Holiday movies: What’s hot

DOUGAL MACDONALD reviews and previews the Boxing Day and New Year’s Day movie releases and beyond

Opening, December 26

“The Railway Man” (MA) ****

JONATHAN Teplitzkyi’s translation to film of Eric Lomax’s account of his terrible experiences as a PoW brutally punished by Japanese guards for building a radio receiver to listen to reports of the progress of World War II is mind-blowing and transcends Col Nicholson’s fictional suffering in “Bridge On The River Kwai”.

“The Railway Man” observes Lomax’s gentle courage in war and peace, living with his demons in war’s aftermath and meeting and marrying Patti who encouraged him to return to Thailand and confront the Japanese interpreter who treated him as a personal enemy.

The portrayals of Lomax by Colin Firth as Patti’s husband and Jeremy Irvine as the young subaltern who endured are commanding. Nicole Kidman is lovely as Patti. Stellan Skarsgard is quietly influential as Lomax’s fellow prisoner Finlay who catalysed his decision to make the journey. And Hiroyuke Sanada is impressive as the middle-aged Nagase whom Lomax found guiding tourists around the railway.

“The Railway Man” offers significant measures of anger, cruelty, courage, anguish, compassion and love.

At Dendy, Greater Union, Palace Electric and Limelight from Boxing Day

“Philomena” (M) **** and a half

NO single word adequately encapsulates the effect of Stephen Frears’ filming of Martin Sixsmith’s book “The Lost Child of Philomena Lee” describing Philomena’s search for the small son whom the nuns at Roscrea Abbey had sold to American foster parents 50 years earlier.

But “knocking you for six” comes close.

The Abbey ran a Magdalene Laundry which incarcerated young women considered guilty of licentiousness, unwed motherhood or prostitution and forced them into menial labour verging on slavery. Philomena was sent at age 15 to give birth in the Abbey. In her sixties, she retains a sweet unworldly innocence unaffected by any sophistication coming from friendship with Martin, a dismissed media adviser to a minister in the Blair government. In a search traversing determination, friendship, friction, humour, tension and conflict, Judi Dench as adult Philomena and Steve Coogan as Martin are a delight to watch. Sophie Kennedy Clark is compelling as teenaged Philomena.

Times change. In 2002, ageing has not diminished Sister Hildegard’s commitment to her vows. Barbara Jefford as Hildegard delivers a searing justification of the religious life with a zeal reflecting bitterness fed by the vocational devotion that has barred her from womanly experiences.

The Irish Government has apologised for its role in the Magdalene Laundries and the appalling privations they imposed on women and children (they ceased operating in 1996). The film may indeed have taken creative licence in presenting its underlying anger. Oscar talk is being talked.

 At Palace Electric, Capitol 6, Dendy and Limelight from Boxing Day

And Dougal’s previews:

 “Frozen” – Disney animation. Anna teams up with Kristoff and snowman Olaf in a race to find Anna’s sister Elsa, whose icy powers have trapped the kingdom in eternal winter. For the anklebiter audience.

“The Hobbit 2: The Desolation of Smaug” – The usual suspects accompany or hinder Bilbo Baggins in the second blockbuster drawn from Tolkien’s slim volume dealing with events in and beyond the Shire.

“Nebraska” – on a trip from Montana to Nebraska to claim a lottery win, a son tries to get through to a father he doesn’t understand. Reputedly a comedy, has a second-level cast.

“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” – Day-dreamer disappears into heroic, romantic action fantasies to escape reality. Ben Stiller directs and stars. Danny Kaye was delightful as James Thurber’s eponymous hero in 1947. Kristen Wiig is funnier than Virginia Mayo.

Opening January 1 or 2

 “August: Osage County” – A family returns to the Oklahoma farm of their childhood to deal with a crisis. Heading a stellar cast in John Wells’ film of Tracy Letts’s book and play, Meryl Streep plays a drug-addicted gutter-mouthed matriarch. Sounds promising.

 “Walking with Dinosaurs” – 3-D animation with a BBC input has underdog dino becoming a prehistoric world hero. Connection with David Attenborough’s wonderful TV series of the same name is probably tenuous at best.

 “Her” – Heartbroken when a relationship ends, a writer of letters for other people gets interested in a new, advanced operating system and meets Samantha (Scarlett Johansson), a bright, female voice, whose needs and desires grow in tandem with his own.

 “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” – Tom Clancy’s action hero Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) works against the clock to stop the crash of the US economy at the hands of Russian villains.

 “Free Birds” – Two turkeys put aside their differences and team up to travel back in time to get turkey off America’s Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner menus. Reports say it’s a turkey.

Opening January 9

“The Monuments Men” – evoking “The Dirty Dozen” and “Inglorious Basterds”, a US Army team invades Europe to recover stolen art treasures before the Nazis destroy them. George Clooney directs and stars, with Matt Damon and Cate Blanchett joining in.

“Saving Mr Banks” – Emma Thompson plays Australian author P. L. Travers confronting Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) about how to film her novel “Mary Poppins”.

 “The Book Thief” – an illiterate girl sent to live with a German foster family discovers books. Evocative of the Nazi book burnings (May 10, 1933) and KrystalNacht (November 9, 1938). Geoffrey Rush stars.

 Opening January 16

 “Grace of Monaco” – Nicole Kidman plays Grace Kelly during a crisis of marriage and identity, a political dispute and a possible French invasion of Monaco in the early 1960s. Cast list looks more promising than subject content.

 “Mandela: A Long Walk to Freedom” – Idris Elba plays the adult Madiba on the journey from rural childhood to inauguration as South Africa’s first democratically elected president. Much to tell, 139 minutes to tell it. So very poignant in light of his death.

 “47 Ronin” – Outcast Kai (Keanu Reeves) joins a company of Ronin avenging the death of their beloved master and falls for the master’s daughter. Ho hum.

 Information provided by cinema chains and the International Movie Database. Classifications unavailable at time of compilation.


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