It's easy to be cynical about holiday movies or even the holidays themselves. Rise of the Guardians simply won't let you though even if you don't partake in Christmas or Easter. Without getting too highfalutin the stars of Guardians have more in common with pagan myths than the craven cash-grabs we associate with Judeo-Christian holidays. What's more North (aka Santa voiced by Alec Baldwin) and Bunny (as in Easter voiced by Hugh Jackman) are joined by more universal figures like Tooth (as in Fairy voiced by Isla Fisher) the Sandman Jack Frost (Chris Pine) and Pitch (aka the Boogeyman voiced by Jude Law). Overseeing it all is the silent Man in the Moon who gives the Guardians their directions.
Jack Frost wants to be believed in and seen by children as much as he wants to understand where he came from. When he's called to help the Guardians protect the world from Pitch he's hesitant to join but the possibility of being believed in and recovering his memories is too great to pass up. When Pitch succeeds in giving boys and girls bad dreams they stop believing in the Guardians which in turn threatens their existence. Nothing is worse than not being believed in. They also get some help from one open-minded little dude named Jamie (Dakota Goyo) who is a big believer in the unknown. (A little detour in the story with Jamie's little sister is freaking adorable.)
The characters are fabulous and no small part of what makes the movie work. Based on The Guardians of Childhood books by William Joyce and adapted by David Lindsay-Abaire (who wrote the excellent Rabbit Hole) Guardians stands out because the story isn't wedded to any one mythology. North is a big Russian with tattooed forearms and his real helpers are yetis — yet another mythic creature. Bunny is more of a wild hare with an Aussie attitude and his inner sanctum is lush and green calling to mind the fertility rituals originally associated with spring. Tooth is a fantastic hummingbird woman who has an army of beautiful tiny hummingbird ladies who travel around the world to collect lost teeth. The teeth contain memories so they're treasured by Tooth and her Baby Teeth as her helpers are called. Sandy is silent and communicates through symbols that appear over his head formed from his own sand; he's funny but also laid-back as you'd want the creature doling out dreams to be. Jack Frost is a mischievous cute young guy with anime hair who loves snowball fights and snow days and Pitch is a sour Brit who sends out awful but beautiful black stallions made of sparkly dust to put fear in the hearts of children.
It's a visually stunning experience making full use of 3D; famous cinematographer Roger Deakins acted as a visual consultant as he did on animated films like WALL*E How to Train Your Dragon and Rango. Alexandre Desplat's score is evocative without being overbearing or manipulative. The writing is funny without being too self-referential and the only pop culture reference I caught was to Crocodile Dundee. Frankly it's hard to find fault with Rise of the Guardians. Maybe they could have included Hanukkah Harry?
Take This Waltz is beautiful maddening and sexy just like its protagonist Margot (Michelle Williams). Margot speaks like a toddler to her husband Lou (Seth Rogen). She's moody but playful and she has cutesy and symbolic neuroses like insisting on taking a wheelchair at the airport because trying to make her flight is the sort of limbo that makes her anxious. As she explains to a handsome stranger named Daniel (Luke Kirby) she's afraid of connections she's afraid she'll get lost and no one will ever find her. Almost everything about her is childish from her bright yellow raincoat to her junior high insults ("retard " "gaylord") to her shrieking embarrassment when she pees in the pool during a water exercise class.
"What's the matter with you " asks Daniel "generally?" That's the crux of the movie. What is the matter with Margot? Even Margot doesn't know the root of her restlessness. It seems the only person willing to call her on it is her sister-in-law Geraldine an alcoholic in recovery who is already anticipating her own failure.
Take This Waltz relies heavily on chance and metaphor but the emotional intensity can make you willing to take that leap. Williams carries the film as Margot while Rogen gets an excellent chance to show his emotional side as Lou a lovable bear of a man. Kirby plays Daniel with an easy heady sexuality that makes Margot's decision understandably difficult. Sarah Silverman drops her bad girl comedian persona and really shines as acerbic but insightful Geraldine.
After Daniel and Margot meet at a historic village (she's rewriting the tour book for the tourist destination and he's who knows a fan of colonial history) Daniel is seated next to her on the plane. He also happens to live down the street from her and Lou. By the time he's began to wonder what Margot's deal really is they're knee deep in a heated emotional affair. Their attraction is immediate and palpable an irresistible force felt off screen. Daniel verbally consummates their affair with an unforgettably hot monologue.
Lou on the other hand isn't quite on the same page as Margot when it comes to their sex life or future children. He's knee-deep in a chicken cookbook so the couple and their family and friends eat almost nothing but different chicken dishes at every mean. You can only eat so much chicken right? Daniel on the other hand is new. "New things are shiny " Geraldine tells her in the communal gym shower as the women are soaping up after that pool incident. "New things get old " comments a woman nearby. This is one of the strongest scenes in the movie where women of all ages shapes and colors scrub down unapologetically and talk amongst themselves in a private/public space.
Take This Waltz is a more realistic portrayal of an erratic young woman who in a different writer's hands would be one of those Manic Pixie Dream Girls. Even though Margot wears adorable onesies and has the playfulness of a child she also hurts a lot of people and is screwed up for no apparent reason. It's not always clear why these men are attracted to her and you can tell they aren't sure themselves but it's interesting and painful to watch it all unfold. Take This Waltz is beautifully shot full of buttery sunlight and lush parks and sweetly decorated abodes. Polley rolled the dice on a difficult protagonist and comes up a winner.