Movies releasing today

Four very different movies open in South Africa today. With sci-fi encounters to touching drama; animated kiddie fare to feel-good comedies, there's something for everyone. And, of course, if you're in Durban, this is your last few days to check out the additional offerings of the Durban International Film Festival.

Super 8: From the combined creative efforts of J. J. (Lost, Fringe, Star Trek) Abrams and Steven Spielberg comes this hush-hush sci-fi tale about a group of Midwestern teens who, in 1979, are convinced a military train derailment has unleashed an alien presence in their town. Basically the film is a tribute to the likes of Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T, and it's my pick of this week's new releases.

Super 8 is one of the biggest hits of the 2011 Summer blockbuster season, critically and commercially. The film is 80% Fresh on review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes. While detractors are calling Super 8 an uncreative knock-off exploiting people's nostalgia, the film's supporters are celebrating the film - evidently a genre mix of sci-fi and coming of age drama - for its "good ol' fashioned" focus on story and feeling.

Jock of the Bushveld: It's probably more appropriate to call this animated movie Joke of the Bushveld. Arriving in cinemas on a tsunami of publicity - "South Africa's first ever 3D animated movie", "Featuring a stellar international voice cast," "From the makers of the beloved 80's live-action film," "Get your awesome Jock toy with every KFC kids' meal"...

However, if you slice through the PR guff, and watch the trailer you'll realise that:
A) The film is embarrassing from both an animation and humour writing perspective.
B) It's an utterly blasphemous adaptation of a classic, true South African tale. All tooth has been removed to make the story toddler-safe, and there are bizarre inclusions like a drunk rooster, french poodle and mine chases. Oh, and the talking animals sometimes wear clothes.

I'm encouraging a boycott of this piece of shit, and it fills me with delight when I come across acidic reviews like this to counter the sycophantic rhetoric swallowed and regurgitated by the press over the past few weeks. You have been warned. Do not accept this mediocrity, and do not shield it with the arguments that "It's only for kids" and "We can't criticise it because it's South African."

Larry Crowne: Feel-good romantic comedy Larry Crowne looks a bit like a Tom Hanks vanity project, seeing as the Oscar winner not only plays the title character, but has assumed producing, directing and writing duties (with My Big Fat Greek Wedding's Nia Vardalos) as well. Hanks plays a cheerful Navy veteran who loses his job because he lacks tertiary education. So, with the mindset that it's never too late, he enrolls at a community college, where he brings light into the lives of his much younger classmates and his cynical lecturer, Julia Roberts.

Larry Crowne is 35% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. Although it cruises along on the likeability of its stars, and certainly isn't bad, the project is - as expected - entirely bland. File this one in the "sweet, forgettable fluff" drawer.

The Beaver: There's another multi-Academy Award winner behind (and simultaneously in front of) the camera for this comedy drama: Jodie Foster. Foster reteams with her Maverick co-star Mel Gibson in this tale of a deeply depressed executive who starts communicating via a beaver puppet. His estranged family - including wife Foster and teenage son Anton Yelchin - feel conflicted: on the one hand the vocal puppet is helping Gibson's character to express his feelings; on the other it indicates he's on his way to a complete mental breakdown.

The Beaver is 63% Fresh. Despite all the controversy surrounding the actor, Gibson apparently delivers one of the best performances of his career. In fact, the superb acting all-round is one of the best things about this oddball movie that runs the full gamut of emotions. Some critics aren't buying it though, calling the premise daft and the whole project contrived.


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