Movies: Xmas Trio
Short story: 9-7, recommended; 6-4, up to you; 3-1, eschew
Ratings intended for: adult SF&F fans
Short-attention-span synopsis: Nothing on the must-see list.
Horrifying self-realization: Heinlein help me, I went to see a Major Motion Picture Event and a Happy Madison Production on the same day, and I'm giving them both the same rating.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (PG-13, 2:47) — 6
This is the MMPE. You can tell because it's nearly 3 hours long, is based on Akshwul Litrachoor (F. Scott Fitzgerald's novella), and stars someone (Mr. Pitt) who is among the dozen people known only by 1st name at supermarket checkout counters everywhere. It's ostensibly about a man who, for no explicable reason, grows older mentally and experientially at the same pace as everyone else while growing younger (from about 70ish) physically. The amazing thing about this is that it's so unamazing. Pitt plays his role in the lowest of keys. For such an unusual person, Benjamin leads a pretty dull and ordinary life. The center of that life, and of the film, is when his middle age overlaps with that of Daisy (Cate Blanchett), and they have upwards of a decade of happiness living together before fate draws them apart again. Huge props to the film for originality and creating a tremendous sense of time and place from 1919 to 2005, but really, nothing in it reached right out and grabbed me. This has not stopped it from being touted for multiple Oscars, so I'm probably in the minority here, but I can't in good conscience tell you "Ya gotta go see it!".
Bedtime Stories (PG, 1:39) — 6
This is the HMP. For those who have been striving heroically to forget ever knowing this, Happy Madison is the production company behind Happy Gilmore and Billy Madison. Yes, it's Adam Sandler's corporate tool for inflicting his obnoxious self on the innocent movie-going public. It is saved from the utter dreadfulness that is Sandler's invariant screen persona (here named Skeeter Bronson, hotel handyman by day and baby-sitting uncle by night) because it also features Keri Russell as Jill Hastings (day-shift baby-sitter), and she cancels him out. (Anyone who's ever seen either of these actors will realize how far out on the opposite end of the charisma seesaw this puts the other.) The rest of the film therefore gets to stand on its own merits, and it's actually pretty funny, as the kids' extemporaneous improvisations on Skeeter's bedtime stories come true (not always literally) the following day. A fabulous supporting cast (including Guy Pearce, Lucy Lawless, Richard Griffiths, Teresa Palmer, and a bug-eyed guinea pig) helps fill in the gaps. Does not aspire to greatness and achieves that objective.
The Spirit (PG-13, 1:42) — 5
A disappointment. It's done by Frank Miller in the same style that worked so well in Sin City, and it's a faithful adaptation of the great comic-book character created by the immortal Will Eisner, so I was really looking forward to it. But it was even more cartoonish live-action adaptation than Dick Tracy or Popeye, and I could never really relate to any of the characters, because they were so garishly overblown. Dead cop Denny Colt (Gabriel Macht) returns (sort of) to the land of the living after getting injected with an experimental drug by The Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson, cashing in all his Hormel stock in one giant blowout), climbing out of his grave, and periodically doing a little do-si-do with the embodiment of Death Herself. He's not completely invulnerable, but he sure can take a lickin' and keep on tickin', which he proceeds to do with style (white-soled Chuckie T's and a blood-red tie in an otherwise unsaturated palette) while trading snappy banter with all the gorgeous ladies on both sides of the law (Scarlett Johansson, Eva Mendes, Sarah Paulson, Stana Katic, and more). The extremely muddled plot, with multiple mcguffins, leaves you scratching your head until you figure out that the plot apparently isn't supposed to matter. Occasional comic relief from the many disposable Beagle Boy clones (Louis Lombardi) henching for The Octopus saved this one from dropping down to a 4. Man, what a shame. The Dark Knight demonstrated conclusively that a complex plot could be made lucid and 2D characters could be given a 3rd dimension in the right hands, and I figured Miller of all people could pull it off at least as well as Christopher Nolan. Not this time.