The Greatest Showman ****

The Greatest Showmsn is a musical biopic about the life of legendary showman P T Barnum.

It is a delightful example of a modern musical, with toe tapping melodies and memorable lyrics. I must owe an apology to those sitting near me as my feet started tapping and head bobbing along to the music, within seconds of the start. It is very infectious and in many respects excellent.

The story rattles along, compressing years into the space of a song, taking our hero from down and out to successful family man by very clever visual clues.

Hugh Jackman appears to be born for this role. He leads a remarkable cast through triumph and disaster to hope and fortune.

Its only flaw is that the story is told through very rose tinted story.

Totally ignored are the darker aspects of Barnum and the world he inhabited.

That is not surprising as this is designed as a mass-market audience pleaser, which it is, most triumphantly.

This film is worth at least 4 stars out of five, only falling short of five due to the lack of salt to balance the sugar.


Star Wars: The Last Jedi ****

In some respects, reviewing this film seems like a waste of time because the whole franchise is Marmite. (For my non-UK readers, Marmite is a strong, yeast based spread which “You either love it or hate it” and nothing will change your views).

I freely admit to being a hard-core fan since I was in New York when the first film opened and saw it on Times Square just a week after it opened in 1977.

After seeing this tale from the series, I was left feeling conflicted. There is something missing from the spirit of the film, which I think I have identified.

What is present is an atmosphere of foreboding. Part of this is the realisation that Carrie Fisher will not be in any further films, but also that the story is losing itself in a circle of plot clichés.

So what is missing? Joy.

The simple, innocent joy, that in the eternal fight of good vs evil, knowing that good will always be triumphant.

Also, the pure joy of love and laughter.

Sadly my inner 14yr old child was not excited by this film, but my adult self was.  Tor this reason I give it 4 out of five stars.

Breathe *****

This is another British period drama carrying the BBC Films and other respected logos.

It has all the cinematic beauty that you could wish for, ranging from middle class England to the coffee plantations of the African rift. The cars and costumes are sumptuous. The script is delivered like butter on a warm crumpet.   The acting, by many of our finest younger stars, is convincing.

You are made to feel the heartbreak and pain of the protagonists and supporting cast. Delicious.

The story weaves the struggles of a whole family in a battle with Polio, a once common but now thankfully almost eradicated disease. As it reaches its inevitable conclusion, we can reflect on the benefits to the whole world from that family’s troubles. This converts a tragedy into a victory worthy of recording in this film.

This film is the debut for Andy Serkis as a director, boding well for his future projects.

A very solid 5 out of five stars.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle *****

Many of you will fondly remember the 1996 Jumanji film, starring Robin Williams and Kirsten Dunst. You can rest assured that the new chapter of Jumanji will not tarnish those memories but add another set of family memories.Jumanji 1

The story picks up on the Jumanji Box that contained the original board game and what happened to it since 1996.

The writers have come up with a believable fantasy that whisks you back to the game with tremendous passion, humour and originality.

The four adult actors, Jack Black, Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart and Karen Gillan, give fantastic portrayals of juveniles thrust into adulthood and coming of age.

Indeed, I would claim that these are probably the best performances they have ever given.

This is far and away the best family film of the season, if not the year.

I would go so far as to say, this beats the pants off Star Wars (and I am an avid Star Wars fan).

So for my best family film of 2017, the full 5 stars out of five.

The Man Who Invented Christmas *****

This is a beautiful little film about how and why our most cherished author, Charles Dickens, came to write A Christmas Carol.

The cast consists of a large ensemble of top British acting talents. The script is sharp, humorous without descending into farce and very entertaining.

It does not take a straight biographical narrative but turns the story into an allegory, in the style of Dickens himself.

The fearful side of early 19th century London life is well represented, while at the same time; the viewers’ sympathetic and nostalgic emotions are gently stirred to a crescendo at the climax of the story.

I predict this film will become a staple television entertainment of Christmases yet to come, just as the Christmas Carol itself has.

First class family entertainment so 5 stars out of five for this seasonal treat.

Battle of the Sexes ****

At its heart, Battle of the Sexes is the story of a publicity stunt that went hideously wrong for its sponsor and in doing so caused a revolution in the world of women’s sport.

In 1973, Bobby Riggs, a former champion tennis player and world-class chauvinist, made a public claim that no woman pro-tennis player could beat any male pro-player.

What develops from this statement by an uncomfortably horrible braggart leads to a match between himself and Miss Billie Jean King.

Ms King was already established in the world of women’s tennis and leading their struggle for equal pay.

What follows is a portrait of institutional sexism at its most patronising insidiousness.

This story is not however crying into its hands.

Humour balances pathos and excitement balances emotion to give a well-rounded story that will educate and delight in equal measure.

Emma Stone portrayal of Billie Jean King is very believable.

Comedic actor Steve Carell gives a very controlled, reined in performance of an overconfident, addictive character as Bobby Riggs, good enough for possible award consideration.

He makes you laugh, loathe and pity this sad man, who is so wrapped up in his past glories, allowing his boasting lead him to an inevitable downfall.

As a sports movie, this is one of the very best I have ever seen.

A sporting 4 out of five stars for this biopic.

Justice League **

Yet another superhero movie, Justice League, hit our cinema this weekend. It follows the standard format of the undefeatable villain of the week threatens the world only to be defeated by one or more heroes. There are all the CGI bangs and whistles to draw in the massive following these films attract and produce huge fortunes for the studios.

Sadly this is not one of the best by quite a margin.

There is too much squeezed into the story.

There are three new characters being introduced into the franchise.  They may be long established in comic book lore but they each get the ‘origin story’ treatment, which slows the narrative to a crawl for the first half of the film.

Having done this, these characters are relegated to supporting roles for the more famous and already successful heroes.

The climax of the film is a fairly standard mass destruction of property, with the villain finally but inevitably defeated.

If this genre of film is your thing then this is a definite 2nd choice compared to Thor: Ragnorok, which is still running in cinemas.

I give this a ‘must try harder’ 2 stars out of five.