Boxing Day is usually one of the most loaded cinema days of the entire calendar year. While there are still a diverse selection of films on offer for the holidays this year, December has been barren so far and a lot of distributors have taken their headline titles out of 2015 altogether with the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Here are what remain on offer, should you wish to watch something other than Star Wars for the third time: The Good Dinosaur, Joy, Suffragette, Youth, Daddy’s Home, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Road Chip and The Belier Family.
The Good Dinosaur – What if the cataclysmic asteroid that forever changed life on Earth actually missed the planet completely and giant dinosaurs never became extinct? The latest film from Pixar, their second in 2015, has battled through some serious production problems. Reactions have been (modestly) positive, praising the visuals but claiming the story just doesn’t come together. Minor Pixar. More for the little ones than the universally appealing Inside Out, this will still likely prove to be charming escapism.
Joy – This is the wild story of a family across four generations centered on the girl who becomes the woman who founds a business dynasty and becomes a matriarch in her own right. Betrayal, treachery, the loss of innocence and the scars of love, pave the road in this intense emotional and human comedy about becoming a true boss of family and enterprise facing a world of unforgiving commerce. Allies become adversaries and adversaries become allies, both inside and outside the family, as Joy’s inner life and fierce imagination carry her through the storm she faces. David O. Russell’s latest film is tonally odd and structurally erratic, typical of the filmmaker, and is anchored by a magnetic performance from Jennifer Lawrence. It isn’t particularly funny or possess much dramatic tension (features of both Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle) or and yet it never ceases to be interesting. It is an American Dream story about the persistence of ideas and a determined woman who fought the disposability of fame, success and mops.
Suffragette – In early 20th-century Britain, the growing suffragette movement forever changes the life of working wife and mother Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan). Galvanized by political activist Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep), Watts joins a diverse group of women who fight for equality and the right to vote. Faced with increasing police action, Maud and her dedicated suffragettes must play a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse, risking their jobs, homes, family and lives for a just cause. Carey Mulligan’s fiery and passionate performance makes this just watchable, but the sacrifices of this one fraction is not amplified to the national movement as a whole with Mulligan’s character a far too convenient ride through this very important slice of history. Every man in this film is “LOATHSOME”, and though the washed-out hand-held photography is a risky, but understandable, aesthetic choice it is beyond irksome.
Youth – Explores the lifelong bond between two friends vacationing in a luxury Swiss Alps lodge as they ponder retirement. While Fred (Michael Caine) has no plans to resume his musical career despite the urging of his loving daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz), Mick (Harvey Keitel) is intent on finishing the screenplay for what may be his last important film for his muse Brenda (Jane Fonda). And where will inspiration lead their younger friend Jimmy (Paul Dano), an actor grasping to make sense of his next performance? Paolo Sorrentino (This Must Be the Place and The Great Beauty) has become a bit like a drug for me. I need his films in my life and I get high on the visual and audio pleasures (and their perfect collaboration) lathered throughout his films. This is a serene and mesmerising meditation on ageing; memory and the past, a study of what drives commitment to vocation and the security of legacy. The performances by Caine, Keitel and Dano are especially wonderful.
Daddy’s Home – The story of a mild-mannered radio executive (Will Ferrell) who strives to become the best stepdad ever to his wife’s two children, but complications ensue when their freewheeling, freeloading real father (Mark Wahlberg) arrives, forcing stepdad to compete for the affection of the kids. I think anyone who has seen the trailer for this knows what they are in for, but it comes down to a decision of whether the superior supporting cast of Linda Cardellini and Thomas Haden Church are worth the effort.
Alvin and the Chipmunks: Road Chip – Through a series of misunderstandings, Alvin, Simon and Theodore come to believe that Dave is going to propose to his new girlfriend in New York City… and dump them. They have three days to get to him and stop the proposal, saving themselves not only from losing Dave but possibly from gaining a terrible stepbrother. Another one? None of them have been good.
The Belier Family – The whole Bélier family is deaf, except for sixteen year old Paula who is the important translator in her parents’ day to day life especially when it comes to matters concerning the family farm. When her music teacher discovers she has a fantastic singing voice and she gets an opportunity to enter a big Radio France contest the whole family’s future is set up for big changes. This film has been a big hit in France and won a bunch of Lumiere and Cesar Awards. Looks rather charming.
Recommendations: Contrary to what I was expecting there is actually something for everyone here. Families have The Good Dinosaur, Alvin and Daddy’s Home (depending on the age of the kids) as options, and older audiences will probably go for Youth, Suffragette and The Belier Family. Joy will also attract a solid BO, considering the success of Russell’s last two films and the star power of Jennifer Lawrence. While Star Wars remains the most attractive option, and I am sure many will venture back for another (and another) viewing, it is also the strongest film currently in cinemas. Even if you aren’t a Star Wars fan I think you’ll have a good time. I also enjoyed Youth and Joy.