The Man Who Invented Christmas *****

This is a beautiful little film about how and why our most cherished author, Charles Dickens, came to write A Christmas Carol.

The cast consists of a large ensemble of top British acting talents. The script is sharp, humorous without descending into farce and very entertaining.

It does not take a straight biographical narrative but turns the story into an allegory, in the style of Dickens himself.

The fearful side of early 19th century London life is well represented, while at the same time; the viewers’ sympathetic and nostalgic emotions are gently stirred to a crescendo at the climax of the story.

I predict this film will become a staple television entertainment of Christmases yet to come, just as the Christmas Carol itself has.

First class family entertainment so 5 stars out of five for this seasonal treat.

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Battle of the Sexes ****

At its heart, Battle of the Sexes is the story of a publicity stunt that went hideously wrong for its sponsor and in doing so caused a revolution in the world of women’s sport.

In 1973, Bobby Riggs, a former champion tennis player and world-class chauvinist, made a public claim that no woman pro-tennis player could beat any male pro-player.

What develops from this statement by an uncomfortably horrible braggart leads to a match between himself and Miss Billie Jean King.

Ms King was already established in the world of women’s tennis and leading their struggle for equal pay.

What follows is a portrait of institutional sexism at its most patronising insidiousness.

This story is not however crying into its hands.

Humour balances pathos and excitement balances emotion to give a well-rounded story that will educate and delight in equal measure.

Emma Stone portrayal of Billie Jean King is very believable.

Comedic actor Steve Carell gives a very controlled, reined in performance of an overconfident, addictive character as Bobby Riggs, good enough for possible award consideration.

He makes you laugh, loathe and pity this sad man, who is so wrapped up in his past glories, allowing his boasting lead him to an inevitable downfall.

As a sports movie, this is one of the very best I have ever seen.

A sporting 4 out of five stars for this biopic.

Justice League **

Yet another superhero movie, Justice League, hit our cinema this weekend. It follows the standard format of the undefeatable villain of the week threatens the world only to be defeated by one or more heroes. There are all the CGI bangs and whistles to draw in the massive following these films attract and produce huge fortunes for the studios.

Sadly this is not one of the best by quite a margin.

There is too much squeezed into the story.

There are three new characters being introduced into the franchise.  They may be long established in comic book lore but they each get the ‘origin story’ treatment, which slows the narrative to a crawl for the first half of the film.

Having done this, these characters are relegated to supporting roles for the more famous and already successful heroes.

The climax of the film is a fairly standard mass destruction of property, with the villain finally but inevitably defeated.

If this genre of film is your thing then this is a definite 2nd choice compared to Thor: Ragnorok, which is still running in cinemas.

I give this a ‘must try harder’ 2 stars out of five.

Murder on the Orient Express *****

Since 1974 there has been at least five major productions of Murder on the Orient Express, so how do the makers keep the latest incarnation fresh and appealing?

Well they have done a number of things, first and foremost, put a great director in the chair with a great actor in the lead. In this case both are the same person, Kenneth Branagh, who dominates this film with a far richer, multi faceted Poirot than any I have seen on screen, big or small. His Hercule Poirot is an eccentric, sentimental, razor sharp detective. He also gives time to generating an in-depth portrait of why Poirot is the self proclaimed ‘Great Detective’ By doing this, new audiences will have some understanding of Agatha Christies hero.

Orient photo 1The second step is to populate the Orient Express with a full cast of A-list actors. All deliver first class performances, including the younger stars who really impress next to their noble elders.

Third, you create an atmosphere of claustrophobia mystery and fear. This is achieved by making the sets so tight that, for several scenes, the only place to put the camera is in the ceiling.

Finally, you place the train in a totally realistic setting, both historically (by referencing actual events with just the names changed) and visually (with restrained by convincing use of CGI to convince you they are in the mountains).

I think we are guaranteed another outing for the ‘Great Detective’ fairly soon.

I left the cinema feeling very satisfied by a great story well told.

The full 5 out of five stars for Mr Branagh and company.

Thor: Ragnarok *****

The latest offering from the Marvel universe, Thor Ragnarok, sees the return of Thor, as brought to life by Chris Hemsworth.

Aimed at the 12-year-old audience, the violence is almost bloodless and profanities are kept to the mild end of the spectrum. Layered on top of this is a plethora of adult targeted jokes and characterisations that should keep most grownups laughing.

In this story Thor faces two different baddies. The first is Cate Blanchett as Thor’s very bad, big sister Hela. The second is Jeff Goldblum as possibly the funniest and campest dictator in cinema history.

I felt rather sorry for Ms Blanchett, great actor as she is, because Goldblum dominates the story with a far richer and funnier part.

The action sequences are very impressive as is normal now, but for once, the script is equally good, blending the various story lines smoothly, while keeping the plot moving and maintaining the very funny humour.

I laughed out loud frequently and left the cinema feeling refreshed and happy.

I can’t expect much more than that from any film.

The result is therefore 5 out of five stars for this outstanding superhero tale.

The Death of Stalin ****

The Death of Stalin has bee created by Armando Iannucci and David Schneider.  You can expect the foul language and biting dark humour of Iannucci’s various television projects for which he is MV5BMTcxMDc1NjcyNl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDU0NDYxMzI@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_famous.

A large cast of recognisable actors inhabit the characters at the top of Russians political and military hierarchy.   These include Jason Isaacs, Andrea Riseborough, Steve Buscemi, Jeffrey Tambour, Michael Palin and Paul Whitehouse.

The events before and after the death of Stalin are treated as a pantomime of opposing ambitions, jealousy and incompetence. However, custard pies are replaced by copious numbers of executions. Running in parallel are stories of families torn open by divisions, massacres and exploitation.

On top of this is the paranoid fear of Stalin that is ingrained into the population, from politicians to musicians and housekeepers who looked after him.  This is made believable by not making the actors adopt stereotypical Russian accents.  Their natural voices are used to great effect to portray the mix of regions they came from within Russia.  It also makes the cacophony of arguing voices easier to follow.

In our age of less than conventional politicians, it is only too easy to suspect the events as shown in this film, may be underplaying the reality of what really happened when Stalin died.

This is a well made political satire.  Four out of five stars awarded.

Blade Runner 2049 ****

You certainly get value for money from Blade Runner 2049, running at 2 hours 44 minutes.

Fortunately the director has filled that time to great advantage.  Weaving a complex and compelling tale, this story is set in same dystopian world of the original Blade Runner.

If you liked the original, this film answers many of the questions raised by the first.

Ryan Goslings performance is very good, encapsulating his character very well. It has to be said that the film only comes to life towards the latter part when Harrison Ford appears.

If you haven’t seen or did not like the original, I fear this would not impress you and probably leave you wondering why you bothered.

I would strongly recommend seeing the original first if you have not already done so or just to refresh your memory.

So this is a good, possibly great and definitely cult movie.

As a fan, it gets 4 stars out of five from me.