There must have been some lively debates in the staff common room at the School of Film and Television at Falmouth University, as Jamie Adams and Mark Jenkin discussed their different approaches to direction. The laudably prolific Adams has demonstrated an affinity for improvisation in such patchy, low-budgets offerings as Benny & Jolene (2014), Black Mountain Poets (2015), Songbird (2018) and Balance, Not Symmetry (2019). But an epiphany on Christmas Day 2012 changed Jenkin's outlook after making only a modest impression with The Midnight Drives (2007) and Happy Christmas (2011). 

He now operates according to the tenets of a manifesto he has dubbed `Silent Landscape Dancing Grain 13', which imposes a series of Dogme-like rules upon each production. Under the terms of SLDG 13, all films must be shot on small gauge film; be presented in black and white; be shot silently and post-synchronised; contain voice over; contain no non-diegetic music; be shot with a shooting ratio no greater than 3:1; be no longer than 80 minutes; feature a protagonist; be shot utilising no extraneous grip equipment other than a tripod; be shot utilising only available or practical lighting; be realised while subverting or ignoring genre constraints; be realised with a minimum of fuss; and break one of the thirteen SLDG 13 Film Manifesto rules.

To date, Jenkin has tested out the rubric on a number of documentaries and shorts. But he now follows Bronco's House (2015), The Essential Cornishman, Dear Marianne, Enough to Fill Up an Eggcup (all 2016) and The Road to Zennor (2017) with Bait, a study of gentrification and the trivialisation of cultural legacy that seeks to revive the proud social realist tradition whose stagnation in recent times has allowed it to hijacked by film-makers with both feet firmly in the Momentum camp. Filmed on 16mm Kodak stock with a 1976 wind-up Bolex camera that allows takes to run for a maximum of 26 seconds and hand-processed using a self-concocted mix containing coffee, washing soda and Vitamin C powder, this may not be particularly sophisticated in dramatic terms. But its fearless audiovisual audacity makes this the most innovative British picture since Clio Barnard's The Arbor (2010).

Martin Ward (Edward Rowe) has spent his entire life in the small Cornish fishing village in which he was born (the location is actually Charlestown). He resents the fact that his older brother, Steven (Giles King), uses their father's boat, `The Buccaneer', to ferry tourists around the bay and despises the Leigh family for retro-kitschily renovating Skipper's Cottage and turning its outhouses into self-catering lets. As we see Martin preparing his nets on the beach, Sandra Leigh (Mary Woodvine) fills the fridge with bourgeois goodies, while her daughter, Katie (Georgia Ellery), flirts with Martin's nephew, Neil (Isaac Woodvine). Despite being broke, he refuses Steven's offer of work, as he also thinks his father has sold out and dislikes the way he has to kowtow to pleasure seekers who don't care a jot about Cornish traditions or the difficulty of making a living in what they consider to be a picturesque backwater. 

Tim Leigh (Simon Shepherd) keeps asking Martin not to park outside the house, but he is so dismayed by the tacky décor (`All ropes and chains. Looks a bit like a sex dungeon.') that he ignores the polite requests. He sees Katie and her older brother, Hugo (Jowan Jacobs), heading to the local pub, where Wenna Kowalski (Chloe Endean) works behind the bar. It has been colonised by tourists and the offspring of the out-of-towners  who run  the various B&S during the season (and complain about the seven-hour drive each time they come down). But Neil also drinks there and Martin has no sympathy when he finds him sleeping off a hangover in his beach hut with Katie. 

While Martin and Neil carefully extricate the fish caught in their beach net, Hugo gets stroppy because Katie escapes a telling off after staying out all night. He is preparing to go spear fishing and Martin bids him a mocking `good morning', as he pads down to the harbour in his wetsuit. Having sold his catch to landlady Liz Stewart (Stacey Guthrie), Martin watches Neil canoodling with Katie, who is dismissed as a posh bimbo by Wenna, who enjoys winding up Liz about how old-fashioned and crowded the pub is. When darkness falls, the kids build a bonfire on the beach and tease Hugo about failing to catch some fish for their supper. Instead, they sit around drinking and smoking joints and Neil gives Katie a quick peck after getting bored. 

The next day, Martin talks with the spirit of his late father, Billy (Martin Ellis), while repairing his nets. He pitches a lobster pot into a gully and offers the catch to Liz, who wishes he would settle his differences with Steven and work as a team. She reminds him that he's still getting over the death of his wife and has a struggle raising Neil. But Martin has no sympathy and their conversation is cross-cut with an argument between Wenna and Hugo about who goes next on the pool table. Frustrated with Martin for being so stubborn, Liz takes it out on Wenna, who looks affronted at being shouted at. She steals the cue ball and throws it through the window of Tim's car after he has Martin's truck clamped for illegal parking. Martin had managed to keep his temper as the Leighs baited him, but Wenna is less restrained and is bundled into the back of a police car after punching Tim on the nose. 

Ironically, when her guest (Morgan Val Baker) complains about the Wards making too much noise at 7am, Sandra takes their side and says they have a perfect right to earn their living. Martin collects his catch and sells it to Liz. But he ends up out of pocket because Wenna takes a taxi back from the town and he has to shell out £100 to cabby Brian Rikard (Tristan Sturrock), who also used to fish before giving up a losing battle. Worse still, he discovers that somebody has damaged his lobster pot and Martin has to stop an angry Neil from picking a fight with the stag party boarding The Buccaneer (with the groom-to-be wearing a plastic phallus suit). Moreover, he has to rein himself in when Tim potters after him to ask what he is going to do about removing his truck. Outraged by the suggestion that he is being an inconsiderate neighbour, Martin accuses Tim of being an outsider who exploits the community by making a fast buck during the season and spending it elsewhere while the rest endure a bleak winter.

That night, Tim tells Sandra to stop being so prudish when she has qualms about cooking the lobster that Hugo has brought home. As they eat, Katie prepares a pasta dish for herself and Neil, while Martin storms into the pub carrying his vandalised lobster pot. Liz and Wenna look on, as Martin silently forces Hugo into repairing the torn net and thanks him courteously for his efforts before leaving. 

Cross-cutting between close-ups of the Leighs contemptuous feasting, Hugo and Katie's cosy cookery session and Hugo's humiliation, this scene is largely pieced together, in the style of a Soviet montage, from stylised close-ups that are contrasted at the end of the sequence with the wooden figureheads decorating the pub. It's the most thrilling piece of pure cinema to be seen in a British realist film in decades and deserves to stand alongside the pub sing-song sequence in Terence Davies's Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988) and the football match in Ken Loach's Kes (1969).

Feeling guilty about the lobster, Sandra slips some £20 notes into the tin in which Martin keeps his boat fund. He is down by the waterfront taunting Steven as he clears up the mess after the boozy stag do. Martin announces that he's going to get a boat of his own and that Neil will crew for him. At first light, however, Neil catches Hugo trying to sabotage the pots again. With Katie looking on while wrapped in a blanket, he tussles with Neil, who falls off the quay and cracks his skull open on The Buccaneer's deck. As the siblings look down in horror, a dark pool of blood oozes from the lifeless Neil's head.

Life goes on for Martin, as he gathers the catch from his beach net and follows his daily routine of hanging a fish-filled carrier bag on the door handles of Steven and their neighbour, Mrs Peters (Janet Thirlaway). He peers in through the letterbox to see how Steven is doing, but he doesn't knock. Similarly, he merely checks to see if anyone is stirring at Skipper's Cottage. But the Leighs have packed up and gone and Martin is surprised to hear the sound of Steven kicking in their front door. He looks around his former home and is dismayed that they have knocked down their mother's old pantry. He smashes the porthole they have hung on the wall and Billy's ghost appears behind the broken glass as his brother's embrace in grief-stricken misery. 

As the film closes, Martin joins Wenna and Steven on The Buccaneer, as it puts out to sea to fish. Jenkin ends abruptly with a freeze frame on a partial close-up of Martin's face that recalls the last shot in François Truffaut's The 400 Blows (1959). But this has much more in common with Robert Flaherty's stage-managed documentary, Man of Aran (1934), and Luchino Visconti's neo-realist snapshot of an embattled fishing community, La terra trema (1948). However, the influence of Sergio Leone, Nicolas Roeg, Guy Maddin, Nick Darke and Ben Rivers is also readily evident on a picture that appears to break two of the SLDG 13 rules (three if you count the music over the closing credit crawl) in running for 88 minutes and in conforming pretty squarely to the conventions of screen melodrama, right down to its reliance on some blatantly caricatured yuppie antagonists. 

But if ever a film was entitled to being cut a bit of slack, it's this one. Wearing its visual imperfections like a badge of honour, Bait is a scratchily abrasive saga that highlights the tendency in modern Britain for  tradition to be trampled on by those seeking to purchase a piece of it for themselves solely in order repackage it as knowing chic and make easy money out of it. The Leighs may be pantomime villains (with Simon Shepherd ramping up the detestable smug sense of entitlement that always betrays the profiteer), but the Wards are very much rooted in reality - as anyone who saw Heike Bachelier and Andy Heathcote's documentary, Of Fish and Foe, will know - and they are played with gravely gravitas by Edward Rowe and Giles King. 

Mary Woodvine and Chloe Endean also impress. But there's something Bressonian about the performances, as Jenkin treats his actors as facets of the mise-en-scène. Indeed, a case could be made for comparing them to the typaged actors selected by Sergei Eisenstein so that their facial features could be juxtaposed like any other prop to make an intellectual. social or metaphorical point. But he also includes `pillow shots' in the manner of Yasujiro Ozu to prompt the audience into reflecting on the scene they have just witnessed and speculate about what might happen next.

As Jenkin acts as his own cinematographer, it's clear that he's in control of every detail inside the frame, even when he's filming lowering clouds or rolling waves. However, his staccato editing style and his use of Foley and post-synchronised sound leave the viewer in no doubt that they are watching a technically antiquated form of consciously stylised reality rather than a slice of life. It's a thrilling experience and it's hard to see anything ousting it as the most significant film of the year. Let's hope that Jenkin can build on this extraordinary achievement, while also making more of his back catalogue available online.

Despite having made little mainstream impact with Abducted (aka LA Slasher, 2015) or Let's Be Evil (2016), British actor-turned-director Martin Owen was still able to assemble an impressive ensemble for his third feature, Killers Anonymous. In an interview, Owen once cited Stanley Kubrick and John Carpenter among his key influences, but there's little evidence of their craft or control in this tiresome hitman farrago that seems to owe more to the kind of wisecracking knock-offs that were churned out in the wake of Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Guy Ritchie's Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998).

After The Man (Gary Oldman) meets hitwoman Jade (Jessica Alba) in a London pub to admonish her for failing in a mission to eliminate Senator John Kyle (Sean Hazeldine), she is brutally offed in a pole-dancing club by Krystal (Elizabeth Morris). She calmly crosses the city to a dimly lit church to attend a hastily convened session of Killers Anonymous, as self-help group founded by The Man to offer 12 steps to help aid assassins with issues. In the chair is vicar Jo (MyAnna Buring), who welcomes newcomer Alice (Rhyon Nicole Brown) and introduces fellow attendees, creepily taciturn doctor Calvin (Tim McInnerny), the cocky Ben (Elliot James Langridge), the twitchy Leandro (Michael Socha) and irascible Scot, Markus (Tommy Flanagan).

As police choppers circle the area, The Man peers through binoculars and listens in through a hidden microphone from an overlooking rooftop and Morgan (Isabelle Allen) eavesdrops from a cupboard, while Ben recalls killing a childhood pal in a `hunting accident'. Calvin then explains how the car crash death of his wife sparked a fascination with watching his patients slip away, while Leo describes how he bumped off triad bigwig, Lady Ming (Takako Akashi). While The Man fields a phone call from Los Angeles killer, Violet (Suki Waterhouse), a wounded Kyle enters the basement and demands to know why the media is reporting his death when he is very much still alive and on the run from his security handlers. 

Jo stuns everyone by revealing that she and Krystal are CIA agents and that they have all been manipulated at one point into doing the agency's bidding. She doubts Alice's credentials. however, and forces her into confessing how she had become addicted to murder after slaying her abusive father (Stephan Genovese) as a young girl. Still not satisfied, Jo accuses Alice of not being a contract killer. But she is distracted by a noise from the office, where she discovers Morgan. She manages to escape to the roof, where Krystal makes a big show of gunning down Jo. But this was all a ruse to allow Jo to reveal that Alice is their new boss. 
A bizarre revelation about Russia presages a blood bath in the church (whose pews have conveniently been covered in plastic sheeting), while  Calvin plays the organ and Roger Goula's score shifts into a third-rate pastiche of an Ennio Morricone spaghetti theme. As the survivors stride out into the London night, The Man congratulates Alice on a job well done and a radio news bulletin blames Kyle's assassination on the American government to prevent him ascending to the presidency. 

A throwaway LA coda winds up proceedings that make such little sense that it often feels as though Owen and co-scenarists Seth Johnson and Elizabeth Morris are making things up as they go along. Swede MyAnna Buring is smilingly effective as the lethal vicar in a chunky knit cardigan, while the ever-excellent Tim McInernney is insinuatingly sinister as the Shipmanesque medic. But the rest of the cast struggle to do anything with their sketchy caricatures and one can only wonder what on earth prompted the Oscar-winning Gary Oldman to accept such a poorly written and peripheral role.  

Håvard Helle's photography, Cassandra Surina's production design and Stephen Hedley's editing are all competent enough. But the arch camera placements and self-conscious moving shots consistently draw attention to themselves, as do the gauche lighting changes. Owen is clearly a capable technician, but his storytelling is slipshod, while his dialogue is resolutely unfunny. Moreover, his direction lacks discipline, as it lurches between inelegantly integrated flashbacks and crass eruptions of cartoonish violence and leaves the impression that the entire picture has been cobbled together from ill-fitting slabs. 

Five years after playing JMW Turner in Mike Leigh's Mr Turner (2014), Timothy Spall essays another British artist known primarily by his initials in Adrian Noble's Mrs Lowry & Son. Although they have passing facets in common, Joseph Mallord William Turner and Laurence Stephen Lowry lived in very different times and worked in markedly different ways and, curiously, Spall's well-publicised weight loss does much to reinforce their dissimilarities. Adapted from a Martyn Hesford radio drama that found its way on to the stage before the screen, this belongs firmly in the wrongfully discredited tradition of British heritage cinema. But, for all the care taken with the production values and the excellence of the performances, one keeps wishing that this had been scripted by Alan Bennett.

LS Lowry (Timothy Spall) lives in the Lancashire town of Pendlebury in a two up, two down terraced house with his bedridden mother, Elizabeth (Vanessa Redgrave). It's 1934, but she claims she hasn't been happy since her confirmation day in 1868 and we flashback to 1894 to see how useless her husband (Michael Keogh) was at the rent collecting job that Laurie now performs around Manchester. Forever disapproving of their working-class neighbours, Elizabeth also has little time for her son's aspiration to become a painter. Thus, when he receives a letter from a London gallery inquiring about his work, Laurie is careful to hide it out of his mother's reach and he says nothing about it while she prattles over a sausage supper.

With her bourgeois aspirations, Elizabeth has not forgiven her spouse for running up the debts that Laurie is determined to pay off and wonders why the outwardly refined Stanhopes (Stephen Lord and Wendy Morgan) have moved into their street. She chides Laurie for wasting gas by spending his nights daubing away in the attic and reminds him that he's in his forties and isn't going to become an overnight sensation. Cruelly, she reads aloud a damning local paper review of his latest work, `Coming From the Mill', which is compared to a child's scrawl. Laurie protests that Mr Denby knows nothing about him or his work and reminds his mother that he went to art school in order to learn his craft. Insisting that he doesn't have an artistic bone in his body, Elizabeth pleads with her son to give up painting because she can't abide the embarrassment of having people decry his work. 

Retreating to his studio, Laurie feels at home and works on another scene of industrial Lancashire life with a sense of purpose and satisfaction. When he finally shows Elizabeth the letter from Mr Bernstein in London, however, she tells him not to trust anything from that sink of depravity and would rather he warmed her cold feet than discuss his theories of image and emotion. On another night, she asks Laurie if he will ever leave her and feels safe when he lies down beside her. The next night, she gets him to brush her hair and is appalled when he tells her about seeing a naked man in a bathtub  (David Schaal) and a woman on a bus with a beard (). Elizabeth shudders at the things he finds beautiful and tuts that she knows now why he's never had a girlfriend. Yet, while she pines for her old life in Victoria Park, Laurie revels in the sound of the mill and imagines himself walking among the workers, as they freeze for his perusal at the end of their shift.

Returning home one evening, Laurie is surprised to find Elizabeth in good spirits because she has had a visit from Doreen Stanhope. She is also disappointed with her husband, as she had to move when he became a Labour councillor. However, she had admired his painting, `Sailing Boats', which Elizabeth had banished to the hallway when he had given it to her as a present. Now, she wants to see the picture her new friend had called `perfectly delightful' and she urges Laurie to enter it in the Manchester Academy's Summer Show so that everyone can see it and Denby has to eat his words. 

Reluctantly, Laurie agrees to submit the picture and enjoys a Follow the Leader game with the local children in the street. But, when Doreen snubs Elizabeth's vanilla slice tea while Laurie is sketching the tallest chimney in Lancashire, she learns that he had also entered `Coming From the Mill' in the exhibition and that Cyril Stanhope had infuriated his wife by paying £20 for it. As it reminded her of her impoverished roots, she wants nothing more to do with Elizabeth and she feels no compunction in informing Laurie that she wishes she had never given birth. She even rips up his letter from Mr Bernstein.

Cut to the quick, Laurie goes to burn his canvases. But he thinks better of it after dousing them with alcohol in the backyard, as, while he had painted them out of love for his mother, he now realises that he had created them for himself in order to preserve his own vision of the milieu he loves. He returns the check to Stanhope and is preparing to make the best of things with his mother when she asks him to hang `Sailing Boats' on her bedroom wall and she gets a flashback of them together at Lytham St Anne's (Rose Noble and Laurence Mills) and remembers what a beautiful boy he was and how much she had hoped for him. Laurie sits beside her on the bed and they sink into a happier past. 

Captions inform us that Elizabeth died in 1939, the year Lowry received his first major exhibition in London. He became one of this country's most beloved painters and his pictures now sell for millions. In 1968, he turned down a knighthood and an OBE because there was no point in having them without his mother being able to share them. We see his portraits of parents Elizabeth and Robert in the Salford Quays gallery that now bears his name. But, in an ill-judged bid to show that Lowry remains a man of the people, we also get a shot of Laurie sitting in front of a picture in his coat and hat with a flask and some sandwiches in the bench beside him. He turns slowly to smile bashfully into the camera, as he repeats in voiceover that he's simply a man who paints. 

While he remains a respected theatre director, Adrian Noble has struggled to find a niche on screen. His 1996 take on William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream was fussy and decidedly unmagical, while his 2015 adaptation of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest managed the almost impossible feat of being dull, in spite of the stunt casting of David Suchet as Lady Bracknell. Here, he adds unnecessary snippets of animation to bring Lowry's world to life and self-consciously dots the action with distracting flashbacks and cutaways that are designed to bring some cinematic élan to what is essentially a single set chamber drama. 

Flooded with hazy sunlight by cinematographer Josep M. Civit, the reverie at Lytham St Anne's looks more like Jack Vettriano than LS Lowry and the entire project feels suffused with the brand of populist sentimentality that made Brian Parrott and Michael Coleman's 1978 chart topper, `Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs', so eekishly mawkish. Craig Armstrong's overbearing score doesn't help Noble's cause, but he seems intent on harking on the melodramatic nature of the mother-son scenario than in exploring Lowry's emotional and/or intellectual thought processes. 

Propped up in the large bed at the centre of Catrin Meredydd's carefully designed room, 82 year-old Vanessa Redgrave channels her inner Thora Hird to contribute a splendid (and often spirited) display of thwarted middle-class snobbery and manipulative maternal tyranny. But Spall seems less comfortable in a role for which he is 20 years too old and, at times, he appears to be adding another true-life caricature to those he played in Stephen Cookson's disquieting Stanley: A Man of Variety. Making for fascinating contrast with Chanya Button's recent biopic, Vita and Virginia, this feels reassuringly old-fashioned. But neither the writing nor the direction is sufficiently cinematic. If only Noble and Hesford had listen to Status Quo's 1968 psychedelic hit, `Pictures of Matchstick Men', instead.

As all fans of the Asterix the Gaul books penned by René Goscinny and illustrated by Albert Uderzo will know, there have been several animated adaptations. In sticking closely to the original graphic style, Asterix the Gaul (1967), Asterix and Cleopatra (1968), The Twelve Tasks of Asterix (1976), Asterix Versus Caesar (1985), Asterix in Britain (1986), Asterix and the Big Fight (1989), Asterix Conquers America (1994) and Asterix and the Vikings (2006) were aimed as much at faithful readers of the series as casual moviegoers. By switching to CGI for Asterix and Obelix: Mansion of the Gods (2014), however, co-directors Alexandre Astier and Louis Clichy set their sights on a younger audience and they still have them in their crosshairs with Asterix: The Secret of the Magic Potion. 

Having fallen out of a tree and sprained his ankle while gathering ingredients for the potion that enables his Gaulish enclave to withstand the might of Rome, Getafix (John Innes) decides that he is too old to continue as druid and asks Asterix (Ken Kramer) and Obelix (C. Ernst Harth) to help him find a worthy successor. Star pupil Pectin (Fleur Delahunty) stows away in Getafix's cauldron and they have no option but to let her accompany them, even though girls are not allowed in the sacred Forest of Carnutes.

Concerned that the trio will be at risk on their travels, village chieftain Vitalstatistix (Don Brown) places Cacofonix the bard (Andrew Cownden) in temporary charge, while he provides reinforcements with Unhygienix the fishmonger (Jason Simpson), Fulliautomatix the blacksmith (Scott McNeil) and the venerable Geriatrix (Ron Helder). However, Impedimenta (Saffron Henderson), doesn't see why she wasn't chosen to rule in her husband's absence and she makes it very clear that the womenfolk will fight the legions as long as there is potion in the vat in Getafix's cottage.

Before he left, Getafix had sent a herd of wild boar to inform the druidic council of his need to consult with them. But the runt gets left behind and mistakenly passes the message to the malevolent Demonix (Michael Shepherd). Over supper at the druid lair, Atmospherix (Alec Willows) tells Pectin how Demonix and Getafix had been rivals as young druids and how Demonix had always resented the fact that Getafix had limited the potion to his own village when it might have been used to liberate the entire nation. 

Such patriotism has long dissipated, however, and Demonix goes to Rome to inform Julius Caesar (Mark Oliver) that the Gauls are running out of potion and that he will cheerfully sell the recipe to the highest bidder. Eager to crush his indomitable foe, Caesar sends Senator Tomcrus (Andrew Cownden) to observe the efforts of Cassius Ceramix (Brian Dobson) to conquer the village. However, much as Tofungus (Sam Vincent) suspects, the Gaulish women prove more than a match for the cowering legionaries and they easily keep the marauders at bay. 

Meanwhile, Getafix has begun travelling around the realm to find a budding druid with the skills and integrity to be his successor. He is vaguely impressed by a long-haired, bearded fellow who can multiply loaves, but he is more intrigued by the sound of Cholerix (Michael Adamthwaite), who lives alone in the mountains. Unfortunately, Demonix has already found him and taught him a butterfly spell that he hopes will convince Getafix to entrust his secret. So, with Asterix having gone off in a huff because he thinks they're on a wild goose chase because Getafix has years of potion brewing ahead of him, the Gauls reach Cholerix's shack after he has fallen under Demonix's spell.

To this point, in spite of its borrowings from The Lord of the Rings, the storyline sticks to the spirit of Goscinny and Uderzo, right down to the clutch of encounters with the luckless pirates whose boats are forever being sunk by the Gauls. But the denouement feels more indebted to the Asterix video games, as the village falls to the Romans, the Forest of Carnutes catches fire and Demonix produces a potion of his own that enables him to transform into a fearsome monster. Luckily, while Cholerix proves unable to make the secret potion, Pectin rises to the challenge and Getafix is able to turn the shield-carrying Romans into an armour-plated robot that sends Demonix to his doom. 

Given that there are already 34 Goscinny and Uderzo titles in print (38 if you count the four written by Jean-Yves Ferri and illustrated by Didier Conrad, which many purists don't), it seems baffling that Clichy and Astier should want to concoct an original story, especially when it's as mediocre as this one. They pepper it with pop cultural references, but they are pretty hit and miss (with Tomcrus being a real non-starter). Moreover, they manage to exclude Asterix, Obelix and the almost invisible Dogmatix from the core action, even though it's good to see the female characters take such a proactive role. 

The computer-generated imagery is fine, as is the voicework, although the French version sees Christian Clavier reprise the role he had taken in the live-action spin-offs, Asterix and Obelix Take on Caesar (1999) and Asterix & Obelix: Mission Cleopatra (2002), As for the translation, it's not up to the standards set by Derek Hockridge and Anthea Bell, but there are plenty of wittily punning names and a gag in Latin. Moreover, there's plenty of socko slapstick to amuse young and old alike, It's just a shame that the denouement is as thuddingly unsubtle as Philippe Rombi's pounding score. But there's precious of the little satirical subtext that made the original bande dessinée albums so clever.

Since debuting with Tobias and His Lion (1999), Belgian animator Piet de Rycker has been best known for The Little Polar Bear (2001) and Laura's Star (2004) and their sequels, The Little Polar Bear 2: The Mysterious Island (2005), Laura's Christmas Star (2006) and Laura's Star and the Mysterious Dragon Nian (2009). However, in taking inspiration from a series of four picture books, he ventures into more traditional fairytale territory for Princess Emmy. an amiable fable about talking to horses that should keep animal-loving tinies content for 78 minutes. Opting for a traditional graphic style rather than the increasingly common CGI plasticity, the visuals are pleasing, if nothing special. However, the calibre of the voice work should keep any accompanying adults amused. 

Long ago, in the Kingdom of Kandis, a princess named Carlotta prevented a herd of horses from galloping off a cliff and was rewarded with the ability to converse with them. She wrote about her secret gift in a special book that has been handed down through the generations and is kept in a secure place because its secret will be lost forever if the volume ever goes missing. 

The current recipient of the gift is eight year-old Princess Emmy (Ruby Barnhill), who loves horses and spends as much time as possible with her favourite, Caesar (Joel Fry). It amuses the other horses that they are never allowed to beat the chosen one in a race and they tease Emmy about fussing over Caesar at every opportunity. While they are out in the countryside, a page thought to be from Carlotta's manuscript blows out of a window and is retrieved by Emmy's friend David (Nathan Mack), who is the only other person to know her secret. However, it was spotted by her envious cousin, Princess Gizana (Bella Ramsey), who would love to get her hands on it. 

No sooner has David returned the page than it blows away again and opens a secret panel in the stable wall. On investigating, Emmy enters an underground chamber, where the page spins in the air and a voice informs her that she will have to face an ordeal in Carlotta's Tower in order to retain the gift. Confused because she thought the power to talk to horses was bestowed by the book, Emmy consults the tome and is amazed when the page slots into the binding and fills with symbols that had not previously been visible. Vowing to follow the clues and do whatever it takes to preserve her precious gift, she plans to make an early start with Caesar to learn the secret of the tower. 

The next morning, however, Prince Moritz (Euan Mitchell) informs his sister that their mother, Queen Karla (Franka Potente) is looking for her. She breaks the news that Emmy has been invited to the Princess Day Ball and will be introduced into society. King Karl (John Hannah) is more interested in what everyone thinks of the batch of muffins he has baked, but Queen Karla insists that Emmy spends the next 10 days preparing for her big day, as there are certain tests that she must pass before she can attend the ball. 

Emmy loves her dress and is excited by the prospect of mixing with the other princesses. But she is more eager to gallop off with Caesar and complete her quest. In her haste to get to the stables, she knocks over Vincenzo Massimo Cerimonata (Steven McNicholl), an angularly elegant Italian gentleman who has been hired to turn Emmy into a dignified young lady. He is shown to his room by the Irish housekeeper, Fionnuala Bloom (Clare Waugh), who tells him all about the castle ghost, without realising that Gregorius (Tim McInnerny) is hovering on the staircase. 

Following the map that had magically appeared in the book, Emmy and her horses find a mountain cave and she leaves Xaver (Michael Daviot) in charge while she explores with Caesar. They find a ruined temple with statues of rearing horses around its perimeter and Emmy finds herself in a swirling vortex of purple light, as violets float on the wind and a female voice asks her if she's worthy of the gift. Realising that it's getting late, Caesar suggests they head home, but Emmy is troubled by what she has experienced. She tells David about it and he guesses that the challenges must relate to the Princess Day Ball. 

However, Emmy soon has more to worry about, as Queen Karla has invited Gizana to stay and she has flashbacks to the numerous past instances of her cousin being beastly to her. Desperate to keep her out of her bedroom (where she hides Carlotta's book in a secret panel on the shelves), she offers Gizana the spacious attic. However, Gizana throws a tantrum that brings the king, queen and Cerimonata running to see what has happened. When Gizana accuses Emmy of being mean to her, Cerimonata suggests that she moves into the attic. 

First, however, she has a dance lesson with Frau Zwickelmeier (Gabriel Quigley). But this quickly descends into chaos when Rottfried, the castle cat. spots a mouse and Zwickelmeier is so affronted at being chased up the curtains that she leaves in a huff. Emmy is sent to her room with a warning from Cerimonata that her invitation to the ball can be withdrawn at any time if he considers her unsuitable for such an august occasion. She calls David because she suspects that the test is to put up with the ghastly Gizana until the ball. But he is worried that she will let her frustration with `Little Princess Perfect' get the better of her. 

Gizana is clearly out to humiliate Emmy at every turn and fails to pass on a message to report to Cerimonata at 6:30am. She also smirks at her failings in the deportment, smiling and piano classes (although Emmy's not helped by Rottfried running across the keyboard). So, Emmy is less than pleased to find Gizana grooming her horse, Daphne (Gabriel Quigley), in the stables. However, she refuses to let her animals pick on their guest simply because they dislike her owner. She even ticks off Donny (James Anthony Pearson) when he gives the snooping Gizana a gentle kick and sends her crashing into a hay bale. But she is aware that she needs to be more discreet when talking to the horses and is shown a secret passageway in the walls by Gregorius so that she can recover Carlotta's book from her room before her cousin finds it. 

Unfortunately, Cerimonata confiscates the book and Gizana becomes suspicious because Emmy sets such store on getting it back. In a bid to prevent her cousin from snatching it, Emmy charges at her, only to step on the visiting David's skateboard and knock the Italian over before careering down the stairs and crashing into Frau Zwickelmeier. She is so affronted by having a ripe tomato land on her head that she resigns on the spot and Queen Karla is worried that Emmy will have her invitation to the ball withdrawn. 

More immediately, however, she has to deal with Emmy's twisted ankle. Unfortunately, the odour of Fionnuala's magic ointment makes Cerimonata  pass out and Gizana spots a chance to steal the book. But she is also keen to keep an eye on Emmy and follows her through a secret passage to the stables. Moreover, she overhears her cousin chatting to the horses (although she doesn't notice Gregorius sneaking up behind her). She wanders into the stable after Emmy leaves and wishes Daphne could tell her what's going on. But all she gets is a sloppy kiss from Donny as he chews on some straw. 

As the horses wish to keep talking to Emmy, Xaver hits upon a plan to sneak into the castle in the dead of night and recover the book. With Daphne tagging along, the 27 horses tip-hoof through the passage, up the stairs and along the corridors. Some pause to nibble floral arrangements, while other look at themselves in the mirror and a couple even manage to squeeze into a bathtub. But Caesar and Xaver find Cerimonata's room and beat a hasty retreat with Carlotta's tome in their safe keeping. 

When they all creep into the attic to return the book to Emmy, she discovers that the newly restored page is missing. But because the horses made such mess during their nocturnal ramble, she has to hide the volume under a loose floorboard in order to help clear up. Fionnuala is convinced that the ghost caused the damage, but the king and queen are sceptical, while Cerimonata thinks they're all potty. While everyone else grabs a brush, Gizana finds the floating page and twigs that it has come from the book that Emmy is so keen to keep out of her grasp.  

It's at that moment that Sebastian (Robert Jack) comes to report that the horses are missing and everyone looks up to see them on the staircase and landing trying to sneak back to the stable. Cerimonata is so appalled by this behaviour that he sets three conditions for Emmy to prove she is worthy of her invitation. The first is to clear up the mess, while the second requires her to take her classes seriously. But the third prevents her from seeing her horses until after the ball and King Karl tells his sobbing daughter that she should regard it as a test of character. 

As Emmy throws herself into her chores and studies, Gizana tries to fathom the meaning of the symbols on the torn page. When David spots her in the library, he tells her that she's a fool to fall for Emmy's silly talking to horse fib and Gizana throws the page into the bin in frustration. Being a magic page, however, it floats back to Emmy, who is delighted to be reunited with it without her cousin cracking her secret. But she is even more pleased to get on over on Gizana by piling chairs outside her bedroom door so that she is late for Cerimonata's early morning bugle call. 

When they're given a day off from lessons, Emmy goes to the stable and boasts to the horses that she has outwitted Gizana. But she dosn't see her eavesdropping at the back of the stable until she has revealed that the book is hidden in the attic. She takes the shortcut, but doesn't realise that Gizana is peeping through the keyhole and sees Emmy check the book is safe beneath the floorboard. That night, she steals the book and rides to the temple in the mountains. But, when her demand to be given the gift goes unanswered, Gizana hurls the volume into the chasm below and Emmy is powerless to prevent it disintegrating into dust. 

As a storm begins to blow, Gizana loses her footing and almost falls off the walkway. But Emmy grabs her hand and, with Caesar and Daphne's help, manages to haul her cousin to safety. Realising she can't understand Caesar's whinnying, Emmy begins to cry and even Gizana sheds a tear when she realises what she has done. The slow ride home is miserable in the extreme and it's compounded when Cerimonata announces that her invitation has been revoked. However, Gizana protests on her behalf and joins Emmy in the stable in time to see the spirit of Carlotta present her with the book for her bravery in rescuing her cousin. Gregorius also appears to reassure the girls that they will go to the ball after all and Emmy tells Gizana that she's one of the gang, even though she can't understand what the horses are saying. 

Naturally, the ball is a great success. But Emmy is most delighted by the fact that her gift has been restored and that Gizana is now as happy to keep her secret as David. They all become firm friends and insert illustrations during the credit crawl (which seems to go on forever with the accompaniment of a cheesy pop song) show how much fun they all have together. It's a fitting ending to a story about being true to oneself and learning how to get along with even the most difficult people. As Emmy learns, one sometimes has to bite the bullet and battle on, even when others are in the wrong, as the end reward makes the struggle worthwhile. 

This may not be the most complicated moral, but most younger viewers will be too focused on the talking (and often mischievous) horses to take much notice. The visuals aren't particularly impressive, but the voice work is rather jolly, with Ruby Barnhill making Princess Emmy a spirited and less Disneyfied than usual heroine, while Bella Ramsey is splendidly hissable as the horrid Gizana. John Hannah, Famke Potente and Tim McInerny are rather wasted in the grown-up roles, especially as Steven McNicholl and Gabriel Quigley are allowed to have more fun as Cerimonata and Zwickelmeier. Few demands are made on the horsey cast, either, as Sergio Casci's screenplay keeps setting up conflicts for Emmy to resolve without really developing her character. However, he can be excused for the equine burglary sequence and for naming two of the horses Donny and Marie - or was that Osmond-inspired gag in the rather obscure source text?

Following their success with The Jungle Bunch: The Movie (2017), French animators Jean-François and Eric Tosti venture into outer space for Astro Kid. Also known as Terra Willy: Unexplored Planet, this tweenage rite of passage may not meet the exacting standards of those reared on the Star Wars franchise. But grown-ups with fond memories of programmes like Lost in Space and The Clangers, who are looking for a way to treat the (grand)kids during the last weeks of the school holidays, may find much to appeal in a story that teaches the need for resourcefulness in facing up to reality.

Ten year-old Willy (Landon Beattie) is on the last day of an intergalactic voyage with his astro-scientist parents. He wakes and performs his automated ablutions before assuming the persona of Captain Flashrider to play an immersive video game on his hoverboard. But his fun is interrupted by his mother (Laura Post), who needs him to help out with the mission, as there is lots to do before they return to Earth. Things don't get off to a good start, however, when Willy sprouts shaggy purple facial hair after touching an exotic plant in the laboratory. Fortunately, his mother has made an antidote, which is just as well, as Willy's father (Kevin Silverstein) needs a dose, too.

Bored with photographic rock samples, Willy returns to his game just as the spaceship enters an asteroid belt. Despite his mother's best efforts to navigate, the protection shield is breached and Willy becomes separated from his parents when his safety pod ejects and he lands on a strange planet. His father sends a video message that they will find him and urges Willy to follow any instructions he is given. At that moment, a rotund red robot named Buck (Jason Canning) appears to introduce himself and assure Willy that humans can survive the planet's atmosphere without recourse to a spacesuit. 

Unimpressed by the amount of puréed broccoli in the food store, Willy starts to sulk until the female-voiced computer (Susan Myers) inside Buck suggests giving him a multi-purpose space tool to keep him amused. The robot also explains that the pod has no blast-off capability and that they will have to keep sending bleeper signals to attract passing rescue craft. He is confident that help will come, but he admits to having no idea when. Just as Willy is about to sulk, a rock formation reveals itself to be a spike-backed monster and Buck is forced to turn into a high-speed motorbike to beat a hasty retreat. However, when a second rock creature joins the chase, Willy drops Buck's power pack and they have no idea where it is when they find refuge in a cave. 

Although the pod has been smashed and the supplies lost, Buck is confident of finding food in the forest the spot from a craggy ledge outside the cave. However, his computer warns that his battery level is 72% and he realises that he needs to find the charger in order to protect Willy. The boy has a mind of his own, however, and keeps wandering off to photograph the planet's flora and fauna (because his father had taught him to be an explorer). As the (somewhat trippy) scenery changes, Buck has to keep rescuing Willy from pesky critters and solving problems presented by the terrain. Eventually, they reach a grove with plenty of fresh water and Buck announces that this will be their new base camp. 

When Buck goes on a recce, he instructs Willy to stay put. But he strays while defending a playful, eight-legged, yellow creature (think a rubbery, puppyish version of Pikachu) from a hulking purple predator and its trio of ravenous babies. Buck returns in time to trip the monster and return Willy to the glade (having duly noted that the boy finds the violent misfortunes of others to be amusing). However, he insists that, while the newly named Flash is cute, he serves no useful purpose unless they are going to eat him. Willy becomes peevish on being prevented from keeping Flash as a pet, but Buck cheers him up by lowering him over a cliff face so that he can take pictures of a family of fireflies. 

Having gone into sleep mode to conserve his 50% battery supply, Buck leads Willy further into the forest. Flash looks on, as Willy tries various fruits that Buck declares safe after cursory analysis. However, they all have unfortunate side effects, with one being so sticky that it glues Buck to a tree. When Willy slides down an incline and lands in a pool, Flash follows and recommends some safe berries. But Willy sulks when Buck chases Flash away and has to rely on his computer to discover that reassuring acts of intimacy like hugs are a good way of making up after a row. However, Willy is also missing his parents and is concerned that he hasn't heard from them since the spaceship exploded. 

Sneaking off to play with Flash, Willy gets to slide through a series of splash pools. But Buck disapproves of him telling lies and suggests that he concentrates on the job of collecting firewood. However, Willy pricks his finger on a deadly plant that causes his body to become covered in a blue fungus that saps his strength. With Buck struggling to find an antidote, he is grateful when Flash saves the day in the nick of time and he agrees to let him join their team. A song montage follows, in which they build a wooden hut and find copious amounts of food, which Flash promptly scoffs. 

All seems well, as odd planetary beings scuttle and stomp their way past the camp. One beetle-like beast gets flipped on to its shell and has to use a siren to call for assistance and Willy helps another with a broken horn by slotting it back into place and binding the join with some purple weed. But storm clouds begin to gather overhead and Buck exhausts much of his remaining battery life in creating a shield to protect Willy from giant hailstones. He goes into energy saving mode and urges Willy to put his faith in Flash, who knows the planet well enough to keep him out of trouble. 

Suddenly feeling alone and scared, Willy pushes Buck into a cave to keep him safe. He determines to recover the lost power pack and uses his camera to seek it out. However, in setting out, he disturbs the rock monsters and Flash gets hurt in creating a diversion to enable Willy to return to the cave. Making a simple stretcher, Willy drags Flash across country in the hope of finding a way to make him well. Unfortunately, he falls through some thin ice and lands in a deep crater. He tries to use the winch device on his belt tool, but he can't get the hook to grip. Seeing a horn-shaped rock, he sends a signal similar to the one emitted by the horned beetle and the one he nursed comes to his rescue and is rewarded with a pat on the nose. 

Realising that he has to show more maturity, Willy returns to the cave and promises Buck and his parents (wherever they may be) that he will survive until he is rescued. Ten months pass and Willy's hair grows longer and Flash goes through a growth spurt. They keep having fun, however, and Willy creates a tree bark skateboard to enable him to photograph a particularly elusive creature. Building on the skills learned from his computer game, Willy also fashions a bow and arrow to catch food and get him out of scrapes. 

One night, as Willy and Flash are munching on some `popcorn', they spot a probe in the sky. However, Willy discovers that Buck's battery has died and that he can no longer send the signal for a search party to detect. Knowing that his only hope lies in finding the power pack he dropped, Willy turns himself into a Hunger Games-style warrior and prepares some special sticky fruit arrows for his quiver. Summoning his beetle pal, he heads across country and quickly finds the battery. However, it's surrounded by rock monsters and Willy has to use the flamethrower in his multi-tool to force them back. When this runs out of gas, he has to rely on good, old-fashioned leg speed. 

He thinks he has made a getaway, only to be sent tumbling by a pouncing monster and Willy has to use a holographic image of himself to distract the rock creatures while Flash retrieves the battery. Once again, teamwork proves vital, as Willy fires sticky arrows at the ringleader to buy them time to make a dash for freedom. In their eagerness to chase after the friends, the three monsters crash into one another and Willy gets a snapshot of them roaring in tandem, as they lie in a shingly heap. 

Returning to the cave, he slots the battery into Buck, who gets an immediate signal from the probe. He is proud of Willy for showing such mettle and is also grateful to Flash and the beetle for helping him complete the mission. When the recovery pod arrives, Flash opts to stay on his planet and Willy fights back the tears, as he hugs him goodbye. But he is soon in the arms of his parents in the mother ship and telling them all about his exploits. In voiceover, Willy recognises that Flash was right to stay where he feels comfortable and concludes by affirming that the unnamed planet is sort of his home, too. 

Often feeling like Flanimals meets Fantastic Beasts on René Lalloux's Fantastic Planet, this is a lively sci-fi romp for younger viewers, who will be swept along by Willy's adventures and charmed by his alien friends. Flash is particularly endearing, even though he acquires a blonde quiff in adulthood that makes him look a little bit like Donald Trump. But Buck also amusingly blends facets from Robbie the Robot and 3-CPO, while managing to sound like a user-friendlier version of HAL 9000. Landon Beattie does well enough as Willy, although some of his dialogue errs unpersuasively on the `dude' side of kidspeak. 

Directing in conjunction with his brother and David Alaux, Eric Tosti keeps things moving at a fair clip, although there is an understandable dip in the period between Buck powering down and Willy spotting the probe in the night sky. Moreover, their script makes valuable points about resilience, self-belief and respecting the environment, while also commending the value of teamwork and the need to stop, listen and think before acting. Pitching between jazz and 70s TV sci-fi, Olivier Cussac's score echoes the picture's emulative tendencies. But Benoît Daffis's characters and Laurent Hois's background designs are quaintly colourful and idiosyncratically immersive.

Having dedicated a documentary to the Shower Scene in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960), it should come as no surprise to learn that Alexandre O. Philippe has followed the fitfully intriguing 78/52 (2017) with a treatise on the Chestburster Sequence in Ridley Scott's Alien (1979). This was one of the first of what became known as water-cooler moments, as everyone gathered in the office or school corridor to discuss it the day after the movie's premiere. But, while he spreads the net a little wider in examining the genesis of the screenplay and the inspiration behind the sharp-toothed critter, Memory: The Origin of Alien is strictly for the nerdiest of fanboys. 

Following some garbled theories proposed by a mix of academics and podcasters, we meet Diane O'Bannon, the widow of Dan O'Bannon, who came up with the idea for Alien She describes his childhood in a remote corner of rural Missouri, where his father ran a curio shop called Odd Acres and Dan helped him fake photographs of an alien invasion. Quite how this went down with his science-fiction-hating mother is left to our imagination, as Diane recalls the impact made on O'Bannon of such Cold War sci-fi movies as Gordon Douglas's Them! (1954), Nathan Juran's Deadly Mantis, Bert I. Gordon's Beginning of the End, Kenneth G. Crane's Monster From Green Hell and Edward Ludwig's The Black Scorpion (all 1957), which all contained fearsome creepy crawlies. He channelled this fear into an unrealised screenplay about a mutating cicada entitled They Bite, 

As TV movie host Ben Mankiewicz continues, Bannon borrowed heavily from an eight-page DC Comics story called `Seeds of Jupiter'. Cartoonist and fellow Mid-Westerner Tim Boxell also points out the similarities to his own `Defiled' contribution to the Death Rattle comic in 1972. But the influence of HP Lovecraft's `weird fiction' is also evident, particularly the 1931 novel, The Mountains of Madness, while William Linn from the Joseph Campbell Writers' Room rather smugly highlights the importance on O'Bannon's thinking of Campbell's The Hero With a Thousand Faces (1949), which posits the theory of the monomyth to link all tales of heroism back to the various world mythologies. 

Added into O'Bannon's brew are movies like Howard Hawks and Christian Nyby's The Thing From Another World (1951), Edward L. Cahn's It! The Terror From Beyond Space (1958), Mario Bava's Planet of the Vampires (1965) and, as academic Nicholas J. Cull notes, the Roger Corman-produced Curtis Harrington shocker, Queen of Blood (1966). Ian Nathan, the author of Alien Vault, also mentions O'Bannon's collaboration with John Carpenter on Dark Star (1974), which prompted the writer to hack out on his own after he felt he'd been cheated of a co-directorial credit. His intention was always to make a horror version of the scenario and his thoughts began to coalesce while working with Chilean visionary Alejandro Jodorowsky on his thwarted adaptation of Frank Herbert's Dune.

When this project collapses, O'Bannon moved in with fellow writer Ronald Shusett, who worked with him on the story for what was then called Memory. As Diane reveals, the impetus for the alien bursting out of an astronaut's stomach came from the fact that O'Bannon had been diagnosed with Crohn's Disease. But Gary Sherman, the director of Death Line (1972), notes that Shusett was also fascinated by the concept of humans hosting an alien embryo and he remembers waking in the middle of the night with the face-hugger and chestburster ideas. However, the idea came from nature and director Ridley Scott used to show the crew footage of wood wasps fiendishly laying their eggs. 

According to art director Roger Christian, it was at this point that Swiss artist HR Giger became involved in the project after Jodorowsky showed O'Bannon a copy of his book, Necronomicon. Diane highlights their bonding over Lovecraft, while Carmen Giger flags up her husband's obsession with Egypt and how the goddess Nut played a central idea in the notion of the alien giving birth to a race that could destroy humanity. At this juncture, the script had assumed the name Starbeast and Roger Corman remains sorry that he didn't have the resources to make it. He advised O'Bannon to go to a bigger studio and it was then that the screenplay attracted the attention of director Walter Hill. 

Along with producers Gordon Carroll and David Giler, he took the project to 20th Century-Fox, who refused to have anything to do with the illustrations that O'Bannon had commissioned from Giger at this own expense. Hill then withdrew and actor Tom Skerritt admits that he also passed on the picture, as he felt like something Edward D. Wood, Jr. might have concocted. Associate producer Ivor Powell and editor Terry Rawlings reminisce about showing the script to Ridley Scott, whose antipathy to sci-fi vanished during his first reading. Indeed, Belgian director Axelle Carolyn is among many to aver that Alien would never have made movie history without the creative triumvirate of O'Bannon, Giger and Scott, as they all realised this was about past civilisations and repression, as much as it was an outer space horror. 

In discussions of the Nostromo sets (with their sexual overtones), the roving camera technique and the picture's impish defiance of science, we hear lots of praise being heaped upon Scott (who only appears in archive footage) and his cinematic genius. Clearly, his insistence on items like the `space jockey' as the source of the eggs was vital, as was the decision to have little other than quotidian stuff happen during the first 45 minutes of the picture. But it's all a bit fawning and it's something of a relief when Philippe cuts to the chase (in his own Scott-like coup) and turns his attention to the Chestburster. 

We learn from biographer Michael Peppiatt about the influence on Giger's creature of Francis Bacon's 1944 triptych, `Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion', and hear from academic Denise Demetriou about the significance of The Furies, who cast such a shadow over Bacon's psyche after his father cast him out of the family home for being gay. But Philippe doesn't linger over these details. Instead, he has Mankiewicz read the page from O'Bannon's script has media scholar Henry Jenkins relate it to the emergence of `body horror' in pictures like David Cronenberg's Shivers (1975) and Scanners (1981). 

But we rewind for horror writer Alan Jones to compare the space shots to those in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and for Cull to link the storyline to the anti-colonial writings of Joseph Conrad through the naming of the spacecraft, `Narcissus' and `Nostromo'. He suggests that it's no accident that Francis Ford Coppola should have been basing Apocalypse Now (1979) on Conrad's `Heart of Darkness' at the same period and links in both films with the wave of Paranoia Pictures produced by New Hollywood in the wake of the Vietnam and Watergate crises. Academic Drew Martin also points to the coincidence of the arrest of a number of American serial killers and suggests that Alien tapped into a sense that humanity is powerless to combat pure evil. 

Cull also claims it follows the likes of Robert Benton's Kramer vs Kramer and Woody Allen's Manhattan (both 1979) in reflecting a panic about the breakdown of the traditional family unit. Director Adam Egypt Mortimer opines that the scenes involving the crew as family point the way to the multi-character blocking and overlapping dialogue technique used in 1980s movies (yet, as the clip from Robert Altman's M*A*S*H, 1970 shows, this was clearly happening a decade earlier). He makes a more valid point in comparing the film to Bob Rafelson's Five Easy Pieces (1970) and Michael Cimino's The Deer Hunter (1978) in its objection to the exploitation of blue-collar workers and notes the way Harry Dean Stanton and Yaphet Kotto's proletarian characters are ignored when they wisely suggest that John Hurt's clearly ailing executive officer should be frozen to prevent problems occurring on the isolated ship miles from Earth. 

Jenkins claims that O'Bannon also sought to break from the sanitised version of space presented in films like Michael Anderson's Logan's Run (1976), George Lucas's Star Wars (1977) and Robert Wise's Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979). Cull next addresses the #MeToo relevant themes of male penetration and pregnancy that Scott and O'Bannon included to reflect a sense of guilt at the oppression and objectification of women that was slowly emerging in the 1970s. Podcaster Clarke Wolfe concurs that Alien is an attempted act of retribution on behalf of a patriarchal society. But Axelle Carolyn is less convinced and jokes that the studio would have shut the picture down in a trice if it had suspected it was about male rape. Nevertheless, in regretting the subsequent shortage of strong female characters like Ellen Ripley (who was originally written as male), she's grateful that `the unconscious works in so many wonderful ways'. 

Having tired of this latest digression. Philippe yanks us back to the Chestburster Scene. But. having brought us to John Hurt's first inklings of feeling unwell, we tangent off again to focus on Ian Holm's science android, Ash. The talking heads agree that he is aware of the infestation and that he has been programmed to be a misogynist. Over clips from Roman Polanski's Macbeth (1971) and Peter Greenaway's The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (1989), Mortimer notes that the key scene occurs at the dining table and makes a weak pun about guessing who's coming to dinner. 

Mortimer joins Martin in eulogising about Scott's shot selection in the seconds before the eruption, with the latter identifying something Kubrickian about the sudden shift from formal detachment to looser compositions. Veronica Cartwright remembers the day of the shoot and suggests that the puppet Roger Dicken created looked like a penis with teeth. Ian Nathan dispels the myth that only John Hurt knew that the alien was going to burst out of his chest. However, nobody was prepared for the smell of the offal that Scott had requested to add to the effect of the flying innards. 

Much to everyone's amusement, the critter failed to rip through the white t-shirt on the first two takes. But this prompted Scott to add more bloodlines and Cartwright reveals that no one was ready for the amount of gore and goo that would splatter them. Skerritt chuckles on recalling a shocked Cartwright tripping over a banquette and having to remain in character as she scrambled up. Christian commends Dicken's artistry in making the puppet so terrifying and authentically childlike. We see second camera footage of the scene, with Scott directing Dicken and one contributor notes that when Scott re-staged the scene in Alien: Covenant (2017), he replaced the bright lighting with darkness. Apparently, this is to reflect his rumination upon his own mortality and reaffirms the child destroying the parent notion he had previously explored in Blade Runner (1982) and Prometheus (2012).

As cinema is a window on our collective unconscious. Alien continues four decades after it was made to remind us of the concerns we should be addressing. In claiming that her late husband went back to the future from whence he had come, Diane O'Bannon promises that there is more to come, because she has been guarding scripts and scraps whose pertinence is only now becoming apparent. As we wait to discover what these are, Philippe returns to Delphi, where he had opened the film with a spurious recreation of a scene from Aeschylus, in which Clytemnestra (Shannon Muchow) wakes the Furies, one which says in Greek (Mickey Faerch), `The reek of human blood smiles out at me,' the very phrase Francis Bacon had used in explaining `Three Figures'. 

Having read Nick Pinkerton's uncompromising analysis in Sight and Sound, it's hard to think what else to say about a supposedly serious study, in which so many egos are mutually massaged that one can't help but feel a little queasy. This is as slick as Ronseal and certainly does what it says on the tin. Some of the contributions - particularly from the likes of Ian Nathan (who is well known to this critic) and Axelle Carolyn - are informative and proportionate. The picture slides off the rails when it starts to treat fanboy culture as something to be reverenced. This is a landmark movie and its creators managed to slip an admirable amount of weighty matter into a crowdpleaser. But they are not unique in doing this and it's intriguing that Scott has had nothing to do with the venture.  

Philippe is a fine forensic film-maker, but he has yet to produce anything on a par with Room 237 (2012), Rodney Ascher's study of Stephen King and Stanley Kubrick's visions of The Shining. Once again, the calibre of his so-called experts is wildly varied (although they're markedly less brattishly effusive than some were in 78/52) and there are too many one-shot cameos involving preening people who have little of value to impart. If you don't treat it like a work of shattering intellectual artistry, Alien is a grand watch. But, when it departs from the behind-the-scenes factuality and starts to sound like a Film Studies essay assignment, this becomes little more than a glorified extra from a DVD boxed set.

Although she's best known for documentaries with a musical theme, like Sound It Out (2011), The Great Hip Hop Hoax (2013) and Orion: The Man Who Would Be King (2015), Jeanie Finlay has always been a highly versatile film-maker, whose CV also contains such diverse titles as Teenland (2007), Goth Cruise (2008), Panto! (2014) and Game of Thrones: The Last Watch (2019). With Seahorse, she follows up themes explored by Jason Barker in A Deal With the Universe (2018) in chronicling the pregnancy of trans male Guardian multimedia journalist, Freddy McConnell.

Initially, McConnell planned to have a child with CJ, a non-binary Tube driver hailing from Trinidad. But they opted out and McConnell decided to go through with the artificial insemination process with the support of his mother, Esme, a force of nature who lives on the Kent coast in Deal. Once he becomes pregnant, McConnell starts spending more time away from London, while he deals with the conflicted reaction to the news of his estranged father and the various psychological stresses brought on by the physical and chemical changes caused by his condition and switches of medication. At one point, McConnell claims to feeling like an alien, as his biology makes so many demands upon his sense of identity. He is also frustrated by the cisnormative assumptions made at the London Women's Clinic and by the terminology that even the NHS uses in its paperwork.

However, McConnell has a boy named Jack in a water birthing pool at the local hospital and the film close with father and son bonding in their new home. During one of his darker days, McConnell wishes that he could `close my eyes and be on the other side of this' and his courage is rewarded in the shot of a contented baby wrapping his tiny hand around his father's finger. It's a touchingly simple way to end a study filled with complexities. conflicts and contradictions, as McConnell struggles to reconcile his own emotions, while confronting the fact that wider society (including some of the friends and family members shown here) is nowhere near as accepting as the resilient Esme and the medical staff who guide him through his pregnancy. 

In truth, we learn more about McConnell from Simon Hattenstone's Guardian interview of 20 April than we do from this rather guarded profile. No mention is made, for example, of McConnell's legal battle with the General Registrar Office to have him listed as `father' on Jack's birth certificate, while more might have been made of the fallacy that trans men become infertile when they begin hormone therapy. But McConnell speaks freely and eloquently about the experience of `using my hardware to do a thing', while Finlay deftly intercuts home movie clips from McConnell's childhood and footage of seahorses, whose reproductive process involves the male carrying eggs that the female has deposited in a special pouch on his tail. Overall, the result is empathetic and sincere, but it's noticeably more controlled than Barker's more trustingly open and inclusive self-directed outing.  

Director Peter Webber is best known for mainstream features like Girl With a Pearl Earring (2003) and Hannibal Rising (2007). While starting out, however, he made such small-screen music documentaries as A to Z of Wagner (1995) and The Temptation of Franz Schubert (1997). None of this exactly fits him to make Inna De Yard: The Soul of Jamaica, but the love of reggae forged during Webber's West London youth ensures that this record of a 2018 reunion project has a ramshackle charm that brings to mind Wim Wenders's far superior actuality, Buena Vista Social Club (1999). 

The `Inna De Yard' imprint was launched by the French record label, Makasound, in 2004 and derived its name from the fact the albums were recorded in the yard of guitarist Earl `Chinna' Smith. The 2011 collapse of Makasound led to a five-year hiatus before its founders relaunched the series on the Chapter Two label. Around a dozen albums have since been released under the banner and Webber got to sit in on the acoustic sessions that took place at Stony Hill in the verdant Saint Andrew district of Kingston prior to a special concert at Le Trianon in Paris. 

Following Ken Boothe's rendition of `Softly Speak Love' over the credits, Winston `Electric Dread' McAnuff jams on a version of his mid-70s hit, `Malcolm X', with his fellow veterans and such session musicians as Kush, 
Fonso, Worm, Bopee and Bubbler. A record collector named Sammy gives us a brief history of the evolution of Jamaican music from dancehall and ska to rocksteady and reggae, with Cedric Myton of The Congos reflecting on the influence of American blues and rock and Judy Mowatt from The I-Threes claiming that 1970s roots reggae was about black liberation and saw the lyrical emphasis shift from romance to political consciousness. 

However, Webber only provides a half-hearted attempt to place reggae in the wider context of the ongoing state of an impoverished, violent and oppressed nation. Instead, he settles into a pattern of profiling the various singers and cross-cutting between the recording of a signature song and its performance in Paris. He begins with Myton, who recalls the origins of `Row Fisherman', which he sings in a distinctive falsetto voice, and explains the references to having to work hard for a living to feed his family. In all, he has nine children, although he hardly sees them as they live in the United States and he is unable to travel there because of some outstanding `herb' issues. Life is tough, especially as the record company that released the Fisherman Style album hasn't paid any royalties for 19 years.

As a young boy, Frank Dowding used to swim in the sea at Strawberry Fields and he recalls getting into trouble for using his father's LPs as frisbees. He is now better known as Kiddus I, thanks to his appearance in Theodoros Bafaloukos's cult film, Rockers (1978). We see a clip of him performing `Graduation in Zion', as he reflects on the problems caused by being deported from the US and how he became the most unreleased recording artist in Jamaica. His contribution to the album is `If You Love Me', a reggae version of Edith Piaf's `L'Hymne à l'amour'. But he is a bit rusty at the microphone and needs a few takes and a little help from Worm to get back into the swing of things. Even on stage, he makes a false start, but the band and the audience get him through.

All three members of The Viceroys - Wesley Tinglin, Neville Ingram and Michael Gabbidon - are Rastafarians and they explain the prejudice that Rasta people have had to endure and how this has fed into their music. But they are abruptly pushed to one side to leave the stage to Ken Boothe, a versatile artist who scored one of reggae's biggest hits with `Everything I Own', a 1974 cover of a minor hit by the American soft rock band, Bread. He dusts it down for this session and reflects on how much he owes to the track, while also lamenting that fame came at a price, as he was sidetracked by drugs while on the road and away from his family. Now, he goes nowhere without his wife, Joan, who keeps him on the straight and narrow and makes sure his stage clothes look immaculate. Although he records a new version of `Everything I Own' at Stony Hill, he's shown performing `Let the Water Run Dry' at Le Trianon, as he describes the thrill he still feels at playing live.

According to Boothe, people will always come before music and Winston McAnuff learned that lesson in the hardest possible way when his musician son, Matthew, was murdered during an altercation in the street in 2012. He started out singing in his preacher father's church and earned the nickname `Electric Dread' while fronting The Black Kush Band. We see archive footage of them performing `Fear', as he recalls the day he lost his son and hopes to achieve some closure by placing a new headstone on his grave. In order to pay tribute to Matthew, McAnuff enlists the help of Var, Kush and Derajah to revisit his best-known song, `Be Careful', which they play in Paris with McAnuff striking a defiant pose on stage.  

The song means a lot to Derajah, who lost his sister to violence and channelled his pain into `Tribute to My Sister'. It plays in the background, as we see McAnuff setting up a handcranked merry-go-round for his young children, Israel and Ethiopia, before we cut away to Var explaining how he took a conscious decision to avoid the sleazy side of Kingston life and stick by the message in his lyrics to `Live Good'. McAnuff notes how the oldies learn from the rising stars and Judy Mowatt is more than happy to share her hit, `Black Woman', with Jah9 and Rovletta, who carry the feminist torch that she helped light. 

Jah9's music is rooted in the culture of the Maroons, the Africans who resisted slavery and fled into Cockpit Country in the Trelawny and Saint Elizabeth parishes. Among their leaders was a woman called Nanny and Mowatt points out that she got to record her anthem because it was championed by Jamaica's only female producer, Sonia Pottinger. They belt out the song at Stony Hill with real conviction. But they are all absent from the closing number at Le Trianon, as Boothe leads the ensemble in a version of `By the Rivers of Babylon', while musing in voiceover on the family nature of the entire Inna De Yard enterprise. 

There's much to enjoy in this brisk overview of a somewhat limited aspect of the reggae tradition. Bob Marley and Peter Tosh are merely mentioned in passing, as Webber offers rather superficial insights into Jamaican socio-political and cultural history. He strays into the streets for a little local colour, but his reluctance to delve more deeply into the country's problems does a disservice to the musicians he is seeking to promote in the peculiarly by-numbers thumbnails. 

Naturally, the music is magnificent and one can expect the soundtrack album to fly off the shelves (or whatever the downloading equivalent is). But it's doubtful that this will have the seismic impact of Buena Vista Social Club, as Webber is no Wenders and his decision to prioritise discretion over curiosity leaves the picture feeling a little flat.

Best known solely by his first name, Christo Yavachev has created a series of eye-catching environmental artworks in conjunction with his wife, Jeanne-Claude de Guillebon. Among their most cherished concepts was a floating walkway and the couple had considered the Rio de la Plata between Argentina and Uruguay and Tokyo Bay as potential locations before Jeanne-Claude's death in 2009. Eventually, Christo secured permission to mount the work on Lake Iseo in Italy and he commissioned Andrey M. Paounov to chronicle the project in Walking on Water, which is showing in London under the Dochouse banner.

This isn't the first time that Christo has used cinema to make a permanent record of one of his transient pieces. In 1969, Christo: Wrapped Coast was directed by Michael Blackwood, who would go on to make the 1995 profile, Christo and Jeanne-Claude. However, his most enduring partnership has been with the American siblings David and Albert Maysles, with whom he teamed on the Oscar-nominated short, Christo's Valley Curtain (1974), as well as Running Fence (1978), Islands (1986), Christo in Paris (1990) and Umbrellas (1995). Indeed, following David's death, Christo reunited with Albert on The Gates (2007), which was co-directed by Antonio Ferrara. With Albert also now dead, Christo has turned to a fellow Bulgarian, who has forged a reputation for hard-nosed storytelling with such actualities as Georgi and the Butterflies (2004), The Mosquito Problem and Other Stories (2007) and The Boy Who Was a King (2011).

During the course of their career, Christo and Jeanne-Claude completed 23 large-scale works and failed to get permission for 47 more. According to an opening caption, he all but disappeared following the loss of his Moroccan wife (although this ignores the 2013 piece, `Big Air Package', in which he created an inflated envelope inside the Oberhausen Gasometer). All the while, however, he was working on the `walking on the water' project and he is first seen toiling on a large canvas impression of the structure in his studio. 

His silent focus is contrasted with a dyspeptic video conference with the team designing a catalogue and fragments from a charm offensive, in which Christo enjoys being lauded by adoring crowds at speaker events, where he can pose for selfies with fans and whip up interest in glad-handing the great and the good, including Lord Peter Mandelson. Guiding him through all of this is nephew-cum-fixer Vladimir Yavachev, who accompanies him to a New York school to tell a class of vaguely interested kids about his floating platforms. They are amused when their teachers can't get the electronic whiteboard to work properly and Christo curses modern technology. Eventually, he produces some sketches on a sheet of paper taped over the redundant screen before telling the class that being an artist isn't a nine-to-five job and that there's no point trying to be one unless you have passion. 

Having set his scene, Paounov narrows his focus to the project and we join Christo in the Swiss Alps on 13 March 2016, with just 97 days to the opening of `The Floating Piers'. He addresses a public meeting in Sulzano to explain the project and supervises the laying out of the first raft of the 226,000 high-density polyethylene cubes that will be required to reach the Lake Iseo island of San Paolo. Watching the linked cubes ride the gentle swell, Christo is delighted that his design is such a success and he strides out into the lake like a child. However, not everything goes smoothly and he has a row with Vladimir about the need to edge the saffron cloth that will cover the walkway with chains to weigh it down. 

On 10 May, Christo heads to Rome, with just 39 days to go before the unveiling. A caption informs us that he agrees to create a work to benefit Pope Francis's African charity and he presents it to the press before taking a tour of the Sistine Chapel. Back on the lake, aerial shots show the progress of the orange-suited crews slotting the cubes into place. We see the extent of Christo's ambition, as piers snake out in numerous directions and the island is surrounded by platforms. When he visits, Christo is thrilled by the progress and by the setting and amuses Vladimir by claiming that his backdrop is better than that of `The Mona Lisa'. 

There are 12 days to go when the scene on 6 June shifts to the Palace of the Prefecture in the nearby town of Brescia. Christo is intrigued by the fact that the local officials are appointed rather than elected, but he makes a fuss of the dignitaries before struggling to stay awake in the ensuing meeting to confirm the final arrangements for the event. Paounov's camera alights upon the various uniforms around the table and fades out the sound of incessant chattering, as Christo and Vladimir give up their attempts to look politely attentive. 

The rain hammers down on 14 June, as Christo lays out framed images of his concept in a house on San Paolo. There are four days to go and he is concerned that bad weather will hamper the attempts to cover the white walkways with the saffron cloth that is so key to his design. They are luckier with the weather the following day, however, as a helicopter arrives to winch bags of fabric out to the teams waiting to lay the carpet. Having thanked some local workers for helping him realise his vision, Christo's sense of exhilaration dissipates during the day, as the wind plays havoc with the material and the divers have problems securing it to the underside of the piers. Senior members of his circle try to calm him down, but he seems to need to fret and rant in order to keep his own nerves under control. 

Inflatable dinghies scud across the grey water and Christo sits in a marquee at the project's HQ with a face like thunder. But his spirits soar again after a floodlit session during a period of relative nocturnal calm allows the crew to complete this phase of the operation. He applauds his cheering workers and returns to base to have sticking plasters applied to a couple of cuts on his face. All of a sudden, he looks like an 81 year-old man. 

On opening day, however, sees him revelling in the attention and adulation, as the media swarm over the piers to interview him. Away from the furore, Vladimir takes care of business by haggling with a besuited Italian seeking a special price for one of the original artworks. He also has to intervene when it becomes clear that the numbers hoping to experience the exhibit far exceed those agreed upon with Brescia council. Baffled why the police have allowed so many people to descend upon Sulzano, Vladimir ducks out to escort his uncle to a garden party on San Paolo. 

Here, Christo is engulfed by wealthy people from middle age upwards, who behave like starstruck teenagers, as they introduce themselves with tenuous links to the high and mighty or remind him of fleeting encounters they had with him years before. He takes it all in good part, as he poses for selfies and Paounov sidles away to take a close-up of a huge ham hock archly arranged on a table in the midst of the well-mannered mayhem. But there's an unmistakable look of relief on his face, as he boards a boat back to the mainland and he can stop being public property. 

The following day, as Vladimir helps reunite a mother with her lost daughter, Christo becomes apoplectic at the numbers being allowed on the pontoons. He curses the local officials for allowing so many people to use the buses and the trains and suggests they are benefiting from the excess traffic. Realising that 20,000 visitors inside the perimeters is too many and that there is a risk of a dangerous bottleneck, Vladimir issues a Code Red to evacuate the exhibit. He has a blazing row with Mario, the local co-ordinator, and demands to have a meeting with the Brescia council to ask why they let 55,000 through their transport network when they had agreed to limit the number on any given day to 45,000. 

Naturally, there is discontent on the waterfront, as the crowds who have travelled voice their frustration at not being allowed on the piers. As darkness falls, lightning flashes over the mountains and Paounov captures surreal images of people huddling under gold foil heat capes, as they insist on keeping their place in the queue for the morning. 

The weather has improved, as Vladimir heads to the Security Centre at Sale Marasino. He returns to confess to Christo that he has insulted them and refused to apologise. Nearing the end of his tether, he breaks the news that Britain has voted to leave the EU and Christo is genuinely astonished. However, they have to focus on the matter in hand and inform the leader of the Brescia committee that they will abandon the project unless he does something to reduce the numbers. At the ensuing press conference, he hopes that everyone will now be able to enjoy the experience and a montage shows people making the most of a unique opportunity in glorious sunshine. Christo beams benevolently, as his artwork is finally being treated with respect and being used in the right way. 

All of a sudden, it's 3 July and the curtain is about to fall. Christo goes on a helicopter ride over the bay and gazes down on his creation. It shimmers in the sunlight and the smattering of visitors have space and time to appreciate the sensation and the view. Content that he has achieved his goal, he returns to his hotel room to pack and meticulously sticks tape across his suitcase so he can tell if anyone has tampered with it in transit. 

Seven months later, Vladimir trims Christo's eyelashes during a trip to Abu Dhabi to scout locations around Al Gharbia to build a mastaba from 400,000 oil barrels. The old man grins into the camera as a camel train passes his car and he sprawls in the sand beside a scale model to gain a perspective of the landscape. And so the madness begins again (although the item was eventually erected beside the Serpentine in London in September 2018 and required only 7506 barrels). 

Visually striking, slyly satirical and hugely entertaining, this may be less interesting in the meaning and construction of the artwork than the Maysles films, but it still provides plenty of insights into Christo's modus operandi, the beauty and boldness of his creation, his affectionately fractious relationship with his nephew and the incompetence and corruption of small-town Italian bureaucracy. Regular readers will have noticed that this is a recurring theme in the excellent pictures showcased by CinemaItaliaUK. But Paounov contents himself with shaming the hosts rather than exposing them. 

He similarly seems happy to hover on the periphery, as Vladimir finds solutions to problems that Christo always seems willing to let escalate into full-scale crises. In remaining an amused observer, Paounov avoids having to pass any critical comment on the work itself and there are no talking-head experts or interviews with awestruck locals to provide any user feedback. However, Paounov's own keen visual sense and nose for a telling detail allow viewers to wallow in a form of proxy presence that is deftly complemented by Saunder Juriaans and Danny Bensi's atmospheric score and selected passage from Steve Reich's `Pulse Quartet'.