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Sibling caper hones devilish spirit of Dahl

The Willoughbys Cert PG, Netflix

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The Willoughby siblings go in search of their parents in this quirky, animated feature

The Willoughby siblings go in search of their parents in this quirky, animated feature

The Willoughby siblings go in search of their parents in this quirky, animated feature

In their relic of a city mansion, the Willoughby children are coming apart at the seams.

Eldest boy Tim (voiced by Will Forte) is trying to uphold the proud lineage glaring back at him from the hallway portraits, while sister Jane (Canadian pop starlet Alessia Cara) wants to let her heart sing. The twins, both called Barnaby and sharing one pullover between them, are gifted inventors.

None of this is noticed by their rotten parents (Martin Short and Jane Krakowski) who have nothing on their minds as tedious as children and want only to smooch and quaff in peace.

Fed up with the nasty neglectful parents, Tim and his siblings hatch a plan to send them away on a conjured-up foreign trip so that they can rule the roost and finally look after themselves.

The chaos that predictably ensues is exacerbated by the arrival on the doorstep of a baby in a basket. Bounding to the rescue comes the rotund form of an unflappable supernanny (Maya Rudolph) who quickly restores some form of order to the house.

Her presence however mightn't be enough to satisfy the shady Child Services agents who are hilariously animated to resemble alien abductors. A fantastic voyage is set in motion to find the horrid parents and avoid being orphaned.

The devilish spirit of Roald Dahl is very much alive and well in this gobby and frightful animated romp from Netflix that the streaming giant categorises as "cynical and offbeat". Between its horrible parents, the monstrous world of adults, and the superhuman capabilities of children to love during times of lovelessness, there are bigger themes hit upon by director and co-writer (with Mark Stanleigh) Kris Pearn.

It is unrelentingly hilarious but there is a slight air of threat to things, especially in the early scenes, that might be just a little too edgy for very young viewers.

The main draw however, is the work of Bron Animation, whose style is so quirky and untethered that it feels like new territory in a landscape dominated by the standard Disney-Pixar concept of animation. That prospect alone makes this a worthwhile outing. 

★★★★ Hilary A White

 

Moffie

Cert 18, Curzon Home Cinema

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Damian Barr’s novel You Will Be Safe Here examined in harrowing terms an unspoken barbarity of the already dark apartheid era in South Africa — rife homophobia within white culture. South African filmmaker and leading light of the Rainbow Nation’s queer cinema, Oliver Hermanus traces a similar line of inquiry in this eloquent and harrowing tale of a young gay man negotiating his call up to military conscription.

With Andre Carl van der Merwe’s autobiography as the source material, we set off in 1981 as the white minority government is conscripting any lad over 16 to join the border conflict with communist Angola. Nic (Kai Luke Brummer) is quiet and observant but is gradually awoken to the vicious culture of physical and psychological torture meted out by the screeching camp chief (Hilton Pelser).

In the dorms, Nic faces the very worst of pack-male boorishness but finds a connection in fellow recruit Stassen (Ryan de Villiers). With extreme caution, he begins to grapple with his sexual awakening.

Moffie is eye-opening in how recently its events are set and the depths of insecurity it shows up in Afrikaans culture. It is a powerful film that takes a steady-handed approach to an era of grave historical injustice.

★★★★ Hilary A White

 

Sergio

Cert: 15; Netflix now 

Writer Craig Borten used flashbacks to tell the story in Dallas Buyers Club, and it is a technique he uses more heavily in Sergio, the true story of a few years in the life of charismatic UN diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello.

Director Greg Barker is a respected political film-maker and together they create something interesting, definitely watchable but not rousing. Brazilian actor Wagner Moura (Escobar in Narcos) is good as his compatriot. The film opens with him recording a UN welcome video, and in a nice touch it ends with the real video.

The first of its time jumps is to Iraq in 2003, where UN headquarters have been bombed and Sergio and refugee policy expert Gil Loescher (Brian F O’Byrne) are trapped.

The film goes back and forth to different times and places to establish Sergio’s history, the UN’s role and his romance with Carolina (Ana de Armas), an aspect that didn’t nestle well enough into the rest of the film.

As an overview it works, but it perhaps tries to be too many things.

★★★ Aine O’Connor

 

Second Date Sex

Cert: N/A; now streaming

Rachel Hirons’s first feature as writer and director (also listed as A Guide to Second Date Sex) is based on a good idea. A great idea even. It just doesn’t really work.

It all starts well. Laura (Alexandra Roach) and Ryan (George Mackay, the star of last year’s 1917) meet in a club and hit it off.

Then, to a soundtrack of other people’s advice and make-up tutorials, they prepare separately for their second date and the question of whether they will have sex.

So far so good. But what follows could have been distilled into a good scene in a film; stretching it into an entire plot just invited daft padding. 

Ryan is so unbelievably awkward that why Laura even considers having sex with him is baffling. There are odd whiffs of films like Notting Hill, and the backstories that could have enriched it a bit come too late.

The intention is good — awkward sexual encounters and normal bodies make a great change from the usual romcom fare — but this is a missed opportunity. 

★★ Aine O’Connor

 

We Summon the Darkness

Cert: N/A; now streaming 

Marc Meyers’ comedy horror knows what it wants to be right from the beginning; it knows where it is going, and the audience does not. Alan Trezza’s screenplay messes with genre expectations, and while it remains firmly within its genre, the twist raises it above the average.

In 1988 three gorgeous young women, Alexis (Alexandra Daddario), Val (Maddie Hasson) and Bev (Amy Forsyth) are driving to a death-metal concert in Arizona. There have been a spate of Satanic killings across the US — the total stands at 18 young people — and the population is turning to religion.

Chief among those offering organised holy solace is TV evangelist Pastor John Henry Butler (Johnny Knoxville).

The women, in their full 1980s hair and make-up, are classic horror movie bait. Val is even overtly sexual — the promiscuous always died in slasher horrors; only the virgin would survive. They meet up with three young men at the concert (Austin Swift, Keean Johnson and Logan Miller) and go back to Alexis’s father’s summer house after the show. It’s all very predictable, except it isn’t.

That is where it loses its momentum a bit, and the satire element is not mined nearly enough. But the cast are great and it is good, silly fun.

★★★ Aine O’Connor


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