December Movies Round-up

This post was written by Colin Free on December 18, 2017

Battle of the Sexes

Another true life tennis movie, following the recent Borg vs McEnroe, this has a more intriguing premise. In 1973, the female number 1 player, Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) was challenged to a match by struggling ex-male professional player and Wimbledon champion Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell). The 55 year old Riggs fully played up his role as a male chauvinist trying to prove that men are better than women. In reality he was a hustler drumming up interest in the match, like a trash-talking boxer does. It worked, as 90 million viewers worldwide watched the game and more insidious was the casual sexism demonstrated by the TV presenters and tennis administrators.

The one part of the story that did not work for me, was King’s budding relationship with Marilyn Barnett and her gradual acceptance of her sexual persuasion. That felt like it needed a separate movie.

Stone and especially Carell are very good though, and you should enjoy it whether or not you know the outcome of the match.

Rating: 8 out of 10

The Man Who Invented Christmas

By 1843 Charles Dickens was established as famous and popular author. However, his last two books have not sold well and he is beginning to struggle financially. In a matter of a few weeks, he pens the classic A Christmas Carol, changing forever his fortunes and helping to shape the way we celebrate Christmas to this day.

This is inherently interesting, and inserting the characters that Dickens is creating into the story is a great touch. We see him talking to Scrooge, for example, to come up with the old man spouts. However, the thin plot struggles to sustain a feature length film and we are drowning in sentimentality by the end.

Dan Stevens brings energy to the role of the author, but a starry supporting cast makes little impression.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Wonder

Released at the start of December, Wonder is one of the year’s biggest surprises. From the trailer and publicity, I expected a standard tear-jerker that is above the level of a TV movie. Instead, it is a more subtle and layered film that I am not ashamed to say nearly brought me to tears.

Jacob Tremblay plays young Auggie Pullam. Born with a facial deformity he has been home schooled by his Mum, until at the age of 11, he goes to a mainstream school for the first time. Rejected and reviled by many he finds a few friends that gradually help him to settle-in, and his confidence grows.

What is great is all the characters feel fully rounded, even those that appear to be tropes at first – such as the class bully. Also, by showing us events from the point of view of various family members and friends, the story is more nuanced than I expected. Izabela Vidovic is outstanding as his sister, trying to live life in her brother’s shadow, as her parents lavish nearly all their attention on him. Tremblay is as good as anyone could be acting behind prosthetics, and I also enjoyed the laconic Owen Wilson as his Dad and Mandy Patinkin as his head teacher.

Unfortunately, director Stephen Chbosky can’t help but ramping-up the sentimentality in the last 5 minutes in a calculated way that was not required; but it didn’t spoil too much the good work done before.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Happy End

Michael Haneke has had a few ups-and-downs in his career, but as far as I’m concerned the good films outweigh the bad. This is far from classic Haneke, though. It is not bad but it feels like it lacks a few new ideas.

A large, middle-class family in Calais suffer personal crises and ultimately tragedy. The title is ironic obviously, as the director provides his usual pessimistic world view.

It does have two outstanding performances from Isabelle Huppert, naturally, and newcomer Fantine Harduin, but Haneke can do much better.

Rating: 7 out of 10

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