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George Clooney in The Descendants, Martin Scorsese's Hugo, Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe, The Muppets

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Kermit is holed up in his mansion, Fozzie performs in a casino, Gonzo sells plumbing supplies and Miss Piggy edits Vogue Paris, with Emily Blunt as her receptionist. The film is full of sly jokes like that, both visual and spoken ones. There are several production numbers, with songs of varying quality, and overall a deep respect for the characters and the traditions of the Muppets who had a popular TV show and many specials but haven’t made a movie for 12 years. They’re still great entertainers. The film is preceded by a clever new Toy Story cartoon in which Buzz Lightyear has to face a knock-off version of himself. (Scotiabank and many suburban theatres)
3 ½ out of 5

ARTHUR CHRISTMAS: One of the eternal questions is finally answered. Just how does Santa manage to deliver all those presents in one night? Think modern and high-tech. Santa now fronts a giant operation with hundreds of elves at computer terminals and a rocket-powered ship (hardly a sleigh anymore) guided by his own son from a NASA-style mission control.

England’s Aardman studios, the people who gave us Chicken Run and Wallace and Grommit, came up with that vision and bring it to us with all the wit they’re famous for, a frantic pace, excellent 3-D animation and another issue the little tykes care about. What if, on Christmas night, Santa misses one child? His son (voiced by Hugh Laurie) says one out of two billion is an acceptable margin of error.  With corporate thinking like that, he’s expecting to inherit his dad’s job very soon. His brother (James McAvoy) won’t let the omission stand and joins with their grandfather (Bill Nighy), a former Santa himself, who natters on about how he used to deliver presents in the old days. They find the old sleigh and the reindeer and fly off in the wrong direction to adventures in Africa, Mexico, Cuba, and even Toronto, as the clock ticks on. It’s a bit too talky (and loud) for little kids but older boys should enjoy the action scenes. (International Village, Oakridge and suburban theatres)  3 out of 5  

 MY FATHER’S GUESTS: This one starts off as a French farce and then evolves into a pretty astute essay on immigration, with some implied words of caution.

Michel Aumont plays a retired-lawyer who’s been a long-time human rights activist. His newest cause is helping illegal immigrants, which he does with a gusto that upsets his children. He, in his 80s, marries Tatiana, a 28-year-old blonde from Moldavia, so that she and her young daughter can stay in France. Fabrice Luchini and Karin Viard play his grown children who are originally accepting, then realize the old man is having a late-onset mid-life crisis, or as he puts it “my last fling.” With Tatiana controlling him, draining his bank account and described as  “a bombshell with a Milosovic ideology,” they agonize over what to do. The film is amusing, with little to say that’s new, but it offers a story and clever dialogue that feel authentic. (VanCity Theatre) 3 out of 5

Playing in tandem with …

40 DAYS AT BASE CAMP: It was one of the most popular films at the Vancouver Film Festival this year, has already been given extra screenings and is now back for a week. That’s because it gives a new and startling view of the climbers who challenge Mt. Everest. Many have little experience. They pay to join a group, get training and become acclimatized to high altitudes.
We meet a teen boy from India hoping to be the youngest from his country to reach the top. There’s a group of handicapped climbers from Columbia and a team from here in B.C. trying to publicize crohn’s disease. Meanwhile, climate change is melting glaciers and uncovering bodies of people who died on the mountain. B.C. filmmaker Dianne Whelan shows the changed scene up there with colorful, widescreen pictures from the camp and video diaries from seven climbers on their way up. She’ll attend Saturday’s screening to present the film while her cinematographer, Andrew Coppin, will do the same Friday. (VanCity Theatre) 4 out of 5   

EUROPEAN UNION FILM FESTIVAL: For 14 years now, the Pacific Cinematheque has been bringing us the latest films from across the Atlantic in this two-week event. Submissions came from 24 of the EU's 27 member countries this year. Yes, even Greece and Italy. There are too many to deal with here and you can find details about each by logging on to eufilmfestival.com.
I can mention the three I've seen. The Artist, from France, is a completely charming and entertaining film about the coming of sound to the movies. It's silent and black and white. You won't mind that. The Red Chapel, from Demark, is a very strange documentary about a comedy team that travels to North Korea on a cultural exchange that's really designed to test the patience of their stiff hosts. Their march in an official military parade is a scream. Protector, from the Czech Republic, is a couple of years old now but welcome anyway. It's a drama about intellectuals who accomodated the Nazi occupiers during world war two. The central character is a radio journalist co-operates to protect his Jewish wife. The film has won multiple awards. The festival is on until Dec 8.
 
WHISTLER FILM FESTIVAL:

From the many big articles this week, you’d think the festival is already on. Not so. It starts on Wednesday, but it’s good to plan early if you’re interested. And you should be because what used to be a small festival is now 11 years old and grown up. It attracts bigger films now. This year it has a first peek at Young Adult, the new collaboration between Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody (of Juno fame), Keyhole, the latest and possibly strangest by Guy Maddin, Monsieur Lazhar, Canada’s submission to the Academy Awards, Café de Flore, a mysterious film with two storylines, about a Parisian mother and a Montreal DJ,
Edwin Boyd , about a real-life Toronto bank robber, and as a closing film, a new Warren Miller extreme ski epic. Actors Michael Shannon and Jay Baruchel will be honored and Variety, the show business newspaper, will recognize a couple of “trailblazers”. Get all the information at  <http://whistlerfilmfestival.com/>

Also now playing …

ATLAS SHRUGGED Part 1: Are there still clubs in universities that promote Ayn Rand’s philosophy of positive objectivism? There were in my day and they championed self-interest as the best life principle. Those ideas are back in her third novel to get a movie treatment. A railroad magnate struggles to stay solvent in an economic crisis brought on by collectivism and governments that confiscate the gains earned by productive citizens. The film moves the story ahead from 1957 to 2016. The York Times called it crude, amateurish and high camp. (Granville Theatre)

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