Archive for August 29, 2010

Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium

Posted in Comedy, Family, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , on August 29, 2010 by Mystery Man

PLOT:

Eccentric, 243-year-old Mr. Edward Magorium (Dustin Hoffman) owns and manages a magical toy shop. Making and selling toys all his life, before opening “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” 113 years ago, he travelled the world making children happy with his creations, even making toys for Napoleon. He keeps a pet Zebra named “Mortimer” in his second floor apartment above the store. The shop has many quirks, including toys that seem to have a life of their own, an over-sized ledger, known as the Big Book, that can magically materialize any toy on command, and a doorknob that, when rotated, changes the interior of a magic room (known as the “Door of Rooms”) to four different options (such as the Room of Balls, full of hundreds of animated balls that constantly bounce on their own; or the Room of Trains which is filled with models trains perpetually in transit). The shop is explained as a living thing that can cause the decor and the toys within to change their appearance and behavior according to its emotions. Mr. Magorium states that he imbued the shop with the same youthful characteristics of the children who visit it. However, because of this similarity to children, the shop is also prone to temper tantrums. Besides Mr. Magorium, the shop’s employees include the manager of the store, Molly Mahoney (Natalie Portman), a pianist and aspiring composer, with a quirky habit of absentmindedly playing piano notes in the air with her hand; and his biographer Bellini, a strongman who was born and lives in the basement of the shop and sleeps with a teddy bear. The only regular customer (and constant volunteer at the store) is a lonely, yet cheerful and imaginative, young boy named Eric Applebaum (Zach Mills), who collects hats and wears a different one each day. Molly is his only friend, and he is cherished in a paternal fashion by Mr. Magorium.

Mr. Magorium suddenly announces that although he is not ill, he intends to “leave” — that is, to die — (but is not clear on what he means by “leave” at first) and is giving the shop to Molly to run. In preparation for his departure, he hires accountant Henry Weston (Jason Bateman), (whom Mr. Magorium assumes, by breaking down the name “accountant”, must be a cross between a “counter” and a “mutant”. Because of this, throughout the film, Jason Bateman’s character is referred to as “Mutant”), to organize the shop’s paperwork and his legacy to Mahoney. Among the records are numerous neglected financial difficulties, long ignored by Mr. Magorium, such as a $300,000 bill for a “Magic Doorknob” and a signed “I Owe You” from Thomas Edison for the inspiration for the “lightbulb”. Weston’s dedication to his work, his colorless, pragmatic view towards life and inability to take part in even the simplest exercise in imagination makes him unpopular with the children who visit the shop, and also Molly, who dislikes him for his skepticism towards the shop’s magical powers and rigid view of the world. Eric, however, consistently tries to befriend Henry.

In response to its founder’s decision to leave, the shop slowly but purposely tries to partially rot away from the inside out to show its unhappiness about the coming change. When Mahoney communicates heavy reservations and doubts about running the store (the main reason being that Mr. Magorium is a magical being and she is not) after Mr. Magorium leaves, the store throws a tantrum and causes all the toys and its inner workings to go haywire, frightening away customers of all ages. (A few of them are in trouble.) At that point, Molly, who had assumed from the way Mr. Magorium had previously said “leave” that he was just retiring, finally realizes that he means he is going to die (and on purpose). Worried about Mr. Magorium’s plans, Molly rushes him to the hospital where she lies about his mental health, convincing the doctors that Mr. Magorium’s professed belief in magic is a result of delusions due to his poor health and belief in his imminent death. He remains in the hospital overnight, surrounded by a backdrop of glow-in-the-dark stars pasted all over the room by Eric, and is discharged the next day because there is nothing physically wrong with him. Meanwhile, after walking him home one day, Eric introduces Henry to his extensive hat collection. The two play with the hat collection until discovered by Eric’s mother, who, even though she has professed a strong desire for Eric to make friends, finds it disconcerting that the friend he has made is an adult.

Molly attempts to prevent Mr. Magorium’s departure by showing him the joys of life, but his mind is unchanged and he dies peacefully, his life ending after a launched paper airplane lands at his feet. Many children, adults and his pet zebra, attend his funeral. The store reacts to Mr. Magorium’s death by turning gray and refusing to show its magic.

Believing herself to be unworthy of owning the store, Molly puts it up for sale with Henry’s firm overseeing the sale. Eric, knowing that she has made the wrong decision for herself and the store, travels to Henry’s office and attempts to convince him to buy the shop, citing saved allowance money and future paychecks as capital. Henry gently refuses, but is moved by Eric’s dedication and visits Molly to persuade her against selling the store. As they talk, Molly is holding a block of wood (a “Congreve Cube”) that Mr. Magorium had previously given her, stating that it would help her “find what she is looking for” when she finds a “use” for it. When, in response to Henry’s lack of belief in anything, Molly confesses her faith in the store and its magic, the block suddenly springs to life, and proceeds to fly around the store. After witnessing this, Henry faints with shock. When he later awakes and questions Molly about it, she tells him that it must have been a dream as she had gone home the previous night, leaving him to finalize the paperwork for the sale.

Henry, now convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt, tells Mahoney that the store is indeed magic and that the magic comes from her and that she only needs to believe in herself. Just then, she absent-mindedly plays a few piano notes in the air and notices that a nearby toy piano begins playing the same notes simultaneously. Hearing the music, Molly begins purposely playing music on the air as the piano continues to play the same notes. She continues playing and the shop bursts into life; the colors return and its magic is revived. Henry, amazed beyond words, finally allows the store’s magic to embrace him. All three rejoice in the fact that, while Mr. Magorium’s story has ended, Molly’s story has just begun.

REVIEW:

Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium is one of those films that I watched shortly before I started this blog. I seem to recall not particular caring for it, or maybe I just didn’t remember anything about it, or I just wasn’t in a good place at the time I watched it. In any case, upon a second viewing this afternoon, my opinion has managed to a do a complete 180!

Children’s novels that have been turned into films just haven’t been hitting the mark lately, unless they are animated. However, if there was a blueprint for how live-action adaptations of these books, it would be this film.

I know there are those out there that don’t particularly care for bright, bold, beautiful colors and light, whimsical themes, let alone childlike innocence. To some, everything needs to be dark and depressing. Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium is the complete opposite of that. Seriously, the title alone should tip you off that this is not going to be some weird, twisted picture.

The star of this film isn’t any of its stars, but rather the toy store. This place was amazing, and it lives! Sure, that couldn’t happen in real life, but where is it written that people can’t have an imagination? I really want to know to imagination, as our society seems to have totally forgotten about it and wants everything to be real, not matter the subject matter.

The effects in this film are spectacular, from the toys, the various rooms in the emporium, and even the way the store reacts during its mood swings. I would however have liked to have seen a bit more of the toys. Yeah, I know, they showed quite a bit, but think of the toy store scenes in Home Alone 2. They cover the entire shop. I believe we only get about a third of the store, here. Quite a shame for such an extensive layout, if you ask me.

The cast is minimal, but capable. Dustin Hoffman is refreshing as Mr. Magorium. His captures the offbeatness that the character requires, as well as manages to provide a sort of father figure to Natalie Portman and Zach Mills’ characters.

Natalie Portman makes a triumphant return to the screen after the short hiatus she went on before this picture. I didn’t care for her attitude after Mr. Magorium’s death, but every person deals with death in their own way. One thing is for sure, I did really like the fact that she kept a smile and energy about the store the whole way through.

Jason Bateman is not my favorite part of this film. He isn’t quite a villain, but he is one of those characters that is just too wrapped up in his work. Don’t you just hate those kind of people? For some reason, I can actually see him being like this character in real life.

If you’re looking for a good family picture that isn’t animated (or 3D), then why not try Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium? You get everything you could ask for in a family picture, without the sappy love story, and it takes place in a toy store! There are a few issues with this film, but the most important thing is that it doesn’t try to dumb down the story just to appease the younger viewers. It is done is such a way that audiences of all ages can enjoy. So, sit back, relax, and enjoy!

4 1/2 out of 5 stars

When in Rome

Posted in Chick Flicks, Comedy, Movie Reviews, Romantic with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 29, 2010 by Mystery Man

PLOT:

A successful and single Guggenheim art curator Beth (Kristen Bell) is at a point in her life where love seems like a luxury she just can’t afford. Years of waiting for the perfect romance have made Beth bitter. One day, she flies to Rome to attend her younger sister Joan’s (Alexis Dziena) impulsive wedding. She meets Nicholas Beamon (Josh Duhamel), who rescues her in a couple of difficult situations but is just as much of a clumsy clod as she is. They hit it off well and reach a point where both parties take an interest in the other.

Just as Beth convinces herself to believe in love again, she sees Nick kissing another woman, who turns out to be the groom’s (Luca Calvani) ‘crazy cousin’. Slightly drunk, she picks up coins (a poker chip, a rare coin, a penny, a quarter and a Euro) from the “fountain of love” (probably based on the Trevi Fountain). She later learns from Joan that legend says, if you take coins from the fountain, the owner of the coin will fall in love with you. She has to return the coins to the fountain to break the spell, but is tied up at work with an important gala that her demanding boss, Celeste (Anjelica Huston) has pressured her into taking care of.

She is pursued back to New York by a band of aggressive suitors whose coins she took, including a diminutive sausage magnate (Danny DeVito), lanky street magician Lance (Jon Heder), a doting painter (Will Arnett), and a narcissistic male model (Dax Shepard). As she falls in love with Nick, she realizes that the poker chip belongs to Nick and is convinced that Nick is merely under a spell, not truly in love with her.

Joan calls Beth on the day of the gala and informs her that the spell can also be broken by returning the coins to the original owner. Stacey (Kate Micucci), Beth’s secretary–who is highly concerned about Beth’s miserable love life–overhears the conversation and steals the coins, believing that Beth would lead a better life with people loving her, regardless of the spell.

Beth’s suitors all show up together at her apartment and she decides to break it to them that she does not love them and plans to return them the coins. After she blurts out her love for Nick to them, she realizes that Stacey has stolen the coins and goes on a mission to retrieve the coins with her suitors aiding her.

When Beth explains to Stacey that this is not the way she believes love is, Stacey returns the coins and Beth hands back the coins to their owners. Left with the poker chip, she calls Nick and thanks him for making her believe in love again. As Nick makes his way to the gala to search for Beth in a sudden lightning storm that hits New York, Beth is in a situation with Lance who plays with the poker chip by doing disappearing tricks. She accidentally hits the chip out of Lance’s hands and chases it as it rolls down three floors of the spiral gallery.

The chip is picked up by Nick, who appears to be in love with Beth still, convincing Beth that his love was true all along. However, on their wedding day in Rome, Lance reveals to Beth that he had multiple poker chips and the one Beth knocked out on the night of the lightning storm was just one of them, which proves that Nick did not break out of the spell. While exchanging wedding vows, Beth hesitates and dashes out of the building to everyone’s surprise. She revisits the fountain of love where she originally picked up the coins and climbs in like before.

Nick appears and climbs into the fountain. He claims that he didn’t throw a chip into the fountain at all. He drops the poker chip in the water and the priest is heard yelling ‘Free of temptation!’. Nick finally believes Beth and kisses her.

REVIEW:

In all the romantic comedies I’ve seen, the one thing that seems to be a constant is that they seem to forget the comedy. When in Rome does not fall into this category, though. Having said that, this thing is also heavy on the sappiness, so much so that is goes into the chick flick category.

Don’t get me wrong, the sappy love story part of this works and is the major plot point of this film, but seriously, what straight man is going to willingly want to see a film about some chick’s quest for true love, even if she is as hot as Kristen Bell? Not many, I can tell you that, especially when there are so many testosterone driven films out there that are more appealing.

That being said, this isn’t a bad film, and isn’t a typical man bashing rom-com, but instead it makes the guy seem human, which I really liked, and the girl has her own set of issues, such as not being able to find the right guy.

There are quite a few funny moments in this films, most of which involve Josh Duhamel being accident prone or some kind of situation with the 4 guys whose coins Kristen Bell has stolen.

The basic story here is quite good, although, I belive it could have been executed a bit better. There just seemed to be a disconnect somewhere between the magic of the coins and the real world. Yeah, that makes no sense to me, either. In a nutshell, it goes back and forth between being a fantasy film and having roots in the real world, without knowing which works better.

Casting was not a problem. Jon Heder, Danny DeVito, Will Arnett, and Dax Shepard are great as the suitors. Each with their own quirk. Heder probably does the best, in my opinion, especially in the scene where hereunites with Efrem Ramirez (who is playing a Pedro-like character).

Kristen Bell fits this role perfectly. Her girl next door looks and natural talent make it easy to feel connected to her throughout the film, though one has to wonder why she just didn’t get the hint about the poker chip.

Josh Duhamel is a true surprise, as I had no idea he had comedy chops, but he does. Combine this with his natural charisma and it makes for a solid leading man for this film. I really felt sorry for the guy, though. The whole being struck by lightning in the middle of a football game, his accident prone ways, and the way Kristen Bell seemed to be falling for him, only to keep pushing him away, just got to me.

I don’t really know why the critics are so down on it. I swear, I think they’ve forgotten what it is like to watch a film and enjoy it for what it is, rather than critique every little thing and have a default setting of “it sucks”.

This is not a film your typical guy is going to like, unless they have a huge crush on Kristen Bell or are a fan of Josh Duhamel, because there really isn’t anything guys would like in this. Well, there is a scene where Alexis Dziena is wearing nothing but an apron, but you can’t see anything there, so it doesn’t really matter. I liked this film, but I didn’t fall in love with it. It made me laugh and I felt for th characters, which is pretty much all you ask for in a rom-com, but in the end, it was just too sappy for my taste. Still, I would recommend this as a good date flick.

4 out of 5 stars