The Brow

The Box

Donnie Darko director Richard Kelly takes us back to the 1970s in his native Virginia suburbs, where Norma (Cameron Diaz) and Arthur Lewis (James Marsden) watch their middle class life unravel. The cause of their problems is a mysterious box that shows up on their doorstep, accompanied by the even more mysterious Arlington Steward (Frank Langella), who promises the couple $1 million in exchange for pushing a red button, an action that will cause a stranger to die. Kelly’s film is an ambitious, if not always completely successful, attempt at taking its short story source material into new territories. Moral dilemmas, parental sacrifice, government intrigue and the apocalypse are just some of the issues broached by the director. Kelly’s genre mix of sci-fi, government conspiracy and domestic melodrama flows especially well in the beginning, but in all is too uneven and feels strained. Steven Poster’s camerawork, however, makes The Box a pleasure to watch and adds a Stanley Kubrick feel.

-Jonathan Simrin

A Christmas Carol 3-D

Right, you know this one: Charles Dickens, some ghosts, holiday cheer, crippled kids and everyone’s favorite libertarian, Ebenezer Scrooge. Director Robert Zemeckis chose to do this one in 3-D like he did with The Polar Express and Beowulf, making those ghosts really come at you. Even though 3-D smells of gimmick in other movies and throws every image way, way off, Zemeckis removes the total “in your face” element of the technique and instead creates subtly defined backgrounds that draw you in. Jim Carrey voices Scrooge as well as some other guys, but what’s more impressive is that the star-studded cast, featuring Gary Oldman and Cary Elwes, voice not just their own main characters but plenty of minor ones as well – check Elwes pulling duty as “Guest #2”; now that’s voice work. A Christmas Carol is a fun retread of a story you probably hate by now. But hey, don’t be a Scrooge about it.

-Jeremy Gordon

The Men Who Stare at Goats

Maybe God told “Dubya” to go to war, but it is an entirely different religion that is mucking up our army in the new film The Men Who Stare at Goats. An experimental New Age program to train psychic super-soldiers yields a predictably kooky movie role for George Clooney and a story hook for Ewan McGregor, who plays an unhappy newspaper reporter (aren’t they all?). However, the movie’s focus on spirituality during war is often distracted by another popular faith. Clooney, once a member of the army’s psychic and ironically-titled “Jedi warriors,” now a mystical old hermit, teaches McGregor about “the force” while on a secret mission in the desert. The Star Wars metaphor is not perfect – Jeff Bridges always makes a better Chewbacca than Yoda – but it doesn’t require much effort to imagine who/what the movie’s evil empire represents.

-Scott Olstad