With cinemas now open this column will review films both screening theatrically and/or on various streaming platforms.
Last Night In Soho (18)
While familiar motifs like London’s underbelly, seedy pubs and retro pop culture still figure, this is something of a new look and style for director Edgar Wright (co-scripted by Krysty Wilson-Cairns), a decided departure from the likes of Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead and Baby Driver as, nodding to Alice Through The Looking Glass (as well as Polanski’s Repulsion), he takes on the ghost story genre in his own idiosyncratic way,.
Titled after the 1968 hit by Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich (which plays over the end credits), it stars Jojo Rabbit’s Thomasin Mackenzie as Eloise, Ellie, a rural Cornish ingénue whose father left and whose mentally disturbed mother (Aimee Cassettari seen in imagined reflections) committed suicide (there’s a suggestion Ellie too has had problems), raised from the age of seven by her grandmother (Rita Tushingham).
Obsessed with the sounds and style of the Swinging 60s (she’s introduced in a self-designed newspaper dress dancing to Peter & Gordon’s World Without Love on her Dansette and the soundtrack is awash with UK hits from the time), she’s thrilled to gained a place at the London School of Fashion, where she’s befriended sensitive romantic interest John (Michael Ajao), to pursue her dreams of becoming a designer.
After an initial bad student digs experience with bitchy fellow student Jocasta (Synnøve Karlse), she takes a room in a house owned by its former cleaner, the elderly Ms Collins (Diana Rigg understatedly brilliant in her last role and to whom the film is dedicated), which is when she starts dreaming she’s back in 1965 Soho (where Sean Connery’s Thunderball has just opened), a doppelganger it would seem for aspiring pop star Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy), her reflection showing when the latter is near a mirror, and vice versa.
Inspired, she designs a pink chiffon dress a la Sandie’s and changes her hair-do, then, in her dreams she/Sandie meets the snappily-dressed smooth-talking Jack (Matt Smith), who’s hanging out with Cilla Black at the Café de Paris, who, after seeing her slinky dance moves, becomes her lover and gets her a gig (auditioning singing a sexier take on the decidedly ironic Downtown) at the Rialto nightclub. Except, as its Puppet On A String routine with scantily clad dancers warns, he is, of course, a wolf in sheep’s clothing who quickly shifts from agent to pimp, as Sandie finds herself in an entirely different line of work.
All this haunts Ellie, as does Jack and the faceless visions of the leering men who use and abuse Sandie, to the point she thinks she might be losing her mind. As the time zones shift back and forth, and she takes a bartending job at The Toucan, a noted Soho watering hole, the ghosts of the past become an increasing presence and threat to Ellie’s sanity and, indeed life, on top of which there’s the mysterious and somewhat sinister camel-coated silver-haired regular (Terence Stamp) who seems to be stalking her.
Things come to a dramatic head when, in her dream, she witnesses and is unable to stop, Jack attacking Sandie with a knife, at which point she visits the police saying she witnessed a murder committed some twenty odd years earlier. Naturally, they don’t take her seriously, which, after toying with hints of schizophrenia and time slips, is when the ghost story digs in to genuinely scary Nightmare on Elm Street levels (though the certificate seems unwarranted) and Wright delivers a wholly unexpected final act twist as a character hitherto a background figure steps into a more crucial role.
Making compelling use of the lighting, all neon reds and blues, and transitioning from one genre to another as it gathers steam, Wright pulls you in to Ellie’s nightmare with a firm grip and refuses to let you shake loose. Not that you will want it to. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Vue)
Chuck Steel: Night Of The Trampires (15)
A feature length claymation sequel to 2013 short Chuck Steel: Raging Balls of Steel Justice, written and directed by Shaun The Sheep veteran Mike Mort, this might best be described as a British answer to Team America: World Police without the political elements but with a lot more gore. Set in 1986, Mort voices Chuck Steel, a steroid-bulked bull in a china shop brick-chinned LA cop who, as the (misleading) opening dream sequence shows, is a walking pit of anger and rage after failing to save his wife from an army of ninjas. Steel is a strict loner, telling his new rookie partner that he dislikes everyone and, after a hair-raising and explosive car chase being summoned to his chief’s office to be dressed down for the destruction to discover the kid has shot himself rather than work with him again. His black boss, Captain Jack Schitt (Mort again), who as the film continues increasingly indulges his cross-dressing, offers him the choice of a new partner, hulking female Swedish cop Ingrid Klutz, a monkey or a pot plant (all of them meet untimely ends in a Dirty Harry in-joke), bawls him out for not attending his therapy sessions with the precinct shrink, Dr Alexis Cula (Jennifer Saunders), who’s encouraging his fellow cops to indulge their repressed fetishes, and sets him to work investigating spate of disappearances that have started happening since the anti-alcohol governor (Dan Russell), who Steel thinks is a lizard from outer space, clamped down on the city’s bars.
These, it’s quickly established through the arrival of Peter Cushing-like Brit expert, Dr Abraham Van Rental (Mort yet again), are the work of trampires, a hybrid of vampires and homeless tramps who prey on the drunk and can only be killed by holy coffee or a stake through the liver (though, as subsequent carnage shows, bullets are pretty effective too). And, after an initial misunderstanding, the pair set off to save the city, finds the Master Trampire and protect the governor when he visits the local circus a bit of a problem since, for reasons later explained, Chuck has a deep hatred of clowns.
The groaning puns that constitute characters’ names gives you a good idea of where this gleefully politically incorrect crude, violent and sweary comedy is coming from, loading on the juvenile sexual humour (penis jokes, shit jokes, being fucked by a pig included) as it wends its way to a spectacularly bloody climax that borrows from Japanese monster duels as much as it does cheesy 80s action fare like any Van Damme or Seagal movie you care to name.
Also featuring voice contribution from Paul Whitehouse as the Wise One (a sort of variation on The Muppets Animal) and Stretch (Russell), a character who keeps coins under his foreskin, the Claymation is brilliantly conceived with perfectionist attention to detail while, dispensing with any form of filter when it comes to being gross or offensive, it steamrollers its way to the end credits and the threat/promise of Chuck and Van Rental taking on werewolf prostitutes. Can’t wait. (Vue)
The French Dispatch (15)
While they may sometimes favour visual aesthetic and quirkiness over heart and soul, Wes Anderson’s films have a unique sensibility that would be impossible to mistake for any other writer-director. Set in the 60s in the fictional provincial French town of Ennui-Sur-Blasé , his latest, a tribute to the New Yorker and in many ways echoing Grand Budapest Hotel, is a compendium piece that hangs three stories around the framing device of the titular newspaper, a satellite of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun, founded, edited and published Arthur Howitzer Jr. (Bill Murray), an eccentric who advises his reporters to “try to make it sound like you wrote it that way on purpose”, whose office sports the sign “No crying” above the door and whose obituary provides another of its narratives.
It opens with a local colour travel piece as Owen Wilson bicycles around the town taking notes before the first ‘article’, “The Concrete Masterpiece”, introduces Tilda Swinton as art critic J.K.L. Berensen (detailing her profile of and art lecture on convicted killer turned modern-art bad boy Moses Rosenthaler (a straggly bearded Benicio del Toro). His abstract nude painting of his prison guard (Léa Seydoux) attracts the interest of fellow inmate and art dealer Julian Cadazio (Adrian Brody) who pays a fortune for it and (with the help of his business partner relatives, Henry Winkler and Bob Balaban) subsequently turns Rosenthaler into a cult figure sensation, leading up to commissioning a whole series of such works, only, three years later as he and a mob of artists force their way into prison, to find the canvases are in fact frescoes and somewhat fixed in place.
The second, Revisions to a Manifesto set to backdrop of student protests that escalate into the “”Chessboard Revolution” and shot mostly in black and white, is by politics writer Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand) who, journalist objectivity be damned, finds herself attracted to young radical Zeffirelli B. (Timothée Chalamet), whose campaigning for the right to free access to the girls’ dormitory, takes his virginity and knocks his manifesto into shape as they share a bed. Featuring Lyna Khoudri as Zeffirelli’s fellow activist girlfriend, Juliette, and a cameo by Christoph Waltz as a pretentious art collector, events father to a siege and a tragedy as Zeffirelli becomes the symbol of the revolutionary movement.
The third, The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner, which features Willem Dafoe as an incarcerated mob accountant and an animated chase sequence, entails a talk show interview by Liev Schreiber with food writer Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright), a James Baldwin-like gay dilettante with a photographic memory of every word he’s written whose nascent journalistic talent Howitzer spotted and encouraged. Wright recalls the crazy kidnapping of the Commisaire’s (Mathieu Almaric) son by a gang that includes Edward Norton and Saoirse Ronan and an unlikely poisoned cuisine rescue involving police offer and chef Lt. Nescaffier (Stephen Park). Finally, narrated by Anjelica Huston, comes the aforementioned obituary as the paper’s staff, also including cartoonist Jason Schwartzman and Griffin Dunne’s Legal Advisor, gather to plan the final edition.
With a design that includes shifting stage scenery, cross-sections, painted backdrops, animation, split screen images of Ennui then and now, and a plethora of in jokes about the New York and Paris art scenes of the period (look for the Modern Physics pinball machine), it’s ultimately a patchwork of loosely connected shaggy dog stories in celebration of journalists and journalism in a modern world of fake news, ephemeral sound bites and banality in the quest for web hits. It may be more about style and substance, but it’s a real joy to get your fingers inky watching. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; MAC; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Vue)
The Addams Family 2 (PG)
A follow-up to 2019’s somewhat lacklustre animation reboot, this is a far superior affair even if it does follow a familiar teen-angst narrative with Wednesday (Chloë Grace Moretz) questioning who she is and her fit within her family (she refuses hugs), as well as a staple road trip plot to afford family bonding time. Opening with Wednesday presenting her project at the school science fair, she dazzles everyone with her experiment in which she is able to transfer her pet octopus’s personality and intelligence into the body of her Uncle Fester (Nick Kroll), but is understandably put out when everyone is declared the competition winner. She does, however, seriously impress the competition sponsor, high flier scientist Cyrus Strange (Bill Hader), who invites her to come and work with him at his lab, sharing the secret to her formula about combining animal and human traits. Naturally, she refuses, but the whole experience only serves to exacerbate her feeling of being an outsider, her mother, the cooly regal Morticia (Charlize Theron), unable to lighten her gathering melancholy.
Which prompts her father, Gomez (Oscar Isaac), to suggest they all (pet lion Kitty included) take off in their creaky oversized camper van (“half car, half eyesore!” declares Fester), for a three-week cross country trip visiting such suitably Addams-friendly spots as Salem, Sleepy Hollow and Death Valley. As they’re about to set off, however, they’re accosted by an attorney (Wallace Shawn) who claims that, in fact, Wednesday is not their daughter at all, but was switched at birth in a hospital mix-up (cue flashback of Fester juggling babies) and he wants to return her to her real family.
This provides a series of episodic stopovers and accompanying events as, pursued by the lawyer and his hulking henchman, Fester, who’s developed a curious desire to be in water and whose one arm has turned into a tentacle (cue a subsequent testicles/tentacles gag), takes the van, driven by Thing (the disembodied hand), on a detour to Niagara Falls. Here Wednesday uses her voodoo rag doll to take control of brother Pugsley (Javon Walton), making him do a hip hop dance routine in front of some girls he’s trying to impress, before (as part of her ongoing attempts at his demise) sending him flying into falls.
Moving on to the Grand Canyon (which Pugsley demolishes with his explosives obsession), Wednesday administers a DNA test that confirms her suspicions and, accompanied by family butler Lurch (co-director Conrad Vernon), sneaks off to find her real father who, wouldn’t you know it, is apparently Strange, who, it turns out, as a very bird-like wife and a porcine daughter.
Largely focused around Wednesday and her mordant wit, the film gleefully digs into the dark and creepy elements of the original comic strip while peppering it with assorted pop culture references (Gomez declares Billie Eilish a little too sunny for his taste, Strange snaps “‘pipe down Elvira” to Morticia) and, during a detour at a Little Miss Jalapeño Pepper contest in Texas, Wednesday, forced into sporting a big blonde wig for a song routine, a knowing nod to the prom scene in Carrie. And, since this is essentially a film for kids, a series of poo jokes, before a fabulous mutant monsters show down between a giant Festerpus and a very Strangegryphon.
There’s also a fabulously camp scene as, she and Lurch on their way to Sausalito, they find themselves at a biker’s roadbar (yup, Motorhead’s on the soundtrack) where, told to show them what his hands can do, Lurch takes to the piano for a falsetto rendition of I Will Survive that has everyone on the dance floor. All that plus Grandma Addams (Bette Midler) turning the mansion into a nightclub while the folks are away and a guest appearance by hairy behatted Cousin It (Snoop Dogg) who, it transpires, is now a rap superstar with his own private jet! An early family Halloween treat with a family hug and be who you are message wrapped up in the candies. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Vue)
The Boss Baby 2 (PG)
Set some years after the inspired original with its concept of newborns being despatched from an organisation known as Baby Corp, Tim (James Marsden) and his erstwhile BC exec younger brother Ted (an enjoyably snarky Alec Baldwin) have grown up and apart, the former a stay at home dad married (to breadwinner Eva Longoria) and raising two daughters, the latter a billionaire hedge-fund businessman with no memory of his Boss Baby years. Tim is worried that his eldest, Tabitha (Ariana Greenblatt), a bright grade schooler with a goldfish named Dr. Hawking, is starting to pull away from him, but he has bigger concerns on discovering that her infant sister, Tina (Amy Sedaris) can talk and that she’s a Boss Baby from Baby Corp. Her mission is to bring the two brothers back together to infiltrate Tabitha’s school where the administrator, Dr. Armstrong (Jeff Goldblum) is seeking to turn all the children into high achieving geniuses as part of his devious plan for, yes, world domination, to remove all parents. As such, Tim and Ted must drink the magic milk that will revert them to their child states and attempt to discover exactly what Armstrong is up to.
The countdown to save the world and the sibling bonding themes are staple plot devices, and, other than a message about not making children grow up too soon, the film’s pedestrian narrative doesn’t do much new with them, happy instead to serve up a hyperactive string of brightly coloured slapstick sequences and 1980s pop-culture throwaways, although scenes of the boyhood Tim, calling himself Marcus Lightspeed, befriending his insecure daughter are quite touching. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Vue)
The Courier (12A)
Based on real life events, written by Tom O’Connor and directed by Dominic Cooke, Benedict Cumberbatch gives a solid, underplayed performance as Greville Wynne, a salesman representing various manufacturing companies, who, at the height of the Cold War, was recruited by MI6 and the CIA (respectively represented by Angus Wright and Rachel Brosnahan) to travel to Moscow and make contact with Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze), a Soviet colonel who, alarmed by Kruschev’s increasingly volatile nuclear rhetoric, has indicated he’s ready to pass on information to help prevent mutually assured destruction. The thinking is that, as someone with no obvious political connections, Wynne is unlikely to attract KGB attention.
Unable to tell his wife (Jessie Buckley) the real reason for his regular trips to Russia, she suspects he’s having another affair while Penkovsky’s wife also remains oblivious to her husband’s actions in smuggling photos out by Wynne in the build up to the Cuban Missile Crisis. Unfolding with a cool tension in secret meetings where the fear of discovery or being bugged is ever present, it sits well alongside similar espionage films like Bridge of Spies and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. As history tells, the subterfuge was eventually uncovered, leading to a darker third act when Cumberbatch, shaved headed and looking increasingly emaciated, is banged up in a Russian prison, being interrogated to confess he actually knew what he was carrying for Penkovsky (it’s suggested he didn’t, hence plausible deniability) before the British government negotiated an exchange for his release.
Sharply scripted and with a strong chemistry between Cumberbatch and Ninidze as the two men develop a genuine friendship (Wynne called him Alex), Wynne secretly rather enjoying his adventure, ticking the usual genre conventions without them appearing like clichés, the film revealing the heroic – and costly – role he and Penkovsky (codenamed Ironbark by the CIA) played in ending the Cuban standoff, Oleg remarking over a shared meal “We are just two people, but this is how things change.”
Its low key, period thriller nature might not be a big audience grabber, but as an inspiring story of human decency and sacrifice for the greater good, it’s one that deserves to be told and deserves to be seen. (BT Film Store, Sky Store, Virgin; MAC)
The Croods : A New Age (PG)
A belated sequel to the 2013 animation about a stone-age family, following a quick reminder, this picks up shortly after the original with overprotective dad Grug (Nicolas Cage) still not happy with the idea that teenage daughter Eep (Emma Stone) has struck up a romantic relationship with more evolved outsider, Guy (Ryan Reynolds). Here, though, we learn more about him in an opening sequence in which his late parents send him off in search of his tomorrow before they’re drowned in tar. Giving Eep an eternity rock, they plan to set off on their own path and way from the smelly sleep pile, until, as they, Grug and the rest of the family, wife Ugga (Catherine Keener), numbskull son Thunk (Clark Duke), Gran (Cloris Leachman) and feral five-year-old Sandy are out foraging with their giant pet sabretooth, Chunky, in search of a new home after their cave was destroyed, come across a walled day-glo Eden stuffed with watermelons, berries and all manner of food.
This, it turns out, is the home of The Bettermans, Phil (Peter Dinklage) and Hope (Leslie Mann) and their daughter Dawn (Kelly Marie Trann), an advanced new agey flip-flops-wearing family who’ve invented nicer pale blue clothes, agriculture, irrigation, showers, lifts, indoor plumbing (cue toilet gag) and live in set of a luxury tree apartments. They, it transpired, knew Guy as a child and it was here that his parents were sending him. Now, socioeconomic snobs, they want to pair Dawn off with Guy and be red of the Croods as soon as possible, all under the guise of being friendly and doing it for their new guests’ best interests of a bright future beyond the garden.
Meanwhile, Eep and Dawn bond and take off on Chunk on the latter’s first adventure beyond the walls, proudly scoring her first scar, Thunk has become a prehistoric app social media zombie watching the world through his ‘window’ and Phil has a manipulative man to man chat with Grug in his man cave sauna, persuading him to agree to them taking Guy off his hands. The climax hinges on Grug defying Phil’s sole rule and eating all the bananas which, turns out to be a bad thing, since they are in fact the only thing keeping the Bettermans’ paradise safe from a tribe of quick to learn punch monkeys and, in turn, a giant mandrill-like answer to King Kong.
Naturally, all this builds up to messages about family, parenting, acceptance, living in harmony and, as, led by Gran, a warrior in her day, the women come to the rescue as the Thunder Sisters, a big dose of female empowerment. There’s some great sight gags, such as Guy poring over a scrapbook of old family cave drawings as well as big action sequences like the Croods battling the predatory kangadillos as they race through a canyon all set against an often surreal and psychedelic looking landscape inhabited with things like land sharks and Wolf-Spiders. The voice work is excellent, Cage, Stone and Dinklage taking the honours, the banter witty, satirical, knowing and peppered with in jokes. If you are of a mind, you can even read into it a political message about a divided America, but probably best to just be a kid, ride the prehistoric rollercoaster and enjoy the silliness. And the peanut toe. (Vue)
Dear Evan Hansen (12A)
It used to be that musicals where mainly love stories, occasionally about nannying neglected children or the odd carnivorous plant. That was then, but now the backdrop is far wider, the recent adaptation of true story high school drag queen be who you are Everyone’s Talking About Jamie now followed by the film version of the hit stage musical based around autism, depression, loneliness and suicide with songs by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul of La La Land-The Greatest Showman fame.
Ben Platt, who originated the Broadway role, again plays Evan, a pathologically shy high-school senior on prescription drugs who has no friends other than Jared (Nik Dodani), and even he insists he’s only a family friend. He’s also in therapy, and, as such, has been told to write himself confidence boosting letters. One of these, in which he talks about not having the courage to talk to the girl he fancies, Zoe (Kaitlyn Dever), is stolen by her brother, aggressive depressive student Connor Murphy (Colton Ryan), after being the only one to sign Evan’s cast on his broken arm. Evan is in fear he’ll post it on social media. Instead, he’s called to the principal’s office to see Connor’s mother (Amy Adams) and stepdad (Danny Pino) and learns that their son has committed suicide. They found the letter in his pocket and assumed he’d written it to Evan, giving them comfort as they thought he had no friends. Rather than setting them straight, Evan, not wishing to upset them further and pleased to feel valued, agrees, from which point things get increasingly out of control, fabricated texts between him and Connor, becoming a sort of surrogate son to his parents, getting involved with the vulnerable Zoe (who was estranged from her brother and believed he hated her) and getting caught up in an appeal launched by head girl Alana (Amandla Stenberg) to turn the derelict apple orchard where Connor used to go as a child and where he says they became friends when he helped him after he broke his wrist falling from a tree. All of which finds Evan suddenly surrounded by new ‘friends’ and his moving eulogy becoming a viral sensation. Inevitably, at some point, the deception is uncovered.
Directed by The Perks of Being a Wallflower’s Stephen Chbosky, opening with Waving Through A Window, a number about teen alienation, the various characters deliver a clutch of strong, emotionally potent songs, including a solo from Julianne Moore as Evans’ overworked nurse single mother, Platt and Dever’s affecting duet Only Us and the heartaching Requiem which cross cuts between Connor’s family, a new addition being The Anonymous Ones sung by Stenberg. Building to a genuinely tear-jerking finale and with its theme of the importance of friendship, it deserves your response. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC; Odeon Birmingham; Vue)
Originating in 1965, Frank Herbert’s impenetrable allegorical science fiction beset-seller novel went on to spawn five sequels, various TV mini-series and a 1984 big screen epic adaptation directed (and disowned) by David Lynch that proved a critical and box office disaster and is probably best remembered for the sight of Sting basically wearing a nappy.
It’s now been given a new lease of life at the hands of Denis Villeneuve with the sort of budget that could feed a small country for a century. The good news is that it’s money well spent, a monumentally-scaled spectacular that looks visually awesome and, unlike the original, has the perfect casting it needs to deliver the vision.
The last words spoken, by Fremen desert warrior Chani (Zendaya), are “This is only the beginning”, something which audiences only discover when the title card announces that this is Part 1 (Part 2 is yet to be filmed), the tale beginning by recounting how the planet Arrakis is the source of ‘spice’, a hallucinogenic substance that both extends life and fuels space travel. Mining it is a lucrative business, one which the ruthless House Harkonnen, headed by the floating Baron (Stellan Skarsgård) back on the stark Giedi Prime, and enforced by his brutal nephew (Dave Bautista), has overseen for 80 years, repressing the native blue-eyed Fremen (among them Javier Bardem’s chief Stilgar) who regard them as exploiters and oppressors.
However, it’s now 10191 and the Emperor has decreed that stewardship of Arrakis should be handed over to House Atreides from the oceanic planet Caladan, in the person of Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac, assured) who, along with his longtime concubine, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson, enigmatic) and son Paul (a quietly charisma exuding Timothée Chalamet), duly take up residence on the arid planet with its vast swathes of desert sand, unbearable heat and the deadly giant sandworms. The Duke is, however, under no illusions that this is some sort of gift, declaring that he’s been set up to fail and, with Atreides a growing threat to the Emperor’s rule, a step towards their annihilation.
Paul, however, is the stumbling block. While still unsure of himself, he’s a skilled fighter trained by his father’s right-hand man Gurney Halleck (a grizzled and gruff Josh Brolin) and best buddies with Duncan Idaho (a rare unbearded Jason Mamoa), the daring adventurer pilot of one of the dragonfly-winged aircraft, he’s been having dreams of Chani and visions of future events on Arrakis, and there is talk that he may be the Chosen One prophesised by the mystic female order of the Bene Gesserit (of which his mother is one), though, despite an excruciatingly painful test, their Truthsayer (a visually obscured Charlotte Rampling) isn’t persuaded he’s yet ready.
Villeneuve takes his time to build the narrative, carefully layering visual cues concerning its subtext of industrial colonisation of third world countries alongside the political intrigue, eschewing exposition for carefully constructed character development and a gathering air of mystery that, in the figure of Paul, references both the New and Old Testament. But, when the action finally erupts with the invasion of Arrakis, it’s operatic in scale with Rogue One: cinematographer Greig Fraser letting rip in literal explosive style while Hans Zimmer’s score resonates with an appropriate sonic vastness.
For those hungering to fill the void left after The Fellowship of the Rings and Game of Thrones, sharing an essence and intensity with Mad Max and Apocalypse Now (The Baron is like a hovering Kurtz), this is a feast indeed. Here’s hoping the box office yields a second helping. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Vue)
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie (12)
Basically a drag queen Billy Elliot The Musical, this is a big screen adaptation of the West End coming of age hit based on the documentary about Sheffield teen Jamie Campbell who wanted to go to school prom in drag, is an exuberantly feelgood joy directed by the Jonathan Butterell, who did the stage show and featuring the bulk of the original songs along with a stand out new addition. Winningly played by newcomer Max Harwood, the openly gay Jamie New lives with his supportive divorced mum Margaret (Sarah Lancashire) who, rather than see him hurt, hides the fact his homophobic father (Ralph Ineson) wants nothing to do with him, making excuses for no shows and faking birthday cards and presents. Bullied at school, primarily by Dean Paxton (Samuel Bottomley) and disapproved of by his teacher (Sharon Horgan) who tells her pupils they need to have realistic dreams, he’s supported and encouraged in his dream of becoming a drag queen by Muslim best friend Pritti Pasha (an outstanding Lauren Patel), herself battling against petty bigotry as she studies to become a doctor, who persuades him to visit a local drag shop to find a dress to go with the ruby red stilettos his mum bought him. It’s here he meets the shop’s owner, Hugo Battersby (Richard E Grant, wonderful), a former drag queen star as Loco Chanel who becomes his mentor, sells him his legendary ‘blood red dress’ and sets him up for his drag show debut (where, overcoming nerves and the jeers of Paxton and his mates, he dazzles as well as being given his drag name as Mimi Mi). All seems to be going swimmingly, until Jamie meets his dad and learns exactly how he feels (leading to a bust up with his mother for lying to him) and his teacher firmly tells him he’s not going to be allowed into prom if he turns up in a dress.
All of which serves as a platform for some brilliant choreographed set musical pieces that include the original stage title song spectacular and Lancashire’s poignant He’s My Boy alongside the all new This Was Me, a tear-jerker disco ballad performed by Grant (but sung by Holly Johnson) that, an addition to the narrative, affords a flashback to Hugo’s drag queen days backdropped by the AIDs epidemic, the street protests, police gay bashing, Princess Diana’s to patients, and ending with the news of Freddie Mercury’s death.
Featuring appearances by Shobna Gulati as Margaret’s mate Ray and cameos from the theatre production cast by Margaret Campbell who played mum and the original Jamie, John McCrea who plays the young Loco) alongside Drag Race star Bianca del Rio (as herself and the school art teacher) and Layton Williams, the touring version of Jamie, it’s variously touching, funny, heartbreaking (the new addition of a football match where Jamie confronts his father) and inspiring, culminating with the prom where Jamie becomes his true self, his classmates take a stand and Dean finds redemption and it ends with the company’s rousing self-acceptance and mutual tolerance message embodying performance of Out of the Darkness (A Place Where We Belong). Everybody’s talking about Jamie, and rightly so. (Amazon Prime)
Flummels are ring-doughnut shaped creatures with a hole in their middle and who travel like rolling tyres, they live on one of the Galápagos Islands where brother and sister Op (Rachel Bloom) and Ed (Adam Devine) are the tribe’s misfits, she always creating a mess and he a grumpy pessimist who longs to fit in. However, vain flummels leader Jepson (Henry Winkler) and bossy assistant Mali (Alex Borstein) aren’t about to let that happen, Ed being consigned to be friend at the end, a straggler in the upcoming 10th annual flower festival procession. But even that’s denied him when they inadvertently cause a friendly whale to swamp the beach, Op and Ed being consigned to sit the festival out on desolation rock.
Looking to find a way to redeem themselves, Op leads Ed up the far side of the mountain to the forbidden zone in search of some extra special blooms and, falling into a glowing flower, find themselves magically transported to present day Shanghai. Here, lost and confused, they’re helped by Clarence (Ken Jeong), a small white mix-breed Pomeranian that belonged to a now missing scientist who discovered seeds that enabled him to travel in time and visit historic events. He reveals the dreadful truth that, shortly after they left, a volcanic explosion wiped out all flummels, but says that, through Dr Chung’s (Benedict Wong) time terminal he can help them travel back and save their species.
Unfortunately, another Op and Ed accident throws Clarence into a random portal (where he becomes one of explorer Edward Shackleton’s thuggish sled dogs) along with the 1835 seed, leaving them at a loss at what to do. At which point they meet The Extinctables (an in-joke nod to Stallone’s The Expendables), a group of extinct creatures, dodo Dottie (Zazie Beetz), Tasmanian tiger Burnie (Jim Jefferies), Macrauchenia Alma (Catherine O’Hara) and Hoss (Reggie Watts), a baby Triceratops, rescued by Chung, who now live in the time terminal library. They offer to help Op and Ed visit various times to try and find Clarence, eventually recovering the seed that will save the flummels. However, an argument sees Op returning on her own and, at this point, there’s an unexpected twist where Clarence’s motives turn out to be something entirely different to what first appeared.
With a plot that involves time travel loops that Doctor Who might find complicated and the introduction of such characters as a cyclops, the captain of The Beagle (Nick Frost) and his passenger Charles Darwin (Tom Hollander) on its 1917 voyage of discovery, as well as offering snippets of historical information, this is directed by David Silverman who made The Simpsons Movie and written by three of The Simpsons scriptwriters. As such, while aimed at youngsters and borrowing from films like Ice Age, there’s also plenty of sly – and at times risqué – humour for the adults too (Clarence says his mom was ‘social’, an interspecies romance and, a laugh out loud cannibal-joke as Op bites into an actual doughnut and splatters a horrified Ed with jam), plus of course it comes with an upstanding message about courage, being true to yourself and the power of friendship and all the characters have very definite personalities. An unexpected delight. (Sky Cinema)
The Green Knight (12A)
Adapted from the anonymous epic 14th-century poem which related how the court of King Arthur (Sean Harris) is visited one Christmas Day by a mysterious green knight (Ralph Ines on), who, looking like some tree deity, challenges the knights to give him a blow on him, on the provision he returns the same one year hence. Looking to earn himself hero stripes, Gawain (Dev Patel), the nephew of the king and queen (Kate Dickie), strikes off the knight’s head, only for the body to pick it up and ride off to await a return visit in the Green Chapel.
As written and directed by David Lowery, this is not, however, the sort of sword and sorcery film you might expect. Rather, it’s an arty, mystical meditation on themes of honour, masculinity and the desire for immortality, Patel’s Gawain first seen as an unambitious dissolute ne’er do well given to booze and brothels who takes up the challenge (using Excalibur, though neither it nor Arthur are referred to by name) as a quick way to elevate his status and become a knight, his regular shag, Essel (Alicia Vikander), dreaming of being his “lady”.
After a year of basking in his notoriety, but conscious of what fate may await, as Christmas approached he sets out to keep his bargain, armed with the Green Knight’s giant axe and a magic girdle given him his sorceress mother (Sarita Choudhury), that, a bit of a cheat, will keep him from harm. As he goes upon his Pilgrim’s Progress-like journey, he finds his courage, morality and convictions tested by those he encounters, among then a bandit trickster (Barry Keoghan) who robs him and leaves him for dead, a woman asking him to recover her decapitated head from a lake, and a flirtatious Lord (a sly Joel Egerton) and his alluring Lady (Vikander again), the latter of whom seeks to tempt him to her bed (and gets him to ejaculate over the magic girdle she has someone acquired and returned) before finally arriving at his appointed destiny.
Lowery conjures a world characterised by decay, both physical and moral, in a transition between pagan and Christian, that makes for an atmospheric backdrop, but rather tends to overdo the otherworldly mystery with the likes of the blindfolded old woman at the Lord’s castle, Gawain’s mother’s spells and fellow witches, the talking fox companion he acquires and the sight through the morning mist of a breastfeeding giant walking across the land with her fellows, none of which are ever explained and some of which, like Gawain’s vision of his future if he defaults on his bargain, may all be in his head.
Patel makes for a compelling flawed vulnerable hero beset by doubt, insecurity and internal confusion while the support cast afford a tapestry of subtle colours as Lowery weaves an intoxicating visual magic even as his cryptic telling resists easy access, its deep pleasures only truly surfacing as you look back after viewing. (Amazon Prime)
The Guilty (15)
A remake of the claustrophobic Danish thriller of the same name and played out pretty much note for note, directed by Antoine Fuqua, this is a largely (and electrifying) one-man turn by Jake Gyllenhaal as Joe Baylor, an asthmatic LA police officer resentful of having been demoted to the job of a 911 call handler while awaiting trial for a never specified misdemeanour. His marriage has also fallen apart, and he can’t get to speak to his young daughter.
It’s the night shift and his routine involves taking calls from assorted drunks, a man robbed by a sex worker, those caught up in the wildfire and others who want their problems solved, ascertaining location and then assigning the appropriate services. Then, he gets one from a woman, Emily (Riley Keough), who, in frightened tones, tells him she’s been abducted and is in the car, pretending she’s phoning her toddler daughter, Abby, to reassure her she’s okay. Joe’s instincts kick in and he makes desperate calls to try and find her, eventually speaking to her daughter, establishing she’s in a white van, that she’s been taken by her ex-husband, who did time for assault, that he has a knife and that the children, the little girl and a baby, are home alone and one has been seriously injured.
As the clock ticks away and the crisis, like the fires, heats up, Joe becomes ever more concerned and ever more intense in his efforts, losing it with fellow officers, those he calls who don’t seem to be responding as quickly as he wants and Emily’s ex, Henry (Peter Sarsgaard), when he gets him on the line, and Gyllenhaal, on headset and iPhone, ramps up the emotions and delivery accordingly, while also juggling calls to his estranged wife and a persistent reporter who wants his side to the story being trialled the next day.
Those who’ve seen the original will know about the devastating surprise third act twist, but if not I’ll say nothing to spoil the shock other than it throws a new light on the film’s title. With Ethan Hawke adding to the disembodied voices as Joe’s former sergeant, the support cast deliver solid support but, often shot in sweaty close up, it is Gyllenhaal who is front and centre throughout, his efforts to save Emily clearly some sort of attempt at personal salvation amid the fuck up he’s made of his life, adding an extra edge to the final sequence. Riveting. (Netflix)
Gunpowder Milkshake (15)
Abandoned (for her own good) as a youngster (Freya Allan) by her contract killer mother Scarlet (Lena Headey) when a job involving some nasty Russians went sour, Sam (a cool Karen Gillan) now works doing likewise for the same shady organisation of businessmen gangsters, The Firm, whose overseer, Nathan (Paul Giamatti), took her under his wing. She’s very good at what she does, and after each job she likes to unwind at the neutral zone diner with a large ice cream milkshake.
Unfortunately, history repeats itself when, on her latest contract to recover some stolen Firm money, she unwittingly kills the son of a powerful Russian mobster whom her employers don’t want to upset, thus removing the protection she enjoys, and sending her on the run, during the course of which she acquires a cute 8-year-old, 8 Emily (My Spy’s Chloe Coleman) whose dad stole the money to pay her ransom and who she killed (though, to be fair, she shot him in a tussle and did take him to the hospital) and reunites with her ‘aunts’ in The Sisterhood, Anna May (Angela Bassett), Florence (Michelle Yeoh) and Mathilde (Carla Gugino), three fellow assassins who run The Library, a brilliantly imagined sanctuary where assorted weapons are stored inside the books on the shelves. Needless to say, at some point, after 15 years, mum resurfaces too.
A sort of female action spin on John Wick with liberal helpings of Kill Bill and Bad Times at the El Royale that plays with the same wink in its eye, it rattles along as Sam is pursued by both an army of Russian goons and The Firm’s bumbling enforcers (taking them on while her arms are temporarily paralysed and they’re under the influence of laughing gas), rescues Emily from the kidnappers by way of a bravura sequence at a bowling alley using a bowling ball as a deadly weapon, a guns blazing, chain, hammers and tomahawk-wielding shoot out at The Library To the sound of The Animals cover It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue and a final showdown at the diner. Also thrown into the mix is Ralph Ineson as Sam’s decidedly off his head father and a fight involving a suitcase handle. With an ending that demands both a sequel and prequel, it knows it’s just colourful, blood spattered popcorn fun and clearly relishes every mouthful. (Sky Cinema/NOW)
Halloween Kills (18)
Forty-three years on since the first film, this picks up right after the end of returning director David Gordon Green’s 2018 entry into the franchise, Halloween, that saw Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) being rushed to hospital by her daughter, Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichack), after being badly wounded, believing the insane masked murderer Michael Myers (variously played here by James Jude Courtney, Nick Castle and Airon Armstrong) aka The Shape to be trapped in the burning basement of her home. But, after eleven films, if one thing’s for sure it’s that he seems impossible to kill. And sure enough, after a prologue where, out celebrating Halloween, Allyson’s boyfriend Cameron (Dylan Arnold), comes across a badly wounded cop (Will Patton) and a recreated flashback to events four decades earlier (including a passable Donald Pleasence lookalike as Loomis) where his dad (Robert Longstreet) had a narrow escape, we see Myers emerging from the inferno and massacring a crew of first responders before setting off on another bloody spree.
Meanwhile, Laurie’s friend Tommy (Anthony Michael Hall), who she babysat as a kid, rallies the people of Haddonfield, among them the now older survivors from the original, Lindsey (Kyle Richards) and Marion (Nancy Stephens) reprising their roles, into a vigilante mob chanting evil dies tonight. Well, despite their best efforts, including a pitchfork in the back, various bullets and a knife to the neck, naturally, and this is hardly a spoiler, it doesn’t, leaving the stage set for yet another confrontation between Michael and Laurie in the next sequel, Halloween Ends, where, having spent most of this film in a hospital bed, Curtis will presumably have a far more hands-on role.
As such, there’s not exactly much of a plot, just a series of brutally visceral murders as the body count rises and rises, rather narrowing down the returning cast list next time around, all of which Green mounts with efficiency even if, by now, the sudden appearance of Myers behind someone has pretty much lost all of its jumps care value. Somewhere among all this, the screenplay attempts to explore a theme of generational trauma and revenge as catharsis, the townsfolk turning into your standard blood crazed lynch mob, at one point, in a slipshod sidebar, running down an escaped mental hospital inmate they mistake for Michael, providing another opportunity to spill brains and guts. It ticks all the boxes you would expect, but, after 43 years, it’s chasing its own tail down a dead end alley. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Vue)
Jungle Cruise (12A)
It used to be that the film spawned the theme park ride, but these days it’s more often the other way round. This, set in 1917, is the seventh to be based on a Disney theme park attraction, although cine-literate audiences will recognise it’s also heavily influenced by the Bogart and Hepburn classic The African Queen, the roles here taken by Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt. She’s Lily Houghton, a trousers-wearing British botanist who’s determined to find a legendary ancient tree, hidden somewhere in the depths of the Amazon, the petals of which, the Tears Of The Moon, will heal any illness. Wearing the same sort of hat as Bogart, he is Frank Wolff, the cynical skipper of a ramshackle river boat who, in hock to the local Italian businessman (Paul Giamatti), runs cruises up and down the Amazon, given to making dreadful puns and something of an opportunistic con artist staging assorted ‘perils’ for his gullible Western tourists. Lily having stolen a mystical arrowhead which, along with an old map, she believes will lead her to the tree, heads for Brazil along with her impractical foppish brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall) where, after assorted antics (including a staged attack by Frank’s tame jaguar), she ends up hiring him to skipper them on their mission. She calls him Skippy, he calls her Pants. However, she’s not the only one after the petal and, as the travel up the Amazon, they’re pursued by Prince Joachim (an accent mangling Jesse Plemons), apparently one of the Kaiser’s sons, in his submarine, who wants to use its powers to help the German army win the war.
It should, at this point, be mentioned that there’s also a curse attached to the legend, dating back to the 16th century when, led by Aguirre (Edgar Ramírez), a bunch of Spanish Conquistadors came in search of the petals, massacred the natives who protected the tree and ended up being forever trapped by the jungle, their zombie selves being liberated and teaming up with Joachim.
Shamelessly pilfering from not only The African Queen, but also Romancing The Stone, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Mummy and Pirates of the Caribbean (and for art house devotees, Aguirre, Wrath Of God) , it could have profitably have been trimmed by 15 minutes (ditching some baggage as Frank does with MacGregors’), but you can’t say director Jaume Collet-Serra’s doesn’t give value for the price of admission, what with telepathic bees, snakes, rapids, plunging waterfalls, running over collapsing structures, swinging from ropes, dart-blowing natives, headhunters, explosions and much more. And along the way there’s the inevitable burgeoning romance between Lily and Frank (he has a secret, so let’s just say it’s probably good if she prefers older men) as well as a sensitively handled scene where MacGregor (Whitehall rising above his initial comic relief role) confesses to Frank that his affections are not directed at women.
Blunt and Johnson play off each other well, though it’s fair to say she scores the most points, and both throw themselves into the film’s physical demands with great gusto, and, at the end of the day, it’s all a good hearted rollercoaster ride through old fashioned Saturday matinee adventure escapism and none the worse for that. (Disney +)
Directed by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, this mines similar territory to Jason Statham’s Crank, DOA and 24 Hours To Live in a race against the clock Tokyo-set thriller in which, following a one night stand quickie before being sent on a new mission that will be her final job, female assassin Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) finds she’s been given fatal radiation poisoning. Now, with the help of adrenalin boosting shots, she has just 24 hours to track down those responsible, which she believes to Kijima (Jun Kunimura), the elderly Yakuza boss who was her mark and whose younger brother she killed 10 months earlier. Tracking him down involves kidnapping his niece, Ani (Miku Patricia Martineau), a mouthy teenager who, it transpires, is the daughter of the man she killed back in Osaka some years earlier, which has left her with a guilty conscience over breaking the ‘no kids’ rule. Unaware of Kate’s involvement, when she discovers that she’s been deemed expendable by her uncle’s lieutenant, Renji (Tadanobu Asano), impressed by Kate’s deadly prowess (she calls her a Terminator – cue a red bloodshot eye), she becomes a willing and eager sidekick as the pair set out to track down Kijima and exact revenge.
Inevitably, tracing themes of family, loyalty and double-crosses, the plot throws in a not entirely unpredictable third act twist involving him, Renji and Varrick (Woody Harrelson), Kate’s father-figure handler who groomed her lethal skills from when she was orphaned, but, anchored by a solid gritty but human action woman turn from Winstead discovering her maternal instincts towards the girl she orphaned (see Gunpowder Milkshake too) as she staggers through events, coughing up blood and getting battered, and some engaging comedic input from Martineau as the brattish but ultimately likeable Ani. With plenty of punchy regulation fight scenes and car chases to drive things along inbetween the character moments and emotional pulses, it makes for a watchable popcorn and a beer Friday night. (Netflix)
The Last Duel (18)
The first script co-written by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck since Good Will Hunting, here with female input from Nicole Holofcener (writing a chapter each), Ridley Scott’s latest epic is a basically a medieval Rashomon for the #MeToo generation. Based on a true story from 14th century France (as told in Eric Jager’s book) during the Hundred Years War, it affords three different perspectives on events involving questions of truth, honour and justice. It opens in 1386 with a flashforward to former friends now deadly enemies facing each other off, armoured and on horseback with lances, in front of the giggly and not a little sadistic young King Charles VI (Alex Lawther). So that’ll be the newly knighted Jean de Carrouges (Damon) with goatee, mullet and check scar, and rakishly good-looking ladies man Jacques LeGris (Adam Driver), a charismatic rock star squire in the service of debauched reprobate Count Pierre d’Alençon (Affleck, having all the devilish most fun as a sort of platinum-blonde 1300s Hugh Hefner), the king’s cousin who oversees Normandy. It then jumps back in time as, disobeying orders to protect Limoges, de Carrouges leads a charge to prevent further beheadings and, in the process, saves LeGris’s life.
The first chapter of three is told from the former’s perspective as he becomes increasingly enraged as his standing sinks and LeGris’s rises under d’Alençon’s patronage. All the more so to discover that a lucrative parcel of land promised him as part of the dowry in marrying Marguerite de Thibouville (Jodie Comer), the daughter of a pardoned traitor, has been appropriated by the Count and given to Le Gris. In attempting to sue them both, de Carrouges suffers a further setback when his now rival is awarded a captaincy he was due to inherit on his father’s death, although, persuaded by his wife to attend a party celebrating a friends’ new son, the pair are, apparently, reconciled. However, LeGris’s interest in Marguerite does not bode well. And so it is that, on his return from a trip to Paris to collect his fee for a disastrous campaign in Scotland, Marguerite tells him that, while he was away, his scold of a mother (Harriet Walter) took off on a trip with all the servants, leaving her alone, and that LeGris forced his way in and raped her. All of which leads up to de Carrouges, who takes it more as an affront on him rather than his wife, petitioning the King to allow him to face LeGris in a duel to the death with the winner being whoever’s telling the truth.
At which point, Chapter Two rewinds everything to tell it all over again, this time according to LeGris, who in this version saves de Carrouges’ life, and almost seems reluctant to accept gifts that were his friend’s due. He is, however, less reluctant about bursting in on his wife, professing his love and then raping her, telling himself she wanted it really. We then get Chapter Three (written, as you might surmise, by Holofcener), which is Marguerite’s version of the truth, which actually accords with and expands on her assault in Chapter Two, but where she now learns that, should her husband be the one killed in the duel, she will be deemed to have lied and will suffer a decidedly grisly execution.
The narrative problem is that, after presenting LeGris’s account, there’s actually no mystery about who is telling truth, the only tension being in waiting to see who kills who in the duel. But then, that’s whodunit is not really the point of the film. Visually suitably gloomy with a wintry palette to match the period setting, there are bloody and brutal battle sequences, but these are only brief and the screenplay’s more contemporary focus is on assault and consent and how women who have been raped have difficulty in getting people to believe them and secure justice, and that they weren’t asking for it and leading on their assailant. It doesn’t help her case that she once told a friend she thought LeGris was quite a looker.
As such, it’s an intense drama that dwells more on character and the dynamic interplay. Marguerite is clearly the innocent, who’s only crime is to be good looking and well-read, both of which are a turn on for the arrogant, smug LeGris, who is, quite frankly, a bit of a vicious bastard to tends to treat all women as a penis parking zone. De Carrouges isn’t Mr Perfect either. He may have good reason to feel wronged, but he’s also volatile, insecure, jealous and preeningly self-absorbed, resentful of being diminished by the elevation of his peers.
The lack of ambiguity inevitably works against the film, with no real suspense as to the truth to keep the audience involved, but, even so, spanning many years and underlining the different playing fields for men and women, then and now, the central performances, Comer’s especially, are first rate while, even when the narrative somewhat loses its grip over the 152 minute running time, Scott’s direction never falters, even if, ultimately, you feel this could have equally served as a pitch for EastEnders. (Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe)
No Time To Die (12A)
Daniel Craig quite literally bows out of his stint as 007 in a blaze of glory as, after several pandemic-caused delays the 25th (and longest) official James Bond movie finally arrives amid glowing reviews peppered with all the obvious catch phrase clichés. Scripted by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Phoebe Waller-Bridge and masterfully directed by Cary Fukunaga, it has several nods to the past franchise outings, most obviously in being bookended with Louis Armstrong’s All The Time In The World which was, of course, the theme to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, George Lazenby’s only outing in the role and, pointedly, the film in which Bond found love and married.
He’s in love again here, this time with the enigmatic psychiatrist Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux, magnetic), as seen in Spectre, having retired from active service for domestic bliss, though events following his visit to the tomb of Vesper Lynd to finally let go of the past quickly see such hopes dashed. Madeleine, announced in the previous film as the daughter of former Quantum member Mr White, is given a prologue back story here when, seeking revenge for her father murdering his family, the masked and facially scarred Lyutsifer Safin (a coolly chilling Rami Malek) arrives at their remote snowbound Norwegian home, kills her mother but ends up rescuing her from a frozen lake when she attempts to escape. Suffice to say, back in Matera in Italy and after a stupendous car chase and town square shoot out involving his tooled-up Aston Martin (seemingly MI6 allow agents to keep their deadly toys when they quit), Bond assumes he’s been betrayed again, puts her on a train walks away.
Cut to five years later and a murderous raid on a secret MI6 laboratory (cue comedic cameo from Hugh Dennis) sees Obruchev (David Dencik), a Russian scientist, supposedly kidnapped along with his data on something called Project Heracles, a bioweapon containing nanobots that allow to target specific DNA strands that M (Ralph Fiennes) has been running as a clandestine operation. Anyone infected with the virus then kills anyone they touch (an unintended COVID echo) who shares that DNA. Now living in Port Antonio, Jamaica (where Ian Fleming holidayed), Bond is contacted by his best buddy, CIA agent Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright), who, along with his all smiles colleague Logan Ash (Billy Magnusson) want him to help tracking down Obruchev to which, after a visit by Nomi (Lashana Lynch who, disappointingly never quite registers as a character beyond her testiness) his female black replacement as 007, and learning about Heracles, he eventually agrees. And so begins a complex and convoluted storyline that entails Bond linking up with Paloma (Ana de Armas who appeared opposite Craig in Knives Out), a feisty Cuba-based CIA agent, the mass killing of all SPECTRE agents, at a gathering remotely hosted by the organisation’s imprisoned head, Blofeld (Christoph Waltz), using Obruchev’s weapon, a deadly betrayal, a tense reunion with Swann, a Starling-Lecter-like face to face with Blofeld, to whom only Swann has access, and the discovery that Safin, who has the usual Bond villain world domination ambitions, is behind everything. That and the fact that Madeleine has kept more than one secret from him; a cute 5-year-old called Mathilde (Lisa-Dorah Sonnet).
With integral appearances by Craig-era regulars Rory Kinnear as Tanner, Ben Wishaw as Q and Naomi Harris as Moneypenny, the film never feels its near three hour running time as twists and turns, abductions and just who has been infected and by whom keep you involved and on your toes as, via yet another thrilling car chase, it builds to an explosive climax on an old World War II island base between Japan and Russia, where Safin has a lavish Japanese poison garden, that can’t help but recall Dr No.
Not only do Fukunaga and the writers outdo the previous Bonds in terms of visual spectacular and edge of the seat action, peppered with the trademark dry one liners and quips, they also offer a romantic, tender and sensitive side to Bond hitherto never fully seen or explored, something that Craig translates to the screen with compelling intensity and moving pathos, his final moments likely to leave you, sorry, shaken and stirred. At the end of the credits, it announces James Bond will return, as to who and how, that we’ll just have to wait and see. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Vue)
Paw Patrol: The Movie (U)
Launched in 2013, PAW Patrol is a long-running animated TV series about a search and rescue team made up of talking dogs, German Shepherd police pooch Chase (Iain Armitage), Dalmatian firefighter Marshall (Kingsley Marshall), helicopter pilot cockapoo Skye (Lilly Bartlam), mixed-breed handyman pup Rocky (Callum Shoniker), aquatic rescue Labrador Zuma (Shayle Simons) and bulldozer driving construction bulldog Rubble (Keegan Hedley), all headed up by 10-year-old boy Ryder (Will Brisbin) who finances operations selling official PP merchandise.
Now comes their big screen debut, as, called into help from their Adventure Bay seaside base when a truck winds up dangling from a bridge after avoiding a baby turtle, they find themselves up against Adventure City’s newly elected (as the only candidate) self-serving nemesis Mayor Humdinger (Ron Pardo) who hates dogs, is surrounded by cats, and whose promises of major infrastructure reforms consistently wind up as disasters, prompting the PAW patrol to come to the rescue.
In one such, passengers trapped on loop-de-loop subway system, Chase freezes as he attempts a rescue from atop a high building, leading to him being put on temporary leave and a confidence crisis (recalling his time as a stray pup in Adventure City) in which he casts aside his police uniform and ends up in a dog pound, captured by the mayor’s bumbling hirelings (Randall Park and Dax Shepard). To the rescue comes Liberty (Marsai Martin), an excitable Adventure City daschund who dreams of being part of the patrol and who, along with Ryder, tells Chase that being a hero doesn’t mean not being afraid, it means overcoming the fear and being the best you can be. Reunited, the patrol expose Humdinger’s ego-driven corrupt practises, put a stop to an out of control cloud sucking weather machine and, naturally, save the day.
Along with the main voice cast, there’s celebrity cameos too, notably Jimmy Kimmel as a bewigged news reporter, Yara Shahidi as a verbose scientist, Tyler Perry as the imperilled trucker and Kim Kardashian as a snooty poodle. Aimed at the pre-schoolers it may be, but, colourfully and energetically animated, the writers never patronsise their young audience and ensure there’s more than enough emotional heft, amusing sight gags, character driven plot and witty dialogue to ensure watching is fun for the grown-ups too. (Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe)
After a stream of over the top performances in barking, bonzo B-movies, Nicolas Cage returns to something like his Oscar-winning Leaving Las Vegas form for this slow burning, understated feature debut by writer/director Michael Sarnoski. He plays Rob, a grizzled, straggly-bearded aged truffle hunter who lives a hermit’s life in the Oregon wilds with his prized truffle pig, his only contact with the outside world being regular Thursday visits by flashy young buyer Amir (Alex Wolff).
One night, however, he’s attacked and his pig stolen. Now, in his previous films this might have entailed Cage going off on a berserk violent bender to retrieve the porker and kill those responsible. This is not that film. Instead, having discovered the big was stolen by two junkies at the best of some mystery buyer, he persuades a reluctant Amir to drive him into Portland where he knows someone who might know something where Sarnoski reveals that Rob was once Robin Feld, a former celebrity Portland chef before tragedy changed his life. To say more would spoil the carefully crafted narrative that involves Amir’s powerful widowed father Darius (Adam Arkin) who runs a truffle supply business of his own and features a mesmerising scene in which Robin confronts Derek(David Knell), a pretentious chef who runs the equally pretentious Eurydice restaurant who he once fired for overcooking the pasta, with the gulf between his original passionate gastropub dreams and the cold haute cuisine falsity of what he now does.
Building to a confrontation that involves Robin recreating dish he once serves (he professes to remember every customer her served and every dish he cook) which harks back to a story Amir tells at the start about a meal that made his father happy, and closing with an understated redemption and reconciliation with the past, it’s a melancholic, existential affair about family, love, food, hurt, grief, obligations and being honest about yourself, a film where a whisper proves far more effective than a scream. (BT Store, Sky Store, Virgin)
Romeo and Juliet (12A)
Filmed on the National Theatre stage, without an audience, over seventeen days during the pandemic, directed by Simon Godwin with Josh O’Connor and a broadly accented Jesse Buckley in the title roles, opening with the actors gathered around the set in their everyday clothes for a run through, this is a heavily abridged (93 minutes rather than the two hours announced in the prologue) and reimagined take on Shakespeare’s tragedy, one which contains the bare bones of the doomed love story but otherwise tramples over the thematic nuances. It also makes so many bizarre and baffling revisions, seemingly just for the sake of experimentation and audacity, that the original text is rendered almost unrecognisable.
Most crucially, in the scene where Juliet declares she will not wed Paris, rather than her father throwing a hissy fit, it’s Lady Capulet (a quietly chilling Tamsin Grieg), an ineffectual figure in the original play, who castigates her, taking on the role of a controlling Machiavellian figure. Likewise, it’s a bit of a shock when the camera abruptly cuts away from Romeo and Juliet about to kiss to Mercutio (Fisayo Akinade) and Benvolio (Shubham Saraf) unleashing their passions upon one another.
That the romance ends in twin grief-struck suicides is common knowledge, so the decision to introduce brief flash forward images of bloody hands and vials of poison seems at best clumsy and at worst crass. There are some nice touches, the masked ball plays out like a dance club with the guests getting down with the beats and Romeo spotting Juliet singing behind the microphone, while the fights are well-staged and the marriage scene in Friar Lawrence’s cell nicely littered with flickering candles. Although it dumps the ‘what light from yonder window breaks?’ speech, the balcony scene is also effective, but, while Buckley gives it her all, O’ Connor is more placid, their mismatched performances lacking the necessary chemistry, and rushing through the subsequent storyline for a virtual potted resume means there’s no depth, diminishing the couple’s passion and tragedy and draining it of the emotions it should elicit. A misfire on so very many levels, it may have a certain curiosity value, but purists and GCSE students would be well-advised to give it a miss. (Sky Arts)
Ron’s Gone Wrong (PG)
Another animation about the importance of friendship, Barney Pudowski (Jack Dylan Grazer) is a friendless seventh grade schoolboy embarrassed that his Bulgarian gran (Olivia Colman) gives him chicken feet in his lunch box, is bullied over his rock collecting hobby and wishes he had a B*Bot like all the other kids. A B*Bot is a new capsule-shaped high tech invention from the Bubble company, a Best Friend Straight Out Of The Box, programmed to like what you like and to find others of a similar mind to build a friendship network.
Arriving at the factory too late buy one, his oblivious widowed dad (El Helms) an inventor of naff contraptions no one wants to buy, acquires one that literally ‘fell off the back of a lorry’. Unfortunately the glowing white toy with its ever detachable arms and on the fritz expressions, which he names Ron (Zach Galifianakis), is defective, lacking some its programming (he calls Barney Absalom because his name list doesn’t go beyond A), such as the algorithm to stop him harming humans, which, as it turns out, is quite fortunate in giving the bullies a taste of their own medicine.
As such, in the ET-like bonding between the two, the screenplay (co-penned by Alan Partridge veteran Peter Baynham) touches on some important theme of being isolated from your peers and of the need for friendship, but overlays this with some rather clunky plot tangents such as a critique of teenagers’ obsession with technology and social media rather than real friendships as well as, rather inevitably, corporate villainy as, unlike his well-meaning geeky partner Mark, who invented them, the company’s child-hating co-founder, Andrew (Rob Delaney), intends to use the B*Bots to harvest consumer data from their owners so they can sell more. The fact Ron is operating offline, and is affecting the other bots’ programming, threatens the stock price and, therefore, he must be destroyed.
Despite some obvious comparisons to Big Hero 6, Short Circuit, The Iron Giant and How To Train Your Dragon, it’s an amiable affair with several affecting scenes, such as Barney training him to learn about him so they can have fun, a friendship ultimately earned rather than engineered, and a scene where the two hide out in the woods, while there’s an obligatory toilet gag as a girl obsessed with social media followers finds the downside of going viral when an image of her emerging from the butt of a rogue B*Bot assemblage earns her the name PoopGirl. No classic, but your software would be malfunctioning if you didn’t enjoy it. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Vue)
Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings (12A)
Making his first appearance in 1973 in Master of Kung Fu, Shang-Chi is a minor Marvel Comics character, originally a Sax Rohmer spin-off as the son of Fu Manchu. The comic character being resurrected for, first Heroes For Hire, and, subsequently as a member of The Avengers. Now, as directed by Destin Daniel Cretton making his superhero bow, he’s the latest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe , the film serving as both origin story and launch platform for an ongoing franchise.
It begins with a scene setting prelude set in 1996 and narrated and spoken in subtitled Mandarin, as, having subjugated pretty much everywhere else with the use of his magical ten rings, thousand-year-old warlord Wenwu (Tony Leung) sets out to conquer the hidden mystical realm of Ta Lo, a village said to harbour creatures from Chinese mythology, but is defeated by its protector Ying Li (Fala Chen), the two falling love as they battle, she eventually leaving her home and he renouncing his Ten Rings crime organisation to become parents of two children, Shang-Chi (Jayden Zhang/Arnold Sun) and Xialing (Elodie Fong) and all is hearts and flowers until, as we learn in subsequent flashbacks, old rivals murder Li, plunging Wenwu back into his old ways, training his son in the martial arts to serve as an instrument of vengeance.
Cut to the present and the now grown Shang-Chi (Simu Liu), calling himself Shaun, is working as a parking valet alongside overqualified best friend Katy (Awkwafina) who knows nothing of his past, until that is, he’s attacked on a bus by a bunch of assassins, led by the self-descriptively named Romanian Razor Fist (Florian Munteanu), who wants to steal the jade necklace his mother gave him. And so, loading up the exposition, it transpires they’re part of his dad’s army who wants the pendant and that belonging to his now grown daughter (impressive newcomer Meng’er Zhang) in order to return to Ta Lo where he believes his wife is imprisoned inside a mountain from where she has been calling to him.
All of which entails reluctant hero Shang-Chi and Katy heading to Macao, him reuniting with his sister who runs a fight club and isn’t initially best pleased to see him as he left her behind when he fled his father at 15, and the three of them setting off to mom’s village (meeting up their aunt, Michelle Yeoh, and Katy getting trained as an archer) to warn them of Wenwu’s intentions, learning that, in fact, what’s imprisoned inside the mountain is actually a demonic soul sucker monster.
This all proceeds at a cracking pace with numerous dynamic martial arts fight sequences, ranging from the initial balletic one between Wenwu and Li that evokes memories of those in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (in which Yeoh starred), the exhilarating crosstown bus battle with Katy behind the wheel, the siblings’ showdown, and the all-out climax between the Ta Lo warriors and the Ten Rings soldiers as they, and our intrepid trio, take on the freed soul-sucking monsters with the help of assorted mythological beasts, including one huge mother of dragon. And, of course, the ultimate confrontation between father and son with the fate of the world and the ten rings in the balance
It’s a breathless, thrilling set of action sequences, so it’s somewhat unfortunate that it was felt necessary to insert a lengthy and frankly very silly comedic relief section in which a cheerfully hamming Ben Kingsley revives his Iron Man 3 role as Liverpudlian actor Trevor Slattery who was hired to impersonate The Mandarin (here now one of Wenwu’s identities), and, post-prison, is a reformed character and offers to guide them to Ta Lo with the help of his hundun companion Morris, a kind of furry winged cushion, who is from there, want to return home and knows the secret route in.
A Canada-based Chinese actor and martial arts trained stuntman, Liu makes for a solid conflicted action hero in the Marvel tradition, while Leong’s soulful performance successfully captures the ambivalence of his character, both cruelly ruthless in his actions but sympathetic in his overwhelming grief at loss of the wife and family he’s looking to restore, but perhaps inevitably, it’s Awkwafina who steals much of the film even though she’s playing a second string role. Naturally there’s several connections to the wider MCU, from a reference to Thanos wiping out half of the world’s population in The Avengers to a mid-film cameo by Benedict Wong as Doctor Strange’s assistant, returning in the first of the end credit scenes alongside Bri Larson (Captain Marvel) and Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner) that deepens the mystery of the ten rings, the second setting up the sequel as the cool and steely female-empowerment advocate Xialing resurrects her father’s organisation, this time with female warriors. (Vue)
The Starling (12)
It opens with doting new parents, teacher Jack (Chris O’Dowd) and Lilly (Melissa McCarthy) Maynard painting birds and branches on the nursery wall. Next thing you know, a year later, she’s trying to keep it together in her job at the local grocery store and he’s in a mental health facility (with presumably very good insurance, or perhaps they inherited a fortune given their lavish house and huge garden) having attempted suicide following their daughter’s sudden death, their weekly meetings increasingly strained. His therapist recommends she seeks help too, and so she ends up seeing psychoanalyst-turned-veterinarian Larry (Kevin Kline) who dispenses words of wisdom about starlings mating for life and, hey, guess what, one such cute digitally generated metaphor starts flapping round the vegetable patch she’s tending asa self-healing process, waging a kind of avian turf war. And if you’ve not already sussed the life after grief message, the film ladles on a truckload of signposts, such as songs sporting lyrics like “take some time, clear my mind, find another reason why”.
Negotiating the clichés, it staggers unsteadily along the line that divides comedy and pathos with all the subtlety of a Hallmark card, wasting a support cast that includes Daveed Diggs, Loretta Devine and Timothy Olyphant as Lilly’s manager along the way. O’Dowd looks plainly uncomfortable trying to put across his character’s emotional anguish while McCarthy (whose streak of misfiring flops seems to have no end) adopts a comedic approach that feels totally at odds with the subject matter, making the maudlin moments even more inauthentic. The less said about Kline the better. A manipulative, predictable, mushy, trite tearjerker of the most banal kind, it’s hard to believe that Theodore Melfi also directed the brilliant Hidden Figures. It may be called The Starling, but behind those CGI feathers, it’s really a giant turkey. (Netflix)
Written and directed by Harry Macqueen this is a chamber piece centring on the relationship between a sixtysomething long-term gay couple, quizzical American author Tusker (Stanley Tucci) and reserved English classical pianist Sam (Colin Firth, himself playing Elgar’s Salut d’Amour in the closing scene) who has called a halt to his career to take care of his partner who is suffering from progressive dementia.
The narrative is anchored around a road trip to the Lake District to visit Sam’s sister Lilly (Pippa Haywood), Tusker having persuaded him to give a small recital as well as revisiting Sam’s family while he can still appreciate who they are. However, as we, and Sam, learn, Tusker, who has purposely left his medication behind, has a hidden agenda to the trip and the recital, one that will test Sam’s love for him to the fullest. Although there’s a surprise dinner party scene at Lilly’s, the film primarily centres around its two stars, be they affectionately bickering the camper van en route, spending the night in a Spa car park, revising favourite lake that holds special memories, or engaging in intimate intense conversations in their rented cottage as Tusker talks about his fear of losing control (“I’m becoming a passenger,” he says, “And I’m not a passenger”) and of wanting to be remembered for who he was not who he’s becoming while Sam also breaks down and confesses his own fears, of finding himself unable to cope, of being left alone, and of wanting to be there to the bitter end.
Despite the downbeat melancholic nature of the subject matter, the film is nevertheless suffused with light as it contemplates the nature of grief, mortality and life, of denial and delay, and also leavened with humour, even if at times of a gallows nature, such as Tusker joking how you’re supposed to mourn someone when they’re dead, not while they’re still alive. The title, of course, comes from Tusker’s love of astronomy, at one point he shows Sam how to navigate the constellations while in another wonderful moment he explains to Lilly’s teenage daughter how we’re all comprised of atoms from stars that died and went supernova, a poetic, romantic image about the way life endures even after death. Heartbreakingly magnificent. (BT Film Store, Sky Store, Virgin)
When his wife dies from cancer because a pharmaceutical company withdrew the potentially cheap life-saving drug, Ray Cooper (Jason Momoa), whose background is never detailed, sets out to fulfil his television chat show phone in vow of holding company CEO Simon Keeley (Justin Bartha) responsible and killing him with his bare hands. Approached by a journalist who says he has evidence of a conspiracy involving Keeley’s crooked partner (Raza Jaffrey), they meet on a train, Cooper, unknowingly followed by his teen daughter Rachel (Isabela Merced), where the journo is killed and he himself injured by the knife-wielding hitman (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo).
What follows, Rachel insistently accompanying him despite his protestations, charts Cooper’s determined quest to expose the conspiracy and get revenge on those responsible, the film opening with a scene of him atop Pittsburgh’s PNC Park pursued by FBI agent Sarah Meeker (Lex Scott Davis), before plunging into the waters, flashing back to events leading up to this moment before, bringing into focus anti-Big Pharma congresswoman Diana Morgan (Amy Brenneman), the last act throws in a wholly unexpected role reversal twist as the real figure behind the conspiracy is exposed.
Twist aside, it’s a predictable and fairly generic affair with Momoa largely going through the man on the run action motions punctuated by some rote emotional angst, but first time director Brian Andrew Mendoza never lets things flag, Merced proves solid casting and, while disbelief needs to be suspended from a very high pole, it does what it sets out to do with commendable efficiency. (Netflix)
Venom: Let There Be Carnage (15)
And carnage it indeed is. Carnage of the script, the direction and the acting. The first Venom had some of the worst reviews of any Marvel movie, but this makes it look like a masterpiece. Directed, if you can use such a term here, by Andy Serkis, it picks things up shortly after the end of the previous film, the alien symbiont now fully at home in the body of haggard-looking journalist Eddy Brock (Tom Hardy) in what Serkis and Kelly Marcel’s screenplay have fashioned as a mismatched buddy relationship, Venom frequently popping out to make sarcastic jibes at his host, complaining about not being allowed to eat human brains, not even bad guys, and existing on a diet of chocolate and chicken (which wander around Brock’s apartment). It’s a knockabout comedic tone that simply doesn’t gel with what by rights should be more of a horror movie. Worse, it’s not especially funny.
As part of the subplot, ex-girlfriend Anne (Michelle Williams), who knows all about his alien bodymate, arranges to meet Eddy at a restaurant, he’s thinking reconciliation until she flashes her engagement ring, cue yet another round of Venom putdowns. The main thrust, however, involves Eddy getting to do the interview with serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson) trailed at the end of the first film, running an article that winds up with him getting Kasady to reveal where the bodies are buried and, consequently, seeing the death penalty reinstated. An understandably pissed Kasady manages to bite Eddy’s finger, whereby he too winds up with a multi-armed, bloodthirsty symbiont in his body, aka Carnage, albeit this one’s red not black, leading to a jailbreak massacre as he sets up to find, rescue and marry his girlfriend, Frances Barrision (Naomie Harris doing her best with a cipher of a role), aka the mutant Shriek, who’s introduced at the opening flashback to their teenage years where she befriends him at the orphanage and they become lovers, before the obligatory clandestine agency whisk her away to a top secret facility containment cell as a lab rat.
Meanwhile, the film goes from one ill-judged development to another as Venom and Brock have a falling out, and the former quits his host body, and stomps off to the local bars, ludicrously crashing a costume part as himself and becoming a cool hit with the punters, body surfing through assorted hosts before Anne and her fiancé track him down and get him and Eddy to kiss and make up, just in time for the big and visually incoherent Venom vs Carnage showdown in an old church.
Hardy plays things like a man who can’t find an escape clause in his contract, Harrelson outdoes Nic Cage in the deranged and barkingly OTT stakes and Stephen Graham drifts bewilderedly through the narrative and plot holes as police detective Mulligan while all around them the set pieces and visual effects crash from one clumsy mess to another.
It’s mercifully short, probably because huge chunks ended up in the editing room bin, but even then it feels interminable, the mid-credits scene, after the twosome have taken off to a tropical beach for a little r&r, that links to the Spider-Man multiverse more of a warning than a tease. Simply quite awful, but at least the first Venom movie won’t now be the most reviled in the MCU. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Vue)
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