Like one of Mrs Patmore’s proverbial soufflés, Downton Abbey in film format is light, fluffy and permanently – perilously – on the verge of total collapse. It is not, as some have suggested, merely akin to an overlong episode of the television series that took the world by storm between 2010 and 2015. No. What has been created here is a whole series, truncated to singular feature length; a full box set lacking only advert breaks and next time teasers. One can almost hear the twee inflections in John Lunn’s divine score that ought to herald commercials, and will one day soon with ease. Despite sleeker visuals and an afternoon spent filming long shots in a helicopter, this budgetary upgraded Downton won’t win new fans for the franchise but should prove to be the icing on the hard core’s cake.
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With a novel quite so extraordinarily overlong as is Stephen King doorstop bestseller It, it makes perfect sense to partition the story into two. The revelation that Andy Muschietti’s take on the classic would draw the line between child- and adulthood, likewise, struck as logical. In actuality, Muschietti’s result is a tale of two halves for the weaker. Chapter Two suffers from an affliction of repetition and of been there done that. A superior cast and high budget visuals help things float but never so high as it’s immediate predecessor.
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James Bobin has previous when it comes to the art of blending self-referential wit and naive optimism in the rejuvenation of childhood classics. It stems from a cinematic career that was launched splendidly with 2011’s jovial The Muppets and survives Alice Through the Looking Glass to enjoy a delightful second wind in Dora and the Lost City of Gold. Based on the adventures of television toon phenomenon Dora the Explorer, the film catapults its heroine ten years into her future but retains the original thirst for knowledge. If Bobin’s take is too old for prior audience, that’s fine – they grew up.
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With its genially old fashioned ideologies and almost – not quite – Ghibli like aesthetic and score, Princess Emmy is never less than charming, never more than fine. The film comes from the producers of Maya the Bee, is sweet on the eye and sticks around only so long as it’s welcome – a breezy seventy odd minutes. Whilst it is aimed squarely at that bygone image of the little girl who dreams of ponies and princesses, there’s enough backbone here to maintain a notional sense for moral modernity.
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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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