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A Christmas Carol
Adapted and Directed by Robert Zemeckis

It’s a week of “what might have beens” including one of the most famous “what might have been” or “what still could be” stories of all time, Charles Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol” (albeit now alternatively known as “Disney’s A Christmas Carol”). This is the latest in a long list of adaptations of the classic, utilizing Disney’s state of the art 3D animation techniques to bring Jim Carrey to the screen as the Grinch, err… Ebenezer Scrooge (sorry, wrong holiday curmudgeon movie).

It’s actually a project that lends itself well to this approach to filmmaking. Animation is a good solution when you want to seamlessly switch between reality-based scenes and fantasy scenes. Ghostly escapades over a densely urban and beautifully rendered London make for an excellent excuse for overtly three-dimensional and overly roller-coaster-like flights of fancy.  

Robert Zemeckis (“Back to the Future,” “Cast Away,” “The Polar Express”) was clearly having fun with this, and expects us to as well. The problem is, who is “us?” The ghostly imagery is really quite mature and potentially scary for small children. It’s likely to do well at the box office, but it has that “Coraline” and “Where the Wild Things Are” problem of falling between comfortable age ranges.  

I’m not a big Jim Carrey fan, and probably would have liked the film even more if he had had fewer roles, but he did a good job here. My major beef was with a certain aspect of the otherwise excellent animation. I watched the film in 4k Sony digital projection (4x higher resolution than HD) and the image quality was amazingly good.  Within this extraordinary environment of rich leather and wood surfaces, and aged metal patinas, the detail of Scrooge’s face is remarkable, down to every crease and nose hair. However, none of the other characters seem so expertly realized, seeming like the animated equivalents of a mass botox overdose next to wrinkly Scrooge.  

So yes, my complaint is that parts of the film are so good that they manage to make other parts seem less successful by comparison. That said, it’s really very good overall and makes the unlikely exercise of yet another version of the same story seem worthwhile and worth recommending.

Amelia
Directed by Mira Nair

“Amelia” is a double dose of “what might have beens” – the question of what might have happened to Amelia Earhart if things had gone differently, and the question of what might have been if somebody had made an interesting movie about her life.

“Amelia” is beautifully shot and well-acted, with set design/art direction/costumes that are a pleasure to watch. Hillary Swank as Earhart and Richard Gere as her significant other seem well-cast and era-appropriate. The problem is the story itself. It’s too dull for what ought to be a compelling account of bucking society and pushing aviation envelopes. Ironically, it never really gets off the ground.  
It’s clearly a problematic tale to tell when the ending is known and it has to rely on “why they did it” character development.  It never quite manages to do that. Having watched the movie, I still don’t feel like I really know that much about what drove Earhart. We see one scene of a young Amelia captivated by a plane, but we skip over her formative years. We get an extended love story, but without any real passion. It’s like watching “Titanic,” but with the romance of “Attack of the Clones.”

I’d be interested now to see a History Channel biography of Earhart. This isn’t uncommon for me. But I’d normally want to compare notes. This time I want to fill in gaps.

This Is It
Directed by Kenny Ortega

Topping the box office this week, “This Is It” leaves us wondering “what might have been” if Michael Jackson had had an HMO rather than a personal physician. It’s a performance film pieced together from rehearsal footage from Jackson’s planned massive concert series. As such, it does a good job of both demonstrating his talent and resurrecting his reputation—although Jackson already performed the greatest career and reputation resurrection possible, by dying suddenly. If Roman Polanski died tomorrow, we’d be 25 hours away from a marathon career retrospective in which Quaaludes and statutory rape would be a side note.

For all of the questions surrounding Jackson, his career and life choices—and the extent to which he might have had others calling some of the shots—the film implies that he was the one in charge whenever the performances and creativity began. It’s a little hard to assess how accurate this is, given all the editing involved, but the film does give us an extended look at a man who had become a traveling freak show of courtroom appearances and before-and-after surgery mugshots.  “This Is It” is reminiscent of last year’s “Tyson” in taking a seemingly irredeemable public figure and making him sympathetic. If I was O.J. Simpson, I’d be calling Kenny Ortega. If I was a Michael Jackson fan, I’d be watching the film repeatedly.


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