How would you feel if the presents you opened on Christmas morning were just snazzily repackaged gifts that you’d already received? Welcome to the cinema release schedules. Let’s be Blunt – Emily Blunt, that is – and admit that the smash of the season is in the bag. That likeable actor kept shtum for most of this year’s horror hit A Quiet Place but she’s compensating with some show tunes in Mary Poppins Returns (21 Dec), where she takes up the brolly last brandished 54 years ago by Julie Andrews. Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of Hamilton, plays the apprentice to the cockney chimney-sweep Bert. The original Bert, Dick Van Dyke, is on hand too, though presumably not as dialect coach.
Also in the Looks Familiar department is Holmes and Watson (26 Dec), a comic romp through the pages of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to add to the others we’ve had over the years (Without a Clue; The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother; the Peter Cook/Dudley Moore Hound of the Baskervilles). This slapstick outing surrounds the Step Brothers duo Will Ferrell and John C Reilly with Brits (Ralph Fiennes, Rebecca Hall, Steve Coogan) and finds room for the line “No shit, Sherlock”. Meanwhile, Charlie Hunnam is in the clink for a remake of Papillon (21 Dec). His crime? Appearing in Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur. Throw away the key, I say.
The future of Spider-Man looked uncertain at the end of Avengers: Infinity War. Put it this way: he died. But when did that ever harm a franchise? The animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (12 Dec) proposes a cluster of diverse spider-creatures fighting crime together, including an African-American teenager, an anime girl and a pig. Think string theory rather than web. There’s every sign this will be a blast: the producers, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, possess an irreverent sensibility (they directed The Lego Movie and the Jump Street comedies) and the distinction of having been fired from Solo: A Star Wars Story.
Many of these titles haven’t been screened for press at the time of writing. But I can vouch for the brain-warping and eventually mind-numbing horror of Lars Von Trier’s The House That Jack Built (14 Dec), which gives a suave serial killer (Matt Dillon) two-and-a-half-hours to reflect on his greatest hits in a kind of psychopathic PowerPoint presentation – a Ded talk not a Ted talk. The victims include Uma Thurman and Sofie Gråbøl of The Killing, as well as several children; a fluffy duckling also gets it in the neck, or rather the leg. For all its gruesomeness, it’s a work of self-lacerating honesty and even contrition on Von Trier’s part. It premiered to boos and walk-outs at one prestigious film festival, hence the knowing tag-line on my screening invitation: “Crucified at Cannes! Back for Christmas!”
This article appears in the 08 Dec 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas special