Monday 24 April 2017

Movie reviews: Sunset Song, 11 Minutes, Krampus, Christmas with the Coopers

Festive fear: A horned beast wreaks havoc in Krampus
Festive fear: A horned beast wreaks havoc in Krampus

Paul Whitington has the lowdown on all this week's other big releases - Sunset Song, 11 Minutes, Krampus, Christmas with the Coopers.

As we critics never tire of saying, veteran director Terence Davies is an unsung hero of British cinema. In films like Distant Voices, Still Lives and his wonderfully grumpy visual memoir Of Time and the City, he has brilliantly evoked the sights and sounds of his Liverpool childhood, and with House of Mirth and The Deep Blue Sea Davies has proved himself a dab hand at literary adaptation. That latter skill fails him badly, however, in Sunset Song (2*, 16, 136mins), a dour endurance test of a film based on Lewis Grassic Gibbon's novel.

In Aberdeenshire, as World War One slowly approaches, a strong-headed young woman called Chris (Agyness Deyn) comes of age. Her father (Peter Mullan) is a poor farmer and an unconscionable bully, her mother a broken down woman who's so tired of having babies that she eventually kills herself. And when Chris's beloved older brother disappears off to Canada to start a new life, she is left to tend to her wicked old father.

This is worthy stuff, and a great deal of effort has gone into getting the period, setting and twanging dialect right. But the lanky, angular Ms Deyn is all wrong in the central role of a film that seems to drift glumly from disaster to disaster with no unifying energy, or idea, and the brief excursion to the killing fields of France feels tacked on, almost flippant.

Clever to a fault but lacking in soul or substance, Jerzy Skolimowski's 11 Minutes (3*, 15A, 82mins) is an extended exercise in editing and storytelling, a high-wire juggling act that brings together the disparate lives of an unconnected group of Warsaw residents in most unfortunate fashion. A young actress (Pauline Chapko) is auditioning for a creepy-looking American film producer (Richard Dormer) when her husband smells a rat.

Meanwhile, a drug courier goes about his unsavoury business; paramedics try to reach a pregnant woman; and an unsuspecting young man is cleaning a skyscraper's windows. The momentum Mr Skolimowski accumulates during the course of his short film is impressive, but it's style in the service of nothing.

And finally, two Christmas films which endeavour to pierce the sickly sweet odours of the season and explore darker undercurrents. Michael Dougherty's Krampus (3*, 15A, 98mins) is inspired by the ancient folk tales of the Austrian Alps, where a hooved and horn-headed demonic beast has traditionally emerged every December 6 to punish naughty children. How that notion must have terrified generations of unfortunate mountain nippers, but in Mr Dougherty's film, horror and humour agreeably elide.

Uptight suburban mother Sarah (Toni Collette) does her best to grin and bear it when her sister and appalling family turn up to stay for the holidays. But when Sarah's son Max (Emjay Anthony) gets bullied by his cousins for still believing in Father Christmas, he tears up his letter to Santa Claus. That act summons the Krampus, who lays siege to the house and makes this a Christmas to forget.

Krampus establishes its creepy atmosphere most efficiently, and is really nice to look at, especially during a gorgeous animated sequence. It's pretty funny too, but the wheels come off towards the end.

More unsatisfying, though not without its moments, Christmas with the Coopers (2*, 12A, 107mins) also explores the grim dynamics of families at Christmas, by resorting to an ensemble approach in the manner of Ron Howard's 1989 film Parenthood. Sixty-something couple Sam and Charlotte (John Goodman, Diane Keaton) are about to separate, but want to wait until after Christmas to tell their grown-up kids. It all comes out over the turkey of course, but the saltier and more promising elements of this film's script are ultimately overwhelmed by a sickly tide of festive redemption.

Coming soon...

By the Sea (Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie); Grandma (Lily Tomlin, Julia Garner); Pawn Sacrifice (Tobey Maguire); Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict

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