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Notes from the back row

For the holidays: rodents and the apocalypse



You know who gets a pretty raw deal? Squirrels. They don’t get nearly the love the other varmints get. Rabbits have Bugs Bunny, mice get Mickey, rats have the Nimh cartoon and Ratatouille, hedgehogs have Sonic, but squirrels get totally shafted. Sure, there’s that stupid looking squirrel on the peanut butter jar but otherwise the closest they have to making it on the silver screen is the Scrat from Ice Age. And he’s not even a full-blooded squirrel, his mom was raped by a rat, hence the name.

Chipmunks, on the other hand, have totally got it made — Chip and Dale, for one, and, gracing the silver screen this Friday at the Village 8, Alvin and the Chipmunks.

Now they aren’t handing out many sneak previews to this one but I can tell you that all the original voices are back for Alvin, Simon, and Theodore. And that Dave, their songwriter/exasperated human sidekick, is played by the always entertaining Jason Lee. Lee used to be a skateboarder, then he starred in a few Kevin Smith flicks and now he’s on hit TV ( My Name is Earl). Jesus knows why he’s doing crap like this (remember Wonderdog???) but he’s probably just squirreling away money for when his star fades. In any case, those chipmunks were annoying after one side of their old records so I think adults might hate this movie. Kids will probably be all over it — Alvin is a brat and brats are cool when you’re young.

Speaking of Jesus, his birthday is coming up and that means it’s a good time for end-of-the-world flicks. People are generally more anxious and stressed this time of year so the apocalypse movies fit well. Up this week: I Am Legend , starring Will Smith as the last man alive in Manhattan after a cancer-cure gone wrong either kills everyone else or turns them into “infected” nocturnal vampiric killers. Smith is not only immune to the virus, he’s also a genetic scientist looking for a cure using his own blood and a balls-out military ass-kicker. His only friend is his dog, Abby, and most of the first part of the movie is Smith and Abby going through their strict daily routine of hunting, looking for other survivors, working on the cure and locking themselves in the bathroom before night falls and the infected start roaming.

All this alone time (there are no other characters until way later) gives the flick an almost Castaway feel, except rather than totally sucking Legend, thanks to Smith and superb visuals of a deserted and over-grown   NY City, is not that bad. Some of the CGI effects are weak (is it that hard to wrangle animals or use prosthetic make-up?) and the chilling, post-apocalypse feel kind of turns into B-grade horror for the last half. Of course, you’ll never hear me complain about B-grade horror.

Some people consider these “vampires” to be too similar to the “zombies” in 28 Weeks Later, which was a better movie, but I don’t mind. Ripping off great films is the Hollywood way.

Interestingly, this movie is loosely based on the classic Richard Matheson novel of the same name, which was adapted for the screen, once in 1964 in The Last Man on Earth starring Vincent Price, and once in ’71 for the Charlton Heston cult classic The Omega Man. What this means is that the Fresh Prince has big shoes to fill, and while his movie might not be flawless, the performance is there. Had they managed to fit a talking squirrel in somewhere, this would have been holiday gold.

AT VILLAGE 8 Dec. 14-20: I Am Legend; Alvin and the Chipmunks; Golden Compass; No Country for Old Men; American Gangster; Hitman; Enchanted.

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