It is with much the same liberated creative abandon that saw him split the spine of one or two Star Wars mainstays that Rian Johnson now cuts into Christie and the classically camp whodunnit candle her novels lit way back in the thirties. Knives Out honours such tradition but wears alien debts to Hitchcock and The Fugitive with equal pride. Originality stabs through all with an flare for boundless wit and nose for the tension it sporadically breaks. The cast are sublime and gothic manor setting pitch perfect. It’s all very knowing, very smart and very deliberately subversive. All of that and a real crowd pleaser in the very best meaning of the phrase.
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Having been so successfully welcomed back to the jungle in Jack Kasdan’s 2017 Jumanji revival, audiences must surely have higher expectations for the director’s second stab. Lower them. Not by much but enough for some due tempering. The Next Level has its moments but fewer laughs, less momentum and a noticeably longer runtime – an admittedly harsh critique of four additional minutes. An improved second half ramps things up towards an enjoyable finale, promising at least one more sequel, but the weight of familiarity teeters of contempt when things drag prior.
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The last time Disney’s animation studios were on form as fine as they have been in recent years, back in those Renaissance days of the nineties, a sequel to a hit like Frozen would have landed direct to DVD, latterly destined for some bargain bucket. While, these days, the equivalent might be direct to streaming, such was the global impact of Frozen that only a big screen return will do. Praise be for that. Whatever your expectations, Frozen II exceeds them. This is a fabulously matured, wry and beautifully rendered sequel from a production team whose care for their characters is evident in every millisecond of the final piece. A triumph worthy of that rare group of sequels to improve on prior instalments.
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‘Had I known of the actual horrors of the German concentration camps, I could not have made fun of the homicidal insanity of the Nazis.’ So wrote Charlie Chaplin, some two decades after his Great Dictator tickled the war torn millions of Europe and America. A further half century on, it’s hard to imagine that Taika Waititi will ever decree regret for Jojo Rabbit. If anything, the New Zealander is more likely to wind up wishing this deliriously flippant, self-proclaimed ‘anti-hate satire’ were more politically incorrect. And yet, if the brio of the film’s first half proves unsustainable across Waititi’s full script, such a decline barely detracts from the funniest film of the year bar none.
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The Holiday, Jingle All The Way, Four Christmases…each gifted a frosty release reception by critics but adored with enduring regard by cross-generational audiences. At this funny time of year, festive features defy slovenly box office returns and common sense to become the most re-watched of all time. Even It’s a Wonderful Life bombed. Hoping to join this upper echelon of absurd timelessness, Paul Feig’s Emma Thompson and Greg Wise scripted Last Christmas – met with misery in most early reviews – ticks many boxes. It is a flawed gem. Of that there can be no question. And yet, there’s likability here in abundance, driven by good humour and a genially engaging cast.
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‘You know, it doesn’t normally snow on Christmas Eve.’ So says Joan Cusacks’ local, tin-foil wearing narrator as Let it Snow, Netflix’s latest entry to the festive canon, opens. Any slim chance that this might be some ironic nod to the fact that it always snows on Christmas Eve in films such as this dissipates rapidly. This is earnest, predictable material, carved from an algorithmic record of past successes. It’s woke Love Actually for the streaming generation, chockablock with YA stars and extracts from the Richard Curtis back catalogue. There’s no depth nor visceral meaning whatsoever here but it’s likeable enough in bite-size skits.
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Released almost exactly a year to the day, and now snuggly nestled on Sky Cinema, Anna and the Apocalypse boasts one stellar song. Seriously, it’s a total ear worm. You’ll know the one when you see it. That’s not to dismiss the rest of the pop light soundtrack as entirely lacking – there are zinging lyrics throughout – but rather to highlight quite how successful this bandstand centrepiece really is. Around it, the film is likeable, well cast and impressively produced. The jokes land and story holds up. If every element were as superlatively strong as said song, Anna would be an instant classic. It’s hard not to see it finding long term cult success nonetheless.
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