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Black Is King

Powerful and empowering
This rich, vibrant film is hopeful and beatiful. The message behind the music is one that needs to be heard in a world where, still far too often, judegments are about about who you are purely on what you look like on the outside. Beyonce cleverly weaves different genres of MOBO together with traditional African music to show that the concept album is not dead and still has a place in the music industry, providing a platform for speaking out. She does this quite masterfully with stunning visuals, using the framework of The Lion King story to empower, uplift and show you the strength that can come from inner truthfulness and self-hood. It will be telling if this doesn't get nominated for film industry awards - particularly for production, costume, photography . . . and so many others. The music, from hip-hop to Afro-beat, sung by carefully-chosen names in the industry tells the message well. The climax song 'Rise Up" could well become an anthem for Black Lives Matter, but also giving hope and strength to a wider spectrum of those who need to find strength in themselves.

The Vast of Night

Tense Sci-fi thriller/drama
The creative, retro tv style of telling this story is very effective, lending a sense of originality to a genre of sci-fi which has been re-hashed to the point of being a hackneyed cliché. The effect is that you will wonder if it is based on real events. I won't give away what it's all about, although you'll pick up on it pretty quick, but one thing this isn't is hackneyed. It is fresh and clever, and although it does build to a somewhat clichéd conclusion, it does so in a tense and gripping way which kept my finger well clear of the stop button on the TV remote. I suppose what I am saying is, yes, you know the story, but you don't THIS story, and it is told so darned well.

The Personal History of David Copperfield

Very unique adaptation that should have had another title
Coming to review this, I find myself in two minds. I love Dickens and I liked the story of David Copperfield, so I was not surprised to find that fans of Dickens and David Copperfield did not like it or were annoyed by the handling of story. If the director and writer were trying to make a faithful retelling, then they failed, miserably. The thing is I am fairly certain this is quite deliberately NOT a retelling of David Copperfield. I don't think it was even meant as an adapatation (at least I hope not.) What you need to know is that, for Charles Dickens, David Copperfield was not only one of his favourite stories, it was also semi-autobiographical. In telling the story of Copperfield, he wound in many elements and characters from his own life. When Dickens became a success, he toured the country giving very popular readings of his books, which is where this film opens. The story of David Copperfield is also, to some extent, telling the story of Charles Dickens, and that is what I think this film is doing. It is BOTH Dickens telling the story of David Copperfield but it is also about how his story (David Copperfield) tells us about Dickens. You really need to know both these facts for the film to make any sense at all. In a nutshell, what I think the film REALLY is, is the director telling the story of Charles Dickens telling the story of David Copperfield telling the story of Charles Dickens. If you have read the novel and are expecting a faithful screen version, you will be immensely disappointed, many of the nuances of the characters and their relationship to Copperfield, which is the heart of the book (the heart of any Dickens novel, in fact) are completely lost. If you have not read it and know nothing about Dickens, it is going to seem shallow, rushed and a little weird. If you are fascinated by Dickens and are able to view this NOT as the story of David Copperfield, but as a film about Dickens and his journey to being an author, which so happens to have that name, you might find it interesting, entertaining, and at times, fun.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

Enjoyable, touching and clever
We had fairly low expectations, having heard and read what some reviewers thought of it, but we really enjoyed it. It is a very clever interweaving of prequel and sequel which has some skilfully crafted moments of overlap between the two. Most of the songs are performed well, enjoable to watch and are right for the point of the story they are linked to. The only exception is the pointless and somewhat boring inclusion of Cher (and I like Cher). Although the setup is similar to the first film, the story is different enough to be have it's own identity. Listen out for the background music where you get some very deft remixed blends of songs from the first film and other ABBA songs. The climax of the film is wonderfully touching and had both my wife and I misty eyed - well, being a man, I pretended my hayfever was bad while she blubbed hopelessly. If a film draws you in enough to create an emotional response, it can't be all that bad. If you liked the first film you shouldn't be disappointed, as the style, production quality and performances are all very much like the original.

They Look Like People

Thoughtful psycho-drama
More of a poem about the love that lies at the heart of true friendship, this is not a blood and guts slasher, rather it is a sensitive rama with nearly but not quite enough edginess to make you wonder what is really going on. It is let down by its deliberately slow pace which never varies and so becomes a little monotonous - nothing changes and there is not enough building of tension to be truly creepy. The observations about trust and friendship are just about enough to engage the brain and make you think. It's been compared to Donny Darko, but it will never gain the cult status of that wonderful film. It's actually more reminiscent of Thunderbolt and Lightfoot but lacks in the believability of the characters and their interactions.

Kaguya-hime no monogatari

Beautiful fairy tale
One of my absolute favourite Studio Ghibli films. It has a wonderful hand-drawn and a clean, paired-down oriental watercolour painted style which gives it an illustrated feel. Combined with the absorbing story which bears similarities to Thumbelina, it feels like you are watching the images that fill your mind when a fairy story is read to you.

The Hunters

Truly bad Relic Hunter knock-off
What happens when someone finds all the edits from Relic Hunter and The Librarians in a Hollywood dumpster? Answer, someone mashes them together with an awful script, two-dimensional characters and a predictable plot and calls it The Hunters. I have to be honest, I gave up a long way before the end, so maybe it picked up.


Lucy meets Villainelle
Luc Besson seems to have a thing for femmes fatale, and in Anna he has brought his previoius outings in the genre (Lucy, La Feem Nikita) into sharp focus with a story which John Le Carre could have dreamed up. Don't be fooled or put off by the first slow fifteen minutes of this film, this is a pacey, action-packed spy-thriller. The plot twists and keeps you guessing where it will turn next right up to the last few minutes. You could play a drinking game with the body-count, but I wouldn't recommend it - you'd be hammered after half an hour and hospitalised long before the end.

The Silence

Shhh, try not to laugh or they might get you.
I'll save the spoilers until the next paragraph - although they will hardly ruin the film for you. From the outset, there are too many aspects of this film which just haven't been thought through. It's as though the writers had one idea, rushed to write the script and sell it to the movie company and all the while nobody looked to see whether it made sense. Consequently, any sense of jeopardy, horror and tension is completely dispelled by plot holes. Give this one a miss or better yet, watch Birdbox, which is infinitely better. The one bright spot in the film is Miranda Otto, whose performance is wonderful. Here are the spoilers. Creatures (really bad CGI creatures) which have been sealed up for thousands of years find their way into the word to devour the human race. Ummm... what were they devouring before they got out? Then, suddenly, from one cave, there are enough to cover the entire USA - that's a BIG cave! So, let's send in the US air force... to do what exactly? They're about the size of fruit bats. And, by the way, where are the army with their armoured cars, and the national guard with flame throwers and the marines and the state troopers and...? And if hearing is their only sense, which can enable them to navigate through woodland without hitting a single branch, why can they not 'see' human beings just because they aren't making any noise? And what are their noses for? And why has nobody thought of starting a disco to attract them all and then blowing them all up? And why don't they just wait for a thunderstorm and then kill them all? And... Poor old USA - it is doomed to fall into a post-apocalyptic decline (where you can still somehow get broadband in a cabin in the middle of the woods), whilst the rest of the world carries on going to Tesco for their shopping and watching really badly made 'horror' films on Netflix, one presumes.

Fast Color

Tender superhero origin story
It's so refreshing to a have a superhero origin that doesn't rely on brainless high-action vfx, but which instead looks at the heart of what all superhero stories seek to do, which is make us think about the hidden power and strength of the human spirit. Fast Color has a powerful and meaningful message, and it needs the pace of a slower drama to let that message emerge. Colour is everywhere, it's within each and every human soul. It is beautiful, it is powerful and it is transformative. Suppressing it and failing to see it in others is what makes the world ugly. The three female leads each bring a different element of this message and do so in a convincing and commanding way. Hang up your cape and put your iron-man suit back in the cupboard for the evening, and, instead, enjoy the gentle strength of something that feels genuine.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

Muddled story telling
The confused opening action sequence where exactly what is happening is difficult to make out is a portent of what follows in the rest of the film. Lots of flashy vfx but precious little to explain what it going on. If there is a story being told only the greatest of magicians will be able to fathom it. I tried "accio plot" - nothing. I tried an anti-confundo charm - still nothing. Whatever Disillusionment Charm has been cast over this film, it worked perfectly on me. The story, if one actually exists, has been perfectly veiled.


What's all the fuss?
I went to see Cats with very low expectations but came out wondering what on earth all the fuss was about. Too many reviewers have leapt on the "If the critics say it's bad,it must be bad" bandwagon - people do like an excuse to give something a good slammming. It may not have the wow factor that The Greatest Showman had, but Cats is an enjoyable way to pass a couple of hours - just don't think about it too hard! You've got people dressed up as cats, for goodness sake, if you think about it intellectually of course it's going to be weird. But if you think about Star Wars intellectually and critically, you've got sound in space which is physically impossible and light beams emerging from a battery and stopping after 3 feet; if you think about Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, you've got people defying the laws of physics because they're super good at martial arts. Cats is a cinematic musical fantasy and that's the mindset with which you need to watch it. What's missing is an engaging storyline to pull you in and carry you along - but that is really the fault of the original stage show. And, to be fair, there are a couple of terrible casting choices - Idris Elba is uncomfortably out of place and obviously can't sing. But the songs and dances, performed essentially as set pieces, have been superbly choreographed and cleverly produced. Visually, it is rich and fantastical with sets that have the feel of the best contemporary stage sets. I am not ashamed to say that I'd go to see it again and I'll probably get the DVD.

In the Tall Grass

Great supernatural thriller
I must be weird. I just don't know why this has got such a low IMDB rating. I was hooked from the start and the creepy, will-they-make-it plot kept me going to the end. The story is original and suspenseful, with twists and turns that will keep you wondering what's going on (that's an in joke BTW). It had the feel and quality of an M. Might Shyamalan film. Maybe not everything is fully explained and not everything makes sense, but that is the point of story. In life, sometimes there is is no answer to 'why'. Sometimes you just have to fight your way through the maze. Finally, young Will Buie Jr is a future star to keep an eye on. He played his part very convincingly.

His Dark Materials

Poorly cast, missing important elements. .
There's no doubt that the production is superb - visually, it's spectacular - but, for me, this adaptation suffers from odd casting choices, and misses some key character traits, making them seem a bit flat. I should say, that I'm reviewing this having read the books. Maybe if I hadn't and had no expectations I would have enjoyed it more. Instead, I watched it trying to suppress my disappointment. In the book, Mrs Coulter (Ruth Wilson), is charming, elegant, charismatic, the centre of attention before whom everyone stands in awe or trembles with fear. But in the first episode she is invisible and rather dull. The makers have the perfect actor for John Faa in the form of James Cosmo, but have cast him in a different role. Ma Costa should be an authoritative matriarch, but she isn't. James McAvoy seems too youthful and lacking in commanding presence to be Lord Azriel. Lyra is missing a key part of her personality. In the book, she is a compulsive liar - it's what defines her and is almost her super power making her a gifted story teller. It's a key element in the story, but it's entirely missing, so far. If you haven't read the books, I suspect it will be an enjoyable and watchable series, but for readers and fans, I think it's just going to be distractingly irritating.

Terminator Genisys

Just about entertaining
I was going to title this review "Kindergarten Cop meets Back to the Future" because the storyline would have had even Doc puzzling at the questionable time-loops and paradoxes. Combine that with granpa Arnie nursemaiding the heroes through their crises and it all feels a bit silly and plodding. The supposedly nail-biting, will-they-make-it moments are rather predictable. Both the John Connor and Kyle Reese characters are completely unconvincing. John Connor bears little relation to his character in the previous films and Kyle Reese is just bland. Apart from the VFX, the only thing that just about raises the film into the entertaining category is Emelia Clarke outshining the rest of the cast as a thoroughly believable Sarah Connor, along with a couple of comic moments by Arnie. The only real reason for watching Terminator Genisys is to complete the story, which, having seen this, one hopes the makers now feel they have done.


Compelling and mind-bending
Undone defies attempts to pigeonhole it into a specific genre. Is it fantasy? Kinda. Is it drama? Kinda. Is it a mystery thriller? Kinda. If I were reluctantly forced to describe it, I suppose I'd say imagine if Alice in Wonderland and Don Quixote had been adapted by M.Night Shyamalan and then been animated by the folks who did A Scanner Darkly - maybe. But that's not the point. This highly original and surreal story plays with the concepts of reality, consciousness and time the way Salvador Dali played with landscapes and watches in his paintings. And yet it also deals with disability (or should that be super-ability?) and mental illness in a sympathetic and empowering way. If Undone were a book, it would be an instant classic, placed on English literature syllabuses and nominated for awards. If you want a taste of what it's like without getting too much of the story, check out the teaser trailer (not full) on YouTube.

Alita: Battle Angel

Thoroughly gripping cy-borg adventure
At first glance this might seem like an unoriginal mash-up between Elysium and Rollerball (no - honestly!), so why have I given it 8 stars? Because I became thoroughly invested Alita. For the duration of the film, she became real to me. I was with her the whole way through to the edge-of-the-seat climax willing her on. And when it had finished, I wanted just two things: to see it again and for the makers to produce a sequel. If any film can do that, it's got to have something that no many films can claim to have.

Seinto Seiya: Knights of the Zodiac

Watchable, just not great
Don't be put off by the first couple of episodes. I too, was going to give up after episode one but I'm glad I didn't. The story does build quite nicely, with a few unexpected twists and enough peril to make you think, "how are they going get out of this, now?" In the end, I was disappointed when the series ended and I find myself hoping there's going to be a second season - so it must have something. Ok, so the script is a little cheesy here and there with some clichés that might have been better written, but isn't anime often filled with clichés anyway? I ending up quite liking the visual style, which is vaguely reminiscent of older video game cut scenes, but with an anime interpretation. Whilst it's nowhere near as good as, say, The Legend of Korra, if you need an anime fix whilst waiting for something really good to come along, there are far worse series out there.

Xiao quan guai zhao

If the Three Stooges did kung-fu...
One of Jackie's earliest films, this already shows the remarkable talent he has for choreography and comic timing. All the more remarkable for the fact that he also wrote and directed this at the age of 25 (Spielberg was 28 when he directed his first film). All the hallmarks of a Jackie Chan are there, though understandably not quite as polished as he later managed to achieve. The humour stands up well too, for its age. I did laugh out loud in a couple of places.

Another Life

Watchable time-filler
Another Life may not be as absorbing as series like The Expanse or Ascension, but it is definitely more watchable than things like Extant or Nightflyers, which, for me, dragged and lacked the stickability factor. Yes, you will occasionally groan with some of the story lines that appear to have been borrowed from other series or films, but it is well produced and there is enough general story to make you wonder what will happen next. If you're looking for a sci-fi action/drama fix, or you need something to fill in the gaps in your watching schedule, Another Life is worth a go - just give it a few episodes. UPDATE: Having finished the first season a few days ago, I'm actually thinking that 6/10 is a bit mean, and that maybe I should have have rated the series higher. I've been finding myself thinking about the story and the characters on and off. That means they've got under my skin and is a sign (for me) that is got something that not every show has.

Secret Obsession

Pretty good thriller
I'm not sure why this has such a low rating. It may not be the most original story ever written and it may not be Hitchcock, but it doesn't deserve harsh, dismissive criticism. It was suspenseful enough to keep me watching and wondering what was going to happen next. I found I cared about the characters enough to want to know what was going to happen to them. It's not a high octane action film or a creepy, but the tension builds steadily. Branda Song's performance is authentic and real, showing that she deserves more lead roles.

The Mummy

Utterly banal
It's difficult to tell what this film is supposed to be. If it's a horror, it's just not scary, if it's a thriller, there's no suspense, if it's an adventure, it's completely lacking in excitement and if it's supposed to be darkly funny, you won't be laughing. Poor old Tom does his best to try to put something into the weak script, but even he appears not to know quite whether he's supposed to be playing a serious or comic part. The vfx are rather unoriginal too, looking like something out an 80s video game. There are worse versions of The Mummy which are far better.


Hypnotically poignant
An imaginative and thought provoking piece of contemporary interpretive dance set to the music of Thom Yorke - our should that be the other way around? The point is, the music and dance really one single piece of beautifully crafted art, making you think about life's struggles and how different they might be if you find the right person to share them with.

The Fall

Visually spectacular fantasy.
Something like a cross between The English Patient and A Thousand and One Arabian Nights, this film captivates from the outset. It really merits a 10 just for the rich, stylish visuals which make you wish you could print and frame them. It is certainly one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen. The story of the relationship between the little girl and the hospital patient is beautifully handled, with the acting so natural you wonder whether many of the scenes were ad-libbed. The opening scene alone is completely mesmerising and could easily stand alone as a kind of visual poem.

Phoebe in Wonderland

See the world through the wondrous eyes of a little girl with ocd & Tourettes syndrome and realise that our 'disabilities' are actually a source of strength, particularly if we don't allow them to be governed by so-called grown-up principles. Elle Fanning is simply astonishing and entirely steals this charming film. UK viewers with children need to know that the 'f' word is used once, though it is used in a common US phrase meaning 'messed up', which seems to be a less serious use of the word in US than in the UK.

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