Tuesday 25 June 2019

Movie reviews: Sicilian Ghost Story, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies, The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales

  • Sicilian Ghost Story (No Cert, IFI, 122mins) - 4 stars
  • Teen Titans Go! To the Movies  (PG, 88mins) - 3 stars
  • The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales (G, 83mins) - 4 stars
Dream lover: Luna becomes besotted with a gangster’s son who is kidnapped
Dream lover: Luna becomes besotted with a gangster’s son who is kidnapped
Paul Whitington

Paul Whitington

Italian writing and directing team Antonio Piazza and Fabio Grassadonia won much praise for their 2013 feature debut Salvo, a sombre drama about a Mafia hitman who inconveniently develops a conscience. They expand their repertoire impressively in Sicilian Ghost Story, an unusual film that combines gangster themes with undercurrents of magic realism and the ancient rusticism of European fairy tales. It's set in 90s Sicily and loosely based on the sad story of Giuseppe Di Matteo, the son of a mob informer who was abducted and murdered.

Luna (Julia Jedlikowska) is besotted with Giuseppe (Gaetano Fernandez), a handsome and confident teenage boy who lives nearby. During a dreamlike walk through the forest, they bond and seem about to fall in love when Giuseppe is stopped by two policemen and taken into custody. They're mob men posing as cops, and Giuseppe is driven to a remote farmhouse where he'll be kept chained in a basement. His father is a 'supergrass', and the Mafia intend to use the boy as leverage.

Luna, meanwhile, is devastated, and writes Giuseppe passionate letters which we're not sure he ever gets. She's infuriated by the way the locals shrug their shoulders and move on, as though Giuseppe's abduction doesn't matter: he's from a mob family, so what does he expect? To her shrewish mother's horror, Luna dyes her hair purple in protest and starts handing out missing person leaflets. She refuses to give up on her Romeo and as the film proceeds, the young couple seem to develop an almost mystical connection.

Are Luna's psychic communications with the missing boy figments of her imagination, and a consequence of finding the grim reality of his situation impossible to accept? Perhaps, but Piazza and Grassadonia handle their ghostly story sensitively, and with consummate skill.

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"Deadpool for kids!" is how one excited critic described Teen Titans Go! To the Movies - as though that would be a good thing. What he or she meant was that the film is in on its own joke, and seeks to constantly undermine the more grandiose elements of superhero lore. It's based on a likeable enough animated TV show in which Robin (Batman's unfashionable former sidekick) and an entourage of other teenage heroes fight crime across Jump City while struggling to be taken seriously by their grown-up counterparts.

In Teen Titans Go! To the Movies, Batman, Superman and the other Justice League heroes have become fatally distracted by fame and, in a mind-bendingly surreal touch, are starring in their own movies. Robin (voiced by Scott Menville) wants his own superhero film as well, but his loyal friends Beast Boy, Starborg, Starfire and Raven reckon sinister forces are at work, and urge him to resist the lure of fame.

This is busy stuff, full of knowing references to wider DC lore, and should please superhero nerds both big and small. But for younger kids, it's very talky.

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Small ones might be more impressed by The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales, a lively and charming French animation that blends La Fontaine-like fables with the anarchic sensibilities of Tex Avery to winning effect.

The 'Big Bad Fox' of the title is not so bad at all, and is scrounging around a farm looking for food when he winds up in charge of a group of chicks. "But I'm a fox," he complains to them, "you're supposed to be afraid of me!", before slowly realising he may be better at parenting than hunting.

Elsewhere, a lazy stork who claims to have a broken wing leaves a human baby in the care of a pig, a duck and a rabbit, and when the same duck and rabbit accidentally destroy a plastic Santa, they think they've killed the real one. It's touching, funny stuff, and not at all post-modern, thank God.

Also releasing this week: Ant-Man and the Wasp movie review: It has its faults but Paul Rudd makes the ride worth watching

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