Based on R.J. Palacio’s book, ‘Wonder’ does its best to not over-sentimentalise the subject matter. Many issue based movies have fallen into the trap of being preachy and sugar-coating the drama with tears and over-ripe drama. Although ‘Wonder’ has a few tearful scenes, it almost manages not to manipulate viewers with its story. Audiences can spot an emotionally fake film a mile away with ‘Wonder’ walking the tight-rope of drama and moral messages with ease.

Isabel (Julia Roberts) and Nate (Owen Wilson) are married parents of teenage daughter Via (Izabela Vidovic) and young son August (Jacob Tremblay). They are loving parents who would do anything for their children and especially their son who has a facial deformity. Wanting a normal life as possible for him, they enrol him in a mainstream school. Although concerned how people will react to August, Isabel and Nate hope his presence teaches those around him the value of acceptance. The road towards this is rocky as people attempt to adjust to a different-looking person in their lives.

‘Wonder’ runs the gamut of emotions as it slowly reveals people’s responses to August’s presence. Alarm, bullying, sympathy and friendship are all shown with the reactions feeling genuine. Jacob Tremblay’s performance as the stoic child is amazing with his character’s quiet strength amidst a strange world quite powerful. This isn’t an artificial ‘Forrest Gump’-style morality play, but an authentic exploration of dealing with things many don’t understand. Roberts, Wilson and Vidovic are equally first rate as the family coping with their own relationships with August and each other.

Whilst moments are over-saturated with sentimentality, ‘Wonder’ tells its tale well. Director Stephen Chbosky deserves credit for moving the story along less familiar paths with outcomes delivering genuine surprises. The screenplay successfully deals with several topics and has many narrative strands to get through. That it effectively ties everything together into the central themes shows the level of care into making viewing memorable. The score also remembers not to over-use the swirling violins so common in these films with an understated soundtrack allowing the actions and dialogue to generate the film’s true power.

It’s easy delivering a serving of schmaltzy daytime TV-style weep-fest. ‘Wonder’ certainly isn’t that with the finely balanced and strong script generally avoiding such clichés. Its’ messages of accepting people despite their differences is a lesson all should learn in life’s daily commute.

Rating out of 10: 8

Only the Brave

There have been a myriad of movies about fire-fighters and their bravery. Even if you’ve seen most of them, they still show their determined courage in saving lives. That’s why such films have been so gripping as they are true-life tales of humanity at their finest. ‘Only the Brave’ continues in this style with an engrossing story. Based on true events, its authenticity effectively highlights how those fighting deadly blazes warrant our unending admiration.

The Granite Mountain Hotshots are an elite group of fire-fighters ready to serve. Among the team are Eric (Josh Brolin), Brendan (Miles Teller) and Jesse (James Badge Dale). A highly skilled group whose experience is needed with a cataclysmic fire erupts. Tackling a blaze at Yarnell Hill Arizona, they encounter obstacles at every turn. Fighting to protect citizens in its path, the fire-fighters use every arsenal at their disposal to extinguish the destructive flames.

Solidly directed by Joseph Kosinski, ‘Only the Brave’ is a compelling look at teamwork. As the title suggests, bravery plays a huge role in how the characters deal with the fiery fury they face daily. Whilst no one character dominates the narrative, Eric and Brendan’s journey in discovering how their dangerous profession affects their lives and others is interesting. Their interaction with their significant others force them to face their demons and press ahead with new horizons.

‘Only the Brave’ really comes into its own with the CGI and consistently excellent performances. Everything feels very real with the actors grounding their roles without melodrama. It’s incredible to think these events happened with the screenplay taking its time to establish the people who unselfishly put their lives on the line. The special effects are top notch with the techniques used to tackle the shocking blazes just as captivating to watch as the personal dramas.

The sacrifices fire-fighters make on our behalf is starkly told in ‘Only the Brave’. Living each day as if it may be their last, their commitment to our safety comes across well through the script. These movies always have an audience with this companion piece to similar films deserving of finding a viewership of its own.

Rating out of 10: 8