The Forte movie guide to Boxing Day and beyond.
The holidays are here, and we all know what that means. Okay, those of us not heading to the beach or interstate know what it means: movies! And more than usual this holiday season is bursting with big budget blockbusters as Hollywood continues to try to clear the backlog of films held up by lockdowns. So each week there’s multiple films hitting cinemas demanding your attention. But which ones actually deserve it?
Here’s our guide to the next few weeks of summer viewing.
The Matrix: Resurrections (Dec 23)
After an opening that revisits the start of the first Matrix – then starts to go wrong – we’re stuck in the everyday world of Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves), game developer and perpetual sad sack, struggling with therapy and a general sense of meaningless. Is the married woman (Carrie Anne-Moss) he sees at the coffee shop the cure? Or does his salvation lie in his earlier delusions of battling an all-powerful machine enemy in a virtual world?
This is a much more human (and funnier) film than the originals, and while it has its weak points – the action is merely good rather than jaw-droppingly great – they’re more than balanced out by a range of great performances and a story that deepens the original’s themes in a way that feels organic rather than just an easy cash-in. The love story in the first trilogy felt like it was there to give Reeves and Moss something to do apart from fight; here it really does feel like love is the only thing that can save the world.
The Tragedy of Macbeth (Boxing Day)
In the first solo effort from Joel (no Ethan) Coen, Shakespeare’s classic is given a good hard polish – though occasionally it feels like some of the drama has been polished away. The cast is first rate: Denzel Washington as Macbeth and Francis McDormand as Lady Macbeth, you can’t really go wrong. Dramatically it’s everything you could ask for, with Washington dominating the screen even as Macbeth’s human flaws lurk, though the cut-down run time (it’s 105 minutes) leaves a few subplots on the shelf.
The set-bound black and white visuals are strikingly expressionist while remaining firmly in service of the story Coen is telling. The witches’ scenes are filled with unsettling imagery, while Macbeth’s castle rapidly becomes an expressionist nightmare. It may not be doing anything startlingly new with the story, but when you’ve got a story this good leaving it alone is far from the worst choice you could make.
Sing 2 (Boxing Day)
This sequel to the surprise hit Sing doesn’t tamper much with the formula, as koala Buster Moon (voiced by Matthew McConaughey) gets the gang back together to put on a show that will make it big in Redshore City. Only problem is, to lock in the show he’s promised to bring back a rock star (played by Bono) who’s been retired for 15 years and has no interest in helping them out. Add in a new promoter who’s a touch on the feral side, and getting this science fiction musical over the line is going to be a tough job.
The story about putting the musical together is a bit clunky in parts, and it’s tough to really get the cosy vibe of a bunch of friends putting on a show when the show being put on is a massive space travel spectacular. But the musical numbers look flashy, the songs are catchy, and if you want to get some little kids hooked on musical theatre this is a solid gateway drug.
West Side Story (Boxing Day)
Steven Spielberg’s version of West Side Story is the work of a master film-maker at the top of his game – and yet, when a 75 year-old is making a musical about teenagers set during his childhood it’s hard not to wonder exactly who the target audience is meant to be. Loosely based on Romeo & Juliet, it’s the story of Tony (Ansel Elgort) and Maria (Rachel Zegler), who find love despite being entangled in rival street gangs (he’s white, she’s Puerto Rican) on the mean streets of New York circa 1957.
Both a tender romance and a stunning series of song and dance numbers, this is bursting with energy and top-notch performances – though Elgort isn’t quite the equal of the stunning Zegler. It might feel a little adrift from today’s concerns, but it’s a near-perfect example of the classic American musical at its peak; if you can look past the retro styling it’s a whole lot of fun.
Licorice Pizza (Boxing Day)
It’s Hollywood in 1973, and fifteen year-old Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman, son of the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman) is already hard at work. He’s a child actor with his own PR company (well, it’s his mother’s) and a smooth line with the ladies; basically he’s a natural hustler. His latest target is Alana Kane (musician Alana Haim from the band Haim), an aimless 25 year old with a vague feeling she probably should get her act together; could a go-getting teen with his eye on the prize be just what she needs?
A film about people constantly on the go, this works whether you see it as a street-level companion piece to Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, the story of a summer relationship, or writer / director Paul Thomas Anderson’s love letter to the bottom rung of the movie business. The parodies of real figures like Jon Peters (Bradley Cooper) and William Holden (Sean Penn) are hilarious, while the central relationship crackles like a live wire. Sprawling, hilarious, and a constant reminder that the 70s could be a creepy time (that age gap between the leads is a worry), this is the summer chill-out comedy we need.
House of Gucci (Jan 1)
In the late 70s Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga) was a hard-working nobody with her eyes on bigger things. When she met Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver) while gatecrashing a party it was love at first sight. Okay, the fact he was heir to half the Gucci fashion business may have had something to do with it. He was never happier working for her family trucking business after his family disowned him for marrying a gold-digger, but once they took him back she was right there with him. True crime fans know where this is all heading; everyone else will figure it out long before Maurizio does.
Ridley Scott definitely knows how to get films made; this is his second big-budget effort (after The Last Duel) in six months. This mostly gets by on excellent style and the performances, as the story largely just piles incident on incident without really getting below the surface. While that approach works just fine for the Gucci family – Jared Leto, Al Pacino, and Jeremy Irons all dominate, though they’re not as cartoony as the advance press suggested – Lady Gaga’s streetwise, eventually tortured performance as Reggiani gives the film heart.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife (Jan 1)
The Ghostbusters are back! Only this time they’re kids living in a small midwestern town, which is about as far from the original film as you can get. A family (mother, two kids) head out to Oklahoma to check out the creepy house they’ve inherited, only to discover that “creepy” barely scratches the surface. From there things develop pretty much the way you expect, as a slow trickle of references and callbacks to the original gradually build to a flood, sweeping away anything original about this project.
Surprisingly, this film largely works, thanks in large part to the strength of the cast and a nice small town vibe early on. Pre-teen Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) is a likeable lead; Paul Rudd (as her summer school teacher) is basically a comedy sidekick. It’s a shame this isn’t more of its own thing – despite some excellent fan service, the best scenes are the ones that aren’t directly referencing the other films – but it does have Ghostbusters in the title. If you’re after a nostalgia kick, this kicks hard.
The King’s Man (Jan 6)
This prequel to the Kingsman spy romps heads back a century to the establishment of the super-secret global spy organisation during World War I. Duke Orlando Oxford (Ralph Fiennes, taking a break from playing M in that other British spy franchise) is a concerned private citizen who is asked in 1917 by Lord Kitchner (Charles Dance) to head to Russia with his secret spy team – including his eager-to-enlist son Conrad (Harris Dickenson) – to assassinate Rasputin (Rhys Ifans). The twist in this traditionally kill-crazy series is that Orlando is a committed pacifist. But for how long?
This is surprisingly earnest in parts (the long tradition of World War One being the one war it’s okay to show as a pointless series of horrors continues here), making this the most serious Kingsman movie to date – despite a secretive villain whose trademark is swearing his head off. Basically a counterfactual history lesson that cherry-picks the early 20th century for entertaining characters to battle, parody, or praise (Kitchner is retconned as a decent caring man; Woodrow Wilson is a predecessor to Bill Clinton), it’s superficial silly fun to the core.
King Richard (Jan 13)
Tennis sensations Serena and Venus Williams might be the big winners on the court, but this biopic focuses on the man behind the scenes – their controversial father Richard (Will Smith). A hard driving coach who’s also a committed family man and a relentless promoter, his constant hustle is presented as the only sensible path out of South Central LA. Anyone standing in his way, whether they’re concerned neighbours or tennis pros suggesting his unusual approach is doing the girls more harm than good? They’re the bad guys.
Constantly showing the girls as being 100% on board with his approach goes a long way towards making him seem less abusive and exploitative than might otherwise be the case – and you can’t argue with success, right? What makes this work as a film is that it’s also kind of clear that Richard actually is a self-interested showman. His version of well-rounded parenting only seems reasonable when compared to other over-the-top tennis parents. This just covers the years before the girls made it big, but that’s enough to get the picture. His daughters might be winners (apart from the ones who aren’t), but like all kings, Richard makes the rules.
Extra bonus home viewing suggestion: Action!
Time was, January was peak season for action fans. Liam Neeson had a movie out at the start of every year; other stars and franchises helped start the year off with a bang. But in 2022, old-school action finds itself squeezed out thanks to studios trying to clear out their backlog of big budget features. Fans of head-kicking action? You’re out of luck.
… unless, of course, you turn your attention to the home entertainment side of things. Direct-to-DVD legend Scott Adkins (he’s also been in blockbusters too, including the first Doctor Strange) has One Shot (a 90 minute Adkins-versus-terrorists military base shootout thriller filmed in one take) in stores now. Next month sees the release of Castle Falls (Adkins and Dolph Lungren – who also directs – are trying to get a bag of loot away from thugs and out of a hospital that’s going to be demolished in an hour). Adkins is the name you can trust in action, a skilled fighter with real star power, and these films are just the kind of classic down and dirty action we need to burn off some of that 2021 tension.