Happiness Season is cheeky, blithe and situational, suffused with enough upscale Christmas froth to get the audience high on spiced-cocktail fumes. In a key scene near the end, it’s more than willing to go over-the-top. Yet “Happiest Season” is also a deft and humane dramedy of manners that’s really about something. It’s a coming-out story that feels highly specific to our era, even as it keeps pelting us with entertaining family curveballs.  “Happiest Season” is formula done with feeling; you can believe in the people you’re watching. The movie is a true romance — not because it’s a rom-com about two people stumbling toward love, but because it’s a rom-com about two people already in love navigating the minefield of what love is. That all adds up to a Christmas movie that lifts your spirit in just the right ways.

In Happiness Season Kristen Stewart plays a character who is caught in a major bind. Wearing long platinum hair that sets off her easy, open grin, Stewart plays Abby, who has been living with Harper(Mackenzie Davies) for a while, and they’re a serious couple: patient, devoted, affectionate, good company. The two live in Pittsburgh, where Abby is working toward her art-history doctorate at Carnegie Mellon and Harper is a political reporter on The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Their principal difference appears to be that Harper loves Christmas and Abby doesn’t (or so she says). But when Harper invites Abby to spend the holiday with her family in Grove City about 50 miles away, she agrees to come. Maybe that’s because Abby has a secret scheme: She plans to propose to Harper in front of her family, and even ask for her father’s blessing. However Harper’s reluctance to come out to those around her begins to take its toll on her relationship with Abby (who vents to both her friend John, played by Daniel Levy, and to Riley). Can Harper overcome her fear — and save her relationship? This is the multi – million dollar question that the film takes pain to explore.

The cast does a great job at keeping the film feeling light, funny, and heartwarming. And the film’s humor also ensures that the tough, complex subject of coming out never gets too dramatic or possibly triggering. But the retreading of popular holiday movie/romcom themes does prevent the film from breaking out of traditional Hollywood modes.  For instance, Levy’s character, John, embodies several too-familiar “gay male best friend” stereotypes — i.e. characters who are often mysteriously devoid of familial ties, always have snappy comebacks ready, and are the emotional backup for their best friend when needed. John does have a more serious, expansive moment when he counsels Abby on Harper’s reticence to come out to her family, citing how some families disown or disapprove of children who identify within the LGBQ spectrum and talking about his own traumatic coming-out experience. But beyond this, John remains a character of cliches, which is unfortunate in a film like this, which overall aims to break stereotypes.

 Despite its  minor flaws, Happiest Season does remind audiences that, for many people, the point of the holidays is to be with family and celebrate love and joy. And the film’s message that everyone deserves love, understanding, and empathy rings true throughout the film. A great X’mas film that needs to be seen to cheer us up after our dreadful Covid times.


Here’s a tense pic. that taps into the fight against terrorism theme.  If you missed it, first time around, It’s a sizzling watch on the small screen while it will only be a few weeks before the big screen re-opens.

    See this in the (not so) dark on your home screens.  phil.

EYE IN THE SKY will put your moral compass in a spin: 

learning the rules of a new war game 

Helen Mirren is Colonel Powell in Eye in the Sky

BRITISH : M : 102 mins :  4/5

Glued to her surveillance screen, Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) watches a group of terrorists, in a house in Kenya, prepare for a suicide mission.  When she receives positive identification that two of them are top-of-the-list terrorists, her mission objective changes from ‘capture’ to ‘kill’.

Above the house, an armed drone hovers, while, in a distant operations room, a soldier waits, with his finger on the trigger.  Powell has top level clearance to proceed from the network of allies – Kenya, Britain and the U.S. – all receiving the same vision and sound, through advanced technology.  But, suddenly, a young girl comes into view, setting up a table outside the house to sell her bread.  Bureaucrats and legal advisers are thrown into confusion.  If the missile is fired, there is a better than even chance the girl will die.  Nobody wants to risk a public backlash.  The mission is in limbo.

Director, Gavin Hood and screenwriter Guy Hibbert have produced a moral dilemma that weighs the loss of one innocent life against the possible loss of many more.  But neither Powell, nor any of the advisers, wants to take ultimate responsibility and so they handball the problem from one to another, sending it back and forth across the globe.

Far from the battlefields of old, this state-of-the-art type of military conflict is operating under new and highly complex ‘rules of engagement’ which depend on statistical analyses of ‘collateral damage’.  While Powell urges action, Lieutenant General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman, in his final role) is the perplexed face of the traditional soldier, battle-ready but stymied by civilian intervention.

Skilfully written, tightly directed, superbly acted, Eye in the Sky is securely anchored by Mirren who displays a steely resolve, tempered by a growing sense of frustration.

Eye in the Sky is tense and thrilling but wants the audience to do more than watch.  It wants us to feel the same sense of desperation. It wants to make us squirm as well.

(This film is dedicated to the memory of Alan Rickman who died in 2016).

On the trail of Odysseus, this is a welcome relief for home-bound fans.

But is it the end of the road for Steve and Rob?

U.K. : 110 mins : M : 3.5/5

While Coronavirus has put international travel plans on hold, it’s an appealing consolation to go armchair tripping with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon (and director, Michael Winterbottom) in their latest (and possibly final) comic mix of culinary and travel delights.  After England’s Lake District, Italy and Spain, The Trip to Greece (again sponsored by the Observer newspaper) begins in Turkey and loosely follows in the footsteps of Odysseus, in the ancient tale of his return from the war in Troy to Ithaca.

That war (ending in the ploy of the Trojan horse) lasted for ten years which, coincidentally, is as long as Brydon and Coogan have been paired – a fact that takes them by surprise.  What began, on tv, as a quirky, commercially risky idea, is now a highly popular formula, with this film (like the previous three) being culled from 180 minutes of the television series.

As usual, the two raconteurs play exaggerated versions of themselves with Steve Coogan making much of his greater status in the acting world (note the BAFTAs) while Rob Brydon accepts the mantle of the ‘light’ entertainer. But, this time, there are intriguing (and comical) tie-ins to Homer’s Odyssey, in stunning Mediterranean locations, from cosy coves to fairy-tale villages. The tone is amiable, the chemistry effervescent and quick visits to the kitchen, where chefs in white, toss enticing ingredients over flaming stoves, punctuate the dinner-table banter.  The celebrity impersonations are there – Michael Caine, Marlon Brando, Mick Jagger, Anthony Hopkins et al and, while some of it feels a little tired, at its best, it sparkles.  When Steve Coogan slips, effortlessly, into his Stan Laurel persona (BAFTA nominated for the role in Stan and Ollie), it’s a joy to watch.

While hitting some darker notes along the way and with a decidedly sombre conclusion, The Trip to Greece is, overall, a lot of fun.  The hope is that talk of it being the last in the series is ill-founded.  After all, there are many other exciting countries to visit, further afield.  There could even be a Trip to Australia. Now that sounds like a dish to savour.


Which one is better?

Both films are about a vitally important subject which needs to be opened up in discussion. Bombshell is based on true facts while Working Woman is fiction.

Bombshell has a much higher profile. It has three famous female leads in Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie (plus John Lithgow) who are all great (Robbie is outstanding) in an American studio production with a huge budget. Working Woman is an Israeli film with English subtitles and two stars with difficult, unknown names – Menashe Noy and Liron Ben-Shlush as the female victim. Ben-Shlush’s performance is devastating and she’s been awarded Israel’s highest acting honour – the equivalent of an Oscar.

Bombshell will attract audiences on its star power and glamour. It’s set in a high-powered social and corporate arena while Working Woman is about an ordinary woman working as a sales rep. and trying hard to improve the position of her family. While Bombshell makes its points, it’s both privileged and distant and is more a vehicle for its three female stars, rather than an in-depth examination of the subject. However, for the majority of females in the workplace Working Woman is utterly relatable and has more emotional impact. The incidents of sexual harassment occur with dramatic intensity and the central character struggles valiantly to maintain her dignity while desperate not to lose her job.

Bombshell will win at the box office, because ticket sales are all about star power, budget and marketing even though Working Woman is the superior film.

However, it’s pleasing to see that Working Woman has a much higher approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Bombshell is rated at 67% (which is just a shade in front of ‘rotten’) while Working Woman is rated at 97%.

Lastly: Phil’s scores: Bombshell 3/5 Working Woman 4.5/5

Bombshell opens on January 16th.

phil. 25.12.19. pbsailing@yahoo.com.au


As with Netflix films, the mercurial Ian Hale at The Backlot has secured exclusive rights to cinema screenings of STAN films.  The Backlot is the only place you can see True History of the Kelly Gang in W.A., apart from on your own screen.

Do we ever get tired of Ned Kelly?  Is there need for another tale of our celebrated bushranger?  Well, this is an entirely different angle to the story because it’s an adaptation of Peter Carey’s book which is imagined to be Ned’s own story.  It’s full of dynamic energy and you’ll see George Mackay in an utterly different role to the iconic lone soldier he plays in 1917 (which also opens tomorrow – see below).

See you in the dark with the Aussie legend. phil.


Like Peter Carey’s novel, Justin Kurzel’s adaptation

is the twisted version of the truth that came from

Kelly’s own head – savage, brutal and murderous.

U.K./AUSTRALIA : 124 mins : MA15+ : 4.5/5

Ned Kelly was the subject of the first feature film ever made, not just in Australia but in the world (The Story of the Kelly Gang, 1906).  In this latest version, inspired by Peter Carey’s Booker Prize winner, True History of the Kelly Gang, the ‘truth’ was the agonised, jaundiced and socially disenfranchised view of events that came from Ned Kelly himself. Director, Justin Kurzel (Snowtown, 2011) and scriptwriter, Shaun Grant, went through the same process of getting inside Kelly’s head for their film of the same name.  For this reason, True History of the Kelly Gang is a shock of a film – an immersive, visceral experience, with a touch of lunacy, that’s unlike anything about the Kelly myth yet committed to the screen.

It’s hard not to sympathise with the young Kelly (Orlando Schwerdt) whose father was relentlessly pursued by the police and who died when the boy was twelve but who he felt ashamed of (he was rumoured to be a cross-dresser – something the adult Ned and his gang later adopted, themselves, to terrorise their victims). And he was devoted to his mother, Ellen (Essie Davis) even though she was morally ambiguous.  When she seized the chance to ‘sell’ Ned to Harry Power (Russell Crowe) to make a bushranger of him, it could only have added to his mental turbulence.  An equally telling role is that of Constable Fitzpatrick (Nicholas Hoult) who’s ever eager to abuse the power of the law for his own gain and to doff his uniform in an instant to have his way with Ned’s mother.  It’s no wonder that, for Ned Kelly, the Australian landscape had no beauty in it and is shot by cinematographer, Ari Wegner, as harsh and alien, with every leafless tree like a blackened skeleton.

But this is Ned’s show and George Mackay is a perfect fit for this Ned Kelly whose film seethes with aggression and feels more like the grunge and teddy-boy aesthetic of Trainspotting than of life in the 1800’s.  As a bloodied bare knuckle boxer, he has a tough physicality and in a heartbeat, the oppression and loss he carries, like a millstone on his back, flame in his eyes with almost insane intensity.

There aren’t many instances where reading the book is an advantage in seeing the film but True History of the Kelly Gang could be an exception.  It’s one of the finest adaptations of the year.

phil. 17.12.19. pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

True History of the Kelly Gang will have limited screenings at The Backlot, Perth from January 9 before streaming on STAN on January 26.