Are these twists enough to sustain the joke? Yes and no. For a start, you don’t have much time to consider the question. The director, Jake Kasdan, is working on a bigger canvas this time, taking the story out of the jungle to explore Jumanji’s other geographic features. It’s an ambitious itinerary. We leap from jungle to desert to a wintry mountain fortress with Game of Thrones connotations, pursued by hordes of belligerent wildlife. But the number one villain is Rory McCann (Game of Thrones’ the Hound) as a tribal chieftain redundantly named Jurgen the Brutal.
This makes it a very hard-working film, so much so that it seems to be driven partly by an anxious desire to prove itself capable of matching its predecessor. Ignore this if you can, for it’s such a satisfyingly wild ride that its flaws can be forgiven.”
This much-discussed film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s famed musical Cats has a reputation that precedes it – and in this instance, that’s not a good thing. Starring Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, Idris Elba, Francesca Hayward, Taylor Swift, Jason DeRulo and Rebel Wilson, the film’s casting pedigree wasn’t enough to distract from the strange human-cat hybrids on screen. Still, it’s not necessarily as bad as everyone’s making out, says reviewer Sandra Hall.
“I find it difficult to understand the wave of outrage provoked by the film now that so many critics have joined the chorus of vituperation. While the aesthetic marriage of human and feline does require a little getting used to, it doesn’t take long. Despite critics’ complaints about ungainly poses with limbs at weird angles, the film features some exciting dance and, bizarre or not, those catsuits serve only to enhance the suppleness of the dancers and the fluidity of the choreography.
“Something as unapologetically theatrical as Cats was always going to be hard to film. It has no plot. The whimsical collection of T.S. Eliot cat poems from which the script is drawn is no more than a prompt for a series of musical numbers and the feline talent show which ties them altogether has a weird conclusion. The prize winner is supposedly rewarded with a new life yet the ending makes this prize look very much like a one-way ticket to the Hereafter.
“Then there is the look of the thing. If Hooper and his team had gone with the face paint, wigs and tights from the Broadway or West End productions they would have been accused of doing an uninspired translation direct from stage to screen. Instead, the cast wore motion capture suits during the shoot and their cat-like features were added later by the computer. In other words, Hooper decided to take advantage of all the technology that cinema can provide and he’s been
pilloried for it.
“While it’s far from being perfect, or even purr-fect (feline puns are proving irresistible to everyone writing about the film), it certainly doesn’t warrant the abuse that has been heaped upon it. At the very least, it deserves a chance.”
Sorry We Missed You ★★★½
When northern English everyman Ricky (Kris Hitchen) signs on for a job as a parcel delivery driver after the 2008 financial crash his life get pulled apart. His supervisor Maloney (Ross Brewster), an old-school villain, talks him through the jargon of the company. Ricky isn’t an employee but a franchisee and he isn’t being hired but “coming on board”. Ricky, who has minimal education and some anger issues, is far from a fool.
“Sorry We Missed You is Ken Loach at his most angry and topical, tackling the “gig economy” of the 2010s much as he and his regular writer Paul Laverty took on Britain’s unemployment benefit system in 2016’s I, Daniel Blake.
“Indeed, the final effect might be even bleaker – not far removed from the satire of Doctor Who or Black Mirror, except Loach and Laverty have no need of science-fiction gimmicks to make present-day Britain look like a dystopia.
“Even so, for the first hour or so it’s possible to relax into the film and appreciate the flow of naturalistic detail Loach and his team use to win us over to their polemical purpose. Without any obvious heightening, the home of Ricky and his family gives a wholly credible picture of what a certain level of mundane poverty looks like: the cheap furniture, the rising damp, the framed family photos scattered forlornly about.
“In other matters, Loach’s craft is similarly invisible, but there’s no lack of expertise in his balancing of comic and dramatic vignettes, his way of shifting between the perspectives of the various family members and his ability to evoke the daily grind of an awful job without letting the rhythms slacken.”
The Truth ★★★½
Lumir, played by Juliette Binoche, decamped some years earlier to America to become a scriptwriter. She arrives back a few days after her mother Fabienne, an ageing star of French cinema (Catherine Deneuve), published a memoir. They have never had an easy relationship. “[Since] Maborosi, his first movie in 1995, Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda has kept on growing, to become one of the finest directors now at work in the world,” reflects reviewer Paul Byrnes. “Even so, it’s supremely odd to see Kore-eda working here in French, with Deneuve as his star.”
“Ethan Hawke plays a second-rate American TV actor named Hank, doing his scenes in English. Binoche, also being Hank’s wife, does her scenes in both languages. And to cap it off, there’s also a bilingual child, Clementine Grenier, playing their daughter. All the film needs is a dog – and there he is, scampering around under Deneuve’s expensively shod feet.
“The film is as odd as it sounds – not in a bad way, but with some caveats. Kore-eda makes it wryly funny, primarily by having Deneuve play to our expectations of how a grande-dame of the French cinema might behave, and by suggesting it is all autobiographical (Fabienne is Deneuve’s middle name). More imperious than a queen, Fabienne is also a selfish cow with no maternal instincts. She lies constantly, uses people as servants, dismisses all rivals. She is beloved only of those who do not know her.
“That’s ultimately why you want someone like Deneuve in the role. She can make this woman seem real and human, not simply monstrous.
“This texture is rich, as we expect from Kore-eda, and it’s delivered without a sign of jitters. On the other hand, there is no feeling of jeopardy either, nor of the emotional grandeur that characterises his Japanese work.”
Jojo Rabbit ★★★★
New Zealand director and actor Taika Waititi has taken a risk with this World War II-era comedy-drama. It’s not often that Hitler-related humour can be received well but in this considered film, about a young boy who’s trying to be a good Hitler Youth when he discovers his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl in their attic, it looks like Waititi may have found a way to pull it off.
“It’s hard to justify the argument made by some critics that the film trivialises the Holocaust. It’s not directly about the Holocaust, although the presence of Elsa in hiding and patrols rounding up Jews make it clear what is going on. The problem for some critics is perhaps the disjunction in form: the film causes us to laugh at a subject that usually comes packaged as tragedy. Waititi depicts Hitler as a manic, out-of-control, childish version of the Fuhrer, but what else would a confused 10-year-old conjure from his own trauma?
“It’s quite hard to mistake Waititi’s seriousness of purpose. The film gets darker as it goes, becoming more confronting and nerve-wracking. Indeed, Waititi’s control of the changing mood is one of the picture’s great assets.
“It’s no crime to believe that comedy can be every bit as serious and engaging as drama; indeed, the recognition of that potential is well overdue. Comedy used to be much more nuanced and supple than it has become. Brattish comedians like Will Ferrell, Melissa McCarthy and Seth Rogen, talented though they are, rarely delve deep into problems of the human condition, but that’s what the greatest comedies have always done. Jojo Rabbit is bold in its inversion of expectations and its reimagining of a familiar subject. There’s nothing trivial about it.”
Portrait of a Lady on Fire ★★★★
A couple of decades before the French Revolution, a young artist named Marianne (Noemie Merlant) arrives at a remote island off the coast of Brittany. She’s been hired to paint a portrait of Heloise (Adele Haenel), a young noblewoman soon to be wed, against her will, to a suitor in Milan. There’s a fairytale side to Marianne’s task and equally to the setting – a dark, creaky, almost deserted castle by the sea. There’s a Gothic element too: Heloise had a sister that not long ago she plunged over the cliff, by suicide perhaps.
“Too often, the makers of same-sex romances feel compelled to state that questions of gender and sexuality are beside the point: aren’t we all just people? Thankfully, this is not the viewpoint of director Celine Sciamma, who approaches her subject from the inside: she and Haenel were once a couple, though they broke up before this film got under way.
“It matters that Marianne and Heloise are women and not just because they belong to a time and place where a permanent relationship is not on the cards. The substance of the film is in the physicality of these two characters and the stars who play them; while Marianne is the one having her portrait painted, we’re reminded with a faint wink the two are equally available to be observed by Sciamma and by us.
“These are individuals, not symbols, but ultimately Sciamma gives us room to understand their love affair as carrying “universal” meaning after all, as a dream of what might be possible between two people when society is kept at bay.”
Sandra Hall is a film critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
Paul Byrnes is a film critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
Jake Wilson is a film critic for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.