Film » Film Clips

Capsule revies of films playing the week of Nov. 18

by

comment

AMELIA In its effort to be one of the first Oscar-bait titles out of the gate, the stately but sterile Amelia ends up stumbling over its own feet. A handsome production that fusses over every detail in order to provide the proper look, this biopic forgets to include any sort of spark necessary to get its motor running. As Amelia Earhart, Hilary Swank adroitly mixes tomboy charm with feminist strength, but she's let down by a script (by Ron Bass and Anna Hamilton Phelan) that doesn't allow her to burrow even an inch under her character's skin. Her Amelia is painted in broad strokes, and as such, the dramatizations of her aerial achievements don't carry the power that should automatically go with lofty historical territory of this caliber. Where the movie most succeeds in its exploration of Amelia's relationships with two distinct men. Publisher George Putnam (Richard Gere) was the person who discovered Amelia and guided her career; they eventually married, but the film posits that she embarked on an affair with fellow aviation pioneer Gene Vidal (Ewan McGregor) before returning to her loving husband. Swank and Gere don't exude magnetism in their scenes together, but it's not that kind of relationship: Theirs is a partnership forged from mutual respect and common ground, and it's a credit to both performers that the union feels authentic and enviable. The final portion of the picture naturally centers on the ill-fated 1937 flight that led to the disappearance of Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan (Christopher Eccleston) over the Pacific Ocean. Despite knowing the outcome, this segment is inherently tense, although some feeble fabrications surrounding the tragedy prove to be as daft as the cinematic theory that the Titanic sank into the chilly depths because the watchmen were too busy watching DiCaprio and Winslet smooch to notice the iceberg right in front of them. **

ASTRO BOY Superheroes are known for showing up on the scene just in the nick of time, but in the case of Astro Boy and his big-screen debut, it's clear that his arrival comes when it's too late to really matter. The star of both comics and television as well as an early model for anime, Astro Boy has been around for well over a half-century, finding immediate success in his Japanese homeland before marching on to international acceptance. A big-budget animated extravaganza from Hollywood was probably a predetermined fate, but turning up at a time when slick superhero sagas are often the rule rather than the exception – even in the toon field (The Incredibles, Bolt) – limits the film's ability to stand out from the pack. In a futuristic city that hovers well above a largely forgotten Earth, the brilliant Dr. Tenma (Nicolas Cage) is so attached to his young son Toby (Freddie Highmore) that, after the boy is accidentally killed, the grief-stricken scientist elects to revive him in a manner that mixes elements of both Frankenstein and Pinocchio. Tenma places Toby's memories in an advanced robot powered by a celestial power source, but he soon realizes he hasn't exactly created (in Geppetto's words) "a real boy." But while Tenma ends up shunning Toby, the opportunistic General Stone (Donald Sutherland) realizes he can use the lad for his own nefarious schemes. Astro Boy is full of incident, and it picks up steam when its title character lands on Earth's surface and falls in with a Fagin-like scoundrel (Nathan Lane) and his young charges. Yet attempts at profundity (themes of societal prejudice are emphasized) yield erratic results, and while the film is visually attractive and the vocal performers are well chosen, at the end of the day there's little to really distinguish this from similar family films about a young outcast who combats loneliness before meeting other colorful characters. Just dub this one Where the Mild Things Are. **1/2

A CHRISTMAS CAROL Officially, the title is Disney's A Christmas Carol, which is acceptable since it sure as hell isn't Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. While it might be true that this animated version retains more of the literary classic than might reasonably be expected, it's also accurate to state that a key ingredient of the novel – namely, its humanist spirit – is largely missing from this chilly interpretation. Director Robert Zemeckis, who used to make fun movies in which the spectacular special effects served the story and not the other way around (Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Forrest Gump), has become obsessed with the motion capture process (this is his third consecutive picture utilizing this technique, following The Polar Express and Beowulf), and one gets the sense that he chose the Dickens chestnut not because of a desire to revive its moral tale for a new generation but because it seemed like a suitable vehicle for his new techno-toys. But Zemeckis can't keep still, and rather than remain within the parameters of the meaty story, he follows in the footsteps of the recent Where the Wild Things Are adaptation by fleshing out a story that didn't exactly cry out for extraneous material. But while Wild Things' additions at least made thematic sense, Zemeckis pads the material with such nonsense as Scrooge (Jim Carrey) being blasted into the stratosphere or dashing through the cobbled streets of London (a chase scene? Really?) while simultaneously turning into the incredible shrinking man. Carrey gives the role of the miserly Scrooge his all (he also voices a half-dozen other characters), and the 3-D effects (offered in select theaters) are expertly realized. But you don't need glasses – 3-D or otherwise – to see that this holiday release is too diluted for adults, too frightening for children, and too tiresome for just about everybody. *1/2

Add a comment