Screened Out: Oh, the Humanity!

Screened Out: Oh, the Humanity!

StephenMillerHeadshot_560873495.jpgAn Education
(Starring Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard, Alfred Molina, Emma Thompson)
Amongst the expensive holiday blockbusters—and we’re just starting to see this year’s batch—often the small, sensitive films show us the better writing, acting and filmmaking.  Their intimacy and risk-taking bowl us over more than ginormous special effects and bloated budgets.
An Education is one of those films. Dazzling newcomer Mulligan portrays an English 16-year-old in the early 1960s. Because she is exceedingly smart and strong-willed, Mulligan’s father (Molina) is pushing her to attend Oxford. However, the teenager meets and starts dating 30-something Sarsgaard, who shows her a life of jazz, art and general malfeasance. Soon, Mulligan is planning to leave school and carve out a more exciting life among some unsettling new acquaintances.
Mulligan is simply luminous as this very smart, pre-feminist girl. She knows a lot more than many of the people around her—her parents and some of her teachers included. The problem is that this precocious student doesn’t know absolutely everything. She’s lacking emotional experience, and that’s the education she receives in the film.
The witty, heartfelt script was written by Nick Hornby (About a Boy, High Fidelity) based Lynn Barber’s memoir. It’s directed by Danish auteur Lone Scherfig (Italian for Beginners). They all do a brilliant job balancing the discomfort of the pedophilia with Mulligan’s fierce intelligence as well as Sarsgaard’s deferential charm.
The sum effect disarms with a combination of sexual eeriness and witty magnetism.  What’s more, this experience didn’t take millions of dollars to create.

A Christmas Carol
(Voices of Jim Carrey, Colin Firth, Gary Oldman, Cary Elwes)
Robert Zemeckis (Contact, Forrest Gump) utilizes his computer animation studio to reinvent this old, over-told chestnut. It mostly works, if only he could get his humans to look less creepy and waxy.
We all know the story: Ol’ Scrooge (Carrey) is visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve (all of them also voiced by Carrey—nice touch). These spirits make Ebenezer see the errors of his ways, and he emerges Christmas morning a changed man.
Zemeckis gets the horror right—the phantoms are impressively spooky. The rendition of Victorian England is also spot-on, in that it feels like the same place haunted by Sweeney Todd and later Jack the Ripper. In his animation (as in his other films) Zemeckis always uses surprising visuals to great effect.
What doesn’t work is that the director tries to make his animated humans look real. Instead, characters always end up a cross between Disney robots and Madame Tussaud’s waxworks. It’s the same problem that has plagued his other cartoons, The Polar Express and Beowulf.
Furthermore, Carey’s voice—usually so expressive—sounds hollow and detached here, as if Zemeckis couldn’t get an honest performance out of the actor. Finally, the extensive chase scenes feel like unnecessary padding.
Still, there’s a feeling here that—because the tale is so well-known and the 19th-century English environment is so consummate—Zemeckis’ Carol could become a classic, despite its flaws.

(Starring John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Danny Glover, Oliver Platt, Thandie Newton, Woody Harrelson)
She doesn’t scream or cry or look over the scene in silent horror. As millions of Californians die in an apocalyptic geological event, this lady turns to her ex-husband and asks something like, “Gee willikers, how’d you know this was going to happen?”
Maybe because the Mayans told us the world would end in 2012.
John Cusack is a failed writer and slacker dad who trying to save his family from Armageddon. Of course the U.S. President (Glover) and his helpers (evil guy Platt and good guy Ejiofor) are also trying to guarantee the perpetuation of the species, mainly by getting billionaires to pay for gigantic arks. In between we get to see the entire planet violently destroyed and almost all of humanity brutally ended in what can only be called Disaster Porn.
How entertaining.
The special effects—directed by Roland Emmerich (Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow) —are pretty phenomenal. The rest of the film is hackneyed crap, overlong and full of implausibility. Absolutely nothing here obeys the laws of physics. Also, jokes are flung in at inappropriate times. The theme is a dead boring cliché about survival and stock characters spout maudlin crud. By the end of this three-hour film, you want them all to die.
At the core of this visual arresting dud is the cataclysmic misunderstanding that seeing 6 billion people die and treating it like a minor setback is supposedly fun for audiences.


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