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Movie Reviews: Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, Creation, Sherlock Holmes 

Also, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus

Wednesday, Dec 23 2009
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ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: THE SQUEAKQUEL Closing out a pretty great year for children’s movies — Up, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, Coraline among them — Betty Thomas’ dutiful animated and live-action sequel to 2007’s Alvin and the Chipmunks brings up the rear with capable mediocrity. It’s not entirely Thomas’ fault: What are you going to do with those fat-cheeked, helium-voiced singing critters but slap together enough “awwww” moments to make the toddlers happy, and enough knowing winks to keep parental bums in the seats? Except that these days, even the younger-than-10 market has to be carved up, sectioned off by gender and genre. Enter the Chipettes, a rootin’-tootin’ sassy girl group voiced by Amy Poehler, Anna Faris and Christina Applegate, to compete with, then cozy up to rambunctious Alvin and his pals (same guys as last time). With Jason Lee’s Dave in the hospital and more or less out of the picture, our furry lads run amok at school while under the benignly neglectful care of a shy dweeb (Zachary Levi) with a feeble subplot of his own to trudge through. The rest is a horribly loud, partially comprehensible and half-assed action movie, strewn with homilies about staying true to your sisters and bros, which just about every studio except Pixar lazily serves up below the PG-13 cutoff. (Citywide) (Ella Taylor)

GO  CREATION Already a blogosphere punching bag for right-wing Christians, Creation — about Charles Darwin’s writing of On the Origin of Species — commits the sin of thoughtfulness, and is quite moving in the process. Director Jon Amiel, working from a screenplay by John Collee, injects flashes of artsy craftsmanship (time-lapse photography depicting a bird’s body decaying and being absorbed into the Earth) in an otherwise visually lovely, solidly tasteful period piece. The Darwin we meet is trying — and failing — to come to terms with grief over the death of his favorite daughter (he has three other children), which wreaks havoc on every aspect of his life. Paul Bettany is note-perfect as Darwin, whether shading in grief, showing the erotic heat beneath his love for his wife (played by Bettany’s real-life partner, Jennifer Connelly; they have palpable chemistry) or perfectly essaying the torturous nature of channeling ideas into words. The film’s title speaks not only to the issue of evolution versus creation but also to what it means to be a person of the mind. Creation’s power lies in its layers, in the way it makes distinctions between religion and faith, and the ways it beautifully (save for one clunky bit of overexplanation) lays out the similarities between religion and science, from the healing power of water to the “curses” issued even upon true believers. (Nuart) (Ernest Hardy)

THE IMAGINARIUM OF DR. PARNASSUS Reunited with Charles McKeown, his co-writer from Brazil and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Terry Gilliam has created another Ultimate Po-mo adventure crammed to a fault with big ideas and bigger images, which mutate a grungy contemporary London into a living heaven and hell. The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus is nothing if not one from the heart, and not just because it’s haunted by the ghost of Heath Ledger, whose death during filming threatened to shut down the shoot until three other notable bad boys stepped in to amplify his role as the possibly feckless love interest of Lily Cole, a model who looks like an otherworldly kitty. The titular Doctor P., played with livid zest by Christopher Plummer, is a suitably Olympian man of the theater, as misunderstood and unattended to by his audience as Gilliam feels he is for prizing imagination over mundane reality. He’s also a compulsive gambler who has traded away the future of his beloved daughter (Cole) to the devil (Tom Waits — really!) in return for immortality, then eternal youth and other existentially dubious goodies. This is potentially wonderful, if not exactly new stuff, but Gilliam and McKeown’s willful refusal of coherent narrative and determination to pack every idea they ever had about art into one scenario make this fiendishly gorgeous movie more exhausting than exhilarating to watch. (ArcLight Hollywood; AMC Century City) (Ella Taylor)

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IRON CROSS Mostly notable for being the final film for actor Roy Scheider, who died in 2008, writer-director Joshua Newton’s portentous revenge drama wants to say something meaningful about retribution and forgiveness but is overwhelmed by its own sense of dour significance. Visiting Nuremberg to see his estranged son, Ronnie (Scott Cohen), retired New York cop Joseph (Scheider) finds himself confronting long-buried memories of his time fleeing the Nazis as a child in Poland. Adding to his unease, Joseph becomes convinced that Ronnie’s German neighbor (Helmut Berger) is actually the former SS commander who orchestrated the deaths of his family. Iron Cross splits its time between the present, where Joseph improbably enlists his son to help kidnap the neighbor, and 1940s Poland, where young Joseph (played by the filmmaker’s son, Alexander) is on the run from Hitler’s goons. Inspired by his own father’s experiences during the Holocaust, Newton cuts between the two time periods to illustrate how Joseph has never fully recovered from the horrors of his past. Despite Scheider’s haunted gravitas, the film tips its hand early on that Joseph’s obsession will lead not to justice but only to more tragedy, accentuating every not-so-dramatic twist with unsubtle, “mournful” strings. As for Scheider, who was relegated to bit parts in forgettable productions near the end of his career, it’s nice to see him get one final opportunity to be a leading man — it’s just unfortunate that Iron Cross isn’t the farewell he deserved. (Sunset 5) (Tim Grierson)

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