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New release movie reviews - 14 December
RISE OF THE GUARDIANS ****1/2 (97 minutes) PG
In one of the best, brightest, most beautifully realised and visually sumptuous tentpole animation films of the year, Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher), Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), Sandman (he doesn't speak) and a buff, tatt-bearing Santa Claus (Alec Baldwin) recruit the marginalised Jack Frost (Chris Pine, aka Kirk from Star Trek) in the winner-take-all battle against kid-hating Pitch (Jude Law).
His evil plan is to stop kids believing in the good guys, thus boosting his own power to invade their sleeping heads and fill them with soul-crushing nightmares. (Shades of Freddy Krueger here, surely)
The idea-crammed story moves at a breakneck pace and is a tribute to the creators' faith in the ability of its young target audience to absorb half a dozen storylines at once. Why, even the Tooth Fairy gets her own back-story!
Visually, the film is dazzling as director Peter Ramsey and his army of artists give solid form to abstract concepts such as dream states, stored memories (in teeth, no less!) and kids who stop believing in Santa. And amidst all the movement, there are a few good laughs, most springing from the friendly rivalry between the heroes, with Santa getting a special skewering for only having to work one night a year.
The film is an absolute joy to behold, as lovingly made a piece of corporate entertainment as you're likely to find at the multiplex this year.
And here's another interesting quality it boasts. Over the past few years Dreamworks animations have been encroaching on the domain once thought the exclusive preserve of long-time rival Pixar.
The accepted wisdom was that while Dreamworks was all about flash and movement, Pixar films delved more deeply into character.
Well, a change set in with How to Train Your Dragon (2010), the most Pixar-like film made by Dreamworks. Even Puss in Boots (2011) had stronger characters than usual.
This evolution was made more noticeable by Pixar going off the boil somewhat. Cars 2 suffered from sequelitis, Brave strained its girl-power message and the retro-fitting of Finding Nemo and Monsters Inc with 3D were essentially cash-in exercises.
And it's not as though Pixar has exclusive rights to stories that are equally driven by characters as well as eye-popping visuals. As with How to Train Your Dragon, Rise of the Guardians seems designed to challenge Pixar's domain. The great thing, of course, is that such rivalry is a win-win for us.
PARIS-MANHATTAN (77 minutes; part-subtitled) PG ***
Despite being a ravishing beauty, Parisian pharmacist Alice (Alice Taglioni) is a lovelorn, unattached woman pushing 30 whose only real guide to life and love are the films of Woody Allen, who she idolises. She converses with him, deploys his films to friends and strangers alike as though they were manifestos, then has to decide on a man. First-time director Sophie Lellouche keeps this puff pastry-thin piece of romantic fluff as light and inconsequential as it needs to be, with Allen's actual appearance a nice piece of icing on a very sweet cake. (See our video interview with Sophie Lellouche.)
LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED (116 minutes; part-subtitled) M ***
In another deftly directed, bitter-sweet romantic dramedy for the middle-aged, Pierce Brosnan plays a snappy widower who, in the meet-cute of the year, hooks up with Trine Dyrholm, a Danish hairdresser who has been cheated on by her pathetic scumbag of a husband. The occasion is the wedding of their respective son and daughter, a messy event where the ensemble - including the marvellous Paprika Steen (a jewel of Danish film) - get to go through various shades of dirty laundry. Finely balanced and occasionally touching, this is the most joyous film by Danish director Susanne Bier, and a welcome, perhaps overdue, shift of gear. Her piercing anti-bully ode In a Better World (2010) was Oscar-nominated; the drama Things We Lost in the Fire (2007) was one of Halle Berry's few watchable films in the past decade; the war drama Brothers (2004) was recently Hollywoodised very respectfully by Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot); and Open Hearts (2002) was one of the better films produced by the Dogme movement. As the title suggests, the sentiment in Love is All You Need is positive and warm, embracing life with all its flaws. And Bier directs as though she means it.