THE WITCHES

Cert PG Stars 4

Roald Dahl’s prize-winning children’s book is given a Hollywood fantasy comedy make-over with Robert ‘Back To The Future’ Zemeckis transferring the story from the UK to Alabama of 1968.

Jahzir Kadeem Bruno’s young orphan teams up with on-screen grandmother Octavia Spencer to defeat a coven of evil witches, led
by Anne Hathaway who’s having an absolute blast.

Though Chris Rock’s narration is unnecessary the big budget allows for glossy SFX which brings the action to gleefully grotesque life.

It’s a lively family Halloween treat and if Dahl purists are offended, the tricks on them.

THE SECRET GARDEN (2020)

Cert PG Stars 3

Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1911 children’s mystery fantasy novel has been adapted for stage and screen many times and this latest version is pleasingly old fashioned, handsome, pleasant and sadly respectful to a fault.

Broadly faithful to the source material and dealing with grief, loss and loneliness, a spoilt orphan is sent to live with her stern uncle in his grandly gothic and isolated Yorkshire manor house, where she discovers a magical garden and becomes unlikely friends with a couple of local boys.

Dixie Egerickx is a confident and capable presence as our spiky heroine, but Colin Firth and Julie Walters have limited screen time, the pace is thoughtful by modern standards and the filmmakers dress up the finale with some Hollywood-style fireworks.

Full of nostalgia for the simple childhood joys of climbing, swimming and hiding from grown ups, the book it considered was a bit dull even when I was a boy, and members of the young generation such as my video game addicted ten year old may not be familiar with it, meaning parents will probably enjoy this more than the kids will.

CARMILLA

Cert 15 Stars 3

Inspired by Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1871 novella about vampire lesbianism, this British period romantic horror mystery has been filtered through a modern lens into a chilly and stilted coming-of-age love tragedy of superstition, punishment and prejudice – and without so much as a fang in sight.

The isolated rural life of 15-year-old Lara is disturbed when a carriage crash results in a young woman being brought into the family home to recuperate.

Though Carmilla is considered to be devilish and confined to a room, Lara is enchanted but their budding relationship is considered witchcraft, for which a terrible price must be paid.

YOU SHOULD HAVE LEFT

Cert 18 Stars 3

This creepy psychological horror is at its strongest when allowing Kevin Bacon and Amanda Seyfried to bicker and simmer in a fractious mood of marital mistrust and sexual insecurity, but loses its menacing allure when they’re forced apart by a script which can’t disguise its intentions.

This is surprising as director David Koepp’s writing pedigree includes blockbusters such as Jurassic Park, Mission: Impossible and Spider-Man, however he establishes a strong look and tone, and gives us for the first half at least plenty to ponder as he sends his stars to a remote Welsh house for a nightmare holiday.

ENOLA HOLMES

Cert PG Stars 4

A wonderfully fresh take on Baker Street’s famous detective, this is a captivating and hugely entertaining period mystery-adventure which offers adventure, action, romance, some light detecting, a huge amount of charm, and is anchored by a dazzling turn by one of Britain’s best young actresses.

Millie Bobby Brown’s talent and charisma is familiar to the multitude of fans of Netflix series Stranger Things, but even they will be surprised by her outrageously spirited, confident and appealing screen presence here, as she owns the film with irrepressible brio as the wonderfully bright, funny and ass-kicking wayward sixteen year old younger sister of revered detective, Sherlock Holmes.

Addressing the camera with a conspiratorial manner which would make Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge blush for it’s complicity, she’s trying to solve the mystery of her missing mother, played in flashback by a winning Helena Bonham Carter.

Needing a pair of stuffed shirts to play her pompous and over-privileged posh older brothers, Sherlock and Mycroft, the producers plumbed for Henry Cavil and Sam Claflin, Brit actors who aren’t asked to step out of their comfort zone. An absolute treat.

THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN

Cert PG Stars 4

With talking animals, cutsey kid, top drawer production values and a cracking voice cast, this heartwarming live action animated hybrid is bang on brand for Disney, and mixes elements of some of its favourite films such as Dumbo, Bambi and their 1998 ape adventure Mighty Joe Young, to a moving and crowd pleasing effect.

Its a reasonably faithful adaptation of K. A. Applegate’s 2012 children’s novel, which is a fictitious work based loosely on the life of a real gorilla called Ivan. Here the silverback is rendered along with his animal colleagues in the impressive photorealistic style seen recently in Disney’s The Lion King remake.

He’s voiced by the wonderfully versatile Sam Rockwell who brings a questioning dignity and quiet intelligence to the role, as well as playing nicely against Angelina Jolie’s wise African elephant, Danny DeVito’s stray dog, Helen Mirren’s posh poodle and Chaka Khan’s chicken.

They all live in a tiny circus built into a shopping mall ran by Bryan Cranston’s kindly ringmaster, who’s desperate to find a new way of pulling in the punters to save his failing show, and while a newly arrived orphan baby elephant offers financial salvation, it causes Ivan to reconsider his life in a cage

Beating with gentle charm the film’s heart is undoubtedly in the right place and it’s utterly sincere in its approach to animal welfare. And the friendly and furry menagerie allow the filmmakers to remind us families come in all shapes and sizes while offering a gentle yet firm commentary on hunting and littering.

Because it’s geared to the widest and youngest possible audience there’s a noticeably lack of grit, which may seem a misuse of the actors who’re more than capable of bringing a little bite to their roles.

However it does mean there’s nothing in the circus to scare the horses, or your little ones, though in true sentimental Disney style they may be tears before bedtime. And not just for the kids.

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 CALL OF THE WILD

Cert PG Stars 4

Harrison Ford takes the lead from a canine co-star in this epic, expensive and determinedly old fashioned family outdoors adventure based on the 1903 novel by Jack London.

Every bit as monumentally craggy as the gorgeously photographed scenery, Ford plays a frontiersman who forms a bond with a dog named Buck, who was stolen from his home in California.

Buck may be a CGI creation but is as full of character, loyalty and bravery as any other big screen dog. Which is more than you say for the characters played by Dan Stevens and Karen Gillan.

THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE

Cert 15 Stars 3

Former Monty Python animator turned Hollywood director Terry Gilliam has realised his longstanding dream of adapting the four hundred year old novel Don Quixote, and though always watchable this fantasy comic adventure feels more a gentle valedictory lap over familiar turf than something necessary or groundbreaking.

It’s a loose modern day take on the famous story of an aged and deluded medieval knight who goes on a quest to re-establish chivalry in the world and ends up jousting at windmills thinking them to be giants.

Jonathan Pryce stars as a deranged Spanish shoemaker who’s convinced he’s the real Quixote, and drags Adam Driver’s obnoxious advertising executive on a quest, as ‘Quixote’ mistakenly believes he’s his trusted squire. Sancho Panza.

Veteran Pryce worked with Gilliam in the director’s finest film, Brazil, way back in 1985, and Driver is best known as the villainous Kylo Ren in the recent Star Wars films. Both actors were nominated for the best actor Oscar this year, though understandably not for this.

Nevertheless they’re an entertaining bickering pair and the wonderful costumes, Iberian landscapes, and terrific interiors such as an UNESCO World Heritage Site, make for a handsome film.

But the relatively minor budget exacerbates a surprising lack of the inventive visual flourish which marks Gilliam’s best work.

Dogged by repeated failure to secure funding and then a court case, this film has been 25 years in the making, and you’d imagine after all this time co-writer Gilliam would have a more polished script.

Instead we have a familiar collision of glorious fantasy and ugly reality, with added asides on old age, the need for romanticism and a throwaway rant against political correctness.

2002’s documentary Lost in La Mancha captured Gilliam’s previous disastrous attempt at adapting this material, and sadly that film is more fun and affecting. Meanwhile Gilliam, much like his hero Quixote, now feels a man out of time.