Christmas and New Year Review Round-up: Holmes & Watson, Bumblebee, The Favourite, Welcome to Marwen

The Christmas and New Year period is a busy one for film releases, so here are some brief reviews of the movies that hit the big screen over those few weeks, from the sublime to the absolutely ridiculous…

 

** FILM OF THE WEEK **
Poster for 2019 black comedy The Favourite

The Favourite

Yorgos Lanthimos is a weird dude. Anyone who has experienced the unique pleasure and discomfort of watching one of his previous films will be acutely aware of that fact. So it’s with some surprise that I report he has finally made something that’s truly accessible. Well, as accessible as a deadpan period comedy about a lesbian royal love triangle directed by a mad Greek bloke can possibly be.

Olivia Colman is Queen Anne – last of the Stuart monarchs and a pretty dismal ruler. She’s more interested in her 17 rabbits, which each represent a child she has lost, than in affairs of the state. This leaves room for Sarah (Rachel Weisz) to essentially pull the country’s strings, until Abigail (Emma Stone) arrives with her eyes firmly on the prize of political power.

What follows is two hours of exquisite swearing, of which Armando Iannucci would be proud, delivered at the heart of a story powered by three terrific female performers. Colman is receiving the awards buzz, and justly so, for a performance that runs the gamut from screeching comic hysteria to haunting, silent sadness. Stone, complete with flawless English accent, and Weisz are excellent too, sniping at each other with consummate malice. Some of the comic energy dissipates in the third act, but the beginning is an unforgettable whirlwind of quotable filth.

This is the first Lanthimos film he has not had a (credited) part in writing, but it still feels like a uniquely Yorgos production – albeit one lacking in his signature macabre gut-punches. The line delivery is stilted, the comedy deadpan and everything about the lensing is designed to make the world feel slightly askew. In a world in which British politics is a clown show anyway, The Favourite couldn’t be more relevant.

VERDICT: The Favourite is certainly Lanthimos’s most accessible film, but he hasn’t sacrificed a jot of his weirdness. He’s also shepherding three amazing women at the peak of their acting powers. The only thing missing is the final dark punch.

(Dir: Yorgos Lanthimos, 120 mins, Cert: 15) [MY FULL REVIEW FROM LFF]

 

Poster for 2018 comedy film Holmes & Watson

Holmes & Watson

Not shown to critics in advance – for reasons that will become obvious shortly if they’re not already – this film was sold on the basis of it being a Step Brothers reunion. Will Ferrell and John C Reilly might not be the obvious casting choices for Britain’s most famous detective duo, but that didn’t stop director Etan Cohen – director of the hideous Get Hard – shoving those square pegs into deerstalker-shaped holes for Holmes & Watson.

It’s a movie that leans heavily on the comedy of anachronism, opening with a Hannah Montana quote and delivering gags about selfies and fake news. These sort of jokes should be easy to land, but even the lowest hanging fruit proves to be rotten. The two leads look bored – Ferrell occasionally just screams at random, as if yelling desperately into the void – and the talented cast of British comedy royalty is entirely squandered. When you have Rob Brydon in your movie and he’s playing the straightest of straight men, a completely unforgivable mistake has been made somewhere.

The entire thing feels grotesque and slapdash, edited with so little coherence that it feels like it was put together by an unpaid intern with a grudge against their employers. Add on some of the laziest ADR ever committed to celluloid and the result is a film so misguided that it seems crazy it ever got near a multiplex. It’s as if everyone just stopped caring halfway through.

VERDICT: Total shit, Sherlock.

(Dir: Etan Cohen, 90 mins, Cert: 12A)

 

Poster for 2018 action-adventure film Bumblebee

Bumblebee

Transformers films are not good. That’s something we all know and accept. But Bumblebee is here to smash those prejudices with pure charm.

Travis Knight, Laika animator and director of Kubo and the Two Strings, takes the franchise back to basics with a tale that sees a young girl (Hailee Steinfeld) fall in love with the title character – part-time VW Beetle and part-time clumsy robot with a love for a-ha and dislike of The Smiths.

It’s essentially a breezy coming-of-age movie, but it also works on the level of all-out action. The smashy-crashy stuff that franchise fans – presumably there must be some of them – will want to see is there, but Knight gives it something it has never had before – coherence. These are characters we care about, so we want to see them survive. It’s a good-humoured and well-made story that understands the fact Transformers films should be for kids, rather than basement-dwelling teenage boys.

VERDICT: Finally, we have been treated to a Transformers movie that’s more lovable than leery, side-stepping all of the worst excesses of the franchise to date. Safe to say, Michael Bay is not at all missed… by anyone.

(Dir: Travis Knight, 114 mins, Cert: PG) [MY FULL REVIEW]

 

Poster for 2019 drama Welcome to Marwen

Welcome to Marwen

The current oeuvre of Robert Zemeckis is that of someone clearly looking to do something different on the big screen. Even the most conventional of his recent movies, including Allied and The Walk incorporate elements of the boundary-pushing CGI and motion capture he has experimented with in films like Beowulf and A Christmas Carol. That’s certainly true of Welcome to Marwen, which is set almost entirely within the confines of the uncanny valley – but deliberately.

Steve Carell plays real-life photographer Mark Hogancamp, who retreats into a fantasy world of toy soldiers as a result of trauma that has dogged his mind since he was savagely beaten by a neo-Nazi gang outside a bar. He photographs his soldiers and dolls in the titular village, assembled in his yard and populated by doll versions of people in his life, and it’s into that reality the film often disappears.

Unfortunately, the scenes set in that reality are a distraction from the far more interesting story unfolding in the real world. Zemeckis’s effects work is flawless and interesting, but it comes at the detriment of the human story rather than enhancing it. With limited screen time to establish his character, Carell comes across as simply creepy – the line “I collect women’s essence” is Serial Killer 101 – and unsettling, so the audience is never on his side.

Detours into sci-fi elements are eye-catching, but they only amplify the fact that the story is being held at arm’s length in order to focus on the filmmaking trickery. Mark Hogancamp’s story is shocking, important and inspiring, but no one told Welcome to Marwen that.

VERDICT: And there was me thinking the Lanthimos film would be the weirdest thing released this week…

Dir: Robert Zemeckis, 116 mins, Cert: 12A)

What did you think of this week’s film releases? Let me know in the comments section.

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