MOVIE ROUND-UP, From Fri Oct 30

While all Cineworld Cinemas are temporarily closed following the shifting of the Bond movie to 2021, other sites currently remain  open with special safety measures in place and some on restricted days. 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. For full line-ups that include films briefly returning to cinemas or as special showings, see the cinema website.

 

NEW RELEASES

Blumhouse’s The Craft:Legacy (15)

Released in 1996, the original movie was a young horror about a coven of teenage high school girls who use witchcraft against those who anger them, until things begin to go badly wrong. Written and directed by Zoe Lister-Jones this is part remake and part coming of age continuation, wherein teen outsider Lily (Cailee Spaeny), moves state with her therapist mother Helen (Michelle Monaghan) to live with mom’s boyfriend Adam (David Duchovny), an author who teaches about reclaiming masculinity, and his three sons. Enrolling in the local school, her first day’s a nightmare when he has her period mid-class and bleeds on the floor (it’s not the only Carrie reference), naturally making her the target for bitchy jokes. She is, however, befriended by three other school misfits, Frankie (Gideon Adlon), African-American Tabby (Lovie Simone) and transgender Lourdes (Zoey Luna) who, when they see her send resident bully boy Timmy (Nicholas Galitzine) flying without apparently touching him decide she’s the fourth member, West and Water, they need to complete their coven.

Understandably bewildered by all this, Lily’s happy to go along, happy to have friends for once, and it’s not long before their powers take flight with them freezing time during a woodland ritual. Fed up with Timmy’s bullying, they concoct a charm to make him ‘woke’, one that works perfectly to the extent he’s soon tagging along with them, expounding on Princess Nokia and   Janet Mock, developing a better taste in music and opening up about his deepest secrets. Lily develops a crush and, taking his sweater to bed, conjures a masturbatory love charm, which, inevitably sets off a whole chain of darker events that include an apparent suicide and she being ostracised from the coven.

It takes a while to get to the point where anything dramatic happens, but between Adam’s simmering toxic masculinity (come on, the name’s a giveaway, and he keeps snakes) and Helen telling Lily to embrace being different,  it’s clear that dark deeds and revelations of Lily’s past are living up to fall into place. It’s unfortunate then that the climactic moment, which disappointingly has little connection to Lily’s visions, is something of a let-down in which our witches (“we are the weirdos, mister”) come across more like new mutants (one can spark flames from her fingers) battling the misogynist bad guy who wants the power for himself. Unlike the original, the four are definitely the heroes here.

Likewise, while Lily is obviously the centre of the narrative interest (and Spaeny anchors the film), it wouldn’t have gone amiss to afford the other girls at least some background, just as Adam’s boys seem to be here more as place settings than actual characters (a scene where the eldest ‘sleepwalks’ into Lily’s bedroom comes from nowhere and is never mentioned again), but at least Timmy is given some depth, something Galitzine makes the most of with a memorable performance. Still, it’s entertaining enough and it ends with a brief cameo that finally links Lily back to the original film, suggesting the legacy might only just be starting. (Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Everyman; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue)

 

The Burnt Orange Heresy (15)

It’s been almost twenty years since Mick Jagger appeared in a  feature film. Watching him play ridiculously wealthy art-collector Joseph Cassidy (and looking unsettling like Schwarzenegger) in director Giuseppe Capotondi’s adaptation of Charles B. Willeford’s 1971 art fraud  novel, you can see why. Fortunately, his screen time’s limited to  top and tailing sequences and his co-stars, Claes Bang, Elizabeth Debicki and Donald Sutherland, provide the substance in-between.

Bang is James Figueras, an art critic who’s never quite fulfilled his ambitions, now reduced to giving book promoting talks to a handful of gullible American amateur enthusiasts wherein he delights in telling them everything he’s told them has been a lie. It’s at one such talk in Milan that he meets the enigmatic Berenice (Debicki), whom he invites to accompany him to Cassidy’s palatial Lake Como home where he’s presented with an offer he can’t refuse (not least since Cassidy has some dirt on him), namely the chance to interview cult artist Jerome Debney (a twinkle-eyed, rascally Sutherland), who’s not been seen in public since him home and all his work wet up in flames 50 years ago and now lives on the estate.  The trade-off is that  James has to acquire  one of Debney’s fiercely guarded new paintings. And so the scene is set for a narrative that plays out with deception, betrayal, arson and even murder.

As James’ opening talks underlines, things aren’t always what they seem  and the film weave in and out of shadows and suggestions as the characters shift and change along with the twists in the plot. Like the smart, quick witted Berenice, the film has glacial coolness to it, one that inevitably evokes thoughts of Hitchcock, and certainly rises to the comparison. It unfolds slowly, allowing you to try and catch the threads, but you’ll be unlikely to see the twists coming  even when they’re almost staring you in the face.  (Empire Great Park; Showcase Walsall; Vue)

Gags The Clown (15)

Back in 2016, Wisconsin reported a spate of sightings of a mysterious clown holding balloons, which turned out to be a stunt  by director Adam Krause to promote his horror short Gags. Set over one night in Green Bay, he’s now turned it into a full-length feature, the latest addition to the found-footage genre. One that clearly reveals more is often less.

When the clown and his black balloons (apparently filled with some sort of powder) are first seen, he’s dismissed as some nut, but some butchery in a car park (not that we ever see who commits it) quickly sets the scene for what follows as his appearance spawns teenage copycats trying to scare the locals, the cops are sent out in search, the media run constant updates and a right wing vlogger (Charles Wright) sets out with his cameraman to take down Gags himself.

Krause clearly intends a social commentary satire on how media frenzy can take over and create fear where there’s no obvious cause, but the film tends to simply make the same point over and over and, as in most found-footage horrors, what you see doesn’t always make logistical sense. Nevertheless, he does often create a palpable tension with his atmospheric lighting and sleight of hand while Lauren Ashley Carter (looking a little like the young Helena Bonham Carter) provides the spark as snarky  ambitious on-camera TV news reporter and the unfortunate, but very funny, final payoff.  (Fri 6: Cine-Excess Festival BCU; Amazon Prime)

Mogul Mowgli (15)

Co-written by Riz Ahmed along with director Bassam Tariq, this is a loosely autobiographical, powerful if at times overly impressionistic film about diaspora cultural identity crisis as embodied in the title with the Mogul referencing a rich heritage and Mowgli the man cub lost in the jungle. Ahmed plays MC Zed (An Americanisation of his real name Zaheer, and to which his devout relatives object) is an aspirant British-Pakistani rapper who, while big in New York, has gone about as far  as he can without getting that big break. That comes when he’s offered the support slot on a  huge tour, his girlfriend suggesting  he uses the time before then  to reconnect with his family in Wembley, who he hasn’t seen in two years.

Unfortunately, his return home and a scuffle with a fan sees him diagnosed with possibly genetic autoimmune condition that renders him unable to walk and with his place on the tour being  taken by his rival. There’s an experimental treatment, but infertility is a likely side effect, something his disapproving conservative father (Alyy Khan), mistrustful of Western medicine, is unwilling to countenance given the cultural importance of maintaining the family line. The film subsequently follows Ze’s determined efforts to, quite literally, get back on his feet, the treatment leading to him being plagued by hallucinatory fever dream visions (and their cacophonous score) involving figure with a garland of flowers masking his face chanting Toba Tek Singh (an area of the Punjab), as well as flashbacks to the horrors of the 1947 partition to which that refers. It’s all a consequence of being unable or unwilling to face the demons related to questioning who he is (someone disparagingly calls him a  coconut), his links to the inherited past and the ambitions for a future far removed from such traditions.

Ahmed, who has his own side career as a successful rapper with the Swet Shop Boys, delivers a fiercely magnetic performance, even when his character is at his most selfishly dislikeable,  that carries the film over the confused and more minimalistic elements of the screeenplay and the at times familiarly father son melodramatics. (Odeon   Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall)

Philophobia (15)

Not to be confused with the more explanatory titled American comedy Philophobia – Or The Fear of Falling In Love, at times feeling like a Cotswolds take on the InBetweeners, writer-director Guy Davies follows the coming of age of aspiring young writer Kai (Joshua Glanister) and the emotional toll  love can exact as, A-level finals, the end of school and the prospect of the adult world for him and his best mates, inveterate fuck-up Megsy (Jack Gouldbourne) and the ever smiling Sammy (Charlie Frances). Kai wants to get away from his dead-end environment but he’s also got a serious crush for his neighbour over the road, Grace (Kim Spearman) whom he watches from his bedroom window. Unfortunately, she’s dating the older Kenner (Alexander Lincoln), the local bully boy, but there’s hints that the feeling might be mutual.

With Harry Lloyd as the inspirational English teacher offerings age advice, it’s an amiable wander through teenage hangups, talk about sex , spliffs, pranks (they boys are plotting some memorable end of school mischief involving school canteen forks, though I quite like the idea of letting loose three pigs numbered 1, 2 and 4), although the symbolic stag Kai keeps seeing and which figures as a motif in his life is a touch overcooked.  Likewise, the new girl who comes on to Kai feels a bit of a contrivance.

Glanister is excellent but all the cast give solid performances while Davies peppers the dialogue with some smart lines and even pulls off a dramatic scene of braggado gone almost fatally wrong before the inevitable but nevertheless engagingly sweet finale. (Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue)

V For Vendetta (15)

While V’s observation that  “blowing up a building can change the world” may well prompt incensed accusations of  insensitivity, it remains starkly and inarguably true and, in referencing the Russian and French revolutions as well as the Gunpowder plot’s response to James I’s persecution of Catholics, the film serves provocative  reminder that, in the armed struggle for liberty against repression terrorists and freedom fighters are often the same side of the coin.

Intended as a scathing satire on the Thatcher years, the book’s 1984 vision of a dystopian future England has been remodelled for the post 9/11 crackdown on civil liberties and the post-apocalyptic fallout of American foreign policy. Under the tyrannical regime of Chancellor Sutler (a ferocious John Hurt), the media promotes fear, free speech is a thing of the past and gays, the poor, Muslims and basically anyone who so much as hints at dissent are ruthlessly repressed.

There is though someone making a stand for the people. Taking his cue from Guy Fawkes’ and wearing cloak, big hat and a smiling mask, the mysterious poetry-spouting, knife-wielding V (Hugo Weaving) is conducting a campaign of terror, promising to destroy the Houses of Parliament on Nov 5 and inviting a disgruntled citizenry to join him. As he says, “People should not be afraid of their governments, governments should be afraid of their people.” But, as becomes evident, his politics also have a personal revenge agenda. And he may be a bit psychotic.

Entangled into all this (with a touch of  Phantom of the Opera) is Evey (Natalie Portman), the young television station employee he rescues from government thugs the Fingermen before going on to blow up the Old Bailey. Favours are subsequently returned as political awakenings blossom and she uncovers the truth about V and herself.

Despite a dodgily wavering accent, Portman (striking in her Sinead O’Connor skinhead, though its acquisition  is the film’s most emotionally harrowing scene) is commanding while Weaving’s never seen without the mask, subtly delivering his powerful performance through voice and movement. There’s solid turns too from Sinead Cusack as a doctor with a horrific past, Tim Piggot-Smith as the vicious secret police chief, Stephen Rea as the cop whose investigation of V unearths crimes closer to home,  and, unlikely as it seems, Stephen Fry as an authority bucking talk show host.

Aside from a third act knife-fight showdown, what there isn’t much of is action. The emphasis here is not on firing the adrenaline, but rattling the brain cells, provocatively addressing the notion of whether taking up arms against a fascist state makes you terrorist or hero, whether there’s justification for packing explosives into a tube train. At the end of the day,  it’s blockbuster film-making, but it’s rare that popcorn gets this subversive.  (Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue)

ALSO RELEASED

 

Wolfwalkers (PG)

The third in director Tomm Moore’s animated Irish folklore trilogy following The Secret of Kells and  Song of the Sea, this looks to be the best yet, both visually and in its narrative. Set in 17th century Ireland under Cromwell’s tyranny, recently arrived from England with her widowed father (Sean Bean), while out walking in the woods with her pet owl Merlin young  Robyn Goodfellowe (Honor Kneafsey) encounters flame-haired wild  child Mebh (Eva Whittaker) who, like her long absent mother, Moll (Maria Doyle Kennedy), is a  Wolfwalker, part parts human, part wolf, able to  communicate with the benign and misunderstood wolves and possessed of magical healing powers. They become friends and, after being accidentally bitten by Mebh, Robyn finds herself quite literally becoming part of the pack. Unfortunately, her hunter father has been ordered by the Lord Protector (Simon McBurney) to wipe out the last remaining wolf pack in Kilkenny. (Empire Great Park; Showcase Walsall)

NOW SHOWING

After We Collided (12A)

The sequel to After (rather unimaginatively titled After 2 in the States) , flatly directed by Roger Kumble this young adults romancer picks up the story of Tessa (Josephine Langford) and her Brit ex Hardin (Hero Fiennes Tiffin) who, having broken up are living separate lives. She’s landed an internship with the high flying Vance Publishing reading manuscripts for her alpha male boss Christian Vance (Charlie Weber) and flirting with her co-worker Trevor (Dylan Sprouse), while, desperate for her to forgive his betrayal in the previous film the forever dressed in black Hardin’s channels his angst and inner anger over his texts unanswered into getting another tattoo, without anaesthesia, as you do.

Throw in the tepid love triangle with Trevor,  insecure, pouty playboy Hardin’s continued issues with his estranged father (Rob Estes) and his new wife, Karen (Karimah Westbrook), the arrival of his mom (Louise Lombard) and a tedious series of make ups and break-ups and that’s basically it. There’s nothing of dramatic interest, the clichéd dialogue is lame and the relationship between them makes 50 Shades Of Grey seem positively balanced, the sex scenes are utterly unerotic. At the start the voice over has the call to reference the great doomed Austen, to which this bears absolutely no resemblance as it trudges its way to yet another feelings declaring tattoo and a final encounter with some mysterious hooded figure that seems destined to bugger up any hopes of happiness lined up in the apparently already greenlit two further equals. Always, maybe never.  (Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue)

 Arkansas (15)

Actor Clark Duke turns writer-producer-director for this quirky Southern crime dramedy that, adapted alongside Andrew Boonkrong from John Brandon’s novel,  comes with more than a few laconic shades of the Coens in its shift from leisurely pacing to sudden violence, but still has a flavour of its own.

Told in chapters, it follows the accidental misadventures of garrulous, wispy moustachioed oddball  Swin (Duke) and the less loquacious and unruffled but more impatient Kyle (Liam Hemsworth, who, in the opening narration, notes that organised crime in the South is “a loose affiliation of deadbeats and scumbags”), am odd couple reluctantly thrown together as menials at the bottom of a large drug operation run by a mysterious figure called Frog, who they never knowingly meet and who, in the course of ferrying a shipment, brings them under the thumb of Bright (John Malkovich gleefully chewing the scenery), who uses his job as a park-ranger job as cover for his role as the middle-manager in Frog’s drug-running smuggling outfit sending them on trips to Louisiana or Texas in between tending the park. As the pair discover, the operation also involves a woman who goes only by the name of Her (Vivica A. Fox) who provides packages for them to deliver.

As the film ambles amiably along, contrary to Bright’s instructions, Swin strikes up a romance with local nurse Johnna (Eden Brolin) while, after he and Kyle are followed back from a deal, both Bright and his lowlife assailant (Chandler Duke) end up dead, leaving the pair uncertain what to do next with all the money, never sure if Frog knows what’s going on or not.

Switching back and forth in time and with scenes revisited in hindsight, in a chapter dedicated to his rise from selling bootleg cassettes in 80s Memphis to become a drugs boss, we meet Frog (Vince Vaughn) who first gets a job with and then stitches up a smalltime  Little Rock dealer Almond (Michael Kenneth Williams) and takes over operations before, as a subsequent chapter reveals, taking on lunkhead twin brothers Tim and Thomas (Brad William Henke, Jeff Chase) to whom he, in turn, passes on the business and retires to become the pawn shack owner whose path Swin and Kyle unwittingly cross.  Ultimately, as the threads come together, it ends up with a considerable body count.

Mixing sudden violence and droll whimsical humour with its deadpan throwaways, extending to cameos by Devendra Banhart who wrote the score and The Flaming Lips who appear as a bar band murdering  a George Jones classic as well as providing soundtrack versions of The Night They  Drove Old Dixie Down and Larry Gatlin’s All The Gold In California, it is, perhaps, at times a little too eccentric for its own good, but even so it’  very entertaining watch.  (Amazon and others)

Bill and Ted Face The Music (PG)

Almost 30 years since Bill and Ted battled their evil cyborg doubles and did a deal with the Grim Reaper who ended up playing ass in their rock band Wild Stallyns, Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves revive their space-cadet characters for a no less out there time travelling trip in which they discover they have basically 77 minutes to write and perform the song needed to unite humanity and save reality (which is already falling apart) itself, as their destiny was foretold.  However, clearly stuck in something of a creative impasse, they resolve  to take off in their time travelling phone booth and acquire it from their future selves, though, inevitably, that doesn’t prove as easy as it sounds.

Cue various run ins with their older incarnations, variously washed up gone to seed has beens who’ve broken into Dave Grohl’s house to convince their younger versions they are actually mega-famous and pumped up prison inmates doing time the aforementioned breaking and entering, while also trying to save their marriages to their medieval princess brides Joanna (Jayma Mays) and Elizabeth (Erinn Hayes), whose own future selves have taken them off from a counselling session to find a reality where their actually happy with their husbands. On top of which, The Great Leader (Holland Taylor) has created an insecure high-tech android (Anthony Carrigan) to eliminate the pair.

Meanwhile, their chip off the old block respective daughters, Theodora “Thea” Preston (Samara Weaving) and Wilhelmina “Billie” Logan (Brigette Lundy-Paine) are off on their own journey through time to assemble a backing band for their fathers, namely Jimi Hendrix, Louis Armstrong, Mozart,  and female Chinese flautist, the prehistoric answer to Keith Moon and, playing himself, Kid Cudi.  However, if it’s going to work, with everyone finding themselves in Hell, they’re going to have to get Death (William Sadler), who’s still pissed at being sued and dumped from the band, to kiss and make-up

Directed by Dean Parisot, written by the original team of Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon and with Winter and Reeve slipping seamlessly back into their roles, it’s a frantic and extremely loopy and very self-aware affair, albeit veined with themes of feeling failures as artists, husbands and fathers, the latter providing the basis for the final save the universe twist and, at the end of the day rather excellent fun, Way.  (Vue)

Black Water: Abyss (15)

Director Andrew Traucki delivers a belated sequel to 2007’s Black Water. However, where that was a highly effective, tense thriller in which three holidaymakers are trapped in an Australian mangrove swamp by a  hungry croc, this, pretty much repeating the set-up, except in a flooded underground cave  with two couples and a tour guide is a moribund, uninspired affair, not helped by the fact that it recalls two far superior films with shared ingredients, The Descent and Crawl. Even the waterlogged 47 Meters Down: Uncaged was better,

Opening with a prologue as two lost Japanese tourists plunge into the jungle cavern and are summarily chomped, two couples,Eric (Hemsworth-lite Luke Mitchell) and Jennifer (Jessica McNamee) and Viktor (Benjamin Hoetjes) and Yolanda (Amali Golden) go off to explore the aforementioned cave only for a storm to cause it to flood and, as they eventually discover (after a mind-numbing eternity of them splashing around), bringing in an aggressively territorial croc.

It’s no spoiler to mention that (as in the first film) the narratively superfluous guide is the first to go, leading you to bet on who of the four make it to the end credits. Given they’re uninvolving characters, you don’t really much care, but to try and liven things up Viktor is made to be an asthmatic whose inhaler’s floating in the water and, though he doesn’t know it,Yolanda is pregnant.  Given Jennifer tells her she and Luke have been going through a  bad patch, you don’t need a degree to see here this is heading as the scripts flails around trying to inject some drama into the proceedings, presumably to compensate for the sparse actual appearances of the croc and the incoherent, confusing way in which its attacks are staged.

The ludicrous ending shows a  certain bravura on Traucki’s part, but it really doesn’t compensate for having sat through the rest of the clichéd inanity. (Vue)

Carmilla (15)

Loosely based on Sheridan LeFanu’s 1872 lesbian vampire gothic horror (predating Dracula by 26 years), writer-director Emily Harris keeps the vampiric elements ambiguous (though aversion to crosses is notable), but certainly ramps up the Sapphic theme, the film positively awash with repressed desires and sexual tensions.

Her mother having died when she was young, the teenage Hannah Rae is Lara lives on a sprawling country estate owned by her landed father, Mr Bauer (Greg Wise), but is almost exclusively supervised by her strict governess and tutor Miss Fontaine (Jessica Raine), a devout, superstitious woman who insists on regularly tying her charge’s left hand – regarded as the devil’s – behind her back to prevent her using it.

It’s clear from the start that Hannah is something of a troubled personality, secretly poring over pictures of the male anatomy in one of her father’s books, subject to sexual curiosity, something of a masochist (she tests her hand over a candle flame) and obsessed with ideas of death and corruption.  Likewise, Fontaine is so sexually repressed you suspect she’ll explode into hysteria at any moment.

One night, Hannah hears a commotion. A carriage has crashed near the house, the coachman killed and the sole passenger, a teenage girl ((Devrim Lingnau), taken in to be treated by the local doctor (Tobias Menzies). The girl, with her red hair and strange accent, appears to not know who she is and Bauer’s enquiries round and about elicit no answers. Although ordered by her governess not to get involved with their house guest, fuelled by the fact that her intended summer companion has inexplicably fallen ill and is wasting away with some unexplained complaint, the lonely Lara’s curiosity cannot be controlled and, naming her Carmilla, the pair are, much to Fontaine’s patent disapproval and unease, soon cavorting around the grounds.

Drawn to the mysterious new arrival, Lara begins having intense and disturbing dreams involving body horror, blood and sex, the latter two rapidly becoming part of the physical relationship between the girls, their closeness bringing Fontaine’s own frustrated desires and carnal jealousy ever nearer the surface, the scene at the breakfast table as she awaits a tardy Lara, exhausted after the night’s secret passions, crackled with electricity. Having found a pornographic booklet in the carriage, Fontaine’s persuaded the new girl is a vampire and must be dealt with.

Moodily and oppressively atmospheric with its use of shadows and flickering candles, Ellis accentuates the Gothic air with brooding sound design and close up images from nature such as skittering ants, a writhing mass of frenzied maggots, burrowing worms and ladybirds in heat, all turning up the sexual temperature. Balancing Fontaine’s chilly nature with the palpable heat between Lara and Carmilla, the film’s exploration of the fear of ‘the other’ and the ‘unnatural’ builds to a dramatic and bloody climax, before ending on an unsettling coda that continues to haunt long after the credits. (Amazon Prime)

Cats and Dogs: Paws Unite! (U)

When the acronym for an organisation is FART, you should have a pretty good idea of the level of humour at which a film is operating. Here, in this third installment of the talking animals series (which went straight to DVD in America),  it stands for Furry Animals Rivaly Termination, an MI6-like organisation the purpose of which is to ensure that, now allies, cats and dogs remain that way. Charged with monitoring things are Roger (Max Greenfield) and his feline opposite number Gwen (Melissa Rauch) and no sooner have they gone to work than some cackling bad guy shuts down the power and announces he intends to replace cats and dogs with other animals as humans’ favourite pets – except fish because, in what passes as a running joke, “fish don’t count”, by turning canines and felines on each other again.

It’s soon revealed that our villain is a cockatoo named Pablo (George Lopez),who, resentful of never being taken as a pet, has enlisted the ‘Other Pets’ of his local pet shop and in particular Zeke, a lizard who operates a wifi device that emits radio signals to make cats and dogs fight like, well, like cats and dogs. They can also be used on other animals and humans.

Ah yes, humans. There is a half-hearted subplot involving Roger and Gwen’s personality free teenage owners, respectively Max (Callum Seagram Airlie), a tennis protégé with a  pushy mum,  and his guitar-playing  downstairs neighbour Zoe (Sarah Giles)  who wants to be a singer like her dad but is unware they’re facing eviction (not that that narrative strand ever goes anywhere) and who also find themselves endangered, in long-winded and very clumsy sequence, by Pablo and Zeke.

With its lack of an involving story, wooden dialogue and some embarrassing ‘effects’ involving clearly fake paws and animated mouth movements, it lives down to its lack of ambition (though it does have a throwaway message about putting down your phones and actually talking to one another), but does keep another potty acronym in hand as a last resort. Undemanding kiddies might find trained animals doing tricks fun, but really they should be gently steered towards digging out The Secret Life Of Pets DVDs again. (Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue)

The Climb (15)

A smart American comedy bromance, it kicks off with friends Mike (Michael Angelo Covino) and Kyle (Kyle Marvin) on a hilly European bike ride in the South of France as, when the former gets a bit ahead, he yells back that he’s slept with Kyle’s  French fiancée  Ava (Judith Godreche), a woman he sees as a threat to their friendship, as is mutual high-school acquaintance Marissa (Gayle Rankin). Rather inevitably this has an effect on the pair’s relationship, as indeed does the fact that Mike goes on to marry Ava himself. Written by Covino and Marvin, it charts the different chapters of their lives, Mike clearly not the world’s greatest best friend, in which, despite everything, they somehow manage to maintain their bond. The climbs the pair undertakes on the bikes is, rather obviously, a metaphor for life uphill battle as the film’s shifting timeline  pedals its way through marriages, funerals, awkward dinners and the like. (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 buy the Bloods a round and the powerful central performances, it keeps you glued throughout its two hours plus. (Netflix)

Endless (12A)

As she explains in her opening voiceover, on paper Riley (Alexandra Shipp) and Chris (Nicholas Hamilton) don’t make sense together. She’s a fine art student from a wealthy California family looking to study law and he’s a slightly older motorbike-riding kid from the other side of the tracks with apparently no career ambitions. They are, however, deeply in love. Unfortunately, that’s all shattered when, returning home in a borrowed car after celebrating her admission to a high profile college, they’re involved in a head on car crash. Riley wake up in hospital with her folks (Ian Tracey, Catherine Lough Haggquis) and Chris at her bedside. Except, of course, Chris isn’t there in the flesh. His body’s in the morgue being wept over by his distraught mother (Famke Janssen).

Naturally, Riley’s in pieces is to blame while her folks don’t want her saying anything self-incriminating to the investigating cop (Patrick Gilmore), but then, out on the jetty where the two of them used to go, sketching Chris on his bike, she hears his voice. Is she losing it or, as she researches, is there a connection between them beyond the grave. Meanwhile, Chris is being mentored by Jordan (DeRon Horton), an also-dead friendly spirit who’s stayed on Earth to assist those   not yet ready to ‘skip’.

Between visiting his past, Chris eventually makes contact with Riley through her drawings (to the extent they can hold each other and even kiss), but, hey, there’s a downside, because each time he meets her, he’s also gradually killing her.

It is, of course, a teenage rework of classic afterlife romance weepie Ghost, substituting that film’s potter’s wheel scene for one in which Riley and Chris make a meal and, as such, does what it sets out to do perfectly well. Chris is a bit of a blank, but Shipp brings real emotional heft to Riley while Janssen scores vividly as the mother who channels her grief into accusing Riley of being a murderer. It doesn’t have the same persuasive ‘unchained melody’ of its source inspiration, but, even so, it strikes some moving notes of its own.  (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 a 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)

Honest Thief (12A)

Assuming you accept just how preposterous the plot is, then this latest middling Liam Neeson revenge thriller is watchable enough. He plays Tom, a  former Marine demolitions expert, who, since he became a civilian has (for reasons clunkily explained later) spent his life as the so-called In and Out Bandit, a nickname that clearly irritates him, amassing some $9 million in cash, none of which he has spent and which he keeps in boxes in a storage unit. It’s here he meets cute with manager Annie (Kate Walsh), falls in love and resolves to hand himself in so he can spend his life with her without living a lie.

Frustratingly, however, the FBI agents he calls, Baker (Robert Patrick) and Meyers (Jeffrey Donovan), reckon he’s just another crank, although, grudgingly, they assign a couple of underlings, Nivens (Jai Courtney) and Hall (Anthony Ramos), to check him out. They too take his story with a pinch of salt until he gives them they key to a unit and they find $3million. At which point, Nivens decides this will make a  tidy retirement nest egg, which means having to eliminate  Tom, which is when Baker turns up and duly gets shot, leaving Tom on the run as the supposed killer, Meyers swearing revenge and, obviously, Annie in danger since she witnessed the corrupt cops taking away the boxes.

It coasts along until Annie gets roughed up, prompting Neeson to shift into familiar avenging angel mode, even, at one point, telling Meyers ““I’ll do this my way”, but there’s none of the action or intensity of films like Taken or Non-Stop. Very little makes any sense, psychologically or in practical terms and there’s pretty much no depth at all to any of the characters, but, by now, Neeson, can play serviceable trashy plots like these in his sleep and still keep you watching. Which he does.  (Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue)

 

Hubie Halloween (12A)

Adam Sandler is Hubert ‘Hubie’ Dubois, a sweet-natured, clueless, mumbling middle-aged man-child who still lives with his protective aged mother (June Squibb) in Salem, Massachusetts, the town, infamous for its witch trials, where pretty much everyone, from the priest (Michael Chicklis) down to his supermarket co-worker (Karan Bra) bullies or mock him, the kids throwing food or anything that comes to hand as he cycles through the streets.  The only one to look kindly on him is his old high school crush and the film’s romantic interest, Violet Valentine (Julie Bowen), formerly married to the local police sergeant (Kevin James) and foster mum to three kids college freshman Tommy (Noah Schnapp), Danielle (Sadie Sandler) and Cooky (Susie Sandler).

Every Halloween, Hubie, who has invented a sort of Swiss Army thermos that serves as a telescope, vacuum and even contains an umbrella,  acts as the holiday’s monitor, ensuring no one pulls any real nasty tricks and don’t take more treats than they’re allowed. This year, however, things take on a sinister note. A patient has escaped from the local mental asylum, Hubie’s oddball new neighbour Walter (Steve Buscemi) might well be a werewolf and several residents, among them town bigwig Landolfa (Ray Liotta) and old classmates the Hennesseys (Tim Meadows,  Maya Rudolph), have all disappeared – all of them Hubie’s biggest bullies. Meanwhile, as Halloween arrives, Tommy has a date with Megan (Paris Berelc), one of the few nice folk in town, who try to protect Hubie from one of the many pranks pulled on him.

With  cameos that include   Ben Stiller, Shaquille O’Neal, Rob Schneider and George Wallace, like most Sandler comedies, this is low brow stuff and parents might find the many sexual innuendos (most of them on the t-shirts Hubie’s unaware mum wears, boner becoming a running joke), a little too much for younger kids, but mostly it’s harmless, occasionally slapstick styled fun with the final revelation of who’s behind the abductions all in the spirit of Scooby Doo and a positive message about not bullying, especially those who are too vulnerable to fight back. (Netflix)

I’m Thinking of Ending Things (15)

Credited only as Young Woman though at one point referred to as Lucy, Jessie Buckley is driving through the harsh winter weather with her boyfriend of six weeks, Jake (Jesse Plemons channelling Philip Seymour Hoffman) to meet his parents. She’s clearly distracted and her inner thoughts confess she’s not entirely sure the relationship is going to last much longer. Understandably perhaps since she’s an artist, poet (at one point she recites a striking work called Bone Dog) and Quantum Physics student and he’s frankly dull. At one point she muses “I’ve never mentioned Jake to my parents and I guess I never will.”

They eventually arrive at his parents’ farm and, after showing her around the outbuilding and describe in graphic details the death of the pigs, they go inside and, after an interminable delays, manic mum (Toni Collette) and oddball dad (David Thewlis) finally come downstairs and immediately present themselves as a very odd and eccentric couple indeed as they sit round he table for a very awkward dinner during which she receives a stream of texts from a friend called Lucy and Jake becomes increasingly hostile towards his folks and their embarrassing chatter and ways, losing it over his mother’s insistence on referring to the Genius as opposed to Genus, edition of Trivial Pursuit

It’s from this point, and having introduced the basement with scratch marks on the door and the likely dark secret within, that the film takes surreal flight into territory than even David Lynch might find hard to follow.  The first immediately obvious hints of how director Charlie Kaufman, working from an adaptation of  a Canadian novel by Iain Reid, messes with time is the plaster on Thewlis’s forehead shifts, it’s not a continuity error. And as the film continues clothes, hair colour, pretty much everything, transitions from one state to another, punctuated by flashes of an elderly high school janitor (Guy Boyd, who may or may not be a future version of Jake) going about his job while students rehearse for a production of Oklahoma and watches a (not real) romantic comedy by Robert Zemeckis featuring a woman called Yvonne, the name which also appears on Buckley’s phone texts.

Eventually, the pair drive back through a snowstorm, during which Jake mentions a series of events she doesn’t remember, including lengthy discussion about John Cassavetes’s A Woman Under the Influence, stop to buy an ice cream from an isolated parlour and wind up in the school as versions of them dance in a dream ballet from the musical. It all ends with an older Jake giving a Nobel Prize acceptance speech at the school to an audience that includes ‘Lucy’, made up to look older, before launching into a song from Oklahoma.

Extending beyond the two-hour mark it’s at times quite scary, but generally just utterly baffling, impressionistic and weird for no apparent reason other than being weird as it explores alienation, hopelessness and loneliness, so full credit to the central players, Buckley especially, delivering compelling performances that keep you watching even as your mind would like to end things and watch something more straightforward like a Bunuel movie. (Netflix)

 Kajillionaire (12A)

Writer-director Miranda July never offers and easy, straightforward watch and that’s certainly the case with her latest outing, an art house coming of age drama framed by the pathetic capers of a Los Angeles family of smalltime grifters, disconnected 26-year-old Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood) dressed in oversized clothes and with long, lank hair, and her neglectful parents Robert and Theresa Dynes (Richard Jenkins and Debra Winger. They ‘skim’ their way through life through the cheapskate likes of  boosting post office boxes or, in their biggest scam, pretending to have lost luggage on round trip to New York (quite where they get the money for tickets is never explained) to claim he insurance. They’re in desperate need of cash to pay the three months of arrears on their squalid apartment, an abandoned, cubicle-stuffed office, where, in return for the low rent, they have (in a particularly visually bizarre sequence)  to clean up the pink foam that oozes down the wall from the bubble factory next door, where their beleaguered landlord works.

It’s during the luggage scam that they meet physician’s assistant, Melanie (Gina Rodriguez) who, sussing them out, wants in and, forming some skewed spin on being a  ‘normal family’,  comes up with a way they can fleece her elderly patients. However, it’s in one such encounter that (previously confusedly stirred when she attends a class in Positive Parenting) Old Dolio (July keeps the explanation for her name up her sleeve) proves to be somewhat less heartless than her misanthropic parents and things start to fray, building to her emergence into self-discovery and a not entirely unexpected twist involving her and Melanie.

A study in emotional monotones and soulfulness buried beneath a defensive self-protecting blankness and the need for human connection, it moves slowly and quirkily, at times almost like some slapstick silent, but, if you can summon the patience, it has rich rewards.  (Vue)

Koko-di Koko-da (18)

Three years after the holiday in which their daughter died the morning following her mother’s bout of food poisoning,  her eighth birthday, Elin (Ylva Gallon) and Tobias (Leif Edlund) are setting off on a camping trip, though she’s considerably less enthusiastic than her husband, who curtly refuses to contemplate a B&B and she complains he bought her the wrong ice cream. From once being blissfully happy, they are now patently dysfunctional.

Having stopped in the woods well off the beaten tracks, he pitches the tent and, in the early hours, she says she needs to peer and, stopped by a  tree, is attacked by a bizarre trio of characters and their attack dog, a cane-carrying dandy (60s Danish pop star Peter Belli) in a white suit and straw boater, a silent big-haired girl (Brandy Litmanen) with  gun and a giant strongman (Morad Baloo Khatchadorian) carrying a  dead white dog. They then turn on the tent and Tobias. The camera pulls back for an aerial shot and, Groundhog Day style, the sequence begins again. As it does several times, each one changing the set-up as the pair argue en route, the manner in which the psychopaths kill them and, scared by the recurring nightmare, how Tobias reacts each each time, one one occasion cowering in the car while Elin is attacked.

There’s also an early animated shadow puppet show sequence involving three stick-figure rabbits (the couple and their daughter were made up as bunnies on the holiday), the baby of which wanders off, is carried away by a rooster and wind up dead. The film returns to this towards the end as, following a white cat, Elin winds up in an isolated house where red curtains part to reveal a screen as she watches the sequence unfold,

As written and directed by Johannes Nyholm,  title refers to lines in a Nordic children’s song, Vår tupp är död, which translates as Our Rooster’s Dead, the same tune as played by the musical box they’d bought for their daughter’s birthday and on which the same three death-dealing motiveless murderers were painted.

It is, needless to say, pretty creepy, notably so as the dandy sings Ohio Express hit Yummy, Yummy, Yummy while the dog sets about  licking up the petrified Elin’s urine, conjuring inevitable thoughts of David Lynch’s nihilism and Twin Peaks. Clearly, though never explicity, it is an allegory about death,  grief, anger and guilt and how it affects people, how sometimes you can be dead inside while still living and breathing, the horrors experienced here as much psychological as actual.

Although he teases you into thinking doom as been evaded, Nyholm refuses to provide any sense of closure, the film ending unresolved on the same note of eerie dread with which  began, an atmospheric work that mesmerises and unsettles as much as it frustrates, and one which will long linger in your own dreams. (BFI Player)

Max Winslow and the House of Secrets (12A)

Sporting a definite hint of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, director Sean Olson’s tweenage romp stars Sydne Mikelle as the titular Max(ine), an anti-social teenager with abandonment issues (the result of her dad having left when she was young) and a knack for coding, who becomes one of five schoolkids invited to take part in a competition, accounted when he hacks into the school computers,  to win a sprawling mansion owned by high-tech billionaire Atticus Virtue (Chad Michael Murray). Her rivals are school bully Aiden (Emery Kelly), narcissistic and social media-obsessed Queen Bitch Sophia (Jade Chynoweth), short-arsed games addict Benny (Jason Genao), and school jock Connor (Tanner Buchanan, resembling a young Travolta), who’d’ rather be the music guy than the lacrosse guy his parents want him to be, and on whom Max has  crush.

Arriving at the  mansion, they’re greeted by Haven (Marina Sirtis), its version of Alexa, and the robot knight butler Sir Mordred and informed that the games, the riddles they have to solve, will soon begin. Since you’ve already figured out that a la The Breakfast Club, all the teens have some sort of recognisable hangup or fear they need to face and overcome  it becomes fairly obvious where the plot trajectory is going as, variously,  in assorted visual effects set pieces, Benny’s trapped in a  virtual reality shooter game, Sophia ends up locked in a bathroom with her creepy accusatory bitchy mirror reflection, Aiden is confronted by a baseball moment with his bullying dad, Connor finds himself in a black and white quiz show where he has to tell is parents – and the world – the truth about himself, and Max relives over and over the moment her father left, gifting her just a memory stick as a memento.

Finally banding together to overcome the tyrannical – if well-intentioned – Haven and rescue the apparently imprisoned Virtue, there’s a not entirely persuasive therapy twist thrown in at the end, but otherwise this, while ultimately forgettable and overly familiar, is good fun while it lasts (Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Reel; Vue)

               

Mulan (12A)

Unless you live in China you can, at least for the time being, only watch this latest Disney live-action remake on a home device. Even so, magnificently directed by Niki Caro, its spectacle and majesty shine through.

Working from the 1998 animation as well as the Hua Mulan legend on which that was based, but minus the song and, thankfully, the sidekick dragon (though there is an ever-present phoenix, the family’s totem, climaxing in a particularly striking visual moment), it opens with the young Mulan (Crystal Rao), living with her younger sister Xiu (Elena Askin), flapping mother (Rosalind Chao) and lame war hero father (Tzi Mah), practising her martial arts skills much to dad’s pride and mum’s annoyance who reckons she should act like other girls and bring honour to the family as a dutiful wife.

Fast forward several years as the now teen Mulan (Liu Yifei) unintentionally causes havoc as the village matchmaker is trying to teach her grace and deportment, at which point an emissary from the Emperor (an unrecognisable Jet Li) arrives to inform that each family must supply one man to join the army in fighting against the marauding Bori Khan (Jason Scott Lee) who, abetted by a powerful shape-shifting witch (Zang Yimou’s muse and Oscar-nominated Farewell My Concubine  star Gong Li) is laying waste the country in revenge for the death of his father at the Emperor’s hands.

Having no son, despite his injured leg and failing health, Mulan’s father offers himself as a recruit. However, fearing for his life, she steals his sacred sword and armour and, disguising herself as a boy, rides off to join the Imperial Army under the name of Hua Jun.  Then, following an assortment of impressive combat training scenes and her determined efforts to not be revealed as a girl (the punishment for which would be death or, at best disgrace), as Khan sweeps all before him, the film builds to its exciting climax as she finally casts off her disguise, accepts her true self and becomes the legendary warrior who saves the Emperor and China.

Her first leading role in a major Hollywood film, Liu is the film’s heart and soul, struggling with the deception she is practising but also tapping into her inner chi to become the warrior events need, the moment she rides into battle, her armour gone, hair now down and flowing, is a breathtaking scene. She’s well served by an impressive support cast too, headed up by Donnie Yen as the imposing high ranking Commander Tung, her cadre of  fellow soldiers (and often comic support), the hapless Cricket,  Ling, Yao, Chien-Po and, most importantly Chen Honghui (Yoson An) who serves as Mulan’s eventual ally and romantic interest. Sporting scars and a ferocious beard, Lee makes for a powerful, driven and resourceful villain while Gong Li shines as the ambiguous sorceress – and Mulan’s dark counterpart who seeks to have her join forces – whose motivations underpin the film’s misogynistic themes of men’s fear and suppression of powerful women.  There’s also a cameo appearance by Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Ming Na-Yen who, of course, was the voice of Mulan in the original animation.

Glowing with an emotional depth to match its electrifying combat scenes, which involve twirling in mid-air, running up walls and other acrobatic feats, it’s an exhilarating and involving spectacle likely to induce cheers in the living room demanding that you see it on the biggest screen going at the earliest opportunity. (Disney +)

The New Mutants (15)        

Not, unfortunately, picking up the storyline of the mutant kids saved by Wolverine at the end of Logan, but rather  an adaptation of the X-Men spin-off Marvel series from The Fault in Our Stars director Josh Boone, arriving after three years on the shelf, reshoots, re-edits and numerous delays.

Her reservation and everyone on it destroying but some marauding demon-like cloud, Native-American adolescent Danielle Moonstar (Blu Hunt) wakes up in some isolated red-brick hospital institution (the same place used in Shutter Island) single-handedly run by Dr. Reyes (Alice Braga) who informs her that it’s basically a holding tank for teens whose mutant powers kicked in at puberty until they can learn to control their powers so they’re not a danger or others or themselves.

Her fellow ‘patients’  line-up as troubled Kentucky miner’s son Sam Guthrie (Charlie Heaton), cocky Brazilian playboy Roberto da Costa (Henry Zaga), introverted Scottish Catholic Rahne Sinclair (Maisie Williams) and bitchy Russian  Illyana Rasputin (Emma star Anya Taylor-Joy) who, in the comic, though never mentioned here, is the sister of Colossus from the X-Men. All have nascent powers, varying from bursting into flame, teleporting and turning an arm into a sword,  moving at lightning fast speeds and, er, transforming into a dog, okay, wolf.

Rayes’s job is to teach them control and to discover what Dani’s power is, one which, when realised, creates all manner of mayhem for everyone, and involves a Native American myth about two bears that live inside people. One good, one a demon. None of the characters are referred to by their comic book names and all of them accidentally killed people when their powers manifest. Well, except Rasputin, who boasts about killing 18 men who abused her.

Needless to say, given the banks of monitor screens, the lockdowns and the force field surrounding the institution,  it’s pretty obvious that Rayes and her mysterious superiors (not Prof. X, obviously) have a wholly different agenda to that which she claims, one with uncannily similar motives to the recent series of  Hanna.

Pitched as a kind of Stephen King-styled teen horror with a dose of The Breakfast Club and one obvious nod to Carrie as the young mutants find themselves threatened by their deepest fears and guilts, it rather plods along, throwing in a lesbian romance and a brand-wielding  priest for good measure without ever really whipping up any recent scares or getting inside the characters.  Hunt is confined to looking angsty and neither Heaton or da Costa are really given much to do other than some slight facial expression variations, but at least Williams makes a decent fist of things while Taylor-Joy is clearly having a good time as the mutant equivalent of the high school queen bitch. She even gets away with talking to a pterodactyl hand puppet.

It all climaxes in a fairly spectacular set-piece as they all have to use their powers to survive, gangly, fanged demons and a giant, very sore-headed bear, finally finding the coherence lacking in the run-up, but, rather ironically in view of the subtext about puberty confusions (da Costa quite literally gets hot when aroused), it never finds an identity of its own and, oh dear, it even has a dance montage sequence. At the end they find themselves free to create their own future together. A sequel seems unlikely to be part of that.  (Odeon  Broadway Plaza Luxe;  Vue)

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 quartet 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)

On The Rocks (15)

Director Sofia Coppola reunites with her Lost In Translation star Bill Murray for a light comedy about a Manhattan marriage in trouble and the interfering high-end art dealer father, wannabe crooner and incorrigible chauvinist flirt who tries to save it.

Laura (Rashida Jones) has a complicated relationship with her dad, Felix (Murray), who continues to treat her as his little girl in though she’s in her late 30s but it’s he she turns to when her husband Dean (Marlon Wayans), father to their  two daughters, primary school age Maya (Liyanna Muscat) and toddler Theo (Alexandra and Anna Reimer) starts spending late nights at the office, which, along with the  toiletries belong to his colleague Fiona (Jessica Henwick) she finds in his luggage, suggests he’s having an affair. On top of which, she’s getting nowhere on her book project.

Ill-advisedly she confides in Felix who, taking male infidelity as a given, agrees she’s probably right and sets about playing detective, he and Laura trailing Dean in a not entirely inconspicuous  vintage red convertible with a pair of binoculars, caviar and champagne on hand as a snack and then insisting on then following Dean on his Mexican company trip.

Despite or perhaps because of Felix’s unreconstructed gender attitudes (he tells his grandchildren to wear their hair long to get the boys) and sense of privilege (he wraps a traffic cop round his finger), Murray’s performance is a treat while Coppola indulges influences from 30s comedy mysteries and vintage Woody Allen with Jones handling the dry comedy with aplomb and a recurring gag with Jenny Slate’s school parent friend oversharing details of her own affair adding to the fun as it explores the contemporary crisis of female identity. (Sun: Everyman)

Pixie (15)

Cheerfully sporting its Tarantino and John Michael McDonagh influences, directed by Barnaby Thompson and written by Preston Thompson, this comedy thriller set in Co. Sligo, is great fun. The step-daughter of   local drugs baron gangster Dermot O’Brien (Colm Meany), the spunkily ruthless but irresistible Pixie (Olivia Cooke) sets out to avenge her dead mother and score the money she needs to go to San Francisco, setting in motion a plot that involves her new lover Fergus  recruiting her ex, Colin (Rory Fleck Byrne), to steal  a consignment of MDMA from a syndicate of drug dealing Catholic priests, headed up by her step-father’s old rival, Father McGrath (Alec Baldwin). This leaves the priests dead and, subsequently, the jealous Colin putting a bullet in Fergus’s head, heading off with the bagful of drugs to have words with Pixie and himself ending up in the boot of a car driven by the naïve Harland (newcomer Daryl McCormack) who’s sitting outside her house waiting for his directionless best mate, Frank (Ben Hardy, Roger Taylor in Bohemian Rhapsody) who’s inside supposedly getting shagged. And that’s just the start.

Now they and Pixie find themselves thrown together with Colin’s body in the boot, first trying to offload the drugs to a local dealer’s Dingle-based uncle (Dylan Moran) and then on the run across the county, Pixie’s step-brother, who reckons dad’s lost his grip, looking to bring her down using the family’s pet hitman (Ned Dennehy), before setting up a deal with McGrath that culminates in a rival gangs shoot-out in an abandoned church.

Taking its cue from Westerns, it romps along with a copious supply of blood, violence and knowingly spark dialogue as the various characters seek to outmanoeuvre on another, before you get to the revelation about Pixie’s mother’s death and how it ties everything together. It makes a couple of unnecessary plot detours, such as snogging threeway between Pixie, Frank and  in which the latter realise the extent of their bromance, but, putting a  fresh spin on some old clichés, it otherwise proves a welcome escapist delight, not least for the sight of  a gun toting nun. Father Ted as never like this. It had me at gangster priests.  (Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue)

Project Power (15)

Variously borrowing ideas and images from, among others, Limitless, Hourman, Captain America, Wolverine and The Hulk,  directors Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost  take a step up from the Catfish documentary, the third and fourth Paranormal films, and the thrillers Nerve and Viral to tackle the superpowers genre. Set in New Orleans, sporting the No. 37 jersey of New Orleans Saints legend Steve Gleason, maverick local cop Frank (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is unofficially working with streetsmart smalltime schoolgirl dealer and aspirant rapper Robin (Dominique Fishback) to clean up the city from the bigger dealers who are peddling a pill that can give you superpowers, albeit for just five minutes and not always in a good way. He’s looking to nail the man he thinks is the major supplier, Art (Jamie Foxx) although, in fact, he’s a former special forces soldier who, plagued with PTSD flashbacks, became a lab rat for the original Project Power and is now searching for the people who kidnapped his daughter Tracy (Kyanna Simone Simpson) to harvest her DNA with the aim of producing a more stable, permanent version of the pill. Needless to say, at some point they starting with rather than against each other.  Although illegal, and without his superior’s (Courtney B. Vance) knowledge, the savvy Frank also takes the pills to carry out his duties, giving him bulletproof skin.

Written by Mattson Tomlin, currently working on the next Batman, it has a suitably dystopian look with it wet, neon lit nighttime streets while he and the directors balance some highly effective comic book-style action sequences with psychological and emotional beats and, unusually for such films, there’s no central bad guy as such, just those looking to make a killing from the drug, like sleazy middleman Biggie  (Rodrigo Santoro)  and the clandestine organisation headed up by Gardner (Amy Landecker), the scientist who first experimented on Art,  making this more a film about the war on drugs than some megalomaniac with world domination aspirations.

It makes some political points along the way (“You’re young. You’re Black. You’re a woman. The system is designed to swallow you whole” Art tells Robin) and there’s a few plot holes and undeveloped threads here and there, but climaxing in an all-out confrontation aboard a cargo ship with powered up henchmen this delivers with a charge that lasts for far more than five minutes. (Netflix)

Rebecca (12A)

Ben Wheatley’s overwrought, glossy but faithful remake of the Daphne DuMarier novel (and Hitchcock classic) in which a young unnamed women (Lily James) is wooed and wed by widower after a whirlwind romance in Monte Carlo with h widower Maxim de Winter (Armie Hammer). Moving into Manderley, his new husband’s imposing family estate on a windswept English coast, she finds herself in a  battle of wills with his sinister housekeeper Mrs. Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas), who’s determined to keep the legacy of the first Mrs De Winter, Rebecca alive, on top of which her husband’s manner changes as questions concering his wife’s death begin to surface. Keeley Hawes is De Winter’s sister, Beatrice Lacy, who takes a shine to his new bride while Sam Riley is the late Rebecca’s cousin (and sometime lover) and Danvers’ confidante.  (Everyman; Netflix)

Rocks (12A)

Rocks (newcomer Bukky Bakray) is a teenage British-Nigerian East London schoolgirl with a strong multi-ethnic support circle of friends, among them Sumaya (Kosar Ali) Agnes (Ruby Stokes),  Yawa (Afi Okaidja), Khadijah (Tawheda Begum) and Sabina (Anastasia Dymitrow).

She certainly needs them when, suffering from depression and medication issues, not for the first time, her widowed mother (Layo-Christina Akinlude) takes off leaving her and seven-year-old kid brother Emmanuel (D’angelou Osei Kissiedu) to fend for themselves. Which, of course, means Rocks has to prevent the authorities finding out so they’re not taken into care and split up, while carrying on as if everything’s normal.

Directed by Sarah Gavron, co-written by Theresa Ikoko  and Claire Wilson and developed in workshops, unfolding over the course of a week it has a natural, fluid feel in which the friendships that are a vital part of the story are organic rather than scripted, with Bakray anchoring the film as a force of nature. (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.  (Amazon Prime)

Saint Maud (15)

Somewhat overly in thrall to Dario Argento perhaps,  but this inventive religious fervour gothic horror debut from writer-director Rose Glass with its taught 84 minute running time, undeniably gets under the skin.  Delivering an awards-worthy performance of intense complexity in her first lead role, Morfydd Clark is Maud, or at least that’s what she’s currently calling herself, a mousy born again palliative nurse with a Christ complex now working on an agency basis following an incident with a hospital patient. Based in an unnamed seedy British seaside town (it was filmed in Scarborough), her new client is Amanda Kohl (an outstanding Jennifer Ehle), a former celebrity dancer and choreographer now consigned to bed and wheelchair a la Norma Desmond with terminal spinal lymphoma and clearly not long for this world, although, hedonist to the end, she’s not about to forsake drink, cigarettes or lesbian sex (Lily Frazer). Patently unreligious, Maud sees it as God’s mission for her to save this lost soul and bring her to God in the same way she found salvation; however, while Kohl briefly plays long, pretending to feel the Holy Spirit orgasmically within her, it’s clear she’s just cruelly humouring Maud, something she makes abundantly clear at a party that ends in her dismissal. Maud, however, is not done with her yet.

An early indication of Maud’s mental state comes when she give money to a  beggar and walks away advising him not to waste his pain, advice she takes to heart as, echoing ascetics who would self-harm as a form of devout suffering, she inserts  a pad with drawing pins into her shoes in an excruciating scene to watch.  When the embittered Kohl calls her “the loneliest girl I’ve ever seen”, it’s not just mockery.

Along with the Argento flourishes, Glass’s impressionistic film also draws inspirations from Carrie, The Exorcist (a levitation scene is ambiguously misleading), Repulsion, Morvern Callar and Under The Skin , the brooding lighting and camera work and emphatic score  further accentuating the intensity as, varying its perspective from Maud’s internal psychological turmoil and (part driven by images from the Blake illustrations given her by Kohl) delusional out of body experiences (at one point the voice of a subtitled Christ talks to her in ancient Hebrew), it builds to a brace of horrific climaxes after a doubt-fuelled night of carnality on the town  as Maud’s sanity finally collapses. It could, perhaps, have done without the digital angel wings Maud imagines herself sporting, a sly halo allusion earlier is more effective, but this undeniably buries its way into your mind with a shudder. (Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Reel; Walsall Showcase; Vue)

The Secret Garden (PG)

The seventh big screen adaptation of  Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1911 English children’s literature classic,  screenwriter Jack Thorne  (who adapted His Dark Materials) expanding the backstory and delivers a more dramatic climax, but this still feels a bit of a charmless slog, the characters overshadowed by the visual effects, and the performances often feeling like a throwback to the days of the Children’s Film Foundation.

Opening with a  prologue set in India on the eve of partition, her parents dead and abandoned by the servants, 10-year-old Mary Lennox (Dixie Egerickx, recently seen in Summerland) finds herself shipped off to England become the ward of her hunchback uncle, Archibald Craven (Colin Firth with a very annoying floppy fringe), the cold, no-nonsense widower of her mother’s sister, at Misselthwaite Manor, is brooding estate on the Yorkshire Moors, and under the strict supervision of joyless housekeeper Mrs. Medlock (Julie Walters).

Initially something of a brat with a sense of entitlement, Mary eventually makes friend with the ethnic housemaid Martha (Isis Davis) and, while playing outdoors, encounters a Yorkshire terrier she names Jemimah, and discovers a hidden garden behind overgrown walls. In turn, she chums up with Martha’s wild-haired younger brother, Dickon (Amir Wilson), who she takes into the garden where a friendly robin leads her to the location of a hidden key.

Meanwhile, ignoring instructions to remain in her part of the house, she’s also discovered Colin (Edan Hayhurst), her equally spoiled and bossy cousin who has been confined to bed by his father, who rarely visits him, and is apparently unable to walk  on account of some genetic spinal condition. Suffice to say, they gradually become friend and she and Dickon secretly wheel him  out of the house into the garden, where its restorative powers do their business.

The garden of course, has its own secret, as this was the favourite spot for the two sisters and their youngsters, and where Colin’s mother died, his grief-struck fathers sealing it up and subsequently locking way any memories of his wife, his son included.

A film about grief, healing, friendship, family and the power of nature, it’s visually strikingly impressive and colourful, the William Morris-style floral design of the wallpaper in Mary’s shadowy room (which secretly adjoins that of her late aunt) patently foreshadowing the real thing later and also prompting one of several, rather jarring, flights into her imagination. The introduction of the ghosts of both Colin’s mother Grace (Jemma Powell) and her sister Alice (Maeve Dermody), who also figures ignoring her daughter in several flashbacks does little to enhance to narrative or evoke the emotions intended.

Egerickx is engagingly energetic and charismatic, even when being petulantly privileged, so it’s unfortunate her fellow child actors are so flat and dull, while Walters rarely registers as more than a dour cameo and Firth, despite  saving grace final moment of  epiphany, is all one note and lacking his usual spark. Nice flowers though. (Empire Great Park; Reel; Sky)

Tenet (12A)

If phrases like ‘temporal pincer movement’ or a mission briefing that uses information received from another mission that has yet to take place  make your brain hurt, then this, the latest mind-twister from writer-director Christopher Nolan probably isn’t for you.

It opens in the first of several eye-popping set pieces as terrorists invade the Ukraine Opera House just as the orchestra strikes up, and as the local military tool up and stride in, a team of CIA operatives infiltrates the operation to extract an American asset. This is when the first weirdness begins as a bullet flies up out of the floor and kills the soldier with the gun to the team leader’s head.

The next thing of significance is when the same agent (John David Washington), never referred to by name, only as The Protagonist, finds himself aboard a boat, theoretically dead after being captured and swallowing a suicide pill, to be informed by someone called Victor (Martin Donovan) from some mysterious agency, Tenet (which symbolically folds in on itself and can be read both ways) that he’s been recruited to prevent a looming global disaster. He’s then told by an agency scientist (Clémence Poésy) that someone has found a way to invert entropy, that is to switch the direction in which things travel in time (such as the bullets, the detritus from a future war) which, in the more straightforward aspect of the narrative has him teaming with another agent, rumpled ex-pat Neil (Robert Pattison), to strongarm a Mumbai arms dealer (scaling his building in reverse bungee manner) to find out who’s behind it, the finger pointing to Russian oligarch Andrei Sator (a chilling Kenneth Branagh delivering as graphic description of suffocating on your own severed testicles), who came up through one of hidden Soviet cities in the Cold War. He’s apparently getting his resources from the future and messing round with the time stream with the aim of unleashing something far worse the WWII and nuclear armageddon. To get close to him involves another set piece, this time crashing a 747  (for real) into an Oslo airport building in order to destroy a forged Goya  Sator bought from his art dealer wife Kat (Elizabeth Debicki channelling cool Hitchcockian blondes) and is now using to blackmail her into staying with him.

So far, so James Bond, except 007 never had to deal with the present reversing itself or things that haven’t yet happened affecting things now. It’s like Inception with people dropping in and out of time instead of dreams. “Don’t try to understand it, feel it”, advises Poésy, which seems like good advice to anyone watching as the characters find themselves watching themselves doing things they haven’t done yet, moving forwards and backward in time as if someone switched the gears into reverse, as the team (here joined by a bearded Aaron Taylor-Johnson) seeks to prevent a plutonium device (which will complete a word-destroying bomb) falling into Sator’s hands, something that prompts a thrilling and  brilliantly engineered on the road heist that makes the Fast and the Furious crew seem like amateurs.

Small details such as how inverters have to wear masks as normal air in the now is toxic, a cameo by Michael Caine’s MI6 spy advising Washington that he needs to wear better suits, Dimple Kapadia as the mastermind behind the whole arms dealing scenario, reversed sound effects and score sit alongside the spectacular action and high speed car stunts, while Washington and Pattison exude consummate cool without really giving anything away about their characters. And then there’s the whole grandfather paradox.

Exhilarating, bold, explosive, breathtaking and migraine-inducingly baffling, I’m going to have to see it again to try and put the pieces in order. But then, maybe I already have.  (Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Bromwich; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue)

The Trial of the Chicago 7 (15)

As in his screenplay for A Few Good Men, writer-director Aaron Sorkin delivers a powerful courtroom drama with his recreation of the 1969 trial of the seven protestors accused of inciting a riot against the Vietnam draft that proved to be one of the most infamous chapters in American legal history. While it does fictionalise some incidents, some of the seemingly most unlikely moments, such as the judge ordering a defendant to be bound and gagged or barring the testimony of the former Attorney General of the United States, are all taken from life.

When President Johnson order a doubling of the draft, from 17,000 to 35,000 per month, anti-war factions took to the streets in protest, planning to convene at and disrupt the Democratic National Convention in the summer of 1968 in Chicago. Among them were non-violence favouring Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne), leader of the Students for a Democratic Society; Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong) and Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) from the Youth International Party (Yippies) and the older but equally committed David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch).

A year on from the Chicago Police and protesters violent clashing in and around Grant Park, the leaders, along with Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins), John Froines (Daniel Flaherty), Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp) Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), the national chairman of the Black Panther Party who had no actual connection to the others or involvement in the protest, and was only in Chicago to give a speech, were charged with conspiracy to cross lines with the intention of inciting riots.

Opening with a montage of historical events that take in the King and Kennedy assassinations, alternating between courtroom dramas, recreation of the protest and sessions at the home of liberal attorney William Kunstler (Mark Rylance) to plan strategy while rising legal star Richard Schultz (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) puts together the prosecution case, despite reservations as to whether there should even be a trial, the film gathers in power and indignation as  District Judge Julius Hoffman (Frank Langella) conducts  the courtroom as his personal fiefdom, walking roughshod over constitutional and legal rights, hammering home his clear prejudices and bias with a  gavel and contempt of court orders in his contempt for the accused and their representatives as they, understandably, protest about his handling of the trial.

Michael Keaton puts in a late appearance as former Atty. General Ramsey Clark, whose testimony to the jury was refused by Hoffman, although the film does reveal what he would have said and while certain events rejigged in the timeline and there’s degree of dramatic licence,  fuelled by commanding performances (a frizzy-haired Baron Cohen stealing the show – . “We’re not guilty because of who we are. “We’re guilty of what we believe” – and proving he’s more than a comedic actor) that fully engage you in proceedings even as Hoffman and Rubin play the courtroom farrago for laughs.

“This is the Academy Awards of protests,” says Weiner (Noah Robbins) as he takes his seat, “As far as I’m concerned, it’s an honour just to be nominated.” Come the actual Awards, it’s a fair bet many involved will be feeling the same way. (Netflix)

Unhinged (15)

Life for single mum hairstylist Rachel (Caren Pistorius) isn’t going well. She’s  been fired by her biggest client and harassed by her ex over the divorce and now, having overslept, she’s running late getting to work, her son in the car. It’s about to get worse when she has a confrontation with another driver  (Russell Crowe) who, when he doesn’t move his massive pick-up when the lights turn green, honks hard on her horn, drives round his vehicle and gives him a hand gesture. Pulling up next to her at the next stop, he attempts to apologise and expects her to do likewise. She’s not giving one, words are exchanged. And he decides to show her what a bad day really is as, an extreme case of psychopathic road rage,   he tails her, steals her phone and systematically sets out to murder all her contacts, generally proving her worst nightmare.

With a pre-title sequence that has a scowling Crowe, seething over a bitter divorce,  striding from his car, breaking down  the front door of the nearest house, taking his axe to the couple inside and setting it on fire before driving off into the rainy night, you know you’re in for an intense trip, one that  involves spectacular car crashes, explosions and vehicular mayhem. Crowe goes all out with an intensity that glues you to the screen as the carnage escalates and Pistorius embarks on increasingly elaborate fight back strategies. It’s a B movie running on high octane fuel. (Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe; Vue)

Waiting For The Barbarians (15)

Given a headline cast of Mark Rylance, Johnny Depp and Robert Pattinson alongside famed cinematographer Chris Menges, it’s surprising that this, from of the Serpent Colombian Embrace director Ciro Guerra, has flown so below the radar. Adapted by Nobel Prize-winning South African author JM Coetzee from his own 1980 novel, it’s set in the colonial desert outpost of some unnamed European empire around the early years of the twentieth century. It’s overseen by the mild-mannered, compassionate Magistrate (a stupendous Rylance), who treats the appreciative indigenous  population well and spends much of his time in his library poring over archaeological artefacts. His comfortable life is disrupted, however, by the arrival of Colonel Joll (Depp) and his men  from state security who has gotten it into his head that the local tribesmen, the barbarians, are planning some sort of insurrection and has come to gather information. This he sets about doing through “patience and pressure”, as in brutal torture of two prisoners suspected of sheep-stealing, but probably only there to get medicine, leaving one of them dead, and eliciting  a ‘confession’ about a coming war, before setting out with the other to capture further informants.

Needless to say, the Magistrate is horrified at his actions, but is in no position to do anything about it other than voice his opposition. After returning from his mission with a group of elderly prisoners, men and women, who are again brutalised, Joll departs, bring the opening chapter, Summer, to a close. Although he returns in the closing chapter, Depp, dressed in rigid black (as opposed to Rylance’s loose beige linen)  sporting distinctive circular sunglasses (which he amusingly predicts everyone will someday wear) gives such an intense performance of  arrogance and cold colonial cruelty that his chill remains even when he’s physically absent.

The second chapter, Autumn,  focuses on The Girl (Gana Bayarsaikhan), left cripped and almost blind by the brutality of Joll’s men, she’s begging in the streets and the Magistrate takes her in, tends her feet and allows her to stay as his concubine, although (unlike the novel) there’s no suggestion it’s anything but  platonic. Offering to return her to her nomadic people, though wishing she would stay, they set off to the mountains, and, on his return, the Magistrate finds Officer Mandel (Pattinson) running things, if anything even crueller than Joll , who has him arrested for supposedly consorting with the enemy, stripped of his position and thrown in a cell.

Attempting to intervene in another of Joll’s tortures, he’s questioned and beaten , left dispossessed with only the household’s cook (an underused Greta Scacchi) to care for him, as Joll and his forces take off to subdue the barbarians. Rather inevitably, in a rework of the book’s coda, the outcome sees Mandel abandoning the fort, leaving the Magistrate to reassume his former role to await whatever is to come.

Akin to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, its message about how colonialism create the enemy it then seeks to conquer (“We have no enemy, unless we ourselves are our enemy”, Rylance observes) and just who the true barbarians are isn’t exactly buried away, but that doesn’t diffuse the film’s understated and quietly gathering power; may proceed slowly, but it makes for compelling viewing.  (Amazon Prime)

CINEMAS

Cineworld 5 Ways – 181 Broad St, 0871 200 2000 (Temporarily closed)

Cineworld NEC – NEC  0871 200 2000 (Temporarily closed)

Cineworld  – Mill Ln, Solihull 071 200 2000 (Temporarily closed)

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 (currently closed for technical reasons)

0871 471 4714

The Everyman – The Mailbox 0871 906 9060

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

Mockingbird, Custard Factory  0121 224 7456 (currently closed)

Odeon Birmingham -Birmingham, 0871 224 4007 (Fri-Sun)

Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe – Ladywood Middleway, 0333 006 7777

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

Reel – Hagley Rd, Quinton, Halesowen 0121 421 5316

Showcase Walsall – Bentley Mill Way, Walsall 0871 220 1000

Vue Star City – Watson Road, 08712 240 240

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