It’s a tale told joyfully and told often, gobbling up film, stage, and audio adaptations with incredible regularity. Charles Dickens’s 1843 novella, “A Christmas Carol,” has been reworked and reheated time and again, and who could blame anyone for trying? Perhaps the perfect tale of rekindled morality set against the backdrop of the most enchanting of holiday seasons, “Carol” is brought back to life for another cinematic go-around, this time through the eyes of writer/director Robert Zemeckis and the efforts of his motion capture (mo-cap) animation tools. While shadowing Dickens’s work as much as it can, the latest “Carol” takes a bold technological leap forward, permitting a newly abstract take on a perennial saga of remorse.
Grief, death, and rusty scissors collide in Lars von Trier’s “Antichrist.” A metaphysical sojourn with cinema’s loudest spoilsport, the picture stuns and sickens, almost daring viewers to keep watching as it articulates the ravages of the unwound mind, filling the frame with demented acts of unspeakable violence and deeply considered thematic stimulation. For fans of Trier, “Antichrist” is a return to his once irresistible provocative appetites, shamelessly exploiting suffering and misogyny to generate the outrage that fuels his daydreams (and bank accounts). It’s a pitch-black torrential downpour of pain, and should only be approached by those willing to allow Trier 100 precious minutes to play his madcap mind games.
With “The Chosen One” (shot over three years ago), Rob Schneider makes a valiant attempt to ditch his clownish persona and attempt something substantially dramatic. It’s an exciting move for the actor, best known for his sidekick stints in increasingly rancid Adam Sandler movies, trying to take on material that demands a true test of his thespian skills. This is not a very enlightening picture, but instead of a flaming wreck promised by the film’s troubled production history, “The Chosen One” is merely a mild failure, trying urgently to attain spiritual significance via an actor who’s made a career out of puerile slapstick.
Alien invasion movies don’t need an excessive amount of encouragement to succeed. Sure, the finest features put in the time and effort to give audiences a rowdy ride of chills and spills, but as long as aliens furiously attack and some screamy humans are dutifully riled up, basic genre requirements are taken care of. “Skyline” seeks to prove that theory wrong, taking an enthusiastic premise of intergalactic war and reducing it to glimpses of chintzy CGI-laden chaos sandwiched between lengthy stretches of tedious, amateurish dramatic filler.
Director Stephen Frears has spent most of storied career selling tales of cheeky behavior involving miserable folk, occasionally darkened with a devious sexual edge. “Tamara Drewe” offers the filmmaker a shot to hone his gift of social disruption, galloping forward with a merry-go-round tale of betrayal, deception, and lust. Overlong, but humorous and spotlessly performed, “Tamara Drewe” is an appealing web of discontent, given a dry Brit twist and some needed immoral sway.
It’s the 1990s all over again with “Unstoppable,” a high concept thrill ride featuring all the trimmings that made director Tony Scott such a hot action commodity over a decade ago. It’s completely brain dead, but one heck of a whirl, blasting through the screen with a dedication to blistering pace that immediately scrapes away the troubling dead spots of the script. Big, dumb, and loud, “Unstoppable” is a marvelous popcorn thriller, crafted in an almost passé style that recalls Scott’s more electrifying, white-knuckle efforts from the past.
Observed from afar, “Fair Game” comes across as another drab, fact-based political thriller, running through a tiresome routine of white men in suits making sour faces and speaking with slippery Washington tongues. And the film is exactly that in spurts, but it’s also a Doug Liman picture. The man who gave the world “The Bourne Identity” and “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” makes a valiant effort to take the provocative story of Valerie Plame and give it an elastic thriller overhaul, turning every corner of the tale into an opportunity for conflict. A tiring, overlong investigation of betrayal, “Fair Game” manages to nail a few heated high points, but not enough to combat the dramatic limitations of the source material.
In 2000, Mark Hogancamp was beaten senseless outside of a bar by a group of brutes. The resulting brain injury wiped his mind clean, forcing the 38-year-old man to relearn basic functions, rebuilding his life after an extended hospital stay. Instead of feeding into an understandable rage over what was lost, Mark reclaimed what was left of his life through a curious hobby: photographs of 1/6-scale dolls engaged in a large-scale WWII recreation that reflects Mark’s own dreams of community support, filling his vast emotional needs.
To see the screenwriting credit for “Morning Glory” go to Aline Brosh McKenna brings about immediate concern. The “Devil Wears Prada” and “27 Dresses” writer has a history of attaching troublesome romantic anchors to otherwise pleasingly combustible comedies. While she’s once again called in to ruin a perfectly good movie, her flavorless flirty antics only water down “Morning Glory” to a certain degree, with the rest of the picture showing unexpected comedic flair, led by a talented, enthusiastic ensemble.
Over the last few years, I’ve been feverishly squawking that the fine folks at Blue Bell should get behind a pumpkin ice cream flavor for the holiday season. Their masterful way with the cold, creamy stuff would be well-suited to the cause, easily topping rivals with a pure pumpkin explosion that cheerily evokes this special time of year. Well, those magnificent bastards have finally heard my pleas, bringing forth “Spiced Pumpkin Pecan,” a marvelous concoction that strengthens a brand domination I’m simply in awe of.
I’m unable to sit here and write that “Red Hill” refreshes the formula of the western, but this Australian production takes exquisite care of the galloping tropes that have made the genre a dependable distraction for a century of cinema. Writer/director Patrick Hughes buckles up tightly for this wild ride of revenge, fashioning a suspenseful thriller that pays loving tribute to cinematic masters, while forging its own distinctive identity by trading in the pastoral sway of America for the rough ride of Australia.
Even for the most heady, unflinching drama, terrorism remains a risky subject matter to build a motion picture around. “Four Lions” tackles the rituals of a team of suicide bombers with a comedic slant -- itself perhaps an act of cinematic self-extermination. Under the guidance of adored Brit comic Chris Morris, “Four Lions” actually manages to achieve some sizable laughs to blend with the expected discomfort, designing a clever black comedy that toys with taboos in an agreeable manner, more interested in silly behaviors than incendiary ones.
With “For Colored Girls,” Tyler Perry looks to mature as a filmmaker, ready to rip off the Madea costume and employ proven material that doesn’t exhibit the same arch DNA as his personal work, challenging the mogul to make a movie that doesn’t scream bloody murder. Well, Perry inches to the 50 yard line with this harrowing drama, but he can’t exactly give up on his favorite pastime: summoning cringing hysteria. “For Colored Girls” is monumentally erratic, but in terms of Tyler Perry’s career thus far, it’s a masterpiece, offering the filmmaker more to chew on than his own tongue for a change. A refreshing, splendidly bleak change of pace. Hallelujer.
Writer/director Todd Phillips found ungodly success last year with his cheery slapstick smash, “The Hangover.” It was a return to form for Phillips, who found his goofball chi again after losing his way with the abysmal 2006 comedy, “School for Scoundrels.” His latest picture, “Due Date,” reminded me of “Scoundrels” to an unnerving degree, as once again the filmmaker blows his momentum on woeful miscasting and a script that mistakes rampant mean-spiritedness for a bong-sucking good time.
With this gifted cast and production team, it’s a crime that “Megamind” isn’t a funnier, livelier picture. A flaccid superhero satire fashioned with stunning animation, the picture feels like a runaway farce that barely wheezes out of the starting gate. The ingredients are there to make something uproarious, especially in the CG-animated realm where superhero business can assume an epic form, but there’s a distinctly deflated ambiance to the shenanigans, leaving the picture serious eye-candy on the prowl for bellylaughs it infuriatingly never finds.
It’s been said that money is the root of all evil. In recent years, desperate financial woes have made even the threat of terrorism feel like kitten play. There’s a global crisis in full spin right now that’s resulted in collapse, ruin, and crippling unemployment, paralyzing a majority of nations. Yet, there are a select few in the corridors of power who saw this coming, even encouraged it to line their abyssal pockets with cash and feel out the boundary of their ego. Inhaling the toxins, the documentary “Inside Job” steps back and scrutinizes the pickle we’re in, understandably aghast with the state of the monetary union.