THE LION KING (2019)

Cert PG 118mins Stars 5

Your cubs will go wild for this royal remake of Disney’s animated classic which is exciting, funny and cute, as well as a technical triumph and a perfect summer treat for the whole family.

Disney’s 1994 Oscar winning animated coming-of-age tale has been roaringly reimagined using fabulous photorealistic CGI, and powered by a top drawer voice cast and glorious new versions of Elton John’s tremendous songs such as ‘Circle of Life’, and ‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight’.

With the opening shot of the gorgeous African savannah we’re reminded we’re in the safe of hands Jon Favreau, also made 2016’s swinging remake of The Jungle Book. Once again he directs with great humour and emotional depth, so when I wasn’t grinning away I was moved to tears.

Respectful to the point of being a shot by shot copy of the original, we follow the adorable lion cub Simba, whose father King Mufasa is murdered, which leaves Simba outcast from his country and his wicked uncle Scar on the throne.

However the real coup here is the use of next-level special effects, with every hair and feather lovingly created by special effects team operating at the top of their game and from the tiniest ant to the tallest giraffe it’s a non-stop visual feast.

Every creature is so brilliantly rendered I’m still not convinced I wasn’t watch a troop of terrifically trained circus animals.

Plus it’s an uplifting hymn to the natural wonder of our world with an emphasis on respecting our environment, and if David Attenborough made Disney films it would look and feel like this.

Everything is amped up which means the elephants graveyard scene is scarier, the wildebeest stampede is more thrilling, the hyenas are more frightening, and the warthog and meerkat sidekicks are funnier. And there are more fart jokes than before, though you may have to explain to your kids what a dung beetle is.

Heavyweight Brit actor Chiwetel Ejiofor is magnificent as the voice of Scar, with Donald Glover and Beyonce charming as Simba and best friend Nala, and James Earl Jones is once powerfully regal as he reprises the voice of Mufasa.

This is Disney’s third remake this year, and after the disappointing Dumbo and a much better than anticipated Aladdin, they’ve saved the best till last, with a new Lion King which reigns supreme.

THE SESSIONS

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Helen Hunt goes full frontal as a sex worker in this extremely funny and tender film of sexual healing.

Set in 1988, John Hawkes is terrific as Mark, an habitually lovestruck writer and an iron-lung living polio sufferer, whose life becomes far more interesting when he is commissioned to write a piece about the disabled and their sex lives.

His eye-opening interviews suggest that there may be a sex life available to him, and after some investigating, he hires Hunt’s sex surrogate to give him a few bedroom pointers with the ultimate aim of losing his virginity.

Their training sessions become the gateway to a world of emotions he is even less prepared for and soon Mark, a fervent catholic, is soon rushing to William H. Macy’s priest, to confess his, ahem, mounting sins.

The acting is first rate with intelligent and brave performances bringing out the humour, heartache and honesty in the clever and witty script.

Sex itself is dealt with in a matter of fact manner while those struggling with the complex emotions awakened are treated sympathetically.

Details of each characters sex life are slowly revealed and the climax of this unveiling is one of the most satisfying jokes in the movie.

Only once does the film chase a cheap laugh but as that isn’t directed at the disabled but rather the wilful ignorance of an idiot, it’s easily forgiven.

This is a powerful and touching film that never cheapens itself with false optimism or is careless with people emotions, for which Hunt was deservedly nominated for Best Supporting Actress Oscar.

BEAUTIFUL CREATURES

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Hoping to cast a spell over the young adult Twilight audience, this gothic love story fails to enchant.

When the mysterious and beautiful Lena moves to a new town she meets the studious Ethan at high-school. Due to being a witch, Lena is forbidden to love a mortal, but passions quickly develop and she is torn between her true love and an age old curse.

But the characters are thinly written, jokes fall flat, the dialogue is workaday and Alice Englert and Alden Ehrenreich as the central pair are fail to engage with each other or us.

Bringing a welcome sense of absurd are Brit stars Jeremy Irons and Emma Thompson, and while he’s a purring pianist in a pyjama suit, she Thompson alternates between sour and evilly captivating.

The inconsistent tone veers between lightweight gothic romance and high camp pantomime, and despite the spells and witchcraft, there is not much magic being cast here.

A HIJACKING

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From the writer of Danish TV series Borgen and last year’s brilliant drama, The Hunt, comes this blood-curdling intense hostage drama.

When a Danish container ship is hijacked in the Indian Ocean by gun-wielding Somali pirates, the Danish CEO of the ship’s company hires a hostage situation expert, only to ignore his advice and preferring to take responsibility for negotiations himself.

When the pirate negotiator demands millions and Peter offers thousands and a lengthy stand-off begins.

In increasingly squalid confines both on board and offshore, psychological damage is inflicted on the captives as they become the frayed rope in an egotistical and financial tug of war.

Sharply written and performed by an increasingly raw cast in an atmosphere which is painfully claustrophobic right up to the gripping finale, it holds your attention like a loaded gun to the forehead.

FLIGHT

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There’s no need to fasten your seat belts for this sluggish exploration of alcoholism which is as dull as listening to the pub bore.

Denzel Washington heads up a strong cast as ‘Whip’ Whitaker, an alcoholic airline pilot who heroically saves the lives of the passengers when his plane crashes.

Taking off with huge energy, there are scenes full of nudity, drugs, booze and a brilliantly staged plane crash that may put you off flying for life.

Who or what can be established as the cause of the crash could mean Whip being charged with manslaughter and possible life imprisonment, not to mention the closing of the airline and loss of jobs.

But what could have been a gripping court procedural film instead descends into a dreary account of Whip’s struggle with the bottle and the eventual courtroom scene is perfunctory at best and a long time coming.

Washington employs his talent and charisma to carry the film and is not afraid to play a character who is an unlikable drunk stumbling to a possible redemption.

John Goodman’s comic performance as drug dealer Mays is like sticking helicopter blades on a 747. It’s ridiculous and spins you off in the wrong direction with a terrible crunching of gears.

Kelly Reilly plays a heroin addict love interest who is ushered in and out of the movie without affecting anyone at all.

There is a dull AA scene and lots of Whip wandering around slurring and occasionally being a bit obnoxious. By the time we get to court we don’t really care what happens to him.

Washington is given some awful lines to do his best with and the final scenes seemed tacked on and are unconvincing.

Far from being a warning of how alcohol ruin’s live, the strongest message here is that apart from making you an ace pilot and so a saver of lives, cocaine is is the ultimate hangover cure.

Don’t try this at home, kids.

CHAINED

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This violent psychological thriller is shamelessly provocative, unconvincing and dull, and sees director Jennifer Lynch insulting the intelligence of the audience with a transparent attempt at courting controversy by treating a murderous sex offender with sympathy and understanding.

When a young boy is kidnapped by a Vincent D’Onofrio’s taxi-driving psychopath, Bob, he’s taken to a remote farmhouse where he’s chained to the kitchen sink and renamed Rabbit, where he’s forced to clean up the bloody cadavers that are the result of Bob’s night-time cruising for female victims.

Lacking wit, insight or even the cheapest of thrills or hollow spectacle, this is a contender for the worst movie of 2012.

THE ORANGES

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Hugh Laurie returns to the big screen as a straying suburban dad in this weak and flavourless comedy drama.

His comfortable middle class routines are destroyed when the turbulent daughter of his best friend  returns home for Christmas, with alcohol and a shoulder to cry on conspiring to make David’s rocky marriage a little crowded.

The cast work hard to make the film work but the script has them swimming in marmalade. Nina is at least a spirited presence but poor Laurie is reduced to desperate gurning as he chases laughs.

There is some mildly creative profanity but the central romance is a montage of cinematic cliches. If a plucking guitar isn’t pouring syrup over a scene then uplifting festive songs are blasted out to warn the audience that something ‘amusing’ is happening.

This fruitless lemon squeezes the last drop of goodwill long before the end, and really takes the pith out of the audience as it does so.

THE HUNT

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Fans of Scandinavian drama will enjoy this absorbing and darkly disturbing tale of mass paranoia set in a small Danish village.

It centres on the members of a close knit hunting party when Mads Mikkelsen’s primary school teacher, Lucas, is accused of indecent behaviour towards the child of another.

Investigation is followed by arrest and the loss of his job but as Lucas awaits formal charges, the village turns against him and a campaign of violence begins.

Lucas’s sense of isolation is heightened by the haunting winter landscapes and the semi-rural environment where everyone regularly carries knives and rifles.

Mikkelsen is on award winning form leading a uniformly excellent cast that includes Alexandra Rapaport and Thomas Bo Larsen.

The taut and paranoid atmosphere is punctuated only by the black humour of Lucas’s brother in law, who is not afraid making callous jokes in the face of extreme adversity at Lucas’s expense.

Slow and quietly gripping tension is firmly built and when violence erupts it’s with a powerful and shocking fury.

TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE

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Clint Eastwood drags his old bones out of acting retirement for this amiable and undemanding tale of family set in the world of baseball.

As Gus Lobel, Eastwood is a baseball scout who is given one last chance to prove his worth or he’ll be forcibly retired.

He is joined by Amy Adams as his estranged daughter on a scouting trip to North Carolina, where he’s to check out the boy who maybe the next big baseball star.

Eastwood enjoys himself as a beer guzzling, growling, gimlet eyed, grim faced monolith, but it’s the always engaging Adams who grabs centre stage as a corporate lawyer who’s juggling love, life and lawsuits.

John Goodman and Justin Timberlake offering support, but struggle with everyone else with a predictable plot as creaky as Clint’s knees, and dialogue as weak as his eyesight.

Despite the cast valiantly doing their best to raise the script far beyond what it deserves, this will be a poor epitaph to Eastwood’s career if it proves to be his last screen appearance.

RISE OF THE GUARDIANS

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This brightly wrapped Christmas present from the Dreamworks Studio is a fast moving, heart warming CGI animated adventure story with some very familiar voices behind the mythical characters.

Jack Frost is a carefree flying spirit who spends his days using ice and snow to cause mischievous mirth among children, whose life of puckish fun is abruptly ended when he’s recruited by the Guardians.

They’re a band of fairytale figures led by Santa Claus, and include the Easter Bunny and the Toothfairy, who tneed him, to help them stop the Boogeyman giving all the world’s children nightmares. Forever.

Chris Pine leads the excellent supporting cast which includes Hugh Jackman, Alec Baldwin and Isla Fisher, while The Boogeyman is played with devilish self-pitying glee by a terrific Jude Law, who’s clearly having a ball.

He dwells in a foreboding tower from where he dispatches terrible black steeds on dark clouds to spread fear among sleeping children.

This is an enjoyable and well crafted magic box of entertainment containing exciting rooftop fights, some hefty slapstick and a hissable baddie, all tied up with ribbons of dazzling animation.

It’s generous in providing the audience with a multitude of small touches such as the Northern Lights being a Bat-Signal for the fairytale heroes, while the yetis and elves of Santa’s grotto who are the unsung heroes of the movie.

Some of the dialogue isn’t as sharp as it could be and the focus of the festive holidays  seems more concerned with receiving than giving, but it all barrels along with warmth, peace and goodwill to all mankind. If you don’t enjoy this you probably don’t like Christmas.