Movie Reviews

A SCIENTIFIC exploration to Antarctica uncovers rather more than it bargained for in The Thing (16s), when a structure is discovered buried deep in the ice.

Initial observations reveal that the specimen removed from the structure is more than 100,000 years old, although the scientists’ professional demeanour is quickly shattered when an alien life-form bursts from the ice and begins to lay waste to all around it.

A remake of the 1982 horror of the same name, The Thing is a very effective thriller, with plenty of twists and turns built on the premise that the alien has the capacity to adopt human form, with Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and her colleagues battling a lethal adversary in a climate of mutual suspicion. The story is essentially Agatha Christie’s Nine Little Indians blended with Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979), and Winstead makes for a very persuasive version of Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley, a resourceful and doughty heroine who keeps her head while all the men around her lose theirs — quite literally, in some cases. This adaptation by director Matthias van Heijningen is perhaps too faithful to the original, but anyone coming fresh to the story can expect expertly executed thrills ‘n’ spills in a tense, doom-laden atmosphere that positively leaks paranoia.

THE second of the week’s offerings to be set in Antarctica, Happy Feet Two (G) sees the return of the dancing penguin, Mumble (voiced by Elijah Wood). Whereas Mumble shocked his penguin colony with his desire to tap-dance, his son Erik (Ava Acres) has a more radical ambition: after seeing the Mighty Sven (Hank Azaria) soar across the icy wastes, Erik wants to fly. Naturally, this marks Erik down as an offbeat individual in a heavily homogenised colony, but when the colony gets trapped in a valley by shifting ice, the charismatic Sven becomes their only hope of survival. Directed by George Miller, Happy Feet Two is something of a retread of the original, as young Erik is faced with very similar obstacles to those his father overcame in Happy Feet. The story introduces a parallel narrative about two krill (Brad Pitt and Matt Damon) who break free from their shoal, only to discover that the world and everything in it is inextricably bound up. The entire film, in fact, is underpinned by a theme exploring the damage being wrought on the planet by global warming, but the tale of Mumble and Erik’s bonding is too fragile a structure to support such an important message. The animation is superb, but an over-reliance on song-and-dance numbers as story filler and an obsession with emphasising the cuteness of the penguins further undermines a tale that lacks the verve of its predecessor.

We Have A Pope (PG) is a fascinating behind-the-scenes tale of the Vatican, which is thrown into turmoil when the newly-elected Pope (Michel Piccoli), awed by the responsibility he has inherited, suffers a nervous breakdown. Escaping the Vatican’s claustrophobic environs, the Pope goes out into the streets of Rome. Meanwhile, back in the Vatican, an athiest psychologist (Nanni Moretti) confers with the confined cardinals, as the world holds its breath and waits for the new pope to be declared. Co-written and directed by Moretti, this is a charming tale that blends whimsy, black humour and offbeat philosophical debate to create a heartwarming story of human foibles and failings.

The Big Year (PG) follows three birdwatchers — played by Jack Black, Owen Wilson and Steve Martin — as they bid to break the world record for sighting the greatest number of birds in any one year. Their obsession causes problems in their private lives, and David Frankel’s movie is one long overly extended metaphor about how the men should try training their gaze closer to home. Once that lesson is learned there’s very little by way of conflict to be resolved — reigning ‘birder’ champ Wilson must rank as the most mild-mannered movie villain of all time — and other than the beautiful wilderness settings that backdrop the avian sightings, there’s not a lot else on offer. You won’t need to be bird-brained to enjoy this, but it may help.

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