A magical film that will enchant you: BRIAN VINER reviews Encanto
Encanto (PG, 99 min)
Verdict: a real charmer
A Boy Called Christmas (PG, 106 min.)
Verdict: an early cracker
Here’s a not-so-good pub quiz question: If Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was first, what’s Encanto?
Answer: It is the 60th feature film made or distributed by Walt Disney Animation Studios since 1937, and classics like Snow White, Pinocchio and The Jungle Book notwithstanding, it is one of the best.
Mind you, times have changed since Jiminy Cricket explained to Pinocchio the meaning of conscience.
At that time, there were one or two focused moral messages per animated film.
Welcome to the Madrigal family where each child is blessed with a magical gift that is unique to them. Everyone, that is, except Mirabel (voiced by Stephanie Beatriz)
Now there are dozens that can wear out, but when they come packaged in a package of entertainment as clever as Encanto, with original songs written by the tireless Lin-Manuel Miranda, all the better.
It takes place in the mountains of Colombia, where the Madrigal family had settled decades earlier on the run from some sort of pogrom, in which Abuela Alma’s husband (in English, Grandma Alma) was murdered (not very Disney, I know it, but it is sensitively depicted).
Abuela, voiced by Colombian actress Maria Cecilia Botero, is now a formidable matriarch, in charge of a clan with special powers that lives in an enchanted house in the heart of a charmed town.
A magic candle kept her and her baby triplets safe from the violence, and the candle’s seemingly eternal flame is still the source of the ‘encanto’ or spell.
But the story is told from the perspective of her granddaughter Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz), the only madrigal not to be ritually anointed, during a traditional fifth birthday ceremony, with magical powers.
One sister can make flowers bloom anywhere and, to Mirabel’s indignation, has “never had a bad hair day.” Another has superhuman strength. An aunt can determine the weather.
‘Encanto’ introduces the Madrigals, a compelling and complicated extended family living in a wondrous and charming place in the mountains of Colombia
But the bespectacled Mirabel has no special gifts. She’s just really nice. Gradually, her “otherness” draws her to her uncle Bruno (John Leguizamo), the outcast of Madrigal (“sometimes family crazies just get a bum,” she notes).
Bruno can see into the future, but as a superpower that isn’t much fun because trouble is brewing and the enchanted flame threatens.
Still, this is Disney, so it’s hardly a spoiler to reveal that Mirabel comes into her own when the family is threatened, and everything ends up happy and healthy.
Co-directed by Jared Bush and Byron Howard (whose credits include the wonderful 2016 film Zootopia and should not be confused with all those “Ron Howard” films), Encanto unfolds with tremendous elan.
Above all, the computer animation is a delight, especially the way the house takes on a personality of its own, reminiscent of the furniture characters in Beauty And The Beast from 1991.
And, as with Pixar’s charming Coco in Mexico (2017), any grumbles about Hollywood’s so-called cultural appropriation should really be dismissed… this film is another glorious celebration of Latino family and folklore, and a worthy 60th for Disney.
Father Christmas’s origin story is reimagined in Gil Kenan’s live action A Boy Called Christmas
A boy named Christmas is another delight, also aimed at children, although it will hug the whole family in a warm cinematic hug.
Adapted from Matt Haig’s book and narrated by Dame Maggie Smith, who plays the mocking aunt of three more than adorable children whose mother has passed away, it also contains powerful messages, mostly about bereavement.
“Grief is the price we pay for love,” says the great Lady, which may be a commonplace in some contexts, but fits perfectly with this sweet film.
It really is a Santa Claus story, and any objection to the non-religious content is sure to be overpowered by the lavish humor and sheer charm of the story Dame Maggie’s Aunt Ruth tells the children, about a boy named Nikolas (Henry Lawfull) in long-ago Finland, who went in search of the mystical elf kingdom of Elfhelm.
There’s a flying reindeer, a talking mouse, a mad king, a cackling crone, fantastic special effects and just about every other ingredient you could wish for to see during the holiday season, including a top-notch cast also featuring Jim Broadbent, Sally Hawkins, Toby Jones, Kristen Wiig and Stephen Merchant. Directed with great panache by Gil Kenan, who teamed up with Ol Parker, it’s an early Christmas cracker
Sassy Gaga Can’t Save Gucci
Lady Gaga stars as Patrizia Reggiani in Ridley Scott’s House of Gucci (15, 157 min)
House of Gucci (15, 157 minutes)
Verdict: a fashion disaster
Ridley Scott’s lavish new film has divided critics, and I’m sure audiences will.
From where I sat (at least 30 minutes longer than I would have liked), it was far too long, confused in both story and tone, unsure in its occasional attempts at comedy, and unnecessarily burdened with the distraction of English-speaking actors speaking English with Italian accents.
As you probably already know, it tells the undoubtedly fascinating true story of how low-born Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga) married fashion empire heir Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver), how their marriage ended and how, in 1995, she left kill him.
Much of the publicity focused on Gaga’s teenage sexual assault experience, which she used to inform a performance so intensely committed that she stayed in her character for nine months, both on set and off.
Gucci canvas hats off to that, and I won’t join those who snicker at her codItalian vowels either.
She does no better or worse than anyone else, in fact bolstering her status, founded by A Star Is Born in 2018, as a fine and charismatic actress.
Of the other star names involved, Jeremy Irons and Al Pacino also do a brilliant job playing the older Gucci brothers Rodolfo and Aldo, who divided the empire among them.
But as the latter’s idiotic son, Paolo, an unrecognizable Jared Leto is little more than a pantomime twist, providing moments of fun, but also giving a sense of Scott and his writers forcing humor into a film that urgently relies on other areas. must be remedied.
That’s all a shame because, as you’d expect, it looks great.
True drama as medical staff fight Covid in the first wave of the pandemic…
For anyone who sees the cinema as escapism from the heartache and headaches of everyday life, I cannot honestly recommend it The first wave (★★★★✩15.93 minutes). It’s a gripping documentary that follows staff and patients at a besieged New York City hospital through the devastating first wave of last year’s coronavirus epidemic.
But Emmy-winning director Matthew Heineman has made a fantastic film, both deeply moving and immensely inspiring. He and his camera are sometimes given surprising access, as lives are lost and families mourn. None of this is for the faint of heart.
His focus is on Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens, and specifically on an incredibly dedicated doctor and a few dangerously ill patients, one of whom is a nurse herself, and both with young children. Anyone who thinks the pandemic has somehow been exaggerated, or even invented as the more extreme conspiracy theorists believe, needs to watch and learn.
A famous conspiracy theorist, director Oliver Stone, also released a documentary this week, coinciding not so much with the 58th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination in November 1963, as with the release of his controversial political thriller JFK 30 years ago.
JFK Revisited: Through The Looking-Glass (★★★✩✩ 15, 118 min.) builds on that drama, using evidence not available at the time to bolster the proposition (and indeed a proposition is what it feels like, during some of the many serious interviews of the movie) that Kennedy’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, did not act alone.
As for who knew much more than they ever let on, Stone unequivocally points the finger at CIA Director Allen Dulles, whose place on the Warren Commission investigating the crime was carefully calculated not to reveal the truth, according to this documentary. but to cover up.
Both films are in the cinema.