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Film round-up: December 12 2018

MARIA DUARTE and ALAN FRANK review It’s a Wonderful Life, Lizzie, Free Solo and Aquaman

It’s a Wonderful Life (U)
Directed by Frank Capra
★★★★★

CINEMAGOERS are in for a treat with this welcome re-release — more than seven decades after it deservedly achieved classic cinematic status — of Frank Capra’s Oscar-winning seasonal favourite It’s a Wonderful Life.

James Stewart, who rightly won the best actor Academy Award, is unforgettable as the desperate George Bailey who, ready to kill himself for believing he has wasted his life, is visited on Christmas Eve by guardian angel Clarence (Henry Travers, also unforgettable).

He sets out to convince him that, without his good works, Bailey’s small home town would never have been wonderful. What follows never betrays its age in a single scene.

Stewart’s moving and truthful characterisation, complemented by Capra’s excellent direction, a storyline which might so easily have exuded sugar-sodden sentiment but never does and a textbook screenplay by Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Capra and Jo Swerling all combine to deliver a genuinely unforgettable must-see seasonal film.

Alan Frank

Lizzie (15)
Directed by Craig William Macneill
★★★

THIS fascinating, slow-burning psychological thriller is based on the infamous 1892 axe murder of the Borden family in Massachusetts.

The film opens with Lizzie Borden's (Chloe Sevigny) father (Jamey Sheridan) and stepmother (Fiona Shaw) being found murdered at their home on August 4, 1892. It then flashes back to six months earlier, with the arrival of new maid Bridget Sullivan (Kristen Stewart) at the house.

The drama explores Lizzie's life in the run-up to the murders, her claustrophobic existence under her father's cold and ruthless control and her blossoming relationship with Bridget.

It portrays her as a victim rather than as a cold-blooded killer, although she was acquitted of the murders because no male jury could believe a woman capable of such heinous acts.

Striking performances from Stewart and Sevigny drive this quietly captivating bodice-ripper which offers a different perspective on a notorious crime.

Maria Duarte

Free Solo (12A)
Directed by Jimmy Chin and E Chai Vasarhelyi
★★★★★

SUSPENSE is one of cinema’s most potent tropes — will the heroine survive the mad killer, will an extraterrestrial dismember the hero, can Hercule Poirot solve the murder?

But fictional suspense seems pallid compared to the near-unbearable, nerve-jangling tension racked up by film-makers Jimmy Chin and E Chai Vasarhelyi with their extraordinary documentary.

It follows free-solo climber Alex Honnold achieving his lifelong dream in ascending the face of one of the world’s most famous rocks — the 3,200-foot El Capitan in Yosemite National Park — without a rope.

Watching Honnold ascend with bare hands — “Your whole life depends on one foothold” — is the scariest cinematic experience I can remember. This is a real man risking his life, not an actor cocooned by special effects.

One of the most telling moments in a film that grips like a demented strangler is seeing a cameraman turning away from his camera as the suspense surges.

AF

Mortal Engines (12A)
Directed by Christian Rivers
★★

SET in a post-apocalyptic world where cities ride on wheels and consume each other, be prepared for an action fantasy adventure which is all style over substance and which never fires on all cylinders.

Mortal Engines is based on the first of a four-novel series by Philip Reeve and centres on the mysterious and feral Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar) who teams up with Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan) to stop Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving) taking over the globe.

It looks like Mad Max Road Fury meets Allegiant from The Divergent series but it never goes past second gear, despite Weaving giving it some welly.

And its confusing plot has thinly drawn characters who you don't really care about.

If the the makers are hoping for another lucrative tween franchise, they may need to think again.

MD

Aquaman (12A)
Directed by James Wan
★★★★

ANOTHER cinematic superhero hits the screen in Aquaman and, for sheer spectacle and rousing action, the eponymous undersea champion is anything but sodden in director James Wan’s unexpectedly entertaining product.

The action begins in Maine, where lighthouse keeper Tom Curry rescues Atlanta (Nicole Kidman), princess of the underwater nation of Atlantis.

They marry and their son is born able to communicate with marine lifeforms and, after rejection as a half-breed by the Atlanteans, he blazes into action to save his people from evildoers.

Wan has reportedly described his film as “Star Wars underwater,” but that undersells his hugely enjoyable spectacle-and-action show.

Its many rousing highlights take us round the world in 80 ways and feature pleasures like a rooftop chase in Italy and a sizzling man-versus-monster battle which showcases Aquaman (Jason Momoa, perfect). In the process, he makes Indiana Jones resemble a retired pacifist.

A super spectacle with a heart and genuine dramatic drive.

AF

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