MOVIE REVIEWS: DISNEY'S A CHRISTMAS CAROL

There's little harmony among critics assessing the latest cinematic version of Dickens' A Christmas Carol. (Actually, this one is called Disney's A Christmas Carol.) Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times, somewhat surprisingly, calls it "an exhilarating visual experience." Ebert, who has repeatedly denounced 3D technology in previous reviews (viewing a film through 3D glasses, he once remarked, is "like looking through a window that needs Windex.") remarks that director Robert Zemeckis is "one of the few directors who knows what he's doing with 3D." While he's reluctant to advise parents to take their kids to see it since it may be too frightening for them, he nevertheless concludes that it "has the one quality parents hope for in a family movie: It's entertaining for adults." A.O. Scott in the New York Times, while writing that Zemeckis goes overboard with the special effects near the end of the movie, says that he otherwise "sticks close to some of the sturdy virtues of the source material." And Chris Vognar in the Dallas Morning News regards the movie as "a worthy stab at mixing old and new, a vintage tale done with some fresh dazzle and a reminder that the movies can still bring the wow." On the other hand Joe Morgenstern in the Wall Street Journal condemns it as "a calamity." The story, he writes, feels "embalmed by technology." Likewise Carrie Rickey in the Philadelphia Inquirer calls it "visually immersive but emotionally uninvolving." As for the 3D technology, Claudia Puig in USA Today writes that Zemeckis "takes a story rich in nuance and renders it one-dimensional, more antic than thrilling." And Peter Howell in the Toronto Star comments that in this movie Zemeckis's use of 3D "only serves to further gild the lily. He's taken an immortal story and an A-list cast -- including Jim Carrey, Colin Firth and Gary Oldman -- and nearly smothered them with the digital equivalent of cellophane."

MOVIE REVIEWS: THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS

We get more paranormal activity this week in The Men Who Stare at Goats, starring George Clooney, Jeff Bridges and Stephen Lang about a reporter's efforts to reveal the story of an Army unit (supposedly real) seeking to harness the parapsychology for the benefit of the U.S. The movie, writes Steven Rea in the Philadelphia Inquirer, "has a glorious good time satirizing the extravagant lengths to which the military and intelligence establishments will go if they think there's a payoff at the other end." That's especially true in the case of Clooney, several critics observe. Roger Moore in the Orlando Sentinel, for example, observes that "'Wacky' isn't George Clooney's strong suit as an actor. But it's always at least amusing to watch the suave, silky leading man let his freak flag fly." In the San Francisco Chronicle Mike LaSalle writes that the movie shows just how far Clooney has come in his acting ability, "building a screen identity that's as specific and engaging as that of any classic film star. Like a James Stewart or a John Wayne, Clooney represents something just standing there - integrity, shrewdness, irony and self-deprecation. Or, to put it simply, today's American man." But Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times writes that although the movie may have initially been conceived as a showcase for Clooney, "more or less stealing the picture from Clooney is Jeff Bridges, an actor you can never see often enough."

MOVIE REVIEWS: PRECIOUS

Precious is opening in fewer than 100 theaters this weekend, but most critics agree that it's the film to see. The movie's marketers are almost certain to plaster the Chicago Sun-Times's Roger Ebert's description of it as "a great American film" on their ads. But there are also similar hyperboles from critics. Joe Morgenstern in the Wall Street Journal calls it "a shockingly beautiful film." Lou Lumenick in the the New York Post describes it as "wrenching and uplifting" and finally "remarkable." The film stars a raft of pop stars (the comedian Mo'Nique, singers Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz) and an equal number of virtual unknowns, including Gabourey Sidibe in the title role. "Remarkable performances drive home the film's inspiring message," writes Claudia Puig in USA Today. And the Associated Press's David Germain concludes that "Precious -- both the film and its grandly resilient title character -- will steal your heart."

MOVIE REVIEWS: THE FOURTH KIND

The film not to have a close encounter with this weekend, most critics warn, is The Fourth Kind, which is set in Nome, Alaska but which was actually shot in Bulgaria -- documentary style, like The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity -- about a supposed invasion of aliens who terrorize the good citizens of Nome. Like its predecessors, says Roger Moore in the Orlando Sentinel, "The Fourth Kind is a fraud, but that wouldn't matter if it were scarier and better acted." Writes Joe Neumaier in the New York Daily News: "Badly acted by everyone (including the director, Olatunde Osunsanmi, who appears onscreen), this insipid jumble's idea of fright is incessant screaming."

Cinemark Movie Club