (Ella Bleu Travolta, John and Kelly’s real-life daughter.) She later tells him that she needs someone to babysit them for two weeks because she is going to jail during that time for trespassing in an environmental protest (Jenna can’t do it because she had an accident involving her model hands that Dan unfortunately caused.) Dan wants to have a relationship with Vicki and their kids, so he offers to babysit them, but he has to do it at Charlie’s house, since Dan’s condo doesn’t allow kids. Wacky high jinks abound between Dan, “Uncle” Charlie, their office associate Ralph (Seth Green), their attractive Japanese translator Amanda (Lori Loughlin), and the kids. This was director Walt Becker’s follow-up to his highly successful 2007 movie Wild Hogs (which also starred Travolta.) While it’s cute and mildly funny (especially a scene where the kids accidentally mix up Dan and Charlie’s prescription drugs, resulting in a hilarious scene of the effects the drugs make on them), it’s not nearly as funny as Wild Hogs (or even his directorial debut, 2002’s Van Wilder.) There are a few okay cameos from Justin Long, Matt Dillon, Dax Shepard, Luis Guzman, Ann-Margret, Amy Sedaris, and Bernie Mac (in his actual last film role.) Of all of these cameos, Long was the one who made me laugh the most. Otherwise, the movie didn’t even stack up to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s similarly themed 2007 Disney movie The Game Plan. This movie didn’t showcase the director or the stars’ best efforts. It’s okay for a family film, but I would wait until it gets to DVD before you see it if you don’t have kids.
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