Movies of Christmas past

National Treasure: Book of Secrets
What’s the big difference between 2004’s National Treasure and Book of Secrets 2004’s was at least witty, funny, entertaining and somewhat intelligent. Book of Secrets is a cookie-cutter clone that feels like it was written by the studio while the writers were out on strike, except Disney has no excuse because it wasn’t.

This time, Nick Cage’s cornball character is on a farfetched mission to break national security in order to restore his family’s image by clearing a dead ancestor’s name and, coincidentally, by doing so, uncover a lost Indian city of gold.

I Am Legend
Should’ve been called I Am Riddled with Pointless Holes, Unanswered Plot Points, A Left-Field Ending with a Moral, A Great Computer-generated City and Horrible Computer-generated Monsters (And a Few Tense Scenes)

Legend is just like Castaway. Tom Hanks is played by Will Smith and Wilson is played by Sam the Dog. Both are stranded in NYC after a virus turns all of mankind into Rubbermade zombie-vampires.

Though very good, Juno is not the acclaimed "best picture" everyone’s saying it is. While the story is natural and intriguing, the screenplay lacks the natural dialogue the story (and audience) needs. Instead of keeping the natural tone, screenwriter Diablo Cody threw in some fast, hip lingo that anyone out of high school for longer than two years will become lost within.

The story is great, though. A struggling teen goes through the train wreck of troubles that come with her young pregnancy.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Be warned ahead of time: Although it’s Tim Burton directing Johnny Depp singing around London in a musical, Sweeney Todd is one of the most graphic R-rated movies of the year … not to mention one of the best movies of the year.

Burton and Depp bring to life the legendary murderous barber’s tale in a beautifully packaged operetta.

The Great Debaters
Denzel Washington’s sophomore attempt at directing is good but not great. The cast is fantastic — Denzel and Forrest Whittaker in the same movie. Even the unknown actors are great.

A group of students from different backgrounds set their sights on being the first black debate team to go head to head against Harvard during the civil rights period. And while this hope-inspiring true story is one worth telling and watching, it’s not one that will be highly remembered.

The Golden Compass
The Golden Compass is a hard flick to review. Although it is an entertaining, visually beautiful, fun adventure, it doesn’t really go anywhere. We need the second and third installments to measure it. Instead of feeling more like the first chapter in a trilogy, it feels like the first third of a book — incomplete.

We find out that people’s spirits are tangible animals that walk beside them, that some evil people are trying to detach children from their spirits and something about dust. The Golden Compass is fun, but you can’t really judge it until you’ve seen the whole picture.

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story
What appeared to be a one-trick pony has easily become the funniest adult movie of the season. Co-writer Judd Apatow (Knocked Up, 40-Year-Old Virgin is on a role. Only he could make a nearly two-hour spoof of Ray and Walk the Line and keep you laughing from beginning to end. And previously dramatic actor John C. Reilly (Magnolia, Talladega Nights) has once again shown that he can master the comedic acting form, too.

One more time, be warned that Walk Hard is very adult. While the first and third acts have the tone of a PG-13 Will Ferrell movie, act two is all about the dark times in Dewey’s life, which are very R-rated. They show things (or a thing) on the big screen that nobody knew they could get away with.

Once again, another critically acclaimed film is not living up to its hype. While Atonement is good, it’s stuffed with too much meaningless, artsy filler that serves absolutely no purpose. Thirty minutes could’ve easily been trimmed from this already-slow-paced drama.

Atonement is just another tale of forbidden lovers torn apart by family, society and war. James McAvoy (The Land King of Scotland) does a remarkable job playing the poor farmhand forced into war. But Keira Knightley blandly delivers her miniscule role as the stuck-up rich girl. Atonement will be forgotten just as quickly as its nationwide, theatrical run.

The Kite Runner
Director Marc Forster (Finding Neverland, Stay) is successful because he does one thing better than almost every other director out there: He knows his story and characters so well that he can truly bring them to life on the big screen.

The Kite Runner is the story of metaphorical sin and the long, tough road to redemption through the culturally different eyes of an Afghani man.

Nearly halfway through the movie there’s a dry spell where you’d think the story would fizzle out in boredom, but then you’re smacked with a rejuvenating scene of such strong emotion that it lifts you up into his own personal struggle and carries you through to the end.

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