Cinema Digest 2012 – Week 50

Rise of the Guardians (2012)
rise-of-the-guardians

Since the time of the ancients, there has been a team of extraordinary individuals, protecting the children of the world. But an evil force is invading the children’s minds, threatening to plunge our world into darkness and only with the help of a brash young man can this league of heroes hope to fight off the evil.  Oh yeah, perhaps I should have mentioned that this group of protectors (or “guardians” if you prefer) consists of a badass, tattooed Santa Claus (Alec Baldwin), a giant kickass Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), the cute but fierce Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher), the silent but deadly Sandman, and cocksure Jack Frost (Chris Pine).

Sounds kind of like a superhero movie don’t it? That’s one reason why this movie works so well. These aren’t just some cutesy, harmless personifications of the legends; they can actually kick ass. Santa wields swords, The Easter Bunny flings spiked boomerangs, and Sandman does some serious harm with his dream-sand whips. There are some epic knock-down-drag-out fights here and it’s treated seriously. Don’t let me give you the wrong impression though. There are a good amount of laughs here and more importantly, it’s an incredibly fun movie but the story isn’t a just a setup for endless pop-culture jokes (of which I don’t believe there is a single one). The production design here is unique and positively lovely to look at. Each hero has his or her own beautifully designed world and some sequences are downright spectacular. I’d like to think that we may be seeing a resurgence of kids movies that don’t talk down to them or feel like they need to dumb things down (ParaNorman being another excellent example of this). There’s an excellent lesson here about fear and the message is neither cheap nor hackneyed. This may in fact be the best movie DreamWorks has ever done. So please check out the film this holiday season and hopefully we’ll see more of its ilk in the coming years.

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Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2012)
jiro-dreams-of-sushi

In the basement of a Japanese office building, there is a tiny sushi restaurant that seats less than 10 people. Reservations must be made a year in advance and a meal for a single person costs just over $350. It is owned and run by 85-year-old sushi chef Jiro Ono and it is widely regarded as the best sushi restaurant in the world.

How interesting can sushi be? Incredibly so when you have a man like Jiro behind it. This documentary focuses on Jiro’s relentless, and thus far unquenched, desire to create the perfect piece of sushi. Sushi is his life and his reputation weighs heavily on his eldest son, Yoshikazu who will eventually inherit the restaurant. To watch the intensity of preparation is often awe inspiring. They spend hours before they open preparing the food and when I say they use only the best fish, I really mean that. If a fish does not taste just right, they toss it all out. The filmmakers’ fantastic camera work allows us to see sushi the way Jiro sees it: as art. I guarantee that you will be craving sushi by the end of this.

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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
thehobbitanunexpectedjourney

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. That hobbit’s name is Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and he’s got a pretty cozy life. No worries, no danger, no adventure. But when adventure comes calling in the form of wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and a lively group of thirteen dwarves. They’re looking to reclaim their home and massive stockpile of gold from a dragon named Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) who kicked them out rather unceremoniously. Bilbo decides he wants a more exciting life and joins the group in an epic quest.

And epic this is. Like Lord of the Rings before it, there are incredible landscapes, huge battles, and rousing adventure. Unlike Lord of the Rings before it, there’s also much more whimsy, humor, and dwarves. This is definitely a simpler story than that of LOTR so you can’t really go in expecting the same level of stakes. It takes a while to get revved up but being in The Shire with Bilbo and the dwarves is such a delight that you don’t mind the waiting and once it does get going, it rarely lets up. In most respects it honors the book’s aim toward kids. Instead of lots of orcs and ringwraiths with hissy, scary voices, we have goblins and trolls who are ugly, yes, but are also voiced… well… somewhat normally or even comically. But as I said way back at the beginning of this paragraph, there’s still plenty of action to be had. All the extended battles and running and jumping and adventure remains intact. The environments are brighter overall but dark when they need to be and some scenes are just breathtakingly beautiful. It’s obvious that Peter Jackson still loves this world and that love is infectious. I love Freeman‘s Bilbo, I love the company of dwarves, I love the songs, I love, I love, I love. Three movies for one book? Hey, if it means we’ll be spending it in Jackson‘s Middle-Earth, then bring on the trilogy.

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The Tall Man (2012)
The tall man

There are sinister things afoot in the town of Cold Rock. Ever since the town’s mining operation went under, children have been disappearing left and right. The townsfolk have a name for the thing they think is responsible: The Tall Man. Julia Denning (Jessica Biel) is the local nurse who’s stayed around since her husband died a few years earlier. One night, her own son is abducted and her search for him reveals that there might be more going on in Cold Rock than meets the eye.

This is director Pascal Laugier‘s English language debut after his ultra-violent, ultra-disturbing, genre-bending feature Martyrs. Fortunately, Laugier isn’t going for disgust this time around but his interest in breaking genre conventions and provocative material remains intact. What begins as a very by-the-numbers, supernatural horror film ends up taking unexpected turns, leaving you with questions until the very end, where it hits you with another question. It’s a movie that plays with convention and challenges you to stick with it, rewarding you for your perseverance. Biel delivers a finely nuanced performance that will certainly go down as one of her best and the film has plenty of chilling atmosphere. It’s by no means a great film, but it’s far better than most of the horror/thriller crap that gets major theatrical releases.

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