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Movies: 'Red Dawn,' 'Anna Karenina' & 'Rise of the Guardians'

Published 4:04 pm, Friday, December 7, 2012
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Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters:

"RED DAWN"

Making money shouldn't be the only reason for a remake, but that's obviously what propelled this ill-fated re-imagining of John Milius' 1984 action hit, featuring teenagers Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen.

Opening with news footage of President Obama, Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton warning about the threat of cyber-terrorism and the death of North Korea's Kim Jong-Il, the remake launches into an attack against the United States. But this time, it's not Russian Communists; it's North Koreans, led by Capt. Cho (Will Yun Lee).

Back in 2009 when this was filmed, it was supposed to be the Chinese but, during post-production, when MGM went bankrupt, the producers decided to change the nationality of the aggressors, demonstrating their awareness of the lucrative Chinese market for American films and not wanting to alienate Chinese government officials and potential foreign customers.

This invasion of the United States occurs in Spokane, Wash., where hundreds of North Korean paratroopers land, obviously via CGI. That occurs on the morning after the local high school quarterback, perpetually scowling Matt Eckert (Josh Peck), blew a big football game by not being a team player. His attitude inevitably -- and predictably -- changes when Matt and his laconic big brother Jed (Chris Hemsworth), a Marine who served in Iraq, flee with others to the family cabin in the woods. There, led by Jed, the teenagers form a guerrilla resistance force, calling themselves the Wolverines in tribute to their high school team. Rah, rah!

Citing as inspiration the original screenplay by John Milius and Kevin Reynolds, this embarrassingly inept, often racist remake was scripted by Carl Ellsworth and Jeremy Passmore and directed by Dan Bradley, a former stunt coordinator and second unit director.

FYI: The earnest young actor who plays Daryl Jenkins, the mayor's distraught son, is Connor Cruise, the adopted son of Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, this remake of "Red Dawn" is a wobbly, floundering 4. As one young commando observes, "We're living `Call of Duty' -- and it sucks!"

"ANNA KARENINA"

Sometimes called "the greatest novel ever written," Leo Tolstoy's epic love story takes place in Imperial Russia during the 1870s. As it begins, Anna Karenina (Keira Knightley) arrives in provincial Moscow from sophisticated St. Petersburg to comfort her distraught sister-in-law Dolly (Kelly Macdonald) after Anna's brother Oblonsky (Matthew Macfadyan) has been blatantly unfaithful.

On the train, she meets Countess Vronsky (Olivia Williams). Sparks fly when she encounters the countess' son, strutting cavalry officer Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Soon, even her staid, influential husband, Alexei Karenin (Jude Law), is aware of their scandalous flirtation. Risking not only her aristocratic reputation in society but access to her beloved, 8-year-old son, Anna impetuously embarks on a dangerous affair, resulting in her pregnancy. Meanwhile, Oblonsky's best friend, a gentleman farmer named Levin (Domhall Gleeson, son of actor Brendan Gleeson), is smitten with Dolly's younger sister, vacuous Princess Kitty (Alicia Vikander), who only has eyes for philandering Count Vronsky.

In this bizarre version, adapted by Tom Stoppard ("Shakespeare in Love") and directed by Joe Wright ("Pride and Prejudice," "Atonement"), the tragedy unfolds in a huge, magnificent theater. As the curtain rises, the performance commences and various players fall in and out of love -- with little moral meaning. On stage, backstage and on catwalks, they change partners and pirouette, always self-consciously aware of the impression they're making. Dario Marianelli's elaborate ballroom dance numbers are intricately choreographed by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, and credit the dazzling costumes to Jacqueline Durran with Ivana Primorac contributing hair and makeup design.

But because one is constantly aware of this hollow, exquisite artifice, it's difficult to evoke any emotional connection to the indiscretions of the various characters. So what's left is the opulence, providing a feast for the eyes but starvation for the soul. In addition, the plodding pacing is tedious, affording time to wonder how interesting it would be if Jude Law were to play brash Vronsky with an older actor cast as Anna's cuckolded husband.

On the Granger Movie Gauge, "Anna Karenina" is an intellectual, overwrought, highly stylized 6, a superficial spectacle.

"RISE OF THE GUARDIANS"

As the story goes, more than 300 years ago, the Man in the Moon appointed Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and the Sandman as Guardians, serving as stalwart protectors of innocence and wonder. Their sinister adversary is the Boogeyman, who is determined to destroy children's naïve belief in these magical icons, thus rendering them powerless. Because of a bizarre lunar prophecy, a playful yet lonely water sprite, Jack Frost (voiced by Chris Pine), is thrust into the fray, much to the dismay of those who are skeptical about this slippery, glistening, invisible outsider who turns water into ice.

What's curious is how these characters are depicted. Known as North, Santa (voiced by Alec Baldwin) talks like a Russian, has tattoos and a thumb ring and is tended by manic elves and hard-working yetis. E. Aster Bunnymund (voiced by Hugh Jackman) with his fleet-footed, faceless eggs is obviously Australian. The flitting forces of the Tooth Fairy (voiced by Isla Fisher) not only faithfully bestow her under-the-pillow coins but save the teeth they gather. Last but never least, snoozing Sandman silently spins his pixie dust into children's windows at night, begetting the sweet dreams that the Boogeyman, called Pitch Black (voiced by Jude Law), is determined to plunge into dark, despairing, dungeon-filled nightmares.

Their battle for youthful minds and hearts is waged around two New England tykes: Jamie (Dakota Goyo) and his little sister, Sophie (Georgie Grieve), who stumbles into the portal linking Earthly world with the Guardians.

Amusingly adapted by playwright/screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire from William Joyce's books, "The Guardians of Childhood," as well as Joyce's short feature "The Man in the Moon," this fairy tale, as directed by former storyboard artist Peter Ramsay, is overly busy, yet beautiful to behold, especially in 3D, thanks to cinematographer Roger Deakins, who served as visual consultant, along with executive producer Guillermo del Toro.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Rise of the Guardians" is family-friendly 7. Too bad that the fantasy gets so frenetic that it's exhausting.