I AM WOMAN

Cert 15 Stars 3

This enjoyable, crowd pleasing and sentimental biopic of the late Australian Grammy award winning singer Helen Reddy was scheduled for release this week months before she sadly passed away peacefully in California last week.

So far from being viewed as a tasteless cash-in on her death, it can be seen as what it was intended to be, an uplifting celebration of her life and career.

It begins with her 1966 arrival in New York as a penniless wannabe with her three-year-old daughter in tow, and charts her rise to superstardom with eight number one US singles and her own TV show.

Taking its title from her trademark power pop feminist anthem, this is an and uplifting canter through her rise to fame and fortune, with a focus on her friendship with renowned music journalist Lillian Roxon and a tumultuous marriage to music promoter Jeff Wald.

Tilda Cobham-Hervey is a spirited and charming screen presence as Reddy, plus the music is great, with the use of Reddy’s own vocals adding authenticity, and it’s message empowerment is as necessary and relevant today as it was back then.

ONCE WERE BROTHERS: ROBBIE ROBERTSON AND THE BAND

Cert TBC Stars 4

Though perhaps best known in the UK for his 1987 solo hit ‘Somewhere Down the Crazy River’, but revered by film aficionados as the musical genius who picks the music for Martin Scorsese’s movies, Robbie Robertson gives a wonderfully engaging account of his early career in this important and hugely enjoyable music documentary.

As creative powerhouse of the group named simply The Band, it’s a not wholly surprising tale of alcoholism, drug addiction, car crashes and an acrimonious break-up.

Fans of Robertson like myself will love it, and for everyone else it’s an essential part of your music education

KOKO-DI KOKO-DA

Cert 18 Stars 4

Inventive, twisted and very dark, this Scandinavian modern day psychological horror toys with ideas of karma, reincarnation and puppet shows in an increasingly tense, surreal and heartbreaking experience.

Leif Edlund and Ylva Gallon star as a couple whose camping trip turns into a frantic battle of survival when they’re unexpectedly and repeatedly attacked by Peter Belli’s white suited circus sideshow artist and his two assistants.

A haunting fable from Swedish writer and director Johannes Nyholm, it’s a violent, odd and disturbing tale of humiliation and torment a lack of budget can’t restrict Nyholm’s bold imagination.

With flashes of very black comedy, grotesque characters and a repertoire of dogs, cats and rabbits, it reminded me of the work of Oscar nominated director of The Favourite, Yorgos Lanthimos, combined with Czech animator Jan Svankmajer, and Britain’s own macabre TV show, The League of Gentlemen.

The title is taken from the lyrics of a lament sung for a wounded dog which opens the film and it gets progressively more weird from there, you’ll never leave your tent for an early morning pee ever again.

I’M THINKING ABOUT ENDING THINGS

Cert 15 Stars 3

Irish actress Jessie Buckley has been building an impressive career with big performances in in small films since coming to national attention as the runner up in BBC’s 2008 TV talent show ‘I’d Do Anything’, and she delivers again with an intense and transcendent turn in this aggravatingly opaque art house horror.

As an unnamed young woman she stars alongside a blank faced Jesse Plemons as her boyfriend travelling on a dark snowy night to meet his parents at their remote rural home, played with unsettling and eccentric enthusiasm by Toni Collette and David Thewlis.

The small cast deserve full credit for fully embracing the jarring rhythm, time-skipping narrative, dark theatricality and surreal approach, which begins with the deliberately ambiguous title and goes on to include dance, animation and movies within movies as it explores regret, longing and memory.

Based on the 2016 novel by Iain Reid, it’s written, directed and produced by one-man film industry Charlie Kaufman, previously an Oscar nominee for his superior and more commercial scripts for Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Adaptation.

MULAN

 Cert 12 Stars 4

Disney’s latest big budget live action remake of its 1998 classic animated features delivers exactly what’s promised, a handsomely staged and stirring action adventure set in medieval China.

Faithful to their original story, we follow Mulan, a young woman who steals her father’s armour, disguises herself as a man and runaways to join the imperial army to defend the empire from barbarians from the north.

However there’s no songs and less humour than I expected with the absence of Eddie Murphy’s manic energy as a dragon comedy sidekick being a loss.

Careful to cast ethnically correct actors to avoid accusations of ‘whitewashing’, Chinese born actress Liu Yifei cuts an earnest, determined figure as Mulan, and impresses most when showing off her physical prowess.

The well-staged set pieces lean towards the acrobatic bamboo-pole balancing style of films such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and the magical life force of chi with its good light side and evil dark side reminds us Star Wars supremo George Lucas drew heavily on Chinese folktales for his concept of ‘The Force’.

Elsewhere Yoson An charms as the handsome love-interest, Jason Scott Lee is effective as the revenge driven bad guy, and popular actors such as Donnie Yen and Jet Li appear in key roles.

The biggest change is in the addition of a wholly new character, with revered actress Gong Li appearing as a powerful and villainous shapeshifting witch who offers a dramatic counterpoint to the loyal, brave and good Mulan.

Pitching our hero against a fearsome antagonist who’s afforded sympathy is an idea previously encountered in Disney’s groundbreaking Marvel superhero adventure, Black Panther which starred Chadwick Boseman who sadly passed away earlier this week.

And as his performance, charisma and talent was instrumental to Black Panther’s success and its proving to Hollywood the viability of top tier films with a non-white cast or Western setting, the existence of Mulan is part of his legacy.

It’s just a shame this won’t be seen on the big screen, where it’s epic sweep and breathtaking vistas could be fully appreciated.

THE HIGH NOTE

Cert 12 Stars 3

Freed from the constraints of the Fifty Shades series which showed off all her talents but the acting ones, Dakota Johnson delivers a warm, funny and endearing performance in this glossy and escapist romcom set in the small and incestuous LA music scene.

With uptempo soul songs on the soundtrack it begins as a reasonable cover version of 2006 smash, The Devil Wears Prada, and sees a put-upon and poorly paid personal assistant called Maggie attempting to realise her dreams of producing a new album for the ageing diva she skivvies for.

Johnson gracefully shoulders the film as Maggie with an impressive yet understated comic ability and an easy confidence which suggests playing this sort of role comes easily to her, and there’s no escaping she gives the impression of having a great deal more to give.

But the script isn’t as strong as the one her mother Melanie Griffith had in 1988’s Working Girl. And this may as well have been written back then for all the relevance the internet seems to be in this version of the music biz.

Meanwhile Tracee Ellis Ross, the daughter of Motown legend Diana Ross brings a tremendous swagger as Maggie’s boss. She comes armed with a delightfully earthy laugh, a tremendous singing voice talent, and a great deal of conviction when delivering a speech about the sacrifices necessary for a middle aged black woman to maintain a high profile career.

Former rapper Ice Cube plays her irate manager, Kelvin Harrison Jr. as David Cliff impresses as an aspiring musician and love interest, Bill Pullman has a brief if agreeable appearance as Maggie’s father, and Brit comic Eddie Izzard breezes though in little more than a cameo.

Having made last year’s so-so Emma Thompson comedy Late Night, director Nisha Ganatra keeps everyone singing from the same hymn sheet and provides another serviceable and female-centred piece of light entertainment.

TO THE STARS

Cert 12 Stars 3

This unforgiving portrait of small town prejudice in 1960s is also a heartfelt coming-of-age drama which is filled with fine performances but saddled with a twee sugary and sentimental soundtrack which wrestles at times with the sombre tone.

With alcoholism, depression and domestic abuse it’s a moody period piece with interiors to match, given welcome respite by the glorious expanse of the Oklahoma landscape.

Kara Hayward and Liana Liberato star as Iris and Maggie, polar opposite characters whose burgeoning friendship is to have a dramatic and irreversible impact on their lives.

Iris is a shy and bespectacled wallflower who is saved from the unwanted attentions of local boys when Maggie arrives in town with a violent intent and confidence worthy of a Western hero.

They bond over make-overs, road trips and midnight skinny-dipping sessions, and though Maggie is an inspirational figure to Iris, she has a secret which threatens their developing friendship, and it’s not just her father isn’t the glamorous photographer she claims him to be.

I’M NO LONGER HERE

Cert 15 Stars 4

There’s an extraordinary richness to this meandering yet moving drama which manages to combine a wholly original take on Mexican gang culture, a scathing view of globalisation, an exploration of loneliness and a lament for the diminishing cultural identity of local communities.

Juan Daniel Garcia is quietly charismatic as 17-year-old Ulises, an exuberantly styled devotee of Cumbia, a slowed down and hypnotic version of traditional Colombian music which sets the film’s pace and allows the characters to breathe.

His accidental involvement in a serious crime sees him sent away to New York for his own protection, meaning the late night community dancing he leads with an almost religious fervour at the film’s beginning is performed in very different circumstances at the films end.

The camerawork is often exquisite as it finds fresh angles on familiar situations, and provides an immersive and sometimes documentary viewing experience. If I’d seen this on the big screen I’d probably have given it the full five stars.

VIVARIUM

Cert 15 Stars 3

Quirky Brit actress Imogen Poots is deservedly given top billing over her more famous Hollywood co-star Jesse Eisenberg in this unnerving dystopian sci-fi horror which owes a considerable debt to the classic novels of John Wyndham.

They’re very well cast in a creepy savage satire of 21st century suburban servitude and a nightmarish dissection of modern life, whose off-beat script brings out the best in actors who’ve struggled to land leading roles suitable to their distinctive talents.

They’re nicely convincing as an aspiring couple whose relationship is tested when they become mysteriously trapped on an otherwise empty new-build identikit housing estate.

Poots is mischievous, terrified, angry, endearing and generally terrific, while the supremely articulate Eisenberg is often left speechless as their situation intensifies.

Director Lorcan Finnegan explores ideas of conformity, nesting and identity which argues civilisation is a prison which blinds us to the truth of our existence. And he has a less than kind view of estate agents as well.

FINAL WISH

Cert 18 Stars 2

Ancient demons, curses and small town prejudice can’t raise the pulse lacklustre mystery horror which is nicely shot and has a consistent tone but can’t shake up enough scares to justify the slow pace.

A hangdog Michael Welch plays Aaron, a newly qualified and heavily in debt lawyer who returns home to his family’s big old creepy rural home, where he receives a cold welcome from family and neighbours.

A mysterious urn belonging to his late father starts to make his wishes come true, but his initial happiness turns increasingly to terror as his good fortune comes at a cost to those closest to him.

As his wishes begin to come true, though his wishes are life-changing, they’re also pretty modest compared to what mine would be – though I’m guessing the budget didn’t stretch as far as my imagination does. However it does mean there’s a notable absence of what could be called premier league footballer with a pay rise excess.