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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From Michael Dowse, erstwhile director of The F Word, Stuber is more promising than it gives itself credit for. Aside from its likeable leads, the film boasts a bonafide decent conceit. This is the story of an Uber driver – Kumail Nanjiani’s Stu – who finds himself engulfed by the hunt for a slippery underworld drug lord when LAPD detective Vic Manning (Dave Bautista) hitches a ride. Sadly, an early wrong turn in the film’s navigation misses the opportunity. What follows is a trip over reliant on B roads and over extended by roundabouts. It is small mercy that Dowse’s passengers do, at least, seem committed to ensuring a fun ride.
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Unlike the meticulously plotted Marvel Cinematic Universe, in which everything matters and all instalments work towards the established bigger picture, episodes in Warner Bros.’ Conjuring franchise are only ever as significant as the momentary pleasure they exude. Thus, the events of The Nun and The Curse of La Llorona bear no significance in Annabelle Comes Home, third in the porcelain sub series and seventh overall. Heck, even the previous two Annabelle films feel barely relevant with this one. An all too brief turn for Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga’s Ed and Lorraine Warren makes for a promising start but in their absence the film suffers a bad case of tonal confusion.
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‘Gotta catch ‘em all’ may be best known as the catch phrase of Pokémon collectors across the English-speaking world but it’s equally the attitude of Hollywood to East Asian franchise hits. Following the likes of Ghost in the Shell, and bolstered no doubt by the peculiar recent return of Nintendo’s Pokémon empire to global megastardom, Detective Pikachu finds the franchise translated for the first time to big budget, live action territory. And yet, unlike most video game properties, this one just about survives the transition. How so? The inspired vocal casting of Ryan Reynolds as a spiky, lightning tailed Pikachu has a lot to do with it.
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