SONS OF DENMARK

Cert 15 Stars 3

Terrorists, far right politics and racial tension make for a grim vision of Europe’s near future in this realistic and somber Danish thriller.

Set in the year 2025 within the Arab immigrant community of Copenhagen, it’s the strong and promising directorial debut feature of Danish-Iraqi scriptwriter Ulaa Salim, who draws earnestly on his own experiences to give a moody authenticity.

Issues of masculinity, loyalty and identity are explored as the drama favours strong character work and slow burn tension over pulse quickening action, plus a strong use of colour gives proceedings an unhealthy sheen, echoing the sick state of Danish society.

One year after a major bomb attack in Copenhagen, the impressionable Zakaria, and the older and more worldy Ali, respond to the racist attacks on their neighbourhood with their own brand of militant action.

But when they target the ‘Sons of Denmark’, the paramilitary wing of a far right party, lead by an ambitious politician, they become involved in much bigger political games which are to have a devastating effects on their lives.

JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL

Cert 12A Stars 4

This rip-roaring blockbuster comedy sequel builds on the box office smash success of 2017’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, by reuniting the cast for more fast-paced fantasy action and adding new faces, locations and villains to keep everything fresh.

Karen Gillan, Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart and Jack Black return to be buoyed by veterans Danny Glover and Danny DeVito, as well as the rapper and actress Awkwafina, who was nominated for a Golden Globe this week for her starring role in comedy drama, The Farewell.

The quartet of high school students of the first film are now at university, but plans for a Christmas reunion go awry when one disappears into the magical Jumanji video game, and the others must follow to rescue him.

Battling a barrel of angry mandrills among other hazards, they have to rescue a precious jewel from an axe wielding barbarian horde in order to return home.

The mountains, forests, jungles and deserts give it an epic sweep, with the latter providing the opportunity for a cheeky riff on the majestic soundtrack from David Lean’s 1962 classic, Lawrence of Arabia.

Full of cartoon style violence and some brief kissing, the script milks its character swapping concept for all its worth, mixing up the ethnicity, age, gender and even species of its characters with merry abandon and inventively comic results.

Plus the resurgent Sony Pictures uses this film to fire across the bows of a rival studio by having characters talk to the animals, ahead of Universal Studio’s huge budget remake of Dr Doolittle, which opens in February and stars Robert Downy Robert Downy Jr.

His Avengers: Endgame co-star Gillan makes this franchise her own with her stern, smart and funny authority, and it’s great to have the grumpy and combative joys of DeVito back on the big screen.

And he proves even OAP’s can enjoy video games, just don’t try and tell that to my nine year old.

 

E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL @ THE ROYAL ALBERT HALL

Cert U Stars 5

Steven Spielberg’s spellbinding family sci-fi adventure remains as moving and magical as it did when I first saw it as a twelve year old in my local fleapit cinema in Middlesbrough way back in 1982.

And watching it with my partner and our nine year old son on a big screen in the grand surroundings of London’s Royal Albert Hall with the BBC Concert Orchestra playing John Williams’ heavenly score, made for an even more emotional experience.

In a wonderfully observed and often very funny family dynamic led by Dee Wallace as the stressed-out mother, Henry Thomas gives a lovely natural and affecting performance as Elliott, the normal suburban boy who befriends a lost and lonely alien he names ‘E.T.’

Along with his scene-stealing screen sister, Drew Barrymore and friends, he helps E.T. phone home while attempting to escape the government’s clutches.

Screened as part of the Hall’s ongoing Films In Concert series, whose upcoming events include classics Superman, and Titanic, it made for a perfect Christmas family treat.

THE KINGMAKER

Cert 15 Stars 4

Sporting industrial scale corruption, merciless ambition, an extraordinary brass neck, 3,000 pairs of shoes and a bulletproof proof bra, this brilliantly crafted and profoundly depressing documentary charts the political resurrection of former First Lady of the Philippines, Imelda Marcos.

The wife of former dictator Ferdinand and one time Miss World contestant, she’s returned from exile to orchestrate her son’s Vice Presidential election campaign and establish a political dynasty. This involves handing out cash to patients at a kids’ cancer hospital, and pitching herself as the mother of her country.

As witnesses testify to the murder, torture and sexual assault committed during her husband’s years of martial law, extensive interviews sees Marcos fondly reminiscing about the era. She laments her lost friendships with Colonel Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein, and how she was dropped by dignitaries such as our own Prince Charles.

Meanwhile the African animals in her former private zoo are showing the physical and mental problems of inbreeding, an allegory used to highlight the corruption which occurs when a political system is dominated by an entitled and privileged elite.

1917

Cert 15  stars 3

Oscar-winning Brit director Sam Mendes rejoins the directing fray with this First World War action adventure which goes over the top in its visuals, but left me shellshocked by a lack of emotional involvement.

Mendes has dedicated this passion project to his grandfather who served in the war, and has crafted a respectful, sincere, technically brilliant and all too beautiful film. I was so rapt by the majestic splendour of the trenches and battlefields I was dislocated from the drama.

Taking place over two days and starting on April 6, 1917, George MacKay stars as Lance Corporal Schofield, whose sent on a desperate mission across no mans land to prevent 1,600 British troops from being massacred in a German trap.

Among the hazards are mud, rats, snipers, planes and the German trenches, it’s no surprise their trenches are engineered to a notably superior quality than the British ones.

MacKay doesn’t put a foot wrong in his performance, but nor does he put his stamp on the film, given little personality or background and devoid of accent or class. Schofield’s supposed to be an everyman for us to identify with, but he’s instead he’s unknowable and anonymous.

And despite being a survivor of the Somme, he’s strangely unquestioning of the war and offers only the vaguest of hints at PTSD, and little bitterness or outrage.

Plus by giving small roles for accomplished players such as Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch and Andrew Scott, there’s a huge sense MacKay has been miscast.

Without doubt the production design is fabulous, with the burnt-out towns and vast tracts of destroyed land being realised on an epic scale. It’s a ruined landscape of corpses, stunted trees and enormous water filled shell-holes.

The expense, futility and madness of war is eloquently articulated in the sheer volume of bodies and abandoned armaments scattered across the battlefields. And in the age of CGI it’s great they’ve gone to the bother of putting a lot of blokes in real costumes in real trenches.

I’m a huge fan of the outrageously talented British cinematography Roger Deakins, but Mendes doesn’t rein in his desire to make every shot worthy of framing and hung on a wall. And the often theatrical and always gorgeous staging is a curious choice for a film concerned with the horror of combat.

Pretty much the first half of the film is presented as being one continuous shot, yet it’s fairly easy to see where the joins are. And while the extended shots are a tremendous technical achievement, they give the film to an almost documentary detachment, and the excitement tails off fairly early on.

Failing in comparison to recent war movies such as Dunkirk or Saving Private Ryan, this doesn’t the have the power of early classics such as 1930’s All Quiet on the Western Front.

And while this film doesn’t glorify war it does seem reluctant to condemn those in charge of the carnage, with British offices being believably cynical, manipulative and boorish, but also less credibly professional, helpful and even friendly.

With Mendes being keen not to demonise the enemy or the lunatic British aristocracy responsible for the industrial slaughter there isn’t much of an enemy – which would normally be considered an oversight in a war movie.

MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN

Cert 15 Stars 2

This 1950’s detective noir thriller is an achingly sincere and unintentionally ridiculous vanity project for writer, director and star, Ed Norton.

In a typically intense but irritating performance, Norton plays a New York private detective called Lionel, who while investigating the murder of his gumshoe boss, Bruce Willis, is drawn into a conspiracy of corruption.

Lionel is often referred to as ‘freak show’ by his colleagues due to being a sufferer of Tourette’s syndrome, and as no-one is more convinced of Norton’s talent than the actor himself, he delivers an impossible to enjoy performance which reeks of desperation for another Oscar nomination.

Norton occasionally reminded me of Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, but he wants to have his cake and eat it too, for while the film treats his character with sympathy, it also wants us to be amused by his sweary staccato outbursts.

His performance left me embarrassed, agitated and eventually bored, and I hope the Hollywood Academy voters feel the same.

Beyond Tourette’s there’s not much character there, and as for Norton’s star power and suitability for this sort of hard-boiled material, well Norton is no Humphrey Bogart, Jack Nicholson or Harrison Ford.

Plus Norton is an uncomfortable 14 years older than Brit actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw who plays love interest, Laura Rose, an activist lawyer.

Known on US TV for his satirical portrayal of President Trump, Alec Baldwin is the best in show as a builder-turned-politician, who’s a racist, hypocritical and an utterly phoney man of the people.

An otherwise commendable attempt at authenticity is undermined by a general lack of people smoking, and having Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke, wailing over the soundtrack doesn’t fit the period mood at all.

Inadvertently erring towards thin pastiche than warm homage, Norton is so over the top this could almost be a cartoon, but Who Framed Roger Rabbit was more stylish and exciting, had a more involving mystery, and was a lot more fun.

HONEY BOY

Cert 15 Stars 3

Three great performances power this oddball indie drama which offers a lyrical exploration of fatherhood, written by and based on the childhood of its star, Shia LaBeouf.

It’s a deeply personal role which is clearly as much therapy as an acting job, and best known for being in Transformers franchise, he’s far better in small films such as this, where he plays his own ex-con, sex-offender, alcoholic dad.

Two younger actors play LaBeouf, with Noah Jupe being remarkably accomplished and affecting as the 12 year old LaBeouf, a child actor and very much the adult in their complex, violent and tender relationship,

Their inverted relationship has mental health repercussions for the very angry 22 year old LaBeouf, played by Lucas Hedges, who spends his time in rehab, recovering from PTSD caused by his traumatic childhood.

This is a sincere, passionate and understanding tribute to a troubled father from an equally troubled son, and the scene where LaBeouf gives a heartbreaking articulation of the pain of fatherhood nearly brought me to tears.

LUCY IN THE SKY

Cert 15 Stars 3

Natalie Portman is out of this world in this sometimes trippy drama loosely based on a real life astronaut who suffered an emotional crash on her return to Earth.

The role of Lucy, a sharp and super fit spacewoman is a smart fit for the one-time Oscar winner, allowing her to be ferocious, funny and flirty, and refusing to be a victim.

Having experienced the infinite majesty of the cosmos during a spacewalk, Lucy struggles with her humdrum suburban life with her dull Christian husband.

An affair with a predatory fellow astronaut, played by hunky Jon Hamm from TV’s Mad Men, becomes the catalyst for Lucy’s obsessive perfectionism to explode with violent consequences.

This could have been a rerun of Fatal Attraction, but Portman and director Noah Hawley skilfully turn a story of an driven personality into a hymn of female freedom, and a survivor’s story which emphasises a woman’s ability to change, to never allow oneself to be suffocated, and always to be dreaming of the stars.