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Films I Neglected To Review: Let Them Play! Let Them Play!
by Peter Sobczynski

Yes, yes, I finally saw "Breaking Dawn." On the other hand, I also saw a couple of other films that infinitely more worthy of your time, energy and money.

So how exactly does Santa Claus manage to deliver gifts to all the kids in the world in one night without being discovered? That is the launching-off point for "Arthur Christmas," the enormously entertaining new effort from Aardman Animation that will delight both younger and older viewers alike. As it turns out, Santa (Jim Broadbent) is merely the figurehead of an enormous operation in which ambitious older son Steve (Hugh Laurie) leads an army of elves in a mammoth computerized rocket ship to deliver the gifts with pinpoint precision while younger son Arthur (James McAvoy) is a starry-eyed dreamer who channels his genuine love of the holiday into answering Santa's letters. Alas, there is a hitch in the seemingly infallible system that leads to one little girl not getting her present and no one else is willing or able to do anything about it, Arthur takes it upon himself to get the package delivered with the aid of an old-school sleigh, eight reindeer and his grandfather (Bill Nighy), whose own Claus career came to an end somewhere over Cuba in 1962.

Since the outcome of the story is not exactly in doubt--there is very little chance that it will end with a tearful little girl without a present to open--the trick of the film is to get there in an ingenious and entertaining manner and it does it beautifully with a combination of dry British wit (which thankfully hasn't been dumbed down in a mistaken attempt to "broaden" its appeal), a colorful visual style (especially when seen in 2D) and energetic and amusing vocal performances from a surprisingly strong cast that also includes Imelda Staunton, Laura Linney, Michael Palin and Andy Serkis. Unfortunately, with the glut of highly publicized family-related product already on the market, there is a good chance that a more offbeat and low-key work like "Arthur Christmas" will wind up as an afterthought even with its seasonal tie-in. That would be a shame but I suspect that time will be kind to this one and it will go on to become a holiday favorite for years to come.

"Immortals" is still kicking around in some theaters and although my tolerance level for nonsensical "300" knockoffs tends to be extremely low at best, I have to admit that I kind of dug it in a weird sort of way. Yes, the story is preposterous--some gibberish about a lowly mortal (Henry Cavill) who is charged with preventing the crazed King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) from wreaking havoc across Greece in search of a magical bow hidden by the gods that will allow him to destroy all of mankind--Cavill is pretty much bland as can be as humanity's last hope and whatever good will Stephen Dorff may have retained from his excellent work in "Somewhere" after that "Bucky Larson" nonsense is pretty much squandered with his ridiculous turn here as the wisecracking Solo-esque rogue who winds up joining forces with our hero. And yet, despite all of the ridiculousness on display, I still found plenty of things to enjoy. For starters, it was directed by Tarsem Singh, the crackpot visionary behind "The Cell" and "The Fall," and he fills the screen with one visual astonishment after another so that while it is filled with dumb moments, there is never a dull one on display and not even the chintzy 3D presentation can completely mar the proceedings. Then there is the hilariously bizarre and hugely entertaining performance delivered by Mickey Rourke at his absolute Rourkiest. What he does here is so singularly odd that it goes beyond camp but he still brings a strange kind of conviction to the role despite the lunacy around him--he is given some of the cheesiest lines imaginable but he makes them sound like the kinds of things that he might normally utter in the course of an average day. Finally, there is the presence of Frieda Pinto as the requisite mystical babe who holds the secret at to the hidden bow--while the part requires her to do little more than stand around and look beautiful, she is so freaking gorgeous here (especially in a brief bit in which she, for reasons best left unexplained, is covered in oil) that she manages to upstage both Tarsem's bag of visual tricks and Rourke's weirdness whenever she is on the screen. Look, the film is no masterpiece and I wouldn't exactly recommend dropping everything to rush out and see it if you haven't caught it yet but if you do--and are willing to overlook a lot of admitted cheesiness in order to fully appreciate the aforementioned good stuff--there is a chance that you might enjoy it as much as I did.

Having been delayed from seeing it for the last couple of weeks by an acute case of common sense, I have finally caught up with "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn--Part I," the awkwardly-titled penultimate entry in the insanely popular screen adaptations of the equally popular young-adult book series. Unfortunately, by arriving so late to this particular party, there is very little that I could possibly add to the critical conversation that has presumably not already been discussed in detail in other reviews. For example, I am certain others have noted that the story, which finds bloodsucking vampire Edward (Robert Pattinson) and bloodless bore Bella (Kristen Stewart) consummating their relationship, such as it is, by getting married (which we see in entirely too much detail), finally doing the nasty (which is presented in not nearly the same amount of detail) and unexpectedly producing a spawn that may kill Bella from within before it can be born, is both as dull as ever and as heavily padded as most of its presumed target audience in order to justify making it a two-parter that will give fans the privilege of paying two times to see one complete story. I can only imagine that others have mentioned that Bella is one of the most catastrophically uninteresting heroines in recent memory and a horrible role model for impressionable audiences to boot. I suspect that others have pointed out the fact that the source material is so stupid that not even a decent filmmaker like Bill Condon (the guy who made such fascinating films as "Gods and Monsters" and "Kinsey") can do much to alter it from its seemingly predestined rendezvous with mediocrity. I can't imagine that others haven't noted the lackluster performances across the board--Pattinson is more wan than usual, Taylor Lautner (as the chest-baring rival for Bella's attentions) displays acting chops of such deficiency that they make one long for the salad days of Scott Baio and Willie Ames and Stewart's sullen take on Bella has become so calcified that she hardly removes the scowl on her face even during the nutso (thought not nearly nutso enough) childbirth sequence.

In fact, I think I can add only one little thing to the conversation and that is simply due to the accidental circumstances under which I saw the film. When I arrived at the theater, it turned out that the screening was one of those open-caption deals that they do for hard-of-hearing viewers that feature subtitles for the dialogue and descriptive phrase used to suggest music and various ambient noises to help set the scene. Having seen enough foreign-language films over the years, the prospect of having subtitles running on the bottom of the screen didn't really bother me and so I decided it might be interesting to see it that way as a change-of-pace if nothing else. What I discovered by watching it this way is that the dialogue, none of which I will bother you with here, is so bad that the descriptive phrases on display, most of which are of the "Quiet Rustling" variety, constitute the film's best writing. Other than that, I have nothing else to say about "Breaking Dawn" except to note with quiet relief that I only have to watch these idiots in one more movie and then it will all be over, at least until someone gets the bright idea of remaking them. (That said, if someone more familiar with the material can answer my big burning question--who the hell did they get to officiate and sanction the wedding of a vampire and a emo waif?--I would appreciate it.)

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originally posted: 12/05/11 13:28:34
last updated: 12/05/11 13:39:04
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