Movie reviews: Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie, City of Ghosts
- Laugh and hold on to your underpants
- Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie (G, 89mins) ★★★★
- City of Ghosts (No Cert, IFI, 90mins) ★★★★
If ever we needed an antidote to the mythologising pomposity of superhero movies, it's now. Enter Captain Underpants, a lovable and winningly irreverent animation inspired by the children's novels of Dav Pilkey.
Next-door neighbours George (voiced by Kevin Hart) and Harold (Thomas Middlemarch) have been friends since kindergarten and share a love of practical jokes, which liven things up at their dourly run elementary school. George loves to write, Harold loves to draw, and together they have created a series of comic books about a not very bright superhero who goes by the name of Captain Underpants.
But their practical jokes have got under the skin of Benny Krupp (Ed Helms), their apoplectic school principal, who tears up a prized copy of the first Captain Underpants comic book, and condemns Harold and George to separate classrooms.
Horrified, George produces a 'Hypno Ring' he got free in a cereal packet and tries to hypnotise Krupp. It works, and after enjoying themselves hugely by convincing Krupp he's a monkey and a chicken, they notice a passing resemblance to their heroic creation, Captain Underpants.
Convinced he's Captain Underpants, Krupp jumps out the window, attempts to fly and starts fighting imaginary criminals. A real one will soon turn up, a nasty Einstein lookalike called Professor Poopypants (Nick Kroll) who's tired of being made fun of and wants to eliminate laughter forever. Only the Captain can stop him, but he has no actual superpowers, for the time being at least.
David Soren's perfectly pitched film warmly embraces the innocence of childhood humour, is wonderfully voiced by Ed Helms and co and gleefully pokes fun at the sacred cows of educational psychology.
It's a lot of fun and adult escorts will find themselves giggling guiltily along.
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At the start of Matthew Heineman's compelling documentary City Of Ghosts, a glib photographer at a New York award ceremony tells her Syrian subject, "you're so serious, my friend". Little wonder, because the man in question hails from the city of Raqqa and has borne witness to unspeakable horrors. He's a member of an incredibly brave group of citizen journalists who call themselves 'Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently', or RBSS: this small, tight-knit group of former teachers, students and film-makers has risked all to disseminate proof of the horror of life under Isis.
Most took part in the Arab Spring protests that ultimately led to the Syrian Civil War and for a time, hopes were high that Raqqa would emerge from the yoke of the hated Assad regime. They captured footage of crowds cheering when rebel troops from the Free Syrian Army pulled down a statue of Assad, but the first Battle of Raqqa created a power vacuum which the death cult of Isis rushed to fill.
After Isis had effectively cut off the city from the outside world, they began executing a long list of perceived and imagined enemies. Severed heads decorated the central square, public executions proliferated, schools, hospitals and universities ceased to function. Meanwhile, Isis used propaganda videos to pretend that life in 'liberated' Raqqa was just peachy.
The Isis videos are incredibly professional. They have proved seductive to disaffected youths across the Middle East and beyond. But RBSS still fights them, using spies to film the mindless Isis atrocities that have become commonplace in their city.
There have been casualties. And while it seems Raqqa will soon be freed from the curse of Isis, there might not be very much for these citizen journalists to return to.