Our Official 2009 Thanksgiving Movie Guide is Finally Here!
by Marco Cerritos
November 26, 2009
Every year, Hollywood releases a big batch of new movies on Thanksgiving week. And every year, we bring you this guide to help you choose the best movies to see this week with your family or friends. To help tackle this year's beefy line-up, our writer Marco Cerritos has put together a Thanksgiving Movie Guide. He made sure to see every last movie playing in theaters this week, even the bad ones, in order to provide all of you with a cinematic compass of sorts. If you're struggling to figure out what to see this weekend, then look no further! From Fantastic Mr. Fox to New Moon to Ninja Assassin to The Road, he covers it all. Read on!
This is an alphabetized list containing 14 films that, as of today, are currently playing in most theaters.
Marco's Rating: B-
Directed by: Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow)
Starring: John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Chiwetel Ejiofor
Length: 158 minutes
Review: After watching Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow and his latest concerto 2012, the only thing left for director Roland Emmerich to destroy is the solar system. He's either obsessed with blowing stuff up or he's scared to venture outside his comfort zone (blowing stuff up). To be fair, Emmerich has never claimed to be a master filmmaker but when he's ventured outside loud, obnoxious end-of-the-world spectacles the results aren't half-bad (Stargate, The Patriot).
There is no possible way to spoil a movie like 2012 because once you buy a ticket, you're in agreement that you'll be getting a lot of brainless action and silly jokes. The real question is does the movie work. Kinda. The basic formula that Emmerich has used in Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow is still in place here (stereotypical strangers must band together and forget their problems to overcome monstrous odds) and the result is a strange hybrid of both of those films.
The real star of 2012 are the special effects and the human actors are just here to cash a paycheck. I guess this wouldn't be so bad if the film weren't so dull in the last third. Once we finally figure out where the main characters are going and the full evolution of the plot it, takes forever to actually get there, destroying any goodwill the film has built up in the process.
The Blind Side
Marco's Rating: C-
Directed by: John Lee Hancock (The Rookie, The Alamo)
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Tim McGraw
Length: 128 minutes
Review: Trying her hardest to evoke Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich, Sandra Bullock does very little to pull the audience into the sassy character that she's supposed to be playing. The story of Southern socialite Leigh Anne Touhy convincing her family to take in an uneducated kid from the projects may be ripped from reality but as portrayed on film it comes off as sappy and manipulative.
The Blind Side is part of what I like to call A-B-C storytelling, you know exactly where the film is going every step of the way. And to make matters worse there's no hook for the audience to engage itself in. It's almost like everyone's trying too hard to make a message movie and it just comes off as transparent. Do we care about Leigh Anne and her struggle to help the underprivileged by buying them clothes and feeding them Taco Bell? Not really. Does it help that this type of formulaic sports story has been done better by the same director (The Rookie)? Nope. Is it OK to laugh when Leigh Anne mutters the cringe-worthy line "I'm not changing his life, he's changing mine?" Absolutely.
Marco's Rating: A-
Directed by: Richard Kelly (Donnie Darko)
Starring: Cameron Diaz, James Marsden, Frank Langella
Length: 115 minutes
Review: Instead of trying to pull a rabbit out of a hat I'm going to try to convince you that you are missing one of the best and most misunderstood films of 2009. The story of a suburban family in the 1970's put in the middle of a moral dilemma is one of the last things I expected to grab me before I saw this mind trip of a movie. The fact that it starred Cameron Diaz and James Marsden didn't help matters either. But the central hook of the film (a cash reward for pushing a button and killing a stranger) is only the jumping off point for the craziness that ensues for most of the film's running time.
Director Richard Kelly can't seem to catch a break lately. His cult-favorite Donnie Darko went unnoticed in theatres, he got eviscerated for Southland Tales and now The Box, the best and most mainstream of his efforts is getting ignored too. The tension that Kelly brings to the film (primarily from co-star Frank Langella and a nuanced score by Arcade Fire) prove that he's matured as a filmmaker and has learned from his past films. Audiences may not be ready to go where he wants to take them just yet but there's always Blu-Ray and DVD to rediscover this gem when they're ready.
A Christmas Carol
Marco's Rating: C-
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis (Polar Express, Beowulf)
Starring: Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman, Robin Wright Penn
Length: 96 minutes
Review: Robert Zemeckis' biggest crime wasn't making the 1000th telling of the classic Charles Dickens story. It wasn't even filming it with his irritating motion-capture process. It was making the finished product so damn dull.
Watching paint dry brings more excitement than sitting through this telling of A Christmas Carol. Most people watching this or any version know exactly where the story's going and because we're already ahead of the characters there's nothing left to do but wait for them to catch up. Sometimes this can be excused if the predictable path is fun or interesting along the way. "Bah-humbug" says Zemeckis. His insistence on taking his sweet time to tell the story in the most dull way possible brings down what could have been an updated or at least re-imagined version of the story we all know already.
Another insistence that wasn't necessary, Jim Carrey playing most of the lead roles, including the three ghosts (if you don't know what I'm talking about look up the cliffnotes). I'm sure it works wonders for his ego but as an artistic choice it's jarring and takes the viewer out of the movie. If you want a better family film to see for the holidays, just keep reading...
Fantastic Mr. Fox
Marco's Rating: A
Directed by: Wes Anderson (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums)
Starring: George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Bill Murray
Length: 87 minutes
Review: This is the family film to beat this holiday season and dare I say it, 2009. While some may scream Up, Coraline or Where the Wild Things Are, I say "what the cuss are you talking about?" Those films are good examples of family fare but Fantastic Mr. Fox best walks the delicate balance of being entertaining enough for adults AND kids.
Fantastic Mr. Fox also marks the return of writer-director Wes Anderson who most feared dead after the cinematic disasters that were The Darjeeling Limited and The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. Anderson has brought back some of his regulars like Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Willem Dafoe and Owen Wilson to provide key voices but also enlists A-list newbies like George Clooney and Meryl Streep to help out, too.
Another thing to report is that while Fantastic Mr. Fox is definitely recommended it also continues Wes Anderson's fascination with tumultuous family relationships. Every one of his films has had a family conflict at its core and the difference here is that instead of a family of humans fighting, this time it's a family of foxes. The film plays like an entertaining hipster movie that just happens to also appeal to kids. The tone and humor of Anderson's past work is on full display and fans of those movies won't be disappointed. In other words Fantastic Mr. Fox is pretty, um, well, fantastic.
The Men Who Stare at Goats
Marco's Rating: C
Directed by: Grant Heslov
Starring: George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges
Length: 94 minutes
Review: It's obvious this is Grant Heslov's first time in the director's chair. My big question is did he really think The Men Who Stare At Goats was an adequate screenplay to tackle on his first time out? Everything from the look of the film to the tone feels cheap and out of place. There was a lot of buzz prior to the film's release that the Goats screenplay was a hot commodity in Hollywood. The lesson learned here is that no matter how good the script is, you still need someone experienced enough to translate it to the screen.
Thanks to his producing partner George Clooney and the strength of the original script, Heslov was able to lock in a great cast that included Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey and Clooney himself. The only problem is he doesn't know what to do with them and as a result top-level actors were left to deliver subpar performances. Bad decisions also come in the form of narration which in some films work and in some don't. In The Men Who State At Goats, the narration is the equivalent of a spoiled baby banging his head against a wall for attention. It's obvious there's a problem but the narration only brings more attention to itself by feeling tacked on and put in place to cover up holes in the story.
Marco's Rating: B
Directed by: Oren Moverman
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Ben Foster, Jena Malone
Length: 105 minutes
Review: Anyone accusing Woody Harrelson of not being a good actor must take the time to see his new film The Messenger. Between him, Ben Foster and Samantha Morton there's a cavalcade of acting fireworks going on to impress even the most jaded filmgoer.
The setup is simple, Army officers Stone (Harrelson) and Montgomery (Foster) are assigned to deliver death notices to the families of fallen Iraq soldiers back home. The emotional turmoil that comes from delivering every one of these messages has turned Stone into a conflicted and bitter man. Montgomery on the other hand is new to this detail and slowly learning the ropes, including not to flirt with a fallen officer's wife. The direct consequences of these actions take the two officers cross country as they continue their job and their squabble with each other.
All three principle actors put in layered and nuanced work, slowly breathing their characters to life and raising what could've been a preachy war movie into something with heart and substance.
Marco's Rating: C
Directed by: Chris Weitz (About a Boy, The Golden Compass)
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner
Length: 130 minutes
Review: As a film critic, it's my job to be objective toward any film I review. Even if it's a teen fad like the Twilight franchise. I'm guessing most people reading this aren't caught up in the eternal romance of sparkles and tomboy but I guess the best thing I can say about New Moon is, at least it was better than Twilight.
You read that right boys and girls, I actually gave New Moon a well deserved compliment. While parts of it are just as dull and brooding as its fangy predecessor, other parts (primarily the finale in Italy) are pretty enjoyable. I give primary credit to director Chris Weitz who took the reigns from Catherine Hardwicke this time around and while he didn't manage to clean up the melodramatic dialogue, he did play with camera angles a bit to give the film a much needed punch in the gut. Given the film's massive opening, I'm sure tweens are full of happy pants either way but hopefully New Moon is a step toward progress in the popular franchise.
The Twilight Saga as it's now being called is a true cultural phenomenon. There's no stopping it as witnessed by the third film ready to hit theatres next summer. If New Moon is better than Twilight here's hoping Eclipse takes its title to heart and kicks the other two's ass.
Marco's Rating: C
Directed by: James McTeigue (V for Vendetta)
Starring: Rain, Naomie Harris
Length: 99 minutes
Review: I don't know about you but when I see a title like Ninja Assassin I envision a badass army of ninja killers doing hardcore violence on the silver screen. The last thing I imagine seeing is a crappy story, bad dialogue, a ton of terrible looking CG blood and, most of all, have it all be boring.
Action producer Joel Silver, the Wachowski Brothers and director James McTeigue have made a boring ninja movie. A movie that blows its load in the opening five minutes and spends the rest of the running time trying to explain a convoluted plot and the fact that there's more talking than action in a movie called Ninja Assassin.
Korean superstar Rain does what he can with the limited role of an abandoned baby taken in and raised by a renegade ninja clan only to betray them years later. It's the same technique Joel Silver tried with Jet Li a few years ago to introduce him to American audiences, put him in action roles with little dialogue and let the ass-kicking do the rest. There's two problems with that formula this time around, the aforementioned lack of action and the fact that Jet Li has more of an onscreen presence than Rain. That's a double-whammy of suck any way you slice it (pun intended).
Marco's Rating: D
Directed by: Walt Becker (Van Wilder, Wild Hogs)
Starring: John Travolta, Robin Williams, Seth Green
Length: 88 minutes
Review: If you're reading this and were charmed by the trailer for Old Dogs or have any vague interest in seeing it, please stop reading this article and go have fun with the other zombies at the multiplex. This is by far the worst movie opening this Thanksgiving weekend and it will probably be the most profitable. Why's that you may ask? Because people are stupid.
I understand the need to be entertained, I really do. I know that we go to the movies for escape and to have a good time. But if your idea of fun is to willingly pay good money to see bargain basement slapstick like people getting kicked in the balls or running into things then I have no sympathy for you. John Travolta and Robin Williams reduced to pratfalls and sight gags to pay the bills? I really hope that tenth airplane was worth it Mr. Travolta.
The story if you didn't already know revolves around Travolta and Williams being forced to drop everything and take care of a group of kids while their mommy goes away to prison. That's the weak setup which eventually leads to even weaker laughs and internal pain for the audience. Well that's not entirely true. There were a healthy chunk of moviegoers laughing their asses off when I saw this. But then again they probably laughed at Wild Hogs too which was coincidentally made the same filmmakers as Old Dogs. Wild Hogs? Old Dogs? Those two titles must be a pseudonym for watch us sell you the same crap twice and you beg us for more. Remember kids, only you can prevent crappy movies.
Marco's Rating: B
Directed by: Richard Curtis (Love Actually)
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy, Nick Frost
Length: 116 minutes
Review: Director Richard Curtis is a happy guy. He's written classic romantic comedies like Notting Hill and Four Weddings and a Funeral and also directed Love Actually and the one constant throughout his movies is that the character are always full of life. There's very little conflict (if any at all) and the bulk of the movie's running time is spent with his characters having fun and being whimsical. Not to say this is a bad thing, just an observation.
It's with this mindset that Pirate Radio falls squarely into the Curtis-verse of happy-go-lucky characters. The hook of the film are outlaw radio DJs broadcasting rock-and-roll music to British listeners in the 1960's. They're doing this from the high seas since they obviously can't do it from the mainland, causing a conflict with British authorities. But because this is a Richard Curtis film, the conflict is minor and it's cool for the wacky DJs to ignore threats and just keep playing music and getting laid.
This casual attitude is what keeps Pirate Radio light and fluffy, never delving into serious territory because it never planned to go there in the first place. Instead we have an excuse to listen to great rock-and-roll tracks and see wacky British antics for a few hours.
Marco's Rating: D
Directed by: Jorge Blanco, Javier Abad, Marcos Martinez
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Jessica Biel, Justin Long
Length: 91 minutes
Review: If Fantastic Mr. Fox is the pinnacle of family entertainment this holiday week, Planet 51 is the exact opposite. Dull, boring and featuring half-assed animation, this studio pickup reeks of direct-to-DVD fare slapped together by bad marketing and stunt casting celebrity voices to hide the crappy product.
Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Jessica Biel, Justin Long and Gary Oldman (wtf!) all cash checks in the name of starving actors everywhere to voice the story of an American astronaut who crash lands on a planet where he is the true alien. Kiddie hijacks ensue and you'll be checking your watch every few minutes. In case you haven't figured it out by now, you could do a lot better at the movies.
Marco's Rating: B
Directed by: Lee Daniels (Shadowboxer)
Starring: Gabby Sidibe, Mo'Nique, Lenny Kravitz
Length: 110 minutes
Review: Precious is a step in the right direction for director Lee Daniels whose last film Shadowboxer was a disaster of epic proportions. His work as a producer has been more fruitful with films like Monster's Ball and The Woodman under his belt and it feels like he's gone back to those roots to adapt the harsh novel Precious is based on.
The tale of inner-city suffering from the eyes of an overweight, uneducated African-American girl has been garnering raves from critics everywhere since its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. It's safe to say Precious is tough to sit through but is a quality film, especially benefiting from an Oscar worthy supporting performance by Mo'Nique. Her portrayal of a motherly monster is the jolt that keeps the film alive and grounded in misery. Despite the sometimes bleak situations, in the end Precious is an uplifting story of triumph and compassion.
Marco's Rating: A-
Directed by: John Hillcoat (The Proposition)
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Robert Duvall
Length: 119 minutes
Review: Speaking of brutal, The Road is a film I had to see twice to fully take in. It's an extremely tense and bleak ride through a post-apocalyptic future where man runs wild for survival at any cost. My first viewing was overpowered by the knots in my stomach as I saw the tense film unfold. The second trip to the theatre was obviously more relaxed and opened my eyes to director John Hillcoat's sad and lonely wasteland.
Now before anyone asks, I have not read the novel the film is based on so I don't have a basis for comparison. As it stands, the film is a masterpiece of storytelling, unabashedly depressing and ready to take it all the way. In the lead role, Viggo Mortensen continues to prove he's one of our finest working actors as he takes command of the screen as a desperate father trying to care for his son in a renegade future. At times loving and at others ruthless, he is the glue that holds the story together. Welcome supporting turns from Robert Duvall, Charlize Theron and Guy Pearce are also scattered throughout.
Have you seen any of these films yet? And what did you choose to see this week, if anything?