Dora and the Lost City of Gold 2019 ***

There are, to put it mildly, a few odd turns in James Bobin’s adaptation of the famous Nickelodeon tv show. An opening title card focusing the attention of young minds of the issues of stereotyping? Talking monkeys and foxes, voiced by Danny Trejo and Benicio del Toro? A little strange but….a lengthy slam on rave culture delivered by Michael Pene complete with a human mouth beat-box performance of a rave tune? How about an animated sequence when the main characters are hallucinating on some mysterious jungle substance that makes Eugenio Deberez’s character want to strip naked and run through the jungle? This version of Dora has a lot going for it, not least the ideal Dora in the form of Instant Family’s Isabela Moner, who manages to make her bright without being insufferable. But even the main plot, which gives Dora a mission to survive in the jungle of a LA school, seems a little off message, and the venomous behaviour of the villains who kidnap her seems rather mean. Emphasis of breaking wind, toilet breaks and swearing also seems a little lowest common denominator. But the second half of the film, where the puzzles and intrigue take over, gets Dora onto more solid ground. Perhaps the rather muted box-office reception for Dora indicates a failure to appeal to the young female demographic intended; by aiming at so many different targets, Bobin’s film doesn’t focus enough on satisfying anyone. And the distinction between exploring and treasure hunting, carefully made to tick environmental boxes, feels like we’re being lectured when we should be outside enjoying ourselves. Still, this Dora is enough fun to be going on with, and its goody-two-shoes heroine is probably preferable to the sexist stereotypes of Jumanji.

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The Dark Tower 2017 ***

The-Dark-Tower-Matthew-McConaughey-and-Idris-Elba-images

You don’t have to be a racist to think that Idris Elba would be an awful James Bond; it’s pretty much only people who haven’t seen him in much since The Wire 15 years ago that genuinely believe this. If anything it would be helpful to have large-scale public screenings of his unexceptional performances in films like Bastille Day, Molly’s Game or The Dark Tower to remind audiences that he’s not only too old for a reboot, but just doesn’t have the chops for the big screen. Daniel Kaluuya would be a better fit for the role of Bond, and it’s embarrassing to hear Elba trotting out this same sad story every time he’s got something to promote. In The Dark Tower, a misbegotten Stephen King adaptation, Elba’s lumpen performance as gunslinger Roland Deschain is buried amongst a slew of chaotic elements; a massive novel reduced to 95 paltry minutes, a PG -13 certificate, the focus switched from Deschain to an 11 year old boy Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) who discovers a parallel universe behind NYC exteriors, constant references to other texts in the King multiverse that go for nothing. Producer Ron Howard has noted that The Dark Tower should have been a tv show rather than a film, and he’s right; what tips Nicolaj Arcel’s adaption into unfortunate legend is the truly awful performance of Matthew McConaughey as Walter Padick, supposedly the embodiment of evil but plays with such misguided elan that his every appearance provokes mirth. The Dark Tower is a good/bad classic, an unwieldy adventure that never lands a coherent idea, making fools of the high-priced talents involved.

Interstellar 2014 *****

interstellarChristopher Nolan’s epic sci-fi adventure can only be diminished by viewing it on anything less than an IMAX screen; but the craftsmanship and imagination of the narrative still pay dividends for home viewers. Matthew McConaughey brings his usual intensity to Cooper, a pilot enlisted by NASA to travel though a wormhole in time to search for a colonisable planet as Earth is crippled by dust storms. Estranged from his daughter Murph in the process, Cooper misses out as she grows up to be Jessica Chastain, enabling Nolan to develop two strong plotlines of space exploration, and tie them neatly together at the end. The atmosphere is authentically pioneering, with individual moments like the short landing on a planet of tidal waves, and a meeting with Matt Damon’s deceptively motivated colonist, sticking in the mind. And while time travel is a familiar subject, few have explored it as thoughtfully as Nolan and his brother Jonathan; the scene where Cooper watches his family grow up on recorded messages is heart-breaking.