This week at the movies, we’ve got some modern-day Dickens (Disney’s A Christmas Carol, starring Jim Carrey and Gary Oldman); a button-pushing thriller (The Box, starring Cameron Diaz and James Marsden); vanishing Alaskans (The Fourth Kind, starring Milla Jovovich and Elias Koteas); and some psychic soldiers (The Men Who Stare at Goats, starring George Clooney and Jeff Bridges). What do the critics have to say?
Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is one of literature’s most haunting morality tales — and one of the most adapted. Critics are largely split on two key aspects of Robert Zemeckis’ motion-capture version starring Jim Carrey: whether it honors the, ahem, spirit of Dickens’ classic, and whether the motion-capture technology is aesthetically appealing. No need to rehash the plot; if you’ve never heard the tale of mean ol’ Ebenezer Scrooge (Carrey) and his long-suffering employee Bob Cratchit (Gary Oldman), get thee to a library immediately. While some find Zemeckis’ live action/animation hybrid an echanting way of updating a seasonal classic, others feel the visuals bog down the classic tale with an overabundance of empty action.
Richard Kelly has only made three films, but he’s had a roller-coaster of a career. His debut was the cult-fave Donnie Darko, which was followed by the ambitious but roundly-panned Southland Tales. Now comes his latest mind twister The Box, which is splitting critics; some say it’s an intriguing head trip, while others say it’s preposterous and inconsistent. Cameron Diaz and James Marsden play a married couple presented with a mysterious proposition from a stranger: there’s a button in a box, and if they push it, they will receive a million dollars, but someone will die. Some pundits say The Box is tense, edgy, and original, while others deride its plot holes and lack of overall cohesion. (Check out Kelly’s Five Favorite Films here.)
With its combination of a government conspiracy, extraterrestrial visitors, and the foreboding climes of Alaska, The Fourth Kind seemingly has all the elements in place for a gripping horror flick. Too bad the execution’s so clumsy, critics say. Milla Jovovich stars as a shrink whose patients all tell her similar tales of nighttime frights; could aliens be to blame? The pundits say The Fourth Kind has some decent shocks, but its gimmicky presentation — a split screen technique in which patients describe their experiences alongside pseudo-documentary footage of the events — doesn’t quite come off, and the performances are uneven.
For the most part, the recent wave of Iraq war films has brought downbeat dramas, so the satirical aim of The Men Who Stare at Goats is certainly welcome. And critics say that the film, though scattershot, has moments of brilliant absurdist humor. Hinting that its story is not terribly far from the truth, Goats is the tale of a secret military program that involves the use of psychics who attempt to use their mind power to defeat the enemy. The pundits say the film is elevated by the deadpan comic presence of George Clooney, and if the film never fully comes together, many of its scenes are sharp and funny. (Check out this week’s Total Recall, in which we run down Clooney’s best-reviewed films.)
Also opening this week in limited release: