The rest of the November crop! GO!
A VERY HAROLD & KUMAR 3D CHRISTMAS -- Not a whole lot to say about the third installment of the Harold & Kumar saga. Are you a fan of the previous two films? Are you high right now? If the answer to either of those two questions is “yes,” you will enjoy this movie. As the film opens, the lads have drifted apart over the past few years. Kumar is still living a bachelor’s life and smoking regularly, while Harold is married and trying to be responsible and stuff. But when a mysterious package brings them back together on Christmas Eve, hijinks immediately ensue, resulting in another crazy joyride around NYC. Everything you could possibly want from a H&K film is here: Extreme raunchiness. Stoner humor. Political incorrectness. Gratuitous nudity. And of course, Neil Patrick Harris reprising the role he was born to play. The 3D is gimmicky and fun for the most part, though it’s actually kind of awesome how well it works when the guys are smoking (Smell-O-Vision would have been a great innovation here, if ya know what I mean). A fourth installment would probably be a bit much... but then again, it’s not like I wouldn’t see it. Though I think I’d prefer a feature-length version of Neil’s Patrick Harris’ Christmas Spectacular... or better yet, a live stage version on Broadway!
THE THING -- Yet another remake of an ‘80s favorite that is completely unnecessary but not completely awful. But this time, there’s the added twist that it is actually a prequel in disguise. I will not reveal where and how the transition from remake to prequel takes place, but suffice to say, it’s surprisingly satisfying if you are a fan of John Carpenter’s classic, which is widely considered to be one of the best sci-fi horror flicks ever. In the new version, a paleontologist (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, aka Ramona Flowers from SCOTT PILGRIM, with whom I am still in lesbians) joins a team of Norwegian scientists that has discovered an extraterrestrial spacecraft buried deep in the arctic. In the ship, they find a creature that appears to be long-dead. But when they get a little too greedy with the experimentation, the creature wakes up and starts killing everyone, one-by-one, using its ability to mimic anything (and anyone) it touches. It’s fairly straightforward modern horror, lacking the paranoid tension of the original, but adding some pretty cool Thing effects. As with THE KARATE KID and FOOTLOOSE remakes, THE THING is not required viewing -- but neither will it rape your childhood. Plus, any opportunity to help Joel Edgarton continue to make a name for himself in the U.S. is a worthwhile endeavor.
HUGO -- Martin Scorcese’s latest triumph is unlike any of his past triumphs. On the surface, it’s a 3D kids’ film, which is odd in itself, coming from the director of RAGING BULL and GOODFELLAS. But deep down, it is a tip of the cap to the magic of cinema and movie lovers in general, a tribe of which Scorcese himself is the supreme leader. It’s the story of a boy named Hugo (Asa Butterfield) who lives alone within the walls of a Paris train station in the 1930’s. He keeps a low profile while maintaining the station’s clocks and trying to fix a broken automaton with the hope that it may contain a hidden message from his dead father. One day, Hugo has a brusque encounter with a disgruntled old shop owner, which leads to a friendship with the man’s goddaughter, Isabelle (Chloe Moretz, who keeps getting better and better), who provides the key that helps Hugo complete the automaton, which unlocks a secret that sets the film off in an unexpected, but completely rapturous, direction. To reveal more than that would be criminal, but suffice to say, HUGO is an enchanting fantasy adventure, a heartwarming tale of family & friendship, a picture postcard of old Paris, a love letter to the art of cinema, a crash course in the history of motion pictures (particularly the films of Georges Méliès), a propaganda piece about the importance of film preservation and last but not least, a game-changer in the advancement of 3D technology. I don’t know if it completely does for 3D what THE WIZARD OF OZ did for Technicolor, but it comes closer than any movie we’ve seen thus far. Scorcese, a visual master under any circumstances, takes full advantage of the extra dimension, and for the first time, immerses us into a world in which wearing special glasses is actually NECESSARY for the full, true visual experience. (There were several moments -- for example, a scene in which an audience watches and reacts to the Lumière Bros.’ classic, “Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat” -- that made me wonder how the heck they could possibly work in standard 2D.) HUGO is the kind of movie that works on so many levels, taps into every emotion and should appeal to different people in different ways. For me, it was a case of cinematic love at first sight, and the more I think about it, the more I love it. A truly extraordinary film and quite possibly my favorite movie-watching experience of the year.
THE MUPPETS -- Jason Segel has already been awesome for a long time thanks to FREAKS & GEEKS, all the Judd Apatow movies and HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER. But then he went and brought the Muppets back from oblivion... and now he has pretty much achieved god-like status. The first theatrical Muppet movie in 12 years may not the best of all time, but it is unquestionably the best one since before Jim Henson died, and one of the most fun, emotional and satisfying cinematic experiences of the year. Segel & Nicholas Stoller co-wrote the script with extreme care and adoration for the characters and absolutely nailed it, perfectly capturing that playful-yet-sentimental Muppet tone and all of their personalities. The plot is simple enough: The Muppets’ biggest fan, Walter, goes to Hollywood to find that the legendary Muppet Theatre has not only fallen into disrepair, but is about to be taken over & demolished by an evil oil magnate (Chris Cooper and his maniacal laugh). Walter, along with his friends Gary and Mary (Segel and the always-adorable Amy Adams), track down Kermit the Frog to convince him to reunite the old Muppet gang, all of whom have gone their separate ways. The plan? Put on the Greatest Muppet Telethon Ever to raise $10 million and buy back their beloved theatre! The film is rife with nods and references to Muppet movies of yore, and the recreation of the Muppet Show during the telethon is nothing short of breathtaking. The music is fantastic, with a great mix of new and classic songs -- if you don’t get all verklempt during “Rainbow Connection,” you may not have a soul. Jason Segel deserves unlimited credit for giving us this perfectly-realized, heartfelt, nostalgia trip -- on top of everything else, it was clear that he was having the time of his life and his joy was infectious. Mahna mahna.
A DANGEROUS METHOD -- The latest collaboration of David Cronenberg and Viggo Mortensen (following the overrated A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE and very good EASTERN PROMISES) is a solid film, if somewhat lacking. It’s a fictitious look at the early days of psychoanalysis, in which Dr. Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) at first treats, then has an affair with, a sexy-but-mentally disturbed Russian patient (Keira Knightley). It’s more of a talk-fest than we’re used to seeing from Cronenberg, but that makes sense because this is a movie about ideas and the formulation and discussion thereof. These ideas are further amplified by three outstanding lead performances, starting with Fassbender, who continues his breakout year (see also: X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, JANE EYRE and SHAME, which I will write about soon). Viggo gives a larger-than-life performance as Sigmund Freud, chewing the scenery with gusto. The powerful relationship between Jung and Freud anchors the film and offers some choice back-and-forth dialogue. But surprisingly, it’s Keira Knightley who steals the show. Her Russian accent may be somewhat questionable, but holy shit, does she play one hell of a mental patient. It’s an over-the-top performance, but it’s so jarring and off-putting that it works in the context of the film. That said, the film is more methodical than dangerous and despite its provocative themes, ultimately fails to resonate as more than a mild curiosity.
Holy crap, the year is almost over! Time flies when you spend over 300 hours in movie theatres. Stay tuned for my December recap and then all sorts of year-end goodies including my hotly-anticipated (by me) TOP TEN OF 2011!