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Mulan

Based on the Chinese folklore tale ‘The Ballad of Mulan’ and the 1998 Disney animated movie, ‘Mulan’ truly embraces the word ‘epic’. That shouldn’t be any surprise as Disney hasn’t shied away from producing films on a huge scale. The ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ series comes to mind with ‘Mulan’ looking equally spectacular. The first major movie to be released on streaming this year, ‘Mulan’ is a gorgeous looking movie befitting Disney’s previously colourful back catalogue.

Mulan (Yifei Liu) is an adventurous girl living with her family in Imperial China. When the Chinese Emperor (Jet Li) comes under attack from the dark forces of vengeful warlord Bori Khan (Jason Scott Lee), he calls upon his citizens to fight. Disguising herself as a boy to join the Emperor’s army, Mulan’s skills are needed as she fights for honour until the very end.

‘Mulan’ is a simple story well told. Whilst it has thematic layers highlighting loyalty, bravery and family, its uncomplicated narrative makes viewing more enjoyable. Led by Liu’s fearlessly energetic performance, the cast do an excellent job in conveying the army’s code of conduct and determination. The script remembers to have fun as well with the lighter moments evolving naturally from fantastical situations.

There’s no doubt ‘Mulan’s brightest star is the scenery. Using a mix of New Zealand and Chinese vistas, ‘Mulan’ truly looks stunning as the camera swoops across the plains. Niki Caro’s direction is first rate as she handles the action sequences and the pacing very well. The CGI seamlessly adds to the story without overwhelming it, making for a diverting spectacle.

Much was made of ‘Mulan’ going straight to streaming. Whilst it would look incredible in a cinema, those with big-screen TVs should be equally dazzled. Genuine effort has gone into making ‘Mulan’ a big budget production which, like Mulan’s fighting abilities, captures the attention easily.

Rating out of 10: 8

CURRENTLY STREAMING ON DISNEY+

Let Him Go

In a movie landscape littered with comic book movies, it’s refreshing to occasionally watch a drama aimed at more discerning viewers. ‘Let Him Go’ has its share of dramatic incidents amongst its thriller aspirations. It also helps having a veteran group of actors giving it their all. These should potentially deliver compelling viewing. There’s no shortage of that in ‘Let Him Go’ with its relatable characters and fine performances delivering more power than any cape wearing superhero.

A few years after their son’s death, retired Sheriff George (Kevin Costner) and his wife Margaret (Diane Lane) search for their grandson Jimmy. It begins when their former daughter in law Lorna (Kavli Carter) abruptly leaves her residence with new husband Donnie Weboy (Will Britain). Relocating against their will, they are soon under the care of Donnie’s disturbed and tyrannical mother Blanche (Lesley Manville). Determined to rescue their grandson from this dangerous situation, George and Margaret race against time in a quest to keep their family together.

Based on Larry Watson’s novel, ‘Let Him Go’ is a slow-burning movie. Occasionally it’s slowly paced but Thomas Bezucha’s direction generally keeps the narrative flowing. Much of its strength lies in Margaret and George’s relationship, with the two opposites uniting to reconnect their family. Their marital longevity shows them knowi how to work around each other in tough situations as well as their single-mindedness in rescuing their grandson. Costner and Lane perfectly capture their character’s traits, effectively providing the film’s solid backbone.

‘Let Him Go’ could have been the type of movie to quickly spiral into melodramatics. There are a few moments like that although the performances bring the film’s sense of realism back into focus. Manville is also especially good as Blanche, a tricky role balancing light and shade. It would have been very easy for her to go completely over the top - a credit to her skills that she doesn’t. The tense atmosphere and striking cinematography adds texture, making for gripping viewing.

‘Let Him Go’ is a solid antidote to the endless slew of superhero flicks. Low-key with firm direction and acting, it makes the most of a potentially thin story. That it stretches it into something genuinely compelling, highlights the care gone into adapting the source material into a memorable experience.

Rating out of 10: 7

CURRENLTY SCREENING IN CINEMAS.