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 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.

MY SPY

Cert 12A Stars 3

This silly, sweet and very self-aware espionage action comedy sees former wrestler Dave Bautista in his best leading role so far as a CIA secret agent taking on his toughest challenge.

A fan favourite from Marvel’s Guardian of the Galaxy films due to his dynamite dead pan delivery and a willingness to be the butt of jokes, he makes an entertaining double act with a streetwise 9 year old.

Utterly un-awed by her super-sized co-star, Chloe Coleman is a wonderfully confident charmer who plays the sarcastic and tech savvy young subject of a CIA surveillance operation.

She’s the estranged niece of a ruthless arms dealer who’s trying to get his hands on some plutonium.

There’s surrogate father-daughter bonding, ice skating, puppy dog shenanigans and the cold blooded treatment of a goldfish.

I enjoyed hanging out on the stakeout so much I was almost disappointed when the bad guys arrived for the explosive finale.

A far smarter and funnier film than the trailer suggests, I laughed far more than I thought I would and so will you.

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ONWARD

Cert U Stars 4

Go on a magical quest with this bright, colourful and big-hearted family fairytale which mixes high school hi-jinks and Indian Jones-style escapades in a world populated by mythical creatures such as elves and pixies instead of humans.

Two teenage elven brothers live in the equivalent of a modern US town full of electricity, cars and smart-phones, which have long supplanted the magic of wizards.

And they set forth in a battered old camper van to find a magic jewel to cast a spell to bring their dearly departed father back to life for one day.

Best known for playing Spider-Man and Star-Lord and re-teaming for first time since Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame, Tom Holland and Chris Pratt bring an easy rapport as Ian and Barley.

Their engaging comic chemistry elevate the action as the popular actors play to type with Ian all shy and insecure, and Barley, a bullish know-it-all idiot.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus brings warmth and determination as their widowed mother, Mel Rodriguez is her likeable centaur boyfriend, and Octavia Spencer puts the roar into a fearsome non-flying manticore.

There’s no shortage of invention on show in the fabulously designed world, which teeters on the macabre as our heroes are drag along the reanimated legs and lower torso of their dad.

What sounds horribly disturbing is however a skilful, delightful, and very funny pantomime, and ties in the scripts ideas of parents being all shapes and sizes.

With the boys’ trip becoming a search for identity and role models, it’s also an opportunity for them to learn to focus, to trust oneself, and to always speak from the heart.

Dan Scanlon previously directed Pixar’s not dis-similar Monsters University, and this is an improvement on his 2013 hit.

And though Onward is not as good as the Toy Story films, it does have typically strong production values, a strongly comic and touching script, and an insanely audience friendly voice cast, making for a surprisingly emotional crowd-pleaser which is never too scary for the little ones.

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SONIC THE HEDGEHOG

Cert PG Stars 4

Nearly thirty years after taking the gaming world by storm, the world’s fastest alien hedgehog makes his film debut in this entertaining and appropriately fast-paced family action comedy.

Successfully meshing big budget Hollywood storytelling with Sonic’s playful spirit and core concept, it sees the cute and cuddly CGI critter having to collect his magic gold rings while battling the psychotic scientist, Dr Robotnik.

However in order to incorporate more relatable human characters, Sonic is dropped into our real live world, and the story is structured around a familiar and predictable ode to family, friendship, family and American small town life,

James Marsden is an agreeably amiable and comic presence as Tom, a good-natured small town sheriff with ambitions of proving himself on the mean streets of the big city.

He’s presented with the perfect opportunity when he meets the motor-mouthed Sonic who is need of taking to San Francisco which allows for some father and son-style bonding.

Voiced with enthusiasm and energy Ben Schwartz, Sonic’s epic expression of teenage loneliness and angst causes a power outage, which alerts the military to his presence and they send Dr Robotnik to investigate.

Played by Jim Carrey for whom it’s an overdue and welcome big screen return, his unique brand of deranged physical comedy is perfectly suited to the cartoon tone, and though his mania has marginally diminished with age, he still seems a biscuit short of barrel.

He’s heavily armed with mechanical gadgets which he transports around in a large black truck, which resembles the Batmobile’s angry big brother.

And the films best sequences are when we see the world from Sonic’s super fast view, with the humans seemingly frozen in time allowing him to cause merry mayhem.

My game-addicted 9 year old is going to love it, and so will yours.

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BIRDS OF PREY (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)

Cert 15 Stars 4

Girl power is given a badass makeover in this freewheeling foul-mouthed superhero action comedy, whose double identity is as a raucous relationship breakup party for the social media generation.

Led by Margot Robbie’s gloriously anarchic Harley Quinn, it sees a flock of assorted women, such as Ella Jay Basco’s young pickpocket, Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s vigilante, Rosie Perez’s cop and Jurnee Smollett-Bell’s super-powered nightclub singer, in pursuit of a missing mafia diamond.

Harley Quinn was first introduced in 2016’s mostly rubbish but wildly successful super-villain adventure, Suicide Squad, but as its standout character, fully deserves this stand-alone spin-off romp.

The now ex-girlfriend of Batman’s arch enemy, the Joker, a heartbroken Harley is struggling to embrace independence and recognise her own self-worth.

The film takes place in an alternative timeline to Joaquin’s Phoenix’s BAFTA-winning and Oscar-nominated version of Joker, and the clown prince of crime is only very briefly glimpsed.

Without the Joker’s protection Harley is now a target for Gotham City’s underworld, not least Ewan McGregor’s enjoyably camp master criminal, Black Mask, who also wants the diamond.

Robbie is a blast as she pours heart, soul and in-your-face attitude into her character, creating a brilliantly spontaneous and irrepressible modern update on Marilyn Monroe’s sweet and sexy screen persona, complete with a nightmarish spin on her famous song and dance number, ‘Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend.

Harley talks directly to the camera as the story flashbacks and zips forward, with director Cathy Yan throwing out the leering camerawork of Suicide Squad in favour of a hyperactive grab-bag of graphics and fun-filled acrobatic action, including a breathless and brilliant rollerskating finale.

Yan and Robbie dress the thin plot as a ‘this is my life’ Youtube-style confessional video, albeit one with Hollywood production values, and once you’ve adjusted to the manic tone and the story kicks in, there’s a lot of fun to be had.

Imagine an alternative Spice Girls movie, but one bursting with the character and charisma of talented performers at the top of their game and a far superior soundtrack.

Funny, irreverent, violent, trashy and a celebration of sisterhood with an unmissable message of female empowerment, it’s an irresistible rainbow riot of popcorn fun.

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BAD BOYS FOR LIFE

Cert 15 Stars 3

Will Smith and Martin Lawrence return in tandem in this long awaited and disposable action comedy sequel, a violent crime caper which trades heavily on their amiable chemistry and delivers a macho workout of shoot-outs and car chases, but is absolutely abstemious in portraying any sexual activity.

Age can’t diminish Smith’s charismatic swagger, and if you missed Lawrence’s unique brand of tomfoolery, then you’ll be entertained by his performance here, after some years away from the big time.

As Miami cops they’re hunted by a Mexican cartel intent on revenge for the sins of a violent career, a story which leans into the current US political climate with its tales of feckless African-American youths and promiscuous Mexican women with the power of witchcraft.

With Mexico presented as a shanty town of corruption and exporter of terror, drugs and violence to the States, a modicum of balance is offered by the cop’s young, diverse and insanely attractive hi-tech support team, lead by Mexican actress Paola Nunez, and including Vanessa Hudgens and Alexander Ludwig.

Toning down the leering camerawork of the 2005 and 1993 instalments to favour drooling over expensive cars rather than bikini-clad women, Belgian directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah retain the slick, glossy, sun-kissed and hectic style pioneered by original director, Michael Bay, who is on hand to make an indulgent cameo.

Everything is photographed to make a reasonable budget look as if an extravagant amount of money has been spent, however the explosive set-pieces are noticeably smaller than the rival Fast Furious franchise, whose homilies about the nobility and prominence are ripped off by a workaday script.

And unlike the Mission Impossible franchise, the editing and cinematography seem designed to convince none of the actors are doing their own stunts.

With his name on the production titles at the film’s beginning, ahead of his credit on Tom Cruise’s upcoming Top Gun: Maverick, producer Don Simpson is having a banner year – an impressive achievement considering he’s been dead since 1996.

STUBER

Cert 15 93mins Stars 3

Cops and cars cause chaos in this middle of the road mismatched buddy action comedy which never goes full throttle.

Marvel action star Dave Bautista stars as a rule breaking LAPD detective who commandeers Kumail Nanjiani’s Uber taxi to chase down bad guys.

Near blind after eye surgery, the cop is determined to catch the drug dealer who killed his partner, and his obsessive behaviour threatens to thwart the driver’s romantic plans for the evening.

The stars work hard to generate sufficient comedy friction to power the workaday plot, with their banter punctuated by blood-splatting shoot-outs and hard punching fistfights.

Easily the best scene is a shoot-out in an animal hospital where bullets fly to the sound of The Hollies pop song, The Air That I Breathe.

It’s generally not a great advert for LA’s taxi drivers or its police as the pair leave a path of property damage and death in their wake, however there’s a surprising lack of car chases as Nanjiani’s electric car isn’t up to haring around at 100mph in the manner of Steve McQueen in 1968’s car chase classic thriller, Bullit.

Instead the script uses the duo’s generational culture gap to comment on changing ideas of masculinity, while also playfully mocking the conventions of action movies.

A strip club is full of male dancers, which would never have happened to Mel Gibson or Sly Stallone in their all-action heyday.

As Bautista channels old fashioned angry machismo, Nanjiani provides mild mannered metropolitan sensitivity, and both are unable to express their feelings to the women in their lives.

Indonesian action star Iko Uwais, gets to show off some of his intense stunt skills, and Bautista’s co-star Scottish co-star from the Guardians of the Galaxy films, Karen Gillan, appears all too briefly. I wish she’d been allowed to stick around and kick this into a higher gear.

 

SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME

Cert 12A 129mins Stars 4

You won’t believe what you’re seeing in this comic book action adventure as Spider-man hits the high spots in a deliciously deceptive head-spinning romp.

A direct sequel to blockbuster smash, Avengers: Endgame, this is a mischievous mix of sweet high school romcom, fun teenage spy caper and exciting superhero CGI spectacular.

Peter Parker is in romantic pursuit of classmate MJ, on their school’s European vacation, when his costumed alter-ego Spider-man learns heroes don’t get holidays. 

Grumpy secret agent Nick Fury teams Spider-man with superhero Mysterio, which will be a surprise to long-time Spidey fans as Mysterio is one of the web-swinger’s best known arch-villains.

But re-inventing Mysterio as a dimension-hopping hero with a tragic past makes him a more interesting character while also tying this version of Spider-man into last year’s animated Multi-verse adventure.

Parker identifies Mysterio as the man to replace Iron Man as his mentor, and they set about battling the Elementals, extra-dimensional giants with power over air, earth, wind and fire.

Returning with a winning chemistry as Peter Parker and MJ, Brit actor Tom Holland and pop star Zendaya are the beating heart of the film, with her self-contained charisma making MJ the best superhero squeeze since Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane, in 1978’s Superman.

And they’re reunited with the key young cast members of Spider-man: Homecoming, and Marvel fan favourites such as Samuel L. Jackson, Jon Favreau and Marisa Tomei reprise their roles as the adult guardians.

Indie movie star Jake Gyllenhaal brings his unique brand of loopy intensity to Mysterio, and while he often gives the impression of a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders, it’s a useful quality to have when playing a guy trying to save the planet.

Having Parker unveil various old and new Spider-suits is part of a stream of call-backs to previous films, which will have fans cooing in delight.

Plus a pair of fat-rimmed hi-tech spectacles are a knowing wink to Michael Caine’s 1960’s spy, Harry Palmer, and neatly magnify the script’s central concerns.

While the film wears the frothy air of an espionage caper, the tone disguises some very serious thoughts about fake news and multi-media manipulation, while reminding us Parker was employed in other incarnations as a photojournalist.

From dealing with the fallout of Endgame to deciphering what Marvel has in store for Spider-man, there’s a lot to uncover in this, and one of the best secrets is kept until after the credits, so make sure you stay until the absolute end.

OCEAN’S 8

Cert 12A 110mins Stars 4

Be dazzled by a sparkling mix of high crime and haute couture in this hugely enjoyable diamond heist caper.

Sandra Bullock stars in this all female spinoff sequel to the super-successful Ocean’s 11 trilogy, which began way back in 2001.

It featured George Clooney as crook, Danny Ocean, who is supposedly now dead, and now the The Gravity star plays Debbie, his con-artist sister.

Leaving prison on parole after five years inside, she cuts a strikingly strong, sexy and smart figure as she promptly blags her way into an expensive hotel suite with plans for an audacious, risky and hugely profitable con.

Hooking up with former partner-in-crime, Cate Blanchett, they put together a multi-ethnic team of women which includes Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, and Awkwafina.

Helena Bonham Carter is entertainingly distracted as a fashion designer roped in to help, and popstar Rihanna is confident and surprisingly good as the teams technical genius.

It’s fun to hang out with the all-girl gang who have a convincing and easy going chemistry, and each of them is given their moment to shine in the spotlight and demonstrate their varied skills.

Dressed in a series of fabulous outfits, they plan to steal a $150 million necklace from an exclusive fundraising Gala in New York while it’s been worn by a famous actress, played with comic vacuity by Anne Hathaway. Though not everyone knows there is more than one con being played, which raises the stakes for all concerned. 

Cameos by worthies such as Vogue supremo, Anna Wintour, and tennis player, Serena Williams, are thankfully kept to a minimum. And not even the late arrival of James Corden to the party can spoil the fun.

This is a slick and highly polished good time, and is all the better for feeling as if it smells of expensive perfume rather than the men’s locker room.