Elliot: The Littlest Reindeer


When the Reindeer Games become more like the Hunger Games.

(2018) Animated Feature (Screen Media)  Starring the voices of Josh Hutcherson, Samantha Bee, Morena Baccarin, Martin Short, John Cleese, Christopher Jacot, Rob Tinkler, George Buza, Jeff Dunham, Jean Yoon, Julie Lemieux, Carlos Bustamante, Scott Farley, Steph Lynn Robinson, Darren Frost, Angela Fusco, Quancetia Hamilton, Carly Heffernan. Directed by Jennifer Westcott

 

Every year at this time we get a glut of Christmas-themed animated movies and TV shows, all looking to take their place among the perennials that get watched over and over again year after year. Elliot: The Littlest Reindeer has the ingredients to join that rarefied company but it won’t be an easy hike to get there.

In a world (and what critic hasn’t dreamed of starting a review off with those three words) where Santa (Buza) is real and everyone knows it, he is struggling to keep up with increasing demand as the world’s population explodes. His original team of reindeer are shrinking with one going to an ashram to find himself, another defecting to Russia for a romance, and most recently Vixen (Hamilton) leaving for the Florida Keys to open up a juice bar – three days before Christmas.

This leads to a frantic try-out competition for the coveted position on Santa’s team but his right-hand elf Lemondrop (Short) is no fan of reindeer and he has a point; reindeer have become arrogant, egotistical and overbearing and the elves loathe them. Santa keeps them on as a kind of nod to tradition.

There are reindeer trainers all over the world and as word gets out about the tryouts, Walter (Tinkler) – the owner of a slowly failing petting zoo – is counting on DJ (Jacot) to be his meal ticket. He has already sold off the animals in the petting zoo including pony (“MINIATURE HORSE!”) Elliot (Hutcherson) and Elliot’s omnivorous friend Hazel the goat (Bee). Elliot has long had the goal of being part of Santa’s team but it’s a reindeer-only club. Nonetheless he and supportive Hazel stow away on a rocket sleigh (all the trainers have them although Walter’s is in line with his status falling apart) and swaggers his way into the tryout with the help of fake antlers.

The rest of the plot is fairly formulaic; the buyer of the farm animals turns out to be a producer of exotic jerky meat, there is a conspiracy in Santa’s village to force the reindeer out and convert to rocket sleighs, and saving the lives of his farm friends as well as saving Christmas itself will eventually rest on the broad miniature shoulders of Elliot.

The animation here is mostly nondescript, although some of the Santa’s village and arena scenes are pretty imaginative and for once the characters have expressive faces rather than robotic ones. While he only appears in two scenes as Santa’s haughty reindeer Donner, John Cleese is always a pleasure. Something tells me that if filmmaker Jennifer Westcott had let Short, Cleese and Dunham improvise a bit, it might have benefited her film a lot.

Some critics have latched onto a subplot involving magic cookies which make the reindeer fly (as well as any other animal that eats them) and some unscrupulous reindeer taking more of them than they’re allowed, some even suggesting it promotes performance enhancing drug use. Sorry colleagues; sometimes a magic cookie is just a magic cookie.

For that reason the film feels more than a little bit formulaic which hurts its chances of ascending the heights as does the overbearing soundtrack which sounds like what you might have heard in a cartoon circa 1975. However, there’s still a chance for plucky Elliot to become a seasonal favorite. Many of the movies and TV shows that we consider to be classics really aren’t all that good; they resonate with us because we saw them over and over again as children. And I will say given the avalanche of product that comes out each year, this is head and shoulders above the rest which is mostly mindless soulless dreck. I don’t know that I’d want to revisit this year after year but there are children seeing it this year for whom this will become a treasured childhood memory. One certainly can’t argue with that.

REASONS TO GO: This has the makings of a Christmas perennial. The voice work is splendid and any chance to hear John Cleese at work is worth it.
REASONS TO STAY: The soundtrack is annoying. There are a few too many clichés in the script.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some rude and mildly suggestive humor.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In addition to a very small limited release as well as a VOD release, the film has a one day special screening on December 1 at about 100 additional theaters across the U.S.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Microsoft, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/1/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 29% positive reviews: Metacritic: 38/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Family in Transition

New Releases for the Week of November 30, 2018


THE POSSESSION OF HANNAH GRACE

(Screen Gems) Shay Mitchell, Grey Damon, Kirby Johnson, Nick Thune, Louis Herthum, Stana Katic, Max McNamara, Jacob Ming-Trent. Directed by Diederik Van Rooijen

A young woman dies during the course of an exorcism. Months later, a morgue attendant working the graveyard shift takes delivery of a disfigured corpse. She begins having horrifying visions and begins to suspect that the corpse may be possessed by a demonic force. Formerly known as Cadaver, the movie has been bouncing around the release schedule for more than a year.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for gruesome images and terror throughout)

Border

(NEON) Eva Melander, Eero Milonoff, Jorgen Thorsson, Ann Petrén. A customs office has the uncanny knack of being able to sniff out the guilt of smugglers – literally. One day a mysterious man walks past her and for the first time in her life, confounds her senses. This leads her down the rabbit hole of secrets and incredible revelations, into strong feelings and choices of whether to live a life or an uncomfortable truth.

See the trailer and a clip here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: R (for some sexual content, graphic nudity, a bloody violent image, and language)

Elliot: The Littlest Reindeer

(Screen Media) Starring the voices of Josh Hutcherson, Morena Baccarin, John Cleese, Martin Short. When one of Santa’s reindeer retires unexpectedly, a frantic search for a replacement gets underway. Elliot, a horse with big dreams, heads to the North Pole to try his luck. In the interim his farm gets a new owner with nefarious plans of his own. Elliot must choose between achieving his dream and saving Christmas in doing so, or saving the lives of his friends.

See the trailer and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Epic Theaters at Lee Vista (Saturday only)

Rating: PG (for some suggestive and rude humor)

Maria by Callas

(Sony Classics) Maria Callas, Omar Sharif, Aristotle Onasis, Catherine Deneuve. The life of the iconic opera star is told in her own words.

See the trailer and a clip here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG (for mild thematic elements, some smoking and brief language)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

2.0
12 Round Gun
The Clovehitch Killer
Mirai
Pokémon the Movie: The Power of Us
Searching for Ingmar Bergman

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

2.0
A Cool Fish
Becoming Astrid
Dead in a Week (or Your Money Back)
The Great Buster
Mirai
On Her Shoulders
Oru Kuprasidha Payyan
Pokémon the Movie: The Power of Us
Return of the Hero

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

2.0
Blood Brother
Dark Was the Night
Pokémon the Movie: The Power of Us

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

The Great Buster

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Border
Elliot: The Littlest Reindeer
The Possession of Hannah Grace

The World is Not Enough


Sophie Marceau thinks Pierce Brosnan looks fetching in this choker.

Sophie Marceau thinks Pierce Brosnan looks fetching in this choker.

(1999) Spy Thriller (MGM) Pierce Brosnan, Sophie Marceau, Robert Carlyle, Judi Dench, Denise Richards, Robbie Coltrane, Desmond Llewelyn, John Cleese, Maria Grazia Cucinotta, Samantha Bond, Michael Kitchen, Colin Salmon, Goldie, David Calder, Serena Scott Thomas, Ulrich Thomsen, Claude-Oliver Rudolph, Omid Djalili, Daisy Beaumont, Nina Muschalik. Directed by Michael Apted

Nifty gadgets. That’s why we see Bond movies. That and the outrageous stunts, fabulous action sequences, droll witticisms … and oh yes, the babes.

The 19th Bond movie finds our man James (Brosnan) looking out for a wealthy heiress by the name of Elektra King (Marceau). Bond feels responsible for the death of her father at the hands of a crazed terrorist named Renard (Carlyle). As “M” (Dench) was a personal friend of her father and that the murder took place at MI6 headquarters, she sends all the dogs after Renard.

Renard is unique in that a bullet fired by an MI6 agent has entered his brain and is slowly killing him. At the same time, it renders him impervious to sensation of all sorts, making him stronger with each passing day. Renard is out to steal a nuclear weapon from one of those pesky ex-Soviet republics. I won’t tell you how everything turns out; suffice to say that there follows mayhem of all shapes, sizes and description.

Bond gets lucky with a number of buxom women that would keep most of us awake nights just considering. And, of course, he saves the day after a final battle with Renard, while aboard a sinking submarine.

If you like Bond movies, this one isn’t going to disappoint. Pierce Brosnan is more comfortable than ever here in the role, and he proved why many thought that he should have been the one to replace Roger Moore. There’s more sexual tension between him and Moneypenny than there’s been in the Brosnan Bond movies, which is welcome, and we get to see a LOT more of M, which is a great thing. Dench makes a formidable M.

On the down side, this is the last appearance of Desmond Llewellyn as Q, making him the last of the original cast to depart. Llewellyn exits gracefully, but not before bringing aboard ex-Python Cleese to replace him – sadly, they never really utilized Cleese properly.

As is typical for Bond movies, great casting in the recurring roles. Marceau is a lustrous, otherworldly beauty who carries the right mix of innocence and steel necessary to carry out a complex role. She has a fascinating character and while Elektra is no Pussy Galore, she is memorable notwithstanding. Carlyle makes a terrific Bond villain, one who at the end turns out to be flawed and human, making him one of the better villains to come down the pike in a long time. Guest appearances by Coltrane as a Russian mobster (previously seen in Goldeneye) and musician Goldie as a bodyguard are memorable. Richards is unfortunately miscast as a buxom nuclear scientist. She, like Marceau, is pleasant on the eyes but unlike Marceau the former Mrs. Charlie Sheen is given little depth with which to work.

The World Is Not Enough suffers like most post-1985 Bond movies from the lack of a cold war. There is no evil empire to oppose; consequently, the movies lack the world-shattering urgency of such classic movies as Goldfinger, You Only Live Twice, Thunderball and Diamonds are Forever. Still, Bond soldiers on in an era when spies seem to be anachronistic. Bond’s anachronisms hold up, however, which is why the series continues today.

As sheer entertainment, the Bond movies are among the best bets on a continuing basis, as dependable as our own mortality and the inevitability of April 15th. It’s truly amazing that the series, now half a century and lots of different Bonds into the fray, is as consistently good as it is. The fact is, we need that kind of dependability in our lives. Presidents may come, monarchs may go, but Bond lives in a world that we remember and long for; one in which virile men can seduce gorgeous women by virtue of their sheer manliness, where bad guys always get their just desserts and a well-chosen witticism can deflect a bullet from its path.

WHY RENT THIS: Solid Bond entertainment. Carlyle a formidable villain and Marceau an excellent Bond girl. Brosnan at the height of his game.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Denise Richards totally miscast. Over-reliance on gadgets. Needs a SPECTRE or SMERSH.

FAMILY MATTERS: Some action violence and plenty of sexual innuendo.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The boat sequence is the longest opening pre-title sequence of all the Bond films to date.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: There is a music video of the title song by Garbage as well as the ability to play featurettes at appropriate times during the playing of the movie.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $361.8M on a $135M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Bourne Supremacy

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Mao’s Last Dancer

Planes


The rain in Planes falls mainly o the...well, er, planes.

The rain in Planes falls mainly o the…well, er, planes.

(2013) Animated Feature (Disney) Starring the voices of Dane Cook, Brad Garrett, Teri Hatcher, Cedric the Entertainer, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, John Cleese, Carlos Alazraqui, Priyanka Chopra, Gabriel Iglesias, Stacy Keach, Brent Musburger, Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards, Roger Craig Smith, Sinbad, Colin Cowherd, John Ratzenberger, Emerson Tenney, Kari Wahgren. Directed by Klay Hall

The latest Disney animated feature is a spin-off from the animated world of anthropomorphic Cars although it takes place above that world. Welcome to the shiny aerial world of Planes.

Dusty Crophopper (Cook) is a crop-duster, a single-engine plane who was built for the specific purpose of spreading pesticides and manure on crops (mostly corn, which is apparently the source of fuel in the world of Planes). Dusty want more out of life – “I’ve flown thousands of miles and never gone anywhere” he complains.

What he really wants is to be a racer, and the Wings Across the Globe race is the perfect outlet for him. With the support of his friends Chug (Garrett) and Dottie (Hatcher), Dusty trains relentlessly and even though he gets a lot of skepticism and negativity thrown his way, he perseveres. He gets into the race where he is befriended by Bulldog (Cleese), a obsequious Spitfire, Ishani (Chopra) a lovely Indian and the would-be ladies man El Chupicabra (Alazraqui).

Not everyone wants to succeed. Ripslinger (Smith) is gunning for his historic fourth consecutive win i the race and nothing and nobody will get in his way, particularly a crop-duster with delusions of grandeur. As it turns out, Ripslinger will go to any and all lengths to nail down that win and if it means that some planes must crash and burn, well….

Although this is based on a Pixar movie, this actually isn’t a Pixar film, even though John Lasseter co-wrote and produced it. No, it was animated by the wizards at DisneyToons, their direct-to-video arm and that was the intention for this as well. However, the stars aligned nicely for Planes – a planned King of the Elves feature shut down and somebody noticed the merchandising potential of the new characters, thus it was added to the theatrical release schedule a bit late in the game.

Quite frankly, I expected direct-to-video quality and I was somewhat surprised when I found this comparable to Pixar’s work in Cars and its sequel. There are a lot of clever little asides (such as the plane-looking rock formations near Propwash Junction where Dusty, Chug and Dottie reside. There are also air traffic controllers at Kennedy Airport who talk with JFK-esque accents, and German planes drinking fuel from beer steins.

There also isn’t much in the way of story and characterization which cobble elements from …well nearly every animated feature of the last 20 years. Skipper (Keach), a crotchety old war hero, is a dead ringer for Paul Newman’s Doc Hudson, El Chupicabra makes a nice Puss in Boots (albeit not quite as cute) and Dusty could easily be the title character from Turbo. In fact, most of the characters are pretty bland, generic characters you’ve met before in other movies. As for the plot, well, this isn’t the first movie that tells us that it’s okay to dream big because if we want something bad enough and have the support of our friends, we can accomplish anything.

I did like the overall charm of the movie and I will venture to say that if you compare this to most direct-to-video fare this is miles and miles ahead of those. Frankly, this deserved the theatrical release it got – it certainly isn’t as bad as some of the other animated features out there that were always intended to hit the theaters (I’m looking at you, Planet 51. Hop and Astro Boy).

REASONS TO GO: Maintains the goofy charm of Cars. Clever in places.

REASONS TO STAY: Runs the gamut of animated feature clichés. No really memorable characters.

FAMILY VALUES:  Suitable for everyone – there’s a bit of semi-rude humor and a couple of action scenes that might scare the kids a little but nothing I wouldn’t feel comfortable sending an 3-year-old to.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Bravo and Echo, two Air Force jets who Dusty runs into during his around the globe race, are voiced by Val Kilmer and Anthony Edwards who played fighter pilots in Top Gun; their flight helmets are identical to those worn by the actors in their live action roles.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/21/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 26% positive reviews. Metacritic: 39/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Great Race

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Riddick

Monty Python and the Holy Grail


It's only a flesh wound.

It’s only a flesh wound.

(1975) Comedy (Rainbow Releasing) Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Connie Booth, Carol Cleveland, Neil Innes, Bee Duffell, John Young, Rita Davies, Avril Stewart, Sally Kinghorn, Mark Zycon, Elspeth Cameron, Mitsuko Forstater, Sandy Johnson, Sandy Rose, Romily Squire, Joni Flynn. Directed by Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones

As a film critic, one of the questions I’m most often asked is what is my all-time favorite movie. Although the answer can vary according to my mood, the film that I find myself giving as that answer is this one.

In the dark ages, King Arthur (Chapman) has been given a quest by God to find the Holy Grail. He gathers around him worthy knights, such as the valiant Sir Lancelot (Cleese), the chaste Sir Galahad (Palin), the bookish Sir Bedevere (Jones) and the not very valiant Sir Robin (Idle).

On their quest to find the Grail, they will face fearsome foes like the Knights Who Until RECENTLY said Ni (Big points if you can remember AND pronounce what they say now), the temptresses of Castle Anthrax, the Black Beast of Castle Aaaaarrrrrrggghhh and most fearsome of all, the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog (vanquished only with the aid of the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch). With his faithful servant Patsy (Gilliam) at his side, King Arthur will yield to no valiant knight to reach his goal. No foe too deadly, no quest too dangerous, no shrubbery so lush that he won’t find that darn Grail.

Later fashioned into the successful Broadway musical Spamalot, the movie remains one of the most influential when it comes to modern comedy movies. Repeatedly breaking the fourth wall and sending most comedy conventions sailing out into the air (only to land on a hapless page), the madmen of Monty Python appear to stumble through the movie but as we watch it unfold we realize that we are watching either the most cleverly plotted and mapped out movies or pure improvisational genius. It scarcely matters which one.

The late Graham Chapman as King Arthur provides the film’s straight man (although he has his share of zingers) and grounds the movie for the most part until at the end of the movie it goes whizzing over the cliff and shatters on the rocks below. The movie doesn’t so much conclude as end, which does frustrate a few non-fans but considering all the anarchy that preceded, is kind of fitting.

Listing all the amazing sketches and bits in the movie is nearly impossible but there is nary a false step in any of them. Terry Gilliam’s animations enhancing the movie and acting as bridges between sometimes wildly varying parts. Neil Innes contributes music and songs including the hilarious Ballad of Sir Robin with such memorable lines as “When danger reared its ugly head, he bravely turned his tail and fled” which might well sum up certain political figures I will not name here.

I will say that Monty Python doesn’t appeal to every comedy taste. They are far too manic for some, too anarchic for others and too dry for others still. I am proud to say that I’m a Python addict and have been since an early age, thanks largely to this film and their TV show Monty Python’s Flying Circus which in my boyhood aired on our local PBS station in Los Angeles long after the series had been canceled by the BBC; I urge you to catch some of those episodes which are readily available if you can.

We are not likely to see the like of Monty Python again. They were a group of men whose sum was greater than their parts and each member fit perfectly into the role he was given. With Chapman’s untimely passing in 1989, Monty Python is no more – not really. Although the Pythons have gathered again (often with an urn supposedly containing his remains), they aren’t quite the same. Still they continue individual and as a group to shock, push the envelope of comedy and poke and prod the staid and stodgy cultural monoliths of Britain with a sharply pointed stick, and that is a good thing because frankly I’m too lazy to do it myself.

Not all of you will agree with my assessment of the movie but I don’t care. It is the only film I’ve seen in a theater more than twice, the movie I’ve watched more often than any other and yet it still never fails to make me laugh. I will admit that nostalgia plays a part in that but still, comedies for the most part have a limited shelf life – you can only laugh at the same jokes so much. This movie has kept me laughing for almost 40 years (not non-stop) which is an accomplishment. If you haven’t seen it, see it and form your own opinion. If you have seen it, see it again because the Pythons can use the cash. If your local art house screens a revival showing of it, by all means see it on the big screen – there’s nothing quite so awe-inspiring as seeing the Big Head of Light Entertainment in all its divine glory on as big a screen as possible. The IMAX people should take note. Either way, you may love it, you may hate it but you WILL form an opinion of it and it might just change your life. It certainly changed mine. Now go away or I will taunt you a second time.

WHY RENT THIS: The funniest movie ever made. Period.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: If you don’t get their humor, you won’t like the film. If you do, you’ll watch it again and again and again. Some find the ending too abrupt.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s a surfeit of foul language, crude humor, violence, sexuality, nudity and taunting.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was partially financed by sales from Pink Floyd’s album Dark Side of the Moon. The band was huge fans of the troupe and would frequently halt recording of the album to watch their television show.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: The 2-Disc Collector’s Edition has a sing-a-long track for the film’s songs, the screenplay in text, two scenes dubbed in Japanese with the fractured English subtitles below, a performance of the film with Lego, a bit on which Palin as a representative of the Ministry of Foods explains the many uses of coconuts – including how to make clip-cloppy horse sound and a “Follow the Killer Rabbit” feature in which when the rabbit graphic appears on-screen you can select it to take you to corresponding documents and drawings.. Finally, there’s a pretty nifty featurette in which Palin and Jones take us on a tour of the various locations used for the film. The Extraordinarily Deluxe edition contains all of this, a CD of the film’s soundtrack (which contains a lot of audio excerpts from the film as well as some album-specific stuff), a quiz, and subtitles for people who don’t like the movie (taken from Henry IV, Part II). The Blu-Ray contains most of this, but also has a nifty iPad app that syncs up with the film and includes interviews with the surviving Pythons about the specific day of shooting for that scene. The app is $5 and only works on the iPad however.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $127.9M on a $365,274 production budget; even given adjustments for inflation this was a major blockbuster.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Blazing Saddles

FINAL RATING: 44/10

NEXT: 2 Guns

New Releases for the Week of August 9, 2013


Elysium

ELYSIUM

(TriStar) Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Alice Braga, Diego Luna, William Fichtner, Wagner Moura, Brandon Auret, Josh Blacker, Emma Tremblay. Directed by Neil Blomkamp

In the future, the haves have left the building and moved to a snazzy new space station in Earth orbit where disease, hunger and want are unknown. The have-nots i.e. us are left to make due on a resource-depleted Earth where every day is a struggle for survival and all of our earth benefits those living above. One desperate man will risk everything to make it up to Elysium; hanging in the balance is not only his life but the lives of millions.

See the trailer, clips, featurettes and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, IMAX (Opens Thursday)

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: R (for strong bloody violence and language throughout)

Chennai Express

(UTV) Shah Rukh Khan, Deepika Padukone, Rani Mukerji, Rajnikanth. A grieving young man carrying his father’s ashes to scatter on a sacred river meets a lively young girl on the train journey south. He meets her eccentric family and falls deeply in love with her despite a language barrier. They will take a romantic journey that will showcase the beauty and liveliness of the land and people of South India.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters

(20th Century Fox) Logan Lerman, Alexandra Daddario, Brandon T. Jackson, Nathan Fillion. When their home and sanctuary comes under brutal attack, the only thing that can save the demigods is the legendary Golden Fleece. However, the artifact rests in the Sea of Monsters – what we humans call the Bermuda Triangle – and is guarded by some pretty tough customers.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opened Tuesday)

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: PG (for some rude humor and action)

Planes

(Disney) Starring the voices of Dane Cook, Teri Hatcher, John Cleese, Brad Garrett. A crop duster dreams of racing glory. Didn’t we just see this same story with a snail dreaming of winning the Indy 500? Just sayin’… 

See the trailer, a promo and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D (opens Thursday)

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: PG (for some mild action and rude humor) 

We’re the Millers

(New Line) Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston, Emma Roberts, Ed Helms. A mild-mannered pot dealer get into deep debt with his supplier who in turn promises to wipe out his debt if he will go to Mexico and bring in a shipment of product. Knowing he’ll never get over the boarder without being searched himself, he enlists a stripper, a street punk and a nerd from his apartment building to pose as his family, thinking nobody will give them a second glance. Turns out that it’s a lot easier said than done.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for crude sexual content, pervasive language, drug material and brief graphic nudity)

The Big Year


The Big Year

Making movies is for the birds

(2011) Comedy (20th Century Fox) Steve Martin, Jack Black, Owen Wilson, Brian Dennehy, Rashida Jones, Rosamund Pike, Dianne Wiest, John Cleese (voice), Kevin Pollak, Joel McHale, JoBeth Williams, Paul Campbell, Cindy Busby, Anjelica Huston, Jim Parsons, Anthony Anderson, Barry Shabaka Henley, Al Roker, Steven Weber, Corbin Bernsen. Directed by David Frankel

 

All of us want to leave a mark in some form or another; not necessarily as celebrities but in our own small way we want to accomplish something special, something we can be proud of. Something that says “I was here. I did this. I meant something.” It’s not always an easy thing and often we have to overcome obstacles we never could have anticipated.

In the world of bird watching, birders have a kind of Heisman Trophy that they go after – it’s called, informally, a Big Year and it means essentially spotting as many birds as possible in a calendar year. It requires an insane amount of dedication and not a little expense. The all-time champion is Kenny Bostick (Wilson) who holds the mark at 723 separate species of birds.

He has become bored and restless resting on his laurels. He’s made the decision to tackle another big year, much to the chagrin of his long-suffering wife (Pike) who is much more eager to start a family. Still, she recognizes he needs one last adventure and gives it to him, but not without consequence.

Brad Harris (Black) is a computer programmer who is divorced and feeling less sure of who he is. He knows he loves birding and is pretty good at it but has to save for quite a while to mount up the resources in order to tackle something like a Big Year. His parents (Wiest, Dennehy) are less than enthusiastic but mom manages to mount up some supportiveness while his cardiac patient dad is less tolerant.

Stu Preissler (Martin) is a workaholic CEO on the verge of retiring and he knows what he wants to do with the first year of his retirement – a Big Year. His wife (Williams) is a little less sanguine about it with a grandchild on the way but Stu insists that he can do both. However, his company is a bit jittery about his departure and a new merger that is going to save the day is dangling by a thread and Stu’s touch is needed.

The three run into each other in the field and none wants to tip their hand that they are going after a Big Year but soon it becomes obvious that they all are after the same thing. While Kenny will do anything and everything to safeguard his record – and allow himself to shatter it – Stu and Brad quickly realize that the only defense against Kenny is to team up. But who will be the winner at the end of the year?

I hadn’t expected much from the film, having understood that it was a critical and box office failure but I was pleasantly surprised. The three leads are all individually engaging and all of them restrain their normal onscreen personas so that none of them is overwhelming (Black particularly who can be overbearing in some of his roles). Here they all are charismatic but sweet-natured – even Wilson’s character, who can be a bastard, isn’t all bad.

Black gets to have a nice field romance with a fellow birder (Jones) which helps add a romantic element to the movie; all of the leads are at different places in their relationships with Stu’s being more centered, Kenny’s being on the edge of disaster and Brad’s just beginning. It illustrates the role of our partners in our lives quite nicely too.

The cinematography is quite nice, with enough bird shots to do a nature film proud (not all of the footage here was authentic – some was spliced in from other movies in order to bring enough different species of birds on screen). Sure, there are some bits that stretch the believability quotient a bit but none to the breaking point.

The leads aren’t the only reason to see the film. As you can see in the cast list there is a pretty impressive collection of talent, some on for only a scene or two (like Huston as a crusty boat captain) but it isn’t stunt casting so much. We aren’t playing “spot the celebrity” although it makes a nice counterpoint to the bird spotting (and a fun game to play for those watching the second time – see how many birds YOU can spot).

This was a movie that came out with a bit of fanfare, considering the star power in the leads and then exited theaters quickly. For whatever reason it didn’t connect with audiences who probably thought a movie about bird watching would be boring. The point is however that this isn’t strictly about bird watching. It’s about getting out of your comfort zone and living. Getting off the couch and into something, anything, that sparks our passion. You can’t really complain about a movie that advocates that.

WHY RENT THIS: Amazing heart. Some interesting bird-watching facts. Nice performances from the leads.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A bit too obsessive.

FAMILY VALUES:  There are more than a few bad words and a little bit of sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: All the bird sightings from the winner of the competition are shown over the closing credits and yes, every one of them is a different species of bird, although they weren’t all spotted by the same person in this case.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: Nothing on the DVD but the Blu-Ray has a gag reel.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $7.5M on a $41M production budget; there is no way to call this other than an unmitigated flop.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Butter

FINAL RATING: 8/10

NEXT: Cloud Atlas