THE LION KING (2019)

Cert PG 118mins Stars 5

Your cubs will go wild for this royal remake of Disney’s animated classic which is exciting, funny and cute, as well as a technical triumph and a perfect summer treat for the whole family.

Disney’s 1994 Oscar winning animated coming-of-age tale has been roaringly reimagined using fabulous photorealistic CGI, and powered by a top drawer voice cast and glorious new versions of Elton John’s tremendous songs such as ‘Circle of Life’, and ‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight’.

With the opening shot of the gorgeous African savannah we’re reminded we’re in the safe of hands Jon Favreau, also made 2016’s swinging remake of The Jungle Book. Once again he directs with great humour and emotional depth, so when I wasn’t grinning away I was moved to tears.

Respectful to the point of being a shot by shot copy of the original, we follow the adorable lion cub Simba, whose father King Mufasa is murdered, which leaves Simba outcast from his country and his wicked uncle Scar on the throne.

However the real coup here is the use of next-level special effects, with every hair and feather lovingly created by special effects team operating at the top of their game and from the tiniest ant to the tallest giraffe it’s a non-stop visual feast.

Every creature is so brilliantly rendered I’m still not convinced I wasn’t watch a troop of terrifically trained circus animals.

Plus it’s an uplifting hymn to the natural wonder of our world with an emphasis on respecting our environment, and if David Attenborough made Disney films it would look and feel like this.

Everything is amped up which means the elephants graveyard scene is scarier, the wildebeest stampede is more thrilling, the hyenas are more frightening, and the warthog and meerkat sidekicks are funnier. And there are more fart jokes than before, though you may have to explain to your kids what a dung beetle is.

Heavyweight Brit actor Chiwetel Ejiofor is magnificent as the voice of Scar, with Donald Glover and Beyonce charming as Simba and best friend Nala, and James Earl Jones is once powerfully regal as he reprises the voice of Mufasa.

This is Disney’s third remake this year, and after the disappointing Dumbo and a much better than anticipated Aladdin, they’ve saved the best till last, with a new Lion King which reigns supreme.

PITCH PERFECT

Stars 3

It’s time to sing song merrily on high with this gleefully uptempo tale set in the world of competitive a cappella, which rattles through its routine sports underdog plot with witty banter, great singing and plenty of verve and energy.

The always engaging Anna Kendrick stars as Beca Mitchell, who joins a University singing group called the Barden Bellas, where she finds herself out of tune with Anna Camp’s band leader, who’s obsessed with her troupe becoming the first all-female national champions.

Struggling against each other and the opposition, the Bellas must also cope with romance, fistfights, arrests, and repeated projectile vomiting.

Sadly after a lot of good work, the movie fails to take a cue from its own characters and plays the finale absolutely safe, leaving the audience entertained but not surprised.

THE SAPPHIRES

Cert 12A  Stars 3

Irish comic Chris O’Dowd steams into the cinema aboard the soul train in this retro feel-good slice of fun of musical comedy-drama.

In the Australian Outback of 1968 O’Dowd’s drunkard keyboard player, Dave, recognises the potential of four wannabe soul singers and appoints himself their manager.

Whisking the girls off to the Vietnam war to entertain the troops, Dave proves less than reliable when romance, rivalry, and the war itself threaten the band’s chances of success.

Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens, Miranda Tapsell as the singers are attractive and nicely argumentative personalities, and if they’re not brilliant actors then at least they’re great singers. O’Dowd gives his all but is occasionally embarrassing in a thinly written part.

Budget constraints mean that the combat scenes aren’t hugely convincing but the film is surprisingly robustly effective when addressing the racism the band encounter.

The Sapphires bursts with humour and soul classics that drive the movie along. There’s not much that’s original but it’s warm-hearted and though it won’t win awards, it will win hearts.

MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN

Cert PG 114mins Stars 4

Unleash your inner dancing queen and boogie in the glorious sunshine glow of whats’ going to be the smash hit of the summer.

This unashamedly feel good sequel to 2008’s poptastic box office chart buster is another sequinned celebration of sisterly love and the unbreakable bonds of motherhood.

Once again the irresistible platinum-plated pop tunes of ABBA set the tone for this flamboyant escapist fantasy, which sees the original cast reunite in a split storyline which flicks between events now and from twenty five years ago. 

In the present Amanda Seyfried is organising her Greek island hotel’s grand opening night and frets about her relationship with Dominic Cooper, while a deliciously lusty Christine Baranski and a lovelorn Julie Walters banter for space alongisde Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard.

There’s a conspicuous deficit of Meryl Streep as Seyfried’s vivacious screen mother, Donna. However the younger version of the character is played in the earlier timeline by Lily James, and the former Downton star treats us to a barnstorming turn worthy of Streep herself.

Bristling with defiance, optimism and enthusiasm, we see how Donna meets a trio of buff and eager suitors who become responsible for the confusion surrounding her daughters parentage.

All this turning back time sets up a show-stopping singing turn by the ever fabulous Cher. It’s one of many preposterous and crowd-pleasing scenes, my favourite of which is set at sea and best described as Dunkirk with a disco beat.

This brazen and cheerfully loopy sense of fun mingles with heartfelt multi-generational bonding and the pains of summer loving.

Among the barely choreographed mass dance-alongs and ill advised attempts at singing lurks a finger so firmly on the pulse of its intended audience it was rewarded at the packed-out world premiere with an all singing and dancing ovation. 

And if you’re a fan of the first film then you’ll love this second outing just as much as they clearly did.

THE GREATEST SHOWMAN

Cert PG 104mins Stars 3

Roll up to get your tickets for this enjoyably exuberant period musical based on the life of circus impresario, P. T. Barnum.

Absurdly sentimental and generous in its portrayal of the self-styled greatest showman, it’s an all singing and dancing rags to riches tale which despite the presence of a glamorous trapeze artiste, never really flies.

It’s greatest strength is in the casting of Hugh Jackman as Barnum, and he fizzles with old school razzle dazzle in a role which maximises talents.

With his experience of performing in London’s West End in shows such as Oklahoma! there isn’t a movie star today better equipped to play the part, and the likeable Aussie actor seizes the opportunity to unleash a full beam performance.

As Barnum’s business partner, Zac Efron harnesses his High School Musical pedigree to decent effect. He’s romantically paired with popstar Zendaya, who builds on her impressive acting turn in Spider-Man: Homecoming.

Dreaming big to please his wife and daughters, Barnum puts on stage a collection of differently bodied people, who are variously large, small, hairy or conjoined.

But his hard won success is threatened when his head is turned by Rebecca Ferguson’s sexy Swedish songbird.

This is a Disneyfied vision of Barnum’s life, written by Bill Condon who directed this year’s monster smash, Beauty and the Beast. He creates a highly stylised world where the the circus seems more real than the outside world.

A virtue is made of his extravagant salesmanship techniques and his financial shenanigans and exploitative tendencies are glossed over.

But it’s heart is the right place, emphasising equality, celebrating diversity and defending the rights of anybody to burst into song at the drop of a top hat.

The Greatest Showman succeeds in offering colourful easy going entertainment for a couple of hours. Which from the little we learn of him, I imagine the real Barnum would heartily approve.

 

 

PITCH PERFECT 3

Cert 12A 93mins Stars 2

The curtain call can’t come quickly enough for this desperately disappointing finale to a joyfully entertaining musical comedy series, which is now sadly out of tune.

It’s a cynical Christmas cash-in greatest hits compilation from the Barden Bellas, the all-girl acapella competitive choir.

After the first two films whistled up an astonishing global total of £301m from a total budget of £35m, the idea of getting the band back together one last time must have sounded like sweet music.

But with the troupe having graduated university, the tone deaf scriptwriters has no idea what to do with them. So the Bellas are sent to Europe to entertain US troops where they resort to making knowing jokes about themselves, and become embroiled in an action adventure espionage plot.

 Anna Kendrick has a lovely deadpan delivery as the lead Bella, and Rebel Wilson provides a filthy tongue as fan favourite, Fat Amy. But sadly everything else bar the singing falls very flat.

 

GRACE JONES: BLOODLIGHT AND BAMI

Cert 15 115mins Stars 3

Experience the spotlight life of 1980’s pop cultural icon Grace Jones, in this revealing documentary.

Combining lengthy concert video footage from her recent tour of Ireland with candid  behind the scenes insight, this is an intimate portrait of a fiercely independent artist.

Much to delight of  decades-loyal fan base, the fearless and flamboyant singer, actor and model still appears onstage in little more than hats, heels and corsets. 

This forward looking film has no historical stats of chart success, income earned or film roles. There’s not so much as a birthdate. 

Instead we see her operating today as a business woman who acts as her own agent and manager.

A bilingual grandmother, Jones is knowingly funny, sharply intelligent and unapologetically opinionated. She lives in expensive hotel suites and fuels herself on a singular diet of champagne and oysters.

It’s a lot to take in, but then Jones has always been about excess.