Out on Friday December 8
Jake Gyllenhaal leads an inspiring warts-and-all story of a Boston bombing survivor’s recovery battle. Kyle Mooney does wonders in a comedy-drama that bears multiple viewings.
Yes, here's this week's new releases. Click on for our reviews of Stronger, Brigsby Bear, Better Watch Out, Blade of the Immortal, Menashe, Lu Over the Wall, The Muppet Christmas Carol, The Dinner, Human Flow, and A Matter of Life and Death.
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“So, am I a hero for standing there getting my legs blown off?” asks Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal). Punchy and grittily realistic, the unvarnished true-life story of Bauman, horribly injured in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, isn’t your average inspirational melodrama. If Patriots Day hymned the city’s strength around the atrocity, here David Gordon Green’s survival tale looks at life after the headlines fade.
Tracing Jeff’s journey from blue-collar slacker to uncertain hero, the tender love story at the film’s core shows him wrestling with responsibility as much as recovery. On-off girlfriend Erin (Tatiana Maslany, quietly excellent) fights his corner, but also battles his publicity-loving mother, Miranda Richardson’s boozy Patty. No dip, depression, or drinking bout of Jeff’s goes unexamined in this tense, intimate film.
Like The Big Sick, it’s smart about the strains of being both lover and care-giver. Yet it’s also full of energy and humour, riding shotgun as wheelchair-bound Jeff brawls with redneck conspiracy nuts, or sets off an LSD-fuelled police chase.
An intense but understated Gyllenhaal is superb throughout, adroitly conveying Jeff’s ambivalence at being hailed as ‘Boston Strong’, while splintered by PTSD and horrific flashbacks. It’s a portrayal as tough and complex as the man it honours.
THE VERDICT: Gyllenhaal is outstanding in this inspiring warts-and-all story of a Boston bombing survivor’s recovery battle.
Director: David Gordon Green; Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Maslany, Miranda Richardson; Theatrical release: December 8, 2017
Meet James Pope (Kyle Mooney). He’s your average geeky kid, obsessing over his favourite TV show and eagerly dissecting it with buddies online. James, though, is hardly average. He’s an abductee who’s been kept captive since infancy by ‘parents’ (Mark Hamill, Jane Adams) who have concocted everything – an underground bunker in the desert, a scare story about toxic air, even the programme he idolises – to keep him ignorant of, and a secret from, the wider world.
So far, so Room. Yet Brigsby Bear – named after the genial, ursine protagonist of the show only James has seen – quickly sets its hero free, initiating an odd, hilarious and unexpectedly moving journey of self-discovery for a young man suddenly presented with a new life, family and identity. His crutch, quixotically, is Brigsby, a cuddly phantom he resolves to revive in order to make sense of his radically altered circumstances.
What follows is a weird, subversive yet generally good-natured homage to the creative urge, peppered with a nerdy nostalgia. And it’s led by a goofily endearing turn from SNL regular Mooney, with more than a whiff of Dana Carvey’s Wayne’s World doofus Garth.
THE VERDICT: An outlandish high concept is a recipe for hope and humour in a film that bears viewing more than once.
Director: Dave McCary; Starring: Kyle Mooney, Matt Walsh, Mark Hamill; Theatrical release: December 8, 2017
Better Watch Out
Babysitter slasher? Home invasion? Torture porn? Better Watch Out is all of these and much more, as 12-year-old Luke (Pan’s Levi Miller) and his teen sitter (Olivia DeJonge) face a seemingly standard attack before the action takes a turn into shockingly dark territory.
Directed by Chris Peckover, this is also a Christmas horror-comedy – and one of the best since Gremlins.
Director: Chris Peckover; Starring: Olivia DeJonge, Levi Miller, Ed Oxenbould; Theatrical release: December 8, 2017
Blade of the Immortal
For his 100th film, Japanese cult auteur Takashi Miike celebrates with something special. Based on Hiroaki Samura’s manga series, this tale of Manji (Takuya Kimura), a samurai cursed with eternal life, is dazzlingly assembled.
Stunning fights and creepy CG come wrapped inside a blade-sharp story, as the swordsman vows to hunt the killers of a young girl’s parents. Truly epic.
Director: Takashi Miike; Starring: Takuya Kimura, Hana Sugisaki, Sôta Fukushi; Theatrical release: December 8, 2017
Performed in Yiddish and shot in Brooklyn’s Borough Park, this is a rare insight into Orthodox Jewish culture.
The low-key tone and casual pacing create an atmosphere akin to a fly-on-the-wall doc, while a nuanced moral conflict builds through the plight of the title character: an affable but flawed widower whose liberal values clash with his community as he struggles to gain custody of his child.
Director: Joshua Z Weinstein; Starring: Menashe Lustig, Yoel Falkowitz, Ruben Niborski; Theatrical release: December 8, 2017
Lu Over the Wall
A lonely mid-school muso’s heart is lifted by friendship with a mer-girl in Masaaki Yuasa’s buoyant and bubbly animation. Though Ponyo’s influence laps at his heels, Yuasa’s film offers its own flourishes of vibrant fancy.
The end-stretch is overlong, but the Flash animation style pops with colour, the music is fun, and off-the-scale creature cuteness abounds. Here be mer-doggies!
Director: Masaaki Yuasa; Starring: Kanon Tani, Shôta Shimoda, Shin'ichi Shinohara; Theatrical release: December 6, 2017
The Muppet Christmas Carol
Just 25 years old but already a classic, this is the Muppets’ finest film. Its mashup of slapstick, songs and literary adaptation is suitably anarchic, but crucially it gets Dickens right.
As Scrooge, Michael Caine rises to the challenge and helps find the pathos beneath the puppetry. Made after Jim Henson’s passing, son Brian’s tribute puts the felt in ‘heartfelt’.
Director: Brian Henson; Starring: Michael Caine, Dave Goelz, Steve Whitmire; Theatrical release: December 6, 2017
After Time Out of Mind, writer-director Oren Moverman and star Richard Gere reunite for a less assured drama about politics, power and parenthood. Two brothers (Gere, Steve Coogan) and their wives (Rebecca Hall, Laura Linney) meet to discuss an unseemly incident involving their offspring.
Loaded with flashbacks, it’s unevenly mounted but kept watchable by the lively script and classy cast.
Director: Oren Moverman; Starring: Michael Chernus, Taylor Rae Almonte, Steve Coogan; Theatrical release: December 8, 2017
The subject of 2012 doc Never Sorry, Chinese artist-activist Ai Weiwei turns director for a stirring study of the refugee crisis. Spanning 23 countries and four continents, the globetrotting canvas may be too broad for some.
Yet the cumulative effect is overwhelming. Poetically shot by a dozen DoPs, including Christopher Doyle, a powerful portrait of horror, hope and humanity emerges.
Director: Ai Weiwei; Starring: Israa Abboud, Hiba Abed, Rami Abu Sondos; Theatrical release: December 8, 2017
A Matter of Life and Death
Voted the second-greatest British film of all time by this very publication, Powell and Pressburger’s fantasy dazzles and delights. David Niven’s the WW2 pilot who survives an air crash due to a celestial oversight. Now Heaven wants him back. Big ask, especially as he’s fallen in love…
Originally conceived to improve Anglo-American relations, it’s an enduring classic.
Director: Marianne Ahrne; Starring: Lena Olin, Svante Martin, Måns Westfelt; Theatrical release: December 8, 2017