March of the Penguins (U)
This nature documentary has been a colossal hit in America, in part because of its adoption by the Christian right, who see it as espousing family values and creationism. It's a bewildering point of view. Do American Christians really think you should stand idly by while a petrel eats your offspring for breakfast? As for creationism, it would be a pretty mean God who would cook up the emperor penguin's annual reproduction rite. The male, for instance, has to hop out of the water, waddle across 70 miles of Antarctic ice to the breeding ground, pair off with a mate who looks just like he does, and then, when an egg emerges, he has to incubate it under his belly for months on end, with no food and no protection from the freezing blizzards, while the female waddles back to the sea to fill up on fish. And all without contracting avian flu.
It's a remarkable story, and the awesome cuteness of baby penguins makes it an appealing story, too, but it would fit comfortably into an episode of a David Attenborough series: after the penguins have been on the march for an hour or so, your mind starts to wander. The narration doesn't convey half the facts or the fascination that Attenborough's would, either. The script, read out by Morgan Freeman, is prone to nursery school anthropomorphism and hyping, so when a chick dies, Freeman tells us that the bereaved mother reacts in "an unimaginable way". In fact, the mother reacts by trying to cradlesnatch a neighbour's chick, which isn't unimaginable in the least. The same goes for the whole film. Enchanting and educational as it can be, it's quite easy to imagine it all without actually going to see it.
After Midnight (15)
A young woman is so frustrated by her job in a fast-food restaurant that she assaults her boss, and then hides from the police in a cinema museum. There, she's looked after by the shy custodian, who is almost as silent as the Buster Keaton films he adores.
This strenuously whimsical Italian romance is obviously in love with Turin and with Keaton, but it's even more deeply in love with its own quirkiness, and it doesn't give its story and its characters a second's thought.
It's been a vintage year for horror films in which the heroes' car breaks down in the wrong place at the wrong time, and they're aided by the wrong person. Following the traumatic outback terror of Wolf Creek, we have Calvaire, a Belgian film that gives the sub-genre a fiendishly comic, gothic twist: its luckless hero is stranded in a dank country village that could well be twinned with The League of Gentlemen's Royston Vasey.
It's an extraordinary debut. You may flinch at the gore - the title is the French word for Calvary - but just as often you'll shake your head at the nightmarish absurdity of it all, as a conventional thriller scenario contorts into a delirious nightmare. There can't be many movie moments as memorably strange as when the inbred locals lurch through a zombie dance in the pub. Calvaire also has the recommendation of being seasonal. As one character says: "You'll see. This will be the best Christmas ever. Where's my axe?"
Crying Fist (15)
Most boxing dramas feature a man who needs to beat someone to a bloody pulp in order to regain his pride. This Korean example features two such men for the price of one. In the blue corner there's Oldboy's Choi Min-sik, channelling Robert De Niro as a one-time champion who's washed up and down and out. And in the red corner there's Ryoo Seung-bum, a delinquent who learns to box in jail. Their troubles make Cinderella Man seem like a fairy tale.
Everything in Crying Fist looks unsparingly real, including the boxing: one entire round is filmed without a single edit. But because there are two parallel stories, there's just too much hardship to get through before the inevitable bout between the men. And when it does arrive, you don't care which of them wins. You just hope they'll both survive.Reuse content