YOGI BEAR, starring Dan “Yogi” Aykroyd and Justin “Boo Boo” Timberlake

Mayor Brown has bankrupted the city by his mismanagement. That won’t look good to his constituents
when he runs for governor, so he’s got to do something to take care of all that red ink. He walks over
to his wall map and stares at it for a long moment. Suddenly, the answer occurs to him. He’ll sell the
logging rights for all those trees in Jellystone Park! With the money made from this business venture,
he’ll fill up his city’s accounts and have enough left over for each and every citizen to get $1000 in vote-
for-me money.

Jellystone Park shut down you say? Yes, and if they can’t make a movie out of that premise, they can’t
make a movie.

Happily, they can and did. Yogi Bear is surprisingly good. It has a fairly complex plot, recognizable
character development, realistic motivations, physical and psychological suspense, and even a couple of
poignant moments. Two nice-looking lonely people fall in love, foil the evil villain and save a wonderful
natural resource. The solution to the problem is not evident from the beginning, nor is it a deus ex
machina resolution, than which nothing is more irritating. It is subtly foreshadowed, believable,
eminently sound, and politically correct. In short, everything you need for a perfect fix for Jellystone’s
woes.

Of course, Yogi is just for kids, and you won’t be able to sit through it if you don’t have some kids with
you, or unless you’re previewing it to see if it’s a good fit for your children. I took four of mine without
previewing it first, because the trailers looked harmless and the 3D effects looked fun (flying turtle,
flying grub, flying soda).

There’s not too much to worry about, even if you’re as much as a Puritanical (capital P) stickler as I am.
There are two or three bodily-function references. There is a very short clip from a hip-hop song about
large derrieres, but it is sung while Yogi and Boo Boo are swinging theirs, so unless your little ones have
more insight than is good for them, the innuendo will fly right over their little heads. The love story
between the Ranger and the Movie Lady is awkward and a little embarrassing, but your kids will think
it’s sweet.

So, sure, go ahead and take the little dears. But make sure you’re on time, because you don’t want to
miss Rabid Rider, the Wile E. Coyote/Road Runner short prior to the movie. This too-short short is worth
the price of admission. Wile E. has a Segway that doesn’t necessarily obey his body movements. You
can imagine what happens next. It’s wonderful fun to watch Wile E. get run over, dropped, smashed,
electrocuted, and surrounded by angry Segways while Road Runner beep-beeps along his merry way.

Both Yogi and Road Runner are faithful to the versions you remember, so don’t worry, no one is
messing with your Saturday morning nostalgia here.

127 HOURS, starring James Franco

In the world of cautionary tales, this one’s a doozy.

You’d think that any 28-year-old would know better than to go out into the vast, unforgiving wilderness without letting anyone know where he is going, but Aron Ralston (played by James Franco) is a carefree young man who likes to go it alone, doesn’t want people in his business, and in fact, seems to enjoy not telling people what’s going on with him.

So, out he goes on a solo weekend hiking trip in Utah. He bumps into a couple of cute girls and has a bit of fun with them—no, nothing like that, just fun—and then continues on his merry way by himself. The girls are a little blip in his life so that we are aware that other people do hike that area.

Not too much later, he scoots down into a narrow canyon or crevice (it’s maybe six feet wide), and as he’s walking along, a great big boulder slides down the wall of the canyon and wedges his right arm tight against the canyon wall.

What follows are the titular 127 hours of agony during which Ralston tries everything that can be tried, given the equipment he has, to dislodge the rock. Failing to budge the boulder, he does the unthinkable—and yet the inevitable—and cuts off his arm just below the elbow. He still has a long way to go, but once the arm is off, you’ll breathe a little easier, though you’ll continue to be jumpy until the end.

Much is made of the fact that he should have told someone where he was going, and that it would have been great to have along his Swiss Army knife, but I’m not at all sure either of these precautions would have made any difference. His arm certainly was lost the moment the boulder crushed it, and in no case would anyone have come searching for him in less than a day or two, during which time the loss of circulation would have made the arm’s loss certain. The sharper knife would have made the actual operation easier, but once you get through to the choice of “I am going to cut off my arm,” probably the mechanics are not the main thing, though of course a sharp knife is always better than a dull one.

The other precaution he could have taken was to have someone come along for the adventure, but that would have defeated the purpose of spending time alone in nature. It’s not really getting away from it all if you haven’t gotten away from it all. As a woman with a lot of kids, I understand this need to be completely, totally alone, but I’m thinking that for a guy like Ralston, the long bubble bath with Tolstoy and a hot tea is not going to cut it, so I won’t bother recommending that as an alternate form of escape.

The auto-amputation is fairly gruesome, although not unwatchable. I watched it, but then again, I like to chase fires and pick scabs. It was the urine drinking that about knocked me out; I forced myself not to look away, but to drink it all in, so to speak.

So my point is that I don’t think the arm could have been saved no matter what Ralston had done differently, other than simply stay home. Moral: things happen. You can’t eliminate risk from your life no matter how prepared you are. However, you can face bad things with an undefeatable determination to live. This is Ralston’s best quality: the guy doesn’t give up.

Interestingly, although stuck in an unwinnable situation, Ralston does not turn to God. Nor does he, in the face of imminent death, appear to have any need to make peace with his Creator. Which is not to say that the real Ralston didn’t beg and pray and plead with God for rescue, only that it’s not in the movie.

What is in the movie—and what makes this movie valuable—is Ralston’s calmness in the face of a really bad set of circumstances: it’s cold out there, there’s just a little water left, no one knows where he is, and there’s a boulder crushing his arm.

He remains settled in his determination to live as long as possible, to continue trying to dislodge the rock, and to keep himself together. Of course his mind and body begin to betray him as he is exposed, dehydrated, and probably in shock for five days, but even so, Ralston stays calm with little blips of panic. He does not give in to the fear, which is a lesson everyone should take home with them. The fact is, you don’t know at what moment a catastrophe will befall you and you need to keep your wits about you.

This is a good movie. I’m not sure it’s a great movie. It’s certainly a great performance by James Franco, and is reminiscent of Tom Hanks in Cast Away. It can’t be easy to carry a movie essentially as a one man show, and while Hanks had an entire island to move around in and a volleyball to talk to, Franco’s stuck in a crevice talking to himself and his family as he records final thoughts for them on his video camera. Nor did Chuck Nolan have hallucinations, while Ralston is beset with them from pretty early on.

The scenery is breathtaking, the loneliness palpable. Don’t eat popcorn. I understand some people are not keeping theirs down when the icky parts happen, and theater workers are not really paid enough to take care of that sort of thing.

Not for little kids. If, like me, you don’t actually understand the call of the vast outdoors, you might not care about this movie, except that it is a true story and James Franco is really good at what he does. I thought he was kind of smarmy in Eat, Pray, Love, so this role definitely ups him in my book. (Honestly, I thought all of EPL was smarmy; it’s not Franco’s fault.)

If you have adventure-prone sons, you might want to sit them down and make them watch this film, although there is a little bit of skin. Whether it will change anyone’s behavior is iffy at best. Guys like this don’t like being told what to do, when to check in, or that they ought to carry away an important message from a movie. Still, it’s worth a try.

THE TOURIST, starring Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp

This is more of a photo-shoot-with-a-plot than a movie.  Like a magazine spread with a gangster theme. I say that because there are endless shots of Ms. Jolie walking languidly in form-fitting clothes, posing this way, then that.  Long, loving attention is given to her backside as she sways slowly away on five-inch heels.  Unsubtle commentary about her figure from the men who are surveilling her. And so forth.

I agree that Angelina is deeply, unusually beautiful. And I’m not saying that there isn’t a call for a movie that simply dwells on that beauty. One imagines a documentary called Ageless Angie or Beauty and the Brad, but whatever.  I’m saying it’s a bit much, and if I were making a suggestion to a young man about a movie to take his girl to, it would not be this one. The poor guy is likely to drool all over himself, prompting his girlfriend to have deep, pensive second thoughts about him.

Ms. Jolie plays Elise Clifton-Ward as a smoldering beauty in love with a thief, Alexander Pearce, who has bilked the British Treasury out of back taxes to the tune of £700,000,000. The Brits want their money, and I don’t blame them as this is about a billion bucks, and these are hard times, Mr. Obama’s comment about the recession being over last year notwithstanding. Pearce seems to owe this money on account of scamming another thug out of 2.3 billion pounds. It’s as though Mr. Madoff owes the government taxes on the money he stole. Is this true? If I rob a bank do I owe taxes on my take? If they recover the principal, do I still owe the taxes on it? And how do I report this on my 1040?

Anyway, back to the story: To throw off those who are looking for Elise’s inamorato, Elise is directed to find someone the same height and build of this Alexander.  She will then cozy up to this man and Scotland Yard will be fooled into thinking that Mr. Similar is actually Mr. Pearce.

This is where Johnny Depp comes in as Frank Tupelo, a Wisconsin math teacher on holiday. His sweet comic bumbling is the perfect foil to Elise’s slow, provocative dance. Good thing, too. If he had been dashing and suave instead of playful and ill-at-ease, I might have fallen asleep in my seat.

There’s a boat chase or two through the waterways of Venice, some rooftop scrambling, a fun fall into a fruit market, and other things of that sort. Ms. Jolie appears in many different lovely outfits from casual traveling clothes to a truly stunning black ball gown. Frankly, she’s just showing off if you ask me. Of course, if I looked like her, I would do the same, all the time, everywhere, and with loads of diamonds around my throat too, so I don’t blame her.

The ending is a little quirky, but it’s not terrible. It could even be called sweet.

This is an okay movie if you like this sort of thing: not an action thriller, not a romance, not a comedy, not a drama. I’m not sure what it is, except that it’s not actually bad, and the people are pretty.

There is one scene of disturbing violence in which a man is strangled to death, which sort of wrecked the whole comic façade of this sort-of cute movie.  There’s no skin, although there is a little bit of lace. A little bit of kissing, and there’s a little bit of language.  Sort of a throw-away movie, really. See it if you have nothing better to do.

VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER, starring Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, Ben Barnes

Green mist, blue stars, dissolving slaves, and stow-away little girls! Seven magic swords that must be laid together on Aslan’s table to defeat evil and bring peace to all men! Where have I heard this story before?

Not in anything C.S. Lewis wrote, that’s for sure.

I hate to do this to you, because I know you’ve been waiting for this movie as long as I have, that is, since Prince Caspian. However, they say that  all good things must come to an end,  and in this case, I think we need to write finis over the Chronicles of Narnia, at least so far as making movies goes.

Or, if these  people feel that they must bring us Silver Chair, let’s make  them to promise that they’ll read the book first.

In the much-better Prince Caspian, Caspian ousts his evil uncle Miraz the Usurper with the help of the Ancient Kings and Queens and, of course, Aslan, who Himself destroys the bad guys with a supernatural rising of the River. Those who repent are saved; the unrepentant are destroyed.

Years before,  Miraz had exiled Caspian’s father’s seven friends to the East. Now that Caspian is king and the land is settled in peace, he must go find them, alive if possible.  The book takes us from one find or rescue to the next without any logical progression. The next thing just happens.  Because of the lack of linkage, making the movie was bound to be tricky. Something had to be added to make these disparate adventures cohere.

They chose a green fog. Reminiscent of the Death Angel in Ten Commandments, it floats along the ground and corrupts people. Scares people.  Tempts people to evil.   It even dissolves people who are sacrificed to it, and therein lies Caspian’s Quest. He must seek the source of the Green Mist and destroy it by gathering the 7 magic swords of the 7 missing lords and laying them on Aslan’s table. When the Power  of the Swords is thus assembled, evil will be vanquished, the lost  captives  will be found, and Caspian can go on to the Utter East with Reepicheep, Lucy, Edmund, and Eustace.

But wait, you say. Caspian doesn’t go to the Utter East with them.  He returns to Ramandu’s Island so he can kiss the girl and then take her back to Narnia. Yes, yes, that’s what happens in the book. You must leave what you know about the book behind when you come to the movie. Otherwise you will be irritated by all the things they made up and stuffed in here.

Not only do lots of things happen that don’t happen in the book, many of your favorite parts are left out, including (importantly for Christians who enjoy the Christ-allegory of this series) the important spiritual points, such as the sovereignty of God in salvation (tearing off the sin nature). Here, we learn only that you should love what you have, not seek for what you do not have, and be your own best self.

Here is a sampling of things that don’t happen in the movie. (These are just off the top of my head; I haven’t read the book in two or three years, so I am probably missing some.)

Trumpkin is not mentioned as having been left as Regent. Governor Gumpas does not rule the Lone Islands. In fact, Governor Gumpas  is not in the movie at all. The Lord Bern does not rescue Caspian from slavery, nor is he made Governor. The Lord Drinian does not signal to the “rest of the fleet.”  Eustace does not fling Reepicheep around by his tail. Master Rhince is not an original member of the crew, and Lucy is not the only girl on board. Eustace does not find himself in a dragon’s cave with “another” dragon whose movements and breath terrify him. Eustace does not tear off layers of skin. Aslan does not tear off Eustace’s dragon skin, but twirls him around in the air while his body transforms (think Beauty and the Beast here). The Lord Octesian’s ring does not tear into Eustace’s flesh. The Dark Island is not dark. Men do not experience their dreams. Lucy does not go to the fighting top to call on Aslan.  Aslan does not speak to her in the form of the albatross. No shoe-tips turn gold.  The Duffelpuds do not “yessir” their Chief. Reepicheep does not show them how to sail. Lucy does not say a charm to make her more beautiful than the lot of mortals, but only wants to be as pretty as Susan (an odd thing, since Lucy knows what she will look like when she grows up, having already been grown up). The Lord Rhoop does not find rest at Aslan’s table because he is picked up later.  No one wants to stay on Ramandu’s Island. We do not go into the Darkness because Reepicheep says, “Let it never be said that men of Narnia failed to undertake an adventure because they were afraid of the dark,” but because Ramandu’s daughter told them they have to go. The Sea Serpent is not pushed off the Dawn Treader. Caspian does not send off the children and Reepicheep with tears. We do not turn and watch the Dawn Treader until we can’t see it any longer.  Caspian is not in love with Ramandu’s daughter, nor does she tell him, “In this world, you must win glory and honor first and then you can kiss the girl.” (Sorry, I don’t have the wording right on that). Caspian’s crew does not attempt to talk him out of traveling to the World’s End, but apparently just lets him go. Aslan does not appear to Caspian in his cabin, but actually gives him an opportunity of leaving Narnia forever.

The end is not emotionally charged like the ends of the other two movies. I think Edmund and Lucy are too old, and Georgie Henley has not yet learned to deliver a convincing line.  Eustace is unbearable as he should be. Caspian seems to have lost his faux-Spanish accent.

Edmund’s flashlight  battery is still good. They  must have made super long-life batteries during the War years.

Also, strangely, the War is still on in London, but Mr. and Mrs. Pevensie and Peter and Susan have all gone to America on (presumably) the lecture tour.  It’s odd that Peter and Mr. Pevensie can be spared from the War effort at this critical juncture when there are long lines at the enlistment office.  In fact, Edmund and Lucy have gone to the Scrubbs’ house because of the War. This is all very mixed-up. (In the book, they are only there for the summer while the lecture tour is on.)

In a moment of hope-for-the-future, the moviemakers put this line at the end:

Mrs. Scrubb calling up the stairs: “Eustace, Jill Pole is here to see you!”

I think they will be disappointed if they think moviegoers will want to give them another chance with Eustace and Jill fighting off Bad Kids and throwing The Head out on her can.  I think that people who are not already fans of the Lewis books will not bother with this movie. And those (like me) who are fans (except for the ending of The Last Battle, which is blasphemous) will likely be annoyed by the stark, fundamental  differences between the book and the movie.

[Speaking of blasphemy, there was an advertisement just prior to our movie  for Left Behind: the Rise of AntiChrist, the videogame. I kid you not. Now you can play your way through Revelation with, seemingly, a magic guitar that wards of evil spirits. ]

FAIR GAME, starring Sean Penn and Naomi Watts

In the rancorous two-party system in which we find ourselves, even seeing a movie designed to make President George W. Bush look bad can bring people from certain circles  into disrepute, let alone writing about it.  But hey, I’m nothing if not a risk-taker, so here goes.

Fair Game is a disturbing movie about America’s war in Iraq. Sure, it’s also about the disgraceful outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame,  but the main question asked in the movie is not, “Did Scooter Libby (or Karl Rove or Robert Novak)  screw up?” but “Did we have any real basis for shocking and aweing these people out of their country?”

The irrelevant question of Saddam’s general culpability for mass murder and the flip-side question, “Don’t you see that regular Iraqis are far better off now than they were?” are untouched. What is touched is this searing question:  Did we have the goods on Iraq or didn’t we?

That’s the question posed by this film.  I’m no operative (at least I can’t admit to being one), but I’m thinking that even illegal identification of spies is a foreseeable occupational hazard of working at Langley.  It’s not enough to make a movie out of.  So although the movie is called Fair Game, because Ms. Plame was declared “fair game” in the attempt to smear her husband (and, presumably,  because she is a lovely woman and also “game” in this hunt),  her identification is not the central point of this movie.

This movie is about why we went to war in Iraq.  It’s about Joe Wilson—Valerie Plame’s husband—who took a trip to Niger and found that there was no evidence of a reported sale of 500 tons of uranium to Saddam for use in his supposed nuclear program. When President Bush announced that there was such a sale and that on account of this sale we had weighed Iraq in the balance and found them wanting a good bombing, Mr. Wilson lost his cool, wrote up the facts about the non-existent uranium sale and published the piece in the New York Times.

In retaliation for this bit of Bush-whacking, Joe’s wife, Ms. Plame, is identified in the national press as a CIA agent. Her cover blown sky-high, all her numerous overseas covert operations are compromised, including the evacuation of Iraqi nuclear scientists from Iraq.  America abandons these men and their families to sure disaster and then bombs Baghdad’s lights out.  The Wilson-Plame marriage frays around the edges, then unravels as Joe insists that Valerie defend herself, while Valerie says, “It’s the White House, Joe. Do you think you can stand up against the most powerful men in the history of the world?”

In the end, Scooter Libby—the fall guy in the Vice President’s Office—is indicted, convicted, and sentenced for leaking Ms. Plame’s creds, and the President commutes the sentence, so no harm done.  To him. Scooter scoots off scot-free, except for the $250,000 fine, which he presumably can pay out of the royalties from his mass market paperback thriller, The Apprentice.

The Wilson-Plame family now lives in New Mexico. Scooter Libby has been disbarred.  Four thousand American soldiers have died in Iraq. George W. Bush lives in Texas.

Sean Penn as Joe Wilson is at the top of his game. Naomi Watts  as Valerie Plame is lovely and convincing.

If you’re a Democrat, you’ll love this show. If you’re a Republican not overly-drenched in tea, you can probably see it, but if you’re a talk radio devotee, my friend, do yourself a favor and stay away: you’ll give yourself an aneurysm.

NUTCRACKER, starring Elle Fanning

Animated by the premise that I disagree with everything Roger Ebert says, I tried as hard as I could to enjoy this movie. I completely failed.  This may not be the worst movie ever made, but it is surely the worst movie I have ever subjected myself to, and I’m including here the disastrously awful Jurassic Park III, in which I hoped that horrid ungrateful little boy would be torn apart by T-Rexes.

At the very beginning of the movie, I was informed that this movie is a “UK/Hungary production.”  I smiled, because I am myself a UK/Hungary production if you go back only two generations! (That we were always called “Reynolds” as opposed to “Goldberger” is a family shame…but I digress. The point is that I thought the UK/Hungary thing was neato and portended at least a watchable show.)

Let’s be clear that the original story of the nutracker is horrible–there’s a hairy Rat King and a wooden soldier who becomes a Man in Tights–and that only the music and the ballet save it. Sans the ballet and with inane words added to the music, all the beauty is gone. Add in toy crematoria and an effeminate, tap-dancing Hitler with a wig-changing mother who casts curses and drinks rat juice,  and you have the ingredients of an utter disaster. That someone thought of this is not surprising–artists think up all sorts of nonsense.  That someone financed it is simply not forgivable, may they lose all their money.

I suppose a sort of parlor game could come of this movie. People could sit around munching pretzels and someone could say, “I know! Let’s play, ‘List the top 100 bad things about Nutckracker in 3D.‘”  There are at least 100.  In fact, this could be a real reason to watch the movie. Sort of a What’s Wrong With This Picture exercise.

Enough said. This is a tremendously bad movie.  I went alone, and when I got home, my middle son said, “Mama! Are you okay?” I looked that bad. Speaking of looking bad, Mary (played by Elle Fanning, Dakota’s little sister)–don’t ask me why her name isn’t Clara–goes to tremendous lengths, climbing conveyor belts of toys on their way from the Ghetto to the incinerator to save the Prince, who then says to her, “You look awful.”  Poor kid, he didn’t have a good part, but he played what he had woodenly. Can’t blame him, I suppose, as he plays a nutcracker named NC who is voiced by Shirley Henderson, the young lady who brought us Moaning Myrtle.  He appears again later. This time Mary is awake and her parents have come around to the realization that their daughter’s nightmares are an integral part of her waking life. Mary walks up to the boy who is introduced to her as Nicholas Chance. He says to her (wait for it)…”Everyone calls me NC.”  Deep groan from me, but no one heard it.

That’s because I was all alone! I actually had a private showing!  This was not, sadly, because I am a much-read movie blogger, but because everyone else had the sense not to show up. It did make the movie even creepier than it would have been to be a woman sitting alone in a dark movie house.  On the plus side, at least I could pay attention and not have people rush past me on their way to demand refunds. Nor did I have to listen to any crying children.  Anyone who brings their children to this movie is served right if the poor kids cry all the way through.

Not to beat a dead rat, but this is an awful, horrible movie (did I mentioned it’s in 3D???).  Not an analogy of WWII. Not a way to introduce your children to the horrors of war or the Final Solution. If you want to do that, for goodness’ sake, show them Schindler’s List.  No one should see this movie.