It’s hard to imagine anyone who doesn’t like CBBC sketch show Horrible Histories. What must their lives be like? Anyway, fans who get the joke queued to see this, the troupe’s first film, which traces the “lost years” of Shakespeare, played with guileless charm and a little bit of rock ’n’ roll by Mathew Baynton.
Channelling the verbose wit of Blackadder and the knockabout kicks of the costumed Carry Ons, Bill (repeated on Wednesday night) is written by regulars Laurence Rickard and Ben Willbond (who also appear) and directed with gusto by Richard Bracewell.
The result is a less surreal Monty Python for kids, with gags that repay those who listened in history at school (a musical group called Mortal Coil shuffle off, for instance). Helen McCrory is a gloriously preposterous Elizabeth I, while stalwarts Simon Farnaby, Martha Howe-Douglas and Jim Howick all play multiple roles. Full marks. AC
Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen gets the full Disney-princess treatment in a dazzling adventure. Idina Menzel voices Elsa, the princess whose magical frostiness is so dangerous that she has to be separated from younger sister Anna (Kristen Bell). AJ
If someone had invented the story of a Jamaican bobsleigh team entering the Olympics, they’d have been laughed out of the room. But, as the story is true and Disney knows how to produce feel-good material better than most, what results is a hugely entertaining comedy that’s guaranteed to have you cheering on the underdogs.
Michael Ritchie co-wrote the story on which the film is based, no doubt drawing on his directorial experiences of winter sports – Downhill Racer – and sporting no-hopers – The Bad News Bears. Admittedly, it’s a little predictable and patronising at times, but the eager performances of John Candy and his charges carry the day. DP
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
I was recently asked to contribute to a documentary about the Harry Potterverse and immersed myself in the eight canonical films as research, rediscovering the many levels upon which JK Rowling’s saga weaves its magic.
With ITV showing the whole saga over Christmas (there’s a film a day except on Boxing Day), it’s the perfect time to rewind to 2001, when the franchise was still ripe with the novelty of expectation.
It’s no revelation to observe that the story gets darker as both Voldemort and puberty close in, but Alfonso Cuarón’s Prisoner of Azkaban (Christmas Day) takes a particularly gothic turn with its Dementors and apparent execution of Buckbeak. If the film series has a weak link, it’s Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (Sat 30 Dec), which treads water somewhat before the final showdown.
My own favourite remains The Goblet of Fire (Wed 27 Dec). Patrick Doyle’s score contains two beautiful waltzes, a march and a stirring hymn, and the film hits new design heights with the ice-frosted Yule Ball. We all have our favourite moments and they’re dotted throughout. And the Fantastic Beasts prequels will keep fans happy for years to come.
Sunday 24th December – Christmas Eve
A well thought out prequel to Monsters, Inc, this Disney-Pixar brand extension has bags of fun with the notion of an adolescent Mike (voiced by Billy Crystal) and Sulley (John Goodman) at college, where the former is a hardworking “scare major” and the latter cruises on the family name, heading for an academic fall.
Acceptance or non-acceptance into fraternities ensues, and a Quidditch-like “Scare Games” tournament finds the two pals competing with the misfits, a contest you can’t fail to be sucked into.
Helen Mirren, Steve Buscemi and Alfred Molina distinguish the voice cast, Randy Newman provides a typically sunny score, and, if you were actually to place it, Monsters University sits just under Pixar’s top shelf. This will sound like a petty gripe, but the visuals are sometimes just too hallucinogenically colourful — maybe it’s something to do with the debut of a new digital lighting algorithm?
ET meets Lilo & Stitch in this sweet, culture-clash comedy adapted from Adam Rex’s children’s novel The True Meaning of Smekday.
Although the plot is overly familiar, director Tim Johnson (Antz) incorporates the customary values of friendship and community, as he follows alien fugitive Oh (voiced by The Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parsons) and his unlikely human ally, Tip (a spirited Rihanna). Oh is one of the cowardly “Boovs” who are invading Earth (Steve Martin is their leader) to hide from their enemy, the “Gorg”.
Parsons turns Oh into a dextrous creation — although his persistent cuteness might eventually grate on adults — and kids will remain entranced by the bold visuals. AJ
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Youngsters who worship the work of fantasy author JK Rowling will find this sequel to The Philosopher’s Stone even more to their taste. The mood is darker, as spiders lurk in the Forbidden Forest and Ron (Rupert Grint) even exchanges a kiss with Hermione (Emma Watson).
Director Chris Columbus has allowed some mechanical repetition to creep in, but overall this manages to be ingenious as well as faithful to its source. Of the adult players, Kenneth Branagh stands out as an egotistical new teacher, managing to upstage even the special effects. TH
George Miller, the director of Babe, combines jaw-dropping computer animation with contemporary and classic tunes for this story of an outcast penguin’s struggle for acceptance. Moral and ecological messages abound as Mumble (voiced by Elijah Wood) hatches without the ability to sing — but discovers he can tap dance brilliantly. Every element of this heart-warming tale is delightful, from the astonishing visuals to the relentlessly paced (and occasionally scary) action sequences. SF
The Muppet Christmas Carol
With Michael Caine as Scrooge, Kermit and Miss Piggy as the Cratchits, and Gonzo as Dickens, this is quite simply corking Christmas entertainment. Although the story has been Muppetised (with Fozzie Bear as Fozziwig, the owner of a rubber-chicken factory), no attempt has been made to water it down, and the poignancy of the moral tale is as affecting as ever.
Caine hadn’t been this good in years, and his scenes with those supreme hecklers Statler and Waldorf, as the Marley brothers, are the highlight of the film. DP
Night at the Museum
Ben Stiller heads a cast of A-list comedy actors (including Mickey Rooney, Dick Van Dyke and Robin Williams) in this raucous romp through history. Stiller plays night watchman Larry Daley, who runs for his life when the exhibits at New York’s Museum of Natural History come to life. Stiller does a sterling job here and there’s a witty use of visual effects, such as when Larry is terrorised by a T-rex skeleton.
Director Shawn Levy is not always in control of his storyline, but there are enough exciting stunts and larger-than-life performances to provide entertainment for kids and old relics alike. Sequel Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb is on tomorrow. SP
Monday 25th December – Christmas Day
A smart and sassy animated adventure from DreamWorks, this spiritual successor to Antz and A Bug’s Life is the first high-profile big-screen venture for comedian Jerry Seinfeld, who co-wrote the screenplay and provides the voice for the story’s hero, Barry B Benson. He rebels against the prospect of a life spent toiling away for the Honex corporation, meeting a florist called Vanessa (voiced by Renée Zellweger), and striking up a forbidden inter-species friendship.
From there the plot buzzes off in several directions, but the screenplay deftly treads the tightrope between keeping the kids amused and entertaining adults with some more topical gags. This truly is the bee’s knees. DA
Dr Seuss’ The Lorax
Having exhausted the most famous works of Dr Seuss (The Cat in the Hat and The Grinch), Hollywood has now turned to his lesser-known books to provide quirky kids’ fare. The citizens of Thneedville live in an artificial world, but young Ted (voiced by Zac Efron) ventures outside the city limits to bring back a real tree for the girl of his dreams. There, he encounters the hermit-like Once-ler (Ed Helms), who recounts how his actions destroyed the forest, despite the best efforts of guardian the Lorax (a cranky Danny DeVito). Will Ted be able to restore nature’s balance?
Cheerful good humour and psychedelic imagery abound, but stretching a short children’s book out to feature length means the brilliant simplicity of the story is somewhat lost. LB
Mr Bean’s Holiday
Ten years after his first big-screen appearance, this second film outing for Rowan Atkinson’s slightly creepy comic creation is, for the first hour at least, really rather good. Bean, who has won a Côte d’Azur holiday in a church raffle, heads off to Paris by train and proceeds to bumble his way across France, with “gracias” his sole attempt at the local lingo.
Toy Story 3
The glow of originality may have dimmed, but Pixar’s third rummage in the toy box delivers exactly what it’s supposed to, with appealing fringe benefits. Director Lee Unkrich (Monsters, Inc, Finding Nemo) serves up an expert blend of slapstick fun and heartfelt adventure, in which Andy’s playthings are donated to a day-care centre where the repressive toy regime consigns them to age-inappropriate man-handling.
So it’s Woody to the rescue in a sweet, thrilling and engrossing take on prisonbreak movies, and Buzz Lightyear switched to Spanish language mode is a hilarious highlight of this colourful charmer.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón brings a darker feel to this third Potter, which has boy wizard Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) contending with Gary Oldman’s escaped convict. But there’s still plenty of fun to be had, with ghosts and gadgets galore, plus a shapeshifting bus that, were it real, would solve London’s traffic congestion at a stroke.
David Thewlis, Emma Thompson and Timothy Spall join the cast, and, in many respects, this outing is even better than its predecessors. DA
With Disney cashing in its licence to print money by using new technology to forge live-action remakes of its animated classics, each entry must be taken on its own merits. The 2016 Jungle Book struck me as a poor cousin of its pre-digital predecessor, while this year’s Beauty and the Beast had bags of energy but the candlestick, teapot and other animate objects lacked charm. Kenneth Branagh’s full-bodied crack at Cinderella is the studio’s most notable success story.
Mixing vast Pinewood sets with real National Trust exteriors, it luxuriates in its surroundings, although Sandy Powell was robbed of her fourth Oscar for costume design. Stealing Lily James and Richard Madden from TV (Downton Abbey and Game of Thrones respectively) to play Cinders and the prince was a wily move, and one imagines Helena Bonham Carter kicking down the door to play the fairy godmother. Chris Weitz’s script is wry and playful, Patrick Doyle’s score swirls, and two songs from the 1950 original make a profound connection.
One of the highest grossing pictures of all time, this modest Christmas comedy became a phenomenal money-making machine. Writer/producer John Hughes and director Chris Columbus tuned in to two key elements: the joyfulness of Steven Spielberg’s ET, with its children triumphing over adults, and the perennial chase of Tom and Jerry cartoons.
Thus Macaulay Culkin, then ten years old and already in his fifth picture, plays the youngster left stranded by his parents who fly to Paris for the holiday. He pigs out on junk food, watches videos and then copes heroically with two burglars (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern), crying “Yes!” when he zaps them. Surprisingly violent in a cartoon-like way, it’s a celebration of enterprise that captured the heart and wickedness of every child on the planet. AT
Tuesday 26th December – Boxing Day
Shaun the Sheep Movie
Aardman Animations returns to cinemas on 26 January with Early Man, making this the perfect time to luxuriate in their previous stop-frame feature, a big-screen promotion for CBBC’s Shaun the Sheep, who was first seen as Wallace and Gromit’s nemesis-turned-ally in A Close Shave back in 1995.
Co-written and directed by Mark Burton and Aardman’s first-ever employee, Richard Starzak, it is a simple, largely dialogue-free fish-out-of-water (or sheep-out-of-sheep-dip) yarn, in which a listless Shaun tries to wangle an easy day for himself and his farmyard friends. But the plan backfires when the Farmer takes a knock to the head, becomes lost in the biggish city and is mistaken for a hairdresser.
Elaborate set pieces ensue as Shaun attempts to find and return him to Mossy Bottom Farm (one involving the flock of sheep dressed as a horse), while Ilan Eshkeri’s score may one day come to redefine “jaunty” in the dictionary. It’s essentially a lesson in the international Esperanto of the silent movie, only animated.
Tinker Bell and the Legend of the NeverBeast
Disney’s favourite fairy flies solo for the umpteenth time in a dramatic and rather moving “Beauty and the Beast”-type tale, which is rooted in the old adage that looks can be deceiving. When fairy Fawn befriends a big furry monster, alarm bells ring for Tinker Bell and the rest of the fairy folk. But after several surprisingly tense misadventures they realise that you can’t judge a book by its cover — nor a NeverBeast by its outward appearance.
Colourful, bright and brief, this is good, wholesome fun.
Director Paul King could have betrayed the essence of Michael Bond’s much-loved character by modernising the setting and plot, but, have no fear, Paddington is a class act. After a prologue set in darkest Peru, the eponymous bear (beautifully voiced by Ben Whishaw) moves into the west London household of the Brown family (led by parents Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins). Although mishaps aplenty ensue, Paddington eventually wins their affections. But can they keep him safe from the clutches of a stiletto-heeled taxidermist (Nicole Kidman)?
While children will break out in fits of giggles over the well-timed slapstick sequences, adults will probably relish the wink-wink grown-up jokes. At its heart, though, this is a lovingly British film, as comforting as a Christmas pantomime. LF
This is easily the best of Disney’s experiments in combining animation and live action, and one of the studio’s best-loved films. The last feature overseen by Walt Disney before his death, it was nominated for 13 Oscars and scooped five, including best actress for Julie Andrews in her screen debut.
She is splendid as the prim nanny who transforms the lives of her young charges through their visits to her charming fantasy world. Dick Van Dyke’s cock-eyed cockney accent still rankles but his energetic performance as Bert the chimney sweep is one of the picture’s main assets. DP
The Little Mermaid
What a splash this adventure made on its release, marking as it did the beginning of a new “golden age” of Disney animated features. The story of the plucky Ariel boasts impressive animation and a catchy, show-stopping score by Academy Award-nominated Alan Menken.
While some of the scenes could possibly frighten very young children, especially those featuring loathsome villainess Ursula, this remains an enduring delight.
Wednesday 27th December
Big Hero 6
Animation from Disney that tells a story of brotherly love and loss, heroism and villainy, set in an East-meets-West future. It sees robotics genius Hiro battle an evil megalomaniac, helped by Baymax, his cute and cuddly balloon buddy. Kids will love all the whooshing and swooping action in what is a multicoloured sugar-rush of a movie. SR
The Princess and the Frog
Disney’s hand-drawn animation is set in New Orleans in the Roaring Twenties, where waitress Tiana (voiced by Anika Noni Rose) is turned into a frog after kissing a cursed prince. Kids will love the zany antics of Tiana’s creature pals. AJ
This cute, clever sequel sees Shrek (voiced by Mike Myers) and Fiona (Cameron Diaz) visiting her hometown of Far Far Away, with plenty of subtle satire and double entendres for young and old alike to savour. Shrek the Third is on tomorrow, with Shrek Forever After on New Year’s Day. AJ
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
As young wizard Harry Potter continues to mature, so too does this exciting fantasy franchise. This fourth instalment offers genuine scares alongside the magical mayhem, as Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) tackles the Triwizard Tournament. SF
Thursday 28th December
The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!
The rousing good humour of Aardman Animations catches fire with this tale of derring-do — and don’t — on the high seas. Hugh Grant voices Pirate Captain, whose attempt to win a top award brings him up against a duplicitous Charles Darwin and a dangerous Queen Victoria. KK
Kung Fu Panda
Clumsy, chubby noodleseller Po the panda becomes a martial arts master in a DreamWorks animation that’s brighter, breezier and bouncier than most. Jack Black’s boundless enthusiasm gives the title character a lovably goofball spark. AJ
How to Train Your Dragon 2
This sequel finds Viking Hiccup and his dragon pal Toothless exploring lands far from home. Hiccup’s long-lost mother (Cate Blanchett) is a welcome addition in a film that compellingly explores the relationship between man and beast. LF
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
The magic is still there but the mood remains dark in this engrossing fifth episode, in which Harry tries to convince the wizarding community of the re-emergence of Voldemort. Imelda Staunton steals the show as prim but poisonous tutor Dolores Umbridge. JH
Friday 29th December
Monsters vs Aliens
Five freaks of nature, not unlike those classic sci-fi icons Mothra, the Blob, the 50 Foot Woman, the Fly and the Gillman, are released from US government security to stave off an alien invasion in this funny cartoon romp. The focus is on Susan (Reese Witherspoon), who is hit by a meteor and grows into the huge Ginormica. It’s a smartly scripted valentine to B-movies, and sci-fi buffs will find the references delicious.
This Pixar masterwork sees grumpy widower Carl Fredricksen (effectively growled by Ed Asner) fulfil a lifelong dream of great adventure when he attaches balloons to his house and floats it away to a South American lost world. But he has company in the shape of an accidental stowaway — eight-yearold scout Russell (Jordan Nagai). The pair then attempts to save a rare bird from the clutches of an eccentric adventurer (Christopher Plummer).
It’s funny, thrilling, startling and moving, filled with fantastic sights and all-too-human sadness. AJ
This is Pixar’s first full-length feature to have a female as its central character, and a memorable creation she is, too. Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) is a Scottish princess with a fiery spirit who takes off for the forest and seeks the help of a witch for a spell to stop her mother’s (Emma Thompson) plan to marry her off to preserve peace in the kingdom. The animation is a technical marvel certainly, but overall this lacks the audacious spirit of Pixar’s earlier offerings.
In this animated tale from Aardman, James McAvoy voices young Arthur, who is overcome by enthusiasm for the gift-giving season, as his father, the current Santa (Jim Broadbent), creeps towards retirement. But the operation to deliver billions of presents comes unstuck when it’s discovered that one little girl hasn’t received anything, prompting Arthur and the irascible Grandsanta (Bill Nighy) to leap into action.
The script by Peter Baynham does tend to meander, but the film still boasts terrific characters and breathtaking animation. KK
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
In the outstanding sixth adaptation of JK Rowling’s fantasy series, Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) lures potions professor Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent, in an entertainingly eccentric performance) back to Hogwarts. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) is then charged with trying to dislodge a key clue regarding Slughorn’s former pupil, the future Lord Voldemort, from the retired teacher’s resistant mind.
This is a difficult book to adapt because it is mostly concerned with setting up the two-part finale, but screenwriter Steve Kloves does an admirable job of condensing the plot without losing the emotional depth of the surprisingly adult narrative. AJ
Saturday 30th December
Penguins of Madagascar
The Madagascar franchise scene-stealers here deservedly get their own spin-off movie. They’re recruited as spies to thwart the world-takeover plans of arch-baddie octopus Dave (John Malkovich). Writer/ director Eric Darnell (graduating from the Madagascar series) and co-director Simon J Smith struggle at times with a generic plot, but the penguins are cute and the mirthful moments — many splendidly surreal — make this a trip worth taking. DA
Despicable Me 2
The no-longer-despicable former super-criminal Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) is faced with a new evil threat. Drafted by the Anti-Villain League (whose stuffy boss is voiced by Steve Coogan), Gru has to call upon his cunning of old to scupper the plans of a mysterious figure intent on world domination.
Aware of how important Gru’s little yellow helpers, the Minions, were to the original film, directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud place them centre stage, at one point turning them against their beloved master. It’s a nifty twist that brings added jeopardy to a charming romp. TeS
Alice in Wonderland
This brash, colourful and undemanding animated feature contains the best-loved episodes from the Lewis Carroll classic. Where it scores over its live-action rivals is in the depiction of the more fantastic figures, such as the White Rabbit, the Caterpillar, the Cheshire Cat, the March Hare and the Dormouse, which, while always more Disney than Carroll, are all engaging creations.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1
The Harry Potter franchise runs aground in its seventh instalment, which tackles the first half of the series’ epic final volume. With Harry, Ron and Hermione on the run, it falls to Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson to carry the bulk of the action on an extended road trip.
The drifting story will likely frustrate all but the most devoted of fans, and the film plays more like an extended prologue than a story in its own right. But some stunning set pieces and a beautiful animated segment redeem things considerably. SM
Sunday 31st December – New Year’s Eve
Croods by name, but sophisticated by nature, this Flintstonesesque slice of CGI-animated family fun sees Nicolas Cage and Emma Stone voicing the dad and daughter of a not-so-modern Stone Age family. They flee an impending apocalypse, seeking safety through a colourful and weirdly trippy landscape of land whales, elephant mice and piranha parrots.
Although it sometimes mistakes frantic for fun, there’s enough pre-hysterical slapstick to keep the kids entertained and adults amused. DA
The Lego Movie
The first big-screen Lego adventure is every bit as imaginative, colourful and cleverly constructed as its plastic inspiration. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller build the story of a construction worker (voiced by Chris Pratt) who rebels against President Business (Will Ferrell).
There’s great support from Morgan Freeman as a seer, and Will Arnett as a dour Batman, and while the breakneck pace may overwhelm at times, the film’s message about freedom of expression is truly inspiring. JH
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
The franchise comes to a satisfying and teary-eyed conclusion as Voldemort and Harry clash for the last time. Every beloved character gets their moment and the technical wizardry on display fires the imagination like never before.
There’s also a menacing gravity lacking from previous episodes that puts the final spectacular confrontation on a truly mythic plane. AJ
Monday 1st January – New Year’s Day
Racer Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) and his trusty tow-truck sidekick Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) leave Radiator Springs to take part in the World Grand Prix. However, while souped-up motors battle it out, Mater becomes embroiled in the shady world of espionage after a chance meeting with slick spy Finn McMissile (Michael Caine).
Director John Lasseter delivers some exciting race sequences but lengthy stretches of dialogue interrupting the pace of the movie results in a rare instance of Pixar failing to fire on all cylinders. TeS
Postman Pat: the Movie
The Postman Pat children’s TV series used gentle, stop-motion animation to portray a simple rustic life. But everyone’s favourite first-class male gets a CGI makeover for his big-screen debut. Pat purists will have kittens at our hero swapping Greendale for TV talent shows and evil postie lookalikes that want to take over the postal service.
While Pat’s “new look” won’t be for everyone, it’s actually very well done. Kids will enjoy it, and grown-ups may crack a smile, too. DA
Shrek Forever After
The fourth Shrek movie has the not-so-jolly green ogre (voiced by Mike Myers), Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) and their three icky, burping babies living in apparent familial bliss. So far, so dull. But as this descends into domestic routine, a darker hue is revealed: Shrek makes a deal with trickster Rumpelstiltskin to return him to his villager-scaring roots for one day.
However, the small print in the contract wipes out the status quo and a dystopian, It’s a Wonderful Life-style alternative universe is the cleverly conceived result. The story weaves notably grown-up themes of responsibility and regret, and a mangey Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and gone-to-seed Puss (Antonio Banderas) shoulder all the laughs. AC
Ice Age: the Meltdown
A rare sequel that’s actually better than its predecessor, this is colourful, inventive and laugh-out-loud funny. The race-against-time plotline sees global warming melting the glaciers, leaving valley-dwelling animals — among them Sid the sloth (voiced by John Leguizamo), Manny the mammoth (Ray Romano) and Diego the sabre-toothed tiger (Denis Leary) — facing extinction as the floodwaters rise.
Cue a fast-paced and frequently exciting exodus to higher ground, during which the mismatched trio swap witty banter and encounter new friends, including a female mammoth (a sassy Queen Latifah) and her two possum “brothers”. SF
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
After Batman and Planet of the Apes, Tim Burton continued to rewrite a generation’s childhood with a new adaptation of Roald Dahl’s much-loved book. A fashionable but superfluous backstory aside, Burton sticks faithfully to the text: povertystricken Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore) is one of five competition winners on a guided tour of Willy Wonka’s sweet factory.
Johnny Depp’s camp, childlike Wonka is fun but ultimately too distant to recapture the love generated by Gene Wilder in the original. The production design looks good enough to eat though, employing CGI to dazzling effect. AC
“Oh dear, what an awkward situation,” intones Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) when she arrives, uninvited, at the christening of the king and queen’s new daughter, Aurora. She looks every inch the corporeal incarnation of Disney’s original animated villain, which is very much the idea of this gothically pantomimic retread of the handed-down fairy tale.
A curse follows her visit, and the future sleeping beauty’s fate is sealed: raised by three fairies (comic relief from Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple and Lesley Manville), Aurora grows up in the shape of Elle Fanning, and fulfils Maleficent’s prophecy by pricking her finger and nodding off, to the chagrin of Brenton Thwaites’s handsome prince.
But just when you think you’ve got the measure of this newest retelling, there’s a twist. The high-wire, dragonbased action is well marshalled by former special effects artist Robert Stromberg, and James Newton Howard’s score is suitably melodramatic — with a theme sung by Lana Del Rey adding street cred. AC
Pitch Perfect 2
Who’d have thought that a film about unaccompanied college singing would be such a big hit, but that’s exactly what the first Pitch Perfect was. So, three years later, here’s another one, and it’s kind of fun, too, though director Elizabeth Banks (who also plays one of the contest commentators) has to work harder at it than Jason Moore did with the original.
Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson return as members of campus a cappella group the Barden Bellas, here entering an international contest that no US team has won before. It’s the standard format for a follow-up. Sassy and smartly written, the film starts strongly, but waffles badly through the middle hour, before rediscovering its mojo in the competition climax. DA