From action and drama to fantasy and escapism, we round up the latest holiday releases.
After discovering life beyond his nest, Kai (Jeremy Suarez), a young falcon, leaves his father (Samuel L Jackson) and embarks on journey towards Zambezia — an avian paradise. Trouble is afoot, though, because an evil gang of maribou storks is preparing to move up the food chain.
The locally produced Adventures in Zambezia features a world-class voice cast but is ultimately let down by sub-par visuals, misguided humour and cinematography that is noticeably lacking in dramatic flair. It’s a step up for South Africa, but still a far cry from meeting international standards. (Opens December 28.) — Joel Kanar
Celeste and Jesse Forever
Celeste and Jesse (Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg) are a yet-to-be-divorced couple who oddly find solace in each other’s company when the possibility of physical attraction has been taken out of the equation. This all changes, however, when Jesse finds a new love interest, thereby thrusting Celeste into the new world of singledom and out of her comfort zone.
What begins as a witty look into the concept of friendship beyond separation amounts to an emotionally inconsequential assemblage of situations that never quite work comically, probably as a result of the uninspired cast and repetitive dialogue. — JK
End of Watch
Officers Taylor and Zavala (Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena) are left with a price on their head after they inadvertently encroach on the territory of an infamous crime cartel, with the duo proving to be a thorn in the side of their adversaries on more than one occasion.
Shot entirely with handheld cameras, the movie is an alarmingly candid look into the gritty world of the West Coast police officer. It’s a visually arresting cinematic experience and the acting is equally authentic, with performances across the board giving a fresh approach to the otherwise low-maintenance plot. — JK
Here Comes the Boom
A lethargic high school biology teacher (Kevin James) enters the world of mixed martial arts in the hope of raising enough money to prevent the closure of his school’s music department.
With an underdog plot that hardly breaks any new ground, the film relies on the comic talents of James and frequent collaborator Henry Winkler. The script, however, provides variety for James to work with, and laughter ensues more frequently than not — typically it taking advantage of James’s physical appearance. Here Comes the Boom is great fun and far superior to the Sandleresque drivel it could have amounted to. — JK
★ Jack Reacher
When an ex-soldier is wrongly accused of being the gun behind a killing spree, he calls on Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise), a former army police detective who has dropped off the grid, but Reacher’s presence doesn’t go unnoticed and soon those responsible for the frame job are on his tail.
A well-written script, an intriguing mystery and highly entertaining characters make Jack Reacher one of the better adaptations of 2012. It’s a textbook action-suspense flick, but a slight campiness sets it apart as a work that doesn’t take itself too seriously. (Opens December 28.) — JK
★ Life of Pi
In his gently astonishing new film, adapted from Yann Martel’s 2001 bestseller, director Ang Lee melds many disparate elements: Aesopian fable and cutting-edge 3D technology, East and West, young and old. The protagonist is the son of a zoo owner in India. A storm sinks the boat bearing Pi, his family and their animal entourage to the New World, leaving the boy alone on a boat with one of his father’s tigers.
Immersing himself in the latest technology (3D, digital paintboxes, motion capture and control), Lee summons delights with his fingertips. Life of Pi feels like the perfect summation of the principle powering Lee’s entire career: still waters run deep. You see it both in the Zen minimalism of his compositions and the sonar-like skill with which he sounds out the emotional depths of Martel’s tale. Lee’s pixels are animated by empathy. Get ready for the year of the Tiger. — Tom Shone © Guardian News & Media 2012
★ The Master
Paul Thomas Anderson’s new movie is brilliant, mysterious and unbearably sad, in approximately that narrative order. Like a lot of Anderson’s work, it is about pioneers, leaders and dysfunctional families; like There Will Be Blood it is about the origins of American modernity, the prehistory of a certain kind of self-belief, entrepreneurial and evangelical. The Master is about a snake-oil salesman of religion attracting lonely and vulnerable people to his new cult. This all happens in a meticulously realised post-war United States.
Joaquin Phoenix gives a laceratingly powerful performance as Freddie Quell, invalided out of the US Navy in 1945 with a nervous breakdown, who finds himself stowing away on a grand steamboat. In charge of the boat is the charismatic Lancaster Dodd, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, a public speaker who styles himself “The Master” — he’s hammy and plummy and steely. Dodd is a mix of L Ron Hubbard, Ayn Rand and Dale Carnegie. The Master is amused by Quell and decides to make of him a special case for his treatment. They are a match made in sociopath heaven. The Master is a supremely confident work from a unique filmmaker, just so different from the standard Hollywood output: audacious and unmissable. — Peter Bradshaw © Guardian
Perks of Being a Wallflower
Those who admired Ezra Miller’s performance in We Need to Talk About Kevin and were eager to see what he did next are going to be dismayed by the way he has been cast in this passive-aggressive teen agony drama with a strong flavour of phoniness. Miller gets to play the campy-witty gay best friend, who is simply a sacrificial figure; his function is to lend depth to the straight characters’ stories. It is 1991, and Logan Lerman (who played the lead in the fantasy movie Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief) is Charlie, a sensitive, lonely boy who is just starting out in high school. He gets taken under the wing of sassy step-siblings Patrick (Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson) and soon finds the resulting emotional triangle just as painful and complex as the loneliness he’d left behind. The movie has its moments of soap-opera excitement, but it has all the substance of a teenage strop, and none of the energy. (Opens December 28.) — PB © Guardian
★ The Silver Linings Playbook
There is no one more conspicuously qualified to do wacky-crazy-modern than David O Russell. This is an offbeat, quirky-sentimental romcom, with mental illness as its self-consciously bizarre premise, based on the 2008 novel by Matthew Quick. The film promises more than it delivers in the way of edgy stuff about psychological breakdown — it stays a way back from the edge.
The best stuff is frontloaded into the first 20 minutes, but Silver Linings Playbook is likable, watchable and has a nice supporting turn from Robert DeNiro; I’d rather watch this again than the macho acting in Russell’s boxing drama The Fighter. Jennifer Lawrence plays Tiffany, the disturbed young widow of a local police officer, now suffering with boundary and intimacy issues and an addictive dysfunction. She becomes enamoured of a former schoolteacher (Bradley Cooper) with bipolar disorder. The romance is the point of the movie, but it lessens the comic potential: it’s more rom than com. Russell’s storytelling, pacing and audience reaction control are surefooted. This is a date movie as enjoyable and good-natured as the genre requires. — PB © Guardian