BETTER WATCH OUT Cert 15 Running time 89 minutes Stars 4

There’s mayhem and murder among the mince pies and mistletoe in this violent and funny festive comedy horror.

Riffing on classics Home Alone and Ferris Bueller, the twisted story sees 12 year old Luke making plans to have sex with his beautiful 17 year old babysitter, Ashley.

However they’re surprised a masked intruder with a gun and become trapped in their home.

As the mismatched pair, Levi Miller and Olivia DeJonge give energetic performances, skilfully and intelligently driving the desired tone.

Rejection, revenge and psychosis pepper the smartly constructed script. It’s very aware of itself and gleefully toys with our expectations as it leads us on its merry dance of death.

And though it raises important issues of consent, abuse, peer pressure, male privilege and influence of porn, this is never allowed to interrupt the fun.

With the title taking its cue from my 2nd favourite Christmas song, this is a joyously acerbic antidote to this sentimental time of year.

 

THE DINNER Cert 15 Running time 120 minutes Stars 1

There’s thin pickings to be had as Steve Coogan and Richard Gere play chalk and cheese brothers in this tedious and hard to swallow family drama.

The estranged siblings and their wives meet in an exclusive restaurant for dinner. Each couple have a teenage son and what feeble tension exists is generated from their talking turkey about a jam the youngsters are in and how to save their bacon.

It’s based on a novel by Dutch writer Herman Koch and has been turned it into an insular, stagey, dull and muddled affair. A long evening sees laboured observations served up about the fractured nature of US society.

So it’s surprising half the major roles are given to English actors. Coogan has a convincing if distracting American accent as Paul, the younger brother. He’s an ex-high school history teacher with psychiatric issues.

Best known for his comedy, the actor’s most recent success was in TV restaurant review show, The Trip. It’s a big shame co-star Rob Brydon doesn’t pop by to lighten the mood.

Gere plays Paul’s smoother, more successful sibling, Stan, who’s campaign to be elected state Governor is in a pickle.

His trophy second wife Katelyn is played by Brit actress Rebecca Hall, and Laura Linney is Claire, Paul’s wife. Neither have much to do until dessert when custody becomes an issue.

With salty performances full of anger, bitterness, jealousy and loathing, it’s a shame the pretentious script warranted the actors involved. Instead their considerable talent is squandered playing a quartet of insufferable over-privileged narcissists.

I felt as if I was intruding on an unknown family’s private argument, and I soon wished I’d followed my first impulse and discretely shuffled out backwards.

Without a twist in the plot there’s no meat to sink your teeth into, making for a gruelling watch which won’t have you asking for more.

 

 

HUMAN FLOW Cert 12A Running time 140 minutes Stars 4

Prepare yourself for a sobering view of humanity as this distressing documentary follows the global refugee trail of more than 65 million people.

This is the greatest displacement of people since the Second World War and we see the desperate plight of people who have fled war, famine, climate change, only to face poverty and persecution wherever they land.

Filmed over the course of one year in 23 countries, we move from the Middle East to Afghanistan, Greece and the notorious ‘Jungle’ camp in Calais. There are interviews with refugees and aid workers but there is no need for a narrator.

Its a profoundly personal odyssey from Chinese director Ai Weiwei, who was the artistic consultant on the Beijing National Stadium for the 2008 Olympics and has suffered arrest for his political activism.

There’s no respite from the crisis as Weiwei wrings every drop of impact from the hardship, disease and death suffered at every step of the journey.

BRIGSBY BEAR Cert 15 Running time 97 minutes Stars 3

Tune in to this sweet natured and enjoyably left field film based on the adventures of an animatronic man-sized bear.

Brigsby is the star of a self titled long running sci-fi TV show. Kyle Mooney is childishly enthusiatic as James, his number one fan. When the 25 year old discovers there are no new episodes, he sets off to create his own feature length follow up.

Touching on the dark subjects of kidnap, abuse and mental illness, this is primarily a love letter to the work of Steven Spielberg. James is affectionately styled to look like a youthful incarnation of the world greatest living director.

In advance of his return next week as Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Mark Hammill makes his presence felt in a key role.

In doing so he confers a blessing on the obsessive film geek community for their devotion, a trait the story celebrates in its strangely uplifting and furry way.

 

 

THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS Cert PG Running time 104 minutes Stars 3

From Downton Abbey to Hollywood, Dan Stevens is now a bona fide star due to the billion dollar success of this year’s live action version of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.

Now he shines as Charles Dickens in this enjoyable and not too spooky account of the writing of famous festive ghost story, A Christmas Carol, first published in 1843.

This is an interesting perspective on the classic tale of yuletide redemption, though the script assumes the audience has read the book or at least seen one of the many filmed versions, the earliest being a silent short from 1901.

With a growing family but a shrinking career, Dickens’ is in desperate need of a hit. 

Unfortunately he has a serious case of writer’s block so similarly to Will Shakespeare in 1998’s Shakespeare in Love, the author wanders around London, finding inspiration in characters he meets.

Jonathan Pryce is affecting as Dickens’ spendthrift father, whose return from the countryside brings back traumatic childhood memories.

Dickens acts out each character as he writes, allowing Stevens to display his versatility. As good as he is, it’s when the ghosts arrive in his imagination the film comes to life. 

Christopher Plummer is far less flamboyant yet overshadows Stevens in a wonderfully glowering turn as the miser Scrooge, who refuses to do Dicken’s bidding.

Justin Edwards adopts a Geordie accent as Dickens’ friend and confident John Forster, though his romantic subplot seems an unnecessary flourish.

And there’s room to squeeze in a romcom type dash to the train station in a Hansom cab, which at least has a stylish novelty to it.

Suggesting Dickens reinvented Christmas as a time of charity is a bold claim and unsubstantiated by the script. Plus of course it would also make the socially aware writer partly implicit in the reckless greed of Black Friday.

However it’s message of charity is unmissable and bears repeating in these cold, dark days.

 

 

THE DISASTER ARTIST Cert 15 Running time 103 minutes Stars 4

How funny you’ll find this disturbing biographical comedy-drama depends on your interest in behind the camera action and tolerance of deliberately poor acting.

It’s based on the making of the 2003 film, The Room, made by the obsessive and eccentric driving force, Tommy Wiseau. He wrote, financed and starred in the production which premiered in 2003 to gales of unintended laughter. It now has a cult following and is often referred to as one of the worst films ever made.

Hollywood loves to celebrate its creativity onscreen, particularly in ways which emphasise how difficult it is to succeed in the industry, such as Tim Burton’s finest film, Ed Wood. The Disaster Artist is cast from the same mould, though not to the same glorious standard.

A passion project for producer, director and star James Franco, he gives a remarkable performance as Wiseau, presented as a shady narcissist who abuses cast and crew.

However the film considers this forgivable because Wiseau’s finding emotional truths in order to connect with an audience.

This is often a terrifically funny film ,but also a troubling one. Franco’s younger brother Dave plays Wiseau’s protege, Greg. This adds a troubling incestuous twist to the sexual undercurrent of their relationship, further muddying the waters of exploitation in a deeply uncomfortable way.

To a degree this film has been overtaken by events. Presenting Wiseau as a sympathetic and almost heroic figure for pursuing his creativity even at the expense of others, is an interesting position to have in these post-Weinstein era.

 

 

WONDER Cert PG Running time 113 minutes Stars 4

Young actor Jacob Trembley followed up his turn in 2015’s astonishingly powerful drama, Room, with the wildly misjudged Book Of Henry.

He’s back on winning form in this uplifting adaptation of R.J. Palacio best selling 2012 novel. 

Ten year old Auggie is disfigured by a medical condition and consequent corrective procedures, though he still has a straighter nose than the actor who plays his dad.

Owen Wilson’s broken nose aside, casting him and Julia Roberts as Auggie’s loving parents seems an act of cruel trolling, in a ‘look at what you could have won’ scenario.

Auggie starts a new school where he is bullied, meanwhile his older sister who has her own issues.

In the era of cyberbullying the film’s message of accepting people for who they are is worth repeating.

Wonder is sentimental and more sweetly engaging than I’m prepared to admit to enjoying, and fans of the book will probably think it’s wonderful.