Boxing Day’s best movies

Let’s assume you don’t want to spend Boxing Day watching a hairy tattooed man talking to dolphins and riding a giant seahorse (Aquaman is “inherently silly” says Variety, stating the obvious). So what else is on at the movies? Actually, plenty…

Our pick: Cold War

It’s rare nowadays to come out of the cinema desperately wishing that the movie you’d just seen was longer. Bloated comic-book blah blah clocking in at two and half hours, classy-enough arthouse numbers outstaying their welcome at a butt-numbing three hours plus – c’mon, we’ve all got lives to get on with! And (thank you internet) – short attention-spans too. But at just 84 minutes, all of them blissful, Pawel Pawlikowski’s intimate follow-up to his Oscar-winning Ida is that rarest of cinematic delights – it’s about perfect. But not quite – there just needs to be more of it.

Consistently cited as a possible Palme d’Or winner after its premiere at Cannes, it went on to win Best Director and has been scooping up festival awards and extravagant critical praise ever since. “Dazzling, “Ravishing”, Exquisite!” – all those gushing adjectives on its Rotten Tomatoes homepage – and for good reason… For this elegant but somber film does have a huge amount going for it – including a powerful evocation of Europe in the Cold War era, an utterly convincing sexuality between its two lead actors, gorgeous silvery black-and-white cinematography and one of the best soundtracks in recent memory. I defy anyone who watches this trailer not to instantly book a ticket.

The two lovers meet in 1948 while jazz musician Viktor (Tomasz Not) is talent scouting in rural Poland for a state-sponsored musical ensemble designed to celebrate the country’s folk traditions. At an audition Zula’s (Joanna Kulig) voice and soft, pouty good looks instantly catch his attention, as does her reputation for having reportedly murdered her father. “He mistook me for my mother,” she says, “So I used a knife to show him the difference.” Wow, what a talent… “Relax, he didn’t die,” she goes on… Well then, who wouldn’t be rapt? Their on-off torrid affair then skips along at pretty rapid clip, encompassing the treachery and murky reality of life in their new socialist fatherland, a defection to the West, a musical career in Paris, then more separations, reunions, betrayals and tragedies over the course of a decade and a half. By necessity the story-telling is truncated, leaving big gaps. Which are not hard to fill in, but their passions are so intense that their interior lives need more meat on the bone, or something… In all their to-ing and fro-ing, motivations become a bit lost, and when the end does come, we should be absolutely gutted, and I wasn’t… Likewise with the musical numbers, which are sweet and smokily sensuous,  always about longing and heartbreak. And always, always (!) way too short. More please. I don’t suppose there will be a Cold War II, but if so, I’ll be lining up. M from Dec 26 (previews this weekend Dec 21-24). Local cinemas include Palace Norton St, Central and Dendy Newtown ★★★★

Second choice: Vice

Any movie which generates thoughtful argument about our political and economic system, as Adam McKay’s Vice most colourfully does, should get all the encouragement it deserves. There’s lots to like about Christian Bale’s performance too, while the script (if you’ve seen McKay’s The Big Short you’ll know what you’re in for) certainly supplies plenty of chuckles. It would be a pity though if the latter were just knowing smirks, for there’s definitely a “preaching to the choir” feeling about it all. McKay no doubt wants to reach those Fast and Furious fans not tuned into current affairs (there’s a epilogue inserted in the end credits which is both very funny and deeply disturbing), and this attempt is as entertaining as it is admirable. But more likely, most of those going along to Vice will simply be confirming what they already believe.

Bale and a ton of prosthetics play Dick Cheney, which if we are to accept this account, went from being a drunk blue-collar jerk in a dead-end job to an influential spot in the White House alongside Donald Rumsfield (Steve Carell) during the Nixon administration after a severe talking-to from his future wife Lynn (Amy Adams, in full-on Lady MacBeth mode). Rumsfield is portrayed as a grubby cynical power-grabber, Cheney as a very fast learner as 30 year of American history spins by in giddy parade of sketch history, polemical sermonising and farcical satire. Eventually the all-conquering Cheney finds his mark in George W (Sam Rockwell). All we need to know is that everything bad that’s happened to America ever since is all Dick’s fault.

There is a disclaimer before the titles about the accuracy or otherwise of this version of events, and it includes a profanity. That produced a few guffaws at my screening (ha ha, the f-word!) and yes, it was (mildly) funny – but it may as well have been replaced by the standard, “any resemblance to any person living or dead…” one. To claim that one man, no matter how ruthless and morally corrupt, is single-handedly responsible for climate change, the war in Iraq, ISIS, the rise of right-wing media, the corporate dominance of foreign policy, torture, the rise of an authoritarian executive branch, Donald Trump and even (back to that last clever scene) the growing lack of civility in public discourse – is way too much of a stretch… It’s a reductive, dangerous argument too, letting so many other people and political institutions – in fact an entire economic system which by its nature concentrates power – off the hook. Maybe some people will start to think more deeply about the connections, but putting up an occasional rotten apple like Cheney to take the heat just serves to perpetuate and legitimise an entire rotten structure. Unfortunately, that’s something the entertainment industry does rather too well – its bread and circuses role… And so we get a Hollywood A-lister in a fat suit and a cavalcade of Frank Underwoods and VEEPs to boo and laugh at while we wait, with ever more numbed apathy and knowing cynicism, for the next Fast and Furious. M from Dec 26. Local cinemas include Palace Norton St, Central and Dendy Newtown★★★★

Worth a look:

Olivia Coleman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz certainly have an amusing time in Yorgos Lanthimos’ (The Killing of the Sacred Deer) most accessible (read mainstream) arthouse offering yet, and so will you… They get to swear at each other a lot – the fruity language in The Favourite is not something you often hear in standard costume dramas. I had a few reservations – my ★★★1/2 verdict here.

Turkish auteur Nuri Bilge Ceylan follow-up to Winter Sleep and Once Upon A Time In Anatolia is getting a limited release at Dendy Newtown. Variety calls The Wild Pear Tree “a big bold masterpiece,” but unfortunately its one we weren’t able to preview. Some of the arthouse distributors are only offering digital screeners as previews now, and look, normally I can cope with that. But for a three hour plus movie that IndieWire classed as “unparalleled in international cinema”   it would be nice to see it as the filmmaker intended. I certainly intend to…

For the kids, Ralph Breaks the Internet sounds like the most ingenious and fun offering. Not previewed, as I’m not on Disney’s list, but let’s hope its broken for good, or at least for the duration of the school holidays. I am on Roadshow’s list, and would have gone to the Aquaman premiere. But waiting five minute to click on the invite link meant I got a “Sorry, this event is full” message. That probably wasn’t the fault of over-eager media hanger-ons, more likely they’d quite rightly allocated most of Event George St’s splendid VMax seats to its hard-working Australian crew. Let’s hope the several thousand more names listed under “Visual effects” were given the same treat in Hydrabad.

Also opening on Boxing Day: Holmes and Watson (on wide release) and Kusama: Infinity  (Dendy Newtown exclusive) – no previews for either offered.

Reviews – Russell Edwards