MOVIE ROUND-UP, films from July 11

 

Cinemas are gradually reopening with special safety measures in place. As such, this column will wherever possible include reviews of new releases alongside  additions to new films which are only being made available on various streaming platforms. Please ensure you check all health & safety requirements, such as face masks, before visiting a cinema

 

The Old Guard (15)

 

Following on from Mad Max and Atomic Blonde, Charlize Theron further underscores her cool action movie persona as Ancient Greece warrior Andromache of Scythia aka Andy, the head of a small group of immortal mercenaries that also comprises Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), who gained immortality after dying in the Napoleonic Wars and Joe (Marwan Kenzari) and Nicky (Luca Marinelli) who became gay lovers while fighting on opposing sides in the Crusades.  Keeping a low profile so as not to attract attention to themselves, they’ve fought on the side of right through the centuries, to which end, brought back together after a year apart, although, disillusioned by humanity’s continued inability to redeem itself, she declares “The world can burn for all I care”, she’s persuaded by former CIA operative Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to rescue 17 schoolchildren abducted in South Sudan.

However, this turns out to be a set up aimed at capturing them and harvesting their DNA engineered by pharmaceuticals CEO Merrick (Harry Melling, unrecognisable from his role as Harry Potter’s Dudley Dursley) who claims he wants to end cognitive decline, but whose actual motives are rather less altruistic.

The corporate villain has become something of a cliché and the film, self-adapted by Greg Ruckahich from his graphic novels and which sees director Gina Prince-Bythewood spreading her wings after romantic dramas, never seems as assured in the basic plot framework as it does in handling the character interplay and the action sequences.

The quarter are soon joined by a fifth member, American Marine Nile Freeman (KiKi Layne) who, much to her confusion and the unease of her fellow soldiers, recovers from a fatal neck-wound in Afghanistan without so much as a scar. A psychic bond between fellow immortals leads to Andy rescuing her from the military base and, after a mano a mano fight aboard a transport plane, recruiting her to the cause, though she remains understandably freaked out about the whole set-up.

Not that, with Merrick’s paramilitary squad on their tail, anyone has a great deal of time to sit around reflecting on the cost of immortality and rapid healing, and never knowing when your time will be up.  The character depth is thickened by the revelation that Andy is haunted by guilt over the fate of her first fellow immortal, Quynh (Van Veronica Ngo) following their capture during the witchcraft trials.

As such, the film jumps around from Africa and Southern Asia to rural Paris as the group elude pursuit and seek to track down Copley before, after a betrayal and two abductions for experimentation,  it all climaxes in an extended shoot-out at Mannix’s London HQ.

Dressed in black (though flashbacks have her in Amazonian armour) with a bob-cut, Theron strides confidently through the film, delivering action and conflicted character complexity and psychological baggage with equal skill, and she’s well-supported by her four peers, Layne especially strong while Schoenaerts provides soulful melancholia and Kenzari and Marinelli introduce a degree of humour and tenderness.

With one of the group apparently losing their immortality and a six months later end credits scene that sets up further mystery and intrigue, this is clearly envisioned as an ongoing narrative, both as  high octane action and exploring what it means to be human; it most certainly deserves a sequel. (Netflix)

 

Greyhound (12) 

A long-time project for Tom Hanks, he both adapted C.S. Forester’s 1955 novel The Good Shepherd and stars as Ernie Krause, a devoutly religious U.S. Navy Captain whose first command is to take charge of the Greyhound, leader of the light warships charged with overseeing a convey of 37 supply ships as cross the Atlantic to Britain, in 1942, a voyage with entails 48 hours without air support in a region known as the Black Pit where they are at the mercy of Nazi U-boats.

There’s a brief opening flashback to a scene between Krause and his long-time sweetheart (Elisabeth Shue) as they meet prior to his taking up command and she suggests now’s not the right time to get engaged, but other than that virtually the entire film takes place on the bridge of the Greyhound as Krause and the crew variously seek to hunt down and destroy or evade the marauding Grey Wolf pack of enemy submarines, including a taunting message from an unseen U-boat commander (Thomas Kretschmann) that comes across as unintentionally cartoonish.

As such, the featured cast is limited to Hanks, Stephen Graham as his navigator, Rob Morgan as the ship’s African-American cook, forever bringing the captain coffee and sandwiches, gunnery officer Manuel Garcia-Rulfo and Hanks’ son Chet as the sonar operator. And yet, it’s only Krause that has any real character depth, a mixture of insecurity at his first time of testing, his faith and, being Hanks, is deep humanity. Likewise, there’s not a great deal of scope for narrative development and, when not staging action sequences upon the turbulent digitised ocean (mostly dark and at night) as they either hunt or narrowly evade the subs, or a near miss between the Greyhound and an oil tanker, it revolves around the cast looking seriously at each other and trotting out various naval terms like “Hard rudder left!”  Basically, it’s a single scene repeated several times with just some minor variations. And while, directed by Aaron Schneider, it has a claustrophobic intensity and affords Hanks another chance to go minimalist and do his familiar stoicism, sincerity and integrity, it doesn’t exactly make for compelling viewing.  (Netflix)

 

Saint Frances (15)

“I’m not an impressive person,” says directionless thirty-something Bridget towards the end of first time director Alex Thompson’s engaging character study, but that’s not something you could say about screenwriter and star  Kelly O’Sullivan who shines in both capacities.

Having dropped out of her creative writing course, Bridget now works as a ‘server’, striking up a relationship with a fellow, but much younger, restaurant worker, Jace (Max Lipchitz), she meets at a party.  They have sex in one of several matter of fact scenes that involve some messy bloody sheets and underwear, initially from her period and later as the aftermath of an abortion following an accidental pregnancy.

This, however, is not the film’s core relationship. That’s between Bridget and precocious 6-year-old Frances (Ramona Edith-Williams), the daughter of  affluent mixed-race liberal Chicago lesbian parents Maya (Charin Alvarez) and Annie (Lily Mojekwu), to whom, after a previous rejection, she becomes nanny as the women juggle long work hours and Maya’s postpartum depression following the birth of Frances’ baby brother.

In many ways, the film follows a familiar  narrative of  an emotionally adrift adult learning to become responsible,  grounded and feel self-worth through their relationship with a child wise beyond their years,  but O’Sullivan’s script makes it feel fresh, the subplots involving her relationship with the impossibly sweet Jace (who keeps an emotional journal of feelings she refuses to address), an affair with Frances’ older guitar tutor, Maya’s depression and the resulting strain on the marriage all adding emotional depth as the film explores what being a  woman and the different experiences involved can entail.

O’Sullivan is a delight and is perfectly matched with Edith-Williams who, in her early attempts to outsmart her inexperienced nanny and the bond that eventually grows, proves a natural screen presence which, compounded by the strong supporting cast, make this a small but charming delight.  (Odeon Broadway Plaza)

 

 

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1917 (15)

Drawn from stories told by director Sam Mendes’ grandfather, this bravura first world war drama is about two young soldiers ordered to take a message across No Man’s Land and behind enemy lines to call off an attack that, lured into a German trap, can only end in disaster.

It’s been misleadingly touted as being one continuous take, whereas it’s actually a series of very lengthy takes (some shot up to eight times to get it right), seamlessly edited together as a fluid travelling narrative. Lance Corporals, Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay) are woken from their peaceful naps and given the task by their General (Colin Firth) to deliver the order to stand down to Colonel Mackenzie (Benjamin Cumberbatch), the officer in charge, who, believing the Germans are on the retreat, intends to launch an assault, unaware of reconnaissance information revealing a new enemy line manned by heavy artillery. If not prevented, it will result in the massacre of the 1,600 men in his division, among them Blake’s older brother (Richard Madden). And they only have until the following morning to do so. To get there involves them crossing a devastated landscape of mud and ruined buildings, strewn with corpses of men and horses, infested with rats, tangled in barbed wire, littered with fallen trees  and pitted with shell craters, never quite sure as to whether the Germans have all left or not. And much of it must be undertaken in daylight.

At times unbearably tense and punctuated with sudden jolting moments, it grips throughout as the friends navigate through the exposed countryside and booby trapped abandoned enemy trenches (far better equipped than their own, with even the rats bigger), the camera sometimes following, sometimes in front of them, sometimes panning across the horrors that surround them. Without spoiling it too much, suffice to say that, following a  remarkable and agonising scene involving a crashed German plane, ultimately, only one of them makes it to Mackenzie, the perilous trek seeing him shot at by snipers, finding a brief moment of calm with a young Frenchwoman (Claire Duburcq) and a motherless baby (one of several almost surreal moments, another involving cherry trees), having to confront stray enemy soldiers, being swept along in a  raging river and racing across a battlefield under bombardment.

In the early part, it’s almost a two-hander between MacKay and Chapman, the film drawing you into their friendship and fears, but as the journey progresses there are several brief cameos, among them Mark Strong as an officer en route with his men to the bombed out village of Écoust, a staging point on the vital mission, that gives way to the surviving messenger stumbling out into night-time vision of hell.

Driven by a swelling score from Thomas Newman, it never trumpets anything resembling glory in wartime (at one point an officer sarcastically observes “Nothing like a patch of ribbons to cheer up a widow”) and its heroism is very much that of the courage of ordinary men facing extraordinary circumstances, and wishing they were anywhere else. Calling to mind other such war classics as Paths of Glory, War Horse and Saving Private Ryan, it’s poignant (most especially the still scene of a lone soldier singing Wayfaring Stranger to his comrades before they go into battle), tragic, thrilling and horrifying all at the same time, the human waste and needless destruction part of the fabric rather than a pointed agenda. Simply breathtakingly brilliant. (Empire Great Park)

7500 (15)

Set almost entirely within a commercial airliner cockpit and, for the most part, a solo tour de force Joseph Gordon-Levitt, told in real time this German-made thriller  by director Patrick Vollrath unfolds an attempted Berlin to Paris midflight hijacking. Gordon-Levitt is  Tobias Ellis, the  American first officer, and the early scenes establish his relationship with the affable Captain, Michael Lutzmann (Carlo Kitzlinger) and stewardess Gokce (Aylin Tezel), his partner and mother of his two year-old son.The mundane is quickly shattered when, shortly after takeoff, two Islamic terrorists attempt to storm the cockpit armed with blades made from glass. Ellis manages to force one back, but the other, more elderly of the two, wounds both Lutzmann and Ellis before being overpowered and tied up.

Alerting air control that they’ve had a 7500, it’s now Ellis’s job to make an emergency landing at Hanover. However, it’s not going to be that easy. First, Lutzmann dies and then, contacting him over the intercom, a particularly violent terrorist threatens to kill one of the passengers until Ellis opens the cockpit door. Which, of course, he is forbidden to do, piling on the pressure as he’s conflicted between duty and morality.

It’s not too difficult to guess how another hostage situation develops, but then matters take a dramatic swerve when the captive terrorist escapes and allows his younger colleague (Omid Memar) to gain access, setting up a new dynamic between the three of them, especially given the teenager is less persuaded he wants to die for the greater good.

Other than scenes played on the black and white door monitor, it all takes place within the cockpit, ramping up the tension and claustrophobia as the power dynamics shift back and forth. There’s no conventional Hollywood heroics although the screenplay does take a slightly predictable clichéd turn in the final stretch, though not without diluting the violence and tension. Gordon-Levitt’s delivers a persuasive naturalistic performance while the ending is suitably anti-climatic in the numbness of the aftermath. (Amazon Prime)

Artemis Fowl (PG)

Originally planned for a 2019  release, then postponed, this adaptation of Eoin Colfer’s first of his eight Artemis Fowl novels about the teenage Irish anti-hero now bypasses cinemas altogether to debut on Disney +. It doesn’t arrive trailing exactly enthusiastic reviews, but despite its many faults – among them some wooden acting, clunky dialogue and anonymous direction from Kenneth Branagh – it ends up being quite fun, at least for the target audience.

Of course, Colfer fans will doubtless complain that it’s got ahead of the series and, rather than the 12 year old criminal mastermind in the original first few books, young Artemis (a somewhat stiff Ferdia Shaw) is already the plucky hero he becomes later, but really that’s neither here nor there and the film does nod to that by having the elder art dealer Artemis (Colin Farrell) being accused of being an international thief whose been stealing precious artefacts from around the  world and storing them in his remote clifftop sprawling mansion where he lives with his son and bodyguard Butler (Nonso Anozie) and, brought in for added protection (even if she vanishes from the plot for long stretches and doesn’t really seem to do much), Butler’s niece Juliet (Tamara Smart).

Well, yes and no. He has, but in order to protect the world from a dangerous magic. You see, he’s apparently the only human who knows of the existence of a subterranean fairy world  populated by trolls, goblins, dwarfs and the like, from which he’s stolen something called the Aculos to prevent it from being used to by dark forces to destroy all humans and dominate fairydom.

He’s also been teaching young Artemis (initially coming across as a bratty whiz kid) all about leprechauns and the other fairy legends as if they were real which, when dad disappears (abducted by some mysterious hooded figure who wants the Aculos to do exactly what I mentioned above), he quickly learns it is when, after subduing rampant troll marauding through a wedding (all humans put into a  time freeze in the process and then mind-wiped), young (well, 84 years is teenage in fairy years) LEPrecon operative Holly Short (a perky elfin Lara McDonnell), the daughter of the late supposed traitor Beechwood, a  friend of Fowl Sr who helped purloin the Aculos, disobeys orders and winds up his captive.

This prompts the LEPrecon Commander Root (Judi Dench dressed in lime green, sporting elf ears and speaking like she has gravel in her throat) to  time freeze Fowl Manor and  send in the winged troops to  rescue her, and find the Aculos in the process. However, having bonded, Artemis and Holly are now working together to find where dad’s hidden it and rescue him.

All of this is told in flashback by giant dirt eating dwarf digger Mulch (Josh Gad) who’s being interrogated by some sort of British secret service and who also plays a major role in the battle at the manor.

The obvious influences, chiefly Men in Black (Artemis dresses in black suit and wears shades), Harry Potter (Mulch as surrogate Hagrid) and Star Wars (Farrell’s captor akin to Palpatine), do it no favours by comparison, but despite some confusing transitions, it rattles along quickly enough to keep its target audience distracted and the visual effects are definitely impressive. Like the ill-fated The Golden Compass 2007 adaptation before it, it ends setting up the main characters for the next stage in the adventure. That never saw light of day, but, perhaps Disney’s new streaming platform may yet give Fowl a fair chance of magicking up a franchise after all. (Disney +)

 

Bad Boys For Life (15)

A so so turn in Aladdin aside, Will Smith hasn’t made a truly decent movie since Hancock back in 2008, hardly surprising then to see this reboot of arguably his most successful, though not necessarily best,  work. Directed by little known Belgian duo Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, taking over from Michael Bay (who gets a cheeky cameo), with a screenplay that involved three writers, including od hands Peter Draig and Joe Carnahan, he reteams with Martin Lawrence after 17 years to revive the partnership of apparently incredibly well paid maverick Miami narcotics detectives Mike Lowrey (Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Lawrence), still on the streets bringing down the bad guys, even if a few grey hairs and some added weight are showing.

Mike behind the wheel of his blue Porsche, the film kicks off with they swapping banter during a frantic car chase involving several squad cars and bikes, though amusingly (albeit downright recklessly) not in pursuit of some villains but to get Marcus to the hospital where his grandson (who’s named after him) is being born. It’s an epiphany that sees Burnett decide to retire and put his feet up while Lowrey insists on carrying on (cue comparison scenes of the two friends going about their different daily lives), “running down criminals until I’m a hundred.” But then he’s almost killed in a drive-by shooting by a helmeted man in black on a motorbike, leading Marcus to tell God he’ll give up violence if his buddy pulls through and setting in the motion the core narrative in which recent  prison escapee Mexican witch Isabel Aretas (Kate del Castillo), the widow of a cartel boss, sends her sociopathic  sniper son, Armando (Jacob Scipio), to assassinate everyone involved in the case, leaving Lowrey to last (though he does try and jump the gun), in revenge.

With Marcus now having retired and Mike ordered by the captain (Jo Pantoliano) to get involved, the case is hand over to the newly formed AMMO tactical squad, headed up by one of Lowrey’s old flames, Rita (Paola Núñez), and featuring the regulation mix of one dimensional colourful oddballs, snarky Rafe (Charles Melton), an underused Vanessa Hudgens as ballistics expert Kelly  and  ripped tech guy Dorn (Alexander Ludwig) who has also renounced violence. Naturally, Mike’s not going to sit back and do nothing, so it’s not long before things are getting blown up and the body count rising as they try and track down who’s responsible.

All of this is formulaic stuff, but it’s given a darker, harder and more emotive edge when the somewhat far-fetched third act reveals Mike’s backstory and a connection between those seeking his death that is about more than it first appears. Smith and Lawrence skip comfortably back into their roles and clearly seem to be having fun rather than just taking the paycheque, riffing on the franchise  with constant repeats of their mantra and the theme song. Although most of the target audience were still toddlers when the last instalment came out, there’s no attempt to reinvent anything here, just to reignite the fun and put a little more grit and thought into the fuel. And, as such with the end credits setting up what promises to be an unusual family alliance  sequel, it does just that. (Empire Great Park)

Birds Of Prey: And The Fantabulous Emancipation Of One Harley Quinn (15)

The latest to give a DC Comics Batman villain their own platform, this puts for shrink turned pasty-faced (with a ‘rotten’ tattoo), pink and blue pig-tailed crazy criminal Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) from the Suicide Squad in the spotlight as a sort of badass poster girl for the #MeToo  movement. And a hyena called Bruce (after Wayne) as a pet. Having broken up with The Joker for the last time (though that doesn’t prevent a continuity gaff in the final stretch restoring the J necklace she discards in the opening), Quinn’s now her own psychowoman, though she’s keeping the split on the hush so she still retains her untouchable status in Gotham,. Albeit not for long. And certainly not after she makes very public display of the rift by blowing up the chemical plant courting spot.  But let’s not ahead of ourselves since the film, directed in her feature debut by Cathy Yan with a  dash of Deadpool’s to camera wall-breaking self-awareness and genre cliché observations, hurtles back and forth along the narrative timeline as its various rage-fuelled women seeking revenge, in some form or another, are introduced. That would be troubled foster kid pickpocket Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), the crossbow-wielding Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, cool astride a motorbike in black leather), promotion-overlooked cop Montoya (Rosie Perez) and Dinah Lance aka Black Canary (Jurnee Smolett-Bell), the hurricane-lunged singer (and subsequent driver after Quinn breaks her predecessor’s leg for falling her dumb, she is, after all, a PhD) for club owner and Gotham crime boss Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor playing it large and even at times seemingly channelling Graham Norton), a psychosadist who doubles as super-villain Black Mask and has a fondness for peeling off people’s faces to send a message. They’re all linked together since Montoya is after Quinn who needs to get to Cain who stole a valuable diamond that Sionis wants to get his hands on which, in turn, has a bloody backstory connected to Huntress, while Canary is Montoya’s inside informant as well as having come to Quinn’s rescue when several of the hundreds of folks with a grievance try to whack her.

Despite the switchbacking, largely between set piece fight scenes and executions, it’s relatively easy to keep track and the film positively rattles along in colourful and noisy manner   drawing the women together in some sort of dysfunctional and violent family although, in keeping the audience on board with the deranged kewpie-doll, it’s only bad guys who get seriously hurt (when Quinn invades the precinct she does so with a fungun that shoots out multi-coloured glitter bombs and concussion pads) as the motley crew of misfits  unleash their pent-up fury in spectacular mayhem to a soundtrack that romps from L7’s Shitlist, Heart’s Barracuda and an update of  Ram Jam’s Black Betty to Smollett-Bell performing It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World, just to reinforce the not so little women reclaiming power feminist message.

While her co-stars undeniably go for it, this is Robbie’s movie, a charismatic force of attitude rampaging through Gotham and taking no shit, rattling off quips and with the hots for bacon, eggs and cheese sandwiches with hot sauce, the coda managing to set up a split into two distinct sequels with Quinn and her new sidekick and the three superheroines Birds of Prey of the title. Unfortunately, the film’s lacklustre box office suggests they won’t take wing. (Empire Great Park)

Bloodshot (15)

Adapted from a second division comic and borrowing heavily from both Universal Soldier and The Matrix, this  derivative sci fi affair stars Vin Diesel  as Ray Garrison, a Marine who, in the opening sequence, rescues a hostage from a bunch of hostiles and, back home, is later taken prisoner  as a result, interrogated for information by Martin Axe (Toby Kebbel) who, dancing his way in to Talking Heads’ Psycho Killer has clearly watched Reservoir Dogs too often, and then, after seeing his wife, Gina (Talulah Riley), killed, is shot dead.

Then he wakes up in a hi-tech lab to be told by Dr. Emil Harting (Guy Pearce), the project overseer with a robotic arm, that he’s the first soldier to be successfully brought back from the dead and enhanced by nanotechnology, giving him super strength, a mega-computer brain and, thanks to the nanites that are now his blood, the ability of his body to quickly repair any injury. On the downside, he has no memory of who is or his past. However, put in the care of KT (Eiza González), who, along with   machine man Dalton (Sam Heughan) has been reengineered after combat injuries,  on being reintroduced to alcohol he takes a quick shot and images of Gina’s execution come flooding back, prompting him to take off, using his new powers to fly a jet to Budapest , track down  Axe and wreak vengeance before, as he always does, heading home.

All relatively clear so far. But then the film swerves off  into Matrix/Source Code territory in which, without giving too much away, it turns out that Garrison is being used (in what seems unnecessarily complicated and hugely expensive) as a souped-up assassin as he then proceeds to go through the whole thing again, only this time the face of the wife-killer is different. From here, the whole thing becomes increasingly incoherent and farfetched as, discovering his memories may not be real, and finding an ally among the other enhanced along with  babbling genius  computer code nerd Wilfred Wigans (a wildly overacting Lamorne Morris), he naturally sets out, chest glowing red, to take down Harding.

Cobbled together  from far superior films, first time director David S.F. Wilson uses his visual effects background to striking effect, especially during a duel on a skyscraper’s exoskeletal elevator and the tunnel car chase where Garrison’s face is blown off and reassembles, but even this is just Terminator/Matrix redux. Pearce plays it sneeringly cool, González makes the most of a scrappily written role and Diesel does what Diesel does. Expect nothing else and you won’t be too disappointed, even so you may feel they spelled the title with one letter wrong. (Empire Great Park)

The Call Of The Wild (PG)

Published back in 1903, Jack London’s wilderness novel became an instant classic and, while less read these days, has been adapted for the screen five times. This, the sixth, is the live action debut by How to Train Your Dragon director Chris Sanders and with Spielberg’s go-to cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, though it should be said from the start that all of the animals are CGI. Not that you would know it.

When it opens, Buck (a motion capture performance by Terry Notary), is the huge and highly intelligent St. Bernard/Scotch Collie pet of a Santa Clara judge in 1890s California, his exuberance often causing chaos.  Then, one night, he’s dognapped and sold on to become part of a sled team for gold prospectors in the Yukon, Alaska. Arriving in Skagway, it’s here he first encounters grizzled old timer John Thornton (a heavily bearded Harrison Ford, who also narrates), who’s abandoned civilization and his wife following the death of his young son, and is then bought by French-Canadian Perraut (Omar Sy) who, along with wife Françoise (Cara Gee), runs a mail-delivery route for the U.S. government, and becomes part of his dog sled team, eventually progressing to become lead dog after defeating the resentful alpha male Siberian husky, Spitz.

When, after some exhilarating sled scenes, an avalanche and a rescue from a river, the mail route is scrapped, Buck’s path once again crosses paths with Thornton who rescues him from his latest master, a cruel city type (Dan Stevens hamming it with tartan plaid and panto villain moustache) who has come in search of gold with his marginally less unpleasant wife (a virtual cameo by Karen Gillan), but clearly has no idea of how to survive in the outdoors.

The film now spends its remaining time with the tender and often amusing bonding between Buck and Thornton, as the former helps the latter reconnect with life (and stops him drinking), while Buck, feeling his canine heritage (cue  frequent appearances by some black wolf spirit guide), also pals up with the local timber wolf pack, among them his white four-footed romantic interest. Meanwhile, Dan is on their trail bent on revenge, though quite how he manages to track them down is a mystery.

The film deviates hugely from the book towards the end, but otherwise remains a faithful adaptation, certainly in spirit, and, even though he’s a digital creation, Buck is utterly adorable  while the landscapes are often breathtaking even though they too are largely CGI.  Heed the call, this is a real family treat.  (Empire Great Park)

 

Da 5 Bloods (15)

Opening with Muhammed Ali’s famous 1978 speech about refusing to drafted for the Vietnam War and proceeding through a collage of footage of African American soldiers in the conflict, Kwame Ture’s declaration that “America has declared war on black people” and Angela Davis warning that “If the link-up is not made between what’s happening in Vietnam and what’s happening here, we may very well face a period of full-blown fascism very soon,”  all set to Marvin Gaye Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler) with its line about “trigger-happy policing”, it’s clear that Spike Lee’s latest resonates loudly with the current protests in America and beyond.

That, however, remains a subtext to this thematically sprawling, tonally inconsistent but undeniably compelling tale of a group of African-American veterans reuniting many years later to revisit Vietnam. Ostensibly, the reason is to recover the remains of their former squad leader, Stormin’ Norman (Chadwick Boseman), who was killed during an operation, and return them for burial. However, through a flashback to the mission, it’s quickly revealed that the overriding motive for most of them is to recover the caseful of US gold bullion intended for the South Vietnamese allies which they stumbled upon and buried to reclaim later since, as Norman puts it, “the USA owe us. We built this bitch.”

The four middle-aged buddies comprise Otis (a soulful Clarke Peters), Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr) and Eddie (Norm Lewis) and  Trump-supporting Paul (Delroy Lindo), the latter the most troubled of the group, haunted by guilt nightmares and suffering PTSD for reasons only revealed (not easy to surmise) in the final stretch when he loses it completely. Joining them, much to his father’s displeasure, is Paul’s concerned teacher son David (Jonathan Majors) while their guide for the trip is Vinh (Johnny Trí Nguyễn).

To get the gold out, through Tien (Lê Y Lan), a former prostitute who was Otis’ lover during the war (and by whom he discovers he has a daughter), they strike a deal with shady French businessman Desroche (Jean Reno), while, later in proceedings they cross paths with Hedy (Mélanie Thierry), founder of a landmine removal organisation, and her two colleagues. You don’t have to be a genius to know that, as the plot twist and personalities, motives and paranoias clash, there’s be fallings out, double crosses and at least one incident involving buried mine.

Nodding to a range of touchstones, among them Treasure of the Sierra Madre and, inevitably, Apocalypse Now (even down to using Ride of the Valkyries), it rattles along between the present quest and flashbacks to the fateful mission as the group dynamics swing from one extreme to another, one minute addressing the estranged father/son relationship, the next focusing on how Blacks were exploited as the war’s cannon fodder (cue a recreation of Hanoi Hannah broadcasting her propaganda) while maintaining a basic action movie narrative as it heads for the inevitable showdown between the Bloods, those who want to take the gold and Paul’s meltdown (a sterling turn by Lindo) as the truth of what happened to Norman back in the day emerges.

Co-written Lee’s  BlacKkKlansman co-writer Kevin Willmott, its convoluted and narratively messy, but, between an amusing nightclub dance sequence, a scene where two elderly ex-Viet Cong but the Bloods a round and the powerful central performances, it keeps you glued throughout its two hours plus. (Netflix)

Emma. (U)

Following swiftly on the heels of Little Women, photographer and video director Autumn de Wilde makes her feature debut with the latest adaptation of Jane Austen’s much loved novel about an inveterate matchmaker who, in trying to pair up others, is oblivious to  her own feelings. A faithful account of the novel, it’s stuffed with familiar faces, headed up by Anya Taylor-Joy who transitions from horror to rom-com as the titular heroine, bringing the right amount of insufferable smugness, snobbery and pout while still remaining sympathetic to her blindness regarding the inappropriateness of her self-appointed meddling in others’ lives as “the greatest amusement in the world”.  Case in point being her younger and less socially elevated (she doesn’t know who her father is) hero-worshipping friend Harriet (Mia Goth), a student at the local boarding school, who she dissuades from accepting a proposal from  tenant farmer Robert Martin (Connor Swindells) convinced that the preening village preacher, Mr. Elton (Josh O’Connor), loves her. It’s just the first of several misreadings that end up causing people heartache, while her cutting comment to the scatterbrained Miss Bates (Miranda Hart) reinforces her unthinking lack of sensitivity to those she considers beneath her.

Even before he finally puts in appearance, Emma’s attracted to Frank Churchill (Callum Turner), the self-absorbed absent son of well-to-do Mr Weston (Rupert Graves), the widower whose marriage to her former governess (Gemma Whelan) she engineered. So, when he does turn up, she’s put out to discover that he’s acquainted with Bates’ niece, Jane Fairfax (Amber Anderson), especially given her resentment of always being disadvantageously compared to her (to be fair, Jane is much better pianist), all the while oblivious to the fact, behind their bickering banter, her handsome gentleman friend and neighbour (and in-law, since he’s the brother to her sister Isabella’s long suffering husband) , George Knightley (actor-musician Johnny Flynn who wrote and sings the end credits song), who, despite recognising and often admonishing her flaws, is besotted with her, though, in strict rom com tradition,  it does take time (cue significant dance scene moment) for him to realise it too.

All this plays out with sparkling wit and charm that draws both the humour and subtle social commentary from Austen’s novel, the chemistry among the leads complemented by note perfect support turns from Bill Nighy as Emma’s hypochondriac father and Sex Education star Tanya Reynolds as the pretentious new Mrs.Elton. A candybox delight to the eye as well as enjoyable romantic fluff with just a pinch of spice, it’s well worth a flutter of the heart. (Empire Great Park)

 

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga (12A)

There may not have been an actual Eurovision this year, but, directed by David Dobkin,  this Will Ferrell comedy perfectly captures the contest’s self-parodying multi-cultural kitsch. Unfortunately, it takes an often laborious two hours for what is essentially a  sketch that, at best, should never have gone beyond 90 minutes. Obsessed with Eurovision from the moment he saw ABBA perform Waterloo on TV in 1974 as a child in his small fishing village, obliviously naïve Lars Erickssong (Ferrell in long blonde wig) has had only one goal, to win for Iceland. Though derided by his buttoned-up fisherman father (Pierce Brosnan, playing it relatively straight with a wink in the eye), who reckons his son’s wasted his entire life and the villagers, who only want to hear them play their banal risqué ‘hit’ Ja Ja Ding Dong, it’s dream shared by Sigrit Ericksdotti (Rachel McAdams), his elves-believing childhood best friend and platonic sweetheart who’s also his musical partner in Fire Saga.

Katiana (Demi Lovato) is already the foregone conclusion as the country’s entry, the rules see Fire Saga randomly selected to make up the numbers and failing badly. But, when the boat on which all the other contestants are partying explodes, killing everyone on board, the selection committee find themselves who choice but to enter the duo and their song Double Trouble, much to the relief of Victor Karlosson, the Central Bank of Iceland governor, who reckons winning would bankrupt them.

Arriving in Edinburgh for the contest, they get to meet all the other country’s entrants, most specifically Russia’s preening, fake tan lothario Alexander Lemtov (a brilliant Dan Stevens) with his homoerotic entry Lion of Love who sets his sights on seducing Sigrit, getting Greek contestant Mita Xenakis (Melissanthi Mahut) to distract Lars. The whole romantic subplot (Sigrit wants love, Lars is too scared to get involved) lumbers badly as the relationship strains at the seams, McAdams feeling somewhat constrained and uncomfortable in her performance while, by contrast,  Ferrell again serves up his silly man child excesses and penis jokes that have long ceased to be particularly funny.

There is, though, much fun to be had in the over the top costumes and musical elements, kicking off with Fire Saga’s wonderfully ridiculous Volcano Man video with Lars in Viking costume and running through the different country’s entries (any of which could have been actual Eurovision songs, such as Swedish hip-hop outfit Johnny John John’s Coolin’ With Da Homies) to the giant hamster wheel disaster during the duo’s semi-finals performance and the big finale where, hitting her semi-mythical “speorg note,”  Sigrit gets to sing her self-penned Icelandic anthem, Homeland.

There’s also an exuberant ‘song-along’ sequence at Lemtov’s house as all the guests, who include actual former Eurovision stars, among the Austrian drag queen winner Conchita, in a mash-up of Believe, Ray of Light, Waterloo and I Gotta Feeling, while 2017 Portuguese winner Salvador Sobral cameo as  piano-playing busker.  It slips up on some of the technical details (Eastern European hosts in Edinburgh?), but at least Graham Norton appears as his sarcastic self as the UK commentator, whose observations on the Icelandic entry might well also apply to the film itself.  (Netflix)

The Invisible Man (15)

All the best horror films know that’s it’s what you don’t see is the scariest, letting the imagination build the tension. That’s the premise of writer-director Leigh Whannell’s reimagining of the HG Wells classic as a thriller that, for all its increasingly far-fetched developments and plot holes, is a genuinely suspenseful watch, the use of long shots and empty space adding to the creepiness in suggesting someone watching unseen.

The film opens in the middle of the night with architect Cecilia (Elizabeth Moss)  surreptitiously gathering her things and sneaking out of the high-tech and high security house she shares with her controlling, abusive boyfriend, Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen),an inventor who specialises in light, leaving him drugged in bed.  She’s met by her sister, Emily (Harriet Dyer), driving off just as Adrian arrived and attacks the car.

Some weeks later, she’s taken refuge at the home of her Bay Area police detective friend James (Aldis Hodge) and his teenage daughter, Sydney (Storm Reid), too scared to step outside the house.  But then Emily arrives to say Adrian’s apparently committed suicide, so good news all round. She’s then surprised to learn from his attorney brother Tom (Michael Dorman), that he left her $5million, to be paid in monthly instalments, part of which she immediately puts into an account to pay for Sydney’s college. But then she starts feeling uneasy, as if someone’s watching her and, diagnosed as having excess Diazepam in her blood after fainting at an interview, her architectural drawings mysteriously no longer in her portfolio, she find the pills bottle she dropped in fleeing now in her bathroom and realises that someone Adrian is stalking her, somehow alive and invisible (using a suit and advanced digital imaging it’s later explained) rather than from beyond the grave.

Naturally no-one believes her and given events for which she’s seemingly responsible, including murder, she’s duly diagnosed as crazy and locked up in a mental hospital, unable to clear her name. And it just gets worse until she finally begins to fight back.

While Adrian is clearly gaslighting her, the film makes it clear that she’s not paranoid and imaging things, something that wouldn’t work if Moss, fresh from The Handmaid’s Tale, wasn’t so convincing when she’s shown struggling with an invisible presence throwing her around  the room and in also investing Cecilia with such emotional intensity as she, understandably, unravels. The supporting cast are disappointingly one-dimensional and only really there to serve the narrative, Whamell drawing on some tried and tested horror tropes such as doors opening by themselves and blankets being pulled of a bad to add to the chills, but also underlaying the screenplay with a commentary on abuse victims often being invisible themselves and remaining terrorised long after the abuser has vanished from the scene. It falls apart slightly at the all too conveniently pat ending, but otherwise  it’s a case of what you don’t see really getting you. (Empire Great Park)

Joan of Arc (12A)

Set in 1492, Bruno Dumont’s sequel to  Jeanette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc (again starring the now  10-year old Lise Leplat Prudhomme) details  the final months of her life after failing to capture Paris and being brought to trial for heresy, defying the king (Fabrice Luchini) and wearing men’s clo

thing and eventually burnt at the stake. It is, however, an inert piece of work, characterised by long static scenes such as Joan standing along looking to the skies to the sound of interior monologues in the form of electronic pop songs in an eerie falsetto by the late, then 73-year-old, French former pop star Christophe  (the previous film had heavy metal). There’s talk of battles, but none are seen and much of the early going involves different characters talking in the middle of sand dune, some suggesting he might appeal to her soldiers’ basic instincts rather than their piety,  while the latter, trial, section has assorted  priests doing much the same in a  cathedral, keen to delegate any responsibility for her death to the secular authorities.

A series of stylised, starkly staged consultations, prayers and pronouncements, it barely registers a heartbeat, although Prudhomme has a compelling blank charisma and there is an inspired sequence, shot both at ground level and overhead, of Joan putting her cavalry through a bizarre pre-battle dressage display. Even so, you need to be a real Dumont fan to sit through it. (VoD)

Little Women (U)

Louis May Allcott’s evergreen 19th century novel gets another rework as a coming of age dramady at the hands of  director Greta Gerwig. Set during and after the American Civil War, it tells of the four March sisters, the eldest, family beauty Meg (Emma Watson), independent-minded aspiring writer Jo (Saoirse Ronan), petulant Amy (Florence Pugh) and  piano-playing Beth (Eliza Scanlen), as they search to find their identities. Here, Jo is already tutoring in New York and working on becoming an author, hot-headed Amy is in Paris studying painting and acting as companion to her cantankerous, imperious spinster aunt (Meryl Streep) who’s attempting to steer her into  the marriage market, Meg has given up acting ambitions and is married to impoverished schoolteacher John Brooke (James Norton) with two kids, and Beth, the youngest, well, she’s the sickly tragic one. Laura Dern is quietly excellent as their mother, Marmie,  trying to cope in reduced circumstances with her abolitionist husband (Bob Odenkirk) away at war serving as a chaplain, and Timothee Chalamet (who starred with Ronan in Lady Bird) is puckish, childhood friend Laurie who, living a dissolute life having fled to Europe heartbroken  when Jo rejected his proposal, may well still be a flame in Amy’s heart, except, of course, she’s resentful of being second best to Jo.  Meanwhile,  Friedrich Bhaer, the German academic and Jo’s fatherly mentor in  has been reinvented as a considerably younger French language professor romantic interest (Louis Garrel), although his forthright opinions on her work don’t get things off to a promising start,  while Chris Cooper is perfectly cast as the family neighbour,  Laurie’s grandfather, who takes a fatherly interest in Beth.

Its feminist note is struck early one as Jo negotiates the anonymous publication of one of her – or rather’ ‘a friend’s’ stories with Mr. Dashwood (Tracy Letts), editor of the Weekly Volcano, who advises that, if she has a heroine then she has to be married at the end, or dead, opting to retain her own copyright and haggling over the fee. The film’s title, of course, refers to the quasi autobiographical novel about her and her family’s life, one of sibling rivalry (including a particularly vindictive act by Amy) and romantic and health crises, and the scene of Jo watching it being assembled and printed is a wonderful reminder of  an almost lost art.

It’s all a bit overly busy early on and the constant switching between past and present can prove confusing, but it eventually settles down, it looks terrific, the performances are uniformly excellent, with Ronan and Pugh especially brilliant, and staying true to the book’s knowing  compromise of a happy ending while simultaneously celebrating female empowerment this is destined to become a modern classic. (Empire Great Park)

Military Wives (PG)

Following on from Fisherman’s Friends, here’s another feelgood true story adaptation of people coming together to make music. Directed by Peter Cattaneo, whose The Full Monty also serves as a template, as does Calendar Girls, it tells the story of the first group of military wives, later to feature in the Gareth Malone BBC series, to form an amateur choir to help them cope with things while their partners were away on active duty. Indeed, the closing credits feature the dozens of similar choirs that have sprung up worldwide.In the film’s case, it’s the women at a fictional army base where, in the opening, the soldiers are departing for Afghanistan, leaving the spouses to find ways of passing the time and not thinking about what might happen, especially when, as here, communications are down. As, respectively, the starched, prim and proper wife of the ranking officer (Greg Wise) and  the down to earth Irish wife of the staff sergeant, it’s the job of Kate (Kristen Scott Thomas), who recently lost her son in combat, and  Lisa (Sharon Horgan), who runs the base’s convenience store, to organise activities, such as knitting (a disaster) or painting. Then newly arrived newlywed Sarah (Amy James-Kelly) suggests forming a choir, prompting Kate (who wants to sing classics and hymns) to take charge, ostensibly delegating to Lisa (who favours pop hits, like Only You and Time After Time), but unable to avoid butting in, naturally prompting ongoing friction between the pair that comes to a head as the film launches into its third act.

Utterly predictable (chaotic rehearsals gradually gel into a decent ensemble, personalities clash, someone’s husband dies) and full of stock characters (bossy one, hot-headed one, tone deaf one, Cockney one, shy one with great voice – Welsh, inevitably) that include Jason Flemyng in the thankless underwritten role as the base commander, it winds a path from a  public debut that goes horribly wrong to  the finale where, after a bust-up between Kate and Lisa over lyrics used in their self-penned song drawn from the wives’ letters sent and received, they head to London after being invited to perform at the Royal Albert Hall Festival of Remembrance, complete with one member’s race against the clock in a clapped out car to join them.

Scrappily told with an undeveloped and unexplained subplot plot involving friction between Lisa and her mouthy teenage daughter (India Ria Amarteifio), nevertheless, for all its manipulative sentimentality and formulaic crowd-pleasing feel good moments, it emerges as a heartwarming, inspirational and touching tale of female friendship and how, as the song has it, they are ‘stronger together’ and that, like the choir, ultimately hits all the right notes. (Empire Great Park)

Misbehaviour (12A)

Give it’s all a matter of historical record, these aren’t spoilers, but the 1970 Miss World contest of November 20  at the Royal Albert Hall, hosted by Bob Hope, was especially memorable for three reasons. It was the first time a black South African (Miss Africa South) was entered alongside a white contestant in an attempt to defuse anti-apartheid critics like Peter Hain, and the first time a girl of colour, Jennifer Huston, the very first Miss Grenada, was crowned winner but even more so because, broadcasting live across the world on BBC TV, chaos erupted when, midway into Hope’s  routine (with a gag about women’s feeling that could have been written with Harvey Weinstein in mind), a group of women (so called ‘women’s libbers’) disrupted proceedings with shouts, rattles, banners, flour bombs and replica guns. Among them were University College London history mature student and middle-class mother Sally Alexander, who hoped to change the system from within, and the more in your face, graffiti spraying working-class feminist activist Jo Robinson, here played, respectively, by Keira Knightly and Jessie Buckley. Initially, at least in this retelling, antagonistic to each other’s attempts to change the patriarchy, the pair first cross paths at a workshop meeting/conference to launch (in not quite historically accurate fashion) Women’s Liberation and then come together through the latter’s feminist group in a mutual fight for female empowerment, central to which was to protest the degrading ‘cattle market’ spectacle of Miss World and beauty contests per se where women were valued for their looks. Indeed, even when Alexander appears before the UCL interview panel, two of the male members write down marks on her looks.

Written by Rebecca Frayn and Gaby Chiappe and directed by Philippa Lowthorpe, while delivering its messages (about both sexism and racism as well as feminism) clearly enough, it plays things in the same dramady vein as Made in Dagenham rather than as some preachy tract and, reinforcing Alexander’s comment during a BBC interview with Robin Day that they were protesting the contest’s nature rather than the contestant, it also turns a lens on those taking part, milking some laughs from the ambivalent bookie’s favourite Miss Sweden (Clara Rosager), prickly over being told what to do, but most specifically hitting emotive notes with Pearl Jansen (Loreece Harrison), Miss Africa South, who came second, and Hosten (an outstanding Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the latter remarking to Alexander in the aftermath that her win would give hope to little girls like herself that they can achieve.

The cast is peppered with familiar faces playing such real life (if not always recognisably so in the case of presenter Michael Aspel) figures as Hope (Greg Kinnear who has the physical mannerisms off pat but little else), his long suffering wife Dolores (Lesley Manville), contest organisers Eric (Rhys Ifans, terrific) and Julia (Keely Hawes) Morley and Phyllis Logan as Sally’s mother while, among Robinson’s crew, the solid supporting cast includes Ruby Bentall and , looking like Rupert Grint’s twin sister, Lily Newmark. Peter Hain

Briskly paced and hugely crowdpleasing viewing, it may simplify complex issues for easy digestion, but it mediates its sense of righteous anger with some unexpectedly touching moments as well as inspiration, the final shots introducing the real-life counterparts, noting that Hosten went on to become High Commissioner to Canada from Grenada, and reminding that, as Alexander says, at the end of the day it’s about having the freedom to make choices and being judged on merit rather than your vital statistics.  (Empire Great Park)

Onward (PG)

The latest outing from Pixar may not reach the emotional heights or inspired storytelling of the Toy Story series, but, even so, it’s still leagues above its rivals in the family animation stakes.  It takes a familiar and well-tested coming-of-age scenario about chalk and cheese siblings learning to work together and understand each other as well as dealing with loss and hurt and gives it a fantasy setting in a world where magic once ruled but has fallen into disuse with the rise of technology such as lightbulbs and planes. Now unicorns scavenge in New Mushroomton’s dustbins and dragons are family pets.

Directed by Dan Scanlon the protagonists are elfin brothers Ian Lightfoot (Tom Holland), an awkward, insecure teenager   overshadowed by his extrovert stoner-like metal-head older brother Barley (Chris Pratt), a snarky  role-playing fantasy gamer and history nut who believes the games are based on old realities and drives a battered van he’s dubbed Gwniver. Together, they live with their outgoing widowed mom, Laurel (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), who’s dating macho centaur cop Colt Bronco (Mel Rodriguez).

On Ian’s 16th birthday, mom presents him with something left by their late father (Scanlon lost his own father when he was one and has no memories of him), which turns out to be a wizard’s staff, a gem and instructions on how to bring dad back to life for a day. Naturally, Barley assumes he has the necessary magic powers, but it turns out that they actually run in Ian’s DNA. Unfortunately, he’s not quite up to the task and the spell falls apart midway, leaving dad as just a pair of legs, prompting the brothers to set off on a quest to find a second gemstone to complete the spell and finally meet and say goodbye to their father before the sun sets.

So, dressing the trousers up Weekend at Bernie’s style with a puffy jacket floppy torso and sunglasses, the pair hit the road (Ian wants to take the shortest route, Barley the path of peril) as the film unfolds into an episodic quest adventure, Bronco and mom in pursuit, that variously involves a run in with a biker gang of tiny flightless pixies, the Manticore (Octavia Spencer), the fabled lion-scorpion-bat warrior whose titular tavern is now a cheesy themed fast food joint that contains the map to the gem’s location (she and mom teaming up as a formidable double act to get to the boys before they unwittingly unleash the curse) and a somewhat rushed climax that pits everyone against a giant rock dragon made up of the town’s demolished school. There’s some delightful moments en route, including a dance scene between brothers and dad’s legs and disguise cloak that only works if the wearer tells the truth (making for an awkward brotherly moment), as Ian learns to become more confident and eventually realise the strength of his relationship with Barley who’s essentially tried to be the dad he never had.  It’s not Up, but it’s definitely facing the right direction. (Empire Great Park)

 

Resistance (12A)

Before he became famous as a mime artist (today celebrated as the greatest ever), Marcel Marceau had an ever more significant impact on history when, as part of the French Resistance, was directly responsible for saving the lives of hundreds of Jewish children from the Nazis. A pity then that Jonathan Jakubowicz’s biopic is such a workmanlike affair as, told in flashback as Ed Harris’s General Patton addresses his troops in 1945 Nuremberg, Jessie Eisenberg wrestles with a French accent  as, initially lacking in empathy Marceau, the son of a Jewish Strasbourg butcher, is recruited by politically active cousin Georges (Géza Röhrig) to entertain a bunch of kids orphaned by the Nazis and, with the help of brother Alain (Félix Moati) and lukewarm love interest Emma (Clémence Poésy), becomes with the Lyon-based  Resistance and outwits  urbane but monstrous Gestapo chief Klaus Barbie (Matthias Schweighöfer as somewhat  of  a parody villain) to get them to safety in Switzerland.

Game of Thrones star Bella Ramsey is compelling as Elspeth, one of the orphans who witnesses her parents executed by the Nazis, and but Eisenberg feels miscast as Marceau (and his mime is nowhere near as fluid), while, for all the drama and tension involved in an enterprise where they could be exposed at any moment, Jakubowicz never really succeeds in bringing the film alive. (Amazon and others)

 

Sonic The Hedgehog (PG)

Surprisingly not the disaster that was anticipated, especially given it had to go back to the drawing board and redesign the look of its titular Sega character after fans were up in arms, this is the latest video game to become a live action feature film, and, mercifully, much better than the abject failure that was Super Mario Bros.

After a cursory back story explaining who this furry blue alien speedball is and why he’s on earth, director Jeff Fowler gets on with the film’s two narratives, the mismatched buddy one as the lonely Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwarz) accidentally causes a major power outage across the entire Pacific  Northwest that sees him teaming up with Tom Wachowski (James Marsden), the sheriff in small town of Green Hills who wants to move to San Francisco so he can get to save somebody’s life and who, dubbed the Do-Nut Lord, Sonic has been secretly stalking (along with Tom’s veterinarian wife, an underused Tika Sumpter) in order to feel part of a surrogate family. The second is, of course, the pursuit of the hero by the crazy megalomaniac bad guy, here in the form of  cyber-genius Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey in, for once, enjoyably vintage over the top form with black coat  and waxed panto villain moustache) and his drones, sent in by the military to capture the alien source.

All of which, after Tom pops Sonic with a  tranquilizer dart that causes his bag of transporter rings to fall though a portal, means they have to head for San Francisco and recover them, Robotnik on their tail, bonding while checking off Sonic’s bucket list, which includes starting a bar fight with a bunch of bikers.

Lighthearted and hugely enjoyable, it romps along with some pretty decent visual effects and a constant stream of rapid fire quips from Sonic along with amusing in-jokes like him watching Speed on TV and reading Flash comics, as well as a message about the need for human contact. With a coda that promises a sequel that seems likely (and welcomingly) to happen,  this may not be supersonic but it’s infinitely more fun  than anyone could possibly have imagined.  (Empire Great Park)

Trolls World Tour (U)

The sequel to the surprisingly fun 2016 hit, this brings back Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake as Queen Poppy and her best friend Branch who saved the Pop trolls world in the first film and now find themselves having to do it again. Except this time, it’s not just Pop world.

As Poppy’s dad reveals, they’re not the only trolls. In fact, there were once six tribes, all of whom had a different type of music, pop, country, techno, funk, classical and rock (with apparently sub-tribes involving yodelling  and K-pop trolls) who lived together until they began to argue about which music was better, leading to them all being split up and confined to their own lands, each with  the string embodying their music from the universal guitar, their new generations unaware of the others’ existence.

But now, however, Queen Barb by Rachel Bloom from the Rock trolls is determined to reunite them all under one music – Hard Rock! But to do this, she needs to eliminate all other musical forms, starting with an invasion of the Techno trolls’ underwater rave party.

What follows is a sort of  sugar rush on steroids with explosions of swirling and pulsating colour, psychedelic musical sequences and a virtual non-stop jukebox of familiar songs, from Girls Just Want To Have Fun to  The Scorpions’ Rock You Like a Hurricane and Daft Punk’s One More Time. Also back on board among the voice cast is James Corden as Biggie with his pet worm Mr. Dinkles, Gwen Stefani as DJ Suki and Ron Funches as Cooper, the pink, green-capped giraffe-like troll who discovers just why he’s always felt a bit different to the other Pop trolls, while joining them are Kelly Clarkson as the Country trolls leader Delta Dawn (a joke country fans will get), Sam Rockwell as Country troll named Hickory,  Jamie Dornan as a Smooth Jazz troll, called what else but Chas, George Clinton and Mary J. Blige as King Quincy and Queen Essence from the Funk trolls,  Kenan Thompson as Tiny Diamond, the newborn hip-hop son of glittery Guy, and, inevitably, Ozzy Osbourne as Thrash, one of the Rock trolls.

Naturally, amid all of this there’s a message about diversity, acceptance and inclusion being important (here, through music) if we want to live together as well as finding your inner happiness. Grown-ups might find it a bit of a headache to watch, but, in these days of gloom and isolation, realising that music can bring us all together has to be worth a watch. (Empire Great Park)

 

A White White Day (15)

Iceland’s unnominated Oscar submission for last year’s Oscars,  opens with a car veering off  through the barriers on a cliff road in the rain and then proceeds through a montage of shifting fixed camera images of an isolated house as it and the landscape changes over the months and seasons. Finally we are introduced to middle-aged police chief Ingimundur (Ingvar Eggert Sigurdsson), who was widowed in the opening accident (and is undergoing therapy), who has brought pre-teen granddaughter, Salka (Ída Mekkín Hlynsdóttir) to live there with her mother. As the film slowly progresses, he comes across evidence that his wife might have been having an affair, and  starts stalking the man he suspects,  even to the extent of joining a rival soccer team. The more disturbed he becomes, the more it affects his relationship with  Salka.

Maybe it’s something to do with the Icelandic sensibility, but it’s a strange, at times detached, film. At one point, Ingimundur throws a large rock he drives over on the clifftop road over the edge and the camera watches it plunge into the ocean over 13 different shots  and then there’s the scene where he tells Salka a bedtime ghost story that would be enough to have anyone hiding under the sheets in terror and a kids TV show featuring an astronaut screaming to viewers how everyone’s going to die. And then there’s the ending.

Enigmatic and challengingly patience-testing say the least, but let it slowly creep up on you and it becomes a haunting experience of grief, loss and emotional breakdown. (VoD)

 

CINEMAS

Cineworld 5 Ways – 181 Broad St, 0871 200 2000 (re-opens July 31)

Cineworld NEC – NEC  0871 200 2000 (re-opens July 31)

Cineworld  – Mill Ln, Solihull 071 200 2000 (re-opens July 31)

The Electric Cinema  – 47–49 Station Street,  0121 643 7879 (currently closed)

Empire – Great Park, Rubery, 0871 471 4714

Empire  Coldfield – Maney Corner, Sutton Coldfield

0871 471 4714 (currently closed)

The Everyman – The Mailbox 0871 906 9060 (currently closed)

MAC – Cannon Hill Park 0121 446 3232 (reopens 2021)

Mockingbird, Custard Factory  0121 224 7456 (currently closed)

Odeon Birmingham -Birmingham, 0871 224 4007 (currently closed)

Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe – Ladywood Middleway, 0333 006 7777 (card payments only)

Odeon West Bromwich – Cronehills Linkway, West Bromwich  0333 006 7777 (currently closed)

Reel – Hagley Rd, Quinton, Halesowen 0121 421 5316 (currently closed)

Showcase Walsall – Bentley Mill Way, Walsall 0871 220 1000 (currently closed)

Vue Star City – Watson Road, 08712 240 240 (re-opens July 31)

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