The Sea Beast



While Netflix might not be the cinematic treasure trove it was during lockdown, there are still some rewards to be found lurking in its lockers. The Sea Beast is a great case in point, a delightfully inventive family film, a collaboration between Sony Pictures’ Imageworks and Netflix Animation. This is an assured production that comes close to challenging the best of Pixar and Dreamworks. While other Netflix animated projects have been summarily axed after recent losses of revenue, this one has thankfully made it to the finish line – and it’s fabulous.

The story is set in an imaginary world where humanity has been at war for centuries with a whole variety of semi-mythical sea creatures. Leading the fight is ‘The Inevitable’, a red-masted schooner commanded by the legendary Captain Crow (voiced by Jared Harris). Crow, though still formidable, is growing older and looking for somebody to succeed him. The obvious choice is Jacob Holland (Karl Urban), found drifting on a piece of wreckage as a child and now grown up to be a consummate hunter of the ocean’s denizens. He is, in many ways, the son that Crow never had.

But when a plucky little girl called Maisie Brumble (Zaris-Angel Hator) stows aboard The Inevitable, Jacob’s conversations with her soon have him questioning aspects of his life that he’s always taken for granted. Why must this endless slaughter perpetuate? Are the sea creatures really the monsters that popular literature has painted them as? And is Captain Crow – fixated on his endless search to vanquish the ‘Red Bluster’ that blinded him in one eye many years ago – just as duped as everybody else?

Those who detect a reference to Melville’s Captain Ahab are not mistaken, but this is more than just a seafaring yarn with literary ambitions. It’s also a clever allegory about humankind’s endless quest to vanquish everything and anything it doesn’t properly understand.

There are some superb characterisations here – Maisie is a particularly delightful creation and there are some adorable little blue creatures that have, perhaps inevitably, already made the transition into plush toys. The world building here is extraordinarily accomplished, with every aspect of this imagined civilisation thought through and delivered with absolute authority. Frantic action sequences are balanced by gentler, heart warming scenes and the pace is never allowed to flag.

But best of all is the animation itself, especially the depictions of the ocean in its ever-changing forms, from tranquil turquoise to turbulent indigo. Not for the first time, I find myself wanting to watch this on a giant screen, which really is where it deserves to be viewed. Helmed by former Disney big-hitter, Chris Williams, this is well worth your consideration and, happily, the adults are likely to be every bit as entranced as their offspring.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney



Disney +

The release of Onward couldn’t have been more disastrously timed. We were all set to view it in an actual movie theatre when the pandemic hit big and cinemas had to close their doors. Now here it is on Disney +, and, like so many of its illustrious Pixar brethren, this is a fabulous slice of family-friendly entertainment with a brilliant concept at its core.

The story takes place in a fantasy world, where magic has somehow become unappreciated by its exotic inhabitants. Here, unicorns are simply pesky critters that regularly raid the dustbins, ancient artefacts are best sourced in thrift stores, and the local Manticore’s tavern has been styled to look like TGI Friday’s, complete with a karaoke machine.

Elf Ian Lightfoot (Tom Holland) reaches his sixteenth birthday, but feels too self-conscious to invite his friends from high school to his party. He’s also somewhat overshadowed by his brash older brother, Barley (Chris Pratt), who is obsessed with fantasy role-playing games and seems to feel it’s his duty to embarrass his younger bro at every opportunity. The boys’ mom, Laurel (Julia Louise-Dreyfus), has her hands full keeping the peace. Since the untimely death of her first husband, Wilden, she’s remarried to clumsy centaur cop, Colt Bronco (Mel Rodriguez), a nice guy whose speciality seems to be knocking over the furniture. Ian, meanwhile, is still mourning the death of Wilden, who died just after he was born. It irks him that Barley has something he has never enjoyed – memories of their father.

But one of Ian’s birthday presents is an ancient staff, containing a rare Phoenix gem – something that, if used correctly, can conjure a ‘visitation spell.’ It has the power to bring Wilden back for just one day. When the boys attempt to use the staff, something goes disastrously wrong and they are obliged to embark on a perilous quest in order to rectify their error.

They have twenty-four hours. As the time ticks steadily away, their mission becomes ever more complicated…

What ensues is the usual Pixar mix of broad comedy and bitter-sweet sentiment – the boys encounter legions of mythological characters along the way (including Octavia Spencer’s Manticore and a bunch of motorbike-riding sprites). There are frantic chases and gasp-inducing perils for the boys to overcome and, as their time begins to run out, some genuine suspense is generated. Of course, this being a Pixar film, there’s also a central message and it’s to the writers’ credit that, near the film’s conclusion, they opt to pull off something really daring and manage it with aplomb.

This is exactly what’s needed right now. Brilliantly crafted, deceptively simple, heartwarming and, above all, great fun. In these harrowing times, what more can we reasonably ask?

4.5 stars

Philip Caveney

Film Bouquets 2018




2018 has yielded a lot of interesting films, and it’s been hard to choose which most deserve Bouquets. Still, we’ve managed it, and here – in order of viewing – are those that made the cut.


Downsizing 2

Alexander Payne’s brilliant satire had its detractors, mostly people who had expected a knockabout comedy –  but we thought it was perfectly judged and beautifully played by Matt Damon and Hong Chau.



A dazzling, inventive and sometimes surreal love letter to Mexico, this Pixar animation got everything absolutely right, from the stunning artwork to the vibrant musical score. In a word, ravishing.

The Shape of Water


Guillermo del Toro’s spellbinding fantasy chronicled the most unlikely love affair possible with great aplomb. Endlessly stylish, bursting with creativity, it also featured a wonderful performance from Sally Hawkins.

Lady Bird


This semi-autobiographical story featured Saoirse Ronan as a self-centred teenager, endlessly at war with her harassed mother (Laurie Metcalfe). Scathingly funny but at times heart-rending, this was an assured directorial debut from Greta Gerwig.

I, Tonya


Imagine Good Fellas on ice skates and you’ll just about have the measure of this stunning biopic of ice skater Tonya Harding, built around an incandescent performance from Margot Robbie, and featuring a soundtrack to die for.

A Quiet Place


This film had audiences around the world too self-conscious to unwrap a sweet or slurp their cola. Written and directed by John Kransinski and starring Emily Blunt, it was one of the most original horror films in a very long time – and we loved it.

The Breadwinner


Set in Kabul, this stunning film offered a totally different approach to animation, and a heart-wrenching tale of a young woman’s fight for survival in a war-torn society. To say that it was gripping would be something of an understatement.

American Animals


Based on a true story and skilfully intercutting actors with real life protagonists, Bart Layton’s film was a little masterpiece that gleefully played with the audience’s point of view to create something rather unique.

Bad Times at the El Royale


Drew Goddard’s noir tale brought together a brilliant cast in a unique location, and promptly set about pulling the rug from under our feet, again and again. There was a superb Motown soundtrack and a career making performance from Cynthia Erivo.



Based on a Richard Ford novel, this subtle but powerful slow-burner was the directorial debut of Paul Dano and featured superb performances from Carey Mulligan, Jake Gyllenhaal and newcomer, Ed Oxenbould.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs


The Coen brothers were in exquisite form with this beautifully styled Western, which featured six separate tales of doom and despair, enlivened by a shot of dark humour. But, not for the first (or the last) time, we heard those dreaded words ‘straight to Netflix.’



Another Netflix Original (and one that’s hotly tipped for the Oscars), this was Alfonso Cuaron’s lovingly crafted semi-autobiographical tale off his childhood in Mexico, and of the nanny who looked after him and his siblings. It was absolutely extraordinary.

Philip Caveney & Susan Singfield



Pixar Animation Studios can generally be counted on to provide quality entertainment but it’s been a little while since they truly knocked something out of the park. Here’s a film that puts them right back where they belong. In a move that seems destined to send this film plummeting to the bottom of President Trump’s ‘to watch’ list, Coco is a celebration of Mexico and its culture. It’s a dazzling, inventive and sometimes surreal love letter to the country and, for once, the makers have got it absolutely right, employing Mexican talent in just about every area of this charming production.

Young Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez) longs to be a mariachi, just like his hero, the late (and locally born) Mexican screen star, Ernesto De La Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). But there’s a problem. Miguel’s great-great-grandmother was married to a musician who abandoned her and her baby daughter – the eponymous Coco – for the lure of fame and fortune, so now, generations later, music is a taboo subject around the home. Instead, everyone is involved in the family shoe-making business, where Miguel is expected to one day take his place.

As the story starts, it’s fast approaching November 1st, when families across Mexico celebrate El Dia de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead), where everyone congregates in the local cemetery to enjoy a feast along with their departed relatives. When Miguel hears that there is to be a talent contest in the town square, he is determined to enter it, but for that he needs a guitar – his own, home made effort has been smashed to pieces by his over protective grandmother, Mama Imelda (Alanna Ubach). So Miguel sneaks into de la Cruz’s tomb, intending to borrow the late star’s famous guitar. In doing so, he inadvertently manages to slip between worlds and finds himself stranded in a land populated entirely by the dead – and it’s here that he meets Hector (Gail Garcia Bernal), a guitar-playing skeleton who is desperately trying to get back to his own loved ones on the other side…

Coco is such a ravishing feast for the senses, it’s hard to know where to begin with the superlatives. It looks absolutely astonishing in just about every frame, the music is terrific and the story is funny and inventive. Perhaps most importantly, it perpetuates that great Pixar tradition where it can be enjoyed as much by the parents as their offspring. Interestingly, the film has a PG certificate – after all it does deal predominantly with the afterlife – but it would be a sensitive child indeed who’d feel threatened by its lively cast of skeletons and colourful alebrijes (the spirit animals who look after the dead). The title Coco, by the way, refers to Miguel’s ailing great-grandmother, and the way she has been characterised probably deserves some kind of an award all by itself. This is animation at its most accomplished.

Ultimately though, how refreshing to see a depiction of Mexico that isn’t peopled by drug-dealing gangs, intent on torture and murder, but by loving families, who realise only too well that people only truly die when they are forgotten by the living. Perhaps this should be required viewing for all those Americans who believe the best way to deal with Mexico is to wall it off.

But I’m being way too political. Coco is perhaps best enjoyed as a slice of pure entertainment. This advance screening is surprisingly empty, but maybe the word just hasn’t got around yet. The news that is has already outgrossed the earnings of all twelve previous Pixar releases in China alone would suggest that the Disney empire is on target for yet another massive hit – and, in this case, it’s one that’s totally deserved.

Don’t you dare miss this. And don’t go thinking that if you haven’t got kids in tow, you can’t go along and enjoy it. Trust me, you’ll love it, whatever age you happen to be.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

Finding Dory



Pixar don’t often do sequels and they’ve certainly waited a long time before offering this one, following on from Finding Nemo (2002). This film concentrates on the character of Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) the fish with short term memory disorder. We start with her as a child desperately trying to follow the instructions of her parents and then cut to one year after the events of ‘Nemo’ with Marlin (Albert Brooks) still trying to cope with his best friend’s irritating habit of repeating everything at five minute intervals. Somewhere amidst the flashbacks she regularly encounters, Dory remembers her doting parents and before you can say ‘tunafish’ she and Marlin and Nemo (Hayden Rolance) have set off on an epic quest to find them.

What can I say about this film? Obviously, it’s not aimed at people of my age and obviously, it reintroduces a raft of characters from the original film. I remember enjoying Nemo and I guess I mostly enjoyed this one. The animation is as customarily dazzling as you’d expect from Pixar and perhaps it’s unfair to attribute the occasional forays into cheesy fridge magnet mawkishness to the fact that Disney now own the animation studio and are bound to exert a certain influence. It also occurred to me somewhere along the way that the story could be interpreted as an metaphor about senile dementia, but perhaps I’m over over-thinking something that has much less serious intentions.

There are good elements scattered throughout proceedings. I particularly liked a pair of indolent (English) sea lions and Hank (Ed O Neill) the intrepid octopus (or should that be septopus, since he’s missing a tentacle?) A sequence towards the film’s finale depicting an articulated lorry going over a cliff in slow-motion is suitably awe-inspiring, and  – even if, ultimately, Finding Dory is just swimming gamely along in the wake of its ground-breaking progenitor – it is beautifully done and there’s much to commend it.

Kiddie-winks will love this; and do try to get along early enough to see Piper, the by now traditional short animation that precedes the main feature.

4 stars

Philip Caveney