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The Perfect Holiday
A Perfectly Wrapped Empty Box

Perhaps a year or two ago everyone involved in the film got together for a big holiday party of some kind, had too much to drink, and jokingly concocted an outline for a Christmas picture filled with elements of every Christmas movie ever made. They found a screenwriter willing to take dictation and smooth out the rough spots, a director with the bare minimum of experience who did need something to add to his résumé and a set dresser and a cinematographer who really know their crafts, and dared each other to make this movie. Although I have nothing against any of these actors and am quite fond of Queen Latifah’s work—even her past Christmas offering—I really cannot recommend this film even as babysitting material while mom and dad finish shopping. Even a child’s admission fee is too much for something that delivers nothing.


Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium
Beyond Fun

This beautifully written, multi-layered tale is the masterpiece of writer-director Zach Helm. Both Fade In magazine and Variety have made note that Helm is someone to take notice of, and with good reason. When a person both writes and directs a picture, the result is not always satisfactory. Helm is ifted in both writing the word and translating it into action. And, he not only has assembled a great ensemble in Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, he draws out the very best that each actor has. The love and passion for creating a piece of entertainment that also provides instruction and encourages discussion epitomizes the reason to create and produce movie art.


Darfur Now
Not Braun’s Best, Either?

There is an almost constant sense of disconnection in this film. Just when a conversation with one of the characters begins to develop some depth, Braun jumps back to the Netherlands or back to the World Food Program compound or Don Cheadle’s ostentatious Los Angeles home or a shot of bones and flesh desiccating in the sun of Sudan. I came away with a sense that Braun, the producers, the stars, even Adam Sterling and Governor Schwarzenegger feel that they have done their job. The problem is that they haven’t really heard Luis Moreno-Ocampo when he repeatedly states that it will take decades to bring Sudanese government officials to justice, if it ever does happen.


Lars and the Real Girl
A Surprising Must-See

The main themes of Lars and the Real Girl are family and community. Are we our brother’s keeper or not? When we find one amongst us who is mentally ill, will we gather around and love, protect and encourage or ignore, defame, and be selfishly shamed? Every character in this movie goes through some kind of enlightenment and change in perception of who they are and who Lars is… even who—yes, who, not what—Bianca is. The script even includes the church that Lars (and eventually Bianca) attends, and in this movie the church doesn’t turn away or pretend there is no gorilla sitting in the corner. So refreshing!


The Game Plan
Saccharine Sweet, But Oh So Good

A major surprise in The Game Plan is that “The Rock” is really, really good at comedy and it is nice to see him play a role that requires more than just a hard-muscled, buff body (not that that isn’t a plus). Johnson actually has talent. Now, of course, Disney makes movies to make money. But, when Disney gets it right and makes a really good family movie, it is hard to begrudge them the gold. The Game Plan is full of solid family values and is virtuous and morally upright. The main theme is that people matter and material things don’t. The winner is not the one with all the toys, but the one who has meaningful relationships with family and friends.


The Brothers Solomon
An Exercise In Audience Patience

Writer Will Forte goes for the cheese from the very first line and doesn’t quit until the closing credits roll. The amazing thing is that this seems to be the writer’s unabashed intention, and as I squirmed my way through the film I realized that he was making a commentary on the average mental exertion expected of an audience expecting to be entertained. I think that the last time this was done really well was with Airplane and Blazing Saddles. The primary difference is that the latter two movies also managed to keep from insulting the intelligence of the viewer, whereas The Brothers Solomon blatantly embraces that urge. I don’t believe that Forte wants anyone to walk away saying, “Well, that was a cute little film.”


Daddy Day Camp
Prepare to Defend Yourselves

I’m sure the intent of Daddy Day Camp was to build on the success of its predecessor. Now, children don’t care so much that the entire cast is different from the first movie, but they are not stupid and know when they have been had. Director Fred Savage gets nothing from any of his cast. The acting—even of Academy Award-winning Cuba Gooding, Jr.—is stiff; the delivery of the lines is mistimed and unbelievable; and the dialogue, written by Geoff Rodkey and J. David Stem, is so awful that the large audience of children I viewed this movie with spent most of their time groaning instead of laughing. The adults were just silent and most likely praying for a quick end.


Becoming Jane
A “What If” That Satisfies

Becoming Jane is an absolute delight in which to get lost for a few hours. Adoration is written all over this film, whether for the beauty of the woods and exteriors of manor houses or the soft morning light filtering through a window to catch the bowed head of young Jane as she writes while the rest of the household sleeps. Director Julian Jarrold frames his shots for maximum impact but also gently pulls away to give the overall context its due, creating seamless transitions and a delightful and honest portrayal of the time period in all aspects. Another ace for this movie is the quality of its cast. The chemistry between Anne Hathaway and James McAvoy is absolute magic—pure, clear, believable, and stunning


The Simpsons Movie
The Summer Flick We’ve Been Waiting For

You would think that after eighteen years there wouldn’t be anybody left to lampoon or any more jokes to crack. But the beauty of The Simpsons is that the show has always been patterned after life, and as long as we’re all still here, there is daily creation of more material. Think about it. How many times everyday do we hear someone say, “Who thought that was a good decision? How stupid can a person be?” All Groening, Brooks, and the rest of their writers have to do is live with their eyes and ears open and this franchise could run forever. They have plumbed the mine of human civilization and haven’t even yet hit the mother lode.


Order of the Phoenix Redux
Why, J.K., Oh Why?

Series scribe Steve Kloves has his own voice and favorite character—Hermione, in this case—and will take license with the material in a way that makes the most sense to him. The brilliance of giving Hermione some of the best lines in the books and making her a focal point of the actor’s ensemble is that she is a leader and Harry and Ron are not. (In a book, there is time to develop this characteristic. In a movie, time is an enemy that must be manipulated.) By making Hermione the flame to which the rest of the cast is drawn, Harry and Ron are strengthened into implementers—doers, if you will—who accomplish the movement of the plot and successfully achieve hero status for Harry who is, after all, the main character. Newcomer Michael Goldenberg should have done his homework much better and studied the first four movies.


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