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This image released by Paramount Pictures shows North voiced by Alec Baldwscene from 'Rise Guardians.'  (AP Photo/Paramount Pictures DreamWorks

This image released by Paramount Pictures shows North, voiced by Alec Baldwin, in a scene from "Rise of the Guardians." (AP Photo/Paramount Pictures, DreamWorks Animation)

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Updated: December 24, 2012 6:50AM



‘LIFE OF PI’ ★★★★

Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi” is a miraculous achievement of storytelling and a landmark of visual mastery. Inspired by a worldwide best-seller that many readers must have assumed was unfilmable, it is a triumph over its difficulties. It is also a moving spiritual achievement, a movie whose title could have been shortened to “life.”

The story involves the 227 days that its teenage hero spends drifting across the Pacific in a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger. It expands into a parable of survival, acceptance and adaptation. I imagine even Yann Martel, the novel’s French-Canadian author, must be delighted to see how the usual kind of Hollywood manhandling has been sidestepped by Lee’s poetic idealism.

A sequence with a floating island raises the question: Is it real? Is this whole story real? I refuse to ask that question. “Life of Pi” is all real, second by second and minute by minute, and what it finally amounts to is left for every viewer to decide. I have decided it is one of the best films of the year.

‘RISE OF THE GUARDIANS’ ★★★

In his children’s book series, William Joyce imagines a loosely knit Avengers-style federation of the guardians of childhood. Most of them are famous: Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, the Sandman and so on. Jack Frost’s reputation suffers sadly in comparison.

In the animated “Rise of the Guardians,” Jack Frost finds himself literally invisible. When he visits Earth, people are able to walk right through him, since he is a spritely boy.

This is a hyperkinetic 3-D action comedy, with the characters forever racing on Santa’s sleigh, hurtling down chutes and zooming through tunnels that rework the same 3-D illusions over and over again. Still, let it be said that director Peter Ramsey and his art team have created a crisp, colorful fantasy world, sharper-edged than many feature-length children’s cartoons.

‘Red Dawn’ ★½

This remake of the 1984 film reassures us that an invasion by communist North Korea can be vanquished by the members of a high school football team and their girlfriends, using mostly automatic weapons stolen from the North Koreans themselves.

If you’re wondering how North Korea (pop. 25 million) can raise enough invaders to attack the Unites States (pop. 315 million), it may help to understand that the initial script for this remake targeted the invaders as Chinese. After principal photography was completed on this film three years ago and its studio (MGM) went belly-up, the enemy identity was changed to North Korea by reshooting several scenes, redubbing lots of dialogue and using digital adjustment to change the looks of flags, uniforms and insignia on trucks and tanks. Too bad they didn’t change even more.



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