Rise Of The Guardians (2012)

It sounds like the opening to a potentially offensive joke. Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy walk into a bar…

DreamWorks Animation gets the last laugh with Rise Of The Guardians, though. Their latest CGI adventure is a glittering yuletide yarn that just about overcomes its gimmicky concept.

Following on from the successes of How To Train Your Dragon and the Kung Fu Pandas, ROTG warps traditional fairytales as childhood ‘Guardians’ North (ie Santa, voiced by Alec Baldwin), E. Aster Bunnymund (Hugh Jackman) and Tooth (Isla Fisher) unite against nightmare-spreading boogeyman Pitch (Jude Law).

Notions that this is basically a Christmas version of Avengers Assemble, though, prove unfounded.

With its watery opening shot of soon-to-be-Guardian Jack Frost (Chris Pine) drifting in icy purgatory, it’s more like a kiddies Bourne Identity.

As Frost battles his amnesia and becomes an action hero, all that’s missing is Matt Damon ramming pens into unfortunate places.

Also missing, sadly, is a script that really gets its larger-than-life characters interacting with each other. Despite all the rampant, twinkly magic, there are few sparks flying between our motley crew.

The best exchange comes when everybody clambers into Santa’s pimped-out sled. “I hope you like loop-the-loops,” the jolly fellow bellows. “I hope you like carrots,” mutters Bunny.

Visually, things are bright and crisp as Christmas morning. With Guillermo del Toro on producing duties, ROTG looks a million bucks.

The 3D jerks to life inside Santa’s toyshop, a banquet of background detail, while the sorcery-infused battle scenes swoop, sparkle and occasionally terrify.

The pacing also takes no prisoners – Guardians is like an OCD moppet hopped up on Haribos, which is both a positive and a negative thing.

From its mysterious opening gambit right up to its firecracker finale, there’s no fat to be found here. Even Santa’s now a brawny Russian with bricklayer’s forearms. At the midway point, big red stops to reveal what makes him tick: wonder.

He wants to be awed by things. Rise Of The Guardians takes that philosophy as gospel. It’s a film so desperate to have us gawping at its pretty visuals that it forgets to craft its story with the same amount of care.

Verdict: More “oooh… aaah” than “ho-ho-ho”, ROTG is so full of yuletide razzmatazz that only true Scrooges will have trouble stomaching it. If only Santa’s workshop had given the script more of a tinker… 3/5

Via Total Film

The Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

George Clooney once branded director David O. Russell “insane to the point of stupidity”, but there’s nothing stupid about the filmmaker’s (often literally) insane ninth feature film. Dealing with crazy-making matters of the heart and mind, it’s a rom-com with fangs that runs like the clappers and, yes, has serious bite.

Much of that comes in the form of buzzing interplay between stars Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. A bouncing ball of nervous energy, Cooper’s a million miles away from Hangover-land, turning in a career-making performance as recovering mental patient Pat – who’s just been jacked out of the clinic where he was recuperating after losing his shit over his wife’s cheating ways.

With not an overplayed twitch or sentimental spasm in sight, Cooper’s a revelation – raw, searing and impossible not to watch. Where the screen really fizzles, though, is when he’s trading no-nonsense insults with the similarly wacky Lawrence, whose Tiffany has her own shopping list of problems (she’s getting over the death of her husband). These are two people you should never put in a room together, which is of course why they make such riveting viewing when they are.

That Cooper manages to submerse himself so fully in Pat’s world is impressive enough, but even more remarkable is Lawrence’s ability to match and even surpass him. Sharp, brittle, seductive, it’s her most accomplished performance since Winter’s Bone – and not once do you mistake her for Katniss Everdeen.

None of this would work without Russell, whose script – based on Matthew Quick’s book – is as blunt as its two leads and often genuinely, unexpectedly moving. Visually, he keeps his framing loose, the lighting naturalistic (think The Fighter). As Cooper also clashes with pap Robert De Niro (fantastic) and mom Jacki Weaver (perpetually terrified), Russell gives the characters ample room to breathe. It’s an approach that really ramps up the tension – along with some killer song choices – and, yes, there’s even one of Russell’s trademark snapback camera moves, here as effective as ever.

Ignore the clunky title (it hasn’t got much to do with the movie). Though a third act dip prevents Silver Linings Playbook from delivering as a bona fide classic, it contains so many laugh-out-loud, disarmingly honest moments you can’t help but be swept along for the ride. Dizzying as a merry-go-round and about as over-sentimental as an IKEA catalogue, it’s a crowd-pleaser from top to bottom. And just on the right side of crazy. 4/5

Via Grolsch Film Works