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Jumanji: The Next Level – two stars
Like its predecessor, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, director Jake Kasdan’s backrows-playing comedy reduces its characters to video-game tropes and expects to be commended for its meta qualities.
Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan and Jack Black reprise their roles as cartoonish virtual avatars inhabited by characters who are transported into a magical video-game universe, and must complete a series of objectives in order to return to reality. This time around there’s a comedic twist, in that two elderly men are trapped inside the bodies of Johnson and Hart, allowing countless old man jokes about not understanding what a video game is, etc, etc.
The laughs are sporadic, the stakes are never high, the set pieces are rarely impressive (although I did like one of them: an almost Escher-like array of rickety wooden bridges) – and the plot continually resets itself to the same basic coordinates, removing any sense of progress.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – two stars
Immediately after the conclusion of the latest rah-rah-rah, pow-pow-pow, vrãu-vrãu-vrãu (that’s the sound of a swinging lightsaber) excursion into the Star Wars universe, my companion turned to me and said: “I enjoyed it more than the last one, but maybe that’s just because I’m in a better mood.”
Indeed. We change but these movies, in the franchise’s committee-managed and risk-averse post-George Lucas era, remain more or less the same.
It’s not a Boxing Day release per se, but certainly one people will be still be flocking to. Fans will of course relish the lightsaber duels (kksssshhhh-ksssshhhh-ksssshhhh!) between hero Rey (Daisy Ridley) and baddie Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). One of them takes place on a pier-like platform, with giant waves from a raging sea rising and crashing around them, because CINEMATIC. Director J.J. Abrams struggles to control a scrambled plotline, which builds up to the franchise’s most ridiculous “let me tell you my entire evil plan!” moment yet.
Cats – one star
The weirdest thing about director Tom Hooper’s adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s beloved dance-mewsical isn’t its Kafkaesque distortion of human faces, or the bizarre scale and perspective of its production design. It is how in the Sam Hill the film-maker managed to turn such a vibrant production into a chronically drab movie, his gallingly staid direction sucking the life out of everything.
A CGI-slathered star-studded cast – including Judi Dench, Idris Elba, Jennifer Hudson, Ian McKellen, Taylor Swift and Rebel Wilson – slink into the spotlight and belt out a number one by one. They play cats who are trying to impress Old Deuteronomy (Dench), who will make “the Jellicle choice”, and allow one of them to go to a heaven-like place and be reborn.
Just run with it. Or better yet, avoid this film at all costs. Taylor Swift is a brief highlight as Bombalurina, punching through the film’s dour atmosphere and overpowering special effects. But nothing in Cats comes remotely close to justifying the price of admission.
Jojo Rabbit – three stars
Making a Nazi- or Hitler-themed comedy is somewhere between a poisoned chalice and a Holy Grail for comedians. It’s only for the brave or the foolhardy. As the writer/director Taika Waititi demonstrates in Jojo Rabbit, which is set in Nazi Germany during the final years of the second world war, framing and emphasis are fundamental. Who or what are we laughing at? Where does his moral compass lie?
Ten-year-old protagonist Johannes, aka “Jojo” (Roman Griffin Davis), whose imaginary friend is a cartoonish version of Hitler (Waititi), wants nothing more than to be a Nazi. But the script (adapted from Christine Leunens’ novel) contextualises his aspirations inside a broader message about the susceptibility of children, and the danger of terrible role models. Importantly, Jojo’s mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) is a dissenter hiding a teenage Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in the attic.
The film has soft edges and a big heart, tracking a fundamentally good-natured young subject as he slowly realises what’s important in life. It sometimes feels like a short film padded out into feature-length format – but nevertheless it is well-made and warming.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire – five stars
Writer/director Céline Sciamma’s highly acclaimed period piece is brilliant on several levels: as a study of creative processes; as an exploration of the power dynamic between an artist and their subject; as a contemplation of memory; and as a romance between two women, situated on a far-flung island in Brittany circa the 18th century.
Marianne (Noémie Merlant) is commissioned to paint Héloïse (Adèle Haenel) in secret; the latter does not want to pose for a portrait and does not want to be married. The pair share long, ambiguous gazes before eventually realising their passions.
This is not some stuffy and inaccessible high art production. Sciamma fires on all cinematic cylinders, combining Claire Mathon’s immaculate cinematography with Julien Lacheray’s beautifully measured editing to create a visually ravishing work with an expertly controlled pace. Riveting viewing and one of the year’s best films.
The Truth – two stars
The director Hirokazu Koreeda’s previous film was Shoplifters: a quietly powerful slice-of-life drama about an impoverished family scraping through day-to-day life in Tokyo.
The characters and settings in The Truth, Koreeda’s first film to be shot outside Japan, could hardly be more different: it is based in upper-class Paris and revolves around a family of well-to-do people. These include the obnoxious actor/diva Fabienne (Catherine Deneuve), her daughter Lumir (Juliette Binoche) and Lumir’s husband Hank (Ethan Hawke).
Koreeda’s dignified human-centric approach is still there, but this time around the story is meandering and the pace slow, if not glacial. The characters in The Truth are a bore and their (rarely compelling) circumstances involve sipping wine and delivering first-world-problem lines of dialogue such as “I had too much lasagne”.
Sorry We Missed You
I haven’t seen this one yet, but the buzz is very positive. Sorry We Missed You comes from veteran English film-maker Ken Loach, who, now in his early-80s, continues to make intelligent and dramatically interesting films exploring important social issues.
This one revolves around an up-against-it delivery worker (Kris Hitchen) and his family, examining zero hours contracts and the personal costs of the gig economy. Loach reunites with screenwriter Paul Laverty following their highly successful drama I, Daniel Blake, which the won Palme d’Or at the 2016 Cannes Film festival.
The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw awarded Sorry We Missed You five stars, describing it as a film that “depicts the human cost of an economic development that we are encouraged to accept as a fact of life … I was hit in the solar plexus by this movie, wiped out by the simple honesty and integrity of the performances.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: From Cats to Jojo Rabbit: a guide to Australia’s Boxing Day releases | Film