Chris Holland's blog

Review: The Lorax


The Lorax

There's a scene in Hannah and Her Sisters wherein Max von Sydow utters one of the best lines of his career: "If Jesus came back and saw what's going on in his name, he'd never stop throwing up."

There are those who probably feel the same way about the good works of Dr. Seuss. One one side there are those who say The Lorax is socialist propaganda aimed at indoctrinating our children into rejecting the free market. On the other side is a camp of people who think capitalism got its greedy claws too deep into the good Doctor's work and are horrified to see he who speaks for the trees hawking sport utility vehicles. There's controversy enough to keep the news networks and Lou Dobbses busy for a few days at least.

But what matter? The film adaptation of The Lorax is delightful. Like Seuss' other works and their cinematic derivatives, when the shallow political hullaballoo has passed, what remains will be memorable entertainment -- the best of the modern Dr. Seuss movies yet.

Eenie Meenie Miney Movies: December 2011


Emmet Otter

It's been just more than a year since Eenie Meenie Miney Movies started; I hope this column has been useful to you over the course of 2011. Leave a comment below if you've enjoyed it or have any suggestions for changes. -- Chris

Notable Theatrical Releases

Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chip-Wrecked (December 16, rated G) -- I didn't see the two previous Chipmunk movies, but the user ratings and reviews for the original and the Squeakquel (Debbie's review) lead me to believe they were mediocre at best. If you've already run through the other holiday offerings, however, the story of CGI animated rodents marooned on an island may be a necessary evil. Or maybe you can just go see The Muppets again.

I especially enjoy the little moment between Jason Lee and David Cross at about the 30-second mark of this trailer -- I'd like to think that they're poking fun of themselves and of the movie here.

Review: Arthur Christmas


Arthur Christmas

I'm a sucker for stories that offer a fresh take on an established convention. Whether it's a new spin on the tried and true zombie tale (28 Days Later) or a re-interpretation of Sherlock Holmes (let's choose the BBC's Sherlock over the Robert Downey Jr. movies, shall we?), it's great fun to watch accomplished storytellers take familiar material and make it feel new again.

Arthur Christmas does much the same with its behind-the-scenes look at the Miracle of Christmas. No, not the forgiveness of our sins through God made flesh. Rather: how exactly does Santa Claus travel around the world to deliver all those presents on a single night, especially now that the world's population has exceeded seven billion? (Santa will be relieved to know that only two billion or so of those are actually Christian, but still.) The answer does involve magic, but in the 21st century that magic has been seriously augmented with some technological widgetry. The sleigh and reindeer have been retired in favor of a sleek spaceship with stealth capability and thousands (millions?) of ninja elves who rappel from the ship's interior to deliver the goods with a personal touch.

The embodiment of Santa himself is a family legacy -- as each Santa reaches retirement age, he passes the mantle down to his son to keep things ho-ho-ho-ing along. The man next in line is Steve (Hugh Laurie), the power behind the bumbling current Santa (Jim Broadbent, who has never bumbled better). Steve attacks the problem of Christmas gift delivery with an efficiency and technological prowess that would make Apple envious, but his Christmas spirit pales in comparison to that of his younger brother, Arthur (James McAvoy). Arthur can barely make it down the hallways of the subterranean North Pole Christmas HQ without causing trouble, but no one believes in Santa quite like he does.

Review: Happy Feet Two


Happy Feet 2

It's taken a long time for me to be anything but suspicious of computer-animated movies coming from anyone but Pixar. The competing studios tended to favor style over substance, often eschewing character development and thoughtful storytelling for pop culture references and the flashiest animation they could manage. (And even that level of animation was often an embarrassment next to Pixar's artistry.) Recent CGI movies like How to Train Your Dragon and Rango seem to be breaking that trend a bit, but it's still kind of a crap shoot. 

Happy Feet Two skirts the line between the sincere attempt to tell a story and animated showpieces for their own sake. In the latter it is highly successful -- there's a level of spectacle on display here of which any animator could be proud. In the former, sadly, the film falls short. The central dilemma -- the hero's flock of fellow penguins is trapped in a valley of ice by a wandering iceberg -- is less than thrilling, though I suppose it's difficult to find a good threat that can be conquered by applied tap dancing. 

Spliced in between the scenes of penguin action are the adventures of two krill shrimp (Will and Bill, voiced by Brad Pitt and Matt Damon, respectively). The existential crisis of these two shrimp learning to live outside their swarm (Will maintains that he is destined to "move up the food chain") is easily the most entertaining thing about the movie. The shrimp seem to be more or less anatomically correct and yet anthropomorphized expertly, and the dialogue between the two is sharp enough to make me believe that these scenes were written separately from the rest of the movie. Not that there should be much surprise there -- four writers are credited for the screenplay. By the end of the story I was hoping the film would leave the penguins out of it entirely and shift into all-krill mode. Alas.

Eenie Meenie Miney Movies: November 2011


The Muppets

It's official: the holidays are here, and that means time spent with the kids. It's good to have some entertainment in your pocket -- especially if you can con a grandparent or other visiting relative into taking your urchins to the cineplex for you.

Notable Theatrical Releases

Happy Feet Two (November 18, rated PG) -- Remember when a film other than Pixar's latest release won the Best Animated Film Oscar? No? Well, it was 2006 and that film was Happy Feet, up against Pixar's Cars and Monster House. We saw the sequel to Cars this past summer and sure enough, here comes Happy Feet Two to make sure our holiday quota of dancing (and flying?) penguins is filled.

Eenie Meenie Miney Movies: October 2011


Rocky and Bullwinkle

Ssshhhhh ... you hear that? That's the sound of a very quiet month for family features in theaters. The closest we'll come in the month of October is Real Steel (Mike's review), a PG-13 robot-brawl movie with Hugh Jackman, and that's really only for older kids. There are a few special events mentioned below, but October is a wasteland for new releases for families.

Fortunately there's a whole world of home video options – so many, in fact, that it makes recommending home videos problematic. In this column, I focus on DVD/Blu-ray releases (which can be confusing as older movies make their first appearance on Blu-ray) and the Netflix "Watch Instantly" streaming service. (I call it Netflix Instant but the streaming service seems to have had a number of names over the years.) This can make my recommendations somewhat repetitive as a film like Disney's Tangled makes its way down the chain from theatrical to DVD and finally to Netflix Instant. Imagine how much more repetitive it would get if I included the other services, each of which has its own release windows.

Since there aren't any theatrical films to recommend this month, I'll use this space to spell out the different tiers of service available for home video -- maybe it will help you make some decisions about what services you want to use. If you don't need the discussion of video rentals, you can skip down to the home video recommendations below.

Review: Dolphin Tale


Dolphin TaleI have really mixed feelings about Dolphin Tale, which opens today in Austin theaters. On the one hand, it's relatively entertaining, has a couple of nice messages at its core, and it has some great actors in it. On the other hand, it is tailored and finessed within an inch of its life to win the affections of the audience. It does so by delivering trite-and-not-too-serious conflict, a fat handful of plot threads that weave together into a tidy narrative, and a deluge of boy-on-dolphin underwater footage that could easily be repurposed into a mesmerizing screensaver. Not that anyone but your local office products store has screensavers anymore, but you know what I mean.

To describe the plot fully would require several paragraphs and a score card. I'm pretty sure my 5-year-old daughter didn't catch all of it, but she waited patiently for the grownups to stop talking so the movie could get back to the kids and dolphins.

It boils down to this: Sawyer (Nathan Gamble) has trouble focusing at school, what with his daddy-abandonment issues and his college-aged cousin headed for a tour in the Middle East. Plans to catch up on his studies in summer school go awry when he finds himself rescuing a beached dolphin (eventually named Winter) and becomes The Only Person Who Can Inspire In It The Will To Live as it convalesces at the local aquarium.

The cast fills out with not one but two wrinkly voices of wisdom (Morgan Freeman and Kris Kristofferson), hot middle-aged mom Ashley Judd, aquarium brat Hazel (the adorable Cozi Zuehlsdorff, who is the best thing about the movie), and her dad Dr. Haskett (Harry Connick, Jr.), who is trying to save the dolphin and the down-on-its-luck aquarium at the same time.

Eenie Meenie Miney Movies: September 2011


Dolphin Tale

If you're a parent, September rolls in and BAM! Fall begins instantly. There's a similar jolt as the theatrical releases for kids dry up until Thanksgiving weekend and Christmas, so it's slim pickings for kids at the movies this month.

Notable Theatrical Releases

The Lion King 3D (September 16, rated G) -- I think I'm already on the record as being bored (if not outright offended) by the 3D movie hype. Lion King is a marvelous movie, but I don't think it will be helped much by the injection of 3D. I suppose it's an opportunity to see this Disney classic on the big screen though, even if you have to order some 2-D glasses.

Eenie Meenie Miney Movies: August 2011


Spy Kids 4

Summer's winding down as kids head back to school in a couple of weeks, so the theatrical releases are tapering off. There's still plenty of summer fun in local movie theaters (I took my daughter to see Winnie the Pooh last weekend and had a pleasant time), so take advantage of the glut of kids' movies out there while you can.

Notable Theatrical Releases:

Glee: The 3D Concert Movie (August 12, PG) - Not one for the younger kids, but it's not tough to imagine there will be 8-to-10-year-olds begging to see the Glee cast in concert. It's all the auto-tuned karaoke you can shake a stick at. Watch the trailer for a fun Jane Lynch cameo. (She's the only thing I miss about watching this show.)

Stage Magic Onscreen This Weekend in 'Make Believe'


Make Believe

Stage-magic documentary Make Believe screened to a packed house at Alamo Drafthouse earlier this week, so it's coming back this weekend for two afternoon screenings at the Alamo Ritz. The movie won an audience award at Austin Film Festival last year.

Quoth the Alamo synopsis:

"This amazing documentary exposes the steamy and high-stakes world of teenage magic competitions as it follows six adolescent outsiders who all share an extraordinary passion for the art of trickery. Armed with great skill and a dazzling array of illusions, these teenagers embark from all over the world to attend the annual World Magic Seminar in Las Vegas, where they each hope to be named Teen World Champion by master magician Lance Burton.  From the producers of the fabulous KING OF KONG, this film will leave you inspired and dumbfounded, as it showcases some of the most incredible, eccentric young performers working today."

I'm assured by some of the folks doing PR for the film that it's kid friendly and tons of fun.

Get details and tickets for these screenings at the Alamo Drafthouse website.

The trailer for Make Believe is embedded below.

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