watoday– From the mayhem of Peter Rabbit 2 to the bombast of Godzilla vs Kong and the quiet dignity of Oscar-tipped Minari, there’s a movie for everyone this Easter.
For little ones
PETER RABBIT 2: THE RUNAWAY ★★★½
(G) 93 minutes, cinemas
Peter Rabbit goes to town in this sequel, taking his gift for making mayhem to the city. This takes him a long way from the mildly mischievous bunny of Beatrix Potter’s imaginings. A mix of live action and CGI animation has Sydney standing in for the south-west of England, as the story takes shape around an updated version of Potter’s early career. Bea (Rose Byrne) and her new husband Thomas McGregor (Domhnall Gleeson) have self-published her illustrated stories about Peter (James Corden) and and now a publishing company is interested.
However, when the company unveils its ideas for Peter as the series’ villain, Peter runs away. He then encounters Barnabas (Lennie James), who reveals plans for pulling off a heist at the city’s markets. Will Peter join them or not? Corden’s Peter may be a little too knowing but he does make you laugh. It’s loud and brash and younger children may come away with a case of sensory overload. So, too, will Potter purists. The rest of us, however, should be OK. SANDRA HALL
RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON ★★★½
(PG) 114 minutes, cinemas and Disney+
Disney animation’s family of warrior princesses keeps growing. Mulan (1998) was set in China, Frozen (2013) was an excursion into Norse legend and Moana (2016) took its cues from Polynesia. Now we have Raya, billed as the studio’s first south-east Asian princess. Raya (voiced by Kelly Marie Tran) is out to revive a world ruined by a noxious cloud. It has transformed her home of Kumandra into desert, and gone, too, are the dragons. Once again, the studio’s writers have zestily plunged into the region’s folktales, but it’s the Disney ethos that prevails. Sisu, the sole surviving dragon (voiced by the comic Awkwafina), is large and fluffy blue, while Raya’s main allies are a group of cuddly creatures.
The voice actors are all of Asian heritage but this hasn’t been good enough for a few of the film’s sternest internet critics, who have complained their family background should have been exclusively south-east Asian. More pertinent is the fact all that work on ethnic diversity has done little to dilute the all-too-familiar Disney formula. Yet the tone is a lot lighter than in Mulan or Frozen and the design has great ingenuity. It’s fun but predictable. SH
TOM AND JERRY ★★½
(G) 101 minutes, cinemas
Even for cartoon characters, there’s not a lot of depth to Tom and Jerry. The cat chases the mouse, but never quite catches him: that’s about it, except for the abundant slapstick violence, which has always made some adults uneasy. In returning the duo to the big screen, nothing would be more fatal than an over-supply of sophistication. By and large, this is an error avoided in the new Tom and Jerry movie, which sets the animated leads down in a live-action New York City.
Weaving a feature-length narrative around their antics remains a challenge. Here, the solution involves Chloe Grace Moretz as Kayla, a conwoman who has hustled her way into a job at a fancy hotel that is hosting the wedding of the season. At worst, this plot threatens to turn Tom and Jerry themselves into a sideshow. But Moretz seems very comfortable doing big, stunned reactions. The boldest choice is to have the film take place in a world where no one blinks at seeing Tom playing the piano and where all animals from goldfish to elephants are cartoons by default. Taken on its merits, this is perfectly harmless entertainment, from which your children should return at least somewhat amused. JAKE WILSON
YES DAY ★★★
(G) 89 minutes, Netflix
A “yes day” is one on which the parents say yes to any request from their children for a period of 24 hours. The founding assumption is that parents get sick of always saying “no”, so a yes day restores balance. First surprise is the casting: Jennifer Garner plays the mother, Allison, with Edgar Ramirez as Carlos the father. He’s a Venezuelan actor better known for action-oriented roles, so it’s odd to see him in something this wholesome. Garner has played many good mums but this film is less than challenging for her comic talents.
The Torres family are middling affluent and live in a rambling timber house. Father runs a toy company, where his job is largely to say no. At home, he’s always the good guy when 14-year-old Katie (Jenna Ortega) wants to push the boundaries. Julian Lerner plays Nando, the little brother, with Everly Carganilla as cute little Ellie, aged about six. The browning of the family, in terms of race, is also unusual. This kind of film is usually whiter than white. The other unusual aspect is the no-holds-barred edge to some of the comedy. Of course, some of these scenes are intended as a warning, but it’s rare to see the real world impinging on what is basically a Christian-inflected, highly confected, sub-Disney kind of family flick. PAUL BYRNES
For bigger kids
GODZILLA vs KONG ★★½
(M) 113 minutes, cinemas
King Kong and Godzilla first fought it out in 1962. The upshot was inconclusive, allowing for a second round in 1967. Now the old rivals are back in the ring. Godzilla vs. Kong follows on directly from the two previous Godzilla films, released as part of Warner Bros’ largely disappointing MonsterVerse. Millie Bobby Brown returns as Madison Russell, the teenage daughter of scientists working for the Monarch program that monitors the behaviour of “titans” like Godzilla. Alexander Skarsgard and Rebecca Hall are scientists, while Brian Tyree Henry is a conspiracy-minded podcaster.
The plot divides the characters into two teams and sets them racing on a mission prompted by the re-emergence of Godzilla, who is wreaking havoc once again. Bringing Kong into the mix might seem ill-advised, but the film is more sanguine about this than about the behaviour of a rogue scientist (Demian Bichir). So how do the leads shape up? Kong has always been the most sympathetic of movie monsters and the ever-increasing sophistication of computer effects means this may be the most expressive Kong yet. Godzilla gets the same loving treatment from his animators, and he too has his vulnerable side. But when it comes to the acting showdown, there’s no contest: Godzilla has the voice, and the presence, but he doesn’t have the range. JAKE WILSON
(M) 110 minutes, Netflix
Even in an era where Hollywood movies are routinely loaded with often contradictory progressive messages, Moxie belongs to a species almost too rare to be called a sub-genre: a mainstream teen comedy-drama where feminism is explicitly the point.
To pull that off, it helps to be as widely liked as Amy Poehler. Here Poehler is director and producer, adapting a 2017 “young adult” novel by Jennifer Mathieu. She also takes a supporting role as a single mother whose “riot grrl” youth inspires her daughter Vivian (Hadley Robinson) to launch an anonymous 1990s-style zine that becomes the talk of her Oregon high school. This is a place that badly needs shaking up: where obnoxious jocks are treated as heroes, girls are rated on criteria such as “most bangable,” and teachers are no help at all.
It’s a promising concept, but Moxie has its own strain of awkward didacticism, of a piece with the nerdily over-enthusiastic side of Poehler’s comic persona. The major issue is she may have too forgiving a temperament for satire: it’s no accident Poehler remains best-known for starring in the shrewdly cosy sitcom Parks and Recreation. The problems with tone become more glaring in the second half, which comments more directly on America in the Trump era. Thus the film veers into territory much more harrowing than comic – and then has to veer straight back out again, in time to supply the target audience with a suitably upbeat, empowering finale. JW
ZACK SNYDER’S JUSTICE LEAGUE ★★★½
(MA) 242 minutes, Binge
First, a recap: the original shoot for Zack Snyder’s superhero epic Justice League was back in 2016, before personal tragedy led to Snyder quitting during post-production. His hastily-recruited replacement was Joss Whedon.
Unfortunately, Whedon’s breezy style is the exact opposite of Snyder’s solemnity and the result was a tonal mishmash. Years later an online campaign sprang up, urging that Snyder be allowed to complete the film. Improbably, Warner Bros gave the go-ahead and the result clocks in at a tidy four hours.
Little has changed about the outline of the plot, which now seems more straightforward. The main game is the hunt for a full set of Mother Boxes, metal cubes that have the power to transform Earth into a hellscape – or, possibly, bring Superman (Henry Cavill) back from the dead. The hellscape option is the one favoured by Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds), a looming demon revealed as a proxy for his extra-terrestrial master Darkseid (Ray Porter). The champions of humanity are Batman (Ben Affleck) and the allies he recruits to his freshly formed League. Is the whole four hours really necessary? Not remotely. Still, Snyder and his fans have not fought in vain: this is genuinely a different film from the earlier Justice League, and a much more coherent one. However you feel about Snyder’s sensibility, there’s no uncertainty about what he wants to do. Light relief has its place, but the main goal is to ramp up the big cornball moments as far as possible, rather than half-apologising for them with winking gags. JW
GIRLS CAN’T SURF ★★★★
(M) 108 minutes, cinemas
The elite band of women who became pioneering international surfing champions in the 1980s are refreshingly candid in their character assessments of one another. In Christopher Nelius’ documentary about their careers, they ruefully share memories of the hard-driving Wendy Botha or of the young and eager Layne Beachley. The women soon discovered their survival in the sport was going to depend on their spirit of camaraderie. Conditions were rough and cash was scarce. A few men did lend their support. With others, condescension sometimes boiled up into outright hostility.
Combat climaxed for the first time in 1989 at California’s Huntington Beach when the women managed to head off an attempt to do away with their event. The surfwear manufacturers finally decided women could be worth sponsoring after realising the young female surfing public had no use for bikinis. Even so, patronage remained elusive if your looks didn’t conform to the golden girl ideal propagated by advertising and the media. Diminutive, freckle-faced Pauline Menczer was confronted with this hurdle even though she won two world championships. The film is a great tribute to all of these athletes. The current generation has much to thank them for. SH
(M) 110 minutes, cinemas
Jacob, a Korean immigrant living in California with his young family, decides to leave the factory farm where he works and head for the Ozarks hill country in Arkansas.
He’s bought a plot of land and he plans to grow Korean vegetables, which he’ll sell at market. But his wife, Monica (Yeri Han), is not nearly as happy – especially when she sees the kit home where they’ll be living. Named for a remarkably hardy Korean herb, Minari is a lightly fictionalised autobiographical film by Korean-American writer and director Lee Isaac Chung. It’s his childhood seen through the eyes of Jacob and Monica’s seven-year-old son, David (Alan S. Kim), who’s doing fine until he learns he’ll be sharing his bedroom with his grandmother, Soonja (Yuh Jung Youn).
It’s an anecdotal film with a rhythm dictated by the highs and lows of the farming life, which means the remorseless vagaries of nature take care of the plot’s shape and ensure the suspense points. But the film’s stars are the family. Monica remains on the brink of returning to California, but Jacob (Steven Yeun) is determined to make a go of the farm. Chung views them all with a clear, fond eye free of any hint of sentimentality. He knows their imperfections too well for that. He’s also wise enough to be aware that their imperfections are what make them so endearing. SH