Jingle Jangle : A Christmas Journey

Available on Netflix.

‘Tis the season, so time to begin on the festive film selection.

David E. Talbert writes and directs a fantastical story, set in the 19th century workshop of Jeronicus Jangle (Forest Whittaker) a place of wonder and magical inventions. We join him as he finishes his greatest invention, Don Juan (voiced by Ricky Martin). However during the celebrations it is taken by Jeronicus’s frustrated apprentice Gustafson (Keegan Michael Key). With his greatest invention gone Jangle’s career and life takes a downturn. We pick up the story when Jangle’s granddaughter, a gifted mathematician, Journey (Madalen Mills) comes to visit and she wants to help her grandfather rediscover his magic.

If you’ve ever wondered what you’d get if you crossed Charlie and the Chocolate factory, Short Circuit,  The Polar Express and set it in Mr Magoriums wonder Emporium, then this film is the answer and if you thought that those films mashed together sounds like it would be a bit of a mess, sadly you’d be right.

I’ve seen a lot of love for Jingle Jangle, but for me it didn’t really work, the storyline, while simple seemed all over the place, punctuated with Greatest Showmen type big song and dance numbers, that while well choreographed on the whole seemed to turn up at the most jarring of places.

While it didn’t work for me, it’s not a complete right off, it looks fantastic and the performances are fine and for a younger audience there is plenty of colour and excitement.

While I really didn’t connect with it, don’t be put off. It is colourful and musical and if that’s what you want it perhaps will work better for you.

Uncle Frank

New on Amazon Prime Video.

Written and directed by Alan Ball, Uncle Frank is set in 1972 where we find Beth heading to New York and university a decision she made when inspired to try to be the person she wanted to be by her lecturer Uncle, Frank. While in New York she visits him at a party and discovers he is gay, a secret he has kept from his South Carolina family. When Frank discovers his father, Beth’s grandfather, has passed away, they chose to take a road trip to the funeral. Throughout the journey and the funeral Frank has to confront his past and his relationship with his family.

Uncle Frank isn’t surprising and really is the film you expect, a road trip, a journey of discovery, the painful reliving of past trauma and its uncomfortable impact on the present, all wrapped up with suitably pleasing ending.

However, none of its predictability detracted from a film I really enjoyed, while it unmercifully tugs on your heartstrings, I didn’t mind a bit, the performances are beautiful, fantastically balanced, Paul Bettany as the titular Frank, Sophia Lillis as Beth and Peter Macdissi as Frank’s partner Wally, all juggling emotion and humour seamlessly. While those three carry most of the film, the support throughout is excellent.

What Uncle Frank lacks for in originality, for me, it makes up for in warmth and heart, with a selection of characters who you care for and care about and while it ticks all of the boxes you expect it does it in a very enjoyable way.

Enjoyed it lots, give it a spin.

Out of Time

Available on Amazon Prime Video.

Directed by Leon Lopez, written and starring Kerry Williams, Out of Time is a low budget, British independent film about a young family. Father Danny (Jamie Cousins) just released from prison returns home to wife Sam (Williams) and son Connor (Frankie Friend) a loving family but one with a secret and a dark past. The film tells the story of coming to terms with that past and handling the impact of their secret.

This is clearly a tiny production and a cast made up of first time and inexperienced performers, alongside a mix of more seasoned ones does not always work delivering some shaky moments.

But it would be wrong to be overly harsh on this as there is much to admire, the fact that it has been made at all should always be admired and the story is an interesting one to tell.

It is the story that kept me engaged and while the family its built around is a little obvious, that doesn’t detract from it, there are two sensitive and difficult stories at the heart of the film and both are dealt with, with an effective realism.

At its core Out of Time is a well meaning and heartfelt piece of story telling and while its performances are uneven, with a short 72 minute running time, it remains engaging throughout.

It won’t appeal to everyone, but for me there is a lot to admire in putting a piece like this on screen and the story is touching and engaging, so if you are into supporting small independent productions, this is worth a look.

Onward

On Disney + and available to stream.

Directed and written by Dan Scanlon alongside Keith Bunin is Pixar’s first original film since 2017’s Coco (i.e. not a sequel) which had a short release in the cinema ahead of various COVID lock downs before its broad digital release.

Set in a suburban fantasy world inhabited by elves and other mystical creatures, including my favourite, feral unicorns!, but it is a world were magic has been replaced by time saving technologies, why cast a spell to create light when you can use a bulb!

The story revolves around two elf brothers Barley and Ian. It is Ian’s 16th birthday and his mother presents him with a gift from his late father, a spell that will allow them to bring him back for just one day. When the spell only half works the brothers and dad’s legs head off on a olde worlde quest to find something to complete the spell.

I don’t think this will go down as a Pixar classic but the bar is set so high that it is not a criticism and there is plenty to enjoy. The voice cast are solid, Tom Holland is enjoyable as Ian and Chris Pratt delivers as his older brother. Technically, as you’d expect, it looks fantastic and the small attention to detail adds to the enjoyment as it plays with the way the “normal world” is so easily absorbed into one inhabited by elves, magic and mystical creatures.

However, where it doesn’t hit Pixar’s very high standards is in its emotional pull. Pixar at its best fully absorbs you and fully engages you emotionally and Onward doesn’t do it to the level of some of its predecessors. Again this isn’t to say it fails completely because it doesn’t, the final 20 minutes do bring the story to an emotional and heart warming end, but much of the film is a fun animated adventure, full of fun characters, puzzles and animated peril, but not one that pulls at the heart strings.

Onward is a solid bit of story telling and enjoyable enough and while it lacks classic Pixar emotional depth, it does have a satisfying pay off. While not a classic, it’s enjoyable fun.

The Secret Garden

Available on Sky Cinema.

Directed by Marc Munden, with a screenplay by Jack Thorne is the latest adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel. This version is set in 1947 were we find Mary a young girl orphaned by the death of her parent’s from cholera shipped back to England to become the ward of her uncle Archibald Craven and live on his large country estate. She soon finds she is there out of duty rather than love an unwanted guest in a dark and cold house. However, she soon discovers the secrets of a magical garden and new friends.

It’s been a very long time since I last saw an adaptation of this, so didn’t have any set expectations and while I’ve seen some rather sniffy reviews I rather enjoyed it.

It’s much darker than I expected and that was part of its interest, it’s easy to make stories like this overly sweet, but it avoids that, Dixie Egerickx does a good job of showing Mary as a vulnerable, scared and sad girl, but one who puts on a brave show to cover it. The three main characters are all well portrayed by the young cast with Amir Wilson as Dickon and Tom Gene Surridge as Billy as well as the solid support you’d expect from Colin Firth and Julie Walters.

For me the story is an interesting one about loss and the fear of losing, alongside a heartfelt story of friendship and the importance of supporting those with challenges.

The Secret Garden is, for me, a well told story dealing with some difficult subject matter. It looked impressive, with a dark oppressive “cold” house contrasted by the colour and magic of the garden and was well played by its young cast providing enjoyable family entertainment.

Resistance

Available to stream.

Written and directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz, Resistance tells the little known story of French actor and mime Marcel Marceau’s time in the French resistance during the 2nd World War, where he and his cousin Georges helped over 400 Jewish children escape Nazi occupied France into neutral Switzerland.

This is a remarkable story and certainly one I had no idea about, but this film hits a common problem when telling stories like this, it’s very hard to do such an incredible and emotional story justice.

Jesse Eisenberg stars as Marceau and is at his best when portraying him “performing” especially as he tries to bond with terrified children ripped from everything they know and is solid throughout if you are happy to ignore the accent. There are good performances around him, Clemence Poesy as Emma in particular captures the harsh realities of the world they find themselves in and Matthias Schweighofer does a good job of portraying the butcher of Lyon, Klaus Barbie.

While Resistance for me does hit more than it misses, it does miss a little, especially in what felt like a rushed final act through the Alps and an odd bit of Marceau performance theater for the troops!

That said the story is both worth telling and seeing and while it won’t go down as a great it does a more than serviceable job of sharing a fascinating, little know and incredible story of the early life of the worlds “most important mime”.

The Forty Year Old Version

Available on Netflix.

Written, directed by and starring New York playwright Radha Blank The Forty Year Old Version sees Blank playing a fictionalised version of herself as a struggling playwright. We find Blank heading toward her 40th and still dealing with the death of her mother and the direction of her life. Once highlighted as a future talent she now finds her career stalled as she makes ends meet teaching drama at a local college.

The film follows Blank as she tries to find her artistic voice from resurrecting her theatre career to discovering her talent for rap. The two worlds also force her to struggle between the compromise of traditional theatre versus a community in the shape of DJ D that encourage her to be her authentic self.

There is a lot to like in Blank’s film, it is original and funny. The film takes its time and does move slowly occasionally, but its pace allows it to explore Blanks story fully, her own insecurities about her talent and the relationship with her late mother and brother. But there is also a focus on friendships and loyalty, the challenges of compromise as well as the importance of an openness to ideas.

This is very much Blank’s film and she delivers a warm, humourous and believable performance as this fictionalised version of herself, she is well supported especially with Peter Kim as Archie and Oswin Benjamin’s D.

It’s shot in black and white and that adds to the character of the film. It isn’t perfect though, it is at times overly patient and slow in its storytelling and its humour may not hit for everyone. But it is original and wants to tell a different version of the story that is often told of the world it inhabits.

There is a lot to admire and while it may move too slowly for some, for me it’s well worth giving a try.

Rocks

Available on Netflix.

Directed by Sarah Gavron and written by Theresa Ikoko. Set in inner city London, Rocks is a teenage girl who finds herself having to take care of her younger brother when her mother leaves them to “clear her head”.

Let’s get to it, this is a remarkable and for me beautiful film. Remarkable for its performances and beautiful for its message. At times this is a “gritty” watch as we follow a 13 year old girl who is abandoned by her mum to look after her young brother and while the grit is not front and centre, clearly poverty abounds in Rocks’s life, but the film doesn’t wallow in that.

That is where the films beauty is, it would’ve been easy to let her circumstances be the focus, but instead Gavron’s film is built on positives, her optimism, her friendships, her love for her brother and her desire to protect him and make life better. Yes at times it’s hard, she makes some poor decisions under pressure and reacts badly to her friends offers to help. But that is the point, it’s about true friendship, the films beating heart is those relationships with those there to tell her and do for her what she needs not what she wants.

What makes this beautiful story even more remarkable is the cast, a cast that is full of first time performers, each and everyone of them brings  a wonderful energy, enthusiasm and real naturalism to their roles. Bukky Bakray is incredible as Rocks balancing bravado with vulnerability perfectly. Kosar Ali as her friend Sumaya is equally fantastic portraying the good daughter and determined best friend with an edge. It’s unfair though to pick out one or two performances, across the board they are fantastic and not fantastic for first time performers,  high quality performances on any measure.

Rocks is a superb piece of work and regardless of the difficulties in her life it refuses to pity her, showing the consequences of her poor decisions, but this is not a sad film, this is a film built around the positivity of strong friendships and the desire to be better and do the right thing, brought to screen with a fantastic energy and exuberance.

It’s a film that deserves to be seen, so seek it out on Netflix.

Rebecca

Now showing on Netflix.

Directed by Ben Wheatley, with a screenplay by Jane Goldman and Joe Shrapnel we have the latest adaptation of Daphne De Maurier’s Novel.

A young orphan and companion of a wealthy lady meets the recently widowed Maxim De Winter while holidaying in Monte Carlo, their relationship blossoms and after their whirlwind romance they marry and head back to De Winters highly regarded sprawling estate Manderley. The new Mrs. De Winter finds the home less than welcoming and while she doesn’t believe in ghosts, the house is haunted by the spirit of the titular Rebecca at every turn. A spirit that will certainly not die while the house is run by the ominous Mrs. Danvers. However, all is not as it seems around Rebecca’s death.

I’ve never read De Maurier’s novel and Alfred Hitchcock 1940 classic adaptation is certainly not fresh in the mind. This probably helped as I had no real expectations for this version.

It’s certainly not perfect, but there was enough to intrigue and enjoy. Lily James and Kristen Scott Thomas both deliver in the central roles, Thomas’s Danvers particularly ensures a dark edge remains throughout. James counters that bringing a believable balance between the needed naivety at the start, to the determination towards the end that the new Mrs De Winter character needs.

However, it did feel a little unevenly paced, with a slow and patient first act, a second act that did a good job of ramping up the tension in true psychological thriller style, but the final act seemed to squeeze a lot into it including a jarring tonal shift from psychological thriller to detective drama which didn’t wholly work for me.

If you’re going to compare this to Hitchcock’s classic you’re probably going to be disappointed. But if you take it on its own merits you’ll find a more than competent psychological drama, stunning cinematography and a rather good performance from Kristen Scott Thomas to enjoy.

Pixie

In Cinemas.

If you’ve ever wondered what a Quentin Tarantino episode of 90’s TV show Father Ted would look like, Pixie may just have the answer! Written by Preston Thompson and Directed by Barnaby Thompson. Pixie is a crime caper set in Ireland, where Olivia Cooke’s titular character is a step-daughter of a local gangster with plans for escape after the death of her mother. When those plans go wrong she finds herself in the company of two local young men Ben Hardy’s Frank and Daryl McCormack’s Harland, who in turn have found themselves involved in a drugs heist with local bad guys and a faction of gangster priests.

Pixie is an original and humorous take on the gangster films of a Tarantino or perhaps more accurately Guy Ritchie, the violence is infrequent and tongue and cheek, but it was the humour that appealed to me, it’s gentle and silly without descending into farce and the comparisons with well known Irish sitcom “Father Ted” are valid.

The three leads are engaging and for the silliness of the story, more than believable Cooke’s Pixie is sweet enough for the boys to follow and fall for her but determined and cold blooded enough to do what she needs to. Hardy and McCormack both pull off the “finding their way in the world innocence of early twentysomethings” well. There’s a great selection of supporting characters including Alec Baldwin’s Priest, Colm Meaney as Pixie’s stepdad and Ned Dennehy’s Seamus.

It may never go down as a classic, but has enough fun and humour to make it an enjoyable way to spend it’s just over 90 minute running time.

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