Milking the It and Stranger Things market mercilessly, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a surprisingly successful young adult fright fest. Based on the 1981 anthology book of the same name by Alvin Schwart, and directed by André Øvredal, the film makes good on the promise of its title with impressive visuals and remarkable restraint. On one level, the film struggles to overcome its predictably episodic narrative. On another, Øvredal succeeds in weaving through higher notions and smarter themes. Fundamentally, likeable leads allow for a predominance of humanity.
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The channels of viability between cinema and merchandise have flown freely in either direction for as long as film’s family market has existed. Not until The Lego Movie, however, did the toy to tinseltown transition feel as potently lucrative as the reverse. Both financially and, surprisingly, creatively. Perhaps expectations have risen too high? Despite evident optimism for a franchise future, Playmobil: The Movie arrives with a thud. It has neither the energy nor wit of its micro-brick competitor and, more fundamentally, fails to capture the spirit of its own original success. Save the odd glimmer, there’s precious little imagination here.
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Be wary of opening your heart to this one. A film of two halves, Gurinder Chadha’s Blinded by the Light offers feel good delights and absolute devastation in the same hand. A tribute to the power of meaningful lyricism and subtle reminder of the forces that seek to estrange the freedom to be from those who dare to be different. All is umbrellaed beneath the rousing music of Bruce Springsteen, voice of the disenfranchised and powerhouse of the American songbook. When a boy from Luton hears that he was born to run, he runs. He runs in the face of adversity and runs because it’s all he’s got. The promised land awaits him and maybe one day we’ll all get there.
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Charming is a relic, an archive rediscovery from a box marked ‘early noughties’. It is alike a film taking advantage of the universal amnesiac response to some long forgotten original release, fifteen years ago, with a second punt at success. While the cast is peppered with noughties names – High School Musical’s Ashley Tisdale, My Big Fat Greek Wedding star Nia Vardalos and ‘Sk8ter Boi’ singer Avril Lavigne among it – the plot is retrogressively stuck in a pre-Shrek whirl of conservatism. He was a boy, she was a girl. Can they make it any more obvious?
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The leap from school textbook alternative to all-star, big screen bonanza is about as impressive as they come in the world of non-fiction. Dating back to the nineties, Terry Deary’s Horrible Histories books have spawned magazines, plays, proms, video games, theme parks and two BAFTA winning television series to gain renown as a British institution. It’s an empire even the Romans would be proud of – thus making said ancient civilisation an apt starting point for the franchise’s new cinematic lease of life. Whilst Rotten Romans does little to convince that narrative structure is the future of the franchise, its winning cast and good nature carrying things through. More laughs would have been welcome all the same.
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It’s nigh on impossible to judge Disney’s new Lion King, a film as stupendously impressive as it is colossally lazy. The question of whether it is enjoyable in its own right or simply from the benefit of its predecessor’s memory may well never find resolution in the viewing. While there’s no denying the technical skill underlying the production – which unites computer generated imagery with virtual reality technology so as to take breaths as they have not been taken since Avatar – a derivative script by Jeff Nathanson steals scene after scene from the original, with little room for fresh perspective. The result is less emotionally engaged than before and only just about as rousing.
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Coming seven years after the last, this fourth Men in Black outing is a lot more fun than you’ve heard but no less deprived of necessity or smarts. Beyond the all new ensemble and switched focal location, not so much has changed with the franchise, which once originated with the Malibu/Marvel comic book series of Lowell Cunningham. Inherent cast charisma is still vital in papering over the slacks and cracks that pester the series’ plots and characters, whilst inventive visuals remain valuable in maintaining basic aesthetic engagement. Here, a Phantom Menace tone pervades and Fate of the Furious director F. Gary Gray kind of gets away it.
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