Movies releasing today: Six of the best (and could-be-better)

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Six new movies open in South Africa today. Whether you’re in the mood for Oscar-winning Art House fare, big budget special effects extravaganzas or just some mindless, undemanding genre fare, you’ll find it in cinemas as of right now.

The Artist:
Definitely my pick of the week is The Artist, which won 5 Oscars at this year’s Academy Awards… including the biggie, Best Picture. Meticulously mimicking the style of silent movies, this comedy drama chronicles the changing fortunes of fictional Silent Era film star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), who feels horribly threatened by the arrival of “The Talkies,” and the rise of new fan favourite performers like Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo).

I was fortunate to catch a preview screening of The Artist a few weeks ago, and you can read our The Movies review here. In essence, The Artist is both technically brilliant and feel-good. And it expresses its love for the foundation years of Cinema in a far more accessible, effortless way than its big Oscar rival, Hugo. For the record, international critics have loved The Artist too. The film has an aggregated Rotten Tomatoes rating of 97% Fresh.

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island:
Shot for 3D is this sequel to family action adventure, Journey to the Center of the Earth. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson replaces Brendan Fraser in this loose adaptation of another Jules Verne classic, The Mysterious Island. Johnson, in a bid to bond with his stepson (Josh Hutcherson), seeks out a legendary island, and must survive its many exotic dangers while leading Michael Caine, Vanessa Hudgens and Luis Guzman to safety.

You can read Kervyn’s Journey 2 review here. Evidently the film is pretty much in keeping with what passes for family entertainment these days – harmless, unambitious and distinctly juvenile in terms of jokes.

The Big Year:
For a comedy nobody has heard about, The Big Year features a pretty impressive trio of funnymen: Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson. Mired in assorted life crises, the 3 men escape their problems by competing for a rather unusual honour – the title of North America’s Greatest Bird Watcher. Helmed by the director of The Devil Wears Prada and Marley & Me, so expect the laughter to be paired with moments of tender self-evaluation.

The Big Year was a box office failure, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a turkey. The film has warmed the hearts of some critics and distanced others with its comedic limpness. Either way, expect family-friendly The Big Year to be charming and heartfelt, but also bland and simplistic.

Contraband:
Phew, finally the flood of January to March action thrillers is slowing to a drizzle. Rounding off the season of formula thrills is this gritty smuggling tale, based on a 2008 Icelandic film. Mark Wahlberg plays a top contraband runner turned family man (married to Kate Beckinsale), who is forced into one last heist when his wife’s brother accumulates a hefty debt to vicious mobster Giovanni Ribisi. Ben Foster, Lukas Haas and JK Simmons also star.

Contraband is apparently one of those unapologetically B-grade genre efforts. It’s quite watchable, doesn’t skimp on the fun and demonstrates some enjoyably electric pacing. However, in the end it’s all a bit too lazily formulaic to make it anything truly special.

Otelo Burning:
This South African coming of age drama debuted at the 2011 Durban International Film Festival. Today it goes on wider release locally at Nu Metro cinemas. Inspired by real life events, the work-shopped production of Otelo Burning is set in Durban during the late 1980s and centres on a couple of township teens who, in the turbulent dying days of Apartheid, discover escape from political violence through surfing – an activity previously associated with white privilege. In Zulu with English subtitles.

Otelo Rising has screened at various film festivals around the globe, and while it hasn’t been reaping in mass accolades it has been praised for its performances and cinematography. The film is apparently solid and crowd-pleasing, but doesn’t quite do enough to distinguish itself from hundreds of other “life improvement through sport” tales.

Melancholia:
Depression and Apocalypse dovetail in this sci-fi tinged drama from divisive Dancer in the Dark and Antichrist director Lars von Trier. Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourgh, Kiefer Sutherland and  Alexander Skarsgård star in this tale of a young woman’s whose descent into depression coincides with Earth’s impending destruction by a rogue planet. Showing exclusively at Ster Kinekor’s Cinema Nouveau.

Von Trier’s films tend to be bleak but fascinating, and evidently the acclaimed Melancholia is much the same. It certainly won’t be to everyone’s taste, but it’s been called bold, beautiful and unforgettable… if you aren’t put off by its heavy intellectualism and artiness. Apparently Dunst’s powerful performance is reason alone to watch the film – she won the Best Actress Award at last year’s Cannes Film Festival.

Last Updated: March 16, 2012

Noelle Adams

Sometime Tomb Raider. Full-time Pop Culture fanatic and Geekaissance Woman. Most often spotted outputting Pop Culture opinion pieces, writing fanfic and original genre fare, cosplaying and bringing the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu smackdown. Editor of the Comics and Toys section.

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