Sunday, December 26, 2010

“Movie review: ‘Gulliver’ delivers little laughs, quality - Omaha World-Herald” plus 1 more

“Movie review: ‘Gulliver’ delivers little laughs, quality - Omaha World-Herald” plus 1 more


Movie review: ‘Gulliver’ delivers little laughs, quality - Omaha World-Herald

Posted: 26 Dec 2010 02:45 AM PST

It begins with a very short cartoon starring that pre-historic "Ice Age" squirrel and ends with a big song-and-dance number. But no, "Gulliver's Travels" isn't all filler. Even though it sometimes seems that way.

Gulliver's Travels

Cast: Jack Black, Emily Blunt, Amanda Peet, Jason Segel, Billy Connolly

Director: Rob Letterman

Running time: 1 hour 23 minutes

Rating: PG for brief rude humor, mild language and action

This Jack Black vehicle plays to a few of Black's strengths — his physicality, his musicality, his eyebrows. But even at 83 minutes (plus a three-minute cartoon) it's a drag. What's most surprising about this version of a big man among Lilliputians is how little film technology has improved in the art of putting that life-size person in that teeny, tiny world.

Black plays Lemuel Gulliver, a lonely loser obsessed with "Star Wars." When he finally gets up the nerve to ask out travel editor Darcy (Amanda Peet), he backs himself into an assignment. Yeah, he's a writer. Yeah, he's traveled.

A little Internet cut-and-paste plagiarism gives him credibility, and she's convinced he's the right guy to send on a "Bermuda Triangle" travel story. And that's when his rented trawler is sucked into a whirlpool and dropped, with Gulliver, in a land of English-accented Lilliputians, ruled by Billy Connolly, with Emily Blunt as a prissy princess and Chris O'Dowd as an arrogant Gen. Edward Edwardian, suitor to the princess.

Alas, poor Horatio (Jason Segel) is but a commoner, lacking the pedigree or "act of valor" to make him worthy to pursue that same princess.

Gulliver copes with Lilliput the way he coped with his real life — with exaggeration. On his island, Manhattan, he was president — "President Awesome." And after he bails Lilliput out of a conflict with rival state Blefescu, all things Gulliver become cool in Lilliput.

The lies pile up, but Gulliver is on a roll, helping Horatio woo the princess (Blunt is properly dotty, Segel dull).

But sooner or later, the lies will be revealed and Gulliver will have his Lilliput-up-or-shut up moment.

Jonathan Swift's classic satire long ago lost the satiric sting it packed in the 18th century. The moral of the story is now "I'm a big shot for the first time in my life."

And when your big laugh is how a big guy with fully functioning kidneys might put out a little bitty fire, well ...


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The five weirdest Christmas movies ever - msnbc.com

Posted: 16 Dec 2010 02:31 PM PST

Sure, everyone loves "It's a Wonderful Life" or "White Christmas," but what about the time Martians kidnapped Santa, or when his reindeer abandoned him on a Florida beach because they couldn't take the heat?

TODAYshow.com contributor Alonso Duralde has published a new book, "Have Yourself a Movie Little Christmas" (Limelight Editions), which explores every imaginable kind of Yuletide cinema, from standards such as "A Christmas Story" to slightly more out-there suggestions such as "Die Hard," "Gremlins," and "Eyes Wide Shut." We asked Duralde to share the five strangest Christmas movies from his book with us.

'The Christmas That Almost Wasn't'
On the eve of his annual trip around the world to give out presents, Santa Claus gets the bad news that mean old millionaire Phineas T. Prune has bought the North Pole and plans to foreclose on Santa's workshop in order to cancel Christmas. (This is one of those stories where the message is: no presents, no Christmas. Did we learn nothing from the Grinch's assault on Whoville?)

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Santa asks kindly attorney Mr. Whipple for help; Whipple's big idea is to get his client a job as a department store Santa so he can raise the money to pay back Prune — only to have Prune buy the store and force Santa and Whipple to hand over their salaries to pay for toys they broke. When all seems lost, the children of the world are there to give Santa a hand — but can St. Nick teach Prune to love Christmas?

Weirdnesses: The elves are played by short men wearing women's wigs; cast members speak either Italian or English, so the dubbing is all over the place; Santa sings a song called "I've Got a Date With Children."

'Santa Claus Conquers the Martians'
The children of Mars, who are treated like adults and have never been allowed to laugh and play, spend their days glumly glued to TV broadcasts from Earth, particularly those shows dealing with Santa Claus. Concerned about the young people, Martian ruler Kimar organizes an expedition to kidnap Santa and to bring him to the red planet. Clumsy Dropo tags along, and the Martians also wind up kidnapping Earth kids Billy and Betty for their valuable Santa-related intel.

Back on Mars, the evil Voldar tries to eliminate Santa, but he accidentally makes off with Dropo, who is dressed in the red suit, instead. Santa eventually realizes that Dropo can become the new Martian Santa, so the jolly old man bids farewell to the kids of Mars — including Kimar's daughter, Girmar (Pia Zadora, in her screen debut) — and returns to Earth with Billy and Betty.

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Weirdnesses: The Martians — all of them green skinned and bearing antennae, of course — carry advanced weapons that look suspiciously like Wham-O Air Blasters, and their deadly robot is so obviously made of cardboard boxes you can almost see "Kenmore" on the side. Also, you will never, ever get the theme song, "Hooray for Santa Claus," out of your head.

'Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny'
Santa's elves sing an incoherent song (sample lyrics: "Tra-la-la-la-la-la/But where is Santa Claus?/Tra-la-la-la-la-la Santa isn't here") and manhandle store-bought toys. Meanwhile, Santa Claus finds himself stuck on a Florida beach, abandoned by his flying reindeer, who couldn't take the heat of the Sunshine State. Santa rallies the local kids — including one who's jumping off the roof of his house holding a giant patio umbrella; don't try this at home, kids! — to come help him out. (Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn drift in as well. Don't ask.)

The kids try attaching various animals (a cow, a pig, a sheep, a guy in a gorilla costume, etc.) to the sleigh, but none of the beasts can budge the thing. Santa tells the kids they've got to believe in their dreams and never give up, which prompts him to launch into the story of Thumbelina, which is clearly a whole other movie — a featurette filmed at the now-defunct Florida theme park Pirate's World — that's been stuck inside this one. Once the cheesy fable has ended, the kids figure out a solution — they go to Pirate's World and fetch the Ice Cream Bunny, who rides an old-timey fire truck to the beach. He picks up Santa in the truck and takes him home.

Weirdnesses: Who is the Ice Cream Bunny? What are his powers? Why is the Ice Cream Bunny costume so mangy and grimy looking? Why does it take this movie more than an hour to resolve five minutes' worth of plot?

Slideshow: Movies for the holidays (on this page)

'The Magic Christmas Tree'
So these kids have a long conversation about Halloween at school, and later that day, one of them helps the neighborhood's weird old lady get her cat Lucifer out of a tree. The kid bumps his head and suddenly the movie's in color and the old lady says she's a witch. To thank him, she gives him a ring with a magical seed inside — if he plants the seed under the wishbone of a Thanksgiving turkey, he'll get a Christmas tree that will grant three wishes.

So then there's this talking tree that the kid's dad can't chop down, and then the kid's parents and sister choose the evening of Christmas Eve to go out shopping. The kid asks the tree for "an hour of absolute power," which apparently gives him the ability to redecorate and to play stupid pranks that involve firemen and pie fights. Then he asks to have Santa all to himself, so the tree kidnaps the jolly old man, but then the kid meets a giant in the forest and realizes he's been selfish so he uses his third wish to cancel the second wish. And then he wakes up. THE END.

Weirdnesses: Occult storytelling plus low-budget surrealism plus a tree that talks like Charles Nelson Reilly equals one ice cream headache of a Christmas movie.

Slideshow: Winter movie guide

'Santa Claus'
As Christmas Day approaches, Santa Claus prepares to brings toys to all the good children of the world with the assistance of his staff of magical helpers. Satan hopes to destroy Santa Claus and sends the demon Pitch to Earth to create havoc on Christmas Eve. Pitch focuses on three mean little boys, encouraging them to make mischief, and he also tries to convince poor young Lupita to steal a doll rather than to believe that Santa will bring her one.

Santa makes a little rich boy's wishes come true by sending the child's parents home to spend more time with him — it involves a "cocktail of remembrance," long story — but Pitch sabotages Santa's magic sleep powder and the flower that allows him to become invisible. Can Merlin the Magician save the day before the sun rises on Dec. 25?

Weirdnesses: In this take on jolly old St. Nick from "Wrestling Women vs. the Aztec Mummy" director René Cardona, Santa lives in the clouds with a bunch of child slaves who make all the toys before going to Earth in a sleigh pulled by creepy wind-up toy reindeer. And did I mention that Satan is a major character?

Alonso Duralde is a frequent contributor to TODAYshow.com. His book, "Have Yourself a Movie Little Christmas," is available at bookstores everywhere. TODAYshow.com readers who order at MusicDispatch.com can get 25 percent off plus free shipping. Enter promo code NY9 at checkout. (Free shipping is by least expensive ship method and applies to U.S. orders only.)

© 2010 MSNBC Interactive. Reprints

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