Aside from an appearance by soul stars The Stylistics in Castle Theater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center and assorted parties in clubs, resorts and homes near you, movies are what's happening on the entertainment front this week.
Maui Film Festival's 11th annual FirstLight Academy Screenings are doing their part to brighten the holidays in Castle Theater at the MACC.
The film series presents most of the award-worthy films of 2009, including recent Golden Globe nominees and likely Oscar contenders.
Universal Pictures photo via AP
It’s Complicated for Meryl Streep, Steve Martin, Alec Baldwin and Lake Bell
Some movies arrived in time for Christmas this week and others are opening Friday. These are Maui Scene Editor Rick Chatenever's mini-reviews, excerpts of wire service reviews and previews provided by studios and other sources.
New this week
"Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel" PG, 1:44, opened Wednesday at Kaahumanu 6 and Front Street Theaters.
Picking up where the last animated 2007 comedy hit left off, this one sends its rodent stars to high school where they get into cute naughty trouble involving passing gas and shots to the crotch before having their little hearts stolen by their girl-group rivals in the school talent show, The Chipettes. Veteran Betty Thomas directs in a squeaky clean direction.
"It's Complicated" R, 2:15, opens Friday at Maui Mall Megaplex, Kukui Mall 4 and Lahaina Wharf Cinemas.
The always perfect-for-the-role Meryl Streep stars in this light romantic comedy, playing the object of affection for ex-husband Alec Baldwin and new suitor Steve Martin. Writer-director Nancy Meyers, a specialist in comedies for grown-ups, reportedly makes life after divorce look like a whole lot of fun, with her A-list stars getting in the spirit of not taking themselves too seriously. Lake Bell, John Krasinski, Mary Kay Place and Rita Wilson co-star.
"Nine" PG-13, 1:50, opens Friday at Kaahumanu 6.
Coming full circle, this is Rob Marshall's screen adaptation of the musical based on Federico Fellini's "8 1/2," which was a movie about movies. It looks like it took an Oscar or two just to get to the casting call with Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Judi Dench, Kate Hudson, Nicole Kidman and Sophia Loren getting in the act. Marshall seems to be on a one-man quest to bring back movie musicals, beginning with "Chicago," and his A-list cast members all know their way around a song.
"The Road" R, 1:59, opens Friday at Maui Mall Megaplex.
Viggo Mortensen takes on the weight of Cormac McCarthy's post-apocalyptic Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, playing a father traveling with his young son, trying to survive in what's left of the world we used to know. The sun doesn't shine, plants don't grow, scavaging is their way of life ... along with trying to avoid cannibals. Kodi Smit-McPhee plays the boy in a cast also featuring Robert Duvall, Charlize Theron and Guy Pearce. John Hillcoat directs.
"Sherlock Holmes" PG-13, 2:23, opens Friday at Kaahumanu 6, Kukui Mall 4 and Front Street Theaters.
After rewriting the book on superhero action in "Iron Man," Robert Downey Jr. takes aim on another sacred cow in this comedy-action update of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's evergreen Victorian detective. With Judge Law as Dr. Watson and Guy Ritchie directing, Downey adds funny stuff to the brainy deductions, poking fun at Victorian propriety along the way. Rachel McAdams rounds out the merry band as the brilliant detective's elementary distraction.
"Up in the Air" R, 2:04, opened Wednesday at Maui Mall Megaplex, Kukui Mall 4 and Lahaina Wharf Cinemas.
Leading the Golden Globe field, this bittersweet blend of love, loneliness and hard times features George Clooney along with co-stars Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendricks in pitch-perfect performances. He plays a corporate terminator, logging hundreds of thousands of air miles a year to lay off white-collar workers whose bosses don't have the backbone to do it themselves. Writer-director Jason Reitman makes his own contribution, finding just the right tone in the bathos, mixing happy with sad and cynicism with compassion. Breaking the usual molds for romantic comedy, Clooney is great at playing guys who want to do the right thing, if they only had a clue what that is. This brilliant film offers the occasional glimpse of a silver lining to all those clouds in his world. Recommended.
"An Education" PG-13, 1:40, ends tonight at Kaahumanu 6.
A relationship between a 16-year-old girl (Golden Globe nominee Carey Mulligan) and a 35-year-old man (Peter Sarsgaard) is at the heart of this romantic drama set in 1961 London. Lone Scherfig directs from a screenplay by Nick Hornby, taking a "Lolita"-like premise and turning it into a PG-13-rated sophisticated entertainment that never panders, exploits or titters. The film's young star Mulligan is winning early comparisons to Audrey Hepburn for making her character so light, luminous and intelligent - getting the "education" the title promises in what's reported to be a most charming way. Alfred Molina and Cara Seymour co-star as her parents.
"Avatar" PG-13, 2:57, Maui Mall Megaplex (3-D, $3 surcharge per ticket); Kukui Mall 4 and Lahaina Wharf Cinemas.
After proclaiming himself "king of the world" for all the Oscars and all the bucks for "Titanic," producer-director and cinematic dictator James Cameron still holds the crown for this dazzling and provocative $300 million sci-fi epic. Nominated for a best-picture Golden Globe, it's set on a distant moon of a faraway planet. The story revolves around the contact between humans - or, rather, their avatar surrogates - with the locals, a graceful race of 12-foot-tall blue-skinned beings. Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana lead the mixed-species cast, along with Sigourney Weaver, no stranger to outer space, Stephen Lang and Giovanni Ribisi. Upping "state of the art" to the next level with its amazing creatures and equally amazing 3-D effects, Cameron never lets his technology trump his storytelling, which is touching, instructive and inspiring, all at once. Recommended. (See review on Page 2.)
"The Blind Side" PG-13, 2:24, Maui Mall Megaplex, ends tonight at Kukui Mall 4 and Front Street Theaters.
Moving from plucky to more of a no-nonsense brassiness, Sandra Bullock keeps up her irresistible ways in this redemptive sports comedy-drama based on a true story. She plays a wealthy, strong-willed Memphis wife who adopts a very large, homeless African-American teen and makes him part of her family. She also introduces him to the sport of football - a match made in heaven. John Lee Hancock writes and directs, showcasing newcomer Quinton Aaron as now real-life NFL lineman Michael Oher, but mostly letting Bullock do her lovable thing, as the film just keeps getting stronger at the box office. Recommended.
"Did You Hear About the Morgans?" PG-13, 1:59, Kaahumanu 6 and Front Street Theaters.
Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker play the dysfunctional couple on the brink of divorce in this hopefully witty ditty. After observing a nasty crime, they have to go into a witness protection program that whisks them away from sophisticated Manhattan and relocates them among the gun-toting rubes in a tiny Wyoming town. Watching the Morgans try to master guns and horses and their disastrous relationship produces the laughs. Sam Elliott, Mary Steenburgen, Elisabeth Moss, Michael Kelly and Wilfred Brimley co-star, with Marc Lawrence writing and directing.
"Disney's A Christmas Carol" PG, 1:51, Maui Mall Megaplex.
Ebenezer Scrooge is a role made in movie heaven for Jim Carrey, and techno-wiz director Robert Zemeckis adds motion capture and 3-D effects to jazz up Charles Dickens' evergreen holiday classic. The results are eye-popping, adding to the faithful adaptation of Dickens' original tale of the miser who comes to his senses after visits from several frightening ghosts one Christmas Eve. Gary Oldman and Colin Firth lead the supporting cast along with Cary Elwes, Robin Wright Penn, Bob Hoskins and Fionnula Flanagan.
"Invictus" PG-13, 2:12, Maui Mall Megaplex.
Clint Eastwood, who will be filming scenes for his newest movie in Lahaina next month, is back in the Oscar hunt, directing this inspirational true story from Nelson Mandela's South Africa. Morgan Freeman is perfect for the role of the imprisoned political leader who becomes the president of that apartheid-torn land. Matt Damon co-stars as the captain of the nation's rugby team who becomes Mandela's ally in reuniting the country. The stars, the story and the prodigious talents of director Eastwood, still going strong at 79, yield a project full of hope and noble purpose, that manages to encapsulate all of its complex social and political issues in the action on the field and in the stands. Nominated for three Golden Globes, it's recommended.
"Ninja Assassin" R, 1:54, ends tonight at Kaahumanu 6.
Korean pop star Rain and Naomie Harris lead the cast of this effort to rescue ninja in black pajamas from the realm of turtles and return them to the status of worthy adversaries. This blood-splattered bone-snapper directed by "V for Vendetta's" James McTeigue centers on a rogue hit man who betrays his clan of assassins.
"Old Dogs" PG, 2:24, ends tonight at Kaahumanu 6 and Front Street Theaters.
An old dog serves as narrator and color commentator on the peculiar antics of Robin Williams and John Travolta in this family comedy. They play sports agents forced into the role of daddies when a woman (Kelly Preston, Travolta's real-life wife) appears in their lives with twins she said Williams fathered. They have to take the kids for a few weeks while she spends time in jail for a political protest. Walt Becker directs the slapstick gags and Seth Green co-stars in the antics that might have been titled "Two Men and a Baby and Another Baby and an Old Dog."
"Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire" R, 1:50, Maui Mall Megaplex.
Young actress Gabourey Sidibe wins a Golden Globe nomination for her screen debut as a pregnant Harlem teen up against seemingly impossible odds in this gritty, challenging and ultimately unforgettable drama. For all the abuse she has and continues to endure - actress Mo'Nique has her own well-deserved nomination in the thankless role of Precious' mother - the movie sneaks in glimpses of humor, and hope. Lee Daniels directs, earning a best-picture nomination. Paula Patton and Mariah Carey co-star. Recommended.
"The Princess and the Frog" G, 1:52, Maui Mall Megaplex, ends tonight at Kukui Mall 4 and Lahaina Wharf Cinemas; opens Friday at Front Street Theaters.
Disney Studios return to Walt's original medium of hand-drawn animation to update the Brothers Grimm fairy tale. Moving the story to a 1920s Louisiana bayou, it tells of a waitress (Anika Noni Rose) whose dreams of opening her own restaurant are interrupted by the appearance of a frog named Naveen (Bruno Campos) claiming that he's really a prince under the slimy green skin. Ron Clements and John Musker direct, surrounding Disney's first animated black heroine with cute dialogue, lovable characters and a Randy Newman soundtrack.
"Planet 51" PG, 1:46, ends tonight at Kaahumanu 6.
A monster from outer space invades a suburban neighborhood in this family-targeted animated sci-fi comedy. Only, the monster this time is an astronaut and the homebodies are little green aliens, taking their cues from "Ozzie and Harriet." Dwayne Johnson, Jessica Biel, Justin Long, John Cleese and Gary Oldman provide the voices for this retrofitted return to the '50s, mostly to make fun of what passed for humor then. Jorge Blanco directs.
"The Twilight Saga: New Moon" PG-13, 2:25, Maui Mall Megaplex, Kukui Mall 4 and Lahaina Wharf Cinemas.
It's the second chapter of love with the proper vampire in this new adaptation of Stephanie Meyer's wildly successful book series. Young Bella Swan (Kristin Stewart) is once again willing to sacrifice everything to be with the vamp she loves, Edward Cullin (Robert Pattison) -but of course, things can never be that simple when it comes to romance. Taylor Lautner makes it a triangle as Bella's old friend who tries to help her, despite the presence of large wolves and other unsavory influences. Ashley Greene, Rachelle Lefevre, Billy Burke, Michael Sheen and Dakota Fanning co-star; Chris Weitz directs, passing the $200 million mark at the box office, thanks to an army of devoted teenage fans.
"2012" PG-13, 2:38, Maui Mall Megaplex.
Apocalyptic auteur Roland Emmerich destroys the world one more time in this epic vision of the end of the world inspired by a supposed Mayan prediction. John Cusack heads a cast also featuring Amanda Peet, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tom McCarthy, Oliver Platt and Woody Harrelson, but the real stars are the special effects, which can destroy California, Las Vegas, and Washington, D.C., with a single keystroke. Watch for the tidal wave carrying the aircraft carrier that trashes the White House. The grand-scale destruction brings new meaning to the word disaster, as the audiences in the theater don't seem to notice it's their own destruction that's providing their entertainment.