Kevin Carr’s Weekly Report Card: November 23, 2011

This week, Fat Guy Kevin Carr gets his grading done early because school is off for the rest of the week. With three family movies opening in theaters for the Thanksgiving weekend, Kevin tries to keep things respectable. Reliving his childhood, he sings and dances his way into the theater for the revival of The Muppets, then takes a serious look at 3D and avant-garde filmmaking with Martin Scorsese’s latest film Hugo. Finally, he bundles up and heads to the North Pole on a search for Santa and his family, knowing it has to be exactly like it is depicted in Arthur Christmas. Movies don’t lie, after all, do they?

Want to hear what Kevin has to say on the Fat Guys at the Movies podcast? Click here to listen as his two sons, Liam and Ben, sit down in the Magical Studio in the Sky to talk about the family movie releases and why this entire weekend seems like an apology from Hollywood for last weekend.

Studio: Disney

Rated: PG for some mild rude humor

Starring: Amy Adams, Jason Segel, Chris Cooper, Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy

Directed by: James Bobin

What it’s about: Walter and Gary are brothers, as alike as can be, aside from the fact that Gary is a Muppet and Walter is a human being. On a trip to Hollywood, they discover the Muppets have fallen on hard times, so they help them reunite the gang so they can put on a variety show and save their beloved Muppet Theater from a rich oil baron.

What I liked: With the hype surrounding this film – especially for grumpy older farts like myself – it seems that simply saying, “It’s the Muppets” is enough of a reason to like this film. That may not be a definite reason for all instances (as lesser Muppet movies like The Muppet Wizard of Oz showed us a while back), but it works for the new movie.

The Muppets taps into every reason why the Muppets were awesome in the first place. They’re silly, they’re irreverent, they’re wildly entertaining and they have a lot of heart. This film presents a modern version of The Muppet Movie with the same sort of care and pathos. It’s got all the great running gags and surprise cameos you’d expect, and there are plenty of throw-backs to the original film.

This new movie has a similar energy to the first movies made in the late 70s and early 80s, and it really feels like the characters never left us.

What I didn’t: While awesome, The Muppets isn’t perfect. There are some jokes that don’t quite stick the landing, like the reason behind the weird evil rap from one character. However, these awkward and sometimes overly meta jokes are forgivable in the grand scheme of things.

My only other problem with the film is that it doesn’t always know whose movie it is. The film should belong entirely to the Muppets, and I would count Walter in that category. However, because studio budgets require a big star in the film, we get a little too much of Jason Segel and Amy Adams’ characters. They’re not terrible, but they take away from the real stars… and those real stars are the ones made of fur and fluff.

Who is gonna like this movie: Kids and parents, especially anyone who loved these characters when they were younger.

Grade: A

Studio: Paramount Pictures

Rated: PG for mild thematic material, some action/peril and smoking

Starring: Asa Butterfield, Chloe Moretz, Jude Law, Emily Mortimer and Christopher Lee

Directed by: Martin Scorsese

What it’s about: Martin Scorsese discovers 3D technology in this film about a young orphan boy in 1930s Paris who lives in the clockworks of the train station. He stumbles across a mysterious message from a mechanical man that leads him to the sad old man working at the toy store. Through this, he discovers a secret in the man’s past, one of painful memories and lost dreams.

What I liked: While getting plenty of accolades, Hugo turns out to be quite a polarizing movie. Most people tend to agree that the film is visually stunning with a gorgeous production design and a warm and inviting look. It is also some of the best cinematic uses of 3D since Avatar, and some (like myself) might say even better than Avatar.

Scorsese doesn’t reduce 3D to a gimmick, nor does he slap it on without care. Each shot is designed with the new perspective in mind, offering layers of imagery and great depth to add to the emotional depth of the characters. There is no doubt that Hugo looks amazing.

Where others have taken issue with it is its deliberate pacing and often distracted focus. Personally, I was not bothered by this at all. It’s nice to see a film that families can enjoy together that doesn’t rely on big, flashy effects or fart jokes just to keep the attention of the children. Scorsese challenges his audience to enjoy something and work a little harder at it. There’s a lot of emotion, themes, thoughts and reasoning behind even the slowest-moving parts of this film.

What I didn’t: My only real complaint about Hugo is the pacing sometimes feels off. It’s a slow burn, so if you’re expecting Happy Feet Two with lots of silliness, you’d best leave the younger kids at home. But the pacing was fine for me – and my kids who saw it with me – because the world is so warm and inviting, even the slower parts were easy to make it through.

Who is gonna like this movie: Fans of Scorsese’s personal emotional films as well as those looking to see proper use of 3D in a wasteland of post-conversion and money grabs.

Grade: A

Studio: Sony Pictures

Rated: PG for some mild rude humor

Starring: James McAvoy, Hugh Laurie, Bill Nighy, Jim Broadbent and Imelda Staunton

Directed by: Sarah Smith and Barry Cook

What it’s about: Arthur is the bumbling-yet-loveable son of the current Santa Claus, stuck working in the letter department of the North Pole. After a glitch in the new, technology-driven system causes a young English girl to be passed over on Christmas Eve, Arthur takes it upon himself to find a way to bring the girl the toy she asked for.

What I liked: Aardman Animation does not have a flawless record, mainly because their weird little flop Flushed Away failed to be as great as films like Wallace and Gromit and the Curse of the Were-Rabbit, but they have a near-flawless record at least. This is a leap from the throwback stop-animation style we’re used to for them, but they still manage to throw a lot of warmth and cleverness into this movie.

In essence, Arthur Christmas is a kids’ film, but there’s plenty of humor to make the grown ups laugh. And many of these moments are actually pretty clever and esoteric that they fly over the children’s heads while getting a surprise belly laugh from the adults in the crowd.

Arthur Christmas takes a lot of tired concepts and ideas we’ve seen ground into the dirt with movies like The Santa Clause franchise, but Aardman breathes new life into them, and they work to make a sweet and fun film with a lot of heart.

What I didn’t: Like many films geared towards children and adults (including the other movies releasing this week), Arthur Christmas has a darker side, which rears its head at the end of the second act. This movie can get a little depressing at times, and like any Christmas film, it also walks a thin line between inspiring kids to believe in Christmas magic and giving them the tools to figure things out for themselves.

Still, I wouldn’t let that stop you from enjoying the film with a special kid in your life.

Who is gonna like this movie: Mostly kids, but grown-ups who like a distinct British style of humor will enjoy it as well.

Grade: B

Kevin Carr crawled from the primordial ooze in the early 1970s. He grew up watching movies to the point of irritation for his friends and was a font of useless movie knowledge until he decided to put that knowledge to good use. Now, Kevin is a nationally syndicated critic, heard on dozens of radio stations around the country, and his reviews appear in a variety of online outlets. Kevin is also a proud member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and the Central Ohio Film Critics Association (COFCA).

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