Thursday, November 19, 2009

Mini Review Set: 11/19/2009

Twilight: New Moon

Running Time: Just over two hours
MPAA Rating: PG-13

The starry-eyed sparkle fest that was "Twilight" is improved a dozen times over by the absence of its mopey lead vampire. This story follows protagonist Bella as she finds new love in the companionship of her old friend Jacob (who reveals himself to be yet another mythological monster) to replace her old flame (popsicle, to be accurate) Edward. The writing is as cheesy as ever, but the efforts of incoming director Chris Weitz make it work as well as possible. Fans of the series will be pleased and newcomers may enjoy the supernatural action much more than expected.

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

Running Time: Just under two hours
MPAA Rating: R

Claireece "Precious" Jones is a morbidly obese 16-year-old high school girl who lives in 1987 Harlem. She is illiterate, forced to labor over her abusive mother, and is pregnant with her second child as a result of being raped by her disgusting father. It's safe to say that this is not a feel-good movie. The story follows Precious's attempts to receive an education while caring for her children and finding love in a world that has shown her nothing but unconditional hatred. Saying that it is emotionally powerful would be an understatement, but sometimes the most shocking moments are transitioned into darkly humorous fantasies too quickly for any impact to be made on the audience. If you can handle such a dark tale, then "Precious" is a must-see for an engrossing look into a young girl’s search for hope in a hopeless world.

The Blind Side

Running Time: Just over two hours
MPAA Rating: PG-13

This part biography, part sports movie handles itself surprisingly well. Sandra Bullock pulls herself together nicely (after a series of critical flops) to play the compassionate adoptive mother of future football star Michael Oher. There are an excessive number of tearjerker moments relating to Oher’s poverty-stricken childhood, but they are done well enough to make you care about the characters rather than feeling like exploitive gimmicks. The plot revolves around an inspiring act of Christian charity that will work for audiences of all tastes; sports fans or not.


Running Time: Two hours and forty minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13

Many will argue that this movie delivers exactly what was promised in its advertising, but knowing that a movie will be bad does not excuse the fact. Special effect technology has improved since Roland Emmerich’s previous movies (Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow), but his writing has become steadily worse with each new entry into the disaster movie genre. If you’re looking for several hours of eye candy and don’t much care what the characters have to say or think, then this is the movie for you.

This Is It

Running Time: An hour and a half
MPAA Rating: PG

Michael Jackson’s swan song was caught on tape before his untimely death last June. This film is made up entirely of rehearsals from his preparation for the highly anticipated “This Is It” concert tour. The footage was caught using a variety of cameras with varying quality (it was never meant to be anything but posterity). While Jackson’s performances are up to standards, the necessary planning process often interrupts them, which, while potentially engaging to fans of Jackson or those with an interest in the production of live music, will be just plain boring to most people. This is a movie that would not have been made had it not been for the performer’s death, so my recommendation is to skip it unless you’re significantly drawn to his work.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

A Christmas Carol

Running Time: Just over an hour and a half

MPAA Rating: PG

Everybody knows the story of “A Christmas Carol”, or at least they think they do. A wealthy old miser named “Scrooge” is tormented by three Christmas spirits and a deceased associate in order to change his outlook on life for the better. The plot of Dickens’s classic novel has become iconic to today’s audience through years of other franchises adapting their characters into the plot. The quality of these retellings has had a fantastic range; from staying fairly true to the original (such as “Scrooge” in 1951 and the Oscar-winning animated version in 1971), to making silly updates (“The Muppet Christmas Carol” and “Mickey’s Christmas Carol”, both of which were also made by Disney), to complete bastardizations (“An American Carol”, “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past”, and countless more). To say the least, the very point of the book has been lost over the years, and nobody in recent decades has thought to simply stay true to the original material until now.

The film keeps its source’s dialogue resolutely intact. While this may please literature aficionados, it will bore the life out of the children to whom the movie was marketed. The indecision about which it was made for is blaringly apparent among moments of cartoonish giddiness, disturbing scenes of rotted corpses, and cheap “jump” scares all interspersed with the original Victorian language. In fact, the only entertainment that the average child would get during the entire show comes from added sight gags or characters that give lines in exaggeratedly silly voices, gimmicks that will alienate anybody looking to enjoy the classic story.

The out of place children’s comedy shtick isn’t the only thing working against “A Christmas Carol”, however. Many problems arise from director Robert Zemeckis’s signature performance capture animation technique (a style that he used on “The Polar Express”, “Beowulf”, and the upcoming remake of “Yellow Submarine”). There is a phenomenon that affects this type of film known as “uncanny valley”, which happens when people recognize nonhuman beings (such as robots and CGI animations) that pretend to be human and, as a result, are repulsed. The characters in the movie are unable to produce any believable emotion which causes a complete disconnect with the audience and leaves the actors only their voices to convincingly portray their characters.

Much like the “Harry Potter” movies, an all-star cast is used to cover even minor roles. Of course, many of the stars in this film have at least two or three characters to their name, Jim Carrey topping the bill by playing all three ghosts as well as Ebenezer Scrooge. While this may seem to be a cool idea in theory, it is absolutely pointless and only deepens the problems that are already present. It must have been difficult enough for the actors to respond to lines that have been given days or weeks ago (the scattered voice acting shows with a fervor), but dialogue between them and themselves in another personality is extremely difficult and is not done very naturally or believably at all in this case.

“A Christmas Carol” was a very influential book in its time. It helped to solidify Dickens’s legacy and even had a remarkable impact on the modern concepts of charity and redemption at Christmastime. This movie, unfortunately, carries none of that weight and instead serves as an over-stylized attempt to cash in on the season. The dialogue is simply an afterthought that is used to make way for more visual gimmicks and 3D spectacles. The performance capture animation should have been done away with in favor of live-action, as the technology has shown no significant improvement from its previous uses. In the end, if you’d like to know the timeless story then pass on this film and hear the classic literature call “know me better, man!”