Saturday 24 August 2019

Film review: Collateral Beauty - a blubbery seasonal goose of a film

Cert: 12A; Now showing

Will Smith and Helen Mirren in Collateral Beauty
Will Smith and Helen Mirren in Collateral Beauty

Press "mute" and you wouldn't need to be Sherlock Holmes to have Collateral Beauty quickly sussed. It's clearly the holiday season, as Americans call it, as almost all of its 96 minutes feature Christmas lighting somewhere in the frame. You also see it's about Will Smith playing a very sad man. There's teardrops on his cheeks, and an anguished frown as he cycles into on-coming traffic. Now that's sad.

You can turn the sound back on now but don't expect Collateral Beauty to do anything other than that which is expressly stated on the tin. There, beside info about filmmaking E-numbers and recommended daily schmaltz allowances, you'll see that David Frankel's glittery grief drama was cobbled together by The Dilemma and Rock of Ages writer Allan Loeb. This is not enticing. The label will carry warnings for mawkish dialogue ("It wasn't that I felt love, I felt like I had become love," a character actually bleats at one point) and shameless sentimentalising.This is the rock-hammer approach to making viewers misty-eyed.

The loss of his young daughter has knocked Manhattan ad man Howard Inlet (Smith) off his perch and his colleagues are worried. New investors might get cold feet with all his strange behaviour - playing with dominoes, not doing any work, wearing autumnal colours. Edward Norton's co-owner hatches a plan with colleague Claire (Kate Winslet) to hire three actors (Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley, Jacob Latimore) to approach him and speak to him as if they are the very same "Death", "Love" and "Time" Howard has been writing open letters to in the midst of his grief. You read that correctly.

A blubbery seasonal goose of a film, one stuffed with candy floss.

★★

Hlary A White

Passengers

Cert: 12A; Now showing

It was going so well. In the first hour of this ultra-slick sci-fi, director Morten Tyldum presents a dark and difficult premise that gnaws away at the superficial beauty before us.

Jim (Chris Pratt) awakes from hypersleep after his pod malfunctions. He and 5,000 other passengers are on board the Avalon, 30 years into a 120-year voyage to Homestead II, a new space colony. Everything he can wish for is available except company. He notices sleeping beauty Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence) and logs into her flight details.

Jim becomes obsessed, and, desperate after a year alone on the fully automated ship, wakes her from hibernation. As far as she knows, her pod malfunctioned too, and the pair gradually fall in love. A sinister undertow is just about detectable beneath the dazzle of the two leads - Jim has essentially condemned her to death by waking her up.

Rather than push forward with an exploration of the mucky morals, Passengers chickens out and resorts to formula. The Avalon is malfunctioning majorly and they won't last another couple of days, never mind 90 years, unless they fix the problem.

This second half becomes a series of dull thuds as "space-travel for idiots" is expounded and all the usual Gravity/Sunshine etc generic tropes are wheeled out. Supporting actors Michael Sheen and Laurence Fishburne are, much like the Avalon itself, on autopilot.

★★★

Hlary A White

Why Him?

Cert: 15A; Now showing

Ned (Bryan Cranston) has much on his mind. Not only is his print business faltering in the digital age, but his little girl Stephanie is now a grown adult (Zoey Deutch) and has met a boyfriend. And not just any boyfriend — a crass Silicon Valley billionaire called Laird who lives in a hi-tech glass box full of horrid artwork and does yoga every morning. And to make it all that bit more unbearable, Laird sports the gormless toothy grin of James Franco.

The comedy dynamic co-written by Ian Helfer and director John Hamburg (Along Came Polly, I Love You, Man) hinges on the generation gap between paper and tablet screen, honest family business and flimsy, overnight, dot-com riches. That and a guy with tattoos having sex with your daughter. What, you may rightly ask, is the difference between this and any number of Meet The Parents or Father of the Bride-style comedies?

Well, very little, really. What it does have going for it is some decent sparring between Franco and Cranston, both of whom are much more suited to the exaggerations of comedic acting. What it cannot do, however, is justify its 110-minute running time, so threadbare is the premise. We get that Ned and Laird are chalk and cheese. And yes, Ned is obviously far more averse to the idea of a wedding than his charmed wife (Megan Mullally) and son. After that, Why Him? has nothing to fall back on and must tread water without a steady supply of good gags to keep it afloat.

★★★

Hlary A White

The Eagle Huntress Club

Cert: Now Showing IFI

The harsh winter in the Mongolian steppes notwithstanding Otto Bell's documentary is heart-warming. The story is pure Disney, but the filmmakers have said that none of the scenes were staged. Shot with skeleton crew and drone - which gives some amazing and appropriate footage - it's a beautiful look at another world.

It's based around 13-year-old Aisholpan Nurgaiv, who wants to follow in the family tradition of eagle hunting, capturing eaglets to train them to hunt small prey.

Her father has no problem passing on the skills to a girl, the first ever apparently, but there is a codger chorus of disapproval. It's interesting, beautiful and Aisholpan and her dad are so sweet that it makes for lovely viewing. ★★★★

Aine O'Connor

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