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Christmas Coal

A Lump of Holiday-Timed Movie Releases

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"Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events" — Jude Law needs to take a year off. Even his brief silhouetted appearance as children's book author Lemony Snicket is salt on the wound of a grim and repetitious movie about three recently orphaned children oppressed by their inheritance-hungry uncle Count Olaf (Jim Carrey). The greatest misfortune that the vacuous children suffer is that Count Olaf never accomplishes his desperate goal of putting them out of their misery once and for all. As the film's title suggests, suffering is on the menu. Jim Carrey chews miles of disposable scenery in manifold disguises that go a long way to making his character far more appealing, entertaining and intriguing than the dull children he hunts. *



"The Phantom of the Opera" — Fans of musical theater will work themselves into a lather over Joel Schumacher's by-the-book film version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's play, but other audiences will either fall asleep or hit the doors running. There is nothing imaginative in the film's musical arrangements or visual style to deliver the screechy play from its corny trappings. Emmy Rossum ("Mystic River") is oh-so-precious as Christine Daae, the chorus girl elevated to leading lady status by the mysterious hand of her private music coach, the theater's live-in Phantom (Gerard Butler). Minnie Driver does an over-the-top Italian accent as opera diva Carlotta, and Miranda Richardson ("The Hours") adds a singular shred of realism to the otherwise tedious and affected drone of Webber's insufferable music. *



"Spanglish" — "Show, don't tell" is just one of many golden rules of filmmaking that writer/director James L. Brooks ignores at the peril of a movie that is thoroughly infuriating for its lack of a clear protagonist and inconsistent tone. Flor (Paz Vega), a Mexican single mother, and her adolescent daughter illegally enter America to follow dreams of freedom in Los Angeles, where Flor gets a job as a housekeeper to a wealthy Bel-Air family (Adam Sandler and Téa Leoni). Brooks' misguided attempts at comedy (witness Leoni's horribly faked orgasm) are eclipsed by his splintered efforts at high drama. "Spanglish" is a wrongheaded and dumb movie that marks a new low for Sandler — and that's really saying something.

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