BEAUTIFUL CREATURES

Stars 2

Hoping to cast a spell over the young adult Twilight audience, this gothic love story fails to enchant.

When the mysterious and beautiful Lena moves to a new town she meets the studious Ethan at high-school. Due to being a witch, Lena is forbidden to love a mortal, but passions quickly develop and she is torn between her true love and an age old curse.

But the characters are thinly written, jokes fall flat, the dialogue is workaday and Alice Englert and Alden Ehrenreich as the central pair are fail to engage with each other or us.

Bringing a welcome sense of absurd are Brit stars Jeremy Irons and Emma Thompson, and while he’s a purring pianist in a pyjama suit, she Thompson alternates between sour and evilly captivating.

The inconsistent tone veers between lightweight gothic romance and high camp pantomime, and despite the spells and witchcraft, there is not much magic being cast here.

RISE OF THE GUARDIANS

Stars 4

This brightly wrapped Christmas present from the Dreamworks Studio is a fast moving, heart warming CGI animated adventure story with some very familiar voices behind the mythical characters.

Jack Frost is a carefree flying spirit who spends his days using ice and snow to cause mischievous mirth among children, whose life of puckish fun is abruptly ended when he’s recruited by the Guardians.

They’re a band of fairytale figures led by Santa Claus, and include the Easter Bunny and the Toothfairy, who tneed him, to help them stop the Boogeyman giving all the world’s children nightmares. Forever.

Chris Pine leads the excellent supporting cast which includes Hugh Jackman, Alec Baldwin and Isla Fisher, while The Boogeyman is played with devilish self-pitying glee by a terrific Jude Law, who’s clearly having a ball.

He dwells in a foreboding tower from where he dispatches terrible black steeds on dark clouds to spread fear among sleeping children.

This is an enjoyable and well crafted magic box of entertainment containing exciting rooftop fights, some hefty slapstick and a hissable baddie, all tied up with ribbons of dazzling animation.

It’s generous in providing the audience with a multitude of small touches such as the Northern Lights being a Bat-Signal for the fairytale heroes, while the yetis and elves of Santa’s grotto who are the unsung heroes of the movie.

Some of the dialogue isn’t as sharp as it could be and the focus of the festive holidays  seems more concerned with receiving than giving, but it all barrels along with warmth, peace and goodwill to all mankind. If you don’t enjoy this you probably don’t like Christmas.

MONSTER ISLAND

Cert PG 87mins Stars 1

This ferociously poor animated adventure is a beastly trap for unsuspecting parents hoping to entertain their own little monsters at the start of the summer holidays.

A young teen discovers he turns into a sticky-palmed monster whenever he’s over-excited. This forces his father to explain they’re not human after all and are really from a secret island of monsters.

So the boy does a bunk and sets off to find his long lost mother, encountering a mildly evil scientist and other vaguely creepy and stupidly annoying characters along the way.

Underneath the skin of the barely TV standard animation is a message of accepting the skin we’re given.

But we’re not listening because it’s poorly dubbed by a voice cast you won’t have heard of, is devoid of laughs and has less mystery and intrigue than an episode of Scooby Doo.

If my 6 year old is naughty, I’m going to threaten to take him to see it.

THE RED TURTLE

Cert PG 81mins Stars 5

Be swept away on waves of imagination by this remarkable animated fable.

Many familiar elements are borrowed from sources such as Robinson Crusoe, and the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner. But Dutch writer/directer Michael Dudok de Wit crafts something fresh and uniquely wonderful.

It’s visually inspired by Japanese and Chinese art and uses traditional ink and watercolour in an elegant hand drawn style.

Deep currents of love and loss stir beneath the surface of what begins as a traditional adventure story and evolves into a rich exploration of the circle of life.

When an unnamed man is stranded on a tropical island, his attempts to escape on a raft are thwarted by a giant red turtle.

Without a word of dialogue, but with many an exclamatory grunt and cry, their relationship moves from antagonism to understanding.

Beaten to the best animated Oscar by Disney’s more obvious offering, Zootropolis, this is a breathtakingly beautiful, magical and moving experience.

BEAST

Cert 15 106mins Stars 4

The pungent atmosphere of this throat-grabbing British thriller is a heady mix of earthy lust, poisonous snobbery and cold-hearted corruption.

It’s a modern-day fairytale inspired by infamous ‘Beast of Jersey’, a 1960’s paedophile who preyed on the islands inhabitants.

Moll is a red-haired Cinderella who escapes her strict mother to pursue a romance with a local poacher, only to see him suspected of being a multiple child rapist and murderer.

Irish actress Jessie Buckley will be familiar from Tom Hardy’s TV series, Taboo, and gives a mesmerising performance which swings from dead-pan subtlety to raw physicality. Johnny Flynn is vulnerable and wolfish as her boyfriend, Pascal.

A haunting choral soundtrack reinforces the timeless nature, and the arch script is a great example of how filmmakers are choosing to side-step the plot-ruining internet, by pretending it doesn’t exist.

This is a scarily confident directorial debut by writer Michael Pearce, and I’m intrigued to see what beastly surprises his talent serves up next.

SMURFS: THE LOST VILLAGE

Cert U 90mins Stars 2

The boys in blue are back for another animated adventure, but this time the girls are doing it for themselves.

Following the success of Disney’s female-led adventures such as Frozen, and Zootropolis, this latest ham-fisted Smurf reboot tries to offer a more female friendly experience.

Smurfette leads Brainy, Hefty, and Clumsy into the Forbidden Forest on a journey of self-discovery, where they find a lost village of female Smurfs.

This is an attempt to address a longstanding criticism regarding Smurfette’s status as the only girl in the village. Unfortunately the clumsy script reduces her status from a spare rib to a non-Smurf, saying she was created from a piece of clay by an evil Smurf-hating wizard.

Despite this bizarre twist, it’s generally good natured and filled with slapstick and shenanigans. However all but the youngest of kids will struggle to be entertained, and the patience of parents will be tested to the limit.

 

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (2017)

Cert PG 139mins Stars 5

Be spellbound as Emma Watson swaps the wizarding world of Harry Potter for a fairytale featuring a fantastic beast.

Having found global fame as Hogwarts schoolgirl swot, Hermione, Watson takes centre stage in Disney’s big budget, live action adventure. It’s a remake of their own musical from 1991, which was the first animated movie to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar.

Surrounded by the cream of camp theatricality, and the finest CGI technology, it would be cruel and unfair to suggest Watson is the film’s least animated performer. She is faultless as the bookish, brave and beautiful, Belle.

Dan Stevens is demonically horned and hairy as then Beast. The English actor’s stock has only risen since escaping the upstairs confines of TV’s Downton Abbey.

The story is unchanged. To rescue her father from the frozen castle of the Beast, young Belle sacrifices her own freedom. The majestic monster is really a cursed Prince. He must earn her love or remain a creature forever. And time is running out.

To ensure a box office success, Disney have deployed the full creative might of their empire. There is excellence everywhere, from the superb cast, to sumptuous costumes and detailed design.

From the Oscar wining title track, to the boisterous ‘Gaston’ and the glorious ‘Be Our Guest’, the show stopping tunes are the magic which elevates this above last year’s excellent live action, Cinderella.

Competing for the limelight are old hams and grand dames of the theatre, such as Emma Thompson, Ewan McGregor and Ian McKellen. They breathe life into the castle’s other inhabitants, the talking clock, teapot, candelabra, and so on.

Bill Condon doesn’t direct the film, as much as pilot this jazz handed juggernaut safely into cinemas. It’s far from ground-breaking but it is enchanting, exciting and funny.

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