Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Guide to the 2011 Boxing Day Releases

Boxing Day in Australia is the biggest day of the year for cinema-goers. It's the day after Christmas - there are the Boxing Day sales, and for some reason people are convinced it is the perfect day to stand in a long queue and sit in a packed cinema. Having worked at a cinema for a number of years, Boxing Day is hell. Remember Avatar. This year I will also be working, but at a much smaller and much more relaxed location.

Anyway, suitably for such a big day, there are eight releases scheduled across Australia for Boxing Day: The Adventures of Tintin, War Horse, We Bought A Zoo, Happy Feet 2, Tower Heist, The Skin I Live In, Albert Nobbs and The Iron Lady. I have seen and reviewed five of these releases - with The Iron Lady, Albert Nobbs and Happy Feet 2 eluding me so far. Intrigued by the work of Meryl Streep and Glenn Close, I'll check out the two former sometime before the end of the year.

Here are my recommendations, with links to my full reviews:

The Skin I Live InFrom my experience with Pedro Almodovar’s films (everything since All About My Mother, 1999) there is a usually a tale or romance, and a crime of passion or lust. Here, these themes are an undercurrent to a series of macabre body horror themes, but set in a world where scientific possibilities have been enhanced and perfected by a master surgeon. It’s a sinister tale of kidnapping, of male voyeurism, of forced manipulation, abuse of skill and of graphic sexual abuse. Simply, it has everything – and though it is often extremely unsettling and graphic in it’s depictions of sex, it always remains fascinating and is ultimately unforgettable. There are some startling twists and the film becomes something quite unexpected. Trying to guess where the film twists to next is definitely a tempting exercise, but I’d recommend just allowing it to masterfully fall into place itself. It’s certainly not as accessible as some of Almodovar’s other masterpieces, but The Skin I Live In, for me, is his best film since Talk to Her back in 2002. It’s on the rare occasion I get a tear in my eye at the end of a film, but this is one of the most affecting experiences of the year. If you are seeking an absorbing and atmospheric film that presents a confronting challenge, then I highly recommend seeking it out. ★★★★1/2

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn
Tintin is a lot of fun and it really feels like Spielberg has recaptured the old-fashioned, run-and-gun adventure style of his classic Indiana Jones films. Utilizing motion capture from the visual effects team at Peter Jackson's Weta Digital, who worked on The Lord of the Rings, King Kong and Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Tintin is beautifully animated (to a jaw-dropping extent at times) and features a stellar voice-cast. As expected Andy Serkis, as Captain Haddock, steals the show. The detail present in every shot is just incredible, and the action scenes just wouldn’t be possible in a live-action film. I really do think it would take multiple viewings to absorb everything because there is so much going on. Simply watching Snowy in any scene (and he is given several brilliant individual moments) is rewarding. I can highly recommend giving The Adventures of Tintin a go in 3D – and that’s something I rarely say. The chase sequence in Bagghar is the film’s best sequence (and one of the best of the year) and despite a few pacing issues, and a climax that takes it a bit too far, this a film sure to please fans, and entertain audiences of all ages. ★★★★

We Bought A ZooI might be one of the few people to recommend this over War Horse but We Bought a Zoo was a very pleasant surprise. It is a sugarcoated feel-good comedy/drama that uniquely handles familiar themes (father/son estrangement and re-uniting families) with Crowe ensuring the film is appealing to a wide audience, consistently amusing and genuinely moving and inspiring. We Bought A Zoo is actually loosely based on a true story – a memoir by British journalist, Benjamin Mee, who recounted how he and his family used their life savings to buy Dartmoor Zoological Park, a dilapidated zoo with a large number of exotic animals facing destruction. The film’s location has been shifted from Devonshire to Southern California. Matt Damon is at his everyman best and he receives some great support from Thomas Haden Church and co. Though Crowe sets out to meet the expectations of family-friendly holiday fare, his film remains poignant, and has the potential to leave a viewer with a feeling of heartfelt warmth. What I enjoyed about the film, in addition to the cast and the fantastic score from Icelandic Sigur Ros frontman Jonsi, was that it never forced me to feel as I did. I just ‘felt’. I laughed when I was amused, and I got a tingle when my heart was warmed. It was an honest story, with a lovely family dynamic at the core. While the tears didn’t quite break through, there was a threat – which was more than I was expecting. With Damon's sympathetic performance, an inspiring existential experiment and some unique and amusing relationships between the cast and the animals, this is a treat for all ages, and I ask: Why not give We Bought A Zoo a go this holiday season? ★★★1/2

Perhaps you are interested in War Horse and Tower Heist? My reviews are here, and here.

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