Boxing Day (that’s December 26) is famously one of the biggest days for films in Australia, with Oscar contenders, blockbusters, and crowdpleasers going toe-to-toe, competing for the crowd making a post-leftovers feast trip to the cinema. This year the best of the pickings have something for everyone, including an easily loveable indie dramedy, a 2.5 hour long biopic, and an anime-inspired superhero movie. I take a quick look at St. Vincent, Mr. Turner, and Big Hero 6 below, telling you all that you need to know, and weighing in on which one best suits whatever plans you may have.
What’s it about?: A drinking, smoking, gambling, war veteran whose most frequent company is a Russian stripper (who may or may not be pregnant with his child, we never find out for sure) becomes an unlikely babysitter and role model for his 11 year old neighbour.
Who’s in it?: Bill Murray plays the title character, Vincent McKenna; Jaden Lieberher (soon to be seen in the lead role in Jeff Nichols’s Midnight Special) is Oliver, the 11 year old neighbour; Melissa McCarthy is Oliver’s mother; Naomi Watts as Daka, the Russian stripper; Chris O’Dowd as an entertaining Catholic school teacher; Terrence Howard in a totally unnecessary role as a mob guy.
The Good: Instantly loveable, charming, and very funny. While it’s the type of film where most actors would be simply phoning their performances in as an easy payday, most of the performers here are excellent. Murray is bitingly funny and inappropriate at times, giving a lot more to the character than he is afforded, and works perfectly with Lieberher, who has an excellent screen presence. They are a perfect pair. Given a rare role that is totally absent of her tired typecasting, McCarthy pulls off both the funny and sad moments perfectly.
The Bad: It’s basically About a Boy set in the States, this is very well-trodden ground where the end is clear from the beginning. It’s a predictable story, so Melfi tries to make it different in adding dramatic conflict in the form of some ‘real world’ consequences about Vincent’s constant gambling that only makes the film feel uneven. Tries to be about both Vincent and Oliver when the title tells you exactly what it should be – an idealised portrait of Vincent from Oliver’s perspective, and nothing else. Daka didn’t need to be Russian, Terrence Howard’s character is totally disposable.
The Verdict: It lives or dies on the idea that literally, the whole world loves Bill Murray, which is very true, making it nearly impossible not to enjoy. A true crowd-pleaser, one for everyone to enjoy, but you’ll have just as much fun by yourself. 3.5/5
What’s it about?: The last 25 years of famed British painter J.M.W. Turner’s life.
Who’s in it?: Timothy Spall plays Turner (he won Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival for his performance), Dorothy Atkinson is his long-serving (and somewhat suffering) housekeeper, Marion Bailey plays his long-term companion Mrs. Booth.
The Good: If The Imitation Game is the most formulaic prestige British biopic of the year (more on that soon), Mr Turner is the most unconventional. Mike Leigh’s epic somewhat subtly covers 25 years in the life of famed British artist J.M.W. Turner, who is famously a contradiction in terms of both his looks and behaviour. For this reason, Leigh isn’t concerned with an all-encompassing, quick summary of Turner, and, like any of his characters, he observes him for the 2.5 hour runtime, resulting in quiet, organic insights being gradually revealed. Almost theatre-like at times, when it becomes a comedy of manners, which are its strongest performance. Spall is incredible, it’s beautifully shot.
The Bad: The 2.5 hours is a slog, especially for such a tiresome character, and at times loses some of its power through repetition. There’s only so much grunting and uncomfortable sex I can stand.
The Verdict: More a profile than a conventional measured biopic, it’s a large undertaking that will grate a fair few people, but if you’re willing to commit to it, it may turn out to be a rewarding experience. Maybe make this a solo trip. 3/5
Big Hero 6
What’s it about?: A 13 year old mathematics genius takes down a supervillian with a bunch of fellow engineers and a loveable robot built by his late brother.
Who’s in it?: Ryan Potter, Jamie Chung, T.J. Miller, Genesis Rodriguez, Damon Wayans Jr., and Maya Rudolph. Scott Adsit is the voice of Baymax, a huggable robot that is a better working, actually present version of WebMD.
The Good: After striking gold with Frozen, an incredibly pedestrian offering last year, Disney are back doing something slightly more inventive in this adorable animated film, which is set in a city that’s a fusion of San Francisco and Tokyo. It’s a great and welcome culture clash. Hilarious with great voice work. Excellent, colourful visuals. Is truly exhilarating at times, with some great action scenes. Yay geniuses! I want a Baymax.
The Bad: Baymax is the film, without him this would be empty. While the setting and some of the presentation is wonderfully unique, the narrative beats are cribbed from any number of other superhero and Disney movies. It is, at the end of the day, a portrait of grief, and that’s an idea that would have made a slightly more unique film, but is sadly forgotten as the story progresses.
The Verdict: Get ready for a sequel in a couple of years. It’s formulaic, yes, but you’ll definitely leave with a smile on your face. If you’re charged with entertaining younger family members, you’ll have just as much fun as them. 3.5/5