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The Favourite (15)
Courtly intrigue pits two ambitious women against each other for the affections of an emotionally brittle queen in director Yorgos Lanthimos's rollicking comedy of deliciously cruel intentions.
The Favourite is a brilliantly bawdy and boisterous battle of the rouged sexes, which tosses out profanities with devastating precision.
Words cut to the bone and an expertly polished script by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara draws copious blood with its volleys of rapid-fire barbs.
"As it turns out, I am capable of much unpleasantness," warns one viper in the queen's nest.
"If you do not go, I will start kicking you ... and I will not stop," retaliates her waspish opponent with a Machiavellian twinkle in the eye.
Performances from the predominantly British cast are an embarrassment of riches that should be recognised with multiple nominations at the Academy Awards in February.
Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone savour every bile-drenched syllable of their feuding harpies but it is Olivia Colman who shines brightest as a petulant and volatile ruler stalked by tragedy, who is devoted like a spoilt child to her 17 pet rabbits.
The Norwich-born actress confidently walks a tightrope between wild eccentricity and despair including one unforgettable scene in the midst of the raucous rivalry when her moody monarch reveals the heartbreak of losing multiple children.
Lanthimos shoots the devastation in natural light or by flickering candles, alternating between disconcerting angles and traditional chocolate box framing to keep us on our proverbial toes alongside his much-abused characters.
Queen Anne (Colman) is removed from the machinations of government, allowing her secret lover Sarah Churchill (Weisz) to effectively control 18th-century Britain.
While Sarah has the monarch's ear, Robert Harley (Nicholas Hoult) challenges her authority from his seat of power in Westminster, doing everything he can to protect state taxes, which are financing the war effort against France.
At the height of this battle of wits, Sarah's lowly cousin Abigail Hill (Stone) arrives unceremoniously at court and is casually employed as a scullery maid.
Abigail recognises that the key to bettering her positioning lies in winning the queen's favour and she assiduously charms and beguiles Anne.
Once Sarah discovers her cousin's underhand plot, she retaliates in venomous kind.
Abigail's clueless suitor Samuel Masham (Joe Alwyn) is collateral damage as worthy adversaries trade bruising verbal blows behind tapestry-covered doors.
Bookmarked into eight deeply satisfying chapters, The Favourite delights and unnerves, accompanied by a soundtrack that boldly melds classical music with a contemporary electronic score.
With its immaculate period detail, gorgeous cinematography, sparkling performances and flawless direction, Lanthimos's dark and twisted tragicomedy is a strong contender for the best film of a year that has barely begun.
God save the querulous queen and her corrupt court of diabolical, scheming admirers.
Welcome to Marwen (12A)
Inspired by a remarkable true story, which was sensitively captured in the 2010 documentary Marwencol, director Robert Zemeckis's heart-warming yarn of self-rediscovery fails to connect on any emotional level.
In his previous work including Back To The Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Forrest Gump, the Oscar-winning film-maker demonstrated a flair for plucking heartstrings while he engineers fantastical adventures on a grand scale.
If life is like a box of chocolates then, disappointingly, Welcome To Marwen serves up a handsomely packaged selection of bland hard centres, which are impossible to swallow without choking.
A surfeit of flashy digital trickery, which magically brings to life an adult man's toy box of lifelike plastic dolls, overwhelms character development and hampers dramatic momentum.
The misfiring script co-written by Caroline Thompson unspools in real and imagined worlds, the latter providing a safe space where the victim of a horrific attack can piece together fragments of his shattered psyche.
Tears should flow freely, especially with Steve Carell cast in the anguished lead role, but there is barely a trickle of saltwater during two disjointed and curiously underwhelming hours.
Mark Hogancamp (Carell) is brutally assaulted outside a bar by five thugs, who take exception to the lovable loner drunkenly confessing his penchant for wearing women's high-heeled shoes.
A barrage of sickening blows results in massive brain trauma.
"They kicked every memory I had out of my head," tearfully acknowledges Mark, who undergoes exhausting physical therapy alongside injured soldier Julie (Janelle Monae).
Visible wounds heal but Mark's confidence and long-term recollection remain shattered to smithereens.
In order to rebuild his life, he constructs a miniature Second World War village called Marwen in his backyard, which is populated with dolls that look uncannily like friends and neighbours.
The five attackers are portrayed as vicious Nazi officers while Mark adopts the guise of a swaggering American GI not dissimilar to Action Man.
Barbie-esque inhabitants of Marwen are reflections of real-life pals Roberta (Merritt Weaver) and Caralala (Eiza Gonzalez), soldier Julie, Russian carer Anna (Gwendoline Christie), adult film actress Suzette (Leslie Zemeckis) and newly arrived neighbour Nicol (Leslie Mann).
Mark re-enacts murky episodes from his past in the hand-made village so he can face the unrepentant attackers in court and confront his demons, which manifest as a flying witch called Deja (Diane Kruger).
Welcome To Marwen is as hollow and plastic as the figurines, which become imaginary confidantes to Mark and shepherd him along the treacherous path to recovery.
The script lacks an obvious emotional crescendo - even the pivotal courtroom showdown is overrun with special effects and pyrotechnics.
Carell's talents as a dramatic actor are largely untapped and gossamer-thin romantic subplots become an unsightly and unedifying tangle.
The robots in disguise receive a welcome and sweetly sentimental reboot in the sixth instalment of the Transformers franchise.
Travis Knight, Oscar nominee for the exquisite stop-motion animation Kubo And The Two Strings, replaces Michael Bay in the director's chair for a family-friendly origin story cast in the mould of The Iron Giant.
Bumblebee unfolds before events of the original Transformers and services a softly beating heart beneath gleaming metal through the touching friendship of the titular Autobot and a grief-stricken girl played by Pitch Perfect alumnus Hailee Steinfeld.
The 22-year-old actress delivers a beautifully calibrated and sincere performance, capturing the awkwardness of a teenager who hears her pain echoed in the songs of The Smiths.
Production designers go to town with late 1980s period detail - amusingly, the Decepticons are credited as architects of the World Wide Web - to a soundtrack that bops to the catchy melodies of A-Ha, Rick Astley, Tears For Fears and Steve Winwood.
Spectacular action sequences punctuate the heart-tugging narrative but director Knight wisely doesn't attempt to outmuscle Bay, whose penchant for special effects-laden destruction in slow-motion left previous tours of duty feeling bloated.
A bruising showdown against the dastardly Decepticons on planet Cybertron forces Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen) to sound the Autobot retreat.
He dispatches energetic recruit B-127 (Dylan O'Brien) to Earth to establish a base of operations.
B-127 crash-lands in California and makes a hasty escape from armed forces commanded by Jack Burns (John Cena).
During a subsequent skirmish with Decepticon warrior Blitzwing (David Sobolov), B-127 loses his vocal processor unit and his core memory is damaged.
He transforms into a yellow Volkswagen Beetle shortly before his circuits shut down.
Plucky teenager Charlie Watson (Steinfeld) salvages the car from her local scrapyard and in the safety of her garage, she is stunned to discover the weather-beaten Beetle is a shape-shifting robot.
She christens him Bumblebee and agrees to keep her mechanised pal safe, aided by smitten neighbour Memo (Jorge Lendeborg).
Meanwhile, Decepticon hunters Shatter (Angela Bassett) and Dropkick (Justin Theroux) trace B-127 to Earth and make first contact with Dr Powell (John Ortiz) from covert government agency Sector 7.
They convince the gullible scientist that Autobots are mankind's enemies and the only way to eliminate the threat is to allow them access to Earth's network of satellites.
"They literally call themselves Decepticons... that doesn't raise any red flags?" warns Jack.
Bumblebee is delightfully lean - it's the only film in the series to clock in under two hours - and balances aftershocks from the fall of Cybertron with Charlie's growing pains.
Steinfeld tenderly conveys the depth of her heroine's affection for her childlike robo-companion, who serves to protect the feeble human race and is one of the cutest weapons in the Transformers armoury.
Fleeting scenes of Decepticons executing humans, who explode as colourless goo, shouldn't disturb young audiences.
Every war has casualties and for once in this fantastical universe, compelling character development and heartfelt emotion aren't among the fallen.