Like my book reviews site, these are movie reviews I write for entertainment purposes only. These are just my reviews and my opinions. They are not endorsed by Blogger or any movie studios or anyone else. So there. I borrowed my scoring system from the Metacritic site, which does not imply an endorsement from them, although I think they do have a very nice website. I convert the 1-100 scores into 1-4 stars, essentially it works like this:

1 star = 25 points
2 stars = 50 points
3 stars = 75 points
4 stars = 100 points

And then if something falls about halfway between, then I'll give it an added half-star.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Box

This movie is based on a short story by Richard Matheson.  Matheson is perhaps best known as one of the main writers for the original "Twilight Zone" series.  I might be wrong, but I think Matheson along with Charles Beaumont and creator Rod Serling wrote the bulk of the original 162 episodes.  At any rate, Matheson's story for "The Box" would probably have worked better as a 30-minute TZ episode than a nearly two hour film.

The movie focuses on the Lewis family in Virginia in 1976. (Why 1976?  I have no idea.)  Patriarch Arthur (James Marsden) is a scientist at NASA who built a camera for the Viking rover and dreams of being an astronaut.  Wife Norma (Cameron Diaz) is an English teacher at a private school, whose right foot was maimed in a terrible accident.  Their son Walter is a student at the private school.

Then one day a man with a burned face shows up calling himself Arlington Steward (Frank Langella) and leaves a mysterious box on the Lewis' doorstep.  The wooden box has a button on the top of it that is protected by a glass dome, which is locked.  Steward returns later to give the key to Norma and to present her with the worst game of "Let's Make A Deal" ever.  If she pushes the button she will receive a million bucks in cash.  But the catch is that someone she doesn't know will die.  Or she can refuse and take a mere $100 for her participation in the experiment.

Norma initially is reluctant, but when she learns that the school is cutting Walter's free tuition and that Arthur was passed over for the astronaut program, she changes her mind.  I don't think it's spoiling anything to say that she pushes the button.  If she didn't what would be the point of the movie?

This of course results in complications and an even crueler "experiment" to bring things full circle.  I don't want to say much more than that so as not to spoil the plot.

Writer/director Richard Kelly earned fame for "Donnie Darko" a movie that generally people either love or loathe.  I am in the former category.  I thought "Donnie" was a great, dark coming of age tale mixed with creepiness, suspense, and just general weirdness.  What actually ruined "Donnie" for me was reading the FAQ on IMDB that explains the movie; it was much more fun to BS about what everything meant.

With "The Box" Kelly employs the same tactics.  There's a lot of weird stuff that happens and not a lot of it seems to make sense.  People's noses start bleeding, there's a creepy kid in Norma's class who later shows up at a wedding reception, and zombie-like people shambling around following Norma and Arthur at times.  Unlike "Donnie" this seemed to make more sense after it was over.  If you want a hint, think of "The Day the Earth Stood Still" or "Legion."  (Which one of those is more correct would probably depend on your religious beliefs.)

I didn't really like the movie as I was watching it.  It was slow and dull and after nearly two hours I was more than ready for it to just get to the punchline.  What made it better for me was thinking about it after it was over.  At first the experiment didn't seem to make sense because on one hand it seems to show that people are greedy and on the other that they're noble and capable of sacrifice.  It would seem to be a wash then.  Thinking about it some more, I decided what it really shows is that humans are capable of redemption, so that while Norma pushes the button and causes someone to die, she is also capable of atoning for this.  If I watched this a second time I'd probably like it better--so long as I don't read any IMDB FAQs.

It certainly is better than Kelly's previous film "Southland Tales" but that's like saying Ben Affleck's latest performance is better than "Gigli"--there was nowhere to go but up!  As I said at the beginning, this probably would have worked better as a 30-minute or even 60-minute "Twilight Zone" episode, but not 115 minutes.  There is actually a "Twilight Zone" about a box three bumbling criminals finds that takes pictures of the future.  As with many TZ episodes this leads to catastrophic consequences.  I can't remember if that was a Matheson episode or not.  Watching that again would be more enjoyable than sitting through "The Box" again.

That is all.

My score:  50/100 (2 stars)

Metacritic score:  47/100 (2 stars)

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