SUSPIRIA (2018)

Cert 18 153mins Stars 2

This leaden-footed ballet-based supernatural horror is a not only a drab remake of 1970’s lavishly coloured classic original, but is also an unforgivably indulgent hour longer.

Fifty Shades star Dakota Johnson is impressively physical as Susie, who flees her restrictive Christian community in Ohio to join an austere dance academy in 1977’s Berlin, schooled by Brit actress, Tilda Swinton.

Meanwhile an ageing psychiatrist is searching for Chloe Grace Moretz’s disturbed missing dancer, who believed the ensemble is secretly a witches coven.

Earlier this year director Luca Guadagnino won a best screenplay Oscar for Call Me By Your Name, and but he won’t win any awards for this.

Self-importantly divided into seven chapters, the story links witchcraft and religion to corrupt and destructive political ideologies, but fails to develop or clarify its ideas.

A trio of striking dance sequences aside, Suspiria is a muddled and murky mess which will curdle your attention far more than it will your blood. 

DUMBO

Cert PG 112mins Stars 3

Disney’s mission to remake their classic animated films with a blend of live-action and CGI loses hard-earned goodwill with this disappointingly tame and heavy-footed fantasy adventure.

Competent but rarely endearing or involving, the story again treads the path of a young big-eared circus elephant, called Dumbo, who longs to be reunited with his mother.

When a chance encounter with a feather reveals a talent for flying, it makes him a star of the show, and brings him to the attention of an villainous impresario.

1941’s much loved original is a charmingly brief tale drunk on trippy invention and which won an Oscar for its musical score.

This is a very different beast and though it offers an all-star cast and some spectacle, it’s nearly twice as long with a barely a song of note, and lacks sufficient warmth and humour.

The performing pachyderm himself is a leathery lump of CGI who is sidelined in his own film in favour of the likeable IrishmanColin Farrell.

He plays a one-armed single parent who after military service returns to work in the circus, where he struggles to reconnect with his kids.

With a long standing fascination with the circus and a track record in creating big budget mainstream fantasies such as Disney’s 2010 billion dollar box office smash, Alice In Wonderland, Tim Burton is a safe and predictable but far from inspired choice as director.

He’s recruited regular collaborators to help out, but Danny DeVito’s struggling circus owner isn’t as funny as the film thinks he is, Eva Green is stilted as a trapeze artiste, and Michael Keaton lacks his familiar fiendish energy.

Circus acts such as jugglers and contortionists are often busy in the background of scenes, and are possibly there to compensate for the lack of magic and excitement in the big ring, which fails to capture all the fun of the fair.

PET SEMATARY (2019)

Cert 15 101mins Stars 2

Eternal suffering is threatened in this desperate Stephen King adaptation, and by the end of this torturously stupid supernatural horror I felt I’d been tormented more than enough.

It’s the second big screen version of Stephen King’s 1983 novel and though fans may appreciate its earnest approach and fidelity to the source material, I struggle to stomach his addled hokum at the best of times and this had me giggling at all the wrong moments.

Jason Clarke and Amy Seimetz play a suburban couple who move their children to a farm in the country which they discover contains a burial ground for local pets.

After experiencing nightmares and hallucinations, they’re surprisingly relaxed when their pet cat returns from the grave, which triggers a violent chain of silly not sinister events characterised by poor dialogue and fake looking sets.

Jete Laurence as their daughter Ellie gives a good account of herself, but the rest of the cast seemed as bored as I was. 

HELLBOY (2019)

Cert 15 121mins Stars 2

Unrepentant for its blood-splattered gore, this comic book comedy horror reboot is brash, noisy and violent, reflecting the demonic character at the heart of the CGI-heavy action.

Under deadening layers of makeup, actor David Harbour tries manfully to bring life to Hellboy, a truculent government field agent attempting to prevent Milla Jovovich’s resurrected fifth century sorceress from starting the apocalypse.

Though as she wants to save us all from the hell of Reality TV, I don’t think she’s all that evil.

Rattling around England in pursuit of a decent script, Hellboy is accompanied by Sasha Lane’s very modern fortune teller, and a SWAT team leader with a secret agenda of his own.

As Hellboy’s adoptive father and boss of the US paranormal research bureau where Hellboy works, Ian McShane uses every ounce of his foul-mouthed and scene-stealing experience to bring energy and humour to this frequently flat exercise.

This is a very different beast to Hellboy’s previous cinematic incarnation in a pair of films from over a decade ago. Original director and writer, Guillermo del Toro, bailed out and went off to win Oscars for his fishy romance, The Shape of Water.

And fans of his elegant and stylish version will be horrified by way director, Neil Marshall, brings a much more action-orientated approach.

Clearly the genial Geordie was watching the same video nasties I saw growing up, and indulges his taste for gory thrills first seen in his 2002 werewolf debut, Dog Soldiers.

Throwing in an army of demons, flaming weapons, shoot-outs and Scouser Stephen Graham as a half-human warthog, it’s evident Marshall shares with Terry Gilliam a love of fairytales and Arthurian legend as well as a gleeful taste for the grotesque. 

But there’s little tension or chemistry, the CGI looks cheap, and the hardworking editing disguises a lot of sins, leaving this to feel more like purgatory than a hellish good time.

 

ALADDIN (2019)

Cert PG 128 mins Stars 4

Will Smith unleashes his magic charm in Disney’s confident, colourful and crowd-pleasing live action remake of their 1992 classic Oscar winning musical animation.

Hollywood’s once biggest star delivers a larger than life performance as the giant magic genie of the lamp, and burns charisma, warmth and heartfelt maturity in the role originally played by the comic, Robin Williams.

The story very closely follows the original, with street thief Aladdin teaming up with a genie to win the heart of the princess Jasmine and help save the desert kingdom of Agrabah from the unfettered ambition of Marwan Kenzari’s villainous vizier, Jafar.

Unlike Tim Burton’s lumbering Dumbo remake, this is full of fun, excitement and of course glorious songs, with fresh sparkle given to the diamond tunes of ‘Friend Like Me’ and ‘A Whole New World’, with ‘Prince Ali’ is delivered in grand show-stopping style.

Mena Massoud is an earnest and endearing romantic lead as Aladdin, and is game for the thankless task of playing the straight man to not just Smith and the rest of the human cast, but a flying carpet and the adorable monkey, Abu.

I wish his opposite number Naomi Scott, had more to do as Jasmine, but she makes the most of her screen time with constant bridling at the constraints of her gilded cage existence in a star-making performance.

She has enjoyable chemistry with Nasim Pedrad’s handmaiden and knocks her solo song out of the park. ‘Speechless’ is one of two new numbers, and is an assertive anthem about challenging authority which Scott delivers with impressively fierce defiance.

Director Guy Ritchie desperate for a hit as his last box office success was nearly a decade ago, with the second of his and Robert Downey, Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes adventures, so it’s  a canny movie to style the climax in the CGI manner of a Marvel superhero film.

This rarely feels like a Ritchie movie and whether you consider that a good thing, he’s certainly put a shift in with this huge production, which sees him successfully negotiate the different demands of action, romance, comedy, special effects and big song and dance numbers.

The two eight year olds I took to the screening had a great time even though they aren’t familiar with the original animated version, or with Smith’s lengthy TV, music or movie career, and he’s certainly won two new fans of the next generation.

And as Smith swaggers into silver screen musical theatre, it’s great to see the Fresh Prince discover a whole new jam.

Pete’s Dragon (2016)

Director: David Lowery (2016) BBFC cert: PG

A soaringly sentimental adventure in the best Disney tradition, this fabulous family fable is a superior beast to the 1977 version.

This seamless combination of live action and state of the art CGI has sky high production values wrapped around its large loving heart and a story devoted to the values of family and friendship.

Kids will love the outdoorsy adventure and parents will have a surreptitious emotional moment behind their 3D glasses.

Oakes Fegley is wonderfully endearing as the eleven year old orphan Pete who lives in the forest with his best friend Elliot, a friendly dragon. The creature looks and acts like a giant green pet dog. Only with wings and the ability to breathe fire.

Elliot is Pete’s surrogate parent and protector, a King Kong sized Mary Poppins who has the power to turn invisible. Pete is a wild boy of the woods, a distant cousin of Mowgli from Disney’s Jungle Book (2016).

The immensely likeable Bryce Dallas Howard appears as Grace, a kindly Forest Ranger who doesn’t believe in dragons but does want to solve the mystery of Pete’s parents.

After starring in last year’s monster smash Jurassic World (2015) the actress is no stranger to working with enormous CGI beasts. They’re provided here by WETA Digital who won Oscars for The Lord Of The Rings trilogy (2001-2003).

Robert Redford’s craggy avuncular charm is put to good use as Grace’s father, a man who claims to have once encountered a flying lizard.

Though set in USA, the tale is filmed in the lush and mystical mountains of New Zealand.  Kiwi actor Karl Urban stars as not especially villainous lumber mill owner Gavin. Discovering dragons are real, he wants to capture Elliot. But in trying to save Elliot, Pete risks losing his best friend forever.

It’s essential to the films success we believe the legendary dragon exists and so the film-makers have created a sense of mythic timelessness.

Elliot has a broken tooth and a scar, suggesting a creature of maturity and personal history. Interior scenes captured in a semi-sepia tone are sympathetic to the lush brown and green exteriors evocative of the myths of King Arthur.

Contributing also is the 1980s setting which sidesteps the issue of google optimised smart-phones. A folksy soundtrack is an appropriate and sensitive choice as themes of grief and reconciliation are tackled head on.

The result is we’re wrapped up in this huge warm hug of a movie much like Pete is by Elliot’s shaggy coat of hair. Take a flight on the wings of  Pete’s Dragon and you will believe he exists.

@ChrisHunneysett