COCO CHANEL

If there’s one thing Richard Kelly knows how to do well, it’s mess with his audience’s minds. The director of cult favourite Donnie Darko and twisted apocalypse trip Southland Tales returns with his third feature The Box, a Twilight Zone-style thriller that pits a young couple (James Marsden and Cameron Diaz) against fate when they are presented with a device by a mysterious stranger. Will they or won’t they push the button, killing someone they don’t know to get a cash prize? And is there a greater conspiracy behind it?

To mark the release of The Box on DVD and Blu-ray, Icon and Rotten Tomatoes are giving you the chance to win a copy of the film. To win, tell us in 25 words or less what your favourite sci-fi thriller is, and why. Send your answers, along with your mailing address, to: The Box Giveaway.

Entries close Monday, Thursday, March 4. Winners will be notified by mail. Please note that the contest is open to Australian residents only.

The Box is available on DVD and Blu-ray from March 3.


This week at the movies, we’ve got some modern-day Dickens (Disney’s A Christmas Carol, starring Jim Carrey and Gary Oldman); a button-pushing thriller (The Box, starring Cameron Diaz and James Marsden); vanishing Alaskans (The Fourth Kind, starring Milla Jovovich and Elias Koteas); and some psychic soldiers (The Men Who Stare at Goats, starring George Clooney and Jeff Bridges). What do the critics have to say?



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Disney’s A Christmas Carol

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is one of literature’s most haunting morality tales — and one of the most adapted. Critics are largely split on two key aspects of Robert Zemeckis’ motion-capture version starring Jim Carrey: whether it honors the, ahem, spirit of Dickens’ classic, and whether the motion-capture technology is aesthetically appealing. No need to rehash the plot; if you’ve never heard the tale of mean ol’ Ebenezer Scrooge (Carrey) and his long-suffering employee Bob Cratchit (Gary Oldman), get thee to a library immediately. While some find Zemeckis’ live action/animation hybrid an echanting way of updating a seasonal classic, others feel the visuals bog down the classic tale with an overabundance of empty action.



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The Box

Richard Kelly has only made three films, but he’s had a roller-coaster of a career. His debut was the cult-fave Donnie Darko, which was followed by the ambitious but roundly-panned Southland Tales. Now comes his latest mind twister The Box, which is splitting critics; some say it’s an intriguing head trip, while others say it’s preposterous and inconsistent. Cameron Diaz and James Marsden play a married couple presented with a mysterious proposition from a stranger: there’s a button in a box, and if they push it, they will receive a million dollars, but someone will die. Some pundits say The Box is tense, edgy, and original, while others deride its plot holes and lack of overall cohesion. (Check out Kelly’s Five Favorite Films here.)



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The Fourth Kind

With its combination of a government conspiracy, extraterrestrial visitors, and the foreboding climes of Alaska, The Fourth Kind seemingly has all the elements in place for a gripping horror flick. Too bad the execution’s so clumsy, critics say. Milla Jovovich stars as a shrink whose patients all tell her similar tales of nighttime frights; could aliens be to blame? The pundits say The Fourth Kind has some decent shocks, but its gimmicky presentation — a split screen technique in which patients describe their experiences alongside pseudo-documentary footage of the events — doesn’t quite come off, and the performances are uneven.



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The Men Who Stare at Goats

For the most part, the recent wave of Iraq war films has brought downbeat dramas, so the satirical aim of The Men Who Stare at Goats is certainly welcome. And critics say that the film, though scattershot, has moments of brilliant absurdist humor. Hinting that its story is not terribly far from the truth, Goats is the tale of a secret military program that involves the use of psychics who attempt to use their mind power to defeat the enemy. The pundits say the film is elevated by the deadpan comic presence of George Clooney, and if the film never fully comes together, many of its scenes are sharp and funny. (Check out this week’s Total Recall, in which we run down Clooney’s best-reviewed films.)


Also opening this week in limited release:

Richard Kelly’s no stranger to the mysterious whims of fate. His first feature, Donnie Darko, flopped upon initial release, only to live on as one of the decade’s most beloved cult movies. But his much-anticipated follow up, the difficult-if-memorable Southland Tales, vanished without a trace. This week Kelly will be hoping to change his fortunes with his third film, The Box, a sci-fi thriller based on a short story from Twilight Zone writer Richard Matheson. We spoke with him recently to ask about it.


RT: What interested you in The Box?

RK: This was a short story that I optioned about six years ago, so I’ve been trying to figure out how to turn it into a film for several years now. In 2006, it finally all clicked for me. I figured out how to crack the story. The timing was right, and I felt like I wanted to make this my third film. I felt I wanted to go back and make a film in Virginia, where I grew up. [I wanted] to take my parents and my family and the elements of their lives and merge it with Richard Matheson’s short story, to flesh out Arthur and Norma in a very personal way, and to do an old-fashioned suspense film. It’s kind of an old-fashioned film in the sense that there’s not one swear word in it, there’s very little violence ultimately. It’s a very suspenseful film that I hope we’ve made, in the tradition of the kinds of films that my parents grew up with. I guess it would be Alfred Hitchcock who’s someone that I think of. My parents introduced me to Alfred Hitchcock films.

RT: And like Hitchcock’s work, The Box has a moral quandary buried within a thriller.

RK: Yeah, it has this tantalizing concept of this button that could cause the death of another human being. And receiving a million dollars for it — that’s a question that you could propose to anyone. I think it’s interesting to think about how many people would go through with it (laughs), and to think about why they would go through with it. Arthur’s a scientist, and he looks at this button unit, and there’s no technology in it. It’s a piece of wood. When he opens it up, the button doesn’t do anything. And so, in his mind, push it! There’s no way this could cause the death of another human being. Push it a hundred times. Who cares? It’s just superstition. But then, when you get into the idea of, is there something greater at work? Is there some sort of magic or a higher power at work? That’s when Arthur’s made to believe, OK, this is real. And Mr. Stewart has some sort of greater ability.

RT: Are we speaking in religious terms here?

RK: I think we’re talking about science and religion, and ultimately, some sort of supernatural entity that is kind of controlling all of this that Mr. Stewart has access to. That’s part of the investigation into the mystery.

RT: Do feel like your fans will see this as a “Richard Kelly film?”

RK: I hope so. I’ve taken something that was six pages long, that was Richard Matheson’s creation, and I’ve been very reverential to it. But I’ve definitely brought a lot [to it]. It’s the most personal film I’ve ever made. At the same time, it’s also my first studio film, and [it’s] more mainstream than the previous two films. It feels very much like something that people would expect from me, I guess (laughs). Specifically with Donnie Darko; I think it feels tonally similar to Donnie Darko in a lot of ways.

RT: I appreciate the fact that Donnie Darko doesn’t spell out its meaning. Is that something you strive for in all of your films?

RK: I always like that there’s a degree of ambiguity, and that there’s a lot for people to digest and think about. I hope to always make films that people can watch more than once and continue to see new things, because for me, those are the films that continue to age well. At the same time, it’s also about giving people enough answers so that they don’t feel alienated of confused. It’s about finding that balance in the middle.

RT: I found Southland Tales fascinating. Does that movie still stay with you?

RK: I’m so proud of that film. What I really want to do is to be able to go back and do a longer director’s cut of it at some point. There are still some unfinished visual effects that I’d like to do. And then the whole graphic novel prequel, that will always stay with me, and I hope that one day I’ll get to revisit all of that.

RT: What’s the optimal length you’re thinking of?

RK: I’d love to put an additional 10 or 15 minutes back into the film. Then, I’d love to do the whole prequel saga as an animated motion-capture film at some point. If the actors aren’t all in wheelchairs by that point (laughs).



Richard Kelly

 

Is it possible that after only two films (his cult hit debut Donnie Darko and his infamously panned follow-up, Southland Tales), director Richard Kelly has already achieved auteur status? Audiences will find out this Halloween, when Kelly’s next film, The Box, opens in theaters. Based on Richard Matheson’s short story Button, Button, the old-fashioned thriller follows a married couple (Cameron Diaz and James Marsden) who are given a choice: if they push a button they’ll receive one million dollars, but someone somewhere will die. Rotten Tomatoes spoke with Kelly in San Diego just hours before he debuted extended footage from The Box and discussed his favorite films, the genesis of The Box, and his hopes to return to Southland Tales with an eventual Director’s Cut.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968,
96% Tomatometer)



2001: A Space Odyssey
It pioneered everything, and it’s a film that says pretty much everything that needs to be said about our species (laughs). It was just such a groundbreaking film on every level. I don’t know if anyone has broken ground quite in the way that Kubrick did with that film.

Barry Lyndon (1975, 94% Tomatometer)



Barry Lyndon
On the flipside, Barry Lyndon, for me, is the most beautiful film ever made, for its beauty and also for its statement about our hubris as a species, in the character of Barry Lyndon being a fool who destroys everyone around him. After that it’s really murky.


Vertigo (1958, 98% Tomatometer)



Vertigo
My favorite Alfred Hitchcock film would have to be Vertigo.


Close Encounters of the Third Kind
(1977, 95% Tomatometer)

 

Close Encounters of the Third KindMy favorite Spielberg film is probably Close Encounters of the Third Kind.



The Big Lebowski
(1998, 77% Tomatometer)



The Big Lebowski
Who’s another director I like? My favorite Coen Brothers film has gotta be The Big Lebowski.

 


Next: Kelly talks about the merits of ambiguity in cinema, and why The Box is his most personal film.

RT: So what of The Box will be show at Comic-Con?

RK: It’s a four and a half minute montage that I cut together. It has the score from the film, so I’m really excited for everyone to see it.

RT: What interested you in The Box?

RK: This was a short story that I optioned about six years ago, so I’ve been trying to figure out how to turn it into a film for several years now. In 2006, it finally all clicked for me. I figured out how to crack the story. The timing was right, and I felt like I wanted to make this my third film. I felt I wanted to go back and make a film in Virginia, where I grew up. [I wanted] to take my parents and my family and the elements of their lives and merge it with Richard Matheson’s short story, to flesh out Arthur and Norma in a very personal way, and to do an old-fashioned suspense film. It’s kind of an old-fashioned film in the sense that there’s not one swear word in it, there’s very little violence ultimately. It’s a very suspenseful film that I hope we’ve made, in the tradition of the kinds of films that my parents grew up with. I guess it would be Alfred Hitchcock who’s someone that I think of. My parents introduced me to Alfred Hitchcock films.

RT: And like Hitchcock’s work, The Box has a moral quandary buried within a thriller.

RK: Yeah, it has this tantalizing concept of this button that could cause the death of another human being. And receiving a million dollars for it — that’s a question that you could propose to anyone. I think it’s interesting to think about how many people would go through with it (laughs), and to think about why they would go through with it. Arthur’s a scientist, and he looks at this button unit, and there’s no technology in it. It’s a piece of wood. When he opens it up, the button doesn’t do anything. And so, in his mind, push it! There’s no way this could cause the death of another human being. Push it a hundred times. Who cares? It’s just superstition. But then, when you get into the idea of, is there something greater at work? Is there some sort of magic or a higher power at work? That’s when Arthur’s made to believe, OK, this is real. And Mr. Stewart has some sort of greater ability.

RT: Are we speaking in religious terms here?

RK: I think we’re talking about science and religion, and ultimately, some sort of supernatural entity that is kind of controlling all of this that Mr. Stewart has access to. That’s part of the investigation into the mystery.

[rtimage]MapID=1189532&MapTypeID=2&photo=1&legacy=1[/rtimage]

RT: Do feel like your fans will see this as a “Richard Kelly film?”

RK: I hope so. I’ve taken something that was six pages long, that was Richard Matheson’s creation, and I’ve been very reverential to it. But I’ve definitely brought a lot [to it]. It’s the most personal film I’ve ever made. At the same time, it’s also my first studio film, and [it’s] more mainstream than the previous two films. It feels very much like something that people would expect from me, I guess (laughs). Specifically with Donnie Darko; I think it feels tonally similar to Donnie Darko in a lot of ways.

RT: I appreciate the fact that Donnie Darko doesn’t spell out its meaning. Is that something you strive for in all of your films?

RK: I always like that there’s a degree of ambiguity, and that there’s a lot for people to digest and think about. I hope to always make films that people can watch more than once and continue to see new things, because for me, those are the films that continue to age well. At the same time, it’s also about giving people enough answers so that they don’t feel alienated of confused. It’s about finding that balance in the middle.

[rtimage]MapID=1165830&MapTypeID=2&photo=17&legacy=1[/rtimage]

RT: I found Southland Tales fascinating. Does that movie still stay with you?

RK: I’m so proud of that film. What I really want to do is to be able to go back and do a longer director’s cut of it at some point. There are still some unfinished visual effects that I’d like to do. And then the whole graphic novel prequel, that will always stay with me, and I hope that one day I’ll get to revisit all of that.

RT: What’s the optimal length you’re thinking of?

RK: I’d love to put an additional 10 or 15 minutes back into the film. Then, I’d love to do the whole prequel saga as an animated motion-capture film at some point. If the actors aren’t all in wheelchairs by that point (laughs).


Click here for more Comic-con coverage, and here for Kelly’s complete filmography.

Get our latest Comic-Con 2009 updates here:

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Frank Langella in SUperman Returns

Everyone
connected with
Richard
Kelly
‘s The Box
is happy to explain the premise: a couple is delivered a box with a
philosophical quandary attached. Open the box and they will be rich but someone
they do not know will die.
Frank Langella
(Masters
of the Universe
,
Superman Returns
)
plays the deliveryman, Arlington Stewart, in what will be a challenging role for
him.

"I’m
jumping into a whole other genre certainly with a much younger cast.," said
Langella. "Cameron
Diaz
and
James Marsden
are the hot young actors and it puts me in a new world."

Needless
to say, Langella has more than a cameo, so he won’t just be dropping off the
package and leaving them be. "Believe I’m there for the duration. It’s a
remarkable script.  Every actor I know says to me, ‘How did you get that part?’
I’m thrilled."

Just
getting into wardrobe fittings has already become a surreal experience. "I met
Rich Kelly and his producing partner,
Sean
McKittrick
, the other day having had long conversations on the phone, and I
didn’t know they were the director and producer.  I thought there were, like, AD
assistants.  I met a much older woman who was doing the clothes and these two
young guys kept talking and interrupting her and I finally said, ‘What do you do
in the movie?’ and he said, ‘I’m the director.’  I said, ‘Oh, okay.  You’re my
boss.’"

The Box, based on Richard Matheson’s short story Button, Button, is due in theaters in 2008.

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