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Films I Neglected To Review: Do Furry Honor.

By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 03/03/16 15:18:00

Please enjoy short reviews of "Road Games," "The Wave" and "Zootopia." As for "London Has Fallen," I have reviewed that elsewhere but I would like to take a moment to state that if it is not the stupidest and most loathsome craptacular to hit theaters in 2016, it will not be for a lack of trying.

Not connected in any way to the 1981 Jamie Lee Curtis thriller of the same name, "Road Games" opens as Brit Jack (Andrew Simpson) is unsuccessfully hitchhiking through the French countryside when he happens upon beautiful fellow traveler Veronique (Josephine de La Baume). As there is reportedly a serial killer on the loose in the area, the two decide to pair up on the premise that there is safety in numbers. They eventually do hitch a ride with Grizard (Frederic Pierrot), a genial type who invites the two to stay the night with him and his American-born wife (horror movie icon Barbara Crampton) for the night. Suffice it to say, things are not quite as they seem to be and there is a certain tension in the air that causes everyone to look upon each other with some suspicion that is further exacerbated by the language barrier. Inevitably, things go sideways and Jack has no idea who he can trust - assuming, of course, that he himself can be trusted as well.

Although the opening moments do involve the handling of a freshly murdered corpse, writer-director Abner Pastoll largely eschews slasher movies excesses for a slow burn suspense approach that will no doubt be described as Hitchcockian in virtually every review. The result is a film that is more clever than most recent films of its type, especially in the way that Pastoll plays with the language gap between Jack and the other characters by purposefully neglecting to subtitle key lines of dialogue spoken in French as a way of hiding information in plain sight, so to speak. For most of the running time, it works thanks to Pastoll's inspired screenplay and direction and the good performances from the four key cast members - Simpson brings a certain menacing undertone to his otherwise bland exterior, de La Baume is strong, sexy and strange in equal measure and Pierrot and Crampton are quite good as the decidedly odd couple who take in Jack and Veronique for their own peculiar reasons. It does fall apart a bit towards the end as the story gets a bit too convoluted and most viewers will anticipate one of the key twists even if they do not speak French. Despite that late inning stumble, "Road Games" still provides enough suspense, thrills and dark humor to leave genre buffs more than satisfied.

"The Wave," which was Norway's official entry for this year's Oscar for Foreign-Language Film, offers viewers the chance to see one of the most American of screen genres--the jumbo-sized disaster movie--through a different cultural perspective. This time around, the threat comes in the form of a tsunami unleashed by the collapse of a dangerously unstable mountainside. Our hero is Kristian (Kristoffer Joner), a dedicated geologist who is just about to leave to with his family for the big city and a job with an oil company when he notices that the seismic readings he is getting are anything but normal. Of course, his coworkers fail to heed his warnings but by the time they finally realize that something is up, the mountain crashes down and sends a 250-foot-high wall of water heading towards the nearby town where Kristian's family is scattered with less than 10 minutes for people to reach higher ground before it hits.

The opening stretch of the film is actually pretty good--unlike most films of this type, in which the characters are given only the barest sketching before the onset of the chaos, the screenplay actually takes a little bit of time to let us get to know and actually like Kristian and his family. As things progress, however, director Roar Uthaug allows his film to succumb to the same flaws that have undone many an American disaster film--chief among them being the contrivances required to at first keep the family separated and then (Spoiler Alert!) to bring them back together again and a slightly callous attitude that asks us to view the deaths of hundreds of people as little more than an afterthought. (Don't even get me started on the ridiculous pauses that some of the characters take at times when pausing is clearly the least viable option imaginable.) To be fair, the scene involving the wave hitting is pretty well done and the film as a whole is better than such meathead messes as "2012" or "San Andreas" but as a whole, "The Wave" just comes up short.

Set in a land in which animals of all shapes, sizes and temperaments have eveloved to a point where they can live together in perfect harmony, the animated feature "Zootopia" opens as intrepid small-town bunny Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) arrives in the titular big city to be the first rabbit to serve on the police force--part of a new hiring mandate spearheaded by the mayor (J.K. Simmons). After being relegated to traffic duty, Judy winds up landing what appears to be a simple missing persons case that grows more complex with every twist and turn of the plot and leads her to such points as a nudist animal habitat, a research facility housing several former predators that have suddenly reverted to their formerly feral ways and the DMV, which is exclusively manned by the last animal that you would want to be operating such a faclity. Guiding her on her tour of the shadowy corners of Zootopia is Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a sly con artist fox who just might have the glimmer of real potential behind his slick and cynical veneer

On the surface, "Zootopia" may look like just another animated film and as a result, you may be taken aback by just how good it really is. The screenplay hits that sweet spot where it manages to appeal to kids with its bright colors (brighter if you sensibly forgo the unnecessary 3-D option), cute characters and slapstick humor while keeping older views amused as well with its amiably crackpot mystery narrative and pop culture jokes that are actually funny instead of annoying (even a spoof of something as old as "The Godfather" manages to inspire some unexpectedly big laughs). It also manages, in its own daffy way, to convey a serious message about the dangers of demonizing entire groups and allowing other to exploit those prejudices for their own personal gain-though the film could hardly be mistaken for any kind of sociopolitical screed, my guess is that it will cause the Fox News outrage machine to kick into high gear pretty quickly. Throw in a bunch of nicely cast voice talents (besides those already mentioned, the film also deploys the dulcet tones of Idris Elba, Jenny Slate, Bonnie Hunt and Tommy Chong...yes, Tommy Chong), a splendid visual style (the initial tour of Zootopia is an absolute knockout) and a theme song from Shakira that you will be hearing endlessly for the next few months (not that there is anything wrong with that) and you have that rarest of breeds-a family-oriented film that will actually appeal to your entire family.

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