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THE WEEKEND MARQUEE: ‘A Christmas Carol’ Comin’ At Ya!

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Now that the smoke from Paranormal Activity and This Is It has cleared away, it’s time to usher in the Holiday movie season (I know, it’s early, but there’s nothing we can do to stop it). The first official Christmas-themed film is Robert ZemeckisA Christmas Carol, featuring Jim Carrey in four roles (Scrooge and the three ghosts who visit him).

It’s Zemeckis’ third movie to use the performance capture technology (the others being The Polar Express and Beowulf). About adapting the classic Charles Dickens tale, he told Harry Knowles of Ain’t It Cool News:

“I think that one of the great things that we can do in the digital cinema is we can represent the classics in a way that is more accessible to a modern audience. For example, I consider this to be a graphic novel version of [A] Christmas Carol. It’s not a cartoon version. It’s not a Muppet’s version. It’s a graphic novel version.”

My initial reaction to the project was that of apathy. I feel like this story has been done to death (the best: Muppet Christmas Carol, the worst: see this week’s Vulture Droppings). But I suppose, with every passing year, there’s a whole new generation of kids who have never seen it. And Hollywood always jumps at the chance for remakes, reboots and rehashes.

christmas-carol-poster-2THE BUZZ: Its reviews have been so-so, with many critics commenting that the movie’s special effects are a tad too distracting (it’s being released in IMAX 3D as well). In The Chicago Tribune, Michael Phillips writes:

The most fluid individual passages in A Christmas Carol — not the flashy stuff, but the simple, street-level moments — reveal a director who knows how to keep his roving, restless camera eye on the right story details. Half the time he seems to be thinking ahead to the next step in the movie’s commercial afterlife, i.e., the inevitable Disneyland and Disney World attractions. The other half of the time, he’s doing what he’s supposed to be doing as a cinematic storyteller. And even if you don’t personally respond to the style, you admire the dogged craftsman behind it.

In the Washington Post, Michael O’Sullivan notes that:

the irony of this story — which is all about the importance of the simple things in life, and giving, not getting — is so overwhelmed by what are essentially video-game features. In fact, look for it in stores now, on the Nintendo DS system.

I guess, go see for the story and stay for the 3D. And if you don’t like 3D, then stay the hell away from this.

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The counter-Christmas program is The Box, a silly new thriller written and directed by Richard Kelly (Donnie Darko, Southland Tales). It BoxPosterstars Cameron Diaz, James Marsden and Frank Langella. Remember that movie, Indecent Proposal, where Demi Moore is offered a million dollars to have sex with Robert Redford? Well, The Box is kind of like the horror version of that. The protagonists have to choose between taking the money, even though someone they know will die because of that action, or not taking the money.

In an interview with Bloody Disgusting, Kelly discusses his intention of making The Box more commercial after the disappointing reception of Southland Tales:

I completely realize that I need to remain viable in this business to keep doing this for a living and part of that is trying to do something more within the studio system that they can sell…to a wide audience. With this short story and this concept, I had found that, I had stumbled across that.

It’s commercial perhaps, but not much else.

THE BUZZ: Bad. Critics aren’t really digging it. Stephanie Zacharek (Salon) writes:

Kelly tries to gather so many ideas under this movie’s umbrella: He has strong ideas about the necessity of compassion in everyday life. He wonders what awaits us after death. But he can’t flesh out all of these ideas properly, or even haphazardly.

Elizabeth Weitzman (The New York Daily News) is even harsher on the filmmaker:

Some directors, it must be said, only have one really good movie in them. We’re starting to worry that Richard Kelly may be among this select group.

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The drama that has attracted the most positive buzz this weekend is Precious, directed by Lee Daniels (Shadowboxer) and adapted for the screen by Geoffrey Fletcher (aka Damian Paul) from the novel Push by Sapphire. It stars Gabourie Sidibe as a 16-year-old girl precious_poster-691x1023(nickname: Precious) growing up in an abusive home in Harlem with her tough-love mother (Mo’Nique).

She finds herself pregnant for the second time at the hands of her father and at a loss of what to do with her life. The movie’s interesting cast includes Lenny Kravitz, Sherri Shepherd, Paula Patton and Mariah Carey sans Photoshop.

At the time of the novel’s release in 1996, Sapphire spoke of her desire to introduce a new voice to the public:

You know, [for so long] there has just been this space filled by statistics and jokes, but never with a real human being. And in that way I feel I’ve done my work. I don’t think [Push is] a perfect book, and there are parts that I wish I had done differently. But every time I let Precious’s voice come through, I just felt the rawness and the power coming from a worthy human being. To me, nothing I had ever learned made any sense unless Precious made sense.

THE BUZZ: Good. The movie effectively retains the power of the book and is a searing drama all its own. In the New York Times, A.O. Scott writes:

There is something almost reckless about this filmmaker’s eclecticism, which extends from the casting — pop stars and television personalities alongside trained and untrained actors — to the visual textures and the soundtrack music. Precious is a hybrid, a mash-up that might have been ungainly, but that manages to be graceful instead. It’s partly a bootstrap drama of resilience and redemption…It’s also the nearly Gothic story of a child tormented by the cruelty of adults, as lurid as a Victorian potboiler or a modern-day tell-all memoir.

AP critic David Germain adds:

Lee Daniels, in just his second film as director, crafts a story that rises from the depths of despair to a place of genuine hope.

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Coming off the heels of the more inventive supernatural thriller, Paranormal Activity, The Fourth Kind seems so…so unexciting. Do we reallythe_fourth_kind_poster need another cheesy alien abduction movie? I prefer the close encounters to be of the 3rd kind. Olatunde Osunsanmi wrote and directed it, and it stars Milla Jovovich (Resident Evil), Elias Koteas (Zodiac) and Will Patton (Armageddon).

THE BUZZ: Not so good. In Time Magazine, Richard Corliss writes:

Watching [old alien abduction TV specials] costs nothing but time. It’s a different matter to ask moviegoers to pay for The Fourth Kind, a movie that’s all setup and…no payoff in the chill department. Osunsanmi is so dogged in pursuing his faux-doc style that he offers hardly a glimpse of extraterrestrials. You’d do better downloading an old Art Bell show — say, the one about the guy who put an alien in his freezer — than investigating this evidence of subnormal activity.

My belief is that people will still be flocking to see that other supernatural faux-doc and skip out on this one entirely.

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With a kitschy, retro marketing campaign that borrows heavily from the quirk-infused ads for The Informant and Burn After Reading, the team behind The Men Who Stare At Goats makes no bones about what it wants to be: one of those movies. Screenwriter Peter Straughan (How to men_who_stare_at_goats_movie_poster_01Lose Friends and Alienate People) adapted the nonfiction book of the same name by Jon Ronson.

It details the U.S. Army’s exploration of  strange New Age concepts during the Iraq War. The movie, directed by character actor Grant Heslov (True Lies, The Birdcage), stars George Clooney, Kevin Spacey, Ewan McGregor and Jeff Bridges (in full-on Dude mode).

Heslov recently spoke about Goats with Time Out London:

“I think the tone of the film was very close to the book in that the idea for me was that we had to play it totally straight and we could never make fun of any of these characters, we could never weaken the audience. The whole thing was a stack of cards and if you did that then it would all fall apart. That was the trickiest thing about making the film and the thing I paid most attention to. So to whatever extent that works, I think it was definitely planned that way.

Maybe he ended up taking it too seriously. Much like The Informant, it strives to be screwball withought any comedy to speak of. And the retro feel doesn’t add a thing to the story’s weight.

THE BUZZ: Just okay. In the NY Daily News, Joe Neumaier writes:

Straughan’s rudderless screenplay can’t quite distill Jon Ronson’s book (names are changed to protect the Jedi), and the narrative flips and flops ruin the comedic flow. Still, Clooney and Heslov are turned on by, and tuned in to, the sun-shiney ludicrousness — and whacked-out believability — of it all. The Catch-22 they face is that there’s really too much story here to be a movie.

Ann Hornaday (The Washington Post) adds:

For all its out-there goofiness, The Men Who Stare at Goats also retains a cool ironic distance…The sense of emotional detachment keeps things feeling smooth and low-key, but, as is clear in the film’s last few scenes, the playful tone shades into the simply trivial, which in the setting doesn’t quite play. The Men Who Stare at Goats is content to be sparkly when it should be sharp-edged and shrewd; it has the potential to roar like a lion, but instead it lays lambs at our feet.

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