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.

REBECCA (2020)

Cert 12A Stars 4

Secrets, snobbery and sexual intrigue make for an extremely enjoyable watch in this sumptuous and sly adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s mystery novel, famously filmed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1940.

Lily James and Armie Hammer take the roles previously played by Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier, as an inexperienced young woman and an aristocratic widower, whose whirlwind fairytale romance in the south of France turns into a nightmare once they’re married and living in his English ancestral home of Manderley, where the new Mrs. de Winter is haunted by the memory and reputation of her husband’s late wife.

Manderley is a gothic pile and run by the evil step-mother-like presence of housekeeper Mrs Danvers, a frighteningly acid turn from Kristin Scott Thomas.

This is very much a change of pace and scale for Brit director Ben Wheatley who’s previously made low budget thrillers Kill List and Down Terrace, and should be applauded for refusing to be cowed by the ghost of Hitchcock.

Where the master of suspense suffocated his version in mesmerising black and white, Wheatley drowns the screen in gorgeous colour.

Monte Carlo dazzles in white and gold, Manderley has gorgeous textured interiors, the English coastline is glorious and a devilish red dress arrests our attention at a glamorous costume ball.

Casting the super talented Lily James allows Wheatley to use the star of Disney’s live action Cinderella to comment on the myth of happy ever after, while also paying homage to Hitchcock’s habit of terrorising elegant blondes.

As Mrs. de Winter is isolated, manipulated and humiliated by the household staff, and her older husband neglects her while obsessing over his former love, Wheatley draws parallels with Princess Diana and suggests the late royal would also qualify as a ‘Hitchcock blonde’.

Unlike Hitchcock’s masterpiece I doubt this will win the Best Picture Oscar, but it’s hugely accomplished and will make for a fascinating comparison with the upcoming series of TV’s The Crown.

OVER THE MOON

Cert U Stars 4

Science travels hand in hand with spirituality in this inventive musical animation based on a Chinese myth which shines bright with charm and fun for the whole family.

Fei Fei is a romantic-minded early teen who believes in true love and is threatened by the prospect of a new step-mother, so so along with fluffy sidekick rabbit provides comedy and cute companionship Fei Fei builds a space rocket and blasts off to the find the fabled moon goddess.

Along the way thescript draws on familiar works such as Alice In Wonderland, Wallace And Gromit, and the 1902 silent classic movie, A Trip to the Moon.

A delightful, silly colourful and exciting adventure full of space dogs, luminous lions, giant floating frogs and ping pong games in zero gravity, all of which are used to gently smuggle in a message of compassion to help young kids understand and cope with feelings of grief and loss.

An in its best moments the story muscles in on Pixar territory as a vehicle for tender heartbreak, goofy laughs and eye-popping visuals, and it left me, well, over the moon.

FINDING THE WAY BACK

Cert 15 Stars 3

Ben Affleck stars in this redemptive sports drama as an alcoholic construction worker called Jack who’s persuaded by his former high school to coach its basketball team.

I’m a big fan of the former Batman who’s famously had his own struggles with the bottle, and though it’s unwise to read too much biography into the film, there’s an emotional honesty and intensity to his performance which elevates this otherwise straightforward affair.

Melvin Gregg and Brandon Wilson are great as key players on the team, and there’s strong support from Michaela Watkins who struggles to keep Jack on the wagon.

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.

KAJILLIONAIRE

Cert 12A Stars 3

My tolerance for off-beat and quirky was severely tested by this ambling crime comedy drama, which is a shame as it has a huge heart, a lot to say about relationships, some nice physical humour and strong performances from a cast wholly committed to fleshing out the filmmaker’s vision of the world.

With a steely yet compassionate eye, writer and director Miranda July explores the dynamics of abusive relationships and how the commercialisation of family life stunts emotional growth and empathy.

Richard Jenkins and Debra Winger play impoverished Californian thieves and conspiracy theorists living off the grid, and parents to a socially awkward adult daughter, who has the teeth-grindingly annoying name of Old Dolio.

Despite this hindrance, Evan Rachel Wood throws herself into her role as the plaintive young woman who has begun to question her lifestyle even before the family hook up with a new partner in crime while carrying out an insurance swindle.

Gina Rodriguez is an agreeably upbeat presence who accelerates Old Dolio’s personal growth, a process which puts her at odds with her parents.

I AM WOMAN

Cert 15 Stars 3

This enjoyable, crowd pleasing and sentimental biopic of the late Australian Grammy award winning singer Helen Reddy was scheduled for release this week months before she sadly passed away peacefully in California last week.

So far from being viewed as a tasteless cash-in on her death, it can be seen as what it was intended to be, an uplifting celebration of her life and career.

It begins with her 1966 arrival in New York as a penniless wannabe with her three-year-old daughter in tow, and charts her rise to superstardom with eight number one US singles and her own TV show.

Taking its title from her trademark power pop feminist anthem, this is an and uplifting canter through her rise to fame and fortune, with a focus on her friendship with renowned music journalist Lillian Roxon and a tumultuous marriage to music promoter Jeff Wald.

Tilda Cobham-Hervey is a spirited and charming screen presence as Reddy, plus the music is great, with the use of Reddy’s own vocals adding authenticity, and it’s message empowerment is as necessary and relevant today as it was back then.

SAINT MAUD

Cert 15 Stars 5

There’s a startling power to this modern day horror which is powered by devilish intent and graced by an immaculate performance of subtle complexity by Swedish-born Welsh actress Morfydd Clark.

As a devout hospice nurse called Maud, Clark delivers a confessional, fragile, stern and punishing turn, yet always maintains our sympathy as she becomes infatuated with her latest patient, Amanda.

She’s a former dancer who’s now wheelchair bound and in need of palliative care, a role which requires a great deal of intimacy and includes bathing, physical therapy and massage.

You’ll remember BAFTA winning Actress Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet in the 1995 BBC miniseries Pride and Prejudice opposite Colin Firth’s Mr Darcy, and she masterfully switches moods in a role requiring her to be sexy, self-pitying, abrasive and cruel.

Together they form a frighteningly intense double act, and their delicate relationship spirals out of control to jaw dropping and heartbreaking effect.

There are shades of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’s Nurse Ratched in Maud, and there’s nothing more disturbing than bad behaviour carried out by those believing they are doing good. Especially when convinced it’s what the Lord wants them to do.

On her feature length debut, Rose Glass directs with the conviction of someone in possession of a terrific script. Which she is. And she wrote it, filling the screen with jealousy, rapture, blood, pain and cockroaches.

Cinematographer Ben Fordesman provides bleak exteriors and oppressive interiors, it’s edited with tight-as-a-drum economy by Mark Towns, and Adam Janota Bzowski’s tremendous music seems to bypass your ears and penetrate straight to your soul, combining to create an atmosphere foggy with sexual intrigue and dank with skin scrawling menace.

This is definitely not for the squeamish and watching it probably qualifies as a traumatic event. It is so suffocatingly great I barely breathed for the last half hour and was left exhausted from nervous tension. Saint Maud is the best British horror in years.

THE ELFKINS

Cert PG Stars 3

Inspired by Grimm’s fairy tales such as The Elves and the Shoemaker, this busy, bright and good natured animated adventure has enough music, songs, charm, humour and attractive design to entertain your little ones.

200 years after a falling out between elves and humans, the elves of Cologne believe humans are dastardly, unappreciative, much too large and generally sneaky lazy bums. In other words a kids eye view of adults. Or so my son would have me believe.

Helvi is a spirited if clumsy elf who struggles to create handicraft to the standard expected of her, so inspired by a scrap of cloth with a picture of humans and elves working together, she travels to our world along with two friends where they fall in with a baker who is being forced out of his business and in desperate need of an extra pair of hands or three.

It’s a jolly lightweight confection served up by the people who whisked up the recent hit Dreambuilders, and if your little ones enjoyed its mix of modern slang, slapstick and fart jokes, then they’ll certainly enjoy this slice of fun.

BROTHERS IN ARMS: THE MAKING OF PLATOON

Cert 15 Stars 3

After Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, Platoon was the second best Vietnam war movie of the 1980’s, and this enjoyable documentary throws a casual salute to its success by drafting in the key actors to reminisce about their time on location in the Philippine jungle.

As director Oliver Stone comes across as an appalling and tyrannical figure who is noticeable by his absence, the now middle-aged actors Charlie Sheen, Johnny Depp, Willem Dafoe and so on are good company, though they show an alarming lack of self awareness or interest in the local culture or politics.