Here are Damon Smith’s latest film reviews…
Don’t look back in anger, move forwards with unfettered resolve to succeed where others have tried and failed.
Automotive designer Carroll Shelby and daredevil driver Ken Miles did just that in 1966 when they turbo-charged the racing division of Ford Motor Company to glory ahead of reigning constructor champion Ferrari at the Le Mans 24-hour endurance race.
The battle royale between the two brands on the undulating asphalt of the Circuit de la Sarthe is recreated in muscular fashion by director James Mangold, working from a script penned by Jason Keller and London-born brothers Jez and John-Henry Butterworth.
Le Mans ’66 is a crowd-pleasing drama of triumph on four wheels, anchored by terrific lead performances from Matt Damon and Christian Bale, who fire on all cylinders as human trailblazers behind the roaring engines.
As Shelby, Damon threads his innate everyman charm with a mischievous streak to defy the interfering men in suits and reduce chief executive Henry Ford II to a whimpering wreck after a spin in the GT40 prototype.
Bale has the showier role as Miles.
The Welsh actor achieves another extreme body transformation, dropping 70lb in weight after his Oscar-nominated turn as Dick Cheney in Vice to portray a scowling, anti-authoritarian maverick.
Initially, the film focuses on marketing executive Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal), who persuades hard-nosed boss Ford (Tracy Letts) that the key to revitalising the ailing brand is to make Ford sexy.
“James Bond does not drive a Ford,” argues Lee.
“That’s because he’s a degenerate!” growls Ford.
Eventually, the chief executive dispatches Lee to Italy to court Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone) and sign a commercial deal to draw on Ferrari’s expertise.
Discussions break down at the last minute and Ferrari insults the Americans by telling them to “go back to your big, ugly factory making big, ugly cars”.
In response, Ford orders his company’s racing division to build a car capable of humiliating Ferrari at the 1966 Le Mans.
Stetson-wearing Carroll Shelby (Damon) accepts the seemingly impossible challenge and he approaches Ken Miles (Bale) to sit behind the wheel of the Ford GT40.
Lee’s boardroom rival, fellow executive Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas), denounces the appointment – “Ford means reliability. Ken’s not a Ford man!” – but Carroll is adamant that Miles is the only driver for the job.
Le Mans ’66 excels during breathlessly staged racing sequences in an era when the need for speed heightened inherent dangers of the sport.
Damon and Bale jump-start a winning on-screen partnership, leaving Bernthal and Lucas’s under-nourished rivalry in their exhaust fumes, and Catriona Balfe is poorly served as Ken’s doting wife – the only female character of note.
Mangold shifts sweetly through the gears, screeching through a saggy middle section before he hits thrilling top speed with the titular showdown.
LAST CHRISTMAS (12A)
If there’s one time of year when the milk of human kindness can be aggressively sweetened with saccharine sentimentality, it’s Christmas.
Dame Emma Thompson and co-writer Bryony Kimmings merrily spoon in the sugar to their seasonal romantic comedy while Bridemaids director Paul Feig unwraps cliches to a soundtrack of George Michael’s hits.
His music is timeless and beautiful, providing gentle emotional crescendos on screen including a romantic ice skate to Praying For Time and a moment of self-preservation that echoes the lyrics of Heal The Pain.
Alas, the narrative twist on which the film precariously hangs is glaringly obvious and – in retrospect – illogical.
One intimate scene strains plausibility while another is a blatant cheat, presumably to throw us off the scent, and couldn’t unfold as depicted.
The film’s emotionally scarred heroine, played with an elfish grin by Emilia Clarke, is thoroughly unlikeable and unsympathetic for the opening hour a la Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol.
Thompson and Kimmings set themselves the impossible task of redeeming her in time for a tinsel-bedazzled redemption set to the bouncy title track.
“My God, I thought you were someone to rely on,” laments George Michael in one of the verses.
Regrettably, we could sing that back to the scriptwriters.
Thirtysomething hot mess Kate (Clarke) ricochets between auditions for West End stage roles while fitfully holding down a job as a sales elf at the Yuletide Wonderful shop in Covent Garden.
Her boss Santa (Michelle Yeoh) implores her to take pride
Staring out of the shop’s window one morning, she is irresistibly drawn to handsome stranger Tom (Henry Golding), who volunteers at a homeless shelter.
He is selfless, sensitive and socially conscious – everything Kate is not – and shepherds her on a tour of historic back alleys to prove she spends too much time looking down or engrossed in a touchscreen.
“Has anyone ever told you there’s something slightly serial killery about you?” she awkwardly jests.
Tom’s wholesome, positive influence compels Kate to think of others.
She engineers romance between Santa and a smitten Dutch customer (Peter Mygind) and slowly repairs fractured relationships with her browbeating Croatian mother (Thompson) and older sister (Lydia Leonard).
Last Christmas cloys and contrives when it should charm and serenade with that gorgeous soundtrack, including an upbeat new George Michael track over the end credits.
Clarke and Golding are an exceedingly attractive pairing and Yeoh is hysterical in a rare comic role, which she plays to the pantomime hilt.
Feig’s film, though, is a bauble – beautifully decorated and easy on the eye but hollow. Humbugs, anyone?
MARRIAGE STORY (15)
Oscar-nominated writer-director Noah Baumbach (The Squid And The Whale) draws on his own divorce from actress Jennifer Jason Leigh for a bruising portrait of a marriage in crisis, which is being heavily tipped for glory at next year’s Academy Awards.
Charlie Barber (Adam Driver) is a successful stage director, who works closely with his actress wife Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) and the theatre company they established in New York.
They raise a young son, Henry (Azhy Robertson), and the relationship is a vision of harmony until Nicole’s job takes her to Los Angeles.
Maintaining a long-distance relationship proves too taxing for the couple and the marriage breaks down.
Nicole secures the services of cut-throat lawyer Nora Fanshaw (Laura Dern) to retain primary custody of Henry.
Blindsided by his wife’s actions, Charlie reluctantly responds by securing his own legal counsel, Bert Spitz (Alan Alda).
LITTLE MONSTERS (15, 94 mins)
A zombie apocalypse threatens to disrupt a kindergarten class trip in writer-director Abe Forsythe’s gore-drenched comedy horror.
Washed-up musician and professional layabout Dave (Alexander England) endures a messy break-up from his girlfriend.
He licks his wounds by gate-crashing the home of younger sister Tess (Kat Stewart), who has a son called Felix (Diesel La Torraca).
The boy is her priority and Dave half-heartedly makes himself useful by volunteering to chaperone Felix and classmates on a school field trip to a farm led by perpetually perky, ukulele-strumming teacher Miss Caroline (Lupita Nyong’o).
As the group tour the farm, zombies escape from a neighbouring US testing facility.
Screams echo as the flesh-hungry predators attack visitors.
Miss Caroline and Dave bravely shepherd the class to temporary safety inside a gift shop, where they discover children’s entertainer Teddy McGiggle (Josh Gad) cowering in the aisles.
Forsythe’s film is simultaneously available to stream on Sky Cinema.
THE REPORT (15, 120 mins)
Writer-director Scott Z Burns draws on the real-life 2012 Senate Committee report into interrogation techniques used by the CIA to fashion a gripping drama about abuses of power in the wake of the September 11 attacks.
Daniel Jones (Adam Driver) works in 2009 Washington DC for Senator Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening) and is part of the US Select Committee on Intelligence.
When serious questions are raised about the “enhanced interrogation techniques” employed by the CIA to extract information during the war on terror, Jones diligently sifts through millions of documents to discover the chilling truth.
Dogged in his pursuit of the facts, Daniel forsakes personal relationships for years to follow a trail of evidentiary breadcrumbs, some of which lead to psychologist Dr Jim Mitchell (Douglas Hodge), who oversaw the brutal treatment of prisoners.
As the list of discrepancies grows, Daniel realises the full extent of the CIA’s actions and the vast sums that have been wasted torturing detainees, who were never in possession of vital intelligence.
Burns’s film streams on Amazon Prime Video from November 29.
3. Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil
4. The Good Liar
5. The Addams Family
6. Terminator: Dark Fate
7. The Aeronauts
8. Doctor Sleep
9. A Shaun The Sheep Movie: Farmageddon
10. 42nd Street The Musical
(Chart courtesy of Cineworld)