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Friday, 23 March 2012

THIS WEEK: We Bought A Zoo / Pretty Persuasion / Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes / The Skin I Live In


This is a film that could easily have taken a more maudlin route due to its backstory, but Cameron Crowe keeps it light and gentle.  With terrific performances and a great sense of fun, this movie makes virtues of its flaws (of which there are many for the hardened, more cynical critic) and charmed me in spite of myself. Very innocuous, probably lacking in realistic bite for some; it might be fair to say that a dramatization of the story without the Disney-like, incredibly sweet filter may have been a better film, but as wholesome, family entertainment goes you couldn't do much better than this. Allow yourself to be won over; enjoy the fun, sweet, biographical tale, and get into the usual, excellent jukebox soundtrack, because this is a nice, family-friendly film which is hard to say anything bad about, even if you feel you should. It is nothing super special in technical terms, but it doesn't mean to be; it is endearing and has a lot of heart. With a film like this, it's all that matters.

There are going to be films out this year that are better, and certainly more surprising, but in terms of being swept up and invested in a nicely-told, lovely story, this is one of the best of this type of movie I have seen for a long time, and I will be surprised if it doesn't end up as my favourite "feel-good" film of the year.  3.5 / 5

Catch it if you like:  Sugary, sweet, inoffensive family entertainment


A teen highschool-based movie akin to Mean Girls, though with a far darker and arguably realistic bite to it.  Evan Rachel Wood, her generation's Christina Ricci but nobody seems to notice, plays teenageer Kimberly Joyce, who will do anything to get famous.  She has a best friend, and picks up the archetypal, unassuming, innocent newcomer in the form of Randa, and together they hatch a plot to get back at a teacher that involves an accusation of sexual assault.  It is a typical setup; you do not need any more than this to get the idea of where the movie goes, though unlike other films like this, it sinks its teeth rather more deeply.

I had some trouble being comfortable with how the director Marcos Siega wants us to take the film, because I am not sure he had a firm handle on it himself.  It is partly satire, party surreal, offbeat comedy and partly serious drama with something to say.  All of this would be fine in more capable hands, but Siega, whose work is primarily in television, seems to struggle to marshall everything correctly.

That said, once over the awkward opening ten mintues or so I settled into the film and enjoyed it for the most part; I certainly loved James Woods as the racist father who doesn't listen to his daughter and spends his days masturbating when he should be working.  I couldn't quite get past the clunkiness of some of the storytelling and found myself wavering between being really engaged and slightly bored, but this falls to nobody but the director.  Until late in the day I wasn't sure about the rating, but the finale of the movie displays some flair I wish I'd seen elsewhere, with a final beat giving the whole thing some extra gravitas.  3/5

Catch it if you like:  Mean Girls, and the like.


Most people are familiar with the story of The Planet Of The Apes, so it is enough to say this is, as the title would suggest, the build up to that.  A slightly mis-cast James Franco plays Will Rodman, a scientist on the verge of curing Alzheimer's when it all falls apart.  Andy Serkis, who must surely be sick of being typecast by now, plays Caesar, the ape rescued from being destroyed, and the catalyst for The Rise!

Some smart nods toward the original are dropped in, and despite some qualms over predictability, and little attention being paid to physical change of characters over time, the movie does enough with the visual wizardry elsewhere; the animation is very impressive, there are a lot of well-shot, well-directed action set-pieces, as well as a smart closing credit sequence that ties it all up rather nicely.  A hugely enjoyable experience, if not the masterpiece I suspect some were hoping for.  4/5

Catch it if you like:  Kinda obvious...


I was very much looking forward to this film; it sounded dark, twisted, creepy, and horrific.  In ways it is, and for an Almodovar fan I can see there is an awful lot to be admired here.  The problem is I have never been a fan of his work; it was only the sound of the strange, Cronenberg-style setup that intrigued me.  On that point, this is a movie which, had Cronenberg been in charge, I think would have been one of my favouries of last year; it deals with many ideas that are staple points for him, most prominently the subject of sexual identity.  As it stands, it retains too much of the awkward campness inherent to an Almodovar film for me.

You will note I have not mentioned any sort of synopsis.  There is a reason for this; the movie is best enjoyed knowing as little as possible.  There is some self-assured, confident film-making going on here, and the fact I find myself thinking about it for a long time after is a testament to its power, but I wish it had delved deeper; there are some complex ideas here, it's the sort of movie whose nuances you can find yourself discussing for a long time, but with such explosive themes at its heart, I felt it was a little light-footed.  Like I say, had this been Cronenberg I feel this would been an epic movie; as it is it is worth renting, and certainly if you are already into the director's work you will really love this movie.  3.5 / 5

Catch it if you like: David Cronenberg, Pedro Almodovar.......Antonio Banderas speaking Spanish

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