Sunday 25 August 2019

Cinema: The Man Who Invented Christmas - fast paced, bordering on manic

Cert PG; Now showing

Jonathan Pryce, Ger Ryan, Dan Stevens and Morfydd Clarkin Bharat Nalluri's The Man Who Invented Christmas
Jonathan Pryce, Ger Ryan, Dan Stevens and Morfydd Clarkin Bharat Nalluri's The Man Who Invented Christmas
Julia Roberts as Isabel and Jacob Trembleay as Auggie in Wonder

What better way to begin December than with a film about The Man Who Invented Christmas. Director Bharat Nalluri's version of Susan Coyne's screenplay focuses on the six weeks it took Charles Dickens to write A Christmas Carol. It is festive, enjoyable and has appeal for everyone, bar very young children. It was also partly shot in Dublin.

The film opens with Dickens's (Dan Stevens) successful tour of the US in 1842. It moves then to a year later when, after a series of less successful books, and with a fifth child on the way and bills to pay, he scrabbles around for inspiration.

His as yet vague idea about a Yule-themed book leaves his publishers cold as Christmas is not yet much of a celebration, so Dickens decides to self-publish. He has just six weeks in which to write the novella, have it illustrated and publish, six weeks in an already busy life.

The film gives some interesting biographical insights into Dickens's background, especially regarding his father John (Jonathan Pryce).

It shows the writer himself to be full of contradictions, he was fun and charming but could be irascible when writing, he had a social conscience but had social ambition.

Dickens gets inspiration from life including young Northern Irish maid Tara (Anna Murphy). The characters also appear to Dickens as he writes and in this way A Christmas Carol is retold without being rehashed. This works well.

What works less well is the linking of Scrooge (Christopher Plummer) and Dickens's redemption.

Fast paced, occasionally bordering on manic, there are lots of interesting details and characters like writer Thackeray (Miles Jupp) relishing his rival's bad reviews. It's simple, nice and very enjoyable.

★★★★ Aine O'Connor

Happy End

Cert: 15A; Selected cinemas

Michael Haneke has made a name for himself by heaping stress and upset on fictional middle-class families, often with an unflinching eye for cynicism.

Happy End is his first feature since 2012 Oscar-winner Amour, and while unrelated plot-wise, it features characters of the same name as well as returning cast members Isabelle Huppert and Jean-Louis Trintignant.

Huppert is Anne Laurent, trying to keep the family construction business — not to mention the family itself — on the road. All around her there is strife of the type only family can provide. Her ailing, dementia-ridden father (Trintignant) wants to die, one of her sons (Franz Rogowski) is a tearaway while the other (Mathieu Kassovitz) is being a less than ideal father to his estranged daughter (an excellent Fantine Harduin) following her mother’s death.

A few bourgeois plates spin in the air of Haneke’s screenplay, but key to it all is the backdrop of a bad accident on a Laurent construction site, and refugees trapped at nearby Calais.

Haneke doesn’t tamper with a signature style. Action can be captured from a long way off, as if by CCTV, where expressions and speech are obscured. Important moments can be elusively snatched at the edge of the frame or through a doorway.

Uncomfortable laughter duels with sorry sighs as you reassess previous assertions that yours is the maddest family in the world.

Huppert — as ever — leads a magnificent cast.

★★★★★ Hilary A White


Cert PG; Now Showing

SN Wonder 2.jpg
Julia Roberts as Isabel and Jacob Trembleay as Auggie in Wonder

RJ Palacio’s 2012 novel Wonder was aimed at young people but it reached a far broader audience. Unabashedly emotional and with a story that reached way beyond the characters and world around which it was based, it became an instant favourite. The version brought to the screen by director Steven Chbosky, who also co-wrote it, will not disappoint the book’s many fans and will indeed most likely make it some new ones.

Auggie (Jacob Tremblay) is a 10-year-old boy who, due to a congenital condition that has required 27 facial surgeries, has never attended school. He has been taught at home by his mother Isabel (Julia Roberts) and largely protected by his close knit, well-off family. His father Nate (Owen Wilson) is not convinced when Isabel suggests it is time for their son to start mainstream school, he knows that the boy, who has had to endure so many stares that he chooses to wear a space helmet in public, will suffer. Even people who stare and say nothing to him are saying something.

Auggie does start school and a journey begins for many people around him. The film also looks at how it can feel to be the sibling of a child who has greater needs through the eyes of Auggie’s sister Via (Izabela Vidovic). Jacob Tremblay was wonderful in Room and he is again here, Roberts is suitably fierce, Wilson keeps it low key. Fans of emotional journeys will love this heart warming, tween/teen-friendly tale.

★★★★ Aine O’Connor

Jaha’s Promise

Cert: Club; Exclusively at IFI

Those who hide behind cultural relativism should watch this important documentary about a brave US-based Gambian woman determined to halt the vile practice of female genital mutilation that 200-million women live with globally.

Jaha tells her story about the culture of FGM in West Africa (where imams and

female elders insist that circumcision eases childbirth later in life), the reality of what it entails and what was done to her as a child before she was married off to a stranger in the US at the age of 14.

She begins with a campaign in the US that catches the attention of celebrities and eventually President Obama himself.

Changing attitudes in her fiercely conservative and poorly educated homeland will be harder, especially in a male-led political landscape that is uncomfortable discussing intimate parts of the female anatomy.

Irish duo Patrick Farrelly and Kate O’Callaghan are at times too preoccupied with slick cinematography and mood shots when little dressing-up is needed for an issue of this gravity.

★★★ Hilary A White

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