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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Roundup of New Movie Releases for the weekend of 28 July 2011

Jock of the Bushveld may have taken the number one spot in South Africa over the weekend but I don't see much life in it beyond that - certainly not overseas. The rest of the stuff on release this week are far more deserving of your cash - even if they do vary in quality quite a bit.

First, and by far the best, is Super 8. Much has been said about this film basically being one long love letter to the films of its producer, Steven Spielberg and I'm certainly not going to argue with that. Super 8 does have the feel of a classic Spielberg blockbuster and, as a fan of the great man, it hit all the right notes as far as I'm concerned: the ET-on-steroids alien that just wants to go home; the Jurassic-Park-inspired monster action; themes of families and friendship; untrustworthy government types; a group of children being the lead characters and the sort of genuine sense of wonder and excitement that Spielberg, at his best, is known and loved for. It is also very much a love letter to the art of filmmaking - especially amateur filmmaking - never more so than in the warmly hilarious in-credits scene that finishes off the film.

J. J. Abrams has struck gold again. Aside for wishing that physical effects were favoured over CGI and that the adult characters aren't nearly as memorable as the kids (who are really impressive - especially for a bunch of (mostly) unknowns), Super 8 is simply a very good, old fashioned sci-fi film, bristling with heart and wit that is a perfect antidote for the heartless clutter of the latest Transformers film.

The most infuriating, interesting and troubling film of the week, though, is clearly The Beaver. However much I try to separate the real-life views and actions of creative types from their actual work, Mel Gibson's slew of anti-semetic, racist and misogynist rants and tirades of the past few years have made it almost impossible to do so. And, yet, those problems not only fail to derail The Beaver - his latest collaboration with its lead actress and director, Jodie Foster - they are actually a large part of what makes the film at least partly work. Foster's direction is fittingly low-key but the film itself is overly earnest (why I bet Foster didn't laugh once at the film's why-didn't-they-just-name-it-The-Cock-and-be-done-with-it title!), baggy, unfocused and more than a bit ridiculous. It's a film, in short, that would be barely worth bothering with if it weren't for the fact that Gibson is so very good in it. He is cast as a deeply troubled, middle aged man who soon finds that the only way he can communicate with those around him is through the eponymous "beaver", an old stuffed-animal-puppet that he finds in a dumpster. It's a role through which he can funnel all of his apparently many demons, and the result is a performance that is unsettling and unlikeable but undeniably mesmerizing in its power and rawness. 

A very interesting contrast to The Beaver, Larry Crowne is all about the goodwill that most people have towards Tom Hanks. Here he plays a middle-aged man who goes to community college after being fired from his job. It suffers tremendously by treading the same ground, so to speak, as the best comedy on TV right now, Community, as the script by Hanks and Nia Vardalos falls seriously short in terms of invention, wit and, most damningly, BIG laughs. It's not entirely without some decent comedic moments (George Takei steals the show as a brilliant but off-the-wall economics professor) but the main thing that the film has going for it is pure likeability. Tom Hanks is simply an incredibly likeable and engaging leading man and, though there is little that truly stands out about his work as the film's director, his charming, easy going screen presence ensures that the film is never less than perfectly watchable and frequently entertaining. Julia Roberts is far from being on top form here and the plot itself is predictable nonsense but with Hanks at the helm - both in front of and behind the camera - Larry Crowne is a perfectly diverting way to spend 100-odd minutes in the cinema.


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