(Reviews of Your Fat Friend; Dagr; The Civil Dead; Table For Six 2; and The Jungle Bunch World Tour)
YOUR FAT FRIEND.
Since debuting with the small-screen documentary, Teenland (2007), Jeanie Finlay has been steadily building a reputation for diversity and acuity. Following Sound It Out (2011), a tribute to the last vinyl record shop in her native Stockton-on-Tees, she has returned to music-related themes in The Great Hip Hop Hoax (2013), Orion: The Man Who Would Be King (2015), and Indietracks (2016). She has also examined the nature of performance and the allure of escapism in Panto! (2014) and Game of Thrones: The Last Watch (2019). But Finlay has also produced a couple of sensitive studies of identity and Goth Cruise (2008) and Seahorse (2019) are now joined by Your Fat Friend.
After a letter to a friend about her physique went viral in 2016, Aubrey Gordon started the YrFatFriend blog to discuss her personal experience of being a fat woman in a world that regards such self-acceptance as problematic. When Finlay started filming her the following year, Gordon was still anonymous, even though the blog was attracting some famous fans. However, it also drew its share of trolls, although Gordon always found the well-intentioned euphemisms and health and dietary advice proffered by friends and family to be every bit as hurtful as the refusal of certain doctors to treat her, the difficulty of finding clothing, and the endless bombardment of anti-fat messages in the media.
A keen competitive swimmer as a girl, Gordon no longer feels comfortable in public baths. The same goes for buses, theatres, and restaurants, where the size of the seats precludes their occupation by fat people. Planes also make Gordon feel anxious, which is ironic as her father, Rusty, is a retired pilot who is dating a former flight attendant, who always complements Gordon on her beautiful skin. Mother Pam, a retired teacher, is forever on one diet or another and took her tweenage daughter to weight-loss classes in Portland, Oregon. So, maybe it's not so ironic after all.
Gordon collects faddish diet books and notes that they recycle the same four basic systems that have been around since the 1940s. She accuses Big Diet of peddling lies on a Big Tobacco scale and wishes that people wouldn't assume that fat people have made no effort to lose weight, as many may well have been victims of the gain that follows dieting. When an agent contacts her about the possibility of writing her own book, Gordon is conflicted, as she wants to publish, but isn't sure about outing herself as the woman behind YrFatFriend (which now has over 100,000 followers). Having made the decision and posed for publicity photos, she's deflated by the dinner conversation at Rusty's house when friends gathering to congratulate her spend the evening discussing what diet works and the need to shed that extra weight.
She realises that her life is going to change, as she had previously run a non-profit voter registration organisation, while also advocating on behalf of various LBGTQIA+ causes. But she continues to face issues with food and tells Finlay about her eating disorder after a trip to the supermarket. She reveals how healthcare professionals have stated that she doesn't look like she's missed many meals when she has sought treatment and we see her laughing off a Thanksgiving hostess's joke about turning the bathroom scales down 15lbs to compensate for dinner.
Shortly after getting positive feedback from Adele for an article on her well-publicised weight loss, Gordon gets doxed online and she receives a barrage of hate messages. Fearing for her life, after having just felt good about herself for completing her manuscript, she feels a terrifying sense of isolation that is reinforced by Covid. She gets a small dog for company and Rusty upgrades her locks. But she feels in a good place in 2020 when she sees What We Don't Talk About When We Talk About Fat on a shelf at her favourite bookshop and gets congratulatory Zoom calls from friends. While she's unsure how many family members have actually read her book, it's clear from the montage of online reviews that it's been positively received.
Journalist Michael Hobbes contacts her about launching the `Maintenance Phase' podcast and Finlay films Gordon leaving signed copies of her book in Little Free Library-type boxes around Portland. The show discusses matters like the Body Mass Index and how it was introduced in the 1940s as a way of selling insurance to fat white men. As a consequence, the pod wins a Webby and Gordon's impact on the lives of thousands of people grows. Even a regretful Pam rethinks how she raised her daughter and the messages about body image that she would have taken away from the slimming classes they had both attended.
Hosting a birthday lunch, Rusty fails to get the response he had hoped for by ordering Gordon a sugar- and gluten-free cake with Finn the dog's picture in the icing. He admits he could have done better and is moved to tears when he attends a crowded personal appearance at Powell's and he sees the effect that his daughter is having - and how good she is at stating her case and being herself. It's a poignant place to end, as Gordon acknowledges that her parents have done okay over the last thirtysomething years and asks everyone watching to be the kind of person who can see past the fat and simply be a friend.
While it might have pressed harder on the medical aspects of the subject, this is an engagingly upbeat exploration of fat and the question of whether it is still a feminist issue, as Susie Orbach once claimed. The fact that Gordon's writing has struck a chord with so many is well worth celebrating, as is her own journey as both a queer fat woman and as a positive public personality. She has rightly identified that body insecurity in the age of wellness is big business (Alicia Mundy has called it `Obesity Inc') and her exposure of the related iniquities and injustices merits Finlay's supportive profile.
Shooting over six years, Finlay had to overcome the mileage between Portland and her base in Nottingham, as well as Gordon's initial need for anonymity and the unique problems posed by the pandemic. But rather than creating a distance between film-maker and subject, such obstacles merely make Gordon seem more relatable, as she comes to terms with the opportunities and responsibilities her new status has bestowed upon her. Given the viciousness of some of the online abuse she has suffered, as well as the unintentional pain that gets inflicted on a daily basis, Gordon emerges as not just heroic, but also creditably balanced.
Finlay, who can occasionally be heard posing questions, is always conscious of Gordon's vulnerability and frequently frames her in isolation, in addition to making extensive use of facetime footage.
Perhaps this is why she narrows her focus (there's no socio-economic angle, for example) and sometimes allows sweeping statements to go unchallenged. But, as someone who quit Weight Watchers after being asked to imagine a mirror showing her future self, Finlay recognises the importance of Gordon's approach to achieving fat acceptance and uses Alice Powell's editing and Tara Creme's score to underline her upwards and onwards readiness to reassure while continuing to rattle cages and change the conversation. Let's hope that no one ever questions the melon in her shopping trolley ever again.
Matthew and Tori Butler-Hart clearly made a good impression on Ian McKellen when he narrated their 2010 comic period horror, Egad, Zombies! He also leant his voice to their next production, Claude et Claudette (2011), before delivering the Prologue in their feature take on David Garrick's 1747 play, Miss in Her Teens (2014). After the Fizz and Ginger duo had bolstered their reputation with Two Down (2015) and The Isle (2019), McKellen cameo'd as Dr Charles Marland-White in the lockdown gem, Infinitum: Subject Unknown (2021).
Now, he returns as executive producer (for only the second time in his career after Richard Loncraine's Richard III, 1995) on Dagr. An intricate found footage chiller shot on iPhones and a micro-budget, this combines satirical swipes at the modern tendency to live life on camera with a bit of Welsh folklore, a soupçon of nouvelle vague pastiche, homages to The Blair Witch Project and Absolutely Fabulous, and lots of social media ostentation.
Hidden behind large emoji heads, Lou (Riz Moritz) and Thea (Ellie Duckles) became a social media phenomenon for stealing from the rich for their show, They Deserve It and If They Don't F*** It Anyway! However, as the opening captions inform us, they posted their final video on 2 June 2023 and what we are about to see was edited by professional film-makers from footage in the possession of the South Wales Police.
Having stolen a delivery driver's car, Lou and Thea banter their way to the Brecon Beacons in order to prank a fashion shoot that has been lined up in a large remote house. Permanently on one of two cameras, the duo delight in the beauty of the countryside, while discussing boys and kissing techniques. Following a break at a country pub, complete with posters about erstwhile rules of the house and warnings about witches, the pair hit the road (with Lou driving) and ponder the mystery of why crows have good memories.
Meanwhile, ad director Tori (Tori Butler-Hart) arrives at the location with her assistant, Hattie (Hattie Chapman), and cameraman, Gray (Graham Butler). She is also making a video record of the day and talks through the monochrome Jean-Luc Godard vibe she plans for her commercial. Gray reminds Tori of the insurance problems of having Matt (Matt Barber) play tennis in the scenario, while Emma (Emma King) refuses to go anywhere near water. Undaunted, Tori plans shots that will put a Wes Anderson spin on nouvelle chic.
Pulling over to cool off with the dashboard fan, Lou hears a gun go off and Thea wonders if someone is shooting a sheep. They get the giggles, even though Lou nervously mumbles, `this is where death happens'. A different call of nature sends Thea into the woods, while Lou waits in the car and let's herself get unnerved by the silence. As she finishes peeing, Thea hears a noise and amuses herself by delivering Heather Donohue's `I'm so sorry' speech from Blair Witch. Returning to the car, she gives Lou a shock by popping up at the rear window while she's searching in the backseat for her selfie stick.
Back at the house, Tori is frustrated because the WiFi's down and Gray can't send his trial footage to the clients. When Emma and Matt arrive, they discuss intimacy protocols before Tori uses a wind-up 8mm camera to shoot a monochrome scene of two lovers fooling around in front of a mirror while she brushes her hair. Matt seems offended when she bops him with the brush, but they are soon back at work filming tennis footage on an outdoor court and laughing over a glass of wine.
Let down by the satnav, Lou and Thea call at a farm shop for directions. Wandering into a shed, Thea sees animal hides drying on a bench and shivers at the creepiness of the sight. She's happier doing a David Attenborough impression, as she films a distant cow (that she calls `he'). Turning to see Lou wearing a bird feather mask that is apparently linked to a local cult legend, the terrible twosome pose for selfies wearing cheap plastic sunglasses.
Back on the road, they do the introduction for their show and explain that they are going to pose as caterers to gain access to the designer clothing and camera equipment and cock a snook at capitalism before selling their ill-gotten gains to donate the money to food banks. Lou thinks it's a pity that they have to cover their faces in the videos because no one knows how pretty they are, but she's unable to persuade Thea to change her name so that they can be Thelma and Louise. Forced to pause to allow a couple of cars to pass on a narrow country lane, they pull over to bleat at a couple of singularly unimpressed sheep in a field.
Matt and Emma are equally disapproving of the cheap wine they're being forced to drink. So, Hattie is dispatched to the nearest shop to buy some provisions because there's still no sign of the caterers. As it starts to rain, Tori rushes through a boule shot and, consequently, there's no sign of anyone when Thea and Lou finally roll up the drive and agree that the pink house is classy, but creepy.
Taking the food boxes from the boot of the stolen car, Lou and Thea buckle on their bodycams and approach the house. They notice some feathers strewn outside the door, but are too focussed on making the right entrance to notice. Spotting a room filled with designer clobber, Lou sends Thea to position cameras outside so they can create a tense escape sequence with the footage. She places a couple more cameras inside the wood-panelled rooms and throws a few Michael Jackson shapes before getting back to the blag in hand.
As Lou starts laying out the coffee cups, Thea notices some blood on a door frame and jokes that she's a detective at the scene of a crime.
Lou finds an iPad containing Gray's record of Tori directing Matt and Emma. Thea thinks it's arty nonsense, but they keep watching as the scene shifts to a standing stone in the grounds. Suddenly, the screen flickers and all three figures vanish, along with Hattie, while the camera keeps rolling without Gray operating it. Thea and Lou gasp as a black-cowled figure appears on screen, only to evanesce instantly and the previous scene resumes as though nothing untoward had happened.
Jumping at the sound of a crow outside, the pair rewind the footage to check on what they had seen. But there's no sign of the mysterious figure and they select another clip. As Tori instructs Matt to upset a backgammon board, he suggests that this sort of macho posturing would look odd to today's audience. Emma also wonders why a strong independent woman would tolerate such behaviour. As Tori ponders their notes, Emma looks around for a prop and cuts her hand on a ceremonial dagger. When Gray rushes over to stop her getting blood on the clothes, she stabs him.
While Lou is concerned they're watching an actual knifing, Thea dismisses it as cool play-acting and urges her to click on another link. As they're so engrossed, the women fail to see a door closing slowly behind them. They seek out the room in which the accident happened and Lou can't understand how she walked over a large bloodstain on a rug. On the iPad, Matt spots someone outside and goes for help, only to be flung across a corridor after pausing at the sound of a droning voice in a doorway. Tori screams in terror and Lou is worried that they're viewing something weird. But Thea is sure it's a prank and insists on heading upstairs when they hear a thump.
Wandering back into the main room, Lou sits to watch more footage. She looks round when she sees a figure reflected in the darkened screen. But she's alone and looks on in dismay as Emma is suspended in mid-air in a cruciform pose before Tori rescues her and they lock themselves inside a bedroom. A droning demonic voice booms around them and even comes down the landline when Tori tries to call for help. As they quiver with fear, an unseen presence drags Gray out of the room. Suddenly, a video clicks on and Tori sees anthropology professor Ash Blake (Luca Thompson) making a video diary about his discoveries about peaceable 18th-century Welsh druids and the human sacrifices carried out by Lord Somerton. At the mention of blood and living stones, Emma throws herself out of a dormer window, with her fall being captured by the camera that Thea had placed outside.
Slumped on a sofa, Tori listens as Blake brandishes a blade and declares that he can feel Somerton luring him in. As the screen goes blank, Tori hears a knock at the door and rushes to open it when Lou claims to be with the caterers. Unable to get a signal, they decide to slip downstairs rather than be sitting ducks and Lou finds Thea's phone on the landing. She watches as her friend finds more swag in a bedroom, only to be attacked by the hooded figure and she just has time to beg Lou to flee before the screen goes black.
When a series of doors open, Lou pushes Tori through them. But they get separated after a thunderbolt rumbles over the house and the fiendish incantation gets louder and more insistent. Tori finds herself in the woods and hopes salvation is at hand when her phone suddenly rings. But there's no one there and she's scythed down by the black entity.
Stumbling on, Lou sees a bonfire and finds Thea tied to a tree. As she tries to help her, she's attacked from behind and Thea is run through with a sword. The last camera distorts to darkness and a caption reveals that Gray and Matt remain missing, while the corpses of Tori, Emma, Thea, and Lou were found shortly afterwards. If you're wondering about Hattie, her return is captured by the garden camera, as she enters apologising for having taken so long. She turns to greet someone, as the door to the corridor closes.
Before someone cries `spoilers', it feels necessary to outline everything that happens because it emphasises how meticulously the Butler-Harts planned their interlocking stories and how ingeniously they made each shot look captured rather than choreographed. In fact, the blocking must have been planned to the last step and it's to the credit of the cast members carrying cameras while acting that the visuals are so precise, while seeming so spontaneous.
Cinematographer Pete Wallington neatly switches between the effects of colour phone footage and monochrome celluloid. But the craft kudos has to go to William Honeyball, who not only edits nimbly between the different set-ups, but who also devised the increasingly forbidding sound mix. Whoever supervised continuity also deserved a pat on the back (intimacy co-ordinator permitting, of course), as the camera placements are impeccably maintained throughout.
Encouraged to improvise during their motoring exchanges, Riz Moritz and Ellie Duckles are hilarious as the city girls cluelessly confronting the countryside. But the dictates of the story clip their wings once they're inside the haunted house (actually Abercynrig Manor in Llanfrynach), as was the case with Alexie Gilmore and Bryce Johnson in Bobcat Goldthwait's Willow Creek (2013). There's less scope for scene-stealing in the fashion shoot sequences, but the debunking of on-set morality is wittily done and Tori Butler-Hart and Emma King do a nice line in hysterical terror.
Given the need to keep things mysterious for as long as possible, the Somerton revelation has to be kept under wraps (although Lou clearly hears it at the farm shop and thinks nothing of it). But the Blake footage is introduced a little awkwardly and imparts its information a bit abruptly before the academic starts to go mad. Nevertheless, Matthew Butler-Hart directs with great attention to detail and admirable ambition in his tonal shifts. One is left to wonder what the couple might do with a decent budget and what they plan asking Sir Ian to do next.
THE CIVIL DEAD.
Having built an online following with The Poundcast, Clay Tatum and Whitmer Thomas joined forces on a debut feature during lockdown. In addition to co-writing and co-starring, Tatum also directs The Civil Dead, a mumblecoric ghost story that was produced for around $30,000 and which makes a virtue of spurning special effects in order to focus on the everyday mundanity of being alive and dead.
Hoping that a new DIY haircut will improve his prospects of breaking through as a photographer, Clay (Clay Tatum) takes it as a compliment when wife Whitney (Whitney Weir) tells him he looks British. As Clay is struggling to make the rent on their Los Angeles apartment, Whitney has to take a job out of town and leaves with a stern warning to do something constructive with his time.
Unable to borrow cash from his gambling addict buddy, Budd (Budd Diaz), Clay pretends the apartment is available to rent and charges a $50 administration few for couples to look around. Deciding to take some pictures around the neighbourhood, Clay asks a man to get out of his shot and recognises him as his old school friend, Whit (Whitmer Thomas). Underwhelmed by the experience, Clay tries to make his excuses, but winds up inviting Whit home for a beer.
Whit claims to be a struggling actor who has been reduced to taking bit parts in indie projects. He's impressed that Clay has published a book and is friends with Andy Samberg. But he outstays his welcome, having crashed for the night, and has to break the news that he's dead. While he's not sure how long he's been this way, he knows his hand has rigor mortis and that he can't take off his shoes, let alone drink a beer or open a door. Sceptical even when a neighbour fails to see Whit when they're chatting, Clay realises the truth when he takes a Polaroid and Whit isn't in the picture.
When Whit begs Clay not to ditch him because it's lonely being dead, they hit upon the idea that Whit could read cards at a poker game. Budd gets Clay invited to a house game with a movie producer named Arnold (Robert Longstreet), whom they proceed to fleece in a cards`n'chips montage. On the way home, however, Clay is beaten up by an Australian who had realised that the apartment viewing was a scam. Even though he's not able to touch anything, Whit's fury throws the man off his friend and Clay is just a little afraid. He's equally unnerved when Whit smashes a plate during an argument.
As Whitney is coming home and Clay feels spooked by the notion that Lenny the cat can also see Whit, Clay asks Whit to vacate for a week so he can work out how to integrate him into his daily routine without freaking his wife out. With nowhere else to go, Whit follows Belle (Teresa Lee), the hostess from the card game, who is heading home with her new beau (Christian Lee Hutson). Bored with watching them smooching, Whit sits on the stairs and waits for them to finish.
Missing Clay, Whit hangs around the house, only to be ignored.
Furious when he wakes to find him skulking in the bedroom doorway, Clay locks Whit in the car for the night and assuages his anger by promising to drive to the mountains and use the poker money to rent a cabin and plan their next move. Whit tries to explain how scary eternity feels, but Clay is more interested in dyeing his hair blonde to see if the colour improves his look. Feeling anxious about being dumped (when he sees himself as a friendly ghost like Casper), Clay causes a power outage and breaks a valuable horse ornament that's treasured by the cabin's owners while they're horsing around in the dark.
After a soul-searching walk in the forest, Whit returns to thank Clay for being his friend. He confesses to having lied about being a successful actor and reveals that the Pennywise and Deadpool impersonators on Hollywood Boulevard had beaten him to death because his Joker was proving so popular with tourists. Clay apologises for not answering Whit's texts when he first arrived in LA and asks if he can check that he's made a good job of hiding the broken statue in the attic. Whit climbs the ladder and is calling down when Clay shuts the trapdoor. Ignoring Whit's anguished cries, he packs his bag and drives away.
Deftly slipping between deadpan and downbeat, this is an interesting rather than an involving picture. There's an understated ease to the byplay between Tatum and Thomas, but there's also an edge, as Clay tries to shake the needy spirit and Whit tempers his desperation with a hint of hostility. Mercifully avoiding too many scenes in which Clay communicates with Whit in the presence of others, the pair become each other's prisoners and one is left to wonder how Whit will exact his revenge when he is eventually able to escape from the cabin attic.
Making unsettling use of long takes, Joshua Hill's camera captures the emptiness of the streets without drawing attention to it, while Max Whipple's score underlines the changes in tone. But, while Tatum's editing is slick in sequences like the poker montages, his screenplay seems short on ideas, with scenes like Whit's night on the staircase feeling like padding. Even the funny haircut gag is unnecessarily extended by having Clay go blonde, while Whitney seems far too compliant with her spouse's laziness and lies. More might also have been made of Clay's resistible personality and Whit's conviction that the cat was on to him. The same goes for the throwaway notion that Clay might have a Sixth Sense about dead people, but is too self-occupied to find out. Quibbles notwithstanding, this whimsically bleak curio is worth seeking out.
TABLE FOR SIX 2.
Expanded from the 2015 short, Table For Three, and exploring the dynamics between three brothers and their partners, Sunny Chan's Table For Six (2022) was a huge hit with Hong Kong audiences rediscovering the pleasures of cinema-going after the pandemic lockdown. Indeed, such was the one-set comedy's popularity that it was reworked as a hit stage show. However, lead Dayo Wong has opted out of the sequel, Table For Six 2, which is being released to mark the Lunar New Year. To compensate, Chan has introduced a few new characters and opened out the action to take in locations across the city.
With big brother Steve Chen (Dayo Wong) having flown the nest, PR guru Bernard (Louis Cheung) and e-sports influencer Lung (Peter Chan) have set up a wedding planning agency. They launch it to the press overlooking the waterfront, with Lung playing a groom to Steve's jilted Taiwanese girlfriend, Ah Meow (Lin Min-chen). Jealous chef partner, Josephine Thin (Ivana Wong), looks on clutching a rolling pin. She hasn't told Lung that she's pregnant, while Bernard is keeping from longtime cultural conservationist companion Monica Fong (Stephy Tang) that he is planning to propose with a splashy song routine. They decide upon a double wedding.
Arriving for their big day blinged to the eyeballs, Lung and Josephine greet her 98 year-old grandmother (Helena Lo) before Bernard confesses to having lost the wedding ring. Meanwhile, Meow has hit the bottle because she's so lonely and Monica entrusts her with keeping an eye on her half-brother, Mark Gor (Jeffrey Ngai), a rival gamer who acts like a big kid. Sixth Uncle (Tse Kwan-ho) and two other uncles show up for the weddings and cause a scene at the venue because they still think Monica is dating Steve. Moreover, they despise Bernard and Lung because they are sons of their father's second marriage. Lung convinces them that Monica is the twin sister of Steve's Monica (but with a different spelling). In another misunderstanding, Bernard gets hold of Josephine's pregnancy tester and thinks Monica's the one who's expecting.
Monica finds the lost wedding ring and hands it in at reception. She also bumps into Mark Gor (whom she has never met) and is repulsed by his slobbish attempt to flirt with a mouth full of food. While Lung gets stuck in a lift, Bernard runs into cousin Chuh-Chuh, who says he has an exciting business deal to propose. But he can't linger, as he has to put on a robot hero costume to pretend to be Lung at the wedding ceremony and he persuades Mark Gor to smarten up (so he resembles his suave public image) to act as a distraction to the woman officiating.
Josephine knows it's not Lung inside the costume, but needs to save face (as this is the company's first wedding) and goes along with the charade. So does Lung, who gets free in time to see his bride exchange vows with his brother before he joins her for the wedding breakfast. At the table, Josephine kisses Lung and tells him they should break up, but not before they have their first dance and Bernard, Monica, and Meow join them on the floor. Despite agreeing to marry in two months at Ocean Park, Monica and Bernard have misgivings about marriage, as each had a cheating father and not even a visitation from the ghost of his mother (Fish Liew) can reassure Bernard.
Realising that Monica has cold feet and loathes marriage because of her father's infidelity, Meow tells Mark Gor that they're half-siblings and asks him to convince Monica that their father had never loved him. Meanwhile, Bernard and Chuh-Chuh have hooked up with Sixth Uncle's shark fin company with a view to using the wedding to promote the brand. Josephine agrees to cook shark fin soup, but Monica loathes the cruelty involved and refuses to wear shark fins with her wedding outfit, even though Bernard tries to assure her that they're angel wings. Knowing it will help the family, Monica agrees to do her bit.
Her mood is improved when Meow manufactures a meeting with Mark Gor and he reveals that his father would never take him to Ocean Park because it was her special place. They hug with their mouths full of corndog and Meow is delighted to have brought them together (as she has a crush on Mark Gor). Lung is also determined to patch things up with Josephine, but he also needs to repair his reputation as a gamer and his sponsor suggests he is seen with Meow. They ask Josephine if she's okay with the deception and she insists Lung is free to do what he wants.
When Lung announces that he and Meow are an item, however, Josephine knocks him cold with a hurled rolling pin. Meow feels bad for coming between them and admits to struggling to get over the fact that Steve dumped her so callously. Monica reassures her that she will always be one of the family and everyone gets ready for the wedding (with Lung still clueless about the baby - he thinks Josephine has just put on weight).
First, however, Sixth Uncle (who calls himself the Shark Fin King) needs to promote his product and he is about to taste a delicacy prepared by Josephine when Monica bursts in to protest about the slaughter of sharks. However, Josephine explains that she has produced a substitute that Sixth Uncle declares so good that he will start selling it. Lung is proud of Josephine for her talent and Bernard apologises for compromising Monica's principles to make a fast buck.
But the Sixth Uncle puts a spoke in the wheel by telling Monica he knows she's the twin of Steve's girlfriend and all hell breaks loose when she denies it. The uncles accuse Bernard of cuckolding his own brother and brand him a disgrace to the family and the social media influencers present go into a filming frenzy to stream the breaking story. Lung helps the couple escape and they talk things over in the aquarium. Despite all the guests having left, they tidy up the hall and exchange vows. With Lung and Josephine also tentatively getting back together and Meow and Mark Gor swapping knowing glances, a happy(ish) ending is guaranteed. But Sixth Uncle seals the deal by returning to admit to being a stepson himself and give Bernard his sponsorship cash.
All ends with an airport farewell, as Meow heads to Africa to find Steve (while being aware of Mark Gor's interest) and the rest of the family come to see her off and give her an belonging hug. It's a sweet resolution and provides one of the few moments in this breathless film in which everyone is comparatively stationary. Such is the cornballishness of the comic contrivances, however, Sunny Chan is wise to maintain a frantic pace, as viewers would otherwise realise the threadbare nature of the storyline.
The locations provide further distraction. But it's the enthusiasm of the cast that puts this across, as they are clearly happy to be reprising roles from the original. Ivana Wong is particularly winning as the delightful Josephine, while Lin Min-chen has fun mangling Cantonese. Stephy Tang is left to do most of the dramatic lifting, while Jeffrey Ngai makes an amusing transition from nerd to pin-up as the half-brother brought in to keep the numbers up. Chan has obviously left the door open for another follow-up, but this would seem to be a good place to say goodbye to the Chens. For now, at any rate.
THE JUNGLE BUNCH WORLD TOUR.
Spun off from the French children's TV show, The Jungle Bunch to the Rescue, David Alaux's The Jungle Bunch (2017) was an origins story that explained how an emperor penguin named Maurice decided to paint yellow and black stripes on his coat because he had been raised by a Bengal tiger named Natacha. Now, the super warrior and his pals are back for the CGI sequel, Laurent Bru, Yannick Moulin, and Benoît Somville's The Jungle Bunch World Tour.
The story is rather odd, to put it mildly. When a subterranean rodent wees in the forest, he causes an explosion and a cloud of purple smoke. When he tells Maurice (Scott Humphrey) and his adopted son, Junior (a Tiger barb who lives in a goldfish bowl), they learn from Gilbert (Wyatt Bowen), a brainy if neurotic brown tarsier, that the sticky purple powder was created by Albert, an armadillo inventor who believed he had created a super fertiliser. However, he had got the formula wrong and now the jungle is in threat of devastation when the annual rains come into contact with the chemical.
Realising they have to find Albert, the Jungle bunch set off in an airship, with Miguel (Mark Camacho), a clumsy blue gorilla and
Batricia the fruitbat (Dawn Ford) along for the ride with two new apprentices, Al the glass frog (Arthur Holden) and Bob the cane toad (Marcel Jeannin). However, they are being followed by three agents working for Henry (Mark Camacho), an evil beaver who has a plan to make money from an environmental calamity.
As no one knows where Albert is, Gilbert decides to track down his daughter, Camelia (Holly Gauthier-Frankel), who has a mechanical paw as a result of an accident in her father's laboratory. After Henry's henchmen cause a puncture in the airship and it crash lands, the Bunch see Camelia fighting off the animals that had stolen a totem belonging to another species. Maurice is instantly smitten and is delighted she is ready to help save the forest, as she misses Albert and wants to reconnect.
Having heard that Albert is somewhere in the desert, the Bunch float across the sea on an iceberg boat and reach land after a frantic dash because Miguel has pushed the melting ice to shore because there might be a reward of some bananas. In fact, Albert (Richard Dumont) has moved to the most dangerous town in the district and the Bunch has to use their ingenuity to locate him. He suffers from memory lapses, but he remembers Camelia and is ready to help her friends. Albert also remembers Gilbert, who had regularly attended his lectures on science.
Feeling guilty for harming his daughter, Albert tells the Bunch that they have to collect some key ingredients to make an antidote to the purple powder. The rarest is the rennet guarded by a cheese-making cult known as the Sacred Circle of Stink. Sneaking into their mountain lair, Maurice and his pals witness a secret ceremony, while Miguel stuffs himself with cheese, and Batricia finds the rennet's hiding place.
After a narrow escape (that involves an animation projector that Gilbert concocts to keep the Stinkers occupied), the Bunch return to the tunnel through the core of the Earth that Albert had been working on for years. Unfortunately, he has forgotten that he never finished the exit and the Bunch fear their trapped until Miguel gets so distressed at the prospect of never eating another banana that he bashes his way through the rock.
Having captured two of Henry's stooges, the Bunch discover the whereabouts of the hideaway where he keeps the planes they will need to spray the jungle canopy with the blue antidote. They discover that Henry has hypnotised hundreds of beavers into making makeshift shelters that he plans to sell at exorbitant prices to the jungle dwellers after their habitat has been destroyed. A battle ensues, with Maurice and Camelia joining forces to confound a giant bear. But they prevail and the planes complete their mission just as the heavens open. Life gets back to normal, with Maurice and Camelia becoming a couple and Al and Bob showing the jungle kids a home movie in which they are the heroes of the entire operation.
Made with regulation computer graphics, this rousing paean to teamwork boasts some atmospheric settings and the odd exhilarating set-piece. The colourful animal art is also bound to keep tinies engrossed, along with the odd moment of slapstick. But most grown-ups will lament the lack of character depth and the way in which the action keeps returning to the imperilled creatures in the forest without making it clear who they are to newcomers to the franchise.
The discussion of the capitalist threat posed to the natural environment is laudable, but Henry is such a token villain that it's difficult to summon the enthusiasm to boo him, even when he reveals that the boastful Gilbert has played an accidental part in helping him create his sinister potion. Similarly, the bashful romance between Maurice and Camelia feels shoehorned, even though it chimes in with the notion that different species should live together in harmony.
Driven along by Olivier Cussac's catchy score, this probably needs to be seen as a double bill with its predecessor. But a quick online shufti before the day trip to the pictures should keep the younger members of the family entertained over half-term.