Our Complete Thanksgiving Weekend Movie Guide 2011 Has Arrived
by Marco Cerritos
November 24, 2011
Continuing our annual tradition of posting Thanksgiving and Christmas Movie Guides every holiday season, our resident San Fran contributor, Marco Cerritos, has once again put together another movie guide for Thanksgiving 2011, giving a recap and rundown of what's playing and what's worth seeing (or skipping). Marco has seen almost everything out there, and while you may not always agree with him, he provides the best reviews he can to make it a bit easier for everyone to choose. There are some fantastic films currently playing in theaters, so if you're still a bit unsure of what to watch or need a few tips, then look no further!
This is an alphabetized list containing 10 films that, as of today, are playing in most theaters nationwide.
Marco's Rating: C+
Directed by: Sarah Smith ("The Armando Iannucci Shows")
Starring: James McAvoy, Hugh Laurie, Jim Broadbent
Review: It's a sad feeling to pick on a family film that has its heart in the right place but never delivers the goods. Aardman Animation is the studio behind this predictable holiday story and while they've scored highs with Chicken Run and the Wallace and Gromit franchise, Arthur Christmas joins Flushed Away as another misfire. McAvoy leads the voice talent as Arthur, Santa Claus' insecure son who one fateful Christmas night decides to step out of his father's shadow and create a magical holiday experience for an overlooked child. Themes of tradition, family bonding and being good to your fellow man run rampant and there's nothing wrong with that. The only problem is these are messages we've seen before in other, better movies. The film's repetitive nature is lazy and uninspired, leaving adults to quickly tune out and only younger kids might be entertained as a result.
The one solid thing Arthur Christmas offers is a top-notch voice cast which in addition to James McAvoy includes Hugh Laurie, Jim Broadbent, Bill Nighy and Laura Linney. They all seem game and project the good time they must have had in the recording studio. Too bad none of that fun rubbed off on the audience.
Marco's Rating: A
Directed by: Michel Hazanavicius (OSS 117: Cairo, OSS 117: Lost in Rio)
Starring: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell
Review: One of the best and most unexpected treats this holiday weekend is only opening in NY/LA but slowly expanding in the weeks to come. The film is The Artist and it's a period piece set in Hollywood at the end of the silent era. It also has the distinction of staying true to its subject by mostly being a silent film itself and shooting in gorgeous black and white.
At its core, The Artist is a mostly silent, B&W spin on A Star is Born and while originality may not be its strong suit, the film more than makes up for it in entertainment value. The lead actors are French, the supporting players are mostly American and there's even a cute dog named Uggie for comic relief. The story of a down-and-out silent film star ushering in the talkies with a beautiful protégé may seem stale on paper but there is a geyser of comedy and charm in The Artist. If you live in New York or Los Angeles, this should be one of your top choices this week. For everyone else, keep an eye out as it expands in the coming weeks.
Breaking Dawn: Part I
Marco's Rating: D
Directed by: Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters, Kinsey, Dreamgirls)
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner
Review: This review is a little late to the party but everything you've read about Breaking Dawn and the Twilight series as a whole is indeed true. It is incredibly pandering, lazy, joyless, moronic, unnecessary and many other terrible adjectives I don't wish to publicly state. Having said that, there are many fans (read: teenage girls and easily duped hopeless romantics) who obviously disagree with my previous sentence. How else to account for the film's monstrous opening weekend?
For the record, New Moon is the most tolerable of the series because the studio was smart enough to know these movies would make a mint no matter what and hired a competent director to run the ship (Chris Weitz). Despite that inspired choice prior, New Moon manages to never rise above its trashy outline but at least it was watchable. In hiring Bill Condon for this latest two-part finale the studio tried to once again shine a turd with a classy filmmaker and the result is even worse. If the man who directed Kinsey and Gods and Monsters can't manage to stage semi-erotic sexual tension in a film or even the vaguest threat of danger, then he's just there to collect a paycheck. Sadly, we suspected this all along but didn't want it to be true.
Marco's Rating: B+
Directed by: Alexander Payne (Election, About Schmidt, Sideways)
Starring: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller, Nick Krause
Review: Clooney is an actor we seem to take for granted because we know he's always capable of delivering a solid performance. Even if he sleepwalks through a film he brings more charm and charisma than most B-listers do on their best days and seeing his work in The Descendants reflects some of the best work in his career. The film is the latest from director Alexander Payne who after an extended sabbatical has returned in a big way. Aside from being a gifted writer, Payne's talent lies in nurturing strong performances from his lead actors. Laura Dern in Citizen Ruth, Reese Witherspoon in Election, Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt and Paul Giamatti in Sideways all come to mind and now Clooney joins the list, too.
The Descendants gets off to a rocky start with overbearing narration but once it finds its groove proves to be an intricate puzzle that is better left unspoiled despite the film's marketing campaign. The vague synopsis for your enjoyment is this: Clooney plays a man in deep psychological turmoil who must confront some serious issues in order to repair his broken-down life. While not in the league of Payne's best movies, The Descendants is a worthy follow-up to Sideways, the film many consider to be his best.
Happy Feet Two
Marco's Rating: C-
Directed by: George Miller (Mad Max, Lorenzo's Oil, Happy Feet)
Starring: Robin Williams, Elijah Wood, Sofía Vergara, Pink, Common
Review: Happy Feet Two is strictly for the little ones and even they will quickly get tired of the film's silly and unoriginal nature. The first Happy Feet had its main characters (animated, dancing penguins) finding their place in the world, with the story wrapped in an ecological message for good measure. The sequel cuts out the message and main characters from the first film altogether and instead focuses on toilet humor and repeating most of the same plot from the first Happy Feet.
Before seeing Happy Feet Two there was a hope that director George Miller would take this sequel in a darker direction much like the last children's sequel he directed, Babe: Pig in the City. Both franchises had family-friendly first chapters with a slight hint of danger and in Babe's case, Miller turned up the sequel's tension and danger to 11 guaranteeing one of the darkest family films to ever come out of a major studio. It should also be noted that Babe: Pig in the City was a big money loser for Universal so it makes sense why Miller would not want to take this one down a darker path. But after finding a good middle ground with the first, it's sad to see those "Happy Feet" penguins changing their tune, only aiming to entertain younger kids with bad humor and cringe-inducing musical numbers.
Marco's Rating: B
Directed by: Martin Scorsese (Raging Bull, Goodfellas, The Departed)
Starring: Asa Butterfield, Chloe Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen
Review: It's always good to see Martin Scorsese stretch his filmmaking muscles and venture outside his comfort zone, even if the results are rarely successful. Kundun, The Age of Innocence and The Aviator are some of his interesting misfires and his latest film Hugo falls somewhere in between his solid hits and noble attempts.
The huge selling point the marketing campaign is completely neglecting is that Hugo is a story about movies for people who love movies. Granted, that angle will not get as many butts in seats as selling the film as a family spectacle, but in reality it's more the former than the latter. Hugo is a fantasy set in a 1930's Parisian train station with our orphaned titular character navigating the ins and outs of the establishment for the first half and awakening a long-lost cinematic slumber in the second half.
There is more slapstick than I would like in the first half of Hugo as Scorsese sets the plot in motion, but once the film gets going it's a nostalgic love letter to cinema. This is one of the better holiday offerings this weekend, but you would be better served not watching it with those dark, obtrusive 3D glasses.
Marco's Rating: C
Directed by: Tarsem Singh (The Cell, The Fall, Mirror Mirror)
Starring: Henry Cavill, Mickey Rourke, Freida Pinto, Luke Evans
Review: Speaking of bad 3D, at least Hugo was shot in 3D. Immortals makes no effort to hide the fact that despite its sometimes gorgeous visuals, is saddled with a lackluster story and absolutely no need for a 3D experience.
Director Tarsem Singh has only made two prior films but in that small body of work has proven to be a strong storyteller with a gift for beautiful imagery. Tarsem did not write Immortals, which perhaps could explain why this feels like a lifeless 300 retread with small visual feasts peppered throughout. The film is also incredibly violent which at times calls into question its R rating but if it serves two small purposes they are these: Mickey Rourke steals the film as a menacing and unrelenting villain and we get our first glimpse of future Superman Henry Cavill in action. Since the new Man of Steel, won't be ready until 2013 this will have to do as our introduction.
Marco's Rating: B-
Directed by: Clint Eastwood (Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, Invictus)
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Naomi Watts
Review: Clint Eastwood is one of the least subtle filmmakers currently working in Hollywood so it's no surprise that many feared his portrayal of FBI honcho J. Edgar Hoover. The good news is Eastwood isn't nearly as heavy-handed as he usually is. The bad news is that while there a few small missteps in J. Edgar, they almost completely destroy the film altogether. DiCaprio does his best to bring Hoover to life in the scattered script by Dustin Lance Black (Oscar winner for Milk). The film focuses on many things we already know (Hoover was a closeted man with a crippling addiction for his mother's approval) but also takes a few unexpected liberties with Hoover's life that play to mixed results.
J. Edgar's biggest offense isn't with story or acting at all but instead with the makeup department. DiCaprio and supporting actor Armie Hammer jump through the film in their present form and in later years through old age makeup and the results are beyond distracting. I'm not sure Eastwood intended laughter during some of J. Edgar's pivotal scenes, but bad makeup and the script's leaps of logic certainly provide it.
Marco's Rating: B+
Directed by: James Bobin ("Flight of the Conchords")
Starring: Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, Rashida Jones
Review: Through tons of marketing nostalgia over the last few months it's become crystal clear that Jim Henson's Muppet clan have been sorely missed. Returning with a bang, their new movie doesn't shoot them into space or have them playing opposite Michael Caine in their version of A Christmas Carol, but instead drops them into 2011 with reinvigorated personalities and a lot of fun.
Lead human actors Jason Segel and Amy Adams wisely take a backseat after the first third of the movie and let the Muppets steal the show (the movie is called The Muppets after all). There is obvious care and love put into The Muppets and it shows. From all the in-jokes to the delicate additions of new characters, this is a project that is more than just a shameless money grab and comes from genuine affection and nostalgia. Of all the family entertainment this weekend, The Muppets is your best bet for total family entertainment.
My Week with Marilyn
Marco's Rating: C
Directed by: Simon Curtis (David Copperfield, "Cranford")
Starring: Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne, Kenneth Branagh
Review: Michelle Williams is a gifted actress but even she can't pull off a movie on her own and sadly that's all My Week With Marilyn is, a hollow performance piece with nothing else to offer. Even with distinguished acting pedigree in its corner (Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench, Julia Ormond, Toby Jones) the material is way too flat to work in any shape or form.
The film is taken from the novel of the same name by Colin Clark who documented his experience working with Marilyn Monroe and Laurence Olivier on the 1957 film The Prince and the Showgirl. Despite all the inspired casting choices My Week with Marilyn never stops feeling like a made-for-TV movie with a great lead performance at its core. Shameless Oscar bait perhaps, but I see it as a true missed opportunity.
Have you seen any of these yet? And what are you planning to see this weekend, if anything?