Not content to let the lifeless zombies of 2004‘s Polar Express define his legacy as a pioneer of 3-D Christmas movies (a genre to which incidentally he remains the sole contributor) director Robert Zemeckis is back for another go at it and this time his inspiration isn’t just some fly-by-night Caldecott Medal winner; it’s Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol perhaps the most cherished piece of Christmas fiction of all time.
While other filmmakers have tackled Dickens’ most famous work before none adapted it in the way the author would have wanted it to be presented: as a big-budget three-dimensional motion-capture animated spectacle starring the legendary Jim Carrey. Thankfully for us Zemeckis stepped up to the plate.
For the dozen or so who are unfamiliar with A Christmas Carol’s simple yet powerful story a quick rundown is in order. On a snowy Christmas Eve in 19th-century London a notorious miser named Ebenezer Scrooge (played by Carrey) is visited by three ghosts (also played by Carrey): Christmas Past Christmas Present and Christmas Yet to Come. Together the terrifying apparitions conspire to teach Scrooge an unforgettable lesson about the folly of his avarice and the virtue of charity and compassion.
Unlike Zemeckis’ previous literary adaptation 2006’s Beowulf there isn’t a whole lot about A Christmas Carol’s tale of yuletide redemption that cries out for the 3-D treatment — nor does the star of Dumb and Dumber and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective seem especially suited to play the part of Scrooge. And yet both creative decisions prove surprisingly successful in this movie. Zemeckis’ 3-D animation is wondrous to behold and Carrey is simply terrific as the bitter old grinch.
The problem is Zemeckis can’t resist falling in love with his technology and his star; consequently A Christmas Carol overdoses on both. The first time the camera glides through the streets of Dickensian London or soars above its snow-covered skyline the experience is breathtaking like being plunged into a world of Thomas Kinkade paintings. (And I mean that in a good way — even the fiercest detractors of the Painter of LightTM’s mass-produced portraits have to admit they hold a certain romantic appeal.) But by the fifth or sixth time it devolves into tedious showmanship.
Similarly while Carrey’s total immersion into the Scrooge character is remarkable his manic mugging as the Christmas ghosts is all too often distracting. Don’t ask me what the Ghost of Christmas Present was talking about during his sequence; all he seemed to do was laugh like a drunken Viking and blather on with an exaggerated Scottish accent.
But in the end neither Zemeckis’ overreach nor Carrey’s hysterics can obscure the impact of A Christmas Carol’s timeless message. As with previous adaptations of the story I couldn’t help but tear up a little when Tiny Tim uttered his trademark closing line “God bless us everyone!” — even if he did kinda look like a cartoon zombie.
Well if the title doesn’t say it all…Picking up where Alien vs. Predator left off those pesky aliens cause the Predator ship to crash on Earth setting them free near a Colorado town. A lone Predator (Ian Whyte encoring from AvP) comes to Earth to clean up the mess and what the hell maybe pick up a few human trophies too. Needless to say the town’s human residents are completely unprepared for this sort of inter-galactic free-for-all on their streets. This is after all the sort of town where everybody knows everybody but no one seems to notice when a spaceship crashes in the woods outside of town or when the self-same spaceship blows up the next day. In short you could say that they get what’s coming to them--and they sure do. Pretty dreadful all around. Then again Shane Salerno’s script is pointless to begin with. Steven Pasquale (TV’s Rescue Me) plays the ex-con hero Dallas (a nod to the original Alien). Reiko Aylesworth (TV’s 24) plays a veteran of the Gulf War who returns stateside just in time to engage in another one--a pretty pale homage to Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley character. John Ortiz plays the local sheriff one of the dullest (and dumbest) screen lawmen in recent memory. Veteran Robert Joy drops in briefly as a weasely U.S. Army colonel who would just as soon nuke the town as try to save it. Every time this film focuses on the (one-dimensional) human characters it stops cold. Unfortunately this happens a lot. There’s no reason to root for them because you simply don’t care. True to form most of them are sliced diced chopped lasered exploded from within and otherwise treated in a shabby fashion. They are simply fodder. Just for the record this is the sixth Alien film and the fourth Predator film and it holds the dubious distinction of being the worst of any of them. The special effects are just dandy but not much else is. This also marks the inauspicious feature directorial debut of noted visual effects artists Colin and Greg Strause (billed as “The Brothers Strause”). They clearly have an affinity for this sort of thing--and for the Alien and Predator franchises--but are just as clearly content to simply let the special effects run away with the story. The first Alien vs. Predator movie was no great shakes but it was better than it had any right to be. This one is not. Responding to the fans who wanted this film to be R-rated the Brothers Strause have delivered on that--and absolutely nothing more. It’s a pointless exercise.
The Number 23 starts off with mild-mannered Walter Sparrow (Jim Carrey) receiving a mysterious novel from his wife Agatha (Virginia Madsen). Suddenly his idyllic life is thrust into an inferno of psychological torture as he becomes more and more obsessed with the story about a detective named Fingerling. Cutting between scenes with the real Walter and the fictitious Fingerling (also Carrey) they both delve deep into obsession over what the significance of the number means to them. Now had the The Number 23 just stuck with that idea--how 23 somehow permeates our very existence--then it may have worked better. Instead the action veers off into Walter’s past as he starts to unlock suppressed memories and unearths an unsolved murder mystery which doesn’t really have anything to do with the number. And you feel ripped off. Is it a curse (divide 2 by 3 and you get .666)? Does it predict the future (the Mayans believed the world will end Dec. 23 2012 [20+1+2=23])? Or is it just one of those numbers that haunts you the more you try to figure it out? We want to know more dammit (that last sentence is 23 characters without spaces by the way). Yes Carrey plays it straight and this may be his darkest turn yet but it’s not like he’s never done it before. Carrey is a consummate actor folks. He’s pretty good at doing whatever he sets his mind to. He played the straight guy in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind just fine allowing Kate Winslet to be kooky instead. And as Walter he resolutely indulges in murderous obsessive-compulsive behavior while including a few moments of his unique comic stylings. Meanwhile Madsen is playing her second loving and supportive wife of this week (she plays one in The Astronaut Farmer as well) but that’s fine. She does it effectively. But what she also gets to do in Number 23 is portray a saucy sex-craved alter ego from the novel who likes to have dangerous and kinky sex with Fingerling—and she plays it to the hilt. Give this woman more juicy parts! Director Joel Schumacher knows how to make a Hollywood movie--that’s why the studios love him. Sure he’s made more than his fair share of stinkers (Batman Forever AND Batman & Robin) but he has also made some finely tuned thrillers such as Phone Booth and A Time to Kill. Number 23 sort of falls somewhere in between. Schumacher takes some creative license when we are in Fingerling’s world which makes for some arresting and stylistic visuals but he and newbie screenwriter Fernley Phillips really stretch things to make the whole murder-mystery subplot work within the context of the premise opting for cheap thrills and a standardized ending. Honestly it nearly ruins the whole movie—until you drive home and notice the number 23 EVERYWHERE! Number 23 is still gonna stick with you.
In this latest doomsday pic Earth's inner core has stopped rotating a situation that will eventually cause the planet's electromagnetic fields to collapse. If it isn't fixed pronto static charges will create "super storms" that will generate hundreds of lightening strikes per square mile and cause microwave radiation to ultimately cook the planet. Government and military officials conjure up a team of scientists led by geophysicist Josh Keyes (Aaron Eckhart) to travel to the planet's core and get it spinning again. Accompanying them are geophysicist Dr. Zimsky (Stanley Tucci) atomic weapons expert Dr. Levesque (Tchéky Karyo) "terranauts" Major Childs (Hilary Swank) and Commander Iverson (Bruce Greenwood) and Dr. Brazzelton (Delroy Lindo)--the renegade scientist who built the subterranean vessel. Their mission is to travel to the center of the earth to detonate a nuclear device that will hopefully jump-start the core and save the world. Like the "terranauts" grinding their way through Earth's layers to get to the planet's core The Core laboriously plods through the storyline to get to its climax--and both are equally uneventful.
Despite a really corny scene in which he demonstrates what will happen to the planet by torching some sort of fruit on a fork Eckhart (Possession) is believable as the sensible Keyes. Co-star Swank (Insomnia) meanwhile brings intensity to the role of fledgling astronaut Childs. It is Tucci (Big Trouble) however who creates the film's most interesting character the arrogant Dr. Zimsky. The diva-esque geophysicist heads to the center of the earth in style with his Louis Vuitton monogrammed canvas bag and an endless supply of cigarettes--making him politically--and refreshingly--incorrect. You'll love how he pompously records the mission's progress in a Carl Sagan-style narration. Back at mission control D.J. Qualls' computer-hacking character Rat mirrors a recent report describing the characteristics of computer virus writers: Male. Obsessed with computers. Lacking a girlfriend. Aged 14 to 34. Capable of sowing chaos worldwide. Qualls (The New Guy) couldn't be more suited for this digital graffiti artist role.
Director Jon Amiel helps define the film's main characters by weaving vignettes of their everyday lives throughout the first half of the film but so much effort is devoted to exploring their individual backgrounds that relationships among the team members are never established. The minor characters are like extras in a Star Trek episode--they're just onscreen to die. The Core also fizzles as a believable disaster movie because of its flimsy scientific reasoning even if you try to suspend your disbelief for the sake of cinematic "escapism." While I can make myself believe for example that a government-created weapon of mass destruction is to blame for the planet's imminent annihilation I cannot buy into the notion that this high-tech vessel was built by a renegade scientist in his backyard and is able to withstand the rough trip to the center of the earth. Although the film's original November release date was delayed because more time was needed to complete the special effects don't expect to be visually dazzled by the voyage. Most of what we see is what the "terranauts" see on their screen: spotty black-and-white renditions of sharp jagged rock. Scenes of the Roman Coliseum getting zapped by lightening and San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge melting aren't convincing either.
Arnold Schwarzenegger plans to don his cyber alter ego once again in the third Terminator installment, tentatively titled T3: Rise of the Machines, but will do so without the help of his T1 and T2 cohorts. Although the sequel will still follow the adventures of now-twentysomething John Connor, Edward Furlong will be replaced in that role by a new actor (yet to be casted). Jonathan Mostow (U-571) takes over directing duties from James Cameron and Linda Hamilton will not return as Sarah Connor. Principal photography is set to begin in April.
Tom Cruise, an outspoken supporter of the Church of Scientology, visited the U.S. ambassador in Germany Wednesday and asked him to help improve the organization's status in that country. Why, you may ask? Apparently Germany views the group as a moneymaking venture rather than a valid religion, and has barred Scientologists from government jobs.
Joel and Ethan Coen, the quirky creators of Fargo and The Man Who Wasn't There, are in negotiations to remake the 1966 British caper comedy Gambit. The story revolves around a British thief involved in a heist of a lifetime and is being touted as a vehicle for actor Hugh Grant.
Universal Studios is suing MGM for false advertising and unfair competition in regards to the current ad campaign for MGM's February release Rollerball, a remake of the 1975 camp classic. The studio is upset that the broadcast spots claim Rollerball comes from the creators of Universal's The Fast and the Furious, when in actuality only one screenwriter, John Pogue, is credited on both films. A temporary restraining order was issued by a federal judge Tuesday to stop the ads from running.
Jude Law is in talks to star in David Mamet's Diary of a Young London Physician, an updated take on the classic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde story. Spanish beauty Penelope Cruz is also being considered for the female lead. Hmm, didn't she say she was taking a break?
CBS will maximize its chances to get ahead in the May sweeps by moving the two-hour final episode of the upcoming Survivor: Marquesas to Sunday, May 19, instead of waiting until the following Thursday. During the last week of the May ratings book, CBS will air no fewer than fours of the hit reality show. Smart move.
The Stephen King miniseries Rose Red, the first two parts of which aired Sunday and Monday night, gave ABC a much-needed boost in the ratings. The spooky three-parter about a haunted house in Seattle took in 20 million viewers Sunday and 18.7 million on Monday, mightily beating the competition. The third part airs Thursday.
For the first time ever, Fox News Channel beat CNN in viewership during a one-month period, which hasn't been accomplished by any other cable news channel in nearly 15 years. You realize, of course, this means war.
ABC has announced that The Wayne Brady Show will be taking over the timeslot currently occupied by The Rosie O'Donnell Show when the talk show goes off the air. This leaves Caroline Rhea, whose show was widely thought to be taking over Rosie's slot, to find a new time of her own.
There might be a little life left in the VHS format after all. Based on a new digital VHS (D-VHS) format, Fox, Universal, DreamWorks and Artisan have announced they will release high-definition movies on videocassette in June. We'll see if can they really compete with DVDs.
Rocker Courtney Love is one step closer to getting her way. In her counter-suit against record company Universal, the California Court of Appeals granted Love clearance Monday to pursue her challenge of California labor laws that hold recording artists to contracts longer than artists in other fields. Universal originally sued the singer for breach of contract when she refused to record for them in 1999.
The sexual harassment trial against the Godfather of Soul himself, James Brown, began Tuesday in a L.A. court. A former employee who claims she was fired after refusing the 68-year-old singer's sexual advances filed a $2 million lawsuit against Brown in 2000. Brown has issued a statement denying the accusations, which he calls "baseless and outrageous."
Singing legend Carol Channing was hospitalized in New York Tuesday after she became ill backstage before a scheduled appearance on The View. Apparently stricken with a virus, Channing will remain at the Lennox Hill Hospital for a day or two, according to her publicist.
R&B singer Chante Moore married fellow crooner Kenny Lattimore in Jamaica New Year's Day, Lattimore's record label Arista Records told The Associated Press Tuesday. Moore was previously married to actor Kadeem Hardison and they have one child together.
Author Susan Sontag will be providing liner notes to rebel rocker Patti Smith's retrospective album. The album will feature lyrics, notes, original artwork and previously unavailable photos of the legendary rock 'n' roll singer.
Peter Appleton (Jim Carrey) has it made. His screenwriting career is on the rise his first movie's just been made and he's got a cute girl. Life is good--until the House Un-American Activities Committee mistakenly fingers him as a Communist and he quickly falls from the A-list to the blacklist. Getting dumped by both his studio and his girl is nothing a little drinking can't remedy but after drowning his sorrows he nearly drowns himself when he decides to drive drunk and his car veers into the river knocking him unconscious. When Peter comes to he can't remember who he is or where he came from so he's taken in by the kindly people of Lawson a burg stuck in time and still mourning the loss of many of its sons in World War II. They mistake him for Luke Trimble one of their long-lost boys who went MIA in World War II and are overjoyed at his return. Luke's father Harry (Martin Landau) whose zest for life had dwindled so much that he let his beloved movie house The Majestic fall to ruin but with "Luke's" return he plans to reopen it. Celebrations abound. Peter-as-Luke even returns to his relationship with fiancée Adele (Laurie Holden). Meanwhile Peter may have forgotten who he was but the Feds haven't and they're on his tail.
When Carrey's given the right material like he was with The Truman Show he can exhibit moments of greatness. The Majestic doesn't give Carrey the leeway to show his quirky sensibilities demanding that he play it straight throughout the movie (there are a few--too few--glances at humor that Carrey doesn't play up). To bring off the kind of schmaltz this movie oozes Carrey had to bring something of an edge to his character. Instead Peter is neither likable nor unlikable coming off as a bland confused schmo until the climactic end which after two hours of his weak personality is wholly unbelievable. Landau is unexciting as a caricature of the sad sentimental old man without hope--you want to sympathize but there's something faintly chilly about him. Holden's liberated-woman lawyer might have played better in a contemporary movie; she looks and acts too much like a modern-day actress trying to portray a woman of the '50s.
Was this some kind of vanity project dreamed up by a director too taken with his own greatness and past success? Was Frank Darabont envisioning an It's a Wonderful Life for the next generation? (Psst…it's likely the majority of the modern moviegoing public doesn't know who Frank Capra is and could care less especially when the movie is as slow and as completely unbelievable as this one.) Apparently Darabont's in love with his own direction because hardly a moment goes by without some lingering reaction shot. Darabont took an intriguing story about amnesia and mistaken identity and slathered it with sap. Old-fashioned period stories can be lots of fun but it's imperative they be able to keep a present-day audience's interest by including a bit of modern wit and pace. Unfortunately this sticks to the straight-and-narrow. Nobody's going to buy the two-dimensional main characters the shiny happy townspeople or especially the schlocky my-country-'tis-of-thee finale. In its favor The Majestic's ultimate message is a nice one. The movie does have its heartfelt moments and its '50s feel is authentic if a little polished.