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Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2004 05:44 pm

movie reviews


Great doesn't begin to describe Alexander

Close to the end -- but not close enough -- of Oliver Stone's ambitious historical drama Alexander, the Macedonian king of the title finds himself facing a mutinous army that's reached the end of its rope. Having fought in more than 50 battles and traveled more than 10,000 miles (and this is long before rest areas with Starbucks coffee and warm scones, mind you), the survivors of the original 40,000 warriors who set out with the overly ambitious king have had enough. Tired and longing to return home to see their loved ones once more before they die, they implore Alexander to let them go.

Though I was fairly certain I would survive the screening of Alexander to see my family again (I must admit, doubts did creep in during the third ceremonial-dance number), I could relate to the pain these warriors were expressing. This film is a long, slow affair that lacks a center, an overwrought, unfocused movie that meanders from one key event to another in the great leader's life while providing very few connective scenes to put it all into context. The result is a Cliffs Notes overview of the life of one of the world's great leaders: All of the facts are touched upon with little passion or insight.

As Alexander, Colin Farrell does what he can to show us the growth and decline of the conqueror who united 90 percent of the known world before he was 25. The movie deals mainly with his campaigns into Persia, Egypt, and India and the toll it takes on his character. Along the way, he must step out of the shadow of his abusive father, King Philip (Val Kilmer), deal with his manipulative mother, Queen Olympias (Angelina Jolie), and come to terms with the love he feels for his childhood friend and fellow warrior Hephaestion (Jared Leto).

What's so shocking about this disaster -- which, with a budget exceeding $150 million, could end up being one of Hollywood's biggest-ever flops -- is the number of talented people involved in its production. Oscar-winning director Stone, who's wanted to make this film for more than a decade, is a master of compelling history-based dramas, and yet his touch has left him here. Though Stone is known as a filmmaker who eschews restraint, Alexander would have benefited from his trademark in-your-face-approach instead of the pedestrian tack he takes here.

The biggest problem with the film is that it lacks any reason for being. No insight is provided as to why Alexander is driven as fiercely as he is, and few connections are made to link one event to the next. The film jumps ahead and back in time so often that it's hard to keep track of where you are. In the end, Alexander bites off more than it can chew and ends up choking on its own ambition.

Adolescent antics make for an unbearable holiday flick

John Grisham's Skipping Christmas is a slight, manipulative holiday story that's as thin thematically as the book is scant. Running a mere 177 pages, this 2001 novella from the master of the courtroom drama was the author's attempt to break away a bit from the genre that's made him rich and famous. Of course, it landed the author once more on the bestseller list. Transparent though the story may be, Grisham's heart is in the right place, and his sincerity is the one element that makes the book just bearable enough to read to the end. Too bad the same can't be said for the awful big-screen adaptation of the book, Christmas with the Kranks, a Home Alone for adults brimming with pratfalls, simplistic sight gags, and comic situations so broad that even the Three Stooges would have opted not to use them. What a coincidence that Chris Columbus, director of Alone, adapted the screenplay and can accept full responsibility for injecting his trademark adolescent humor into the story.

With their only daughter, Blair (Julie Gonzalo), off in Peru as part of a Peace Corps delegation, Luther and Nora Krank (Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis) are suffering from empty-nest syndrome and dreading Christmas without Blair. In an effort to avoid this depressing situation -- and save a little cash -- Luther proposes that he and Nora take a Caribbean cruise costing $3,000, which is $3,000 less than what they spent on Christmas gifts the year before. He proposes that they leave on Christmas and spend 10 days in the sun and sand. Though it takes a bit for Nora to warm to this notion, she agrees and reluctantly goes along with her husband's plan, which includes a boycott of all things Christmas. No decorations will adorn their house, the plastic Frosty the Snowman will stay tucked away in their dingy basement, their annual Christmas Eve party will be canceled, and charitable contributions will be kept to a minimum. The spirit of Scrooge gets a foothold on Luther's psyche, and he and his wife end up paying the price for it in the end.

Everything about this film is exaggerated -- it's not so much a holiday film as it is a live-action cartoon filled with unrealistic action and odd behavior. The neighbors, led by busybody Vic Frohmeyer (Dan Aykroyd), border on the psychotic in their insistence that the Kranks adhere to the holiday rituals of the neighborhood. Frohmeyer and his cohorts behave more like the pod people from Invasion of the Body Snatchers than friends, and the film's subtext of conforming to the rules of society and eschewing independent thought is a disturbing one.

All of these elements -- plus another bland turn by Allen, coupled with a performance by Curtis so manic I was hoping someone would give her an elephant tranquilizer -- makes Kranks an excruciating experience.

Also in theaters this week. . .

After the Sunset [PG-13] A master thief (Pierce Brosnan) retires to an island paradise. His arch nemesis, FBI agent Stan Lloyd (Woody Harrelson), keeps an eye on him. Parkway Pointe

Alexander [R] Alexander (Colin Farrell), King of Macedonia, conquers most of the known world. Oliver Stone directs. Parkway Pointe, ShowPlace East

Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason [R] Bridget Jones (Renée Zellweger) is growing uncomfortable with her relationship with Mark Darcy (Colin Firth). Plus, Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant) is back. ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East

Friday Night Lights [PG-13] Chronicles the 1988 season of the Permian High Panthers in football-obsessed Odessa, Texas. Based on H.G. Bissinger's book. White Oaks

The Grudge [R] An American nurse living in Japan is exposed to a mysterious virus that locks people in a powerful rage before killing them. ShowPlace West

The Incredibles [PG] A family of superheroes lives quietly in the burbs thanks to the Witness Protection Program, until they're called into action to save the world. Animated. ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East

Ladder 49 [PG-13] A firefighter trapped in a fire that's likely to kill him, reviews his life. John Travolta also stars. White Oaks

Napoleon Dynamite [PG] The title character is an odd Idaho teenager whose great loves are dancing and the ways of the ninja. White Oaks

National Treasure [PG] Benjamin Franklin Gates (Nicholas Cage) hunts for a war chest hidden by the Founding Fathers prior to the Revolutionary War. ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East

The Polar Express [G] Based on the popular children's book, a story of a boy who is whisked by train to the North Pole on Christmas Eve. ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East

Ray [PG-13] Jamie Foxx portrays musical legend Ray Charles. Parkway Pointe

Saw [R] A man wakes up in a dark room, chained to a pipe. On the other side of the room: another man, also chained. One man must kill the other -- or his wife and daughter will die. Parkway Pointe

The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie [PG] SpongeBob SquarePants leaves Bikini Bottom to track down King Neptune's stolen crown. Parkway Pointe, ShowPlace East

Surviving Christmas [PG-13] A depressed record executive (Ben Affleck) returns to his childhood home and asks the family who lives there to take him in for the holidays. They have their own problems. White Oaks

Thérèse: The Story of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux [G] One of five sisters who become nuns, Thérèse finds the path to sainthood by doing little things. Parkway Pointe

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