Movies opening today: pistol-packing preachers, deranged surgeons, vampire babes and zoo animals

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Four new releases bring the action, drama and trauma this week to South African cinemas.

Machine Gun Preacher: My pick of today’s new movies is this action drama based on a true story. Gerard “This is Sparta” Butler plays Sam Childers, a biker and drug addict turned preacher and relief worker. Childers’s work in Uganda and the Sudan culminates with him rescuing dozens of children kidnapped for induction by the region’s militia. From the eclectic director of Monster’s Ball, The Kite Runner and, most recently, Quantum of Solace.

Machine Gun Preacher hasn’t had the greatest critical reception. Reviewers have complained that despite Butler’s admirable commitment, the fragmented film never gets to satisfying grips with Childers, his motivations and the unbelievable-but-true situation in which he found himself. Still, I’m going to give this one a chance.

Underworld: Awakening: Screening in 3D and 2D, this fourth – yes FOURTH – entry in the Underworld series of supernatural actioners. Of course, Awakening is sure to be the biggest box office hit out of this weekend’s new releases. After being absent from prequel Rise of the Lycans, series star Kate Beckinsale returns as ass-kicking, latex-clad vampire Selene. In Awakening, our heroine is roused from 12 years in cryogenic suspension to discover that humans are now aggressively hunting vampire and lycan (werewolf) alike. Cue back-to-back wire stunts and gun fights – all set to a pounding nu metal score – as Selene exacts her revenge. Watch the trailer here.

Despite consistently mediocre reviews, they keep churning out the Underworld films… just like the Resident Evil movie series actually. Evidently gun-toting, sexy superheroines will always sell. Anyway, at the time of writing this post, critical consensus about Underworld: Awakening had yet to be established overseas. I think it’s safe to say though that your reaction to this one will be exactly like your response to all the others. And for the record, if it makes any difference, Awakening was actually shot in 3D, as opposed to being a conversion in post-production.

The Skin I Live In: Sticking with matters of a horrifying nature, lovers of European cinema will probably want to check out the latest Spanish language effort from ultra-acclaimed filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar. Based on the novel Mygale (Tarantula in English), this psychological thriller reunites Almodóvar with leading man Antonio Banderas for the first time in 21 years. Banderas plays a plastic surgeon who has been keeping a woman (Elena Anaya) prisoner in his mansion, exacting an extreme transformative revenge over the course of several years.

Recently in contention for Best Foreign Language Film at the Golden Globes, The Skin I Live In certainly looks bizarre and disturbing. In fact, it’s been compared to the “body horror” films of David Cronenberg, and critics have been throwing around adjectives like “unsettling,” “darkly disquieting” and “twisted”to describe the movie’s mix of horror and melodrama. This said, apparently The Skin I Live In isn’t satisfying enough to sit amongst Almodóvar’s best, but it’s still better than what most movie-makers could achieve with the same warped subject matter.

We Bought a Zoo: For something a little more conventional this weekend, movie fans should turn to this tender comedy drama, which marks the return of director Cameron (Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous) Crowe to feature film making. Based on a true story, We Bought a Zoo sees recent widower Matt Damon and his 2 children attempt to overcome their grief by buying, and reviving, a financially stricken zoo. Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Haden Church and Elle Fanning round out the cast as zoo employees.

Even those reviewers who found We Bought a Zoo formulaic, obvious and manipulative have praised the movie’s performers, particularly Damon. Apparently the former Jason Bourne star elevates the heartwarming material into something quite watchable. Cynics may do well to avoid it though.

Last Updated: January 20, 2012

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