The Danish Girl  (2015)    49/100

Rating :   49/100                                                                     119 Min        15

What a horrific mess. A film fundamentally flawed by its not knowing, to put it mildly, what it wants to be or what it is trying to say. Based on David Ebershoff’s 2000 novel of the same name and adapted for the screen by Lucinda Coxon (‘Wild Target’ 2010), this loosely tells the true story of Danish painter Einar Wegener, who goes through a, long buried, crises of identity – suddenly now convinced he is a woman trapped in a man’s body. One would naturally assume this is really a mainstream attempt to portray a strong and explorative transgender theme on the big-screen, and that we would identify with Wegener’s plight and confusion on a human level, but we really, really don’t – in fact he just comes across as clinically insane, which he is diagnosed as at one point by ‘evil’ practitioners of medicine but actually they seem to be quite correct; he has been, for example, banging away quite happily at his young nubile wife Gerda Wegener (Alicia Vikander) for six or seven years and now suddenly he refuses to even acknowledge this happened and recoils from her, as if every aspect of his previous existence that he can’t be bothered with is now taboo.

If he isn’t psychotic then he’s the most vain, self-absorbed obnoxious little shit one could have the misfortune to marry, as his ‘crisis’ justifies him doing whatever he wants – including cheating on his wife with various men. Eddie Redmayne plays Einar and by God is he terrible here – you would be hard pressed to find a worse example of overacting anywhere, as he cries and cries and whimpers and pretends to be injured (he gets beat up for no apparent reason, oh, and he decides he’s having his period as well at one point) something which he has effectively made a career out of doing. If we look at the header picture above I think even I would make a more convincing human female – although the film at least partially acknowledges this failure, or seems to at any rate, until near the end where people seem to genuinely believe he passes for a woman. The film in general smacks of this kind of insincerity throughout – Oscar bait with a modern-day politically charged topic, and I imagine any endorsement from the transgender community is purely down to lack of many other options.

Tom Hooper directs and to be fair he almost completely avoids having the camera too close to his performers’ faces after ‘Les Miserables‘, and a lot of his shots of countryside and the framing of scenic cityscapes are great; it’s really the story and acting that destroy the film, as melodrama takes an enormous bite out of history in their misguided creepy crawl in the direction of awards season glory. It’s a shame, there was a lot of potential to explore the subject – and indeed in the film’s frank portrayal of nudity there begins to form the semblance of something greater, before it all disintegrates in the second act. Also with Amber Heard, who’s dancing scenes were reportedly cut from the film. Fuck’s sake.

Joy  (2015)    71/100

Rating :   71/100                                                                     124 Min        12A

David O. Russell writes (or rather rewrites, with Annie Mumolo penning the original script), directs and calls upon Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro, much like he did with ‘Silver Linings Playbook‘ and ‘American Hustle‘, to star in the semi-fictional tale of self-made business magnate and inventor Joy Mangano (played by Lawrence). The film gets off to the worst possible start, with titles dedicating it to strong women in general … and one in particular. It’s a little condescending, as if David O. Russell had only recently discovered women were actually capable of doing something interesting enough to make a film about, and there are numerous hints of force throughout the film: Joy when she is a child (played by Isabella Crovetti-Cramp) saying she doesn’t need a prince in the fantasy future-life she’s playing out, for example. We can see what the intention was of course, but the tone is a little too blatant. Why not simply tell the story?

A story which sells itself entirely. It’s not easy to see where fact and fiction collide here, but it certainly appears on the face of it that the main details are correct and the most important showdowns and moments when the protagonist really has to take the bull by the horns actually did happen. We begin in 1989 with Joy frantically running her household and her father (De Niro) appearing on the doorstep, who is promptly thrust into the basement in order to share it with her now divorced husband (Edgar Ramirez), whilst her kids are looked after upstairs – supervised by her grandmother (Diane Ladd) – kids that occasionally accompany her mother (Virginia Madsen), who seems to permanently engage with vegetating in front of her favourite soap opera on the tele in her room.

Oddly, we are constantly greeted with scenes from this same show throughout the first chapter of the film, demonstrating the nightmarish pull of the humdrum and banal void as Joy struggles to fit the bill as house matriarch whilst working as an airline reservations manager, but these sections are far too wayward, indulgent, lengthy and frequent and could mostly have been axed, although showing the pervasive sickness that can arise from such garbage on television and the isolating effect it has on families is to be applauded, it nevertheless simply becomes another overplayed element of the movie.

Spiralling out of another chaotic dream about the soap opera, Joy awakens with zest and inspiration for a product that will ignite everyone and everything around her – the Miracle Mop, designed to address the simple everyday practical issues she, and everyone else doing any floor cleaning, were met with every day, namely having to wring out the thing by hand (although surely they had buckets with strainers back then?) and buy a new one all too frequently. Thus begins her adventure as she attempts to produce and market her creation, bringing into the frame two new characters: her father’s new wealthy girlfriend (Isabella Rossellini) and a head executive of the QVC advertising channel (Bradley Cooper).

It’s an inspirational tale that ought to speak volumes to anyone who’s ever tried to create anything themselves and despite the film’s many self-imposed setbacks, including twists and turns that continually have you thinking the movie is over when it’s not, it ultimately delivers, thanks in no small measure to another fantastic and Oscar worthy performance from Lawrence herself. A sizeable amount of trimming and a little less force would have ensured this came out of the blocks at the same pace Silver Linings and Hustle did, but in the end the heart of the true story and strong acting all round ultimately atone for its artistic hiccups.

In the Heart of the Sea  (2015)    68/100

Rating :   68/100                                                                     122 Min        12A

Director Ron Howard’s latest dramatic feature since ‘Rush‘ is based on the similarly titled 2000 novel by Nathaniel Philbrick and once again features Chris Hemsworth as one of the protagonists, here playing Owen Chase – first mate of the Essex, a whaling ship whose fateful 1820 voyage was one of the primary sources that inspired writer Herman Melville to pen his historic fiction ‘Moby-Dick’ in 1851 (the legend of albino sperm whale Mocha Dick, who frequented the waters around the Chilean island of Mocha, was another such real-life source). Here, shots of the Essex and her crew are occasionally interjected by scenes of an eagerly attentive Melville (Ben Whishaw) listening to the recounting of the story by one of the original crew (Brendan Gleeson), often visibly pained by the memories the writer elicits from him.

The Essex hailed from Nantucket in Massachusetts, and the most obvious thing that stands out from the opening chapter of the film is the truly terrible range of accents that the cast have attempted, chief turkey among them being Hemsworth’s – to be honest, they are so bad I’m not even sure if they are attempted something similar to the modern-day region, maybe even close to Bostonian, or something which for some reason they think must have existed once upon a time. It’s all, ahem, ropey to say the least, but as a crew their collective voices seem to coalesce together and eventually it all evens out.

The crux of the story is the Essex’s basic and ongoing attempt to hunt whales, especially the extremely lucrative sperm whales, for their oil (it wasn’t until the late 1840s that Scotsman James Young really began the crude oil trade, taking out the UK and US patents for Paraffin distillation from coal in the early 1850s) and the unfortunate dearth of aquatic activity they come across leads them to desperate searches further and further into the Pacific Ocean, whereupon they encounter one particular sperm whale, bedecked white and awash with the scars of many previous encounters with man, who isn’t especially keen to let the whalers have it all their own way, and so begins their real adventure.

All of this is against the background of tension between the first mate and the captain, George Pollard (Benjamin Walker), as the latter is a posh dunderhead from a rich family, thusly gaining the position, whose manhood isn’t best pleased to find that his first mate is in fact Thor, swaggering around, vaunting up ropes, proving to always be right and seeming to single-handedly sail the ship. This element of the film never really climbs out of the doldrums of melodrama, but the recreation of the voyage amidst the setting of the ship is one of the highlights, and the story and effects, for the most part, unerringly draw us into their world for the movie’s duration, also providing the key to its eventual success as we really feel for them and the many maritime men for whom such journeys were a reality.

The additional horror of showing us the brutal reality of their line of work, with sanguinary depictions of the murder of innocent whales, will absolutely disgust many viewers, and indeed you can feel the film jitter with uncertainty over how to portray these scenes and the characters within them, but they are fascinating from a historical accuracy point of view and indeed these detailed features are in keeping with one of the many noteworthy aspects of ‘Moby-Dick’ itself, which, incredulously, was not a financial success during the author’s lifetime.

Daddy’s Home  (2015)    56/100

Rating :   56/100                                                                       96 Min        12A

A very standard Will Ferrell comedy that sees the stepfather (Ferrell) in a family compete with the unexpected arrival of the testosterone-fuelled biological father (Mark Wahlberg), coupled with the usual level of predictability, over-the-top antics and, in this case, some particularly ropey CGI. It’s actually the second time the two actors have headlined together, after 2010’s ‘The Other Guys’, and Ferrell has once more ended up with the hot wife (here played by Linda Cardellini) though his caring and overly-sensitive husband is about to be emasculated by the motorbike riding, musclebound and well-hung Wahlberg (again, not a first onscreen … ). The leads engage to some extent as they play off one another, and there’s a slight upward trajectory as the plot unfolds, but it’s pretty desperate stuff throughout and it really needed more social bite with higher-impact comedy moments, not to mention less cringeworthy effects. Go and watch Star Wars instead.