DORA AND THE LOST CITY OF GOLD

Cert PG 102mins Stars 4

Isabela Moner makes for an agreeably cheerful heroine in this breezy live action adaptation of long running animated kids TV series Dora the Explorer, a smart, brave, and relentlessly optimistic soul, who finds herself in the South American jungle looking for her missing parents.

She’s accompanied by an inclusive trio of squabbling students who she meets while dog eat dog world of US high school, and is chased by bad guys looking for a fabled city of gold.

A cute and mischievous monkey called Boots is rendered in not great CGI, while much better are the hallucinogenic plant spores which allow for a trippy old school cartoon throwback to Dora’s animated roots.

All the more fun for feeling like a kid friendly caper version of classic action adventure, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, stuff about teamwork, eco-awareness and education is hidden among the tunnels, traps, and poisonous frogs, but it doesn’t slow down the often rollicking fun.

GOOD BOYS

Cert 15 90mins Stars 3

This hectic tween comedy is a shameless riff on 1986 classic caper Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, but without the invention, charm or musical numbers.

Armed with a suitably juvenile sense of humour, Jacob Tremblay, Brady Noon and Keith L. Williams play the 12 year old boys who bunk off school to shout and swear their way across town in order to replace a damaged drone, while chased by a pair of older teen girls whose drugs they’ve inadvertently stolen.

Plus they have to get back in time for a party at the cool kids house, where they anticipate the momentous life events of trying a sip of booze,and having their first kiss. With an actual girl.

With the majority of the jokes involve the boys being exposed to sex toys and misunderstanding their purpose, this will undoubtedly appeal to teenagers, but you’d best drop them off rather than watch it with them to spare anyone a dose of cross-generational embarrassment.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD

Cert 18 161mins Stars 5

No modern director can excite and confound an audience the way Quentin Tarantino does, and he returns to cinema in a playful mood with this outrageously confident, tartly funny, and occasionally graphically violent comedy-drama.

As the title of his bold and ambitious self-penned script suggests, this is a fable set in Los Angeles of 1969’s turbulent summer.

It’s an intoxicating mix of history and hearsay along the lines of Tarantino’s 2009 fictitious war drama, Inglourious Basterds, a world where fictitious characters rub shoulders with portrayals of real people.

A typically excellent soundtrack has a cast to match with the ‘A ‘ list double act of Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt offering a finely judged chemistry.

The former offers a compellingly sympathetic performance as he sets himself up for another Oscar nomination in his first film in four years, while the latter is equally great in a more relaxed comic role.

DiCaprio stars as a washed-up TV cowboy with Pitt as his longstanding stuntman and gopher, while living next door is real life actress Sharon Tate, murdered that year by followers of cult leader, Charles Manson.

Despite little dialogue, Margot Robbie is electric as Tate, who’s dressed in a costume obsessively reminiscent of Tarantino’s former muse Uma Thurman, in his Kill Bill films.

Tarantino suggests Tate’s murder is symbolic of the point ‘old Hollywood’ died and was replaced by the violent drug-drenched New Wave films such as Easy Rider, as well as actors such as Al Pacino, who is entertaining here in a small role.

But this glorious combination of horror, dance, and kung fu film claims evolution not revolution, should have been the way forward.

Most welcome is Tarantino’s new found humility in recognising cinema can be dangerous and exploitative for all involved, on either side of the screen.

And I loved every richly evocative, shamelessly entertaining and nostalgia-riven minute of it.

OPUS ZERO

Cert 15 84mins Stars 3

Hollywood veteran Willem Dafoe brings a thoughtful weariness to this opaque, odd, melancholy and contemplative drama of self-discovery set in Mexico.

He plays an American composer called Paul who’s struggling in the aftermath of his estranged father’s death and in a remote village and while searching for a missing local woman he encounters a documentary film crew.

Dafoe received his fourth Oscar nomination last year for playing artist Vincent Van Gogh, in At Eternity’s Gate, and here there’s an impressive painters eye in the composition of scenes, the evocation of the rhythms of rural life, the framing of dark dry interiors and the capture of magnificent landscapes.

By choosing to substitute plot in favour of a discourse on the relationship between reality, filmmaking and memory, this may test the patience of the casual viewer.

However this is a far more sensitive and spiritual portrait of Mexico than usually offered by Hollywood, without a drug dealing cartel gangster in sight.

HORRIBLE HISTORIES: THE MOVIE – THE ROTTEN ROMANS

Cert PG 92mins Stars 3

After ruling the children’s book charts for over twenty years and dominated the TV schedules for a decade, the Horrible Histories team have set their sights on conquering the big screen with this amiable lightweight romp around Roman Britain.

It’s enjoyable enough and sticks closely to a strategy which has served so well in a lengthy campaign to subjugate the nation’s schoolchildren to the Horrible Histories super successful brand of historical facts, bodily fluid jokes and knockabout songs.

Sebastian Croft and Emilia Jones are the pleasant and fresh-faced leads, with he as a Roman teen sent to Britain as punishment where he’s captured by her feisty Celtic wannabe warrior.

Well known faces such as Nick Frost and Lee Mack pop up, though notably the bigger names such as Warwick Davis and Derek Jacobi are only cameo appearances.

Liverpool born actress Kim Cattrall adds a touch of class as Emperor Nero’s mother, and is game for a laugh. And while her absence from the big screen has been a loss for us all, at least this is closer to reality and a lot more fun than 2010’s Sex and the City 2.

Considering the long-lasting impact the gadabout and blood-thirsty Romans had on Britain, and for which we have exhaustive knowledge, this is never horrible or historical enough.

And it feels as if a TV episodes worth of material has been stretched to fill the movie’s length, with the script failing to up its game to compensate for the lack of a Hollywood budget.

With crushing inevitability the best gag is a riff on Kirk Douglas’ Roman gladiator classic, Spartacus, and with the rest of the gags relying heavily on a mix of music and teenage hormones, joke quality-wise this is feels more like kid-friendly Carry On Cleo, or could possibly be retitled, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Sixth Forum.

MARIANNE & LEONARD: WORDS OF LOVE

Cert 12A 101mins stars 3

By framing the relationship between musician Leonard Cohen and his ‘muse’ Marianne Ihlen, as an enduring love story, this uninspired documentary puts the most positive possible gloss on 1960’s rock star behaviour.

If like me you know little about the Canadian singer, songwriter, poet, and novelist, Cohen, you’ve certainly heard his 1984 song, Hallelujah which Alexandra Burke bellowed to chart topping X Factor success in 2008, and this is an easy to follow introduction to his life and work.

In 1960, Cohen lived in an idyllic Greek island, Hydra, with the beautiful Norwegian divorcee, Marianne Ihlen, in a relationship which lasted for most of the decade.

She inspired his songwriting, appeared on his album covers, and supported and mothered him while he mined their relationship for commercial success.

Cohen comes across as a selfish and indulgent character who treated her as little more than a long-term groupie, and she was foolish enough to judge him not by his actions, but by his words of love.

THE CURRENT WAR

Cert 12A 108mins Stars 2

The star wattage of Benedict Cumberbatch is insufficient to transform this shockingly static historical drama into electrifying entertainment.

As work-obsessed inventor Thomas Edison he’s in conflict with Michael Shannon as arch-rival George Westinghouse to supply electricity to the homes and businesses of the US in late nineteenth century. Nicholas Hoult and Tom ‘Spider-man’ Holland also appear.

There are deaths as in any war, with the most notable here being William Kemmler, the first victim of the electrical chair, collateral damage from whom both innovators are keen to distance themselves from.

But the only really moving fatality is a horse who is sacrificed in pursuit of a tactical advantage.

Despite being stitched together with handsomely designed CGI cityscapes and stuffed full of corporate espionage, ambition, tragedy and world changing inventions such as the electric light bulb and cinema, the drama lies as inert as Frankenstein’s monster on the slab, waiting in vain for an electricity to jolt it to life.