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Disaster movies have always been crowd-pleasers in Hollywood. We all seem to enjoy earthquakes and epic alien invasions, as long as it's from the comfort of our own chair. It's also the favorite genre of German director Roland Emmerich, who directed blockbusters such as 'Independence Day', 'Godzilla' and 'The day after tomorrow'. In pretty much all of his recent films, some big disaster (be it aliens, or our very own Mother Nature) strikes our planet, usually resulting in the mass-destruction of a seemingly endless list of iconic monuments. His latest multi-million action adventure is '2012'. But, are there any famous monuments left to be destroyed? It turns out there aren't. Viewers of '2012' will have a severe case of déjà vu. We have all been there before, and in my case I even got the t-shirt (of Independence Day). Tidal waves? Check; Day after Tomorrow. The White House ripped to pieces? Yep, aliens took the credit in Independence Day.
This shouldn't be a problem if the story would be decent, and the characters are charismatic, but -surprise- they aren't. The film spends about 1 or 2 minutes explaining that the single line alignment of the planets in our solar system triggers increased solar activity from the sun. Or something like that. This results in the dividing of the Earth's tectonic plates, or more casually described: the end of the world. The still likable John Cusack plays a divorced writer, who tries to bring his ex-wife (Amanda Peet) and kids to safety.
That's pretty much all there is to say about the story, no spoilers here. The characters spend the whole film traveling from point A to B. By plane, car or simply running. It is all very repetitive. There are about 4 or 5 scenes where a car jumps over a gap in the road, a comparable number of nearly-collisions with dangerous objects and planes just seem to steer towards dangerous mountain edges and skyscrapers, even if you want to go the complete opposite direction. The characters are always one step ahead of the geographical violence: seconds after our heroes lift off with their air plane, the runway collapses underneath them and disappears in a big gap of lava about 3 or 4 times during the movie, that is.
Sure, it looks spectacular and the computer animated effects are top notch, but because it's all so repetitive and hollow, there is no tension. At least Emmerich's other movies were fun, and the boring 'Day after tomorrow' had some good moments. But here, there is no story, no tension, no bounding with the characters not much of a film left, really. But the popcorn was very tasty.
A Christmas Carol (2009)
Better than expected, stunning in 3D
It's that time of year again, the season to be jolly. Christmas is nearing, and it's time again for our merry habits and little rituals so typically associated with this holiday. Turkeys and trees sell out, radio stations curse the day George Michael was born and you have yet another chance to see 'Home alone' for the twentieth time on TV.
It's also likely that one of the many interpretations of 'A Christmas Carol' will be broadcast on TV. Charles Dickens coined this story in 1843. Little must he have known that over a 150 years later, the well-known story of Ebenezer Scrooge has been the inspiration for many plays, musicals and more than 20 films. Even the Muppets had their own version.
Scrooge is a selfish and bitter personality, who has spent the majority of his life despising anything and anyone around him. On Christmas Eve, the ghost of his late business partner Marley warns him that he will be haunted by three spirits: the spirit of Christmas Past, Christmas present and Christmas Yet to come. Each of them will teach him a valuable lesson if he is willing to change.
In the spirit of Christmas, most of previous interpretations brought to the screen are quite happy and cheerful. But though the story has 'Christmas' in the title, the original book is far from being a joyful tale. Most of all, it's a story of redemption, quite often dark-toned and sometimes even frightening.
It's refreshing to see that the latest movie incarnation of 'A Christmas Carol' (in cinemas now) leans towards the darker side. Robert Zemeckis (director of classics such as the 'Back to the Future' trilogy and 'Forrest Gump') hired Jim Carrey to play the part of Ebenezer Scrooge. The film follows the storyline of the book closely. It contains some scenes that are downright scary and macabre, and young kids should avoid it! There was actually a poster hanging in the cinema warning for this.
The film is fully computer animated and uses a technique called 'performance capture', in which a computer converts the performance of real actors to computer animation. Zemeckis seems to favor the technique nowadays, since this is his third consecutive movie using it. Not everybody likes it; people criticized his first attempt 'the Polar Express' (2004) because the humans looked eerie, zombie-like and made out of wax. Zemeckis' next attempt 'Beowulf' (2007) looked a lot better, but failed at the box office.
'A Christmas Carol' actually looks quite stunning. There are still eerie wax-like figures, but their facial expressions are very realistic. The movie is available in 3D and is one of the first I would absolutely recommend to see in 3D if you have the choice. There are some very creative scenes in which the 3D is very convincing and adds to the experience. Ever had the feeling that it's snowing in the theater? Or felt the sensation of floating above 19th century London? Here, you will! Shame though that the makers felt the urge to include a pointless 10 minute chase scene, which adds nothing to the story and feels like they wanted to show off with the 3D.
As a whole, the movie works, but it's not as moving as you would hope. Scrooge's transformation to a better man seems a bit sudden. And we don't feel sympathy for Tiny Tim because he actually looks like a scary 3D wax version of Ralph from the Simpsons. Other than that, it's a fun ride.