- The true meaning of Christmas, today and tomorrow at Film Forum.
Sherlock Holmes: I am not Jewish, but I still usually go to the movies on Christmas Day, because my family’s Christmas “dinner” typically ends around about three in the afternoon. Having gone out to the movies for the past four or five Christmases and mostly seen a bunch of lame comedies for the whole family, it’s a bit of a shock to potentially see what may be an enjoyably silly action-adventure movie with some degree of Downey-supplied panache. I hope this doesn’t mean that Sherlock Holmes actually sucks, because I’ve been fine with all of the trailers that apparently made a bunch of internet nerds nervous and/or derisive (or is that just their natural state?). Despite the fact that Guy Ritchie made one of the worst movies of the past ten years (and I’m talking about Revolver; I haven’t even seen Swept Away), he seems pretty much ideal for adding a bit of Style Lite to a committee-produced blockbuster; it’s not as if any Big Ritchie Ideas will get lost in the studio shuffle. Plus, Rachel McAdams!
The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus: Terry Gilliam has been a bit caught up in his Terry Gilliamness since around the time of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, whether that’s valiantly fighting to Gilliamize a fairly rote adventure fantasy like The Brothers Grimm or making Tideland so deeply personal that it doesn’t leave room for anyone else: characters, actors, audience members. The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus certainly fits the Gilliam-for-Gilliam’s-sake bill, but it also happens to be the most purely enjoyable movie he’s made in years. Make no mistake: he’s not in the groove of actually telling a semi-coherent story a la The Fisher King or Twelve Monkeys, but the semi-nonsensical Parnassus, which as far as I can remember involves a magic mirror portal to fantasy universes controlled by a thousand-year-old man, does enter Time Bandits/Baron Munchausen entertaining-insanity territory, where everyone looks kind of like a homeless fop or a deposed king turned mental patient. This is the type of movie where the improvised mid-production decision to use Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell, and Jude Law to complete star Heath Ledger’s unfinished performance makes as much sense as anything that was apparently considered suitable for the finished script. But in a good way! If you’re staying in NYC for the holidays, this is a viable alternative to family-film pabulum.
It’s Complicated: Given that It’s Complicated is a Nancy Meyers joint—one that actually, in fact, features a Nancy Meyers Joint, passed among no fewer than three characters for the same gag about how people, get this, act goofy when they’re high!—it’s surprisingly tolerable, which is to say that if your mom makes you see it, you might not throw up in the aisle. This is mainly due to Alec Baldwin playing a paunchy but smooth old dude zestily pursuing an illicit affair with his ex-wife, played, in flibbertigibbet comedy mode, by Meryl Streep. Streep and third triangle point Steve Martin also help out in the OK-sit department, though this being a Meyers picture, they do have to endure white sweaters and underwritten quips, respectively. I mean, I’m not saying It’s Complicated is particularly witty or observant or free of Meyers brand copper pots hanging in upper-upper-middle-class kitchens; it’s pretty much seventy percent decent premise and twenty percent characters discussing said premise more than actually participating in it (the remaining ten percent: renovations of already-lush homes). But if you’ve seen The Holiday, you know just how self-congratulatory, cutesy, overlong, and talent-squandering a Meyers movie can be. This comparably trim two hours at least has a bunch of scenes where Baldwin acts like a giddy teenager while flaunting his middle-aged girth, which I find sort of inherently delightful for some reason.
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakuel: You may only remember this if you’re in a certain age bracket (luckily, it’s the age bracket that almost certainly frequents this site), but before Alvin and the Chipmunks (which, by the way, is sort of like calling a band Paul Revere and the Humans) grossed a terrifying $200 million or so over the holiday season in 2007, they starred in another movie: The Chipmunk Adventure (1987), and in cartoon form as Baby Jesus intended. Now, no matter what you think or, more likely, half-remember of The Chipmunk Adventure, the facts are these: it was a motherfucking adventure. Even if it weren’t right there in the title, this movie features diamond smuggling, hot-air balloon races around the world, and competitive singing between two different all-oversized-chipmunk pop bands. That is some epic shit. Meanwhile, the children of the late aughts get such wild, inventive adventures as: the chipmunks messing about in a small house, mostly in the kitchen. Or, in this squeakuel: the chipmunks messing about in a generic school set, because for some reasons chipmunks that know how to talk are expected to attend school. I’m all for education, but come on: if you had a dog that could drive a car, you have to be a little bit deranged to say, OK, well, I guess we should enroll him in a truck-driving course, and you’d have to be pretty lazy to assume that this would provide enough incident or excitement for a feature film. I know less is supposedly more, but this is one case where less is just what Fox can get family audiences to settle for.