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Mary Shelley
Film

Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley was just a teenager when she wrote ‘Frankenstein’, a novel that would come to define the gothic genre. A true prodigy, she deserves much better than this lifeless biopic charting how she came to write her most famous work – despite the best efforts of Elle Fanning in the title role. As young Mary, Fanning passionately captures the spirit of her character as battles against the sexism of the era. Too often, though, the script has this dynamic woman merely reacting to the men surrounding her – including her husband Percy Bysshe Shelly (Douglas Booth) and Lord Byron (Tom Sturridge, going full panto) – rather than taking charge of her own destiny. In reality, her life was full of drama, loss and betrayal, but ‘Mary Shelley’ largely eschews her complexities. Instead, montages of her scribbling away at her masterpiece and soapy scenes of Percy’s courtship draw the majority of the focus. The latter is presented by director Haifaa al-Mansour with the pre-watershed sheen of a Sunday afternoon telly drama. We’re left to wonder how he convinced Mary to run off with him, on the promise of free verse and even freer love, when it’s rendered with all the passion of a bath sponge. Al-Mansour made the milestone feminist drama ‘Wadjda’, but here he’s taken a much safer tack. ‘Mary Shelley’ would have been infinitely more enthralling if he’d taken a leaf out of her book and got under the skin of one of literature’s most remarkable women. n Joseph Walsh

Time Out says
2 out of 5 stars
Angel Has Fallen
Film

Angel Has Fallen

First, he took on the North Koreans; then he faced down jihadists. Now creaking Secret Service veteran Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) faces his ultimate adversary: literally everybody else. The suitably preposterous but mostly pretty watchable conclusion to the surprisingly hardy ‘…Has Fallen’ franchise borrows a note or two from ‘The Fugitive’, ‘First Blood’ and ‘Enemy of the State’ as its hero is set up to take the fall for an attempted hit on the President and is left on the run and trying to clear his name. It’s frenetic, brashly executed and so full of shooting, you’ll stagger away with tinnitus. One-time stuntman Ric Roman Waugh steps in as the franchise’s third different director, but sticks close to a blueprint – choppy editing, CGI-enhanced action, wafer-thin characterisation – that’s grooved like a gun barrel by now. He does bring his early-career skills to bear in a standout early sequence involving a presidential fishing trip interrupted by swarms of killer drones and more flying bodies than an ‘A-Team’ supercut. With POTUS (Morgan Freeman) in a coma and Banning the only other survivor, the FBI (led by Jada Pinkett Smith) are soon on his trail, along with the clued-up villains and various armed NRA types. The bad guys are slick and the politics vaguely topical – Tim Blake Nelson plays a hawkish VP with a Trump-y edge – while Butler has his rumpled hard-man schtick down to a tee. This is a franchise where ‘having a bad back’ counts as a major character trait, so do

Time Out says
3 out of 5 stars
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Film

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

The most thrilling idea – thrilling in a good way – of ‘Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark’ comes in its first few minutes, when we’re introduced to Stella (Zoe Colletti), an introverted 1968 Pennsylvania teen who’s obsessed with horror: watching it, reading it, even conceiving it. (She’s got a typewriter and a love of ‘Night of the Living Dead’ to prove it.) The notion that horror could be a conduit for creativity and healthy individuation is the same one that attended the release of Alvin Schwartz’s darkly clever ’80s and ’90s children’s books of illustrated short stories, on which the film is based. At the time, Schwartz was attacked by cultural watchdogs, but he’s no doubt having a raspy posthumous chuckle at the long shadow of his influence. Drawn from several of his tales, this decent-ish movie adaptation, about a gang of kids chasing down smalltown terrors that are both supernatural and laddish, clings to our cultural moment of ‘Stranger Things’ and ‘It’. Still, the film emits its own frequency, one that might be especially audible to thoughtful young viewers. ‘Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark’ has the fingerprints of ‘The Shape of Water’s’ Guillermo del Toro all over it (he co-wrote the script and produced), from his celebrated penchant for expressive creature design, to some strenuous political signposting. Yet there’s a sincere fondness for the power of imagination, one that makes the film more than a nostalgia delivery device. If only it were scarier. Two scenes

Time Out says
3 out of 5 stars
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Film

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

‘Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood’ is the sort of high-wire, playful and madly enjoyable riff on movie-world folklore that only Quentin Tarantino could make and get away with. It’s a massively fun LA shaggy-dog story that blends fact and fiction by inserting made-up characters right at the heart of real, horrible events and then daring history to do its worst. It’s also a glorious love letter to LA and the movies. It sits right at the mature end of Tarantino’s work, bringing his tongue-in-cheek storytelling together with exquisite movie craft and killer lead performances from Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio. It’s mature – but it’s still very much a Tarantino film; it trades in genuine emotion one minute and is gloriously silly the next. It puts truth in a bong and smokes it. Tarantino takes Hollywood in the era of the Charles Manson murders, and specifically the murder of Sharon Tate and her friends in August 1969, and retells the story on his own terms, first over a few days in February 1969 and then six months later over the weekend of the real murders in August the same year. That means of course that you’re spending almost the whole movie wondering how he’s going to deal with those terrible real events – and for that you’ll just have to see it. Let’s just say this: Tarantino somehow manages to carve good taste out of bad. Real-life characters pop up throughout – Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate, Damian Lewis as Steve McQueen, Lena Dunham as one of the Manson gang, Mike Moh as

Time Out says
5 out of 5 stars
The Lion King
Film

The Lion King

Something is off about this defiantly unmagical remake of ‘The Lion King’, a film that is both photorealistic – down to every artfully crafted lens flare and whisker on Simba’s chin – and about the furthest imaginable thing from real. It’ll either mildly disturb you or make you feel like your skin is on backwards. Granted, it’s still ‘The Lion King’, still a sturdy piece of ‘Hamlet’-derived musical theatre, only with 100 percent more Beyoncé, which is never a bad thing. But Disney’s animated movies have always been invitations to dream bigger than nature; even when you go to one of its theme parks, you submit to pretending. This new version is an invader of the real world, its characters like stuffed trophies mounted on the wall. They’re lifelike, yes, but somehow not alive. Almost certainly, kids aren’t going to mind this, even if their imaginations will be a little short-changed. Set in one of Africa’s uncannier valleys, ‘The Lion King’ is still a yarn about talking and singing animals; no amount of digital work is going to change that. And vocal talent is what semi-saves this remake from ‘Jungle Book’ director Jon Favreau’s more computerised instincts. As the regal Mufasa, the sensible leader of the Pride Lands, rumbling James Earl Jones still has Darth Vader sonority on tap. He remembers to give an actual performance, as does Donald Glover, voicing the cub who would be king with increasing surety. But the rest of the cast is flattened into two-dimensional reductions: Joh

Time Out says
3 out of 5 stars
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Hong Kong film interviews

Johnnie To
Film

Johnnie To

Arguably Hong Kong’s best contemporary director, Johnnie To talks to us about researching triads and the possibility of Election 3.

Juju Chan
Film

Juju Chan

The up-and-coming star talks about reviving Hong Kong martial arts cinema.

The co-directors of Ten Years
Film

The co-directors of Ten Years

The five co-directors of the controversial local dystopia tell us of their fears for Hong Kong.

Alice Mak
Film

Alice Mak

The creator of McDull talks about life in Hong Kong and why she’s luckier than her creation.

Wong Chun
Film

Wong Chun

The director of the award-winning Mad World discusses his debut film.

Read more interviews

The best films in cinemas now

Toy Story 4
Film

Toy Story 4

Turns out, Pixar’s sentient toys can still make us cry: Nearly 25 years after their cinematic debut, the sweetly selfless plastic pals return in a fourth ‘Toy Story’, one charged by the animated series’ thematic essence of finding purpose in being useful to others. It’s a hopeful, immensely human chapter that echoes and extends the franchise’s complex notions of loyalty, displacement and self-worth, doing so with humour and warmth. Working from a script by Andrew Stanton and Stephany Folsom (as well as six other story contributors, including the ousted ex-Pixar chief John Lasseter), director Josh Cooley successfully balances all these elements – a noteworthy achievement considering the large cowboy boots he had to fill after the epic yet nuanced ‘Toy Story 3’, one of Pixar’s more perfect achievements. The reliable company of old friends certainly helps. Now happily living with a new kid, Bonnie (voiced by Madeleine McGraw), Tom Hanks’s pull-string pardner Woody, Tim Allen’s devoted Buzz Lightyear, Joan Cusack’s feisty Jesse and the rest of the gang are back. New to the clan is Forky (Tony Hale of ‘Veep’, adding nervy personality and genuine weirdness), an existentially confused spork with low self-esteem that the ever-imaginative Bonnie creates as a kindergarten craft project. Convinced of his status as trash (an unusually raw class dilemma for a Pixar movie), Forky get a crash course on his toyness from Woody, himself thrown by a life crisis resembling that of a retiree. B

Time Out says
4 out of 5 stars
Aladdin
Film

Aladdin

Twenty-seven years on from the release of the animated classic, Aladdin gets the live-action treatment, with ‘Sherlock Holmes’ director Guy Ritchie at the helm. The well-known plot is the stuff of Disney magic: a rags-to-riches tale in which a common thief wins the heart of a princess with the help of a magic lamp that transforms him into a prince. If ‘Aladdin’ is not quite a scene-for-scene remake, it gets pretty close. The plot is tweaked with some sensible improvements. Agrabah, a mythical Silk Road city, is described in the original opening song as ‘barbaric’. It’s now simply chaotic, with a bustling population of people from as far as northern Europe (look out for Billy Magnussen’s hilarious Prince Anders) to China, and everywhere in between. It’s clear this version of Aladdin celebrates the cultures from which the ‘Arabian Nights’ folk tale emerged – a lesson no doubt learned from ‘Black Panther’, which led the way in providing an alternative to the white saviour motif of many big-budget movies. Canadian-Egyptian actor Mena Massoud perfectly captures Aladdin’s street-smart charm, while British-Gujarati actress Naomi Scott gives a fire-cracker performance as Princess Jasmine, showing she’s less concerned with finding a husband than learning the required skills to succeed her father (Navid Negahban) to the throne. Marwan Kenzari’s Jafar verges on panto villain, but there’s no denying he cuts a menacing figure. Best of all, the film is a proudly out-and-out musical. Bol

Time Out says
3 out of 5 stars
John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
Film

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

Keanu Reeves’s aggrieved assassin is back for another riotous kick-punch-shoot-repeat action gem.

Time Out says
4 out of 5 stars
Pokémon Detective Pikachu
Film

Pokémon Detective Pikachu

This madcap Pokémon adaptation is a tonne of fun until ponderous plotting replaces the anarchy with something you’ve seen a hundred times before.

Time Out says
3 out of 5 stars
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