Weekend movie guide: July 4 to 6, 2014

School holiday time means plenty of animated adventures are on offer in Kiwi cinemas this week. But that doesn't mean that adults also aren't catered for in this week's crop of new releases.

Calvary (R13, 100mins; ****1/2) Read Sarah Watt's full review

Reuniting The Guard's writer-director John Michael McDonagh with its star Brendan Gleeson, this sees the latter playing Father James, a small town priest somewhere out in the photogenic wilds of Ireland's northern coast. McDonagh is taking on some big themes here. Calvary is a rumination on the state of the Catholic Church, the various malaises of modern life, the purpose of faith in the modern world and what ''being good'' might look like in a society without much cause for optimism about human nature. And all of that, somehow, is shot through with McDonagh's trademark raucous humour, his great love of the language and the tricks it may perform, and a beautifully sketched parade of indelible characters.

Ernest and Celestine (G, 76mins; ***1/2)

An award-winning children's film from Belgium, it is easy to see why this has attracted such acclaim. The tale of a bear and a mouse, Ernest and Celestine  is a classic odd-couple comedy, played out in whimsical fashion in some quite gorgeous hand-drawn illustration.  After the latest Disney and Pixar offerings, Ernest and Celestine is a long, cool drink of watercolour. The pace is relaxed, the palette is muted and the characters are pleasantly unsophisticated.

The House of Magic (G, 85mins; ****) Read Steve Kilgallon's full review

An unexpected delight, The House of Magic is a curiously old-fashioned and understated children's animated movie that will take parents back to their childhood. Hailing from Belgian writer-director Ben Staasen's Wave films, the story concerns an abandoned cat Thunder, who stumbles into a decaying mansion during a storm and is adopted by its owner, eccentric magician Lawrence - to the chagrin of Lawrence's cranky pet rabbit, Jack, and mouse, Maggie. The obvious finale looms a long way off, but that doesn't detract from the pleasure you get from the frenzied chase scenes, the raft of clever little characters brought to life by Lawrence's magic dust, and the simplicity of a tale well told.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 (PG, 102mins; ****)

Opening out and darkening the original tale (adapted from Cressida Cowell's series of books), returning writer-director Dean DeBlois' second part of a proposed trilogy is also a rollicking self-contained adventure that skilfully manages not to overcomplicate a successfully simple premise. Filled with engaging characters, witty dialogue, crisp animation and breathtaking aerial shots (the film-makers engaged the Coen Brothers' regular cinematographer Roger Deakins as a visual consultant), How to Train Your Dragon 2 is not for the faint of heart adult or easily frightened pre-schooler  However, for everyone else, it's an engaging, entertaining way to while away a couple of wet winter school holiday hours.

Jersey Boys (M, 134mins; ***1/2)

Would you believe, Clint Eastwood has made a musical! Of sorts. Sure, there's singing and a bit of dancing, and audiences who stream into the cinema high on the memory of the Jersey Boys stage show will be rewarded with plenty of familiar musical numbers. But it's largely an acty, talky movie which charts the rise and strife of four lads from 1950s New Jersey who fulfilled that age-old American dream of making it big in show business. It ain't no Chicago or Les Mis - here the songs are instead reserved for in situ stage performance rather than a West Side Story-esque soliloquy. Actually, it's all the better for it - instead Eastwood has focused on the story behind the evolution and disintegration of The Four Seasons.

Tinker Bell and the Pirate Fairy (G, 78mins; ***1/2)

This fifth Tinker Bell adventure is also the most accessible outside its traditional Tween girl demographic. The usual crisp animation and peppy girl power pop songs (here sung by the Kiwi-connected Natasha Bedingfield) are allied to an entertaining, clever story that is both sly and respectful of Peter Pan-lore. Indeed, director Peggy Holmes's (a former Wayne's World choreographer who also acts as one of the seven writers on this project) film even manages to smartly set up the origin stories for two important nemeses.