“The Muppets”—(TFGMOTY!)

This is the perfect fun movie for families. Gen-Xers who were kids when the Muppets weekly TV show was huge will love this movie. Boomers will dig it as well.

“The Muppets” has an old-timey feel. It is shot on back lots like you’ve seen in movies for decades. Some of the costuming looks like it came from a cartoon. The musical numbers are cleverly staged and are presented with lots of pizzazz. The music is a big part of “The Muppets” but does not dominate the film.

“The Muppets” tells the story of Gary and Mary (played by Jason Segel and Amy Adams) who live in Small Town, USA. Gary has a brother named Walter who looks very much like a Muppet. When Gary and Mary head to L.A. to visit the Muppet Studios, Walter is invited to tag along.

When they visit the rundown studios, they learn that an evil man named Tex Richman (played with panache by Chris Cooper) plans to destroy the Muppet Studios to get to the oil that lies below it. The only way they can save it is to reunite the Muppets and put on a telethon to raise $10 million.

Gary, Mary and Walter head first to Bel Air and the mansion of Kermit the Frog. They track down the rest of the Muppets who are all happy to join in the mission.  Except Miss Piggy, who is a holdout. No…wait…now she is going to join in the telethon!

You might guess the outcome of this crisis. You might be surprised at some of the cameo appearances. You might be amazed how much fun you will have at this movie.

A friend whose only child is now 21 bemoaned on Facebook the fact that she has no young kids to take to see “The Muppets.” No problem; go with another adult!

If you have been waiting for “the feel-good movie of the year,” look no further. This is it.

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Hugo—*Good News, Bad News*

Hey, it’s Martin Scorsese in the director’s chair. Is he capable of making a bad movie? Of course not! “Hugo” is good, but that judgment comes with a few caveats.

First the good news: “Hugo” is set inside an amazing Paris train station several years after World War I. The public spaces of the station and the “backstage” area where Hugo hangs out are fascinating places that have a great look on screen.

The effects in the movie are fun and entertaining, from the subjective camera shot that flies into the station at the film’s opening to the runaway train sequence. If you like 3-D, you’ll enjoy “Hugo’s” 3-D—effective, not gimmicky.

The kid actors are strong. Asa Butterfield, in the title role, resembles a baby James McAvoy with his blue eyes. Chloe Grace Moretz, who impressed in a “30 Rock” episode this year and in “Kick Ass” last year, is his friend Isabelle.

Ben Kingley’s character has a cool flashback to the early days of filmmaking, which caused me to flash back to Mr. Hartsook’s History of Cinema class at Alabama.

Now the bad news: “Hugo” has pacing issues. It starts with good energy, bogs down for a long while and then picks up steam (literally, in scenes with trains) in the last act.

“Hugo” may not be the movie you think it is if you have seen the preview trailer. The movie is not so kinetic as you might have expected and it brings in a major storyline that is barely referenced in the trailer. Jude Law’s screen time in the movie is not much more than in the preview.

Preteens and teens will, I think, like it. Grades from grownups may be mixed. Small children could get restless during segments of the movie, so leave your 5-year-old squirmer with the sitter.

“Hugo” is good. I had hoped it would be better.

“The Descendants”=This Year’s Best Movie (So Far)

The storytelling and the acting make “The Descendants” a title you may hear mentioned many times on February 26 (Oscar night).

“The Descendants” has it all.  Good characters.  Good story.  Most important: the story is told in an entertaining way.

The acting is superb.  George Clooney is at this best.  Lesser-known Shailene Woodley brings a performance that will lead to bigger roles.

“The Descendants” has parallel story lines which, ungeometrically, do intersect. The plotlines could occur anywhere in the US, but the story is set in Hawaii. (The screenplay is adapted from a novel by Hawaii native Kaui Hart Hemmings, who has a small role in the film.) The beauty of the islands and the attitudes of its residents give the movie a different flavor than it would have were it set in one of the states on the continent.

The main story focuses on Clooney as a workaholic lawyer whose wife has a boating accident. Doctors prepare to disconnect her from life support. Clooney has to inform his family, including two daughters, and friends about her fate. He learns from his older daughter, played by Woodley, that his wife had been cheating on him. His actions and reactions are the core of the movie.

The other plotline involves Clooney’s character’s extended family of cousins, all of whom are direct descendants of King Kamehameha. They are prepared to cash in on the sale of a huge tract of land on one of the islands. Among the cousins is Beau Bridges as an aging hippie bar owner. The collision of the two plotlines results in the some of the movie’s best scenes.

Alexander Payne is the director and co-writer of “The Descendants.” His storytelling skills have been shown in “Sideways,” “About Schmidt” and “Election.” He has, again, delivered a good story and has obtained excellent work from his actors. (In “The Descendants,” which is rated R, Payne has dialed back the raunch a bit from his previous films.)

Will “The Descendants” bring Clooney a nomination for best actor?  Book it.  Might Woodley win an award nomination?  Wouldn’t be surprised. Should you go see this movie now? Yes, definitely!

“Melancholia”—–/Tedious, Weird, Pointless/

“Melancholia” is a movie that I strongly dislike. Some people may tell you that it is a brilliant work of art representing the great themes of life. I would agree that it does demonstrate “man’s inhumanity to man,” specifically the filmmaker’s inhumanity to moviegoers.

Lars von Trier, a Dane, is the guy who wrote and directed the movie. Blame him for this mess.

The title has two meanings. It is the name of a form of clinical depression, which Kirsten’s Dunst’s character suffers from. It is also the name of a planet in the movie, which is on a collision course with earth. The collision results in the end of the world. It takes so long to get to that conclusion that I found myself thinking of the old Meatloaf lyric “now I’m praying for the end of time.”

“Melancholia” will gain notoriety for its shots of a nude Kirsten Dunst. Her gratuitous nudity, like the entire movie, is tedious, weird and pointless.

In its favor, the movie has a nice opening montage, some beautiful images and an interesting assortment of characters. Sadly, what happens to these characters is not interesting.

Breaking Dawn, Part 1—(The Newlyweds Get Busy!)

In the Twilight books and movies, the Cullens are “good” vampires. They dress nice, have a great house and respect humans. Edward Cullen nobly chooses to refrain from sexual activity with Bella until they get married.

In “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 1,” they get married. (Beautiful wedding, by the way.) So now here comes the skinny dipping and the rough sex. Nothing too graphic is shown, but there may be enough to cause concern among moms of young girls.

Up to now, their romance has been relatively chaste. In “TTSBDP1,” Bella wakes up on the morning after with bruises. You’ve allowed your 12 or 13-year-old daughter to see what came before. Will you allow her to see this? Or will you take her with you? Women of all ages are among those who love this whole saga.

Apparently Edward’s family never taught him about contraception. Which is actually a good thing. Had he used a condom, we wouldn’t have the main part of this story, which is Bella’s pregnancy.

Without spoiling too much, let’s just say that the birth of this child is not a neat and easy delivery. No, it’s bloody, messy and violent. After they clean her up, she’s a good-looking baby. Sadly, she is saddled with the horrible first name Renesmee. (Good luck surviving grade school with that name, kid!)

If you are deeply involved in the books and movies, you will appreciate the film depiction of Jacob’s “imprinting” on Renesmee. You will also appreciate the final shot before the credits roll.

If you’ve seen the other three Twilight movies, you are pretty much obliged to see this one, right? Should you go on opening weekend, be aware that many showings are already sold out.

“Like Crazy”—(Like, Not Love)

A giant poster in the theater lobby has raves galore for “Like Crazy.”  The poster has a list of film festivals that have given the movie gobs of awards.  The poster’s message is clear:  If you don’t love this movie, there’s something wrong with you.

Sorry, I did not love “Like Crazy.”  I liked it.

“Like Crazy” captures the magic of falling in love. Those first days, weeks and months when you are head over heels are special. In “Like Crazy,” we meet two attractive young people, Anna and Jacob, and watch them enjoy the start of their romance. If you have ever fallen in love, you will relate.

After the first act though, the movie loses its mojo.  A visa problem provides a major plot point.  Anna, from England, is not allowed back into the US to be with Jacob. What follows is time spent apart, new love interests for each, a visit by Jacob to Anna in England and the eventual resolution of the story.

For a movie with lots of talk and little action, the two stars bring their best to these roles. Felicity Jones is Anna and Anton Yelchin is Jacob. Good to see former TV hospital staffers Alex (“E.R.”) Kingston and Finola (“General Hospital”) Hughes in supporting roles as Anna’s mom and boss, respectively.

If you are in the mood for a romantic movie that may take you back to the first time (or first few times) you fell in love, try “Like Crazy.” Or if you are still waiting to fall madly in love, you may want to check it out.  Just be sure to walk quickly past that giant poster in the lobby.

J. Edgar (G-man is a ZZZZZ-man.)

If you have a wristwatch, wear it to this movie.  You’ll want to check it several times.

I am sorry to report that “J. Edgar” is slow and boring.  Leonardo DiCaprio brought so much energy to “The Aviator,” but he can’t keep this one from taking a nosedive.

Former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover is a compelling character, but the fascination is probably greater for folks of director Clint Eastwood’s generation than to baby boomers and Gen-Xers.  Much of his life and legend are already known.  The film focuses on Hoover’s effort to control what the FBI does and to control public perception of himself and the agency.

One problem with “J. Edgar” is the almost monochromatic art direction, which Eastwood has used successfully in other movies.  Here it just makes the film seem drab.

Telling the story in flashbacks (as an aging Hoover dictates his memoir) is okay, but a chronological buildup to our seeing Leo in elderly person makeup might’ve worked better.

The question of Hoover’s homosexuality is addressed.  He is depicted as a reluctant gay, ever aware of his status with FBI.  Much of that part of his life must, of necessity, be based on speculation since people like him did not come “out” in those days.

The acting is generally good.  Armie Hammer plays Hoover’s FBI assistant and companion Clyde Tolson.  Judi Dench plays Hoover’s mother.  Naomi Watts plays his secretary.

DiCaprio is guilty of occasional overacting.  Maybe he felt a lot of responsibility was riding on his shoulders and that he should, therefore, overcompensate.

I hope Leo DiCaprio has a happy 37th birthday on November 11.  I suggest you celebrate it by seeing something other than “J. Edgar.”

 

 

 

 

 

“Martha Marcy May Marlene”—(Family Matters.)

(Another challenge for theater owners:  try to cram this title on your marquee.)

“MMMM” is a good independent film about a young woman who leaves her dysfunctional natural family to live with a “family” led by a Manson type.

Martha etc. is played by Elizabeth Olsen, younger sister of Mary Kate and Ashley.  She has emotional problems, but keeps the audience guessing as to how damaged she really is.  We cannot always determine which parts of her psyche come from her real family or the “family” family.

John Hawkes, who got an Oscar nomination for last year’s “Winter Bone,” should be in the running to get one for his work in “MMMM.”  He is the slick-talking charmer who makes Olsen feel appreciated.  He gives her emotional support, tells her she is “a teacher and a leader” and even sings a special song for her.

The movie begins with her leaving the “family” to stay with her estranged sister and the sister’s new husband.  Sister is Sarah Paulson.  Brother-in-law is Hugh Dancy.  (Martha’s mother is dead and her father is absent.)

During her visit with her sister and brother-in-law, she and the movie keep flashing back to her time with the “family.”  She reverts to certain odd behaviors, like walking in and lying down on her sister’s bed while the sis and brother-in-law are making love.

Some of the flashbacks display a brutal, violent existence.  Other parts of her “family” life show emotional needs being met—needs that were not satisfied by her “real” family.

You may see parts of someone you know (or have known) in Martha.  The empty hole in her soul that was filled by the “family” is one that her sister and brother-in-law cannot fill.  Seeing the character’s vulnerability, you may be able to understand how a person could be lured into this “family.”

Will she go back to the “family?”  Will she accept her sister’s offer to seek professional help?  I’ll never tell.  Go see “MMMM” and appreciate these two solid performances by Olsen and Hawkes.

“Tower Heist” (Funny, But Not That Funny)

You might think that a movie starring Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy would be knockdown hilarious.  You would be wrong.

Not that “Tower Heist” isn’t funny.  It is.  It’s just not that funny.

A caper film needs good characters.  “Tower Heist” has them.  Stiller is building manager for a residence in Manhattan, which resembles Trump Tower.  In its penthouse resides the tower owner, a Bernie Madoff sort of guy played by Alan Alda, who gets busted for fraud by the feds.

Stiller had arranged for Alda to invest the pension funds of his fellow employees.  That money has vanished.  Stiller suspects that Alda still has millions stashed in a secret safe in the penthouse.

Stiller recruits a few of those employees and a foreclosed ex-resident to break in to the penthouse and steal the money.  Here’s where the characters come in. Stiller turns to Eddie Murphy, a small time hood in Stiller’s neighborhood, to mentor the robbery team.  That team includes Casey Affleck, Michael Pena and Gabourey “Precious” Sidibe.

The caper transpires on Thanksgiving Day while the Macy’s parade is underway just outside the tower.  The execution of the caper is fun to watch and occasionally funny to watch.  Of course, things do not go exactly as planned, implausible things happen and the havoc that ensues leads to an audience-pleasing resolution.

Another cast member worth a mention is Tea Leoni as a federal agent who busts Alda and flirts shamelessly with Stiller.

Eddie fans may feel that they got shortchanged in the amount of face time Murphy gets in the movie.  Ben fans who laughed hardily at Stiller in “Tropic Thunder” and the Focker films will find “TH” not quite so funny.

“Tower Heist” is an entertaining movie.  Enjoy it for what it is, laugh and have fun. Just don’t expect to be blown away.