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Reviews for December 25th, 2008

Bedtime Stories

Directed by Adam Shankman.

Skeeter ( Adam Sandler) works as a janitor at Sunny Vista Nottingham Hotel. Back when he was a little kid, his father (Jonathan Pryce) sold a motel to Barry Nottingham (Richard Griffiths) who promised to hire him as the hotelís manager when he grows older. Now that motel has turned into a lavish hotel, Skeeter desperately wants to become its manager. He competes against Kendall (Guy Pearce) who also wants to the manager. His life changes when he accepts the job as a babysitter for, Bobbi (Laura Ann Kesling) and Patrick (Jonathan Morgan Heit), the two young children of his sister, Wendy (Courtney Cox). Jill (Keri Russell) also helps to babysit and serves as his love interest while Mickey (Russell Brand) serves as his best friend. When Skeeter tells the children bedtime stories, the stories magically re-occur in real life. None of those stories happen to be particularly funny or imaginative, though, unless gumballs that fall from a truck or a midget kicking Skeeter sound amusing. The liveliest character happens to be Bugsy, the bug-eyed guinea pig that also functions as much-needed comic relief. Co-screenwriters Matt Lopez and Tim Herlihy include too much silliness and donít take the plotís magical elements or comedy far enough. Moreover, Skeeter comes across as a dumb person who often gets on your nerves much like the little bratty kids that he takes care of. Itís alright that the relationship between him and Jill feels contrived, but does it really need to be so corny, especially the way that he wins her over. The dialogue before they kiss feels painfully stilted just like most of the dialogue between them. On a positive note, director Adam Shankman moves the film along at a brisk pace and includes a tuneful soundtrack. Oh, and thereís also a cameo by Rob Schneider, who shows up disguised just like in Adam Sandlerís prior films. Even if you manage to suspend your disbelief and to check your brain at the door, Bedtime Stories lacks the required thrills, imagination, comedy and drama required to be a truly entertaining family film. Instead, it ends up a contrived and mostly unfunny mess thatíll make you roll your eyes in either boredom or discomfort more often than not. The hilarious Bugsy the guinea pig deserves to be in totally different film of its own along with Rhino, the scene-stealing hamster from Bolt.
Number of times I checked my watch: 6.
Released by Walt Disney Pictures.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Directed by David Fincher.

Based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald. While lying on her deathbed, 80-year-old Daisy (Cate Blanchett) reads to her daughter, Caroline (Julia Ormand), the diary belonging to Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt), a lover from her past. The film then flashes back to 1918 when Benjamin Button was born in New Orleans looking like a very old man and his father (Jason Flemyng) abandons outside a retirement home where Queenie (Taraji P. Henson), a caretaker, finds him and raises him like her own child. At the age of 12, Benjamin, still looking like an old man, meets Daisy (Cate Blanchett), the granddaughter of one of the residents. He falls in love with her and, soon enough, they get separated from one another for many years. During that period, he works on a tugboat in WWII and has an affair a sexy woman, Elizabeth (Tilda Swinton). When he returns to New Orleans looking middle-aged, he runs into Daisy who now looks old enough to be his daughter and works as a ballerina, but he finds it difficult to rekindle their passion after she rejects him. Despite strong performances by all of the cast members, especially Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, the moments of romantic chemistry donít actually feel palpable enough to be truly endearing and the drama feels a bit contrived. Screenwriter Eric Roth, who also wrote Forrest Gump, structures the film in a way that jumps so quickly between stages of Benjaminís life without allowing you to become immersed enough with the events that happen to him, especially during his interactions with Daisy in his childhood days and then later on as he grows older, but looks younger. Sure, Benjamin remains a likable, interesting and unique character throughout, but the script simply lacks the crucial spark that should bring him to life. On a positive note, director David Fincher expertly infuses cinematography, CGI, make-up effects and an exquisite musical score which help to enrich and invigorate the film. He moves the pace at just the right speed so that it rarely drags at a rather lengthy running time of 2 hours and 46 minutes. If only the screenplay had taken its time to fully and organically flesh out its characters and their emotions, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button would have been a much more emotionally powerful experience.
Number of times I checked my watch: 3.
Released by Paramount Pictures.

Marley & Me

Directed by David Frankel.

Based on the book by John Grogan. Jenny Grogan (Jennifer Aniston) and her husband, John (Owen Wilson), move from Michigan to Palm Beach, Florida, where they settle down in new home. John gets a job as a reporter for a local newspaper while Jenny works as a journalist for different one. Instead of having a baby, they decide to adopt a small Labrador that they name Marley. Little do they know that, although Marley does look cute, he has serious behavior problems, such as knocking down and chewing furniture around the house. Even a brief session with a dog trainer (Kathleen Turner) doesnít help to train him into a well-behaving dog. In a silly subplot, Johnís best friend, Sebastian (Eric Dane), uses Marley whenever he can as a way to attract hot babes. Alan Arkin adds some dry, offbeat humor as a newspaper editor who doesnít laugh out loud at Johnís writing, yet says that itís very, very funny. He lets him have his very own column where he incorporates Marley into his witty writing. When John and Jenny have a child, they move to Boca Raton and, eventually, to Pennsylvania. By then, they struggle to raise two more children, and must also deal with Marley, whoís now a fully-grown Labrador. While the plot offers no real surprises and treads along formulaically, at least it does so with plenty of wit, breeziness and the charms of its cast, especially Marley. Any dog owner would easily be able to identify with what John and Jenny go through with Marley, especially when it comes to training him to not tear down the inside of the garage or other parts of the house or to stop him from drinking from the toilet bowl. Dogs can certainly be amazingly bright, though. At one point, Marley senses that Jennyís about to go into labor and stares at her belly as she lies in bed. Co-writers Scott Frank and Don Roos do their best not to include too much corny dialogue and to limit the amount of toilet humor---of course, thereís a scene played for laughs when Marley ďdoes his businessĒ, so-to-speak, where heís not supposed to and another when he swallows Jennyís necklace and John must wait for him to excrete it the next day. Thereís little chemistry between John and Jenny and the scenes between them feel a bit contrived, but what matters is that itís both fun and moving to watch how they bond with Marley in different ways. Gradually, they accept her as a member of their family. By the time Marley & Me ends, dog owners, especially, will be quite moved while everyone else will feel inspired to adopt a dog like Marley as part of their own family.
Number of times I checked my watch: 1.
Released by Twentieth Century Fox.


Directed by Bryan Singer.

During WWII, Col. Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise), an German army officer, leads a secret operation to assassinate Adolf Hitler (David Bamber) by detonating a bomb. After losing an eye an arm in a WWII battle, he meticulously hatches the plan with fellow officers, namely, Friedrich Olbricht (Bill Nighy), ex-Gen. Ludwig Beck (Terence Stamp), Gen. Erich Fellgiebel (Eddie Izzard) and Henning von Tresckow (Kenneth Branagh). Their plan includes having Hitler approve of Operation Valkyrie, which would allow secret forces take over if Hitler were to lose power, i.e. through arrest or death. Of course, Stauffenberg and the other officers also plan to kill those in Hitlerís chain of command so that they donít get in the way. In a poorly developed subplot, Stauffenberg occasionally calls his beloved wife (Carice van Houten) to make sure that sheís alright. The scenes when they embrace and interact with one another feel rather contrived. Fortunately, director Bryan Singer, who also directed The Usual Suspects, knows how to keep the audience at least mildly engaged through a pulsating musical score along with masterful camerawork and lighting. Co-screenwriters Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander do a decent job of establishing character development so that you root for Stauffenberg and his team to win, but the plot itself does eventually lag a bit in the second half of the film. As a result of the plotís tediousness and lack of the required surprise factor for a thriller, the tension wanes. The performances vary all across the board. Tom Cruise delivers a mediocre performance that fails to allow the audience to emotionally connect with his character, especially during the ultimate scenes. Only do Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy and Terrance Stamp and Tom Wilkinson manage to deliver truly solid performances here. With a more intelligent and taut screenplay, Valkyrie could have been much more riveting rather than merely be sporadically thrilling, mostly bland and, ultimately, underwhelming.
Number of times I checked my watch: 3.
Released by United Artists.

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