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.

FOUR KIDS AND IT

Cert PG Stars 4

Sadly denied cinema distribution by the lockdown, Jacqueline Wilson’s 2012 novel is brought entertainingly to life in this handsome, fresh family fantasy about a group of holidaying kids facing the perils of being granted wishes by a magical creature, voiced by Michael Caine.

Wilson based her book on E. Nesbit’s 1902 classic, Five Children and It, and updated it with a modern setting and contemporary concerns.

Ireland’s gorgeous countryside and beaches stand in for Cornwall and a lively young cast are supported by Russell Brand as a local eccentric and singer Cheryl Tweedy as a pop impresario.

 

COLOR OUT OF SPACE

Cert 15 Stars 4

This inventive, bloody and disgusting cosmic horror is a trippy rainbow of the gory and the grotesque, a nightmare of techno-fear, eco-occult, alien infection and bodily torment.

Based on a short story by famed horror writer H.P. Lovecraft, it stays true to his spirit ,when a meteor lands in the garden of the isolated woodland Alpaca farm, and unleashes a dark power resulting in violence and death.

Elliot Knight plays a fresh faced hydrologist surveying a lake for development when he encounters a teenage girl attempting witchcraft who introduces him to her family.

Lavinia’s mother is a stockbroker, her elder brother is a dope fiend, the younger one talks to imaginary friends, and her dad is played by the Nic Cage.

A long time favourite actor of mine, Cage brings his unorthodox delivery and unique sensibility to the role as he switchbacks between ineffectual father and demented conduit of chaos, and seems at times on a separate astral plane to everyone else.

There’s humour and humanity amid the increasingly weirdness, and will appeal to fans of John Carpenter’s The Thing, and David Cronenberg’s The Fly

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THE INVISIBLE MAN (2020)

Cert 15 Stars 4

A 21st century makeover is given to H.G. Wells’ 19th century classic story in this slick, scary and daftly entertaining slice of Friday night popcorn horror which delivers gas-lighting from beyond the grave.

Originally planned as a big budget star vehicle for Johnny Depp as part of Universal Pictures blockbuster Horror-verse films, it’s been reconfigured as a low budget project for the #MeToo generation by Blumhouse Productions, who along with trusted writer and director Leigh Whannell, previously made The Conjuring horror franchise.

The story is given fresh impetus by being told from the victims point of view, as well as tech-billionaires, online stalking, and computer hacking.

Star of TV’s Madmen, Elizabeth Moss anchors the action with a wonderfully twitchy performance as Cecilia, the survivor of an abusive relationship. But after her ex is found dead, a campaign of terror by an unseen assailant makes people doubt her sanity.

Old school special effects mix effectively with modern CGI, plus there are cheeky nods to the iconic film version of 1933 and Schwarzenegger’s Terminator 2. See if you can spot them.

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EMMA

Cert U stars 4

This fabulously dressed adaptation of Jane Austen’s much loved novel by the makers of Four Weddings and a Funeral, is faithful to its character, plot, period costume and humour.

More used to appearing in modern thrillers, this is an impressive change of gear for Anya Taylor-Joy, who brings a porcelain elegance to the twenty one year old Emma.

She’s a snobbish rich busybody on a difficult path to self-enlightenment and true love, whose vain attempts at playing village matchmaker powers the comedy.

And it brings her into conflict with her exasperated yet handsome and single neighbour, played by the generously whiskered Johnny Flynn.

Filmed on location in grand country houses, it also has welcome appearances from those other British institutions, Bill Nighy and Miranda Hart in key roles.

Concerns such as old age poverty and male toxicity play out alongside tart observations of pretension, pomposity, arrogance and cruelty.

But Emma’s growing self-awareness and kindness wins the day, ensuring this is enough to melt the heart of the most determined St. Valentine’s Day cynic.

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THE TURNING

Cert 15 Stars 1

In squandering its grand Irish setting, superlative source material and a game cast in favour of tepid atmosphere, timid scares and bewildering incompetence, this supernatural gothic horror is an early contender for the worst film of the year.

Mackenzie Davis is a warm presence with a hard working line of quizzical looks and can scream to order, which are all useful traits playing Kate, a newly appointed governess to a wealthy seven year old orphan.

Brooklynn Prince is exuberant and engaging as Flora, she lives in a stately manor which is somewhat neglected since the groundskeeper mysteriously died.

Apparitions appear at windows, there are ghostly voices at night and then stranger things happen when Flora’s teenage brother unexpectedly arrives home from boarding school.

Played by Finn Wolfhard, Miles has a love of macabre practical jokes, predatory spiders and inappropriate behaviour.

Teasing violence and nudity but delivering neither, it updates Henry James’ novella The Turn of the Screw, from 1898 to 1994,  but twists James’ studied ambiguity into rambling slipshod incoherence.

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.