Review: If This Is Spinal Tap cranked up the volume to 11 on rip-snorting musical comedy, the wistful third album of lackadaisical time-travelling dudes Bill and Ted turns the knob back down to a faint hum. Materialising almost 30 years after the second film, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, director Dean Parisot’s rambunctious romp welcomes back screenwriters Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon for a (presumably) final greatest hits set-list. Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter gleefully embrace the ravages of age in myriad incarnations of the title characters, including a touching scene in a nursing home where grey-haired and dewy-eyed Bill and Ted pass on words of wisdom to their younger selves.
William Sadler reprises his role and a strangled Czech accent as the bass guitar-thrashing Grim Reaper while Samara Weaving and Brigette Lundy-Paine redress the gender imbalance as the heroes’ daughters – most excellent chips off the old blocks, who preach from the same rock bible as their fathers. An air of sweet nostalgia whistles through each madcap interlude, connected by the introduction of a robot called Dennis (Anthony Carrigan), who has been hard-wired without a single decent punchline. The script is at best amusing but never genuinely hilarious, albeit with an undeniably uplifting encore to extol the power of music to unite us in times of isolation.
The ancient prophecy, which decreed best friends Bill S Preston (Winter) and Ted Logan (Reeves) would compose a song that unites the world, remains unfulfilled. “We have been banging our heads against a wall for 25 years and I’m tired dude,” laments Ted to his hard-strumming pal. More pressing, Bill and Ted are locked in couples’ therapy to save their marriages to wives Joanna (Jayma Mays) and Elizabeth (Erinn Hayes).
Time-travelling emissary Kelly (Kristen Schaal), daughter of The Great Leader (Holland Taylor), arrives unexpectedly from 700 years in the future with dire tidings: Bill and Ted have just 77 minutes and 25 seconds to write their musical masterpiece or space will fold in on itself. The duo agree the “most counter-intuitivest idea” – steal the fabled song from their future selves. While Bill and Ted ricochet through time, daughters Thea (Weaving) and Billie (Lundy-Paine) conceive an outlandish plan to put together the ultimate super group including Mozart (Daniel Dorr), Louis Armstrong (Jeremiah Craft) and Jimi Hendrix (DazMann Still).
Bill & Ted Face The Music feels like a farewell concert by a duo who have almost outstayed their welcome and have reached the point where they need to hang up their guitars or tarnish their legacy. Reeves and Winter rekindle the easy-going charm from earlier instalments, trotting out catchphrases with goofy grins that suggest they are having a ball, even if that doesn’t translate to bodacious belly laughs.
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Review: Young lives matter in Rocks, a vibrant coming of age story which affirms the dauntless spirit of girlhood through the eyes of a 15-year-old heroine and her resilient friends. Created in collaboration between writers Theresa Ikoko and Claire Wilson, a young cast of mostly first-time actors and a predominantly female creative team, director Sarah Gavron’s film unearths glimmers of hope and joy in those moments which threaten to crush the human spirit.
Playful scenes of girls chattering in the playground or shooting handheld footage for social media channels are stripped of artifice, as if we are watching a documentary about teenage life at close quarters set to an exuberant soundtrack of London-born artists including Ray BLK, Little Simz, Raye and Mae Muller. The naturalism of performances is one of the film’s many strengths, led by the mesmerising Bukky Bakray, who allows herself to be vulnerable in front of the camera and expose the pain coursing behind her character’s smile. She shoulders the weight of emotionally wrought scenes with confidence beyond her years, often without having to say a word.
Olushola Joy Omotoso (Bakray) aka Rocks is attuned to the signs of depression that regularly consumes her mother Funke (Layo-Christina Akinlude). Consequently, the teenager is a fierce protector of her impish seven-year-old brother, Emmanuel (D’angelou Osei Kissiedu), shielding him from the precariousness of their situation on an east London estate. When Funke disappears, leaving behind an envelope of cash and a brief note of apology, Rocks hides the truth from social services, best friend Sumaya (Kosar Ali) and a loyal crew comprising Agnes (Ruby Stokes), Khadijah (Tawheda Begum), Sabina (Anastasia Dymitrow) and Yawa (Afi Okaidja).
Rocks initially juggles responsibilities as bill-payer and carer, interspersed with blissful moments of exuberance with her friends. The cash eventually runs out and Rocks decides to keep her fractured family together by going on the run with Emmanuel. A troubled girl called Roshe (Shaneigha-Monik Greyson) woos Rocks away from Sumaya and her posse with the promise of exciting new ways to make money. However, reality eventually bites and when it does, there is no escape from trickles of despair.
Rocks paints a rich and compelling portrait of culturally diverse modern youth, told in dialogue improvised by the cast on location in the capital. Gavron eschews sentimentality to realistically chart the rites of passage of protagonists on the cusp of womanhood, who draw comfort and strength from sisterly solidarity. Editor Maya Maffioli weaves together raw footage into a fluid, dynamic narrative. Nothing feels contrived or forced – when the film winds up for an emotional punch, it connects honestly and we feel the impact down to the marrow of our bones.
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