Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Theatre Review - 1984 (Tower Theatre Company)

Big Brother is watching you.
Invitation to a preview of Tower Theatre Company's take on 1984 should not be treated lightly. Big Brother misses nothing, after all, and with a production this immersive, the Thought Police might have come knocking on my door, had I refused. Based on Matthew Dunster's adaptation of George Orwell's classic dystopian novel, the Tower production takes charge of its audience members quite literally, from the moment they arrive at the Theatro Technis door. You're here to see a play? Prepare instead for induction into the Ministry of Truth. You're about to be processed. 
Don't panic - that's the fun part, nothing more of which I'll give away here. Much better to experience it yourself. It's what follows on stage that will really prove challenging - in the most powerful and exhausting way. 
For those only loosely acquainted with the novel, I'll go light on spoilers... 

Winston Smith is a worn-down citizen of Oceania, working for the Ministry of Truth. His life, along with those of his fellow-citizens, is rigidly controlled by The Party, his every move surveilled by the omnipresent Big Brother. To all appearances a model Party member, Winston privately jots down rebellious fantasies, the discovery of which would earn him death or worse. Meanwhile two figures draw his attention - O'Brien, a fellow Ministry worker who he feels might be a kindred spirit, and Julia - a dark-haired girl who inspires in him both hatred and desire. Together they draw him to a crisis point, where he must choose whether or not to risk all and take a stand against Big Brother. 
Taking on Orwell's fiendishly inventive novel is ambitious in itself, and ambition of a near-crazy variety is this production's defining characteristic. Theatro Technis has been physically transformed into the Ministry of Truth, the play's multi-media presentation churning out Party propaganda from the moment you enter. The boiler-suited cast members are terse, or officious, or oppressively earnest in their commitment to Big Brother - and then the play proper kicks in... 
It's this production's physical aspects that plunge us most effectively into Winston's world. The ensemble brims with militaristic fervour; its members work together as an impressive, joyless machine, the hero trapped as one of its parts. Winston's claustrophobia is tangible throughout - light, sound and movement meshing to produce a sense of his internalised panic more effectively than the play's words ever could. The Party's intrusion into his home life is captured with similar ingenuity - the hero's paranoid diary-scribbling and the turmoil of his dreams are visual highlights amid a whirl of invention.
His attempts to connect with Julia only ratchet up the tension. It's all the fevered promise of an affair, one with insanely high stakes. The moments where the couple attempt to escape Big Brother's eye so they can be together are palpably thrilling. Having immersed us in Winston's grim day-to-day existence, this opening act offers us a tantalising sense of hope and exhilaration, even if it may only be fleeting. Then act two tightens the play's focus and takes us to a  place 'where there is no darkness'. It's a dramatic tour de force that audiences will remember for long after they leave the theatre. And you can take that to the bank.
Paul Graves captures all of Winston's hangdog misery and desperation from the opening moments, while Chloe Ledger is a defiant contrast, full of brash sensuality and mischief. They're a pair to root for - the heart of the production, and one you hope against reason will not get cruelly ripped out. As O'Brien, Martin South is understated and enigmatic, his placid exterior hinting at unfathomable depths beneath. And the world of these central characters is populated by an ensemble that brings their existence to grim life with sheer commitment to Oceania's dystopian madness. Check out all that glassy-eyed devotion to Big Brother and know that you're somewhere very scary indeed.
1984 as a novel is furiously inventive, grimly funny and ultimately devastating in its critique of humanity's most power-hungry instincts. It celebrates personal expression, eroticism, love and life, while raging against forces that crush dissent and rewrite history to suit its own controlling ends. The highest praise I can give to director Angharad Ormond, her cast and production team, is that they capture all of this, and do so magnificently. Whether you're intimately acquainted with Orwell's tale or coming to it fresh, this 1984 will rob you of your breath. Good luck getting it back.
Tower Theatre Company's 1984 will run at Theatro Technis, Camden from Wednesday 28th February to Saturday 10th March (for full dates and times click here), and will include two post-performance Q and A sessions, one of them with George Orwell's adopted son Richard Blair. Tickets are available from the Tower Box Office
Keep your thoughts to yourself. Don't betray them with a look or a glance. Big Brother is watching you.

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Film Review - Black Panther (12A)

It's hard for a good man to be king. 
Cinema-goers first met African prince T'Challa, aka Black Panther, in Captain America: Civil War. In that film he took on the superhero mantle (figuratively speaking - the costume is a body-fitting one-piece, not a cloak) to seek revenge for the assassination of his father. Now in the Black Panther stand-alone movie, T'Challa - played once again by Chadwick Boseman - returns to his native Wakanda so he can officially assume his role as king of that mysterious nation. The result is without doubt one of the best Marvel movies to date, one that combines entertainment value with intelligence and thematic bite.
There are several key reasons why it succeeds so profoundlyFirst is the fact that Black Panther stands alone as a story. Yes there are references to other films in the Marvel canon, but like Ant-Man or Doctor Strange there is nothing to jar or confuse, if you come to it fresh. Both Andy Serkis and Martin Freeman pop up in previously established roles, but ultimately this is all about the Kingdom of Wakanda - and that's a whole other reason to get excited.
The country to which T'Challa returns is a hidden phenomenon - a civilisation literally founded on vibranium, the extra-terrestrial metal that has made Wakanda the most technologically advanced place on Earth. This is an El Dorado, whose royals have decreed to keep vibranium a secret from the rest of the world. But that secret is under threat from South African mercenary Ulysses Claue (Serkis and pronounced 'Claw'). Nor is Claue the kingdom's biggest threat; working with him is so-called Erik Killmonger (Creed's Michael B. Jordan), a black-ops-trained terrorist with a deeper and darker purpose underscoring his actions. From there the plot developments are swift and unpredictable, another of the movie's major plus points. Suffice to say the new Black Panther should expect no honeymoon period as King, forced instead to confront some tough truths about both his royal heritage and his country's place in the wider world.
Wakanda itself might be the most ingenious Marvel landscape to date, a glorious creation that merges ancient tribal culture with astonishing tech. The film makes the most of rolling African grassland and precipitous waterfalls, while introducing a CGI city that perpetually dazzles. And if some of the computer graphics prove not quite on point, it's thankfully not enough to distract. What the movie does successfully is to immerse you in a unique culture, so that you truly get to absorb it. Yes there are some jet-setting James Bond-style escapades along the way, but most of the action is proudly Wakanda-centric - and it's a fascinating place to hang out for two hours.
The wholly new story introduces a roster of well-drawn characters, too, of which the regal and self-contained T'Challa (Boseman embodies the role to perfection) is but one. Killmonger is a noteworthy villain, one of greater psychological complexity than his name suggests, and whose motivations provide the movie with a real political edge. Then there are the women in T'Challa's life. Take Okoye, commander of the royal guard (katana-wielding Michonne from The Walking Dead). Or his ex-lover and international spy Nakia (12 Years a Slave's Lupita Nyong'o). Or his precocious sister Shuri, a junior tech-genius played by British Guyanese actress Letitia Wright. Each is a distinctive and spirited creation, whose presence in the narrative really matters. Nor does the cast stop there - Angela Bassett and Forest Whitaker both provide gravitas among these bright young things - for this is a true ensemble, populated with great characters so that T'Challa is merely first among equals.
Director and co-writer Ryan Coogler deserves kudos for adding a true original to the Marvel canon, and for helming a blockbuster that carries real cultural significance. Much has been said in the media about Black Panther's status as a superhero film with a black lead, a predominantly black cast and a broadly African aesthetic. But none of that would count for much, if it wasn't any good. Happily it's better than good. This fantasy sci-fi adventure is genuinely thrilling, with a more challenging subtext than your average comic-book movie. Even if you're not a genre fan, go see it. You might be pleasantly surprised.  
Gut Reaction: I think I was actually bridling with enjoyment (if that's a thing) during this one. And there are some laugh-out-loud moments too.

Where Are the Women?: See above. The girls are all over this one.

Ed's Verdict: 8.5/10. Black Panther is adrenaline-fuelled and unique entertainment, that lands punches both ideological and emotional. It sets out to be fun, but also to be a movie that matters. Job done on both counts.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Film Review - The Shape of Water (15)

He sees me for who I am. As I am.
The key to Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water is his own description of the film - as an 'adult fairy-tale'. 'Fairy-tale' in that it's a whimsical story reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast, and 'adult' in its unabashed eroticism and flashes of gruelling violence. It's also a homage both to '50s Cold War B-movies and to the golden age of Hollywood romance. In other words, this movie is in love with movies. If you're ready to embrace all of that, you're likely to fall in love with The Shape of Water itself.
Sally Hawkins (the adoptive bear-mother in Paddington 2) plays Eliza, a mute cleaning woman who works at a 1950s military laboratory. Her almost invisible presence there provides her with privileged access to a new delivery that lives in a huge tank of salt water. It's mysterious, scary and referred to by Strickland, the facility's ruthlessly ambitious director, as 'the asset'. But Eliza's response is more wonder than fear, sparking a connection with the creature that will put her at odds with its captors, and lead to a remarkable development in her life. 
Having finally seen this awards contender, I'm not surprised that it picked up those thirteen Oscar and twelve BAFTA nominations. Del Toro is a film-maker of vast imagination, with a remarkable and continually evolving visual style. In The Shape of Water multiple elements combine to create something truly gorgeous. The military elements have that fantastical Creature from the Black Lagoon element (del Toro cited the 1954 creature feature as his primary inspiration), while Eliza's cramped but adorably quaint apartment - two storeys above a classic '50s movie emporium - is home to her Hollywood-inspired romantic dreams. When home and work collide, these two worlds fuse into something as magical as it is bizarre (even if one creature-related moment made me wince). 
The cinematography and lighting design capture it all magnificently - from the aquatic greens of the creature and the warm Valentine reds surrounding Eliza, to the murky shadow of the espionage sequences. Some plot twists may be ugly, but on a visual level every frame is stunningly lovely. Alexandre Desplat's score is haunting and otherworldly at points, full of quirky romance at others. And the cinematic influences are abundant, as if they're all distilled through Eliza's imagination and reproduced in the world around her. (You don't have to be movie buff to enjoy this film, but if you are, get set for a treat.)
And then there are the performances. Hawkins conveys more through her physical responses to the world around her than many actors do through spoken performance. The director's advice that she channel the work of his silent-movie heroes pays off to sublime effect; Eliza is a classic romantic heroine with added sexuality and spirit, and the effect is mesmerising. But she's not carrying it alone. Richard Jenkins is touching as Eliza's artist friend Giles, another soul lost in life, while Hidden Figures' Octavia Spencer proves worthy of her Best Supporting nominations in her no-nonsense role as a fellow-janitor at the laboratory. Doug Jones rounds off this band of outsiders as the bizarre amphibian itself, his lithe performance overlaid with state-of-the-art graphics to create this feature's memorable creature. And Michael Shannon (terrific in Nocturnal Animals) is a worthy nemesis as Strickland, malevolence virtually carved into his stony face. 
If the film has a flaw it's that the plot runs too predictable a course in the latter stages, its beats a little too obvious to take you by surprise. But then this is ultimately a fairy-tale (albeit one meshed with spy thrillers and monster movies), so the romantic conventions of the genre were always going to be its guide. And when there's this much verbal and visual poetry washing about, a bit of convention is a small price to pay.
Gut Reaction: Charmed, appalled and moved, depending on the scene, and won over pretty much wholesale. And yes - I now have a big old crush on Paddington's mum.

Where Are the Women?: Hawkins is so good I need to track down her back catalogue, and Spencer is feisty support. Kudos also to co-writer Vanessa Taylor, for her sublime work on the dialogue.

Ed's Verdict: 9/10. It's proved a bit Marmite-y, but the sheer depth of movie-love on display, along with Sally's sexy-romantic luminosity, kept me enthralled. Del Toro's weird love-letter to cinema is truly wonderful.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Theatre Preview - 1984 (Tower Theatre Company)

Big Brother, I love you!
It's for good reason that Tower Theatre's forthcoming production of 1984 will be immersive, the theatrical experience beginning the moment you arrive at the venue... George Orwell's classic dystopian novel is an immersive reading experience in itself. In the entire dystopian genre 1984 is arguably the story that plunges the reader most deeply and to the most unsettling effect into an authoritarian madness of the future. (Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale achieves similar levels of claustrophobia, it and 1984 sharing some serious DNA.)
The entire first third of Orwell's story is dedicated to building the strange and claustrophobic world of its hero Winston Smith. An office drone in the so-called Ministry of Truth, Winston is a weary and ailing product of IngSoc (English Socialism), a post-apocalyptic political movement that has achieved unprecedented levels of power and influence in what used to be Great Britain. 'The Party' is in control, its ostensible leader Big Brother casting an electronic eye over everyone's movements to pick up on the merest hint of dissent.
Winston's home life is surveilled by an intrusive form of television. His workplace is a minefield of potential informers, his social life a dull and bitter joke. Each social interaction is fraught with the peril of accidentally betraying his secret longings to the Thought Police; even his neighbour's malevolent children might rat him out if he fails to conform. Every aspect of his existence - the drab surroundings, the fatuous conversations, the shitty food - is intricately created by Orwell on the page, resulting in a combination of comic mundanity and perpetual low-key dread. And through Winston we gain a sense of the society's oppressive nature as a whole. If he is inwardly screaming for an opportunity to rebel, how many of his 'comrades' are also living lives of sublimated despair? And how much is he putting at risk, when he reaches out to grasp a single thread of hope?
It's a scenario that's screaming itself for an innovative and exciting theatrical treatment, and Tower's new version of Matthew Dunster's stage adaptation promises to deliver. Last year the play's director, Angharad Ormond, brought a psychologically intense production of Diane Samuels' Kindertransport to the same Theatro Technis space that will be hosting 1984. If the former show toyed with text-based experimentation, this new enterprise is a quantum leap into madness - and based on rehearsals to which I've been party, the insanity will be nothing short of thrilling.
The immersive aspect is key. A conventional stage production would offer you the basic story of the novel, any insight into Orwell's broader dystopian world provided only through the characters' exposition. With an immersive approach, however, the audience experiences Winston's society along with him - in the auditorium, the foyer, the theatre entrance... You're not simply here to see a play, you're entering Airstrip One, a principality of Oceania, and The Party is in control. You're listening to Newspeak, tangling with Doublethink and rubbing shoulders (possibly) with members of the Thought Police. Get used to it. Anything that occurs on stage is part of that whole. To paraphrase Geoffrey Rush from Pirates of the Caribbean, better start believing in dystopia - you're in one.
1984 has a hugely talented cast and creative team, one well-equipped to bring the immersive experience to its public. Preparation by the ensemble cast has proved memorably dynamic, and the performances should be no less intense. It's great timing for the production too. Orwell could easily have coined the phrases 'fake news' and 'alternative facts' himself, when writing his most famous political satire, and part of the immersion is into a world of media propaganda and misinformation - somewhere that has no touchstone for reality. The company is preparing to take you to a place where The Party creates your reality, and where your capacity to tell truth from lies is steadily undermined.
Tower Theatre Company's 1984 will run at Theatro Technis, Camden from Wednesday 28th February to Saturday 10th March (for full dates and times click here), and will include two post-performance Q and A sessions, one of them with George Orwell's adopted son Richard Blair. Tickets are available from the Tower Box Office. Freedom is slavery. Big Brother's victory is inevitable. Book now.

Monday, 12 February 2018

Film Review - Phantom Thread (15)

I'm certain I was never meant to marry. I'm a confirmed bachelor. I'm incurable.
Phantom Thread is the new film by Paul Thomas Anderson, whose 1999 epic of human emotion Magnolia still claims the number-one position on my all-time list of favourite movies. Phantom Thread is also the final film performance (unless he someday changes his mind) of Daniel Day Lewis. In other words, this is an event. It's not to be ignored. It's a film reviewer's must-see. Which doesn't mean I have to unambiguously love it.
Day Lewis plays Reynolds Woodcock, a couturier in 1950s London, who designs bespoke dresses for an elite clientele. Running the business with his all-seeing sister (Lesley Manville), he is an artist and a perfectionist, whose obsessive work ethic plays havoc with any woman who threatens to get close to him. Once the initial thrill of an affair has subsided, the muse in question finds herself surplus to the designer's requirements. Into his life comes gauche but life-embracing waitress Alma (Vicky Krieps), a young woman dazzled by the world of high-end couture and by her sophisticated new lover. But Reynolds' pathological reaction to those who fall in love with him threatens to doom their relationship from the start.
All of this we absorb in the opening twenty minutes, the film devoting the same obsessive attention to character as Reynolds does to his designs. It also revels in the fashion world of post-War London, Anderson taking time to explore the protagonist's resolutely pre-rock-and-roll existence in minute detail. The style is a far cry from Magnolia's swirling camerawork and rapid-fire editing. This is a film about ripples being sent through the calm of one man's fastidiously arranged life, by a force he truly underestimates. Much of the action is internalised, the romance and tidal passions suggested by Jonny Greenwood's compelling and genuinely beautiful classical score.
If this is indeed Day Lewis's swansong, he makes the most of it. Reynolds is as fully realised as any role he has ever played - seductively charming, yet fussy and effete, and totally a man of the fading pre-war era. Every word and action is precisely observed, creating a portrait that both amuses and infuriates. His response when he witnesses the disreputable behaviour of a woman wearing one of his dresses is priceless. 
Thankfully the character does not overwhelm, due to the women in Reynolds' life. Krieps plays Alma with subtle conviction, the girl's spirit gradually asserting itself as she adjusts to her new position in life. And Manville provides a masterclass in understatement as the imperious sister, who manages her brother's eccentricities and affairs (both business and personal) with brisk efficiency and a disapproving eye. The only performance oddity comes from the House of Woodcock's dressmakers, a group of ladies clearly employed for their on-camera couture skills rather than because any of them were trained in acting. 
Exquisite is the word that best describes Phantom Thread as a whole, in everything from its production design to its score to its precision performances. This is all about needle-fine detail rather than sweeping drama, to an extent that might well test some viewers' patience. The plot twists when they come are audacious, however, and it's fascination to watch the path down which Reynolds and Alma take each other. Also who can resist watching Daniel Day Lewis immerse himself in a unique character creation one final time? For that reason alone it deserves watching.

Gut Reaction: Quietly absorbed, particularly by the acting and all the breakfasts on display. And staring at one point late on in complete incredulity.

Where Are the Women?: Both Krieps and Manville have room to shine. And look out for Harriet Sansom Harris (Frasier Crane's deplorable agent Bebe) in a memorable cameo.

Ed's Verdict: 7.5/10. One of those films you maybe admire rather than out-and-out love, Phantom Thread is daringly divisive Anderson and a worthy final bow from Day Lewis. Oh, and it includes some really pretty party frocks.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Film Review - Winchester (15)

Do you believe in ghosts, Doctor?
There's an intriguing true story behind the film Winchester, one which was news to me. In 1884 Sarah Winchester, widow of the firearms tycoon who had established the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, funded the building of a mansion in San Jose. Inspired by a spiritualist she had visited, she continued to expand the build randomly over several decades. By the time of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake the sprawling residence had grown to seven storeys, although after that devastating event it remained at a mere four. The so-called Winchester Mystery House remains a tourist location to this day, due to its reputation as America's most haunted location. And the spirits - well they're all victims of the Winchester rifle. It's a splendid piece of Gothic folklore, one worthy of a scintillatingly spooky horror movie.
This is not that movie.

It's not for want of a good cast, for the film draws on a clutch of talented performers. Helen Mirren plays the grieving widow Winchester, obsessively pursuing the endless construction of her spirit-house. Dependable actor Jason Clarke (Everest, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) is Doctor Eric Price, the analyst employed by the Winchester company to ascertain how mad she actually is, with a view to removing her; he of course don't believe in ghosts, whatever his laudanum addiction might tell him to the contrary. Meanwhile Clarke's fellow-Australian Sarah Snook is Mirren's niece, a fraught young woman with a deeply troubled son. Put them all together in a rambling spook-house and it should provide a deliciously unsettling cinema experience.
The problems kick off shortly after the doc arrives at the house. The period location is suitably imposing, but any tension is quickly squandered by cliched storytelling and a chronic dependency on jump-scares. The first couple of these work effectively enough, but the next dozen (and I'm not exaggerating here) result in seriously diminishing returns. This is not helped by a score that basically consists of 'creepy-music-creepy-music-creepy-music-BOO!'. There are only so many cheap frighteners a story can take at the expense of all atmosphere. From there the potentially fascinating scenario descends into a muddle of ludicrous I-see-dead-people shenanigans delivered with a lump-hammer level of subtlety. It's daft, it's derivative and it's a sad waste.
On the up-side (and I am the glass half-full reviewer after all) Dame Helen seems to be enjoying herself and turns in a nicely understated performance, much like a diamond floating on sewage. The others to give them credit, show similar levels of commitment, undeterred by the script's insufficiencies. There are some good ideas and neat plot developments struggling for room, and the movie is too short to get genuinely boring. In fact it retains a rubbishy form of entertainment value to the end. And it's good to come out the other side having discovered a whole new nugget of American lore. 
Seriously though - in this era of US gun-toting madness, this is an opportunity wasted to combine a genuinely spine-chilling ghost story with some pointed social commentary. Winchester opts for superficial thrills over the kind of atmosphere that seeps into the viewer's bones. And the latter is what this subject really deserves. 
Gut Reaction: I actually began to laugh when the jumpy moments hit double figures. But the character interactions provided a bit more to enjoy.

Where Are the Women?: Mirren walks away with her dignity and reputation intact and Snook similarly builds hers by giving better than the material deserves.  

Ed's Verdict: 5/10. Winchester is the definition of a half-marks movie, with enough plusses to show what it might have been with better execution. Daft fun at best, shored up by A-grade acting. Not unlike the later Carry On films, come to think of it.

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Film Review - Early Man (PG)

The Age of Stone is over. Long live the Age of Bronze.
I've loved Nick Park's work with Aardman Animation ever since the thirty minutes of comic perfection that is The Wrong Trousers. Since then Park has delivered full-length features Chicken Run and The Curse of the Were-rabbit, both of them achieving unalloyed magnificence through the resolutely old-fashioned technique of stop-motion. So when I say that Early Man doesn't match up in my affections, you'll understand that's not a condemnation. There's a lot to like in this merrily ridiculous stone-age tale - just not as much as usual.
The hero of the piece is Dug (voiced by Eddie Redmayne), youngest warrior in a loveable but useless tribe of bunny-hunters. Led by Chief Bobnar (Aardman stalward Timothy Spall), the oafish group find their valley overtaken by an advanced civilisation, which has discovered both the wheel and the forging of metal. The Bronze Age has officially commenced, and Dug's people must flee for their lives, so that the valley can be mined. Dug, however, is swept by fate and a big net into the City of Bronze, where he discovers what takes place within their gladiatorial arena - a game called 'football', one that has around for longer than anyone realises. And in football, he realises, may lie his tribe's salvation.
In technical terms Early Man is Park's and Aardman's biggest venture to date - the prehistoric vistas are impressive, with the pre-credits sequence providing the story a multi-millennial sweep. The sets are gloriously elaborate, created with the production team's usual attention to detail, while the stop-motion stunts (incorporating numerous clay-mation stone-age critters) are more elaborate than ever before. All that's needed, with that measure of talent on board, is a sharp, consistently funny script. Sadly - and I say this with a pang of sorrow - that's where the efforts are lacking.
It's not that the writers take liberties with history - the central anachronism of a bronze-age football league is potentially great fun. But there's a jumbled sense in the plotting, everything cobbled together from multiple time periods, so that none of it quite coheres. All of which wouldn't matter so much, if there wasn't such a reliance on too many bad, old jokes. And when I say bad, I mean substantially worse than in Chicken Run. I mean jokes that make your heart sink. Ultimately the central idea, while smacking of inspiration, ends up seeming like an opportunity to crowbar in as many Brit-friendly football jokes as possible. 
The characters and their antics are realised with the team's customary genius and there are real moments of slapstick joy, made all the more wonderful when you remember it's all hand-crafted, one shot at a time. Dug and the tribe are endearingly goofy, and Bronze Age pan-seller Goona (voiced by Maisie Williams), who sides with our gang, is an appealingly modern heroine. Meanwhile French-accented villain Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston) is probably the most fun, rendered ridiculous as he is at every turn. And there's a very lovable sidekick pig named Hobnob (hashtag Britjoke), who steals many of the best scenes.
If Early Man suffers, it's from the high expectations that come with an Aardman film. Wallace and Gromit blazed quite a trail, with chickens, pirates and sheep all shining in their wake. This film is a technical triumph and boundary-pushing on those terms. However the deficiencies come in the form of an under-baked script, for which no amount of animation know-how can compensate. It's undoubtedly good. But when you've come to expect fabulous, good is a bit of a let-down.
Gut Reaction: Marvel at the state-of-the-art craftsmanship. And a constant state of liking what I'd hoped to love. There were laughs, but not as many as I'd hoped.

Where Are the Women?: Maisie Williams and Margolyes head up the feisty female representation. Go Bronze Age girls.

Ed's Verdict: 6.5/10. It would be churlish to label Early Man as anything less than great fun, and the young target audience will adore every exquisitely crafted frame. I'll try to be happy with that.