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December Boys

Coming of age movies have been a genre staple for decades.  Charting a young persons’ growth into adulthood as they learn life’s hard lessons is meant to provide searing drama and pathos.  December Boys mixes these ingredients amidst the picturesque backdrop of Kangaroo Island.  This luscious Australian scenery bears witness to the unfolding drama of a group of boys heading onto their journey to manhood.
Four young orphans, featuring Maps (Daniel Radcliffe) and Misty (Lee Cormie), dream of one day becoming adopted.  As their birthdays fall in December, they are given a gift from the Mother Superior of a beachside holiday.  Staying with ex navy seaman Bandy (Jack Thompson) and his wife, they discover a new world.  Finding out that a couple nearby wants to adopt one of them, the boys begin a charm offensive.  This sets off a chain of unexpected events that tests the mettle of the residents of the seaside cove.
Believing in oneself is one of December Boys overarching themes. Misty is the believer of the group, who never gives up in the face of adversity and provides the glue that bonds them.  The residents themselves also try to find their own belief system, with the young outsiders affecting them in various ways.  Rod Hardy’s heavy handed direction unfortunately dilutes most of the story’s emotional impact, robbing the crucial final scenes of any traction.  The listless slow pacing mirrors the scripts’ ongoing vagueness, with the time and setting never clearly defined makes for emotionally distant viewing.  Misty’s divine visions featuring cartwheeling nuns make for strange ongoing humorous religious epiphanies.
There is never a sense of true camaraderie amongst the boys which makes events ring hollow.  The casting is strong and the characters are reasonably solid, but the script needed more bite.  Daniel Radcliffe seems slightly too old to be genuinely convincing.  Radcliffe generally handles his double outsider role well however, dealing with both the residents and his younger group.  The cinematography is the films greatest asset, wonderfully showing off the magnificent Kangaroo Island scenery and adjoining areas.  This aspect successfully captures the look of the story, providing memorable imagery.
December Boys is a very clichéd and dated entry in the teenage angst genre.  The haphazard editing hinders the story which at times start to become interesting, then suddenly switching to another unconnected piece.  December is sometimes a dreaded calendar month, which this old fashioned film does nothing to dispel.
Rating out of 10:  5

Hairspray

Turning to comedic auteur John Waters for inspiration is a sure sign of Hollywood’s dearth of ideas.  After years of directing high camp comedies, the self proclaimed ‘Pope of Trash’ found unexpected cross-over appeal with 1988’s Hairspray.  As an ode to his youth, it provided a suitably nostalgic final vehicle for his long time co-star Divine who died shortly afterwards. John Waters must appreciate the irony in seeing his scraggy classic given the remake treatment, based on the hit musical. 
Overweight teen, Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky), dreams of appearing as a dancer on The Corny Collins Show.  Having a crush on its main star, Link Larkin (Zac Efron), Tracy auditions. The machinations of TV station boss Velma Von Tussle (Michelle Pfeiffer) and the initial objections of her mother Edna (John Travolta) make this difficult.  After the axing of the shows’ ‘Negro Day’, Tracy makes a stand to make the show fully integrated.  Proving that size and colour is no barrier to shaking one’s booty, 1960’s Baltimore has never seen the likes of this very groovy bunch.
Seeing a John Waters film turned into a family friendly all singing extravaganza is rather bizarre, but it works despite this. Jettisoning the scheming and bitchiness, this fluffy remake smooths the rough edges.  The energetic performances and Adam Shankman’s fast paced direction stay true to the original’s core concept whilst adding some new surprising twists.  The absurdities of the script are heightened by the visually exciting dreamlike musical numbers and bubble gum style colour scheme.  Certain aspects of the script seem somewhat heavy handed, with the original’s free wheeling spontaneity sadly missing.
Crucially giving cinematic rather than theatrical performances, the cast appear to enjoy their roles. Stand outs include Zac Efron and Nikki Blonsky who portray a genuine rebellious rock and roll sensibility.  Whilst the sight of John Travolta in drag might have made Divine turn up in his disco dollies, he at least maintains the essence of his sympathetic character, pairing up well with a lively Christopher Walken as the husband.  Cameos by some of the original cast are great, ensuring this Hairspray remix hasn’t forgotten it’s rough and ready origins.
Hairspray’s high gloss treatment may offend some long term fans, but still has an edge missing from most current commercial films. Whilst it’s disappointing that such creativity has been poured into yet another remake, the entertainment factor never wavers providing plenty of dazzle for the cinematic dollar.  Pink Flamingos: The Musical must now surely be on the way, perhaps ensuring that his notorious first film gives Hollywood outsider John Waters the last laugh.
Rating out of 10:  7