The release of this year’s big Christmas musical has got me thinking about poor old Cats.
This time two years ago, the freaky feline-human hybrids revealed in the film’s trailers had audiences agog with anticipation for the film’s release – albeit for all the wrong reasons.
In the end, for all the horrified critical reactions on its release, it seemed that even those hoping for an ultra-camp, so-bad-it’s-good disasterpiece came away a little disappointed, and two years on the film seems all but forgotten.
The passing of time is a key ingredient in the recipe for cult success, though, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see an ocean of fake tails bobbing along at fancy dress singalong screenings a few years down the line.
Happily, a string of five-star reviews suggest that a far brighter fate awaits Steven Spielberg’s new take on West Side Story – and if you were frustrated that those pesky showtunes held Cats back from realising the full horror of its animal/human cross-splicing premise, then eerie Icelandic tale Lamb could be just what you’re looking for…
West Side Story
Steven Spielberg takes us back to the streets of 1950s New York in his new version of the classic stage musical, sixty years after the release of the multi-Oscar-winning 1961 film adaptation.
Famed for its timeless songs such as America, Somewhere and Tonight, the story transplants Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to New York’s Upper West Side, with the star-crossed lovers in this version becoming Tony (Ansel Elgort, Baby Driver) and Maria (newcomer Rachel Zegler) – two teenagers whose blossoming romance is caught in the crossfire between warring street gangs the Jets and the Sharks.
Undoubtedly lent fresh poignancy by the recent passing of Stephen Sondheim, who wrote the lyrics to Leonard Bernstein’s tunes, Spielberg’s adaptation has been the subject of glowing reviews following its world premiere in New York last week.
Clifford the Big Red Dog
As its does-what-it-says-on-the-tin title would suggest, this kids’ comedy adventure is a film about Clifford, who is indeed big, undeniably red, and indisputably a dog.
Adapted from a popular US series of children’s books, the plot sees young Emily (Darby Camp) gifted a little red puppy by John Cleese’s magical animal rescuer – only to find when she wakes the following morning that her new best friend has grown into a ten foot behemoth.
Cue a series of outsized canine misadventures (and fart jokes, obviously) as Emily and her hapless uncle (Jack Whitehall, who’s woken up to find himself with an American accent) try to keep the loveable hound in line.
From a big red dog to a…well, what exactly? That’s a question that could apply equally to the mysterious being at the centre of this intriguing Icelandic tale, and to the film itself.
Noomi Rapace (Prometheus) and Hilmir Snær Guðnason star as an unhappy couple living on a remote farm, who discover a strange newborn baby in their sheep barn and decide to raise her as their own – but sinister forces seem intent on returning the creature to the wilderness.
If that set-up suggests we’re in the folk horror territory of Midsommar, the reviews (and indeed the second half of the trailer) indicate it’s something altogether less easily categorised, leaving some critics frustrated but many others impressed – if you’re in the mood for a ‘jawdropping comedy of loneliness’ (Guardian) that’s ’creepy-funny-weird-sad’ (Variety), this could be just the ticket.
Pick of the week: The Shop Around the Corner
As I’ve remarked before, the established canon of Christmas films can feel a little set in aspic, and while there’s nothing wrong with that – it’s all about tradition at this time of year, after all – it’s always nice to see a fresh face alongside the more familiar favourites.
‘Fresh face’ is perhaps the wrong description for a film that was released in 1940, but while it shares a seasonal setting and a star (Jimmy Stewart) with It’s a Wonderful Life, there’s no doubt that The Shop Around the Corner remains much less well-known to modern movie audiences (myself included) – and it sounds like we’re missing out.
The story (later given a digital spin in the 1990s in You’ve Got Mail) sees Stewart and Margaret Sullavan play two bickering shop assistants in Budapest, each unaware that the other is in fact the anonymous object of their affections in a relationship conducted via love letter.
|Cert U, 98 mins|
|Sat Dec 11, 12:15; Sun Dec 12, 11:00|
Other festive treats
Fans of alternative festive programming may want to head to City Screen on Tues 14th, where they’re showing Tangerine, 2015’s highly acclaimed comedy-drama (famously shot entirely on an iPhone) about a transgender sex worker in Hollywood out to find her cheating boyfriend on Christmas Eve.
If you’re on the look-out for more tried and tested fare, then fear not, the gang’s all here: Will Ferrell gets very excited about meeting Santa in Elf (Everyman Sun 12th; Vue Sat 11th/Sun 12th/Tues 14th; Cineworld Tues 14th), while resourceful one-man armies abound in Die Hard (Vue Sat 11th) and its Fisher-Price counterpart Home Alone (City Screen Sun 12th; Everyman Sun 12th; Vue Sat 11th/Sun 12th/Mon 13th/Thurs 16th).
Billy Mack’s on the comeback trail again in Love Actually (Everyman Baby Club Tues 14th; Vue Fri 10th/Sun 12th), Mare of Easttown gets a five-star airbnb review in The Holiday (Everyman Mon 13th) and the Mayor of Halloween Town gets a rather less enthusiastic response in The Nightmare Before Christmas (Cineworld Sat 11th/Sun 12th; Vue Sat 11th/Sun 12th).
And finally, the Dickens classic gets two very different reworkings in Scrooged (City Screen Mon 13th) and The Muppet Christmas Carol (Everyman Sat 11th; Vue Sat 11th/Sun 12th).
Talking of which – maybe it’s just Spider-Man and Matrix fever, but is the time ripe for the creation of some kind of Scrooge multiverse, where all the cinematic misers of yesteryear cancel Christmas for an infinite number of Cratchits? Murray! Caine! McDuck! Some kind of CGI Alastair Sim! The possibilities are endless…
A couple of other new films on general release to mention: Don’t Look Up is a satirical sci-fi comedy about an impending apocalypse, with an all-star cast led by Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio – it’s getting a limited cinema release prior to landing on Netflix on 24th December, and you can catch it at Everyman throughout the week.
Showing daily at City Screen, Hope is a Norwegian drama about an emotionally distant couple dealing with a cancer diagnosis, hailed by Variety as a ‘stunningly acted relationship drama’ with ‘impeccable performances’ by its leads Andrea Bræin Hovig and Stellan Skarsgård.
On Weds 16th, City Screen’s short season of screenings from the Made in Prague festival concludes with Havel, a biopic of the playwright and human rights activist Václav Havel, who went on to become President of Czechoslovakia.
Meanwhile, the Harry Potter saga draws to its epic conclusion at Vue and Cineworld this week (after all, there’s only room for one Wizzard at this time of year).
Vue are screening The Half Blood Prince on Fri 10th and Sat 11th, followed by The Deathly Hallows Parts One and Two on Sat 11th and Sun 12th respectively, while Cineworld have The Order of the Phoenix from Fri 10th to Sun 12th, The Half Blood Prince from Fri 10th to Tues 14th, and The Deathly Hallows Parts One and Two on Sun 12th only.
And if that all sounds a bit intense, lower-stakes adventures are available in this week’s budget family offerings: City Screen’s Kids’ Club has Paddington on Sat 11th (tickets £3.00), while Vue’s Mini Mornings screening is the fun-sounding recent release Ron’s Gone Wrong (Sat 11th/Sun 12th, £2.49) and Cineworld have Peter Rabbit 2 in their Movies For Juniors strand (Sat 11th/Sun 12th, £2.50).