VIDEO: This week’s new films reviewed

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Two plucky turkeys intend to alter the course of Thanksgiving history in the computer-animated comedy Free Birds.

FREE BIRDS (U)

Free Birds starring the voices of Owen Wilson and Woody Harrelson

Free Birds starring the voices of Owen Wilson and Woody Harrelson

Dating back to 1621 Massachusetts, Thanksgiving is one of the biggest national holidays in America, celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November.

Shops close for the day, curtains fall across Broadway and families come together around the dinner table to give thanks for the previous 12 months.

The centrepiece of this gathering of the generations is a succulent roast turkey.

In Jimmy Hayward’s computer-animated comedy, the feathered fowls strike back, attempting to change the main course of history so that they can be granted a stay of execution every winter.

Free Birds offers a surprising alternative to turkey for the Thanksgiving feast, which should appeal to both vegetarians and carnivores, but manages to vastly increase the calorie count and fat and carbohydrate contents.

Considering America’s battle with obesity, it seems unlikely that families will be trading in the giblets in order to pile on another couple of pounds.

The film’s unlikely hero is a turkey called Reggie (Owen Wilson), who realizes that the abundance of food offered up by the farmer is merely a plot to fatten the flock.

Having caused a fuss, Reggie is kicked out of the coop and, by chance, he is chosen by the President’s cherubic daughter (Kaitlyn Maher) as the one bird to be pardoned from the carving table.

Transported to Camp David where he enjoys a daily routine of pizza and trashy TV, Reggie thinks his troubles have evaporated until Jake (Woody Harrelson), founder and sole member of the Turkey Freedom Front, kidnaps Reggie and pressgangs him into a top secret mission of the utmost importance.

“We’re going back to the first Thanksgiving to get turkeys off the menu,” booms Jake.

Together, they break into a military facility and use a time-travelling device called S.T.E.V.E. (George Takei) - which stands for Space Time Exploration Vehicle Envoy - to head back to 1621 to spearhead a turkey uprising.

The birds immediately cross paths with colonial hunter Myles Standish (Colm Meaney) and his men, who are scavenging for food.

Cluckily, Reggie and Jake are rescued by Chief Broadbeak (Keith David) and his turkey tribe including the chief’s courageous daughter Jenny (Amy Poehler), who helps the heroes from the future appreciate that, “When you’re in a flock, you know you belong to something bigger.”

Free Birds is light-hearted gobbledygook that lacks visual sophistication or belly laughs.

Wilson, Harrelson and Poehler deliver solid vocal performances while Meaney is a lacklustre villain.

The script, co-written by Scott Mosier, is sporadically amusing, like a disclaimer caption at the beginning of the film what affirms this is a work of fiction - “Except for the talking turkeys. That’s totally real.”

But there’s no originality or verve on screen and the plot twists and turns in obvious directions.

Parents will probably be stifling yawns.

RATING: 5/10

SAVING MR BANKS (PG)

Almost 50 years after Mary Poppins first charmed cinema audiences, Robert Stevenson’s magical film continues to cast a spell with its lively characters, heart-warming sentiment and hummable tunes.

Yet the colour-saturated fantasy, which won five Oscars including Best Actress for Julie Andrews, almost never materialised on the big screen.

Australian-born British novelist PL Travers, who penned the series of books on which the film was based, famously rebuffed Walt Disney’s efforts to purchase the rights for more than 20 years.

When she finally relented in 1961, Travers was granted script approval, and archive recordings of the meetings between the author, screenwriter Don DaGradi and songwriter brothers Richard and Robert Sherman reveal her resistance to the Disney-fication of her beloved nanny.

That infamous tug-of-war between the writer and Hollywood filmmaker is recreated in Saving Mr Banks, an elegant and witty comedy emboldened by tour-de-force performances from Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks.

When we first meet Travers (Thompson), she has fallen on hard times yet refuses to entertain the advances of Disney (Hanks).

“I know what he’s going to do to her. She’ll be cavorting... and twinkling!” seethes the writer.

Yet the filmmaker is persistent, telling Travers that, “20 years ago I made a promise to my daughters that I would make your Mary Poppins fly off the pages of your books.”

Eventually, Travers flies to America to meet Disney and his team including Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford), Richard Sherman (Jason Schwartzman) and his brother Robert (BJ Novak), whose twee songs fail to curry favour.

“These books do not lend themselves to prancing and chirping,” Travers rebukes.

Despite a touching friendship with her chauffeur Ralph (Paul Giamatti), Travers is unmoved by the re-imagining of her cherished text and eventually she snaps, telling Disney: “Mary Poppins is not for sale. I won’t have her turned into one of your silly cartoons.”

Something has to give and it is Disney who realises that if he is to win over the author, he must confront the ghosts of his own past.

Saving Mr Banks is an embarrassment of riches from the stunning lead performances to John Lee Hancock’s assured direction and Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith’s script, which intercut events in 1960s California with vignettes from Travers’ turbulent childhood in 1906 Australia.

Thompson is formidable, tossing verbal grenades at anyone who dares to besmirch Travers’s literary creation, while slowly revealing the chinks in the writer’s armour.

Screen chemistry with Hanks is delightful.

“I could just eat you up,” coos Disney at one point.

“That would be inappropriate,” retorts Travers tartly.

Hancock strikes just the right balance between humour and heart-tugging sentiment, culminating in a glitzy world premiere screening where Travers finally shares Mary with the rest of the world and in so doing, sets herself free.

RATING: 8/10

CARRIE (15)

It’s perhaps fitting that the horror genre cannibalises classics of bygone decades and churns out glossy remakes to sate the bloodlust of new generations.

In the past five years alone, Evil Dead, Friday The 13th, Fright Night, I Spit On Your Grave, The Last House On The Left and A Nightmare On Elm Street have all been resurrected to varying degrees of mediocrity.

So it’s no surprise that the seminal 1976 thriller, based on Stephen King’s brilliantly crafted story of an outcast schoolgirl who discovers she possesses devastating telekinetic powers, should be given some 21st-century spit and polish.

Award-winning feminist director Kimberly Peirce, who shepherded Hilary Swank to her first Oscar in the harrowing true story Boys Don’t Cry, is an intelligent and intriguing choice for the remake.

She often forges strong emotional bonds with her female protagonists and has charted many of Carrie’s underlying themes – sexual awakening, religious fervour, revenge and retribution – in her earlier work.

Unfortunately, working within the confines of Lawrence D Cohen and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s script that slavishly follows King’s text and the superior 1976 film, Peirce is powerless to embellish the narrative with her own insights or brio.

All that distinguishes the two incarnations is the inclusion of video sharing as a means of bullying the titular character and a miasma of digital effects in the pivotal prom night sequence.

Carrie White (Chloe Grace Moretz) is a shrinking violet, who has been sheltered from the harsh realities of the world by her religiously zealous mother, Margaret (Julianne Moore).

One afternoon after swimming class, Carrie gets her first period and classmates including Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde) and Chris Hargensen (Portia Doubleday) cruelly turn on Carrie in the shower, recording the young woman’s distress on their smartphones.

While Sue subsequently feels pangs of guilt for her actions, Chris is unrepentant and is expelled by sympathetic gym teacher Miss Desjardin (Judy Greer).

The uncaring vixen then plots spectacular revenge on Carrie with the help of bad boy beau, Billy Nolan (Alex Russell).

Meanwhile, Sue plans to atone for her sins by foregoing the forthcoming prom so that her boyfriend, Tommy Ross (Ansel Elgort), can take Carrie instead.

“When you turn up to prom with Carrie White on your arm, don’t you think you’re going to look the tiniest bit ridiculous?” Miss Desjardin asks Tommy.

Unperturbed, Tommy proceeds, determined that Carrie will have a wonderful night.

Distinguished by committed performances from Moretz and Moore, Carrie resembles its predecessor too closely to justify an exhumation more than 25 years after Brian De Palma’s gripping entry.

Pacing is sluggish and the climactic bloodbath fails to quicken the pulse.

Wisely, Peirce does not attempt to replicate the iconic jump-out-of-your-seat coda of the original.

She allows the visual effects team one final, fittingly lacklustre flourish, consigning her remake to a shallow grave.

RATING: 5/10