Xmas ghosts, a dead popster, goat starers, aliens, a box, and some demons

Yes, it’s a real mishmash this weekend at the box office and I’ve got less time than usual — but let’s just see how it goes.

A Christmas Carol

Anyhow, the clear winner over the next few days will almost certainly be yet another version of Charles Dicken’s constantly remade and revisited holiday perennial, this time from Disney, “A Christmas Carol.” Jim Carrey stars as Scrooge, who won’t hurt at the box office and Robert Zemeckis, in his “Polar Express” mode, is at the helm. Personally, while I found the earlier motion-capture movie a fun visceral thrill ride in Imax 3-D, despite a story that was the very definition of treacle, I personally find this style of animation extremely ugly; it’s as if it’s always stuck in the armpit of the Uncanny Valley. Moreover critics, including our own David Medsker, complain that Zemeckis gets carried away with the effects and makes things a bit too visceral and scary for the film’s own good. Still, if it worked even for Mr. Magoo, there’s no reason to think it won’t work well enough for some fiscal redemption. THR‘s Carl DiOrio, whose nearly as jolly as an way-too-early St. Nick, is guessing it’ll grab about $40 million in premature yuletide cheer. A split decision by critics is, I suppose, neither here nor there.

After that, we have four films that will be duking it out with two extant strong releases, Michael Jackson’s ghostly final bow, “This Is It,” which may benefit from better than expected word of mouth and, of course, the horrifyingly profitable “Paranormal Activity.” Intriguingly, all these new major releases have a slightly spooky and/or “paranormal” spin and trying to guess which will do best is probably about as wise as playing with a Ouija board at a demon-infested San Diego townhome.

However, if traditional values and star power still mean anything all, the most likely third or fourth placer is, “The Men Who Stare at Goats” which brings us George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Ewan McGregor, and Kevin Spacey in an R-rated semi-Strangelovian semi-dark comedy from Overture about military guys messing about with supposed psychic powers (which may have actually happened once or twice in real history.) This is the kind of material I personally eat up with a spoon, and even researched for various terrible and/or unwritten screenplays in another life. Still, I ain’t audiences and the buzz on this one from the festival circuit was fairly muted and the critics are just on the positive side of “meh.” On the other hand, Variety reports that it’s “tracking” well and considering the lack of fresh comedy contenders in theaters right now and the presence of four very reliable performers, this would appear to be the one to bet on among the lower-profile new releases. What I wouldn’t bet on it for, however, is much in the way of awards.

Now, if you really are looking for Oscar contenders as we near the traditional period I call “good movie season,” you’re apparently looking a bit early. The only film with serious awards buzz this week is a limited release, the critically buzzed dark drama “Precious.” With an assist from Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey, who’ve lent their names and their dollars to the release, this adaptation of a popular novel, “Push” — about a sexually abused, dysfunctional teen with a non-traditionally cinematic weight problem — will be opening on eighteen screens in New York, L.A., Chicago, and Atlanta.

Getting back to the theater-count big time, we have a pair of kind of decidedly off-kilter PG-13 thrillers and my not-so paranormal hunch is that they’ll likely generate a shrug from audiences. First we have the latest from backlash-beset ex-whiz kid Richard Kelly of “Donnie Darko” fame, “The Box” from Warner Brothers. As befits a major release going to more than 2,600 theaters, this is not the same kind of weirdness which had some older critics flashing back to such sixties art-monstrosities as “Myra Breckenridge” with Kelly’s last film, “Southland Tales.” Indeed, the morally fraught premise — push a button, win $1,000,000 (in seventies cash!) but also killl some random schmoe — has a bit of “Twilight Zone” appeal to it. That makes sense; it’s based on a story by Richard Matheson (the novel I Am Legend), who wrote many of the best episodes of the show. Still, it appears that Kelly has done has Kelly¬†extra-strange thing here to some degree, which might not help commercially and appears to have divided critics, again. On the other hand, having Cameron Diaz, James Marsden, and Frank Langella as the creepy gifter won’t hurt this one.

Milla Jovovich and some guy in
On the other hand, I’m not sure if even the hotness of Milla Jovovich can do very much for “The Fourth Kind,” a sci-fi thriller which, in tried and true grindhouse-derived fashion, is trying — pretty lamely from the sound of it — to pass itself off as somehow fact based. As the mighty Roger reminds us, the untrue “based on a true story” gimmick is something that even worked in one genuine classic, “Fargo.” Of course, Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” also traded on the then-trendy idea that UFO’s could actually be real alien spaceships in its ads, but mollified skeptics with a classy movie.

Especially in the wake of the intelligent marketing of “Paranormal Activity,” which stopped well short of trying to fool anyone into actually thinking it was real, I suspect the scent of cheese here will be overpowering. Indeed, my esteemed colleague Jason Zingale indicates it might be laughed off the screen. Finally, one guy’s opinion among the mostly awful reviews invoked the ghost of Edward D. Wood, Jr. and the Amazing Criswell.

Join me on Sunday for the box office results, when we’ll punish the guilty and reward the probably not-quite innocent.

  

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