THE psycho Santa Claus movie has become something of a seasonal staple around Christmastime.
Netherlands director Dick Maas, who helmed '80s horror films such as The Lift and Amsterdamned, offers up a new wrinkle with Saint (spelled Sint in Dutch), an oddball horror thriller in which the spirit of a renegade bishop terrorizes Amsterdam every 32 years, whenever a full moon falls on Dec. 5, St. Nicholas' Eve.
Two opening flashbacks depict how, in medieval times, the bishop terrorized the countryside, demanding that offerings be made by peasants (left outside their door in wooden shoes) lest they suffer at the hands of his murderous henchmen. The peasants revolt and set fire to the bishop's schooner, immolating all aboard.
Later in the 20th century, a young boy is the only survivor when the horribly scarred bishop appears and wipes out his rural family one Dec. 5 evening.
The lad grows up to become an obsessed detective (Bert Luppes) who resolves to hunt the ghostly killer as a full moon rises over scenic Amsterdam on Dec. 5. But the spectre has already begun his spree, roaming the rooftops on his eerie white horse, brandishing a deadly, razor-sharp mitre.
That particular CGI spectacle is perversely lovely, and while the bulk of the film merely trots out the typical stalk-and-slash horror tropes, there is enough novelty here to offset the Santa Claus Is Coming to Town seasonal treacle. HHH out of five
Kung Fu Panda 2
KUNG Fu Panda 2 bolts forward with the momentum of a flying roundhouse kick, expertly using just about every device in the animation toolbox: dazzling state-of-the-art animation; voicework by impressive movie stars; unusually graceful action sequences; and a cheeky sensibility when it comes to subverting movie convention.
The panda Po (Jack Black) is happy to be accepted by his kung-fu master peers in the Furious Five. But when kung-fu master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) introduces Po to the notion of "finding inner peace," it sends our hero on a journey to learn about his true history, finally facing the long-ignored question of how a panda happens to be the son of a goose restaurateur.
It turns out his past is tied in with the evil doings of a deposed prince of a peacock named Lord Shen (Gary Oldman), a despot intent on conquering all of China with a device that not only "breathes fire and spits metal," but threatens the future existence of kung fu. ("But I just got kung fu!" Po whines.)
Director Jennifer Yuh, along with the platoon of Dreamworks animators, steeped themselves in kung-fu movies to inspire the movie's rather spectacular action sequences. Yuh cheekily skewers the conventions of the action/revenge movie too, especially in the film's dramatic final confrontations, in which Po tries for an intimidating Dirty Harry-like pose, except he's just so fat and cuddly... HHHH
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
ONE might have assumed Tim Burton killed off the Planet of the Apes franchise with his wretched 2001 reboot/remake starring Mark Wahlberg.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes lives up to the first word of its title, rising above expectations with a prequel suggesting how primates took over the world.
This subject was addressed in one of the '70s POOA films, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972), wherein apes, monkeys and chimps replaced dogs and cats as pets, eventually becoming slaves.
This film, which offers multiple shout-outs to the original Charlton Heston movie, takes a more intelligent approach: a scientist (James Franco), researching a cure for Alzheimer's disease, discovers a serum that boosts the intelligence of a chimp dubbed Caesar (a great motion-capture performance by Andy Serkis). Caesar becomes so intelligent, he resolves to liberate his fellow primates.
Director Rupert Wyatt avoids resorting to campy humour or broad satire, investing the material with serious intent and pleasing spectacle. This is one of the pleasant surprises of the 2011 movie crop.
The DVD includes a doc titled The Genius of Andy Serkis, delineating how the motion-capture specialist (he played both Gollum and King Kong) offers up a real, substantial performance as Caesar. HHH 1/2
Top DVD Rentals
1. The Hangover 2
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3. The Debt
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5. The Help
6. Our Idiot Brother
7. Super 8
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9. Mr. Poppers Penguins
10. The Change-Up
-- Rogers Video, week ending Dec. 11