Friday, November 27, 2009

A Christmas Carol **1/2

A Christmas Carol
**1/2 out of ****

Yet another adaptation of the classic Charles Dickens story, and yet this is something unlike any other movie that's come before. Yes, it's animated, and yes, it's in 3-D, but that's only half of it. Robert Zemeckis returns to motion-capture animation once again, much improving upon the techniques used in The Polar Express and Beowulf. In Hollywood's current tradition of odd casting choices, he cast Jim Carrey not only as Scrooge at all stages of his life, but as all three ghosts. The motion-capture technique means that it's more than just a voice-over; his performance helped make the character's movements, also allowing for real emotion to appear on their faces. The technology is strange but it does allow more for actors to do in an animated movie. The film also features charming performances from Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Robin Wright Penn, and Bob Hoskins. The characters only look vaguely like their actor counterparts. In most cases, the actors are unrecognizable.
The story is set in Victorian England, exactly as Dickens wrote it. The story is so famous everyone knows it, but it does feel like you're experiencing it for the first time. The camera sweeps through the streets and skies of London, everyone celebrating Christmas. Scrooge is revealed as a lonesome, greedy old man who shuns everybody, even his nephew, thinks only of money, and hates Christmas. His dead friend Marley appears as a ghost in his home, attached to heavy weights and chains, and warns him that he'll be haunted by three spirits. Then the spirits come and show him his life: the Ghost of Christmas Past is in the form of a candle and whispers to him, who takes him by the hand and flies him to places long gone; the Ghost of Christmas Present is a big, laughing Saint-Nick type who makes his living room floor invisible and allows him to see the city beneath it; and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come appears only as a shadow in the shape of a reaper, who points toward whatever it wants Scrooge to see. A subplot involving Scrooge's hardworking lackey Bob Cratchit and his ill son Tiny Tim also help bring about Scrooge's humanity.
Carrey is charming in all his roles and yet doesn't fall back to his stretchy-faced hissy fits that have defined his career for so long. It is a Disney movie, after all; there's no place for them. He is allowed just a few moments of light humor, but otherwise, he dives into the characters and actually manages a good English accent. The movie itself is extremely faithful to the source material, often using the original Dickens dialogue. This is its strength and ultimate weakness: making it into an epic animated movie and casting Carrey obviously means they're appealing to children, but the film's difficult dialogue means many kids will be confused or bored, until the ghosts show up, at which point they'll be scared. And they have cause to be: at times, the film is intense and definitely scary not only to kids. And it's not so faithful that it's not willing to put in a very awkward thrill sequence where a shrunk Scrooge runs from the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come and his horses through the dark London streets.
The film is pure eye candy, and thus thrilling to watch (especially in 3-D), and it's very charming to experience the story like this. What the film really lacks is entertainment value: it's so faithful that it actually moves slowly in the first half and none of the dialogue seems realistic. Carrey is good in his roles (although there's really no point in him playing so many parts, especially the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, who never speaks and rarely even moves), but I feel like casting him in your movie and then restraining him seems to defeat the purpose. I feel the film would have been better if it had been a bit more of a comedy. Also, this film is the ultimate Christmas story. Why was it released in early November?
I would recommend this film to fans of the original Dickens story, and fans of animated movies.

You can watch the trailer here:

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day ***

The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day
*** out of ****

Fans rejoice: the sequel to the cult DVD hit is finally here, ten years after the original first came out. Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus return as vigilante brothers who believe they're on a mission from God, known to the Boston public as the Saints, as they built up a reputation for killing hardened criminals. They are living in self-exile in Ireland with their father (Billy Connolly) when they hear that a priest has been killed in Boston and the Saints have been framed for the murder. The Saints always cross their victim's arms and place pennies over their eyes, letting everyone know it was them. Thus they are spurred back to action and return to Boston to seek revenge. Along the way they join forces with a crazy Mexican named Romeo (Clifton Collins, Jr. in a wonderfully over-the-top performance) who idolizes the brothers and is desperate to kill somebody.
On the other side of the law, the police are trying to find out if the Saints are actually involved, and they get help from a sexy FBI agent, played by Julie Benz with a polite Southern drawl. In the same fashion as the crazy agent from the first movie, she assesses crime scenes with impeccable clarity and is hiding a secret.
The movie is filled with crude language and humor and lots of violence and blood, which is to be expected. It's pretty similar to the first movie, although builds on the humor in all the violence and tones down the racial slurs, combined with an awesome pounding rock soundtrack, ultimately making this the better film. (I was not a big fan of the first film.) Like the first film, some parts are told out of chronological order to let the viewer guess how some kills went down. Writer/director Troy Duffy manages to reunite almost the complete original cast for the sequel, which greatly helps in the film's success and appeal to fans. Even dearly departed Rocco returns for a funny spirtual cameo. No spoilers here, but there's also a couple surprise cameos at the end from big stars. Fans will notice the many winks to the original, and to other popular films.
I would recommend this film to fans of the original, and to anyone who likes dark comedy and violent cult films.

You can watch the trailer here: