THE SNOW QUEEN: MIRRORLANDS

Cert U Stars 3

Magic, mechanical mayhem, warring kingdoms and a battle between wizardry and science all feature in this upbeat and swashbuckling animated fairytale, an exciting and fun fable based on traditional European fairy tales and updated with the gloss of steampunk design and some superhero-style fisticuffs.

Gerda is the kind hearted, impetuous and brave young daughter of wizards who lives in a warm and sunny medieval kingdom, but she’s frustrated by a lack of power of her own.

Her land is ruled by a cruel king who favours science over magic and by exploiting their greed and gullibility of his subjects, begins to banish all magicians – including Gerda’s parents – to the Mirrorlands, the dreaded realm of the feared Snow Queen.

And so Gerda with her brother Kay, and friend Alfida, Gerda goes in pursuit of a magic key to free her loved ones and along the way discovers her own hidden powers.

The Snow Queen herself is a nicely acerbic monarch who although limited by a magic spell to her icy realm, is able to appear to Gerda as a ghostly spirit.

Yes it all feels a lot like a riff on Disney’s Frozen but on a creative level more akin to the animated capers of The Nut Job, or Tad The Explorer films.

There’s some jarringly out of place references to Alcatraz and suchlike and occasional use of modern slang but your little kids won’t care, they’ll be carried along by the epic sweep of the adventure on a journey of honey hued vistas. featuring lava lakes, giant rock monsters, and sky pirates.

However there’s a surprisingly intricate styling to the charming cityscapes, which feature robot-like street sweepers and trolley trams, and it’s full of slapstick silliness with mischievous and cute critters.

So it will entertain its target audience of your little ones, and without any songs to pad out the running time, it makes it’s a brisk enjoyable affair for the grown-ups.

100% WOLF

Cert 3 Stars 3

Werewolves and dogs are at each other’s throats as a pair of pooches go on the run in this boisterous family animated fable from Australia, a coming-of-age spin on The Lion King, bundled up with pop songs, slapstick, supernatural spells and spy gadgets.

On his 14th birthday Freddy expects to follow in his late father’s paw prints and become a fully fanged werewolf, but as his nefarious uncle is plotting to make himself the leader of the pack Freddy finds himself transformed into a poodle instead, and he has until the next moonrise to recover the lost magical Moonstone.

It’s in the possession of a deluded ice cream man in his Bond villain-style high-tech lair, and to retrieve it Freddy teams up with a stray dog named Batty who offers some streetwise advice and the hint of romance.

Alexs Stadermann previously directed 2014’s kiddie caper Maya the Bee Movie and knows his target audience, so he keeps it fast-paced, funny, with decent production values and most important of all maintains a steady stream of pee jokes to amuse kids of all ages.

FLASH GORDON

Cert 12A Stars 5

Gordon’s alive, remastered and re-released for the 40th anniversary of his 1980 out-of-this-world swashbuckling comic book sci-fi action adventure classic.

Sam J. Jones is charmingly wooden as the unwitting hero Flash, who with Melody Anderson’s Dale Arden has only 14 hours to save the Earth from Max von Sydow’s tyrannical intergalactic warlord Ming the Merciless.

With future 007 Timothy Dalton as the dashing Prince Barin, Brian Blessed as the larger-than-life Prince Vultan, and accompanied by an iconic soundtrack by rock legends Queen, it’s a cosmic trip which must be seen on the big screen.

ARTHUR & MERLIN: KNIGHTS OF CAMELOT

Cert 15 Stars 3

There’s a strong northern accent to this admirably earthy take on Arthurian legend, as it’s written and directed by Yorkshireman Giles Alderson, and stars the solid presence of Geordie actor Richard Short as a battle hardened Arthur.

Freeing England by defeating the Romans has taken a toll on Arthur, who’s living in France as a drunk and bearded brawler and must overcome his personal demons in order to unite his unruly Knights of the Round Table to save England again, this time from his illegitimate adult son Mordred, a sneering and arrogant Joel Phillimore.

Stella Stocker’s solemn and steely Queen Guinevere is captive in Camelot. and though we see less than we’d imagine of Richard Brake as Arthur’s mercurial spiritual guru, the wizard Merlin, we’re not shortchanged of Lancelot or Percival, and the Lady in the Lake, and the Sword in the Stone of course appear.

Filmed only in natural light and making good use of locations, this is very much the Game of Thrones version of Arthur, as supernatural elements combine with a dour muddy realism to create a meaty experience.

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.

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.

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.

BLOODSHOT

Cert 12 Stars 2

Based on a character from Valiant Comics this derivative revenge sci-fi action thriller was intended to kickstart a franchise, but the film’s disastrous box office performance underscores the it’s star Vin Diesel is only a bums on seats draw when in his Fast and Furious franchise or in his xXx films.

Diesel bullies his way through a lacklustre plot as a Marine who was killed in action and reborn with enhanced powers by a powerful organisation intending to use him as a weapon. Toby Kebbell, Talulah Riley and Guy Pearce do their best in this anaemic shoot-em-up.

THE IRON MASK

Cert 12 Stars 3

East meets West as ageing action stars Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jackie Chan duke it out in this lavish and nonsensical 18th century globetrotting comedy fantasy adventure.

Schwarzenegger gives a thunderous pantomime performance as a guard in the Tower of London, making jokes at the expense of the incarcerated Jackie Chan.

The plot – such as I could follow or that it’s important – involves a man in an iron mask, a captured master wizard and a caged princess, warring wizard tribes and an enormous dragon whose eye lashes provide tea leaves.

Russian actress Anna Churina bring the glamour to the cosmopolitan cast and there’s fun to be had spotting big names Charles Dance and the late Rutger Hauer under their extravagant wigs.

Anything goes in the sake of entertainment as the filmmakers fill every moment with country estates, prisons, secret codes, stowaways, stolen identities, carrier pigeons, flying goblins, floggings, Transylvanian wolves, and mind reading demonic creatures, and what this romp lacks in coherence it over-compensates with personality and vigour.

LIFE OF PI

Stars 5

Treat yourself to the voyage of a lifetime with this breathtaking high seas adventure.

It begins when Rafe Spall’s nameless Writer interviewing Piscine ‘Pi’ Patel, who as an adult is played with knowing charm by Irrfan Khan, and by Suraj Sharma as a teen, who carries the bulk of the film on his young shoulders with desperate, windswept and sunburnt charm.

In flashback we discover Pi was a thoughtful innocent who was forced to become brave and resourceful when sailing from India to Canada. 

A storm cast him adrift in a lifeboat with a hungry Bengal tiger called Richard Parker. He’s the star of the show, a magnificent and menacing bloodthirsty pirate with an all too human desire to survive.

The unlikely companions have to survive storms, sharks, hunger, insanity and each other in order to reach dry land.

Adapted from the best selling book by Yann Martel, this is a film of staggering beauty, great intelligence, and no little humour. Director Ang Lee credits the audience with intelligence, dismissing the need for a huge Hollywood reveal and opts instead to protect the poetic rhythms of the movie.

At times the lifeboat seems to be cruising through the heavens as Pi undergoes a spiritual journey, with wondrous waves of fabulous images crashing across the screen in a tumultuous cascade of colour and energy.

A cinematic experience of the highest order and a towering technical achievement, this fabulous family fantasy is suitable for all but the very young who may find Richard Parker a little too wet and wild.