FANTASY ISLAND

Cert 15 Stars 2

It’s a terrific concept to take the 1970’s TV show about a mysterious tropical paradise where customers paid to have their dreams come true and reinventing it as a contemporary supernatural horror, especially as it’s produced by Blumhouse production studio, the team behind the successful The Purge, and Insidious franchises.

However they manage to take this dream of an idea and turn it into a series of mediocre chills.

Michael Pena steps into the shoes of Ricardo Montalban as the Master of Ceremonies, but has to cope without his diminutive assistant, Tattoo and his catchphrase, ‘The plane, the plane.’

VALHALLA: LEGEND OF THOR

Cert 12 Stars 3

Knee deep in folklore and medieval mud, this dark fantasy adventure from Denmark puts meat and blood on the bones of Scandinavian myths and is a coming-of-age tale of a young girl caught up in the.

Cecilia Loffredo and Saxo Molthke-Leth play the are brave yet endearingly flawed medieval mortal children Roskva and Tjalfe, who as punishment for a misdeed are required to serve as slaves to Thor, god of thunder, and accompany him on his quest to capture the dreaded giant wolf Fenrir.

This Thor is far removed from Marvel’s hugely popular superhero version, with Roland Moller being a proud, lusty and quarrelsome presence, while Dulfi Al-Jabouri is wryly enigmatic as his vain half-brother god of mischief, Loki.

An animated introduction sketches out the key mythology and warns of impending Ragnarok, the destruction of the world, while the
steady pace is augmented by a storming soundtrack.

Valhalla is based on a comic book and the focus on characters, plotting and power games feels a bit like watching Game of Thrones for kids.

FANNY LYE DELIVER’D

Cert 18 Stars 3

Maxine Peake has punctuated her acting career with socially aware films such as 2018’s Peterloo, so it’s easy to see why she was drawn to the role of a farmer’s wife experiencing a political awakening in this ideas-driven period drama.

Set during Oliver Cromwell’s controversial puritanical republican rule in 1657, Peake plays Fanny Lye, the abused wife of Charles Dance’s Shropshire farmer, who offers refuge to Freddie Fox and Tanya Reynolds, a naked, muddy and bloody pair of strangers who claim to have lost all their money and possessions to highwaymen.

It’s an act of conspicuous and self-serving piety which backfires disastrously as the freethinking attitudes and rapacious appetites of their guests reveal themselves in a candle-lit exhibition of sex, betrayal and violence.

Though the drama suffers from being stagey and speechy, the mist covered location provides the earthy power of a folk horror fairytale, and the performances full of conviction.

Plus anyone with a keen interest in the history of the Quaker moment will find their cup runneth over.

EUROVISION SONG CONTEST: THE STORY OF FIRE SAGA

Cert 15 Stars 4

There’s music and mayhem in this Eurovision comedy which is as stupidly camp and delightfully daft as the contest itself, and where off-stage shenanigans mean it’s not just the songs which are being murdered.

At times very funny while always being affectionate to the long running contest, this is a musical underdog story which combines elements  of mock rockumentary Spinal Tap and Mel Brooks’s The Producers, and like the Mamma Mia sequel it’s at its best when it channels the irresistible spirit of pop legend Cher.

Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams star as Icelandic singers Sigrit and Lars, who in controversial circumstances are given the chance to represent their country at Eurovision.

After her scene stealing performance in 2018’s comedy Game Night, it’s no surprise McAdams is a fabulously earnest and sweet soul who still believes in elves, while Ferrell -famous for playing an elf – is once again playing an over-grown man child with daddy issues.

His screen daddy is played by Pierce Brosnan, which might make any of us feel insecure, and adopts an Icelandic accent which is far more convincing than fellow 007 Sean Connery’s would have been

Another plus is Brosnan isn’t tempted to sing, we suffered enough in the Mamma Mia movies.

Lars and Sigrit’s songs and those of the other competitors are perfectly pitched Eurovision cheese, and delivered with winning sincerity, impressive vocals and some outrageous showmanship.

‘Volcano Man’ is an anthemic wonder, while ‘Ja Ja Ding Dong’ is a unique sing-a-long example of Icelandic folk rock pop.

Real life Eurovision presenter Graham Norton keeps a straight face playing himself despite some preposterous dance routines, malfunctioning costumes, a runaway giant hamster wheel, and former Downton Abbey star Dan Stevens as a louche Russian contestant.

This year’s contest was cancelled of course, so if you’re in need of Eurovision fix you’ll love this, which at its best is a pop-tastic piece of ridiculously sequinned escapist fun.

IRRESISTIBLE

Cert 15 Stars 3

Steve Carrel brings charm and humour to his role as a ruthless spin doctor called Gary in this over-amiable political comedy written and directed by Jon Stewart, best known as host of US satirical news program The Daily Show.

Gary’s a political fish out of water in rural Wisconsin where he’s hoping to boost his party’s presence in the opposition heartlands by persuading Chris Cooper’s principled yet reluctant retired Marine colonel to run for mayor, despite having no previous political experience.

Rose Byrne has rarely been better than as Gary’s delightfully acid tongued opposite number, their filthy mouthed rivalry is the highlight of the film and I wish we’d seen a lot more of her.

Stewart is influenced by such films as 1939’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, 1941’s The Great McGinty and 1972’s The Candidate and his script merrily criticises the obscene amount of cash spent on campaigning for corrupting politics, and lays bare just how extraordinarily broken the US political system is.

THE GROUND BENEATH MY FEET

Cert 15 Stars 3

There’s a calm chilly elegance to this diverting German language psychological thriller which sees director Marie Kreutzer give us two Hitchcock blondes for the price of one, and asks questions as to the nature of obsessive behaviour, the definition of madness and the possibility of total honesty in relationships.

Valerie Pachner and Mavie Horbiger star as Lola and Elise, near identical icily glamorous corporate executives and lovers, whose relationship is threatened when the erratic behaviour of Lola’s sister becomes increasingly wild and begins to affect Lola’s carefully controlled life, causes her to doubt her own sanity.

RESISTANCE

Cert 15 Stars 3

I was speechless when I discovered the world’s most famous mime artist Marcel Marceau had stopped clowning around for long enough to be a highly successful member of the French Resistance during the Second World War.

A handsomely staged and moving passion project for writer and director Jonathan Jakubowicz, this respectful, involving and occasionally thrilling biopic sees how as a young aspiring painter in Strasburg, Marceau reluctantly underwent a political awakening.

This resulted in him directly saving the lives of hundreds of orphaned children by leading them across the Alps to neutral Switzerland. So a bit like The Sound of Music but with a lot less singing and a much more silent comedy.

It’s a wonderfully physical and charming turn by Jesse Eisenberg as Marceau, particularly as he’s spent so much of his career playing hyper-articulate characters such as Mark Zuckerberg in drama, The Social Network.

Ed Harris gives a sombre yet stirring speech as US General Patton, but the drama is at its best when it says nothing at all.

ARTEMIS FOWL

Cert 12 Stars 3

Disney’s latest big budget sci-fi fantasy adventure is a glossy yet muddled adaptation of Eoin Colfer’s 2001 novel, which makes up with some fun action, great design and impressive special effects what it lacks in strong characters or interesting narrative.

Emerald-clad elves and leprechauns add an Irish flavour to this hodgepodge of Harry Potter and junior James Bond, with most of the action taking place in or around a stunning Irish clifftop residence, and the plot concerns the possession of a magic weapon of mass destruction, attempted genocide and missing fathers.

Kenneth Branagh is no slouch to this sort of romp, having previously directed Disney’s live action Cinderella and Marvel’s first Thor movie, and due to the huge amount of voice-over telling us information the brisk running hasn’t time to show us, I suspect Branagh shot a richer, longer and more coherent version than the one we’re presented with.

With eight books in the series this was clearly intended as a franchise starter, but I doubt we’ll see a sequel.

INMATE #1: THE RISE OF DANNY TREJO

Cert 15 Stars 4

Danny Trejo burst onto the global cinema consciousness as a knife-throwing killer in 1995’s scorching action thriller Desperado, and this fascinating and inspirational documentary explores his extraordinary life story of personal reinvention from teenage junkie to violent criminal and popular Hollywood hard man.

Raised by his extended family in a poor violent and semi-rural Mexican neighbourhood in Los Angeles, he spent much of the 1950s and 1960s in prison for armed robbery in the notorious San Quentin prison, and he’s great at describing the toxic atmosphere, the riots and his stints in solitary confinement.

Becoming the prison boxing champ in bouts where the Queensbury rules were pretty much optional, he cleaned up of drugs, found god and became a youth counsellor.

In Hollywood he’s worked notably with Charles Bronson, Salma Hayek and Robert De Niro, and his life experiences gave him a unique and very funny approach to dealing with actors.

There are interviews with his adult children, childhood friends, and co-stars, and a straightforward formula works because there’s absolutely no need to embroider his remarkable life.

THE WISHMAS TREE

Cert U Stars 3

In a fun departure for Geordie stand up-comic Ross Noble, he lends his voice to this cute and amusing Australian animated eco-friendly adventure based on the children’s book series ‘Tales from Sanctuary City’.

He adopts an avuncular and eccentric persona as Yarra, the keeper of the Wishmas Tree, guardian of the true spirit of Wishmas, and manager of the annual tradition of wish making.

Aussie actress Miranda Tapsell voices the possum Kerry, whose impetuous behaviour sees their secluded paradise homeland threatened by snow, ice and the evil forces of extinction, and so forcing herself and Yarra on a perilous quest to save their land.

The animation is more solid than spectacular but they’ve gone bananas on the cheerful colour palette and the story skips along in a well meaning manner and it should keep your little kids entertained.

Though it feels a little weird watching a festive themed film in June, it’s probably a sign we can expect Christmas decorations in the shops any second now.