FRANKENWEENIE

Cert PG  Stars 3

Director Tim Burton escapes from his locked attic room to unleash a darkly comic stop-motion animation spin on the classic horror, Frankenstein.

Young Victor is grief stricken when his pet dog Sparky dies and is invents a machine to bring him back to life. But mayhem ensues when his friends steal the device to do the same for their dead pets.

An overly dark monster mash-up of ideas based on Burton’s recycled 1982 short film, Victor, this is full of ideas the director has subsequently mined, and there is much here that is very, very familiar.

We presented with the friendless only child, carefully tendered suburbs with strange garden furniture, overly manicured poodles, graveyards on hills and antagonistic authority figures.

But there is none of the lightness of Burton’s 1988 ghost comedy, Beetlejuice, or the loopy optimism that makes Burton’s best film, 1994’s Ed Wood, such a joy.

Martin Landau previously played Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood, and here is scarily excellent as  Victor’s teacher Mr Rzykruski, but is sadly shunted off stage left far too soon.

There are not enough laugh-out-loud moments and the film’s dark tone becomes oppressive and dull. For film bathed in glorious monochrome, it lacks chiaroscuro of mood.

The puppet and set design are excellent, as is the lighting and cinematography which is deliberately styled in the expressionism of James Whales’ classic Universal 1930’s horror films, such as well, Frankenstein.

Featuring one great scene, some good dialogue, and copious movie references, eventually Frankenweenie becomes a re-animated Lassie adventure without the emotional depth. Lazarus Come Home, would have been as good a title.

JURASSIC WORLD: THE FALLEN KINGDOM

Cert 12A 128mins Stars 4

Mammoth mayhem stampedes across the big screen in this meaty sequel to 2015’s monster smash.

This fifth dino-epic is set three years after the ending of the previous billion pound box office super-heavy weight, and the dinosaurs existence on the island home of the defunct Jurassic Park resort is threatened by a volcano.

So stars Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard helicopter in alongside a bunch of military mercenaries to ferry 11 species of dinosaurs to safety as the mountain erupts.

It’s a brilliant, breathless action sequence packed with dinosaurs, takes place on an enormous scale, and is exciting, scary and fun.

Once the creatures are saved, the second part of the film is framed as a haunted house horror and takes place in a huge gothic US mansion, where there is a nefarious plan to auction off the beasts to international arms dealers.

Though each half of the film is excellent in their own way, they’re very different and not entirely successfully spliced together, much like the new killer hybrid dinosaur on the loose, the Indoraptor.

Despite having more than enough of talent and empathy to anchor the series, Howard is sadly too often allowed to be elbowed out of the way so co-star Pratt demonstrate his smug wisecracking action-man prowess.

Veteran James Cromwell brings gravitas as Sir Benjamin Lockwood, and young Isabella Sermon as his vulnerable and brave granddaughter makes a strong debut. Rafe Spall plays his trusted right hand and is becoming one of my favourite actors.

Spanish director J. A. Bayona previously made tsunami drama, The Impossible and the teenage fable, A Monster Calls, and all his work is concerned importance of mothers.

Here he brings in elements of fable from his spooky horror, The Orphanage, which I suspect are closer to his heart than all his impressively staged blockbuster action.

Though at times too full on and grisly for the very little ones, the dinosaurs are back and they are roarsome!

 

THE LITTLE VAMPIRE

Cert U 82mins Stars 2

This bloodless animation offers thin pickings for all but the most undemanding cinema-goers.

It’s a cross-cultural bromance between two 13 year old boys, a Transylvanian vampire with punk hair, and a fresh-faced US holidaymaker on a creepy castle tour of Europe with his family.

They team up to rescue the vampire’s clan from a pair of inept villains. The head baddie is voiced by Jim Carter, best known as Downton Abbey’s butler, Carson. 

The only other recognisable names the budget stretches to are Miriam Margolyes and Tim Pigott-Smith, with not much left over for the animation, and even less for the script.

Mixes magic spells with some mechanical contraptions such as the Infra-dead vampire locating device, and I could have done with much more of the weaponised vampire-cow poo,

It’s so insubstantial it won’t cast a shadow in your memory, but it’s harmless and doesn’t totally suck. Though it’s probably best saved for the rainiest day of half term.

MONSTER FAMILY

Cert PG  93mins Stars 1

An early contender for the worst family film of 2018, only the naughtiest kids should be exposed to this monstrously poor animated horror show.

A lovelorn Count Dracula orders a witch to magically transform a married mother of two  into a vampire so he can woo her.

Unfortunately her stupid bickering family are also changed into various legendary creatures such as Frankenstein’s monster, and they’re no best pleased.

Pratfalls and fart jokes pad out the script of this repetitive, joyless and charmless mind-numbing drivel.

It’s brought to zombified life by feasting on the creative blood of far superior films such as Pixar’s Incredibles and Adam Sandler’s Hotel Transylvania films, which have sequels out this summer.

Horrifyingly, this is even worse than Tom Cruise’s recent version of the Mummy. 

Emily Watson, Nick Frost, Celia Imrie, Jason Isaacs and Catherine Tate are the British voice talent putting a stake through the heart of their credibility for an easy payday.

 

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.

Please enjoy this fabulous five star family entertainment. Be our guest.

GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS

Cert 12A 131mins Stars 2

This super-sized creature feature with a pea for a brain stomps into cinemas intent on ruling the box office by squashing the audience into submission.

A sequel to 2014’s visually gorgeous but dramatically sterile Hollywood reboot of Japan’s most iconic export, this is a screaming CGI assault on storytelling as well the senses.

As giant reptiles threaten all human life, it’s up to Godzilla to restore order and balance to the planet, aided by a plucky band of scientists and soldiers armed with nothing but heavily armed hi-tech bunkers, battleships and fighter jets.

Neither Aaron Taylor-Johnson or Elizabeth Olsen return so humanity’s survival rests on the ability of ‘B’ list middle-aged leading man Kyle Chandler to deliver pitifully poor dialogue with the maximum dignity a fine actor can muster knowing his agent has sold him a ginormous pup.

As Dr. Mark Russell, he’s determined to rescue his teenage daughter Millie Bobby Brown, and ex-wife Vera Farmiga, from a host of ancient monsters who are battling for supremacy.

Sally Hawkins and Ken Watanabe reprise their roles as anxious and awe-filled scientists who stand around and throw scraps of info to the audience.

While this delivers on its promise of epic monster action, this is an adventure which manages to make a staggering dull spectacle of someone scrabbling through an ancient lost city being consumed by lava to defibrillate a giant monster with a nuclear warhead.

Plus the script suggests we live in a world where massively powerful secretive global corporations are a force for good, while eco warriors are evil, and nuclear weapons have health giving properties.

Any film with the smallest degree of self-awareness or irony could have a lot of fun with these topsy turvy concepts, but not this one.

While the beasts have every excuse to be lumbering, incoherent and boring, this expensively assembled wannabe blockbuster has none whatsoever.