If you need a lift this season, check out the zany animated gem Sing! A koala showman plans to restore his theatre to a glorious new future by staging the biggest voice contest ever held. His entrants include a moody teenaged ape, an Asian HK Pop group, head banging hedgehogs, a Vegas inspired pig, a housewife pig, a frog and a camel, there are more but I was crying with delight and joy so I may have missed some. The story’s simple, the pull on the heart certain. Had a whale of a time watching this high spirited campy musical, the jokes are fast and furious, the visuals fabulous and the story is a satire on TV reality shows. And the songs!!! And the cast! The cast! Matthew McConaughay, Jennifer Saunders, Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Hudson, Scarlett Johansson, Nick Offerman, Leslie Jones and many more. . Critics are a split – Variety raves but some guy from The Guardian says “God, it’s so obnoxious. And the worst thing is that it works. I was smiling and applauding at the end, then I had to take a long walk alone to wonder what was wrong with me. ”
If you need a nap on the other hand, Assassins’ Creed provides white noise and visual chaos to send you off. A darn good cast – Michael Fassbender, Charlotte Rampling, the ubiquitous Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, and Javier’s lesser known brother Carlos is so wasted in this time traveling, ancient blood, heavy on the phony mythos, death and killing “epic”. That’s one thing – but the worst is that as everyone knows is that poorly conceived digital or fake visuals can ruin an action film. The look is somehow “broken” precise and imprecise, rendering the fast moving images as cardboard cut outs pasted onto lollipop sticks and waved around. Kind of ruins the grandeur to which the film and its nonsense ancient vengeance plot aspires. Digital action has to be done just so or forget it. Fassbender plays Callum Lynch a criminal who is taken under a research facility’s wing because it believes he descends from someone 500 years earlier who can point them in the direction of the apple from the Garden of Eden. Because it contains the seeds of free will. Yup. His memories are “unlocked” and he’s back in Spain ages ago fighting Templars who also want the apple. See?Fassbender worked the director Justin Kurzel previously in Macbeth which I really liked but this…
I could have sworn Brian De Palma made Julieta in one of his more colourful, melodramatic, operatic moods, but it is actually from the usually graceful Pedro Almodóvar, Spain’s master filmmaker (All About My Mother, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown) . Julieta isn’t especially masterful but it does have a nice juicy family scandal to follow. It’s surprisingly clumsiness lets us down but it does satisfy its own burning questions. It’s also oddly unsettling. Julieta was married with a daughter but things fell apart. Her daughter disappeared twelve years earlier and her efforts to find come to nothing. She is obsessed with it, breaking away from work, her lover and home to get to the bottom of it and out of the blue one day, fate smiles on her in the form of her daughter’s school friend, who lives in America but is home for a quick visit. The friend ran into the daughter in Italy two years earlier and describes an unhappy woman. Julieta is trying to find her daughter but she is also attempting to reinvent herself and live for herself. Quite the conundrum. It’s emotional, bold, and garish and there’s something awesome about it, like watching a train wreck. Almodóvar adapted three short stories (“Chance,” “Soon,“ and ”Silence”) by Alice Munro as the basis for Julieta, switching out Vancouver for Madrid and spanning 30 years. Then film is Spain’s 2017 Best Foreign Language Oscar entry and a book tie in includes a foreword by a clearly besotted Almodóvar.
A Monster Calls is a semi-animated, mostly live action dark fantasy for older children. A boy lives in rural England with his mother (Felicity Jones – Rogue One star) who is dying of cancer. Their home is dark and gloomy reflecting his state of mind, but his mum tries gamely to keep his spirits up and literally lighten his load. He takes refuge in drawing pictures of monsters and nature and one dark night he looks out the window to find a giant tree walking over to him. (Liam Neeson looking a little wooden! Joke) The tree comforts and guides him and even though it’s scary, they explore life’s big ideas and realities and his spirits are lifted. As his mother becomes sicker, he acts out and suffers for it, but the tree protects him. He will be sent to live with his loathed grandmother Sigourney Weaver when his mother dies and he is desperate. Lewis MacDougall who plays the boy is a natural actor, with a touch of magic. Director J.A. Bayona has created a sophisticated, layered fable for kids and adults, that satisfy children’s curiosity about life and death and darkness but it is not, repeat NOT for young children. It’s too scary and the dying mother is not prettied up for the camera.
HBO – Every Brilliant Thing is a filmed play that’s quite extraordinary. The star British comedian Jonny Donohue does a one-man show written by Duncan McMillan with an audience in the round. He uses some of them to play people from his life and explains how they should interact with him and it’s quite incredible at times how engaged they are. So what he did was on learning, at age seven, that his mother attempted suicide, was begin a list of Brilliant Things that make life bearable and that make him – and his mother – want to live. Examples – striped things, ice cream, people falling over, peeing in the sea and nobody knows, visiting Mrs. Patterson, his bed. It became an obsessive mantra – his way of dealing with the eventual loss of his mother. The list grew to a couple thousand short of a million brilliant things. It’s so funny and smart and based on the idea of suicide, is it contagious, Goethe should never have written anything because his books have resulted in actual real life suicides. There’s one bit in which an audience member must play the vet to put down his dog (a coat over his arms) and she does so and really feels it. The experience was illuminating and full of meaning. I was bawling and laughing throughout. Brilliant and funny. Monday, December 26, only on HBO
Tumbledown a romantic comedy drama starring Rebecca Hall and Jason Sudeikis is available on DVD, Blu-ray, and Digital HDDec 27 and a pleasant romance it is. Hall plays the widow of a world renowned rock singer songwriter fending off a journalist who has come to her remote mountain cabin to write The Definitive Article on her husband. She’s grieving and is bound by her husband’s desire for privacy but the writer’s earnest admiration and careful approach may pull down her defences. They spend time together and very slowly being to understand one another and come to a compromise. It’s not a huge story but the nuance and realism, and terrific performances make it truly rewarding.
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