As is the annual tradition, our cinemas will be flooded with many new releases on this Boxing Day, so to help you decide on the right one, here’s a selection of what’s on offer:
A terrific performance from Jennifer Lawrence injects sporadic bursts of brilliance into an otherwise run-of-the-mill effort from David O. Russell.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Based on the life of Joy Mangano, an American entrepreneur and struggling single mother, Joy is the third collaboration between Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and writer/director David O. Russell. It follows the titular inventor (Lawrence) and her dysfunctional extended family as they bicker and build a business empire from nothing after designing the original Miracle Mop.
A slightly misshapen first act sees Russell stumble through some ham-fisted flashbacks charting Joy’s formative years, and the cast suffer with some awkward reverse aging as a result. However, things come good later when home shopping network exec Neil Walker (Cooper) steps onto the scene and Joy begins to establish herself outside the constantly squabbling family home.
Regardless of whether you love or hate her kooky off-screen persona, it’s hard to deny that Lawrence is a performer that can act the pants off any movie she appears in. Here, the talented young Oscar winner really comes into her own and infuses this otherwise humdrum rags-to-riches tale with the same intensity and emotional range we saw in Silver Linings Playbook or American Hustle. With no shortage of memorable ‘Oscar reel’ moments, her assured performance keeps the film on course during its rockier, more unfocused detours.
However, when all is said and done, Joy feels just a little too familiar and safe to become a truly memorable entry in Russell’s distinguished filmography; it may be based on a remarkable true story, but all the melodrama and legal wrangling builds to a conclusion that asks, “is this a story that needs to be told?” Unfortunately, the answer isn’t as resoundingly positive as you’d hope.
THE GOOD DINOSAUR
Pixar seldom puts a foot wrong, and even when it does, it delivers something that can easily trounce its competitors.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐
The Good Dinosaur is a pleasant family film, pieced together with bolts of warmth and charm. It is about a young dinosaur who is washed away in a flood from his family farm, and must somehow claw his way back, through storms and dust, with newfound allies, against raging foes. It is animated with some of the most breathtaking visuals Pixar has ever produced, and while its story is sweet, I can’t help but feel disappointment.
This isn’t one of Pixar’s better efforts. It is too cute. Too simple. Too broken down for the kids. It lacks the bite that parents, who no doubt have to sit through the picture along with their children, can latch on to, and ends up being little more than images of well-drawn caricatures hobbling and bobbling across the screen.
The hero, Arlo (Raymond Ochoa), has very little pluck to root for. The tyrannosaurs are fun, but misplaced additions to the story as buffalo herders – mimicking the vegetarian sharks in Finding Nemo (2003). And the best character is a small feral boy (Jack Bright) who finds home.
All at once, The Good Dinosaur seems to be several distinct short films, welded together by its sublime animation. Does it do its job? Yes. Could it have been more? Certainly. But there is no doubt that this is a wonderful movie for children.
Leave the kids to see The Good Dinosaur; Youth is this holiday’s grown-up feast for the senses, and emotional meditation for the mind.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
From Paolo Sorrentino (director of the Academy Award-winning The Great Beauty) comes Youth, a beautifully bizarre comedy-drama about two aged best friends (Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel) on vacation at a majestic hotel in the Swiss Alps. Here they reflect back on the success and failure of their lives, pondering what it all meant, and what little there is left to come – or so they think, as familial complications arise, and internal struggles surface, leading to the realisation that retirement may indeed be more problematic and consequential than whatever has come before it.
Youth may be the perfect film for the post-Christmas celebration comedown blues – or the film that worsens it, depending on your perspective. Though disguised as an offbeat (but nonetheless hysterical) comedy, there’s some very dense symbolism at play; a hefty amount of metaphysical meaning beneath its surface that will undoubtedly be far too much for some viewers, particularly as it deconstructs family ties, relationships and old age around a time so kin-oriented. Others who can put up with darkly blunt revelations, and sudden jumps between dream-like imagery and reality are in for an enormously rewarding experience, one that will perhaps cause them to look again at themselves and their own family – from the young to the old.
It’s confronting, but also boasts some of the most exquisite scenery of the year, thanks to Luca Bigazzi’s amazing cinematography, and phenomenal use of lighting. You’ll wish you were there with these characters, if perhaps not sharing some of their distressing experience. Youth may bring back that hangover headache, but it’s a brain-straining exercise well worth enduring.
Sarah Gavron’s Suffragette is a beacon for all crusading women, but in crusading it loses a bit of itself, and forgets its purpose.
⭐ ⭐ ½
Suffragette works less like a parable and more like a mallet, consistently pounding away at the egos of men; reminding them that they were once grotesque, prehistoric monsters that got their kicks from stealing humanity away from women. If it were a parable, it’d have been soft-spoken, but assertive. After seeing Suffragette, however, I felt ashamed to be male.
Suffragette’s plot follows Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan) as she clambers up the social ladder towards a future of political equality in 1920s lower England. She is aided by Violet (Anne-Marie Duff) and Edith (Helena Bonham Carter), two foot soldiers of the rising suffrage movement, who are so zealous they wear years of imprisonment on their bosoms like medals of war. It’s a rousing undertaking, but the movie, directed by Sarah Gavron, betrays its cause by muting it down into a series of inconsequential rebellions, finally ending on a note that’s mournful, but otherwise inconclusive. What have the women in this movie learnt by the end? What have they achieved? If it’s equality, they haven’t succeeded. Not yet at least. Is Suffragette designed to merely be a metaphorical vessel for truth and liberation?
The movie lacks a sensitive touch in a way that can penetrate the minds of both women and men to become a lesson for all. The cinema was filled with middle-aged activists and a younger generation of women eager for a crusade. Their presence filled the hall with a great feeling of power, as if a protest would suddenly erupt from the seats and march its way out the door. This feeling was so strong, in fact, that when the end credits rolled, everyone applauded, and I wanted to hide away in a dark corner and hope no woman would ever find me.
Images courtesy of 20th Century Fox, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, StudioCanal & Transmission Films