This Month in Film: December 2019

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Christmas is always a great time for movies, whether that means rewatching Elf for the 150th time or reluctantly trying something new. A Christmas Prince: The Royal Baby, anyone? For four out of the last five holiday seasons, Xmas has also meant a new Star Wars release. The future of that particular franchise seems up in the air at present, but this month would be a cracker even if you took The Rise of Skywalker off the table. Santa’s gone a bit spooky in Blumhouse’s remake of horror classic Black Christmas, while the Shiassance continues in the semi-autobiographical Honey Boy – written by and starring Shia LaBeouf in a portrayal based on his own father. Tom Hooper’s Cats, though, is likely to be scarier than anything else coming to cinemas this Christmas. The musical adaptation could be the flop of the decade – or one of the biggest movies of the year. Based on the intense reaction that the trailers have received, it’s probably going to be one extreme or the other. It’ll be fascinating to see how it plays out. Look out for Oscar contender Marriage Story, too, which received a limited theatrical release last month but lands on Netflix UK on the 6th. With all that covered, here are the top picks for December…

THE BLOCKBUSTER: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, dir. J. J. Abrams

Release date: 19th December

Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Carrie Fisher

Disney has taken an interesting approach to ramping up hype for the latest Star Wars movie, billing The Rise of Skywalker as, conversely, the last in the ‘Skywalker saga’. There are many more Star Wars in the pipeline, people, but this transparent marketing hoodwink, positioning the film as the end of an era, does raise hopes for some sense of finality. In the stories of Luke (Mark Hamill) and Leia (Carrie Fisher), at the very least. Whilst both prior entries can be appreciated on their own merits, the actual through line of this trilogy is yet to emerge. Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi achieved the surprising feat of being almost as divisive as the prequels (I liked it), so the return of J. J. Abrams to the director’s chair didn’t come as a huge shock. He’s an experienced pair of hands, but better known for raising new mysteries than providing definitive answers. Anyone who has seen Lost knows this. That tendency has already begun to show itself again in Skywalker‘s trailers, with the reintroduction of the long presumed dead Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid). As with the reappearance of Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), is this simply fan service to get the die-hards back on side? Or is there a genuine, story-motivated reason for the unexpected revival of these popular characters? We shall see. Either way, it’s likely to make a cool billion just like the last one did. Fingers crossed that, above all, Fisher’s legacy is honoured.

THE ALTERNATIVE: Little Women, dir. Greta Gerwig

Release date: 26th December

Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Timothée Chalamet, Meryl Streep

Greta Gerwig has always been a compelling actress in films like Frances Ha, Mistress America and 20th Century Women. Now, she’s an acclaimed director too. After solo directorial debut Lady Bird blew critics away and scored five Oscar nominations (including Best Director and Best Original Screenplay for Gerwig), she was brought on to direct the seventh(!) feature film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel. Assembling an exciting cast, including Lady Bird stars Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet, this latest retelling of the story of the four March sisters, set in the aftermath of the American Civil War, promises to be a delightful, intelligent period piece – like the director’s last film, just with early 2000s California transplanted for 1860s New England. Early reviews have been extremely positive. Expect Gerwig and her stacked ensemble, filled out by the likes of Laura Dern, Meryl Streep, Bob Odenkirk and Tracy Letts, to be lining up for the awards early next year. Could Gerwig become only the second woman ever to win the Academy Award for Best Director?

EDITOR’S PICK: Jumanji: The Next Level, dir. Jake Kasdan

Release date: 11th December

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Danny DeVito

We didn’t think we needed a Jumanji reboot, but a Jumanji reboot arrived all the same. And it was an absolute blast. Updating the board-game-gone-haywire premise to a more modern concept, with the players now stuck in an immersive video game, 2017’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle had a whole lot of fun with its endless possibilities for mayhem. Together, Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart and Karen Gillan made for a great comedy team, each playing on their own star personas as computer avatars under the control of four high schoolers sucked into the game. Black pretending to be a vain teenage girl is something you especially need to see, whilst The Rock taking the mickey out of his ‘macho man’ image is actually quite endearing. The sequel looks to be flipping things on their head, with old-timers Danny DeVito and Danny Glover transported into the world of Jumanji – and into the bodies of Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Johnson) and Franklin “Mouse” Finbar (Hart). The humour is broad, but the stars make it work. There’s going to be plenty of old man jokes this time around, certainly, though if the cast and crew (director Jake Kasdan returns) can capture again that genuine sense of adventure they are sure to be onto another crowd-pleaser.

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Film Editor 2019/20. Enjoys classic Simpsons, R.E.M. and the MCU.

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