Arthur Christmas


Arthur Christmas
Who knew that Santa Claus was actually a South American dictator?

(2011) Animated Feature (Columbia) Starring the voices of James McAvoy, Hugh Laurie, Jim Broadbent, Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, Ashley Jensen, Laura Linney, Eva Longoria, Michael Palin, Robby Coltane, Joan Cusack, Jane Horrocks, Andy Serkis, Marc Wootton, Dominic West. Directed by Sarah Smith and Barry Cook

 

One of the most common questions children have about the legend of Santa Claus is how does he deliver so many presents in a single night (I don’t remember that being much of an issue when I was growing up – we just took it for granted that he did it and moved on). These days with the world population increasing and the demand for presents soaring it has become quite an operation indeed.

In fact, Santa (Broadbent) is more of a figurehead these days. The North Pole is a subterranean base that doesn’t appear on Google Earth. His gift-delivering operation is run with military precision by his eldest son Steve (Laurie) who fully expects that dear old dad will be passing along the job to him at the successful conclusion of Christmas this year.

In fact, the job has been in the same family for many generations. Grandsanta (Nighy) delivered the presents in the old sleigh with the reindeer but Steve has modernized, utilizing an incredible jet the size of a fleet of battleships using advanced stealth technology to stay off of the radar. As befuddled as Santa is, Grandsanta is as curmudgeonly, having felt left behind.

Arthur (McAvoy) is Santa’s younger son, a gentle soul who is a bit of a screw up. He has been given the relatively harmless position of handling the Letter Response Division. He tends to have more of the Christmas spirit in his heart which Steve looks at as a liability. Actually going out into the field and delivering presents terrifies Arthur.

When it’s discovered that one child’s present remained undelivered the reaction of Steve and Santa is a colossal “Ho-hum” which is a mighty change from “Ho ho ho!” One child left behind is considered acceptable collateral damage. However, Arthur doesn’t see it that way. To him, if one child isn’t considered special, than nobody can be. Despite his trepidations, he decides to see to the delivery himself and Grandsanta decides to come along for the ride, bringing the old sleigh out of mothballs. Grandsanta’s motivation is more to show up his progeny, however.

This is the first feature to be released from Aardman Animation since Flushed Away back in 2006 (they also have the feature Pirates! Band of Misfits slated for release in early 2012) and quite frankly, this isn’t up to the standards of the folks that brought us Wallace and Gromit. There’s plenty of imagination all right and some clever, sly humor that the studio is known for but not enough of the latter to really stand out like their other films did.

The squabbling Santas are a prime example. I get the feeling that the filmmakers were lampooning the commercialization of Christmas, but making the two elder Claus statesmen out to be doddering old fools or scheming old fools kind of violates their own mythology to a certain extent. The whole portrayal makes me wonder if the Santa Claus family isn’t a little bit guilty of inbreeding.

The vocal performances are dead on; Laurie, best known for his stint on ”House” plays Steve as a supercilious British Army officer, very regimented and expecting life to run like clockwork like it does in the Army when he was in Indja don’t you know. Nighy alternates between reminiscing about the good old days and bitching about the modern days like many grandsires do.

McAvoy is a bit bland as Arthur but then again Arthur isn’t really drawn all that well as a character. He is a bit of a bumbler and is good-hearted but has little to no self-confidence. His most identifiable characteristic is his nearly obsessive love for all things Christmas. We get that he has a good heart and he is a bit of a klutz but little more beyond that. Perhaps the writers didn’t think the kids in the audience care much about that.

The North Pole base and Santa’s S-1 jet are both marvelously done, as well as the armies of elves who make things happen. The backgrounds and artwork are amazing, and keeping with Aardman tradition have a bit of the Claymation look to them (Aardman’s earliest shorts and films were done with stop-motion Claymation). One thing about Aardman; you can always instantly tell their films apart from other studios.

I may be sounding a bit harsh on the movie, but this is a studio I hold to higher standards than most. In all honesty this is a pretty decent Christmas movie, but I had hoped for something that would be more of a perennial from a studio with as much imagination as this one has had over the years. It should do well enough to keep the kids entertained and it won’t have the adults squirming in their seats, but the wit is lacking and the sense of wonder fleeting. Not quite a lump of coal but not the present I was looking for.

REASONS TO GO: Has much of the wonderfully quirky Aardman sense of humor. Some of the North Pole and Santa’s spaceship scenes are spectacular.

REASONS TO STAY: A bit whiny in spots.

FAMILY VALUES: This got a PG rating for “mild rude humor” but in all actuality this is perfectly suitable for all members of the family.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Writer Peter Baynham’s last film was Arthur making this the second consecutive film he’s written that contains the word “Arthur” in the title.

HOME OR THEATER: Definitely a theatrical experience.

FINAL RATING; 6/10

TOMORROW: The Holly and the Quill continues!

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New Releases for the Week of November 25, 2011


November 25, 2011

THE MUPPETS

(Disney) Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, Rashida Jones, Alan Arkin, Jack Black, Billy Crystal, Zach Galifianakis, Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy. Directed by James Bobin

It’s been awhile since we’ve seen the Muppets onscreen and quite frankly, the lot of them have gone their separate ways. Some of their fans still carry the torch however, and one of them learns that the Muppets Theater, where their show took place, is about to be bulldozed to the ground by a greedy oilman who wants to drill into the oil deposit below the theater. Energized to save his beloved Muppets, he enlists the help of a whole lot of celebrities to help save the day – but can he get the Muppets back together again?

See the trailer, clips and web-only content here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Family

Rating: PG (for some mild rude humor)

Arthur Christmas

(Columbia/Sony Animation) Starring the voices of James McAvoy, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Laurie, Bill Nighy. Santa Claus has gone high tech. The increasing world population has meant that the North Pole’s gift-delivering operation has had to make some changes, much to the chagrin of several generations of Santas including the ne’er-do-well younger son, Arthur. When it appears a child has been overlooked, it will be up to Arthur to deliver it old-school, and in the process restore everyone’s faith in Christmas. This is the latest from the wonderfully warped minds at Aardman animation.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: PG (for some mild rude humor)

The Descendants

(Fox Searchlight) George Clooney, Beau Bridges, Robert Forster, Judy Greer. A somewhat indifferent husband and father is forced to face his responsibilities and come to terms with his past when his wife is involved in a boating accident in Hawaii. He discovers that his view of the world is not necessarily what reality is, and that there are things that are worth fighting for.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Dramedy

Rating: R (for language including some sexual references)

Hugo

(Paramount) Asa Butterfield, Chloe Grace Moretz, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jude Law. A young boy finds a home in a Paris train station after a series of tragic circumstances. He finds that his father has left him an automaton with an odd heart-shaped lock. The search for the key that fits that lock will lead to an adventure of magic and mystery unlike any other you’ve ever seen – and this was directed by Martin Scorsese, so that alone should whet your appetite.

See the trailer, clips, featurettes and an interview here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Family

Rating: PG (for mild thematic material, some action/peril and smoking)

Melancholia

(Magnolia) Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Alexander Skarsgard, Kiefer Sutherland. As a planetoid approaches the Earth on a collision course, a young newlywed awaits the end of the world with her friends and family. This film became infamous for director Lars von Trier’s meltdown at the Cannes Film Festival where Dunst won the best actress award at the prestigious festival.

See the trailer, clips, an interview and a link to view the full-length film here.

For more on the movie this is the website

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Sci-Fi Thriller

Rating: R (for some graphic nudity, sexual content and languge)

My Week With Marilyn

(Weinstein) Eddie Redmayne, Michelle Williams, Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench. A 23-year-old assistant on the film set of the 1956 classic The Prince and the Showgirl becomes attracted to Marilyn Monroe, starring in the film with Sir Laurence Olivier and simultaneously on her honeymoon with playwright Arthur Miller. When Marilyn yearns to get away from the pressures of the film and of being Marilyn Monroe, he takes her away for a week to show her the pleasures of idyllic British country life.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Biographical Drama

Rating: R (for some language)

Four-Warned: November 2011


Every month I’m going to look at every movie on the release schedule and try to assign them a numerical value corresponding to how anxious I am to see it. The lower the number, the more I want to see it. A one means I would walk through hell and high water to see it; a four means there’s no interest whatsoever. The numbers are not arrived at scientifically but they aren’t arbitrary either.
The numbers aren’t a reflection of the artistic merit of any of these films, but merely a reflection of my willingness to go to a movie theater and see it. The top four scores will be gathered as a means of reflecting the movies I’m anticipating the most; you may use that as a guide or not.

Each entry is broken down as follows:

NAME OF FILM (Studio) Genre A brief description of the plot. Release plans: Wide = Everywhere, Limited = In selected markets. RATING A brief comment

Keep in mind that release dates are extremely subject to change, even at this late date.

FOUR TO SEE
1. IMMORTALS (1.4)
2. HUGO (1.9)
3. ARTHUR CHRISTMAS (2.0)
4. TOWER HEIST (2.1)

FOUR TO SEEK OUT (FILMS NOT IN WIDE RELEASE)
1. THE ARTIST (1.4)
2. THE DESCENDENTS (1.7)
TIE. A DANGEROUS METHOD (1.7)
4. INTO THE ABYSS (1.8)

RATING SYSTEM: 1) Must-see, 2) Should-see, 3) Perhaps-see, 4) Don’t-see

NOVEMBER 2, 2011

FIVE STAR DAY (Breaking Glass) Genre: Drama. A man who believes in astrology suffers the worst day ever on a day that was supposed to be his best; he determines to test his newfound disdain for astrology by interviewing three strangers all born on the same day and same place as he. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 An interesting idea but not sure Cam Gigandet is the guy to play this part.
THE OTHER F WORD (Oscilloscope Laboratories) Genre: Documentary. Former punk rockers from the 70s, 80s and 90s cope with fatherhood and try to fit in the needs of parenting with their punk rock values. Release Strategy: New York City (opening in Los Angeles November 4). RATING: 1.9 A really riveting look at how our needs change as we age – and the struggle to maintain our values as they do.

NOVEMBER 4, 2011

A VERY HAROLD AND KUMAR 3D CHRISTMAS (New Line) Genre: Comedy. The two buddies, estranged over a six year separation, reunite to save Christmas. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D). RATING: 3.0 Not a big fan of the Harold and Kumar movies but I have to admit this one looks rather interesting – and any movie with NPH in it is all right by me.
KILLING BONO (ARC Entertainment) Genre: Comedy. Two Irish brothers are part of the second best band in Dublin in the 80s, forced to watch as the best band – U2 – rises to world prominence while they languish in obscurity. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 The trailer looked pretty fun; the music sounded pretty good too.
THE LAST RITES OF JOE MAY (Tribeca) Genre: Drama. An aging hustler is forced by circumstances into a reluctant friendship with a single mother and in a most unlikely fashion finds the redemption he was long seeking. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 Dennis Farina has always been an actor I’ve appreciated.
THE SON OF NO ONE (Anchor Bay) Genre: Thriller. A young cop is assigned to the working class neighborhood he grew up in which leads to the unearthing of a secret that threatens to destroy his career and family. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 An extremely strong cast but the trailer left me a little cold.
TOWER HEIST (Universal) Genre: Caper Comedy. The staff of an exclusive New York City apartment tower plot to steal their money back from the Bernie Madoff-like financier who stole it. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.1 An all-star cast led by Ben Stiller and the return of Eddie Murphy to the kind of role that made him a star.
YOUNG GOETHE IN LOVE (Music Box) Genre: Period Romance. The man who would become one of Germany’s most revered authors falls in love with a woman promised to another. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.3 This was another one I didn’t get to see at the Florida Film Festival this year – now I wish I had.

NOVEMBER 9, 2011

J. EDGAR (Warner Brothers) Genre: Biodrama. The story of one of the 20th century’s most polarizing figures, a man who would symbolize law enforcement and it’s abuses for many – J. Edgar Hoover. Release Strategy: Limited (expands Wide on November 11). RATING: 2.2 They had me at “Directed by Clint Eastwood”.

NOVEMBER 11, 2011

11-11-11 (Rocket Releasing) Genre: Horror. An American author whose family has been taken from him tragically returns home to a dying father and a growing realization that he is being given a dire warning regarding the date November 11, 2011. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.9 Hopefully that dire warning has nothing to do with the box office for this first release from Elton John’s new distribution company.
THE CONQUEST (Music Box) Genre: Biographical Drama. The incredible rise to power of French president Nicolas Sarkozy and the price he paid for that power. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 Like any good story, the trailer looked both amusing and tragic.
ELITE SQUAD: THE ENEMY WITHIN (Variance) Genre: Action. A captain in Rio de Janeiro’s elite anti-gang unit is promoted to a government position and finds that the evil that pervades the favelas truly resides in the halls of power. Release Strategy: New York City (opening in Los Angeles November 18). RATING: 2.5 One of the most acclaimed international action films of the year.
THE GREENING OF WHITNEY BROWN (ARC Entertainment) Genre: Family Adventure. A preteen from the big city is forced to move to the country when her family encounters economic hard times and doesn’t like it one bit. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.8 Looks predictable and decidedly un-entertaining.
IMMORTALS (Relativity) Genre: Fantasy. A CGI-heavy telling of the Greek hero Theseus who battled an evil King and saved the Gods in the process. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D). RATING: 1.4 Looks good but director Tarsem Singh has a history of making movies that are spectacular images for their own sake.
INTO THE ABYSS (IFC) Genre: Documentary. A look at a convicted murderer sentenced to die in eight days, the family of his victims and those performing the execution. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.8 Werner Herzog has quickly become one of the best documentarians in the world.
JACK AND JILL (Columbia) Genre: Comedy. A successful commercial director’s twin sister comes to visit for Thanksgiving and proceeds to turn his life upside down. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.9 When Adam Sandler’s good, he’s wicked good; when Adam Sadler’s bad…
LONDON BOULEVARD (IFC) Genre: Crime Drama. An ex-con tries to protect a movie star and her troubled sister from a vicious mob boss. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 The directing debut from the writer of The Departed.
MELANCHOLIA (Magnolia) Genre: Science Fiction. As a large object hurtles through space to obliterate the Earth, the inhabitants of our planet prepare for the end in their own ways. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 Sounds like a fascinating subject but Lars von Trier has never been one of my favorite directors so I’m kinda wait-and-see about this one.

NOVEMBER 16, 2011

THE DESCENDANTS (Fox Searchlight) Genre: Dramedy. An indifferent father is forced to re-examine his attitudes towards parenting when his wife is gravely injured. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.7 This looks like another great role for George Clooney.
TOMBOY (Rocket Releasing) Genre: Drama. A young girl is mistaken for a young boy and decides not to correct the error. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.4 Looks like a pretty insightful study on gender identification.

NOVEMBER 18, 2011

ANOTHER HAPPY DAY (Phase 4) Genre: Dramedy. A high-strung woman brings her three troubled children to the wedding of her estranged son and initiates conflict throughout her family. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 Ellen Barkin is a tremendous actress – it’s wonderful to see her getting more roles.
GARBO: THE SPY (First Run) Genre: Documentary. The story of a Spanish double agent who was decorated by both the Nazis and the Allies in World War II. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.4 Sounds like it should be a terrific documentary but trailer left me curiously uninterested.
HAPPY FEET TWO (Warner Brothers) Genre: Animated Feature. Erik, the son of Mumble the dancing penguin, has no interest in dancing. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D). RATING: 3.6 The trailer made this look way too much like “So You Think You Can Dance”.
THE HEIR APPARENT: LARGO WINCH (Music Box) Genre: Action Adventure. The heir to a billionaire’s fortune takes over his father’s multinational corporation with unexpected results. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 Has almost a video game feel to it.
IN HEAVEN, UNDERGROUND (Seventh Art) Genre: Documentary. A look at the Weissensee Jewish Cemetery near Berlin, the oldest Jewish cemetery in Europe and one of the few institutions to remain in Jewish hands during the Nazi regime. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.3 More a look at what the Cemetery means to the modern Jewish community.
THE LIE (Screen Media) Genre: Drama. A young father who is trying to get a day off from work tells a whopping lie which will have far-reaching consequences. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 I’m not sure whether this was meant to have comedic elements or not but the trailer sure made it look that way.
RID OF ME (Phase 4) Genre: Dramedy. A young girl tries to make her marriage perfect in an unorthodox kind of way. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.9 For whatever reason the studio has taken the trailer down so I’m not sure that bodes well for the movie.
THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN PART 1 (Summit) Genre: Romantic Fantasy. The wedding of Bella and Edward signals a new danger for Bella. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.4 The beginning of the end of the franchise that has polarized audiences for three years.
TYRANNOSAUR (Strand) Genre: Drama. A man with rage issues befriends a young woman with a devastating secret of her own. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 The trailer looked awfully mesmerizing.

NOVEMBER 23, 2011

A DANGEROUS METHOD (Sony Classics) Genre: Historical Drama. The story of Freud and Jung, and the troubled young girl who came between them. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.7 A solid cast and director David Cronenberg make this one to look out for.
ARTHUR CHRISTMAS (Columbia) Genre: Animated Feature. The clumsy younger son of Santa must save the day when Santa’s high-tech operation goes awry. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D). RATING: 2.0 The latest from the evil geniuses at Aardman Animation.
THE ARTIST (Weinstein) Genre: Romance. The fortunes of a silent film star whose career is on the wane with the advent of talkies and an up-and-coming young starlet are entwined. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.4 A compelling trailer which indicates that this black and white movie was filmed without sound.
HUGO (Paramount) Genre: Family Fantasy. A young boy lives in the walls of a Paris train station means to solve the mystery of his father’s loss, a grouchy toy shop owner and a heart-shaped lock that has no key. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 Believe it or not, this is the latest from Martin Scorsese. Yes, you read that right.
THE MUPPETS (Disney) Genre: Family. The Muppets biggest fan tries to get the gang back together again in order to save their theater which is about to be razed by a greedy oilman. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.4 Call me Oscar the Grouch but I just never got into these furry little characters.
MY WEEK WITH MARILYN (Weinstein) Genre: Biographical Drama. A young assistant on the set of The Prince and the Showgirl escorts Marilyn Monroe around Britain. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.1 An impressive cast with Michele Williams capturing the look and essence of Monroe down to her toes.
RAMPART (Millennium) Genre: Crime Drama. A brutal L.A. cop finds his life unraveling when he is dismissed from the force. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles (expanding January 27). RATING: 2.5 Looks like a new kind of role for Woody Harrelson.

NOVEMBER 24, 2011

THE LEGEND OF PALE MALE (Balcony Releasing) Genre: Documentary. When a wild Redtail Hawk (who haven’t lived in New York City for over a century) is evicted from its perch in a posh 5th avenue co-op, the resulting protest becomes a New York media sensation. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 A fascinating look at something that a lot of folks outside of the Big Apple aren’t fully aware of.

NOVEMBER 30, 2011

KHODORKOVSKY (Kino Lorber) Genre: Documentary. A man once the wealthiest man in Russia becomes a political prisoner because he dared stand up to the corrupt regime. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.2 This is an acutely Russian tale.

SCHEDULED TO BE REVIEWED HERE AS NEW RELEASES
Tower Heist, J. Edgar, Immortals, Jack and Jill, Happy Feet Two, A Dangerous Method, Arthur Christmas, Hugo, The Muppets