Darkness Jaume Balaguero. (R) A teenage girl (Anna Paquin) and her family move to a scary house with a scary past in the scary remote countryside. But the most horrifying thing about this film may just be that it began production in 2001 and has been shelved since early 2002. We'd tell you more, but the film was not screened for the (scary) press. Opens Saturday, December 25, at multiple locations. NR
Fat Albert Joel Zwick. (PG) A live-action update of the characters Bill Cosby brought to life in the animated TV series of the 1970s. Fat Albert (Saturday Night Live's Kenan Thompson, padded) is a lovable young man who leaps from the television into the "real-world" living room of Doris (Kyla Pratt), a weeping high school student he intends to help. Albert's junkyard buddies, always in tow, follow him into the 21st century, where they're charmingly confounded by cell phones, hip-hop and mean white girls. Albert falls in love, and Doris, though initially mortified by her kooky pals, gets the support she needs. The film is sweet and often genuinely funny, with lively musical numbers and a cast of entertaining personalities. It falters in its portrayal of the school villains (stereotypes, all) and whenever it tries too hard to pour on any one of its several syrupy messages. Also, it reeks of Hollywood, with dream-factory sets that appear far less real than the animation that inspired them. But it's OK. Fat Albert is easy to love. Opens Saturday, December 25, at multiple locations. (Melissa Levine)
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou Wes Anderson. (R) Opens Saturday, December 25, at multiple locations. Reviewed in this issue.
Meet the Fockers Jay Roach. (PG-13) Opens today at multiple locations. Reviewed in this issue.
The Phantom of the Opera Joel Schumacher (PG-13) Joel Schumacher's chaotic, often ill-sung movie version of the enduring Andrew Lloyd Webber hit runs two hours and twenty minutes and plays like ten days in the county jail. As the scar-faced monster/genius in the cellar, Scotsman Gerard Butler is as uncharismatic as he is unmusical, and it's painfully apparent that Schumacher (Falling Down, The Client) has never made a musical: Seduced by scale and baffled by the logistics of staging, he gallops from one clanging, lavishly costumed setpiece to the next without heed to character development, visual logic or dramatic pacing. The editing is so bad, you feel like you're watching a dozen movies at once. The ethereal nineteen-year-old soprano Emmy Rossum (Mystic River) does her level best as the troubled operatic understudy Christine, but you'll love Minnie Driver's screeching diva, La Carlotta -- assuming they've let you out of the lockup ward on a day pass. Where's Lon Chaney when we need him? With Angels in America star Patrick Wilson as the Count of Chagny, Christine's other boyfriend. Opens today at multiple locations. (Bill Gallo)
A Very Long Engagement Jean-Pierre Jeunet. (R) The new film by French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amélie) will have its fans. For one thing, there's no denying its beauty, an onslaught of gorgeous tableaux, painstakingly arranged and shot through filters to exclude colors that don't suit. There's Audrey Tautou, with her Hepburn mixture of sweetness and ferocity, hobbling about Paris on a polio-stiffened leg. There's the Jeunet talent for capturing an entire backstory in a quirky detail. And there is, finally, the epic story of a young woman who refuses to relinquish hope that her lover, missing in the Great War, still lives. But it's not a great movie. It wants to be great; it courses through countless lives and scenes to posit a comprehensive picture of postwar France, funneling it all through the weeping eyes of a precious heroine and her precious devotion to her childhood love. But it's too much, and too familiar, to succeed. Hollywood has given Jeunet its blessing, and Jeunet has made a film worthy of Hollywood. Which, alas, is not saying much. Opens today at the Tivoli. (Melissa Levine)
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