Encanto (PG, 99 mins)
Verdict: A real charmer
“A Boy Called Christmas” (PG, 106 minutes)
Verdict: This is a cracker!
This is a question that’s not very good: What was Encanto if Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs wasn’t the first?
Answer: it’s the 60th feature film made or distributed since 1937 by Walt Disney Animation Studios, and classics such as Snow White, Pinocchio and The Jungle Book notwithstanding, it’s one of the best.
Remember, the times have changed since Jiminy cricket explained to Pinocchio what conscience means.
In those days there was only one to two moral messages per animated movie.
The family Madrigal is where each child receives a magical gift that’s unique to them. Everybody, that’s except Mirabel, voiced by Stephanie Beatriz
You can find dozens of them, and they all look great when wrapped in an entertainment package like Encanto with original Lin-Manuel Miranda songs.
It is set in the mountains of Colombia, where the Madrigal family have settled after decades earlier fleeing a kind of pogrom, in which the husband of Abuela Alma (in English, Grandma Alma) was murdered (not very Disney, I know, but it’s sensitively depicted).
Maria Cecilia Botero (Colombia) voices Abuela, who is now an impressive matriarch and presides over a clan of special people living in an enchanted home at the center of a charming town.
A magic candle kept her and her baby triplets safe from the violence, and the candle’s seemingly everlasting flame is still the source of the ‘encanto’ or enchantment.
The story of Mirabel, her grand-daughter, is told through the eyes of Stephanie Beatriz, who was the only Madrigal to not be ritually anointed in traditional fifth-birthday ceremonies, and has magical abilities.
One sister can make flowers bloom anywhere, and to Mirabel’s indignation has ‘never even had a bad hair day’. Another has superhuman strength. A aunt is able to control the weather.
“Encanto” introduces the Madrigals. They are a complex extended family that lives in an idyllic and charming place high in the Colombian mountains.
Mirabel is not a gifted person, but she has a bespectacle. She’s just jolly nice. Gradually, her ‘otherness’ draws her to her Uncle Bruno (John Leguizamo), the Madrigal outcast (‘sometimes family weirdos just get a bum rap,’ she observes).
Bruno can see into the future, but that’s not much fun as a superpower because there’s trouble brewing, threatening the enchanted flame.
Still, this is Disney so it’s hardly a spoiler to reveal that Mirabel comes into her own when the family is threatened, and all ends happily and wholesomely.
Jointly directed by Jared Bush and Byron Howard (whose credits include the marvellous 2016 film Zootopia and shouldn’t be confused with all those movies ‘by Ron Howard’), Encanto unfolds with terrific elan.
Above all, the computer animation is a joy, especially the way the house is given apersonality of its own, reminiscent of the furniture characters in 1991’s Beauty And The Beast.
And, as with Pixar’s charming Mexico-set Coco (2017), any right-on grumbles about Hollywood’s so-called cultural appropriation really should be dismissed… this film is another glorious celebration of Latino family and folklore, and a worthy 60th for Disney.
Gil Kenan’s A Boy Called Christmas live action reimagines Father Christmas’ origin story.
Christmas for a Boy Another delight is geared towards children but will be enjoyed by the entire family.
It is adapted from Matt Haig’s book and narration by Maggie Smith. Maggie Smith plays the role of the aunt who acts as a mocking-stern Aunt to the three adorable children whose mother died. The film also contains powerful messages about loss, most notably bereavement.
‘Grief is the price we pay for love,’ says the great Dame, which in some contexts might count as a platitude but fits this sweet film perfectly.
Really, it’s a Santa Claus origin story, and any objections to its non-religious content will surely be swamped by the abundant wit and sheer charm of the tale Dame Maggie’s Aunt Ruth tells the children, about a boy called Nikolas (Henry Lawfull) in long-ago Finland, who went searching for the mystical elf kingdom of Elfhelm.
There’s a flying reindeer, a talking mouse, a silly king, a cackling crone, fabulous special-effects and just about every other ingredient you might wish for, to see in the festive season, including a top-notch cast also featuring Jim Broadbent, Sally Hawkins, Toby Jones, Kristen Wiig and Stephen Merchant. Directed with great panache by Gil Kenan, who cowrote with Ol Parker, it’s an early Christmas cracker
Sassy Gaga can’t save Gucci
Lady Gaga is PatriziaReggiani, a character played by Ridley Scott in House of Gucci (157mins).
House Of Gucci (15, 157 mins)
Verdict: A fashion disaster
Ridley Scott’s lavish new film has divided critics, as I’m sure it will audiences.
The story was about 30 minutes longer than it should have been from the point I was sitting. It was confusing in both tone and narration, uneasy in comedy and distracting with English-speaking characters speaking English with Italian accents.
As you’ll probably be aware by now, it tells the undoubtedly fascinating true story of how low-born Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga) came to marry the fashion empire heir Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver), how their marriage foundered, and how, in 1995, she had him murdered.
Much of the publicity has focused on Gaga’s teenage experience of sexual assault, which she used to inform a performance so intensely committed that she stayed in character, on set and off, for nine months.
Gucci canvas hats off to her for that, and I won’t join those sniggering at her codItalian vowels, either.
She does no better or worse than anyone else, and in fact compounds her status, established by 2018’s A Star Is Born, as a fine and charismatic actress.
Al Pacino and Jeremy Irons also did great work as the elderly Gucci brothers Rodolfo (and Aldo), who split up the empire.
But as the latter’s idiotic son, Paolo, an unrecognisable Jared Leto is little more than a pantomime turn, offering moments of fun but also a sense that Scott and his writers are forcing humour into a movie that needs remedial work more urgently in other areas.
This is unfortunate because the design looks amazing, which you might expect.
The first pandemic wave’s medical personnel battle Covid.
For anyone who treats the cinema as escapism from the heartaches and headaches of everyday life, I can’t honestly recommend First Wave (★★★★✩ 15, 93 mins). It’s a harrowing documentary following staff and patients at a beleaguered New York City hospital, through last year’s devastating first wave of the coronavirus epidemic.
Matthew Heineman, Emmy winner and director has created a film that is both deeply moving and incredibly inspiring. As families mourn and lives are lost, Heineman and his camera have sometimes surprising access. This is not for the weak-hearted.
The Long Island Jewish Medical Center is his focus. It focuses on one extremely dedicated doctor as well as two dangerously-ill patients. One of these was a nurse and the other had young children. If you believe the pandemic was exaggerated or inventualized, then watch this video.
Oliver Stone, a well-known conspiracy theorist and director, has this week’s documentary. The film is timed not to coincide with November 1963’s 58th anniversary, but with JFK’s 30th year anniversary.
JFK: Through the Looking-Glass (★★★✩✩ 15, 118 mins) expands on that drama, using evidence not available then to reinforce the thesis (and indeed a thesis is what it feels like, during some of the film’s many earnest interviews) that Kennedy’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, did not act alone.
Stone points out who knew more about the crime than anyone ever revealed. This documentary suggests that Allen Dulles was the CIA director, and Stone’s position on the Warren Commission to investigate it. Stone says this because it is carefully calculated not only to conceal the truth but also to hide it.
Both movies are currently showing in cinemas.