Film Review of the Week


Epic Tails (U)

Review: The smallest creatures including rodents and scorpions make the biggest impact in a family-friendly computer-animated yarn directed by David Alaux with the participation of co-writers Eric Tosti and Jean-Francois Tosti, which playfully plunders Greek mythology under the gaze of petty gods of Olympus. Dubbed for audiences on this side of the English Channel, Epic Tails is a sweet and sincere rites-of-passage comedy that hits easy targets for giggles, whether that be ninja rats head-bopping in unison as they loot fish from a bustling marketplace or a hapless cat face-planting a mound of freshly sprayed monster mucus.

The script owes minor debts of creative gratitude to Finding Nemo and Coco for the anthropomorphic heroes and reanimated skeletons of the legendary Argonauts, who lose their heads and appendages to escape a prison cell then calmly reassemble to carry the flimsy plot on their scapulas. Violence is intentionally cartoonish (characters easily survive being squashed under the feet of a rampaging giant robot) so there is zero chance that any fictional critters might be harmed during the ramshackle quest. An arbitrary seven-day time limit, represented on screen by a giant hourglass, is introduced to spark dramatic tension but that’s largely forgotten until a hare-brained final act that rushes to a predictable, life-affirming resolution.

Decades after Jason (voiced by Terrence Scammell) and the valiant Argonauts returned to Yolcos with the golden fleece, the ancient Greek city has become a prosperous port where humans live in blissful harmony with animals. Plucky mouse Pattie (Sonja Ball) devours stories about Jason’s heroism and dreams of embarking on her own epic quest but her worrywart cat guardian Sam (Mark Camacho) urges her to dream smaller. “A hero is a big strong human, not a little mouse like you,” he purrs.

She reluctantly agrees until the unveiling of a magnificent new statue dedicated to Zeus (Josh Widdicombe) enrages his brother Poseidon (Rob Beckett). The jealous god of the sea orders the people of Yolcos to build a statue in his honour within seven days or he will unleash a towering tidal wave over the city. To accomplish this Herculean feat, Pattie, Sam and sea-faring gull Chickos (Wyatt Bowen) join an ageing Jason aboard the Argo on a perilous expedition to the island of Trinaktos, where legend tells of a huge three-pronged sapphire that would be the perfect, glittering centrepiece of a giant trident fit for a god.

Epic Tails is smaller in ambition than the title suggests (Tail Close To The Wind would be more apt), empowering little Pattie to think big after close encounters with a baby kraken and a family of hungry cyclops. The script winds up for an emotional punch that never materialises but heartstrings are gently plucked and animation throughout is solid, including convincing water effects. Alaux’s picture makes a gentle splash.

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Magic Mike's Last Dance (15)

Review: Sex sells and for long stretches, it’s the only thing worth buying in the concluding chapter of director Steven Soderbergh’s pelvis-pounding trilogy loosely based on lead actor Channing Tatum’s experiences working as a male stripper in Tampa. Billed as The Final Tease, the third film in a series that has unabashedly promoted pleasure over plot can barely muster the energy to stitch together some of the steamiest dance sequences in the franchise with a coherent storyline or empathetic, well-rounded characters.

Tatum affirms why he was voted People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive in 2012 after the release of the first Magic Mike, performing a private dance for co-star Salma Hayek Pinault that beautifully showcases the art of stripping while dangling from the fixtures of an impeccably designed London apartment. I fear a sharp rise in visits to A&E as audience members attempt to replicate his hypnotic bump and grind on a shelving unit and bring down the house in the most literal and painful fashion.

A narratively superfluous Zoom call with four members of the old guard – Ken (Matt Bomer), Richie (Joe Manganiello), Tarzan (Kevin Nash) and Tito (Adam Rodriguez) – is a bittersweet reminder of the salty humour and male camaraderie that are sorely lacking from the third hurrah. Two-dimensional female characters including a bureaucrat (Vicki Pepperdine) with the power to closes theatres for code violations and the lead actress of a stuffy period drama (Juliette Motamed) who becomes the body-pierced MC of Mike’s razzle dazzle strip show are bound with fluffy pink handcuffs to the flimsy plot.

When we meet “Magic” Mike Lane (Tatum) again, he is working as a bartender in Florida after a business deal goes wrong. At a charity fundraiser, he serves a drink to the hostess, wealthy socialite Maxandra Mendoza (Hayek Pinault), and she promptly whisks him away to London to stage a scantily clad dance show in The Rattigan theatre as an act of defiance to her media mogul soon-to-be-ex-husband Roger (Alan Cox). “This is not a strip show. We are bringing the tsunami to London,” she purrs. The deluge never materialises. Max’s chauffeur and manservant Victor (Ayub Khan Din) and precocious daughter Zadie (Jemelia George) struggle to justify their existence as Mike and Max oversee rehearsals for the big show, which effectively fills the pulse-quickening final 20 minutes.

Magic Mike’s Last Dance is hopefully true to the words of the title, signalling a lacklustre end to a flesh-fest that has gradually stripped away the freewheeling fun. Tatum and Hayek Pinault look sensational together in a gender-swapped Pretty Woman premise but Reid Carolin’s script doesn’t sell us their love story or the preposterous obstacles standing in the way of Max’s one-night-only theatrical extravaganza. Let the curtain, shirts and trousers fall.

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Women Talking (15)

Review: Words speaks louder than unspeakable actions in Women Talking. Set predominantly in a hayloft where a group of sexually abused Mennonite women have gathered to debate their commune’s fate, writer-director Sarah Polley’s artful and sensitively handled translation of Miriam Toews’ novel harnesses the combined emotional power of an exquisitely calibrated script and a heavyweight ensemble cast. Women Talking is nominated for two Academy Awards next month including Best Picture and Adapted Screenplay, the latter nod a deserved recognition of Polley’s mastery of dialogue, pacing and tone.

It’s intellectually meaty, elegantly structured and feels intensely theatrical in nature despite occasional forays outside the barn to witness children playing in a field, a wife returning home to her bullying husband or two girls quietly leading horses to secret stabling in the event they need to depart in a hurry. The harrowing subject matter is inspired by real-life events in an ultraconservative Mennonite colony in Bolivia and resonates powerfully as part of uncomfortable and vital cultural conversations arising from the MeToo movement. Polley does not have to explicitly depict abuse on screen – bruises and welts on legs, blood on bedsheets and anguish glistening in eyes are devastating cinematic shorthand, which connect with the same dizzying force as an angry fist.

Mennonite men attribute the attacks on their women and girls to ghosts, demons and “wild female imagination”. The shocking truth – victims have been dosed with horse tranquilisers to incapacitate them during non-consensual acts – is exposed and the perpetrators are arrested. The majority of men leave the commune to post bail, granting women two days to debate whether they wish to stay and forgive their abusers, stay and fight the men who violated them or leave the community and forfeit their place in heaven.

A cross-section of victims meets in a hayloft to trade heated opinions while benevolent schoolteacher August (Ben Whishaw) documents the discourse, quietly dampening his feelings for Ona (Rooney Mara), who is pregnant after one attack. Family matriarchs Greta (Sheila McCarthy), Agata (Judith Ivey) and Scarface (Frances McDormand) are divided over the best course of action and there are differences of opinion among their children. Greta’s daughter Mariche (Jessie Buckley) is resigned to forgiving the perpetrators while Agata’s younger daughter Salome (Claire Foy) has already taken a scythe to one man and acknowledges the inescapability of her fury.

Women Talking is an impassioned and wrenching study of empowerment, forgiveness and self-protection orchestrated to primal screams of female artists behind and in front of the camera including Polley, producer/star McDormand and Icelandic composer Hildur Gudnadottir. Mara, Buckley and Foy deliver disorienting blows with their characters’ keynote speeches while Whishaw’s softly spoken educator reflects rare decency across sharply divided gender lines. Kindness and compassion can be taught. It is never too late to learn.

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