December 25, 2008, - 12:00 am
Holiday Box Office: Lotsa Good Stuff & Some Utter Crap to “Balance” It Out; UPDATE: Fun “Bedtime Stories” Review Up
By Debbie Schlussel
**** SCROLL DOWN FOR “BEDTIME STORIES” REVIEW ****
Because of a snowstorm, I did not make it to a screening of “The Spirit,” and missed “Bedtime Stories” because it screened at the same time as “Valkyrie.” Will see the first showing of Bedtime Stories in the morning and add the review here by Noon.
* “Gran Torino“: Although Clint Eastwood long ago veered away from Dirty Harry in favor of more politically correct films with anti-war and pro-euthanasia messages, it’s fitting that this is likely his last film as an actor. Although he plays Walt Kowalski and not Harry, Eastwood has come full circle to the kinds of films that made American audiences love him and pay to see him act on the big screen.
And it’s got a lot of great things about it: the bad guys get their due (with a “peaceful” twist), a man who is cynical about religion finds G-d, and it’s a-laugh-a-minute funny on top of it. Politically correct, this movie is not.
In this–as with the Dirty Harry movies–Clint Eastwood tells the bad guys where to go in many scenes. There are no “Go ahead, make my day”s or “Do ya feel lucky?”s. But there’s plenty of dialogue just like it.
Eastwood’s Kowalski is a 78-year-old recently-widowed army veteran. He’s tough and doesn’t take guff from anyone, especially his ungrateful, spoiled children and grandchildren, of whom he’s not fond. He rightfully sneers when his granddaughter wears a belly shirt to his wife’s funeral in church. Kowalski’s openly racist and bigoted and insults and mocks pretty much every single ethnic group you can think of (except, interestingly, Muslims and Arabs–gee, I wonder why). He also doesn’t like the fact that his neighborhood has been taken over by Hmong (Vietnamese and Laotian) immigrants.
(If there’s any fault with this film, it’s that it takes place in Michigan (as a tribute to the place it was shot–metro Detroit). There are few Hmong here. As a one-time Wisconsin resident who worked with the Hmong in Madison, I know well that their area of popular concentration and the area where there are problems with Hmong gangs is Wisconsin, where the film was originally set.)
Kowalski has a prized possession that everyone wants–his beautiful classic Gran Torino. He catches the young Hmong boy from next door, trying to steal it. Soon, Eastwood takes the boy under his wing, and slowly learns to appreciate his Hmong neighbors. But the boy is being heavily recruited by a violent Hmong gang, which terrorizes the neighborhood.
Gun control is, happily, not practiced in this movie. Walt is ever-present with rifles, pistols, you name it. They help ward off crime. And while Kowalski is skeptical of the Catholic Church and repeatedly fends off the young, peacenik priest who pesters him to go to confession, Kowalski eventually appreciates the need for spiritual sustenance in a moving way.
One of the year’s best, this movie is a can’t miss, but it’s far too violent for young kids. For teens, it is okay.
FOUR REAGANS PLUS
* “Marley & Me“: This is a fun, cute, hilarious, lighthearted movie you can take your whole family to see. Yes, the ending is sad, but not too sad for kids. Based on the best-selling book of the same name, the movie follows a couple of newspaper reporters from their snowy wedding night in Michigan to becoming the parents of three young kids, all while they experience it with their dog, Marley (named after Bob Marley).
The husband, Owen Wilson, is troubled that he’s given up his dream to become a famous investigative reporter for the New York Times, to become a columnist for a major Miami newspaper, writing a lot of columns about his dog and how it interacts with his growing family and his Florida surroundings. He wishes he could have the career of his friend, a playboy who is a fellow reporter and makes the move the the Times, when the real thing to covet is in his own lap.
The dog is the real star of the movie, and there’s lots of laughter about the worst dog, the uncontrollable Marley, who is forever eating and destroying everything in sight. Absolutely hilarious.
Could have done without Jennifer Anniston screaming and getting all angry in one scene, but other than that it’s a great movie. Aniston adds nothing to the movie (other than coldness and bad acting), and really Owen Wilson and the dog are the whole movie.
Even though I’m not a dog owner, I like dogs and found it touching and above all, highly entertaining. In one of the movie’s funnier scenes, there’s even a cameo of Kathleen Turner–gee, that man looks familiar–as a professional dog trainer.
* “Doubt“: Since I’m not a Catholic, I feel kind of out of place reviewing this excellent movie. It takes place in the early ’60s, when change and liberalization is taking place in the Catholic Church–something the movie applauds subrosa, but something maybe it shouldn’t. That liberalization, among other things, has led to many lapsed Catholics and a watering down of the religion.
I liked this movie because I feel bad for the Catholic Church, with the admissions in recent years that some priests molested children. Many others did not. And the revelations have hurt the Church and Christianity in general in America. As readers know, I feel a strong Christian presence in America is the bulwark against Islam taking over here.
This movie–though it never quite says so, and you don’t know for sure–is about one of the priests who is wrongfully accused based on no evidence and a lot of innuendo and speculation by an imperious head nun at a Catholic school, played masterfully by Meryl Streep. A strict, old-fashioned nun, she doesn’t like that her church is liberalizing. She thinks it leads to lazy, undisciplined, valueless kids, and she has a point.
The symbol of that liberalization is a young, modern priest, played–also masterfully–by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Streep simultaneously bullies and uses a young nun, played by Amy Adams–also excellent, to help her persecute and accuse this priest of molesting a Black child–the only in the Catholic school in a time of much racism. Again, it’s based on mere innuendo and not a shred of actual evidence.
This movie is well done and raises a lot of good points about gossip and innuendo. The best scene in the movie is one of Hoffman’s sermons to the church. He tells congregants about gossip spreading like the feathers of a pillow slashed open in a windy outdoors. You can’t get the feathers back, once they’ve been released. We’re shown the literal, while Hoffman makes his sermon.
And his sermon is really the message of the movie. Magnificent. One of the best movies of the year.
* “Valkyrie“: I’m really surprised the studios held this back from early screenings and that it’s not been well-received. I thought this performance by Tom Cruise as a Nazi colonel who plots to assassinate Hitler wasn’t bad, even if he’s probably not the best choice for the part. Still, the men who play his fellow anti-Hitler Nazi conspirators were the real masters in this movie and show up Mr. Cruise.
The operation to assassinate Hitler and take over was called “Valkyrie,” because he was hijacking Hitler’s Operation Valkyrie–the code name Hitler used for troop positions in the event of his death.
This movie is important as far as history goes–the story is that Col. Claus von Stauffenberg (Cruise) thought he blew up Hitler, he thought wrong, and as we know, Hitler only died of his own suicide when it was apparent he’d lost. But it is entertaining as a World War II thriller about counterspies within Nazi ranks.
I don’t know how accurate it is to the real story–von Stauffenberg is regarded as a hero in Germany. But if every German–or even a significant minor percentage–were as anti-Hitler as the heroes of this movie are portrayed to be, the Holocaust would not have happened. And while the Colonel is shown to be motivated by his opposition to World War II and the treatment of Jews and others–and I don’t know if that’s accurate in real life, it’s not clear whether doing the right thing–as opposed to a quest for power–was the real motivation.
As we know, the case was otherwise–Hitler was not assassinated, and the Nazis exterminated 6 million Jews. Noble effort, not a great movie, but not bad either. Interesting.
* “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button“: It turns out this movie bears little resemblance to the F. Scott Fitzgerald short story from which it takes its name. Instead, writer Mitch Albom discovered that it’s a rip-off of a novel by another author, whose book producers tried to buy but weren’t successful.
Not that this matters, because–plagiarized or not–the movie is long, boring, cloying, and a Lifetime Network movie of the week at best, or–at almost three hours–a substandard, way too long episode of “The Twilight Zone.” It’s not just Brad Pitt’s really awful attempt at a New Orleans accent or his terrible acting and the computer-generated graphics making him look, at one point, as young as he did in “Thelma and Louise.”
It’s that this sleep-inducing story is pointless and stupid, and it takes far too long to tell it. And it’s forced. Oh, and then there’s the fact we don’t care a whit about any of these characters.
This is the story of a man who is born with the scrunched up face and body of an old man and grows younger, until he dies in the body of a young baby, even though he’s an old man with Alzheimer’s. Bad sci-fi plot and obvious CGI aside, the manipulative plot shows that Pitt, er . . . Benjamin Button is rejected by his real father and adopted by a Black woman and her friends.
Soon, Benjamin is sleeping with old women who live at the rooming house for older women at which his adopted mother is employed. He falls in love with a girl (Cate Blanchett), who eventually falls for him. But they can only be together for a brief time at which they are both the same age and their contrasting age and physical progressions meet in time.
The end. Wake me when the boring chick flick is over.
* “The Reader“: The should re-title this “Nazi SS Concentration Camp Guard Porn” or “Sympathy for a Nazi Murderer Because She Likes to Have Sex.” Yup, that’s how disgusting this exercise in semi-porn is, in both its message and its enactment.
Kate Winslet plays a 30-something woman who seduces a fifteen-year-old boy. They have lots of graphic sex scenes, much of which we are shown. It’s just plain sick and gross. Did I really need to see this kid’s erect penis in the shower. Uh, no. But, hey, we’re supposed to appreciate how highbrow this is because the woman has the kid read to her from great books. Ah, great literature trumps child molestation grossness, every time.
Then, when the kid becomes a young adult and is in law school, he soon learns that the woman was a Nazi SS Guard at a concentration camp who sent Jews to their deaths. But we’re not shown any depictions of that because breast shots of the Nazi guardess in hot sex scenes took up most of the film and are far more important, right? And not only are we not shown any of her horrid treatment of the Jews or how she picked which one would be sent to her deaths, we are shown the two Jewish female Holocaust survivors who testify against her to be cold bitches with lotsa cash and a multi-million dollar Manhattan apartment.
The movie takes the point of view that this poor Nazi guard was treated so badly, when she was such a hot sex partner when she was young and just a lonely old inmate who wanted to read when she was old. Sorry, but I don’t feel sorry for any Nazis.
Nor do I feel sorry for the pervs that go to see this ridiculous movie, which probably should have been called, “I’ll Show You My Auschwitz, If you Show Me Yours for 15-year-old Boys.”
Sick, sick, sick. Disgusting. Figures that most movie critics are hailing this movie and Winslet’s performance. Liberals love Post-Holocaust Porn masquerading as art. So does HOprah–this was one of her book club selections.
FOUR MARXES PLUS
**** UPDATE: “Bedtime Stories“: Finally, I like an Adam Sandler movie. This is what kids’ movies are suppose to be. This Disney movie was fun, charming, magical, and hilarious. And a bonus–it makes fun of Prius-owners, organic food eaters, and the whole green movement. That’s a refreshing change from the Booger Green Santa that F.A.O. Schwarz is pimping on kids.
Sandler is Skeeter, the son of a proud small businessman motel owner in Los Angeles. Dad’s motel is failing economically and he sells to a British hotel developer (who looks like Richard Branson plus 50 pounds) on the condition that Skeeter gets to one day manage the hotel.
Zoom forward a couple of decades and Skeeter is the maintenance man of the hotel, treated like dirt by the higher-ups. Soon plans are announced to build an even bigger hotel, and Sandler finds himself with a chance to compete to manage it against the mean, stuck-up, favored hotel manager, Kendall (Guy Pearce), who is dating the hotel magnates daughter.
Meanwhile, Sandler’s sister (Courtney Cox), is an uber-green, organic fanatic and a high school principal who lost her job. She makes her kids wheatgrass birthday cakes that no-one eats. “It’s very good, once you get past the smell,” she tells the kids. Since she’s being downsized, she has to travel to Arizona for a job interview and asks her brother to take care of the kids for the week. The kids ask Sandler to read them a bedtime story, but their books have titles like “How the Green Alligator Saved the Environment” and “The Organic Monkey Rides His Bike.” “I’m not gonna read you these Communist books,” Sandler protests, and starts making up his own fairy tales.
Soon, those fairy tales start coming true in his own life, and good things begin to happen with Skeeter at work and in his personal life. That includes a romance with Keri Russell, the kids’ enviro-friendly teacher, whom he derides as a Prius-driver (the best scene is when her Prius gets towed).
I really enjoyed this movie, and that’s the point–it’s a great kids movie, which you will also enjoy when you take them to see it. And you’ll get a chuckle at the constant mocking of politically correct, uptight parents who insist on organic food and no sugar.
Could have done without the presence of Russell Brand, the far-left, unfunny British comedian who hosted the MTV VMAs and used it as a platform to urinate on America and conservatives. Could also have done without some of the very minor bathroom humor. And some might say, there’s an anti-business theme, with the hotel shutting the school down to take its property. But if anything, it’s pro small business owners. And overall, it’s a lot of fun. There’s something in it for everybody. Plus, you’ll laugh.