Film Review of the Week


Dogtanian And The Three Muskehounds (U)

Review: I love the smell of nostalgia in the morning. The animated TV series Dogtanian And The Three Muskehounds is fondly embedded in my childhood memories of the early 1980s alongside Battle Of The Planets and Dungeons & Dragons. The anthropomorphised adventures of an aspiring swordshound and his mouse sidekick put a fresh spin on Alexandre Dumas’ swashbuckling 19th-century novel The Three Musketeers. It also tormented my parents with an infuriatingly catchy theme tune composed by Italian duo Guido and Maurizio De Angelis. Those chirpy lyrics – “One for all and all for one, Muskehounds are always ready!” – are spared for the end credits of director Toni Garcia’s feature-length computer-animated revamp, accompanied by karaoke-style words on screen to inspire howling in the aisles.

In a loving nod to the past, soft-focus flashbacks in the film look suspiciously like excerpts from the TV series replete with expressive hand-drawn visuals. Repeated blasts back to the 1980s underline the quintessential sweetness and rumbustious humour that is lacking in Garcia’s remake, based on a script by Doug Langdale that spruces up a plotline from the episode Daggers And Diamonds involving a stolen necklace, a beguiling masked thief and the looming threat of war between France and England.

In 1625, ambitious floppy-eared pooch Dogtanian (voiced by Tomas Ayuso) dreams of serving King Louis XIII (Julio Perillan) alongside valiant musketeers Aramis (Perillan again), Athos (Stephen Hughes) and Porthos (Hughes again). The young mutt bids farewell to his father (Scott Cleverdon) and canters into Paris on the family’s neigh-sayer horse, Sandy, hoping to secure an audience with Monsieur de Treville (Robbie K Jones), leader of the musketeer corps. Alas, spies of scheming Cardinal Richelieu (Hughes again) are everywhere and Monsieur de Treville cannot invite a young whelp like Dogtanian into the musketeer ranks without years of honourable service as proof of allegiance to the king.

A chance encounter with fair maiden Juliette (Karina Matas Piper) and thieving mouse Pip (Jones again) secures Dogtanian separate duels with Aramis, Athos and Porthos. “You fight with skill, you fight with style. I’d rather fight a crocodile,” coos Aramis, who insists on speaking in rhyming couplets. The foursome quickly put aside their differences when Richelieu’s spy Milady de Winter (Elisabeth Gray) steals a necklace belonging to Queen Anne (Piper again).

Dogtanian And The Three Muskehounds bounds along pleasantly for 84 minutes. Pristine visuals honour character designs from almost 40 years ago but lack some of the rough and ready charm of bygone days. Vocal performances feel muted compared with the small screen predecessor and the most colourful role in the French court, his eminence Cardinal Richelieu, lacks an air of lip-smacking boo-hiss villainy to pose a serious threat to the heroic canine quartet.

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Fast & Furious 9 (12A)

Review: Four years after F Gary Gray hit the accelerator on a turbo-charged eighth chapter of the demolition derby – the first instalment without original cast member Paul Walker – director Justin Lin slides back into the driver’s seat of the penultimate film in the series, co-written by Daniel Casey. Their script quickly disables the handbrake on plausibility and makes no effort to slalom around gaping p(l)otholes, introducing giant electromagnets for one elaborate set piece that reduces Edinburgh city centre to rubble. The divisive trams are conveniently absent from the streets of the Scottish capital as souped-up motors thunder over asphalt and cobbles. London fares slightly better: police cars are trashed during a night-time pursuit but Buckingham Palace and surrounding locales are unscathed.

Characters pointedly spend more screen time discussing their apparent invincibility, emerging from outlandish exploits without a scratch, than enriching emotional arcs or making sense of a preposterous quest to retrieve top-secret technology – codename Project Ares – which seizes control of global weapons systems. In one case, a character presumed dead in an automotive fireball at the conclusion of Fast & Furious 6 is resurrected via flashback manipulation.

Once it becomes clear that the racers can survive anything, and know it, Fast & Furious 9 jettisons dramatic tension from its exhaust pipe and screeches through a series of bombastic smash ’n’ grabs that venture to the only place untouched thus far. “Two dudes from the ghetto in outer space? You know nobody’s gonna believe this right?” grins Tyrese Gibson to co-star Chris “Ludacris” Bridges. We don’t. Lin’s picture isn’t a complete car crash but airbags are repeatedly deployed.

The perfunctory plot begins with covert ops team leader Mr Nobody (Kurt Russell) capturing cyberterrorist Cipher (Charlize Theron) but his plane is shot down over Montequinto. Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and the team – Roman Pearce (Gibson), Tej Parker (Bridges) and hacker Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) – head to the Central American jungle to investigate. Following a daredevil escape from a minefield, they come face to face with Dom’s younger brother Jakob (John Cena), a master assassin with an axe to grind, preferably against the forehead of his older sibling.

Intercut with misty-eyed flashbacks to 1989 and a traumatic incident on the banked oval of a speedway track, Fast & Furious 9 shifts through first and second gears but never achieves top speed. Lin orchestrates spectacular, pyrotechnic-laden stunts in an emotional vacuum, heavy-handedly emphasising the importance of family in throwaway exchanges between team members. Almost every surviving character from the sprawling saga is shoe-horned into the gung-ho globe-trotting. One half of Hobbs and Shaw materialises during a humorous end credits tease for the 10th and final film that will, on this disappointing evidence, have to incorporate an alien invasion, the melting of polar icecaps, a zombie apocalypse and full-cast song and dance number to up the ante.

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Supernova (15)

Review: Taking its title from the blindingly bright explosion of a dying star, writer-director Harry Macqueen’s heart-breaking drama about living with dementia is unfortunately timed to twinkle shortly after The Father deservedly cast a spell at this year’s Oscars. Supernova exists in the same narrative universe, juxtaposing the fear and confusion of a patient with the anguish of caring family members, but this gently paced road movie takes a more conventional approach to storytelling. “I want to be remembered for who I was and not who I’m about to become,” pleads Stanley Tucci’s afflicted writer to his life partner, played with frayed nerves and a shattered heart by Colin Firth.

Their on-screen familiarity is delightfully believable from the opening shot of the couple entwined in bed, whether it be playful teasing about the shipping forecast on BBC Radio 4 or a more serious conversation about forgotten medicines. “They remind me that I’m ill and I don’t want that, not right now,” contends Tucci’s wordsmith, who claims to be writing a final book while he still feels some semblance of control over his creativity. The natural flow and ease of these early scenes contrasts with a fraught, tear-wringing final act overstuffed with dialogue which hits premeditated beats at the expense of sounding like a true cascade of emotions.

Out-of-practice concert pianist Sam (Firth) and his partner, American novelist Tusker (Tucci), have savoured every second together on this side of the Atlantic. When Tusker is diagnosed with early onset dementia, the couple jump into a motorhome with their dog Ruby and embark on a ramshackle road trip to visit family, friends and important places from their relationship. They initially squabble over the use of a satnav with a female voice that sounds discouragingly similar to Margaret Thatcher. “First it’s Section 28, now she’s going to tell us where to go on our holiday?” quips Tusker, referring to a controversial 1988 clause (since repealed) to prohibit local authorities from promoting homosexuality.

After a worrying moment when Tusker walks off in a daze, the two men arrive safely at the home of Sam’s sister Lilly (Pippa Haywood), her husband Clive (Peter MacQueen) and their daughter Charlotte (Nina Marlin). A surprise party seemingly lifts Tusker’s spirits but a candid conversation with Lilly exposes his deep-rooted fears. “You’re still the guy (Sam) fell in love with,” she soothingly contends. “No, I’m not,” laments Tusker, “I just look like him.”

Supernova burns bright thanks to Firth and Tucci’s heartfelt performances, which lace their characters’ love story with palpable sorrow. One uninterrupted close-up of Firth disgorging feelings as tears sporadically course down his cheeks is particularly memorable. Cinematographer Dick Pope works tirelessly to capture the beauty of the central relationship and Lake Distinct scenery in dwindling light to give a sense of the darkness closing in.

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