On paper, the plot of Marc Webb’s Gifted reads as being somewhat saccharine, clichéd and kind of generic. It’s the story of a bachelor, Frank (Chris Evans, sans lycra for once), bringing up the precociously ‘gifted’ Mary (Mckenna Grace). She’s the daughter of his similarly progenic sister, whose life of pressured genius led to her suicide some six years earlier.
When Mary’s school teacher, Miss Stevenson (comic, Jenny Slate), discovers the girl’s intellectual brilliance and spreads the word, it is not long before her Grandmother (Lindsey Duncan) appears on the scene, demanding custody and promising a future of elite education leading to greatness. A court case ensues, with Frank fighting for the right to give Mary the right to the life he claims his sister wanted for her: ‘Just dumb her down into a decent human being’. Sounds rough, but he means well.
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It’s a biographical performance that Albert Finney, Richard Burton and Michael Gambon have all taken on. Here, in Churchill, Sir Winston, named in a 2002 poll as the Greatest Briton of all time, is played with aplomb by Brian Cox. This is however, from the directorial eye of The Railway Man’s Jonathan Teplitzky and the pen of historian Alex von Tunzelmann, a far more destabilising depiction of the icon and well represented caricature. Churchill has both the bull and black dogs of its protagonist’s life at heart but is unfortunately every bit as conflicted and flawed as the man himself.
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Made in the US but financed by China, Rock Dog – the latest cheap and cheerful toon from the makers of Free Birds and The Book of Life – represents the worst of both worlds. An unharmonious mash up of cultures, the film might just have scraped by as passable kiddy fare were it better balanced in gender casting and less offensively blatant as an example of American globalisation. It’s based on, Chinese Rock Singer/Songwriter, Zheng Jun’s manga book: Tibetan Rock Dog but might as well be based in New York for all anyone cares. The film’s already bombed in China and, frankly, it deserved to.
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Studio Ghibli, that powerhouse of Japanese animation, stirred panic among certain cineastes back in 2014 when they announced that When Marnie Was Here would mark a temporary hiatus in production to coincide with the retirement of co-founder Hayao Miyazaki. Three years on, Miyazaki has thankfully resumed his position to direct one more feature – hoorah! In the meantime, to whet our appetites, Michaël Dudok de Wit’s The Red Turtle marks a excitingly potent co-production between Ghibli and European distributor Wild Bunch.
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Of the five films to gain nomination in the category of Best Animated Feature in February’s Academy Awards, one only just gaining its UK release this week is Swiss-director Claude Barras’ My Life as a Courgette. An utterly delightful stop motion animation, with an older audience in mind, this is a micro-feature of mesmeric perfection. I left charmed, heartbroken and thoroughly alive.
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The stakes have never been higher. Billions are at risk. The Universe needs a hero.
No, this is not the plot of Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman, Hollywood’s first ever female-directed Summer tentpole blockbuster. This is the state of Warner Bros’ DC and their Extended Universe as Gal Gadot brings to life the origins story of Diana Prince (aka Wonder Woman) as never realised before on the big screen. Thankfully, after three serious duds (Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, and Suicide Squad) for the anti-Marvel franchise builders, Wonder Woman is a delight. A thoroughly entertaining ride which may just prove to be the savour DC so desperately needs.
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Four sequels and fourteen long years on from Gore Verbinski’s brilliant swashbuckler, The Curse of the Black Pearl, the Johnny Depp fronted Pirates of the Caribbean franchise has definitively shipwrecked. The signs of shallow waters have been lingering for a while now but Salazar’s Revenge (known as Dead Men Tell No Tales in some regions for some reasons) is a mess through and through. No buckles are successfully swashed and my timbers remained wholly unshivered.
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