Gnomeo and Juliet * * * *
Cert U, 83 mins
The title says it all, really. This is just what you imagine it to be – Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, retold in animation using garden gnomes.
Why hasn’t anyone thought of this before?
The tale of star-cross’d lovers is pretty much the same, only without the tragic ending, so it really is fun for all the family – and perhaps educational ,too.
It takes place in Verona Drive, Stratford-upon-Avon, where neighbours Miss Montague (Julie Walters) and Mr Capulet (Richard Wilson) are involved in a turf war.
They concentrate their feuding on competing for the best garden, which means their gnomes and plastic ornaments – helpfully coloured blue or red to distinguish which side they’re on – are also deadly enemies.
The leaders are Lady Blueberry (Dame Maggie Smith) and Lord Redbrick (Sir Michael Caine). Her son is Gnomeo (James McAvoy) while he’s over-protective of his feisty daughter Juliet (Emily Blunt).
When Gnomeo lays eyes on Juliet, it’s love at first sight – then they realise they come from feuding families. But their forbidden romance is helped along by a pink plastic flamingo.
Juliet has a frog sidekick in Nanette (Ashley Jensen), while Gnomeo’s team includes Benny (Matt Lucas) and some cute stone bunnies.
The voice cast is impressive. As well as a host of British talent – also featured is Stephen Merchant, Jason Statham and Ozzy Osbourne – listen out for the likes of Dolly Parton and Hulk Hogan.
Shakespeare quotes are cleverly inserted into the script while the Bard even appears, voiced by Patrick Stewart, in an amusing scene.
Elton John has reworked some of his classics, plus written new tracks like Hello Hello, a love song featuring Lady GaGa.
The 3D version has some merit, but it’s just as colourful in 2D.
Gnomeo and Juliet is full of chuckles and poignant moments, although we never get quite as attached to the characters as, say, Woody and Buzz in Toy Story.
Critics may say this is a poor British rip-off of Toy Story and it’s certainly not as good as that.
But it is charming, puntastic and entertaining. RL
True Grit * * * * *
Cert 15, 110mins
Reigning best actor Oscar winner Jeff Bridges (for Crazy Heart) has been nominated for the second successive year, this time for his interpretation of Deputy US Marshal Reuben J ‘Rooster’ Cogburn.
The role won John Wayne his only Oscar in 1970.
Never one to be intimidated, Bridges gives a great performance in his own imitable style – as befits the son of High Noon star Lloyd.
But he’s not as physically funny as Wayne was in the original, where the ravages of drink were more comedic, and anyone who is in the slightest bit hard of hearing will not be able to understand some of Bridges’ dialogue.
No matter. Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen (No Country For Old Men), True Grit has 10 Oscar nominations including best directing, best picture and adapted writing and its great to see a western – any western – back on the big screen.
This is the Coens’ ‘‘straightest’’ work to date and laudable proof they can craft a genre classic in the modern era.
Once again adapted from the 1968 novel by Charles Portis, the new True Grit goes back to its literary roots by reinforcing the story of 14-year-old girl Mattie Ross (a career-making turn from best supporting actress nominee Hailee Steinfeld).
She hires Cogburn to exact revenge on the killer of her father.
Replacing Glen Campbell, Matt Damon suddenly looks older than himself as LaBoeuf, who has been trailing killer Tom Chaney from Texas.
All three central characters have motivations for catching Chaney, and each one faces challenges en route to the film’s inevitable showdown. Great stuff. GY
Never Let Me Go * * * *
Cert 12A, 103 mins
Based on Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel, this poignant drama is set in a world very much like ours but with one major difference.
Disease has been all but wiped out and people live to more than 100. This has been achieved through the creation of clones, whose purpose is to donate their organs.
They are sent to special boarding schools and sheltered from the outside world. They’re perfectly resigned to their fate and the day when they will ‘‘complete’’ – the euphemistic word for death, usually after two or three ‘‘donations’’.
Kathy, Tommy and Ruth grow up together at a school run by Charlotte Rampling. Kathy befriends awkward Tommy, until jealous Ruth moves in on him.
Fast forward to the trio as 18-year-olds, now played by Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley. They’ve left school but are still controlled. They meet a couple played by Andrea Riseborough and Domhnall Gleeson, who believe the rumour that lovers who can prove their devotion will be allowed to put off donation.
That’s a hope that two people in this love triangle will come to cling to.
There is much to recommend this film, particularly the moving performances from the strong British cast, especially Mulligan.
It’s beautifully shot and I like the way they found children to play younger versions of the main cast who look strikingly like them.
The set-up is intriguing but there are a lot of unanswered questions. I kept wondering why they didn’t just run away, but this is still a compelling film which lingers in the memory after viewing. RL
Yogi Bear 3D * * * *
Cert U, 80 mins
This is the sort of film that most hard-bitten critics will refuse to like.
They’ll refer you instead to the Hanna-Barbera TV series, which saw Yogi move from a supporting character in The Huckleberry Hound Show to fully fledged star from 1961 onwards.
Blessed with a timeless catchphrase of self-promotion – ‘‘I’m smarter than the average bear’’ – he specialised in trying to pinch food from the picnic tables of visitors to Jellystone Park.
Half a century later, Yogi Bear 3D features a furry character that its target audience of children under eight in particular will love.
If they bought into Alvin and the Chipmunks, then they’ll like this film directed by Eric Brevig, who shared a special achievement Oscar for the visual effects in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Total Recall back in 1991.
Unlike some movies converted into 3D during post-production, Brevig’s enthusiastic use of the latest technology at the sharp end of filming means Yogi Bear has genuine depth – he’s also got fur which turns believably wet and eyes which sparkle.
That the film mixes animation with live action and 3D means that you’ll forgive it its weaknesses, like a clichéd environmental plot about the future of his home, Jellystone Park.
Dan Aykroyd is the voice of Yogi, with Justin Timberlake’s Boo Boo working hard to try to restrain him.
Anna Faris is Ranger Smith’s love interest Rachel, a documentary maker whose neck collar footage will catch out Mayor Brown (Andrew Daly) over his plans to sell off Jellystone.
Yogi Bear doesn’t match Disney’s Tangled as the animation to see for half term if you’re only going to catch one.
But in the race between a bear who always listens to his stomach and gnomes who are fighting to the sound of Elton John, then Hanna-Barbera’s time-proven character would be a bear necessity for me. GY