Over The Moon
This Netflix animated musical is what Disney's 2020 Mulan should have been: An upbeat celebration of a girl overcoming the odds, not the dour lecture about values that audiences got instead.
As in Mulan, the story here concerns a Chinese girl who is told to know her limits. Admittedly, the stakes are lower. Fei Fei (voiced by Cathy Ang as a teenager) just wants to prove that the legend of the moon goddess Chang'e is real - it's her link to a painful past that she will not release.
In trying to prove to her sceptical family that Chang'e still lives on the moon and pining for her husband, the archer Hou Yi, Fei Fei steps into a looking-glass world of fantastical creatures that embody the Mid-Autumn Festival, as well as those that are purely the creation of storytellers.
Glen Keane, director and former Walt Disney Animation Studios alumnus - working with a screenplay by Alice Wu, Audrey Wells, Jennifer Yee McDevitt - makes the songs and visuals do the heavy lifting, which is the proper Disney thing to do.
It is a style that fans of Disney princess stories like Frozen (2013) will appreciate. Chang'e (voiced by Phillipa Soo), for example, is introduced with a roof-raising anthem declaring her personal autonomy - set against visuals unique to Chinese co-producers Pearl Studio.
The moonscapes are delightful, but the town that Fei Fei calls home is stunning. It is a Disney theme park version of China - withcurved roofs and quiet streets, and without a car or fast food joint in view. It is identifiably Chinese without lapsing into Chinatown kitsch.
With a hometown like that, Fei Fei should have been more reluctant to leave for her lunar adventure.
This crime thriller starts promisingly enough. Rayburn (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is a Unabomber-style loner who has isolated himself on his private nature reserve, nursing a secret pain and a dislike of authority.
The town's sheriff, Gustafson (Annabelle Wallis) discovers a murder that bears the hallmarks of the female victim being kidnapped and taken to the woods to be hunted for sport. Rayburn is implicated.
It goes rapidly downhill from there. The story strains to make its two leading characters, Gustafson and Rayburn, psychologically tortured in the hope of making them more interesting - in the style of edgy cop shows such as the HBO series True Detective (2014 to present).
This movie forgets that the character stuff is the side dish, not the main course, and serves an insultingly under-prepared crime procedural.
At several points in this ship-based corpse fest, a reasonable person watching it might ask: "When is this going to get funny?"
One cannot be blamed for thinking this is a horror-comedy. There is the pun in the title, for starters. A mixed group of people from Allied nations in a lifeboat clamber onto an empty vessel during World War II. A torpedo attack has sunk their hospital ship and the cursed tub is their only hope.
There is more here that will make viewers wish the film's makers had exploited the setup's comic potential. From the bad accents, to the lazy liberties taken with war history, to the creature effects lifted from a basic cable television show, nothing here can be taken seriously in spite of how strenuously it tries to be grim.
Ghosts Of War / Your Eyes Tell
Other films opening this week but not reviewed include Ghosts Of War, which like Blood Vessel, is a work of supernatural horror set in World War II. Australian actor Brenton Thwaites stars in a story about a group of Allied soldiers hunkered in a French chateau who discover they are not the only dangerous creatures lurking in the building's shadows.
In the Japanese romantic drama Your Eyes Tell, Rui (Ryusei Yokohama) is a withdrawn former kickboxer who meets Akari (Yuriko Yoshitaka), a blind woman with a sunnier, more social disposition. Their budding relationship forces Rui to confront his hidden past.
Over The Moon (PG, 100 minutes, Netflix): 4 stars
The Silencing (PG13, 94 minutes, opens Oct 29): 2 stars
Blood Vessel (NC 16, 95 minutes, opens Oct 29): 2 stars
Ghosts Of War ( M18, 95 minutes, opens Oct 29): not reviewed
Your Eyes Tell (PG13, 123 minutes, opens Oct 29): not reviewed