FRANKENWEENIE

Cert PG  Stars 3

Director Tim Burton escapes from his locked attic room to unleash a darkly comic stop-motion animation spin on the classic horror, Frankenstein.

Young Victor is grief stricken when his pet dog Sparky dies and is invents a machine to bring him back to life. But mayhem ensues when his friends steal the device to do the same for their dead pets.

An overly dark monster mash-up of ideas based on Burton’s recycled 1982 short film, Victor, this is full of ideas the director has subsequently mined, and there is much here that is very, very familiar.

We presented with the friendless only child, carefully tendered suburbs with strange garden furniture, overly manicured poodles, graveyards on hills and antagonistic authority figures.

But there is none of the lightness of Burton’s 1988 ghost comedy, Beetlejuice, or the loopy optimism that makes Burton’s best film, 1994’s Ed Wood, such a joy.

Martin Landau previously played Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood, and here is scarily excellent as  Victor’s teacher Mr Rzykruski, but is sadly shunted off stage left far too soon.

There are not enough laugh-out-loud moments and the film’s dark tone becomes oppressive and dull. For film bathed in glorious monochrome, it lacks chiaroscuro of mood.

The puppet and set design are excellent, as is the lighting and cinematography which is deliberately styled in the expressionism of James Whales’ classic Universal 1930’s horror films, such as well, Frankenstein.

Featuring one great scene, some good dialogue, and copious movie references, eventually Frankenweenie becomes a re-animated Lassie adventure without the emotional depth. Lazarus Come Home, would have been as good a title.

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4

Cert 15 Stars 2

This found footage low rent horror sequel is a cynical and dull addition to a once promising franchise.

Once again an emotional disturbed child is thrust into the home of a middle-class family whose mother is ill, prompting things again to go bump in the night.

There’s a curious moving shadow, a strange sound, and doors that stand menacingly open. Eventually the signs of the occult begin to appear, strange symbols are drawn, and a cat wanders around, probably looking for an agent to fire.

Our fear and dread rises at the sight of a rolling ball, and wooden floors in long corridors, and a child riding a cycle, as all of a sudden we mortified we’re watching a bargain basement version of The Shining.

There are no new ideas and the found footage device has to work very hard to justify itself, as no matter how scared people are, they just will not let go of their phone.

Easily the most terrifying aspect of this movie is apparently how simple it is for teenagers to use technology to spy on their own family.

THE SAPPHIRES

Cert 12A  Stars 3

Irish comic Chris O’Dowd steams into the cinema aboard the soul train in this retro feel-good slice of fun of musical comedy-drama.

In the Australian Outback of 1968 O’Dowd’s drunkard keyboard player, Dave, recognises the potential of four wannabe soul singers and appoints himself their manager.

Whisking the girls off to the Vietnam war to entertain the troops, Dave proves less than reliable when romance, rivalry, and the war itself threaten the band’s chances of success.

Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens, Miranda Tapsell as the singers are attractive and nicely argumentative personalities, and if they’re not brilliant actors then at least they’re great singers. O’Dowd gives his all but is occasionally embarrassing in a thinly written part.

Budget constraints mean that the combat scenes aren’t hugely convincing but the film is surprisingly robustly effective when addressing the racism the band encounter.

The Sapphires bursts with humour and soul classics that drive the movie along. There’s not much that’s original but it’s warm-hearted and though it won’t win awards, it will win hearts.

MADAGASCAR 3 – EUROPE’S MOST WANTED

Cert PG Stars 4

Putting the mad firmly into Madagascar, this animated threequel is a day-glo riot of cartoon fun and the film equivalent of a bucketful of sugary pick’n’mix

Alex the lion returns to lead Marty the zebra, Melman the giraffe and Gloria the hippo out of Africa and across Europe on board a struggling animal circus.

And the wisecracking penguins return to comment on the action while throwing chaos into the mix in their well-intentioned and self-interested manner.

They are all chased on a train ride of manic adventure by the malevolent police officer Captain DuBois, a puddle-licking and poison-shooting insect who wants to kill Alex and mount his head on a plaque on her office wall.

Jokes, songs, action, romance and buckets of slapstick are all wrapped up in a rainbow of good-humoured anarchy.

This is a film that is absolutely determined to entertain with boundless energy and a irresistible creative zeal. When a pink bear in a multi-coloured afro super-biking around Rome while romancing a ring-tailed lemur, you know it’s time to abandon your marbles and gleefully embrace the insanity.

And don’t worry if a given joke doesn’t amuse, there’ll be another along in a second. And probably a song as well.

The animation is in turns dynamic, vivid and beautiful. Rome is ravishingly rendered; London comes a close second with a dazzling circus performance that gives the recent Olympic opening ceremony a run for its money.

Madagascar is feel good family fun that will leave you feeling exhilarated and craving more. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t seen the first two movies, just go and enjoy this one.

SHAZAM!

Cert 12A Stars 4

Magic and monsters cause mayhem in this terrific crowd pleasing superhero romp which doubles as a body swap comedy

This confident seventh instalment in the increasingly lighthearted, bright and colourful, DC Extended Universe, takes place in same world as the recent billion dollar success, Aquaman, but don’t hold your breath waiting for the king of Atlantis to turn up.

Billy is a teenage orphan who while searching for his mother, finds himself endowed with extraordinary powers and unlooked for responsibility.

Following an encounter with a wizard, whenever Billy says the magic word, ‘Shazam’, he’s magically transformed into an adult superhero, with strength, speed and the ability to shoot electric bolts from his fingertips.

Asher Angel is fresh faced and likeable as 14 year old Billy, with an exuberantly gleeful and goofy Zachary Levi, as his super-powered alter ego.

The script owes a lot to Tom Hanks’ 1988 comedy, Big, and pays homage to it during a fight in a department store, while the films energy has the wide-eyed excitable tone of 1980’s kid caper, The Goonies.

As Billy learns to control his powers, the warm family dynamic of his diverse foster family provides an strong emotional grounding. It’s here we meet Faithe Herman, as Billy’s new sister, a delightful pocket-sized scene stealer who’ll win your heart with her charm and humour.

Packed with jokes, this is funnier than Deadpool and has more laughs than Kick Ass, plus it’s also much kinder and far more appropriate for a family audience.

Brit actor Mark Strong played the bad guy in Kick Ass, and appears here as a super-villain who’s hunting Shazam to steal his powers, and is involved in all the flashy CGI action such as magic realms, scary demons, and mid-air fights.

Yet Shazam!’s greatest strength is knowing superheroes were created as a wish fulfilment fantasy for lonely adolescents, and is all the more enjoyable for putting them centre stage.

CREED II

Cert 12 Stars 4

Sylvester Stallone and Dolph Lundgren return to reignite the Cold War as they face off once more in a typically two-fisted and enjoyably bruising bout from Sly’s ‘Rocky’ boxing franchise.

A loose retelling of Rocky 4, the former fighters are now the trainers of the younger generation, which sees Michael B. Jordan’s world heavyweight champ take on the son of the Russian who killed his dad.

It scored a knockout £160m worldwide on a puny £40m budget due to the strong character work and screen history that gives emotional weight to the heavy punching.

15 MINUTES OF WAR

Cert 15 Stars 3

Olga Kurylenko grabs the opportunity to stretch her talents, as a US teacher in this agreeably tense hostage drama inspired by true events of 1976 in East Africa.

And the former Bond girl delivers a more compelling performance than Brit actress Rosamund Pike did in last year’s similarly themed Ugandan kidnap thriller, Entebbe.

Gun wielding terrorists kidnap her young class but their school bus crashes within sight of the Somali and Djibouti border, leading to an armed stand-off.

Strong location work provides a dusty authenticity, and the script is unafraid to draw parallels to contemporary events.