Movie reviews: 'The Kid Who Would Be King' brims with good messages
Film critic and Pop Life host Richard Crouse reviews four new movies in theatres now: 'The Kid Who Would be King,' 'Serenity,' 'Cold War' and 'Chef Flynn.'
THE KID WHO WOULD BE KING: 3 STARS
"The Kid Who Would Be King" looks to two stories for inspiration. The fantasy film from director Joe Cornish finds its framework in the legend of King Arthur and the goofy camaraderie of "The Goonies."
The story begins in the fifth century with Arthur proving his status as "the true king" of Britain by pulling the sword Excalibur from a stone. A warrior and creator of the Knights of the Round Table he is brave and popular with everyone except his sister Morgana. The powerful enchantress wanted power for herself and was summarily banished to the underworld where she could do no harm. Vowing to return, "when hearts are empty and the world is lost" and take back control of Excalibur, she languishes for hundreds of years, ineffective and lost. "Soon darkness will dawn and my time will come," she says, optimistically.
Cut to today's London. The world is a mess, "as unstable as it has ever been." Things are so bad the headline of the Daily Star simply reads, "GLOOMY." In this world Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis), a young lad just "twelve winters old," and his best friend Bedders (Dean Chaumoo) try and do the right thing at school, mainly stand up to bullies like the mean spirited Lance (Tom Taylor) and Kaye (Rhianna Doris). Alex is a sweet and sensitive kid. So much so that even his teacher pushes him to get a little more cynical. "It's a tough world out there and it is getting tougher all the time. It's not the world that has to change, it's you."
Chased to a construction site by some bullies a terrified Alex finds Excalibur embedded in an old chunk of concrete. Pulling the sword from the stone he defends himself from Lance and Kaye and awakens Morgana from her slumber. "Find the new King," she commands. "The sword must be mine. The new king must die."
A fight is afoot but Alex will not enter the battle with Morgana and her army of undead soldiers alone. At his side are Bedders, some school friends and Merlin the Magician, an ancient entity who appears in the form of a classmate.
"I am a perfectly normal, contemporary British schoolboy," he announces before morphing into an owl and flying away. Together they have just four days until a solar eclipse plunges the world into darkness and welcomes the return of Morgana.
"This is the best and worst, the most excellent and frightening thing that has ever happened to me," squeals Bedders.
Just as Lord Tennyson modified the Arthurian legends to comment on the issues of his day "The Kid Who Would Be King" places the story in a topsy-turvy world where the spectre of Brexit and Trump dominate the news. Like the old school retellings of the tale it values good over evil. It brims with important messages for kids — the most worthwhile path is rarely the easiest, embrace the things that are important to you — and offers an optimistic view of the future. "A land is only as good as its leaders," says Merlin (played as an older magician by Patrick Stewart), and you'll make excellent leaders."
"The Kid Who Would Be King" is a good-natured, if puffed-up adventure for kids but at two hours and ten minutes it feels long and occasionally repetitive. Kids may enjoy the imaginative battle scenes — trees come to life as sparring partners for the wannabe warriors, etc — and the charming "Goonies" chemistry between the heroes but Rebecca Ferguson is wasted as the underwritten villainess Morgana and the CGI looks like a relic from another time.
Read another take: A goofy, sweet and modern spin on Arthurian legend
SERENITY: 2 STARS
People who complain trailers give away too much or that movies have become predictable may find something to keep them guessing in "Serenity," the strange new Matthew McConaughey thriller. Or is it a metaphysical drama? Or should I call it a new age noir? I honestly don't know what to file this under. However you classify it, this weird film will keep you guessing for better and for worse.
Strange days indeed.
McConaughey is Baker Dill, the broke, headstrong owner of a boat for hire in the crystal clear waters surrounding the remote Plymouth Island. "In Plymouth everyone knows everything," says Reid Miller (Jeremy Strong). "Except what's going on," drawls Dill.
He's a Captain Ahab type, minus the prosthetic leg made out of whalebone, and obsessed with hooking and reeling in a giant tuna he calls Justice. Everyone on the tiny island knows of his obsession. Even the local radio announcer broadcasts, "It's a perfect day to go out and catch that damn fish," during his weather update.
He's a haunted man, troubled by the carnage he witnessed in Iraq and the family, wife Karen (Anne Hathaway) and son Patrick (Rafael Sayegh), he lost to divorce. When Karen reappears with a job offer it sends him into a tailspin.
"I'm here to tell you that you were right and I was wrong about Frank," she says about her new husband, a wealthy but abusive man played by Jason Clarke. Her deal is simple. "Take him out on your boat, let him get drunk and dump him in the ocean. Do it and I'll give you $10 million." Divorce is not an option she adds. "He'll find a hole for me in one of his construction sites." Dill is conflicted until he hears that Frank has been violent with Patrick. Now all bets are off.
There's more but you won't read it here because this is about the time in "Serenity" where the story takes a left turn that would make M. Night Shyamalan green with envy. Does it work? Not really but you have to give credit to writer-director Steven Knight for swinging for the fences. That it's a foul ball is unfortunate because the gears shift from neo-noir to existential treatise on the fundamentals of life is the kind of risky move that we don't see much of these days.
You don't just see a movie like "Serenity," you witness it.
It is one of the most baffling movies to come along in years. McConaughey is in full-blown "are-we-all-just-pawns-in-a-great-big-game?" mode while Hathaway convincing channels femme-fatale Veronica Lake. Both give heightened performances but the tone of the piece is so off kilter I can't decide whether they are sleepwalking through this toward a paycheque or doing some edgy work.
If nothing else "Serenity" takes chances, not the kind of chances that are likely to please an audience but at least you can't guess how it will end. Intrigued?
Read another take: Serenity now? No thank you
COLD WAR: 4 STARS
"Cold War," the Polish entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at this year's Academy Awards, is loosely based on the relationship of the director Pawel Pawlikowski's parents. Shot in crisp, beautiful black and white, it feels like watching old family snapshots come to vivid life.
Set in 1950's Poland, we first meet Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) as he toils to document traditional songs and dances. At an audition he meets Zula (Joanna Kulig), a charismatic singer with a dark past. She murdered her father after he sexually assaulted her and is on parole. "He mistook me for my mother, " she says, "so I showed him the difference with a knife." The two are irresistibly attracted to one another and become involved on and off stage.
When Wiktor makes a run to Paris to make it as a jazz musician and escape the Soviet government he begs her to accompany him. She stays behind, singing with her old troupe despite their new, ideological Stalinist slant.
The star-crossed lovers aren't separated forever, however. Over the next fifteen years they meet sporadically in various locations in Europe, discovering that, while they can't be together, they also can't stay apart.
At a quick 88 minutes "Cold War" is a treat for the eyes and the ears. Łukasz Żal's photography, presented in boxy 4:3 aspect ratio, focuses the eye, revelling in the emotional performances of Kot and Kulig. Stark, yet sizzling, these two embody a love that was meant to be but perhaps can never be. Add to that a carefully chosen soundtrack of jazz and folk songs and you get a movie that hits all available senses.
Fragmented though the story may be, it is also a deeply romantic story of love in a dangerous time.
CHEF FLYNN: 2 ½ STARS
"I'm like a player in this film about my strange son who figured out his life so early." So says Meg McGarry, mother of Flynn McGarry, a.k.a. the Teen Chef. A new film, "Chef Flynn," details his rise from home-style supper club chef who plates his food with tweezers at age twelve to media sensation by the time he was fifteen. He's the kind of youngster a word like ‘wunderkind' was coined to describe.
Flynn's well-documented life in and out of the kitchen comes courtesy of Meg, a filmmaker and artist who supplied hours of cinéma vérité footage taken at home. "Hi," says a twelve year old Flynn, "Welcome to my kitchen slash bedroom slash workspace." She describes how he began cooking for her after a divorce that left her depressed and uninterested in food. To help out, he tooled around the kitchen and found his passion.
"I have an incredible obsession with beets ," he says. At an age when most kids are ordering chicken fingers off the happy menu he has a "signature dish" of sous vide short ribs with a shiitake mushroom polenta and a blackberry reduction.
A shift or two at a tony restaurant reinforces his love of food and natural talent but it is a piece in the New Yorker when he was thirteen that changed things. The home supper club started charging — up to $160 a head — and strangers requested photos of the wunderkind (there's that word again) in his bedroom kitchen.
With sudden success come the sharp knives, people who suggest he's missed out on his childhood — "I had ten years of childhood," he says. "I think that's enough." — while social media wonders whether or not he bought his kitchen career. Does he really deserve to be called 'chef'? One writer details the "Controversy of Chef Flynn," another nicknames him Chef Doogie Howser and a reporter asks if this is all just a gimmick.
"Everyone else is calling me chef," he says. "I cook food. I don't know why it's such a big deal. It's just a single word."
It's hard not to see privilege at work — the bedroom kitchen and elaborate dinners must have cost some bank — but there is no denying his talent. "None of the press I've asked for. The press kind of happened and from there opportunities arise."
Ultimately "Chef Flynn" is like a Food Network version of "Boyhood." We see Flynn grow up on camera, from reluctant subject — "Turn the camera off. I can't find my chef coat." — to a NYC pop up chef obsessed with perfection. His mother Meg features heavily, perhaps too much so. The helicopter mom comments throughout, often putting words into the prodigy's mouth.
We're told having an alcoholic father led Flynn to find some control in his life. The kitchen offered that. However, we find that through Meg, not Flynn, who says relatively little about his rise to fame. Because of that "Chef Flynn" often feels like a meal where the waiter forgot to bring the main course.
Richard Crouse shares a toast with celebrity guests and pundits on the talk show Pop Life on CTV NewsChannel and CTV. Catch up on all the entertainment news, reviews and interviews at the Pop Life website.
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