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A CHRISTMAS CAROL

Studio: Disney

Rated: PG for scary sequences and images.

Starring: Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Bob Hoskins and Robin Wright Penn

Directed by: Robert Zemeckis

What it’s about: If you don’t know this by now, you should be barred from the holiday season worldwide.

What I liked: By this time, you should know exactly what to expect when you get a Robert Zemeckis motion-capture film. Like The Polar Express and Beowulf, A Christmas Carol is heavy on the effects and virtual camerawork and relatively weak on the character and plot.

We’ve seen this story adapted so many times in so many forms – from feature films to re-tellings on our favorite 80s sit com – that there is almost no unique way to approach it. The uniqueness of this version is that the full-blown CGI extravaganza hasn’t been done yet. In this sense, it does work. The visuals are pretty cool and the IMAX 3D experience is a sight and worth it for no other reason that you won’t be able to recreate it at home.

What I didn’t: There are a lot of reasons to dump on this movie. If you don’t like Jim Carrey’s cartoonish acting, you’ll not like it in this movie. (Although I will admit that he is directed down in a good chunk of the film.) Also, because the movie is shot with motion capture technology, it allows Carrey to play all forms of Scrooge as well as the three Ghosts. Likewise, Gary Oldman plays several roles, including Bob Cratchit and Jacob Marley. Again, the coolness factor in this respect tends to overpower the story.

Movies like The Polar Express are famous for making CGI humans that are permanently camped in the uncanny valley. The human emulations have gotten better in this film, but they’re still in that valley. Most of the work has been done to make Carrey’s characters look more realistic while Gary Oldman just gives me the willies throughout.

A lot of people will say this version is completely unnecessary, and also pretty terrifying for a young child to watch, and they wouldn’t be wrong.

Who is gonna like this movie: Families… as long as they aren’t easily scared.

Grade: B

THE FOURTH KIND

Studio: Universal

Rated: PG-13 for violent/disturbing images, some terror, thematic elements and brief sexuality.

Starring: Milla Jovovich, Elias Koteas, Will Patton, Hakeem Kae-Kazim and Corey Johnson

Directed by: Olatunde Osunsanmi

What it’s about: Milla Jovovich plays Dr. Abigail Tyler, a psychologist from Nome, Alaska, who is investigating sleep disorders. After putting her patients under hypnosis, she discovers that these cases are possibly reflections from UFO abductions. The more she digs, the more she learns about the terrifying reality of abduction cases, which eventually hit close to home.

What I liked: I will admit that The Fourth Kind does capture a certain level of suspense and atmosphere. It’s pretty damned intense in some scenes, and the set-up is intriguing if not entirely thought out.

What I didn’t: The Fourth Kind really pushes the whole “based on actual case studies,” to a fault. It really rams this concept down your throat, going as far to presenting the video footage alongside the reenactments. Yet every time something interesting is happening, the case studies footage gets distorted so we can’t really see anything. Hmmmm… isn’t that convenient.

I like a solid alien abduction movie, although there are very few of them that have been made. This one just tries too hard. The set-up is interesting, having actress Milla Jovovich walk right up to the camera in an early scene and swear that everything’s real. But this hook is the only thing keeping the movie alive. All the other elements that make a movie good – characters, story, plot, empathy, heart and soul – are noticeably absent.

Maybe if rookie director Olatunde Osunsanmi had spent more time crafting a decent story instead of reminding the audience that these are “actual case studies,” we would have a better film.

Who is gonna like this movie: People who though Paranormal Activity was a documentary.

Grade: D

THE BOX

Studio: Warner Bros.

Rated: PG-13 for thematic elements, some violence and disturbing images.

Starring: Cameron Diaz, James Marsden, Frank Langella, Basil Hoffman and Gillian Jacobs

Directed by: Richard Kelly

What it’s about: In 1976, a mysterious stranger shows up on a couple’s doorstep with an offer. They are given a box with a red button on it. If they push the button, someone they don’t know somewhere in the world will die, and they will be given a million dollars. The couple struggles with whether or not to push the button, which has greater ramifications on their lives – and the lives of everyone around them – than they ever would have thought.

What I liked: First off, let me say that this movie is not for everyone. It’s waaaaaay out there, and that’s saying something even for Richard Kelly fans.

The movie has a brilliant set-up, courtesy of writer Richard Matheson’s original short story. (If you don’t know who Richard Matheson is, he wrote about a third of the original Twilight Zone teleplays.) So, it’s not surprising that the film has a whole Twilight Zone feel to it. About half-way through the film, it starts to go bat-shit crazy, which might alienate some of the audience, but Kelly is fearless about this.

Ultimately, The Box is a bizarre morality tale that sets up a very slick atmospheric feel. It should make you think about what you would do in a similar situation, and it delivers a story that really isn’t like anything else out there right now… for better or for worse.

Kelly manages to capture the feeling of 1970s with the cinematography, production design, wardrobe and sound design. In a strange way, it feels more like a movie that was shot 30 years ago rather than in the modern era, and that’s really pretty neat in my book.

What I didn’t: I’ll admit this movie is not without its faults. Cameron Diaz is a beacon of bad acting in this movie, slathering on a southern accent so thick, you’d swear she was pretending to be from the deep south. Were it not for Frank Langella and James Marsden to temper her, the movie would crumble from an acting standpoint.

There are several moments in the film that drag, which seems to be a trademark of director Richard Kelly, but they only show up once in a while.

Some folks will take issue with the story and its Twilight Zone elements, but I was okay with them. The film kept me interested throughout, and that’s pretty rare for a movie to do nowadays.

Who is gonna like this movie: People looking for a different brand of thriller.

Grade: A-


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