MOVIE ROUND-UP: This Week’s New Film Releases, Fri Aug 16-Thu Aug 22

 

NEW RELEASES

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (18)

Reuniting with both Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio, and teaming them together (in masterclass performances steeped in gleeful self-irony) on screen for the first time, Quentin Tarantino’s  ninth film is again awash with 60s pop culture references, from the music of the era to spaghetti Westerns and vintage American TV shows.   Some are obvious, others, such as a brief glimpse of a Kid Colt comic are throwaways while others let savvy audiences draw the dots, such as a Playboy Mansion party that (aside from a cameo by Damien Lewis as Steve McQueen) captions Michelle Phillips from the Mamas and Papas knowing that viewers will automatically know her more amply proportioned friend is Mama Cass.

A revisionist take on Hollywood lore and history, the loose plot pivots around Rick Dalton (DiCaprio), the this functioning alcoholic faded star of a TV Western called Bounty Law  whose action movie career never took off and is now reduced to playing the bad guy opposite the new rising names, and his long-time stunt-double, driver, general gofer and best buddy Cliff Booth (Pitt) an easy going,  self-assured war hero (and, echoes of Natalie Wood, wife killing) who lives in a crappy trailer next to a drive-in with his Rottweiler, Brandy.

Currently being directed by Sam Wanamaker (Nicholas Hammond) as the guest villain to Timothy Olyphant’s hero in a Western series called Lancer (which also features Scoot McNairy and the late Luke Perry), although initially reluctant, an opportunity for Rick to reinvent himself comes via fan and agent Marvin Schwarz (Al Pacino) who hooks him up with the second best director of Spaghetti Westerns to make things like Kill Me Quick, Ringo, Said the Gringo and Bond knockoff Operazione Dyn-o-mite, and from which he returns a married man.

Running parallel to this is a storyline involving Rick’s new neighbours on Cielo Drive, hot new director Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha) and his actress wife Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) the latter of whom was murdered (while heavily pregnant) along with four friends (including ex-fiance, Jay Sebring, here played by Emile Hirsch) by four of Charlie Manson’s followers on, as the Neil Diamond song presages, a hot August night which was regarded as the end of an era. The narratives are further interlinked when (as allegedly did Dennis Wilson from The Beach Boys) Cliff gives Pussycat (Margaret Qualley) a toke-dealing hippie a lift to her commune on the disused Spahn Movie Ranch where he has a run-in with her fellow cult members, notably the intimidating Squeaky (Dakota Fanning), and a brief cameo with Bruce Dern.

Littered with vintage clips, pastiches, billboards, posters, cinema marquees (at one point Tate goes to watch herself in a Dean Martin Matt Helm movie) and punctuated with a wealth of songs from the era, as the film builds nail-bitingly to its climax, Tarantino, brilliantly abetted by  cinematographer Robbie Richardson, production designer Barbara Ling and costumer Arianne Phillips, delivers one knockout sequence after another. Notable standouts among these include a fight between Cliff and a smug Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) on the set of The Green Hornet (which also features a Kurt Russell cameo) and a backlot moment involving Rick and  a precocious eight-year-old method actor (Julia Butters) on the set of Lancer, which, after he flubs his lines due to too much booze, results in a gripping take which she tells him was the best acting she’s ever seen. You’re inclined to agree.

In a breathtakingly audacious move only Tarantino would have the nerve and the ability to bring off, the accumulating tension ends with the bloodbath of August 8, 1969 as, armed with knives and a pistol,  Family member Tex and three girls make their way up Cielo Drive. Real movie stars, a real director, a helluva movie. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Mockingbird; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Dora And The Lost City Of Gold (PG)

Debuting in 2000, while probably unlikely to have been named for the Stackridge song, the first animation to star a female Latina protagonist, part adventure, part educational, Dora the Explorer, a sort of junior wide-eyed innocent Lara Croft,  ran on Nickelodeon for six years and is still screened as reruns. Now, directed by James Bobin, she makes her live action debut starring an indefatigably charismatic Isabela Moner, recently seen in Instant Family. Initially a seven year old, as in the TV series, after a brief set-up, this cuts to her as a young teen, living in the South American jungle with her archaeology professor explorer parents (Eva Longoria and Michael Peña), who are about to embark on a quest to find the fabled lost Inca city of Parapata. She’s hoping to join them, so is disappointed to find she’s being sent on a different adventure, exploring the world of American high school in Los Angeles where’s she’s reunited her cousin and childhood best friend Diego (Jeff Wahlberg).

Suffice to say, after a brief dalliance with familiar high school misfit sequences, during a trip to the local museum she’s abducted by a trio of mercenaries looking to track down her parents and seize the fabled treasure. She’s not alone, also taken captive are Diego and two classmates, nerdy outsider Randy (Nicholas Coombe) and bitchy, insecure queen bee Sammy (Madeleine Madden) who feels threatened by Dora’s intelligence. Arriving back in South America, they’re swiftly rescued by Alejandro (Eugenio Derbez), an old friend of Dora’s parents and, joined by Dora’s pet monkey, Boots (voiced by Danny Trejo),  they set off to find Cole and Elena before the treasure hunters do.

Needless to say, the journey will involve an assortment of be yourself life lessons, a betrayal and,  inevitably, Dora’s penchant for bursting into spontaneous made up songs (including one about doing a poo in the jungle) before climaxing in the lost city as they’re confronted by its guardians, led by an ancient Inca princess (Q’orianka Kilcher).

Resolutely pitched at a young audience, there’s virtually no concessions for the grown ups, who may well find Dora’s resolutely irrepressible upbeat  nature and energy a tad irritating. Kids, on the other hand, should be swept up by what is, in essence, a return to the old days of Saturday matinees that also inspired the like of Indian Jones.  In addition the puzzles to be solved, there’s nods to the original series when the characters inhale an hallucinatory pollen and find themselves transformed into cartoons, Boots retains his far from realistic-looking appearance and,  along with early scenes of Dora talking to the camera, dispensing with any notions of reality, the bad guys are abetted by Swiper (voiced be Benicio Del Toro), the masked, talking fox from the cartoons. The film even sneaks in Dora’s talking backpack. Great fun. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Mockingbird; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Good Boys (15)

Far better than you might expect from a film touted as being from the people who brought you Superbad and Bad Neighbours, this is essentially a tweenage coming of age cocktail of Stand By Me, South Park and, well, Superbad.  Twelve-year olds Max (Room’s Jacob Tremblay), Thor (Brady Noon), and Lucas (Keith L. Williams) are the Bean Bag Boys, best buddies since kindergarten who, while they may regularly drop the f word and talk up how sussed they are about sex and beer, are in fact clueless as to the ways of the world, as evidenced by their disgust and horror at seeing a porno and thinking the sex toys found in Thor’s parents’ bedroom are weapons. An innocence that throws up multiple amusing misinterpretations of the grown up world.

As in all good movies of its kind, they have a mission. Well, two actually. First, they have to recover Max’s dad’s drone which is being held to ransom by two high-schoolers (Molly Gordon and Midori Francis) on whom they were spying. The reason they were spying links to the other mission, they need to learn how to kiss before they can go to one of the cool kids’  kissing party, not so much Thor and Lucas, but Max wants to plant lips on his crush, Brixlee (Millie Davis, and doesn’t want to mess up. Especially since he’s not yet even summoned up the courage to talk to her.

Somehow these two objectives end up with them having to score sex drug MDMA, much to the earnest Lucas’s horror, to replace the bottle (which they can’t unscrew) they stole from the girls and wound up leaving in the hands of a cop. Which means entering a frat house to hook up with the dealer, and ends up in a mass battle with the resident slackers. And, by way of a comic sidebar, Max gets the money he needs to buy a new drone/replace the drugs by selling Thor’s parents’  blow up sex doll to the guy (Stephen Merchant) who just turned up to buy a collectable gaming card off  Lucas.

Needless to say, the screenplay’s peppered with sex and drug gags, machismo challenges and, but there’s also a sweetness and poignancy to the trio, Thor has given up singing, which he loves, because he thinks it makes him seen uncool and the target of the class bully, Lucas has discovered that his folks are divorcing and Max, well he’s struggling to come to terms with nascent puberty and first love inarticulacy. Friendships are tested, bonds renewed, life lessons learnt and, almost inevitably, the ending includes a school musical.

Ultimately, the amusement in kids swearing is overworked and begins to wear out its welcome, but by then the film is on track for its big emotional finish about growing up and all that means. The boys done good.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Tell It To The Bees (15)

Directed by Annabel Jankel (redeeming herself after 1993’s Super Mario Bros, her last film), this adaptation of  Fiona Shaw’s novel is  a forbidden love period drama, set in smalltown, postwar Scotland and anchored by beautifully modulated performances by its two stars, Holliday Grainger and a finely Scottish-accented Anna Paquin.

Married when she became pregnant and now abandoned by her feckless, philandering husband, Robert (Emun Elliott), a changed man since the war,  textile factory worker Lydia (Grainger) is in dire financial straits, even more who when she gets fired. However, when she’s evicted, she’s taken in by the new doctor, Jean Markham (Paquin),  returned to her village family home, who’s befriended her young son Charlie (Gregor Selkirk, providing the voice over narration).

Given that Jean originally left because of the hostility engendered by her sexuality, it’ll be no surprise to find these two lonely women drawn together into a deep lesbian love affair, which, naturally, doesn’t sit well with the conservative locals, especially Lydia’s shrewish widowed sister-in-law, Pam (Kate Dickie), prompting an ugly battle for custody of Georgie, while Pam’s own teenage daughter, Annie (Lauren Lyle), is secretly seeing George (Leo Hoyte-Egan), which, given he’s ethnic, accounts for another forbidden love, one that leads to a particularly hard to watch forced abortion.

The film’s title comes from the belief that talking to the bees and telling them your secrets, as does young Georgie, will both stop them leaving and give you some spiritual release, and, while a climactic magic realism moment of domestic abuse involving swarming doesn’t convince, this deserves to find an audience among older viewers, although probably best on BBC2. (MAC)

 

Ugly Dolls (PG)

The creation of now husband and wife team David Horvath and Sun-Min Kim, the Uglydolls line of plush toys was launched in 2001 and became an overnight sensation. It’s unlikely that this film based on them will follow suit. Factory rejects who get pulled off the production line and tossed down the disposal chute, the Ugly Dolls have formed their own community in Uglyville where, headed up by green one-eyed Ox (Blake Shelton), they are content and oblivious to their imperfections. However, the resolutely upbeat Moxy (Kelly Clarkson), a gap-toothed blob of pink, doesn’t believe that the Big World  is just  myth and, as the opening song announces, forever dreams of one day finding the child she’s intended for. Realising that new arrivals always come from a portal high up in the walls, she persuades a bunch of fellow dolls, among them canine cyclops Ugly Dog (Pitbull), and two-fanged Wage (Wanda Sykes), to  join her in a quest to the other side.

Which is where the find the Institute of Perfection, a place where human-like dolls are prepared in readiness to follow their toy destinies in the human world, overseen by preening blond-haired pop star-like guru Lou (Nick Jonas), who tosses dolls into a washing machine as punishment, with the help of a trio of mean girls (Janelle Monae among them) each with their own insecurities. Needless to say, the arrival of the Ugly Dolls causes consternation and pits them against the tyrannical Lou.

The notion that every doll needs a child plays like a watered down Toy Story and, indeed, from the songs to the characters, everything about the film feels like a diluted version of kiddie movies you’ve already seen. The message about loving your imperfections because your flaws make you who you are is commendable, but, it just comes across like one  of the Fortune Cookie mottos served up by Lucky Bat (Leehom Wang), to be read and thrown away. Pretty much like the film. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

 

ALSO PLAYING

Apocalypse Now: The Final Cut (15)

The, no, really, final no more changes ever never-before-seen and painstakingly newly restored, from the original negative for the first time ever, cut of Francis Ford Coppola’s cinematic masterpiece which follows troubled Army Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) on a dangerous odyssey into Cambodia to assassinate renegade American Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando), who has succumbed to the horrors of war and barricaded himself in a remote outpost and finds himself experiencing he madness of war, as equally exemplified by Robert ‘I love the smell of napalm in the morning’ Duvall. (Tue: MAC)

 

NOW SHOWING

The Angry Birds Movie 2 (U)

The game may have long since peaked, but with the first film having raked in $350 million, a sequel was inevitable. With erstwhile social outsider  Red (Jason Sudeikis) having become the local hero after having saved Bird Island from the pigs who wanted to steal their eggs, the two islands are now pretty much at peace, Red and his crew, superfast canary Chuck (Josh Gad) and the aptly named Bomb (Danny McBride) protecting the place from the occasional prank launched by oafish pig leader Leonard  (Bill Hader). However, when a giant ice-meteor comes crashing own on Pig Island and Leonard discovers there’s  a third island, populated by eagles,  birds and bacon have to join forces to prevent deranged purple-plumed tropical eagle Zeta (Leslie Jones) who, tired of life on a paradoxically ice-bound volcanic island with  molten lava core, is intending to  drive out her neighbours so she can rebuild their islands as her own twin paradises.

Rehashing the first film’s themes of  family, friendship, self-doubt, repressed feelings, isolationism and teamwork, the follow-up introduces a new character – and some female empowerment – into the mix in the form of Chuck’s science savvy genius sister  and amateur shrink Silver (Rachel Bloom),  she and Red (after meeting on speed dating session) naturally spend their time denying any mutual attraction. Meanwhile, making a return appearance is Mighty Eagle (Peter Dinklage) who, in turns out, has history with Zeta, prompting an amusing  flashback to his days as  a sort of eagle Danny Zuko from Grease

As the birds and pigs, including Leonard’s female teen assistant Courtney (Awkafina)  and his nerdy gadget man Garry (Sterling K. Brown), team up to find a way into Eagle Island and Zeta’s supervillain lair, there’s also a subplot in which three fluffy hatchlings try to recover the unhatched eggs they borrowed for their dress up game which, joined by three piglets, eventually links into the climax as well as provides a mid-credits sequence.

Also featuring the voices of Tiffany Haddish , Nicki Minaj  and the assorted sprogs of Nicole Kidman, Gal Godot and Viola Davis, as well as such feathery puns as a Flockbusters video store and a book called Crazy Rich Avians, it flaps along  in suitably brightly coloured and sugar rush kiddie friendly fashion complete with poop and snot jokes (though parents might wonder where the urinals scene is going) and a knockabout breakdance battle involving Zeta’s guards and several team members hidden, Trojan Horse-style,  inside an eagle costume.  Coming in the wake of the Secret Life of Pets and Toy Story sequels, it’s decidedly featherweight, but even so, the plumage makes for an entertaining display. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Animals (15)

Adapted from her own novel by Emma Jane Unsworth, but relocated from Manchester to Dublin, director Sophie Hyde essentially offers up a female version of Withnail and I as, turning thirty and  marriage sees the bonds of a hitherto inseparable friendship between two party hard women start to unravel.

At 32, reluctant barista Laura (Holliday Grainger) isn’t so much a  failed writer as a stillborn one, constantly jotting down notes,  but not having written more than ten pages in ten years. None of which she’s kept. She shares a flat with her landlady and best friend, Tyler (Alia Shawkat), the Withnail of the two, a somewhat feckless American  come to Ireland to escape  an abusive father and always ready to accompany Laura on her booze-fuelled jaunts round the city’s clubs and bars, and then to push her further.

However, when Laura’s younger sister Jean (Amy Molloy), once a wild child herself, announces she’s expecting, it sounds some sort of alarm bells and when she starts dating Jim (Fra Fee), a far more straitlaced, classical pianist on the rise, she’s the one who proposes.  Her nights she spends with Jim, who gives up drinking (for reasons of guilt revealed later), but still carries on her partying lifestyle. All of which  leaves confirmed caustic singleton and rebel Tyler not just bemused, but confused, resentful and angry, to the extent that, afraid of losing her,  she attempts to break them up by nudging Laura towards an affair with Marty (Dermot Murphy), a soulful poet professor. At the same time, Laura finds herself uncertain that she actually wants the settled and safe lives of Jim, Jean and her parents, yet nor is she sure she can continue down the same hedonistic path as Tyler.

Someone observes that Laura drinks “with a real sense of mortality”, and it’s very much this that the film explores, the search to find something to give life meaning when staring into the abyss, but always doubting if it really does, or if you’re going to go self-destructive  and ruin everything.  While they may be social animals, of a feral nature, Tyler and Laura have created their own hermetic world and are scared of leaving it, or, in Tyler’s case, of being left there on her own.  Liked Laura’s writing, both women’s lives are blocked and neither can move forward, always scribbling but never forming full paragraphs.

The supporting cast are solid and the two leads are terrific, both prickly and riddled with self-doubt, whether they acknowledge it or not, both fearful of being alone. The screenplay and the actresses make no attempt to render them especially likeable, indeed both can be cruelly hurtful and vindictive, ruthlessly selfish and manipulative, lashing out and yet at the same time are achingly vulnerable in their palpable hurt. The important thing is that they feel real and true,

Working with cinematographer Bryan Mason, Hyde and create an atmosphere so thick you can almost smell the streets and the bars, but equally overdoes her ‘animal’ symbolism  with shots of foxes prowling the alleyways looking for scraps to survive. Even so, this is up thre with Booksmart as one of the most  compelling, insightful and emotionally involving female friendship films in many a  year. (Electric)

Annabelle Comes Home (15)

Following the wake of Chucky’s revival,  the current devil doll de jour makes a return appearance for a third outing in her bangs and red-bowed pigtails glory that, this time features (albeit in largely bookending appearances), loosely real-life based Conjuring characters Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson,Vera Farmiga) for a haunted-house thriller that pretty much entirely unfolds in their suburban home, where the electricity seems to be somewhat intermittent.  Relieving the  latest unfortunate owners of the doll’s influence, the drive home, when come to a halt by a graveyard, conveniently allows Lorrianne to muse that it’s not evil in itself (though it doesn’t exactly look beneficent, it serves as a conduit for evil. Back home, it’s duly locked away inside a sacred glass cabinet, it and the artefact store room, duly given one of  regular holy blessing. At which point, the devil hunters take their leave, handing the film over for the night to their 10-year daughter, Judy (McKenna Grace) who’s spending it with her high-school babysitters, blonde good girl Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman) and tellingly dark-haired Daniela (Katie Sarife). Fascinated by the Warrens’ reputation and having dead daddy issues, the latter naturally ignores signs like keep out or you’ll die and  don’t touch this or everyone’s fucked, and sneaks into the museum and, naturally, searches for the key to unlock that cabinet.

From which point on, the film works its way through the familiar checklist of  ghostly figures, devils, werewolves, inanimate objects moving, typewriters typing by themselves, lights going out, people doing obviously stupid things, although the scariest moments come with the anticipation rather than the event, before the girls finally manage to get the damned doll back where she belongs. It’s formulaic, but decently acted and delivers pretty much everything you pay your money to see, though you can’t help feeling this and and its associated franchise have been milked until they’re positively dehydrated. (Cineworld 5 Ways;  Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

The Art Of Racing In The Rain (12A)

Kevin Costner adds yet another sports movie to his CV, motor racing, except this time he doesn’t actually appear. Rather, he’s the gravelly voice of Enzo, a golden retriever adopted as a puppy by Seattle-based race car driver Denny Swift (Milo Ventimiglia) who names him after Enzo Ferrari. Co-dependent best buddies, they spend all their time together, at home, at the track so Enzo naturally feels a twinge of jealousy when his owner falls for and marries cute blonde Eve (Amanda Seyfried). It’s short-lived, however (Enzo serves as the ring-bearer at the wedding), especially  when they have daughter, Zoe (Ryan Kiera Armstrong), who he vows to watch over. But hey, what’s that smell of decay he sniffs on Eve?

Adapted from the novel by Garth Stein and directed in efficient manner by Simon Curtis, it does the big three Cs – cancer, custody and canine, Enzo commenting on events and offering his own feeling and philosophies as things move along. Denny struggles to get his dreams of racing in the big leagues off the ground and Eve battles a brain tumour then, when she serenely exits the screenplay, her parents (Martin Donovan and Kathy Baker), termed ‘the twins’ by Enzo, or more particularly her father, decide their son-in-law’s career choice isn’t going to provide a stable life for their granddaughter and move to obtain custody, using a dirty trick to do so.

Driven by Denny’s titular philosophy that, if you want to win on the track, you have to control the environment, it travels a doggedly (pun intended) predictable course with Costner doing the A Dog’s Purpose voiceover bit. There’s a definite touch of Lassie in there too as Enzo learns about court procedure watching TV shows and loves watching car races, the anthropomorphic cuteness balanced by a sequence when, hallucinating after being left alone for a couple of days, he sees Zoe’s stuffed zebra transform into a demonic being and  unwittingly tears all the cuddlies to pieces.

Yet unabashedly emotionally manipulative as it may be, within its own parameters it works exceedingly well in bringing on the tears, and, while Seyfield and Ventimiglia deliver solid enough work, it’s the loyalty, earnestness and old soul wisdom that Costner brings to Enzo that is the film’s heart, even if, of course, he’s presented more as a human sage in a dog’s body than a dog per se, and if you think that his dream is to come back as a man  isn’t setting up the final scene then this clearly isn’t for you. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Showcase Walsall)

Blinded By The Light (12A)

Easily director Gurinder Chadha’s best work since Bend It Like Beckham, this may be predictable and clichéd, but its feelgood crowd pleaser vibe about the power of music to transform lives is impossible to resist. Co-penned by Chadha and husband Paul Mayeda Berges with British journalist Sarfraz Manzoor, it’s based on his book about how the music of Bruce Springsteen spoke to him and as a Luton teenager and rescued him from the late 80s austerity and mass unemployment of Thatcher’s Britain with its riots in response to the rise of neo-Nazi National Front

Here, Javed (star in the making Viveik Kalra) is an Anglicised  Pakistani British teenager with no sense of purpose or direction, he’s never had a girlfriend, writes songs for his best mate neighbour Matt (Dean-Charles Chapman) who is into the emergent synth pop (the soundtrack also features Pet Shop Boys and Cutting Crew) and politically-charged poetry for himself. He wants to be a writer, but his traditionalist factory worker father, Malik (Kulvinder Ghir) is determined he get a proper job as a doctor or lawyer while his mother Noor (Meera Ganatra) takes in piecework so the family, which also includes similarly-Anglicized older sister  Shazia (Nikita Mehta), can scrape by.

Three things happen that turn his life around. His supportive English teacher (Hayley Atwell) is taken with his writing and enters him for a competition. He starts dating activist classmate Eliza (Nell William). And, most importantly, Roops (Aaron Phagura), the only Sikh at his school, introduces him to the music of Bruce Springsteen by way of Born in the U.S.A and Darkness on the Edge of Town. While others, including Matt And the school’s amateur radio presenter, reckon the Boss is old news, it hits Javed like a thousand volts of electricity as he hears Springsteen expressing his own blue collar frustration and dreams (“I check my look in the mirror, I want to change my clothes, my hair, my face”).  Soon he’s wearing check shirts with torn sleeves and his room is full of Springsteen posters.

But then his dad gets laid off, and suddenly any hopes of becoming a writer, even though he’s given a chance to intern at the local newspaper (where he goes on write a front page lead about an attack on a mosque), seem even more remote.

In similar fashion to Sunshine on Leith and, to some extent, Sing Street (and, if you must, Mamma Mia), Chadha uses Springsteen’s songs often projecting the lyrics on screen, to both propel the narrative and mirror both Javed’s personal issues (such as Independence Day reflecting his relationship with his father) and the state of the nation, such as backdropping the 1987 riots to Jungleland. Naturally, they also serve as a romance booster as in both Prove It All Night and an obligatory crowd song and dance sequence where  he sings Thunder Road to Eliza in the local outdoor market, Matt’s dad (Rob Bryden) and everyone else  singing along. Rather inevitably, the highlight comes with Born To Run as Javed, Roos, and Eliza dance through the city streets and out into the fields.

Evoking thoughts of Nick Hornby and East Is East, it sets Javed’s struggle to claim his own identity against such familiar tropes as fractured friendships, immigrant generational clashes (those ties that bind!) and triumphing over the odds, giving the film an anthemic thematic and narrative quality that echoes the songs. The various narrative strands are deftly woven together, including a sequence where Shazia reveals an unexpected side to her dutiful daughter image and Javed and Roops stand up to a bunch of NF yobs, variously inducing laughter, tears and, above all, inspiration as it climaxes in speech about family, forgiveness and rock n roll that will have you reaching for the tissues and punching the air at the same time. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric;Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw (12A)

The first of the Fast & Furious spin-offs, this reunites alpha male rivals Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) who are forced to reluctantly team up when the latters’s MI6 agent sister,  Hattie (Vanessa Kirby), prevents Snowflake,  a deadly bio-engineered virus, from falling into the hands of dastardly multinational Eteon who want to unleash it on the world by injecting it into her own body. On the run after being framed for killing her own team, L.A.-based Diplomatic Security Service freelancer Hobbs  and London-based Cockney mercenary Shaw  are respectively recruited by agents Locke (Ryan Reynolds, reunited with Deadpool 2 director David Leitch), Hobbs’ former partner and self-appointed best-friend, and Loeb (Rob Delaney) to track her down. Though initially refusing to work together, they have no choice when Hattie’s abducted by Eteon’s bionically-enhanced supersoldier, Brixton Lore (Idris Elba), a veritable ‘black Superman’ with super strength, and bulletproofing,who has history with former partner  Shaw (as in being shot between the eyes when he tried to kill him), which, the pair now framed as international terrorists, means getting the Russian scientist who created Snowflake (Eddie Marsan) to remove it from Hattie’s body before the clock counts down and it goes live.

All of which essentially serves as an excuse from a series of insult trading, dick-measuring banter between the two muscle men, various high speed car/bike/truck chases, over the top fights and globe trotting locations (Chernobyl included) before climaxing back at Hobbs’ home in Samoa, which he’s not seen since leaving (for reasons later explained) 25 years earlier and the family his young daughter Sam (Eliana Sua) doesn’t even know exists. Indeed, family provides the running theme here, Hobbs and Shaw both reconnecting with their respective estranged brother, engineer-whizz Jonah (Cliff Curtis), and sister, while Helen Mirren pops up in a  cameo as the Shaw siblings’ now incarcerated mom (Queenie).

Forever winking at the camera, Johnson and Shaw make for hugely entertaining mismatched buddies, each with their own personal fighting styles (basically bludgeon/martial arts), the latter returning to his roots for the final showdown Samoan style, while Elba strides through with charismatic bad guy cool and Kirby suggests she could handle a franchise of her own., With a Reynolds end credits sequence setting up the sequel, Mirren, Eiza Gonzalez as Russian merc Madame M and a cameoing Chris Tucker as an air marshall keen to get back into the thick of things, all clearly lined up to join the team,  the only question is will there be a popcorn bucket big enough. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Horrible Histories: The Movie – Rotten Romans (PG)

Terry Deary’s hugely successful book series first translated into  television and then the stage, presenting an irreverent but educationally grounded approach to history, and now takes the inevitable next step (2016’s Bill was never an official spin-off) to the big screen. More Black Adder than Monty Python (though there a sly nod to Life of Brian), this pitched at younger audiences while still slipping in amusing references for the grown-ups and, in the I’m Farticus scene managing to combine both

Opening with Derek Jacobi reprising his iconic role as the stuttering Emperor Claudius, before being poisoned by his wife Agrippina (Kim Cattrall) to enable her buffoon son Nero ( Craig Roberts to take his place, albeit with her as the power behind, and indded on, the throne, it has teenage Roman Atti (Sebastian Croft) finding himself consigned to join the legion in Britain – aka The Stain – as punishment for having passed off a vial of horse urine as gladiator sweat which the British envoy bought as a birthday present for the Emperor.

Over in Britian, where, despite constant references to rain, it seems permanently sunny, he taken prisoner by Orla (EmmaWatson lookalike Emilia Jones), the feisty daughter of Cetic chieftain Arghus (Nick Frost) who, despite dad’s protestations, is desperate to prove herself a warrior, and winds up helping rescue her kleptomaniac gran (Joanna Bacon) from a rival tribe.

Meanwhile, Celtic warrior queen Boudicca (Kate Nash) is  leading a rebellion against the Romans which the incumbent governor, the pompous, prevaricating Paulinus (Rupert Graves), who always refers to himself in the third person, is ordered to crush.

Historical facts and observations are neatly enfolded into the amiable star-crossed lovers narrative that also amusingly involves the lyre-playing Nero’s attempts to kill his mother, his toadying adviser Sycophantus (Alex Macqueen), Legion Commander Decimus (Lee Mack) constantly pining for Rome, an over-stretched don’t shoot the messenger joke, a Roman Legion dubbed the IX Men  and, of course, various toilet-related gags. All interspersed with musical numbers, including a rap battle between Bouidicca and the Romans. In all honesty, it’s probably a bit overstretched as a movie, but the fun is never diluted.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC; Empire Great Park; Vue Star City)

The Lion King (PG)

Given, there being no human characters unlike director Jon Favreau’s previous revamp of The Jungle Book, the fact that this is all CGI  makes it a little disingenuous to call it a live action remake. However, such is the degree of photorealism as regards both the landscapes and animals, that it would be easy to believe this is actual flesh and fur, earth and water. It’s hard to imagine anyone who isn’t familiar with the 1994 animated original, itself a riff on Hamlet,  so, again opening with the Circle of Life gathering at Pride Rock,  this virtual shot by shot, line by line update  won’t hold any narrative surprises surprises, indeed the main difference lies in ditching the annoying Morning Report song, rendered here as dialogue from Zazu, the red-billed hornbill factotum. The thrill comes, instead, from seeing the characters in such three-dimensional  form, the hyenas even more scary-looking while the CGI incarnations of warthog Puumba Seith Rogan) and meerkat Timon (Billy Eichner) are a delight, especially in the way the former, all bristles and tusk, trots along like  dainty ballerina. They still sing Hakuna Matata and even get to make a filmic in joke about how, having fled the Pridelands believing himself responsible for the death of his father, Mufasa (James Earl Jones reprising his role), in stampede, the young Simba (JD McCrary) grows into the adult lion (Donald Glover) in the course of the song while they still look the same. They also sing a snatch of Be Our Guest from Beauty and the Beast.

There’s no new additions (though a couple of hyenas are renamed), but all the familiar characters are present and correct with an impressive array of appropriately African-American vocal talent that includes Alfre Woodard as Sarabi, Simba’s mother, John Kani as mandrill shaman Rafiki, Beyoncé, in a slightly expanded role, as Nala, Simba’s childhood best friend and future love interest who not only gets to duet on Can You Feel The Love Tonight but has her own all new song, Spirit, while Shahadi Wright Joseph from the original Broadway cast is the young cub and Chiwetol Ejiofor is superbly sly as Simba’s treacherous uncle, Scar. Whether the revamp has any point beyond the technical accomplishments is open to debate, but it certainly deserves to be a  roaring success. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Marianne and Leonard: Words of Love (12A)

Back in 1960,  a struggling poet and (badly reviewed) novelist, Leonard Cohen invited a woman he saw coming out of store to join him and his friends. She was Marianne Ihlen, a young Norwegian with a small child and a failed marriage who had come to the Greek island of Hydra with its bohemian community of artists to escape. It was to become the start of an eight-year affair and an even longer friendship, and, more importantly she would become Cohen’s muse, the woman who inspired him to write That’s No Way To Say Goodbye, Bird on a Wire,  and, of course, So Long, Marianne (which she never liked).

Directed by Nick Broomfield, who, as a young photographer and filmmaker also went to Hydra in 1968 where he became Marianne’s friend and  another of her lovers (she encouraged him to make his first film), affording him a particular insight in forming this documentary of a love affair that, given Cohen’s later obsessive womanising as he found fame and his inability to settle, was doomed almost from the start.

Having been discovered, he invited her and her son Axel, to join him in Montreal.  As a mutual friend observes, it wasn’t that he wanted them there, it was that he wanted to make the gesture. From the moment she arrived, the romance began to fall apart. At one point, during a concert, he talks of how he would spend half a year with her and half a year away, gradually coming down to just a few weeks. Likewise, having been championed by Judy Collins who recorded Suzanne (a song written for another of his lovers), Marianne sent her a letter saying  “You recorded all his songs and I just want to tell you that you ruined my life.”

Constructed with new to camera interviews with the likes of  Aviva Layton (widow of Cohen’s literary mentor, the Romanian-Canadian poet Irving Layton) and producer-guitarist Ron Cornelius, alongside  archive footage and audio of both Cohen and Marianne, its refusal to stick to a chronological timeline can make it sometimes difficult to follow events, But it is both touching and illuminating (Ihlen seems to have been born to be a muse, also inspiring Julie Felix to write her own songs), casting light on a woman who, for the most part, has only ever been known by the song,  recalling events though her own voice, revealing her struggles with her son’s drug addiction (introduced by his father) but also her contented marriage on return to Oslo. And, of course, there are the asides, how Cohen’s manager embezzelled all his money, how the record company refused to release Hallelujah, declaring ita  terrible record.

Unquestionably, the most moving moment comes with her lying dying in a Norwegian hospital and receiving a letter from Cohen, expressing his last love and gratitude, in which he wrote  “Know that I am so close behind that if you stretch out your hand, I am think you can reach mine … Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road.” Cohen died just three months after Marianne. Death, it seems the only cure for love.  (Electric|)

Midsommar (18)

Given it involves a troubled visitor to a reclusive, isolated community that practices ancient fertility and renewal rites, including a sacrificial offering, it’s hard not to think of this as a Swedish-set version of The Wicker Man. Except that was 88 minutes and this is almost an hour longer.

Written and directed by Ari Aster as his follow-up to Hereditary, it pivots on a terrific performance by Florence Pugh (increasily resembling a  young Kate Winslet) as the traumatised  Dani who, having experienced a family tragedy (a brilliant opening of panic and a wordless reveal that her unbalanced sister’s committed suicide and murdered their parents), is grudgingly invited by her less than committed boyfriend. Christian (Jack Reynor), to join him and his loosely sketched university friends, fellow PhD student Josh (William Jackson Harper),  ever horny Mark (Will Poulter), and the just graduated Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) on a trip to the latter’s Swedish commune. Indeed,  the latter’s especially keen for her to come.

On arrival, they link up with two English tourists, Connie and Simon, who are essentially redundant to the mix other than for body count purposes, and they’re all invited to take part in a nine-day celebration that’s only held once every 90 years. With everyone wearing white, forever waving their hands in the air, an unexplained caged bear and ritualistic group meals, it’s all a bit odd. Things take a rather more startling turn, however, when, following tradition, two elderly members of the community hurl themselves from a cliff to be dashed, in gruseome rubbery rootage, on the rock below.  Dani is understandably rattled, but her travelling companions seem less so, Christian and Josh seeing it as anthropologicaly fascinating and the culturally insensitive Mark, well, frankly not giving a toss since he only appears to have tagged along to get laid. Which will, of course, not turn out for the best.

From hereonin, things start to get creepier, what with all those disturbing paintings in to the communal sleeping quarters, the assorted ululations and hallucinogenic drinks, until the group’s been whittled down to just Dani and the increasingly bemused Christian, the former invited to take part in the dance to choose the May Queen and the other  reluctantly becoming a central player in an impregnation ritual. And, for those unaware of  Edward Woodward’s wicker man fate, we’ve still to find out why the bear’s there.

Making effective use of the constant daylight, Aster takes his time in building the gathering sense of dread, dropping in small suggestions and details, relying on imagery rather than carnage, while the narrative’s peppered with bursts of humour (some more intentional than others as it descends into giggle-inducing silliness) as it finally builds to a  genuinely disturbing finale that gives Pugh the last unsettling freeze frame.

It’s a muddled and mostly predictable journey in which much happens off camera and, as obligatory in such films, no one ever says let’s get the fuck out of here, but while it will try the patience, those last fifteen minutes are well worth the wait. (MAC)

 

Playmobil: The Movie (U)

After the huge commercial success of the Lego feature films, it was probaby inevitable that its rival toy bricks would cash in on things too. Her dreams of setting out on a life of adventure crushed when their parents are killed in an accident, teenage Marla (Anya Taylor Joy) is left to  look after her kid brother  Charlie (Gabriel Bateman), becoming something of a killjoy in the process. Five years later, looking to have some fun, he runs off and winds up in a Playmobil exhibition and, when his sister tracks him down, they’re somehow both mystically transported to the Playmobil world and transformed into claw-handed plastic toy figures, Charlie in the form his favourite Viking warrior toy. Seperated when he’s abducted by pirates, she sets off to find and rescue him, a quest that will involve journeying through the different Playmobil realms, hooking up with Del (Jim Gaffigan), a hipster with a mobile food truck, magic hay and  a big debt problem to a soret of fewmale Jabba the Hutt, ace secret agent  Rex Dasher (Daniel Ratcliffe) and a cute robot, and discovering Charlie’s been kidnapped, along an assortment of other super tough warriors, as fodder for Emperor Maximus (Adam Lambert) and his gladiatorial games.

It doesn’t have the manic energy or knowing and often subversive wit of the Lego movies, but it moves along at  a fair lick, even if it rarely finds room for jokes to keep the grown-ups awake, as it regularly spells out its message about finding who you are and not letting life’s downers prevent you from enjoying it. There’s also a series of eminently forgettable musical numbers, one of which is performed by Meghan Trainor as a fairy godmother, which along with assorted winged horses and unicorns firmly underline that this is very much meant for children. They’ll probably love it, but I wouldn’t hold your breath for The Meccano Movie anytime soon.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Spider-Man: Far From Home (12A)

Faced with the daunting challenge of being the first outing of the  Marvel Cinematic Universe in the aftermath of the game-changing Avengers: Endgame (it opens with a high school in memoriam tribute to the fallen heroes),  returning director Jon Watts wisely avoids its dramatic and emotional intensity and, for at the first half at least, adopts a playful, light tone with witty repartee and quips as, adjusting to life after returning from ‘the blip’, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is beset with both grief over the death of his mentor, Tony Stark, deep reservations about being touted as his successor and, more importantly, trying to summon up the courage to tell MJ (an endearing sassy Zendaya) how he feels about her. Especially given fellow classmate Brad (Remy Hii), who has become a real hunk in the five years Peter was ‘dead’, is making moves. On top of which he’s not too sure how he feels about the fact that Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) seems to be flirting with Aunt May (Marisa Tomei).

As he tells best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), he intends to take her up the Eiffel tower during the upcoming Europe-trotting school trip and open his heart. Naturally the best laid plans of mice and Spider-man oft gang awry, here thanks to the intervention of Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson), whose calls he’s been avoiding, who turns up in Venice and  recruits him in the fight against the Elementals, creatures that embody the power of the four elements. Or rather the last of them, fire, since the other three, including the water monster that trashed Venice, was taken out, with help from Spidey, by Quentin Beck, or, as the Italian media dubs him, Mysterio (Jack Gyllenhall), the sole survivor of an alternate Earth, a superhero who emits green vapour trails and fires laser beams from his wrists and has joined forces with S.H.I.E.L.D. He and Peter quickly bond over their shared sense of loss. A little interference from Fury sees the trip to Paris relocated to Prague where the fire monster is scheduled to appear, climaxing in the two engaged in another sensational battle, this time with Peter in a new black outfit to avoid anyone putting two and two together that  has Ned christening him Night Monkey.

Given the film is only half-way in, it’s obvious there’s a twist up its sleeve, and without giving too much away, it’s worth remembering the theme of illusion and appearances on which the film’s founded.

Rattling along, it questions what it means to be a reluctant superhero while juggling the romantic suplot, including Ned hooking up with aspirant class reporter Betty Brand (Angourie Rice), comic relief involving dickhead Parker-baiting Spidey fan Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori) while dropping in a  poignant Robert Downey Jr cameo flashback, a crucial plot device in the form of high-tech intelligence system glasses named Edith (with which Peter inadvertently calls in a  drone strike on Brad before passing them on to whom he regards as their true worthy successor) and, yes, the Peter Tingle.

Giving a hugely engaging performance, Holland has really grown into the role as the guileless  boy not sure if he’s ready to become a man while Gylllenhaal juggles earnest and diva to perfection, arguably rendering this the most satisfying Spider-Man movie yet. And ensure you stay for the post-credits sequence which, in addition to reintroducing a cast member from the original Sam Raimi movies (Brant’s a hint), delivers one more slap in the face twist that sets up a whole new nightmare for Peter to face in the eagerly anticipated follow-up.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

The Sun Is Also A Star  (12A)

Based on Jamaican-American author Nicola Yoon’s 2016 novel, the title taken from a Carl Sagen quote, which also opens the film, although published just prior to Trump’s election, its central plot about enforced deportation of a family that’s lived in America for years resonates with events today, just as the film’s chance 24-hour romantic encounter itself throws up thoughts of Beyond Sunrise.

Directed by Ry Russo-Young there’s a definite Sundance feel to its serendipitous tale of two teenagers from immigrant backgrounds meeting by chance and falling love over the course of a day.  She’s New York born aspiring astronomer Jamaican Natasha Kingsley (Yara Shahidi), who, turning to an immigration lawyer (John Leguizamo), is making a last desperate attempt to reverse the ruling that her family have to leave America the following day. He is Daniel Bae (Charles Melton), a Korean-American who would rather write poetry than follow his father’s wishes to become a doctor.  Seeing her staring at the stars painted on the ceiling at Grand Central Station, wearing a jacket with the words Deus Ex Machina, which he wrote in his notebook that morning, they meet cute when he saves her from being run over, and when she declares she doesn’t believe in love, that’s it all just hormones, he bets he can make her fall for him. Initially, she says he only has an hour, but fate stretches things out as, here evocative of  2017s Columbus,  they spend their time variously hanging out in Chinatown, the Financial District, Greenwich Village, the Upper West Side, Harlem, Koreatown, Roosevelt Island, Downtown Brooklyn, Crown Heights and Queens. A striking moment comes at the Hayden Planetarium at the Museum of Natural History.

Between all this, there’s brief glimpses of their respective families, Daniel has a would be tough guy older brother and his dad, who naturally wants his son to do better, runs a black hair products store (the film offering some interesting historical trivia about Korean hair wigs), but its Shahidi and Melton who fill the screen with their sweet chemistry, making you want for things to turn out okay so, as in Dan’s fantasy montage, they end up together despite inevitable. Let’s just say that, given Yoon is a Jamaican married to a Korean, fate has one final card up its sleeve. (Empire Great Park; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Toy Story 4 (U)

The fourth and final entry sees the Toy Story out on an emotional high as it pulls together the themes that have run throughout the saga for a finale that will have audiences welling up. It opens several years earlier when Woody (Tom Hanks) and the other toys, among them Jessie (Joan Cusack), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), Rex (Wallace Shawn) and Hamm (John Ratzenberger), were still owned by Andy as Woody (motto ‘leave no toy behind’) daringly rescues a toy car that has got lost and is about to be washed away in the gutter. However, before Woody can climb back through the window, it’s slammed shut as he watches Bo Peep (Annie Potts) and her three-headed sheep, Billy, Goat and Gruff, the porcelain lamp belonging to Andy’s sister Molly, being boxed up to go to a new home.  He attempts to rescue her, but she insists it’s time to move on to a new child and invites him to join her. Loyal to his kid, Woody refuses.

Fast forward to the present and his new kid, Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw) is off to kindergarten orientation and, ignoring the advice from the other toys, Woody, who she hasn’t played with in weeks (indeed, she even gives his badge to Jessie) and has lost his lost his role as keeper of the room to Dolly (Bonnie Hunt), sneaks into her backpack to ensure she’s ok. At school, he helps by providing her materials from which she makes herself a new plaything, Forky (Tony Hale), a plastic spork with pipe-cleaner arms, popsicle-stick feet and googly eyes. He’s her new favourite toy, but it takes a real effort for Woody to convince him that he’s a toy not trash (he keeps trying to get into the rubbish bins in a montage set to Randy Newman’s I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away) and that he’s important to Bonnie. The ironic symmetry is obvious, one is a toy who fears becoming trash, one is trash who doesn’t want to be a toy.

At which point, the family take a road trip to Grand Basin National Park and an amusement park where, separated from the others while he explains things to Forky, Woody comes across Second Chance Antiques and spots Bo Peep’s lamp in the window. For the past seven years, in turns out she has embraced the life of a lost toy, enjoying the freedom of the park and become something of feisty kick ass (another of Disney’s female empowerment touches), riding around the park in a motorised skunk.  “Who needs a kid’s room,” she asks, showing Woody the panoramic view of the park, “When you can have all of this?”

The reunion is, however, overshadowed by the fact that the store also contains Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), a creepy vintage 1950s pull-string doll who, assisted by four Chucky-like ventriloquist dummy henchdolls, takes Forky hostage because she wants to replace her broken pull string voice box with Woody’s in the hope of getting a kid of her own.

What ensues are two extended rescue missions variously involving Bo, Buzz and Jessie (Joan Cusack) alongside new characters joined at the paw plushies Bunny (Jordan Peele) and Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key), mini-toy rescue cop Giggle McDimples (Ally Maki) and Canadian stunt biker Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves) whose plagued by a sense of failure after being discarded when his abilities didn’t measure up to his marketing.

Exploring themes such as finding your purpose, self-worth, abandonment, loyalty, responsibility, selflessness, and that letting go and moving on doesn’t mean you stop loving or being loved, it will touch chords in both children and adults alike while also providing thrilling action sequences, dark and scary moments, affecting poignancy, laughs (not least in Buzz thinking his pre-programmed recordings are his ‘inner voice’) and moments of breathtaking beauty. From a joyful reunion to a moving parting of the ways farewell, this will take your heart to infinity and beyond.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Yesterday (12A)

Another film that comes with an inspired idea but struggles to find anything much to do with it beyond the initial premise and singularly fails to navigate the plot holes it opens up. That premise is that, after 10 years, talented but struggling 27-year-old Anglo-Indian singer-songwriter Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is fed up of playing the same round of Sussex bars to people who don’t want to listen. So, he tells Ellie (Lily James in uber girl next door mode), his childhood best friend and manager (naturally, neither tells the other they love them) that he’s going to pack it in and return to teaching. On the way home, the entire country has a blackout (art mirroring in Argentinean life) and he collides with bus in the dark. He wakes up in hospital missing a tooth. That’s not the only thing that’s gone missing. Down the pub he strums a song on his new guitar his mates and is gobsmacked when they’re greatly impressed with what he’s written. Except he hasn’t. The song is Yesterday, but they’ve never heard it before. Nor have they ever heard of The Beatles. Indeed, racing home to his computer, Jack discovers that, in this new reality, they’ve never existed. He’s the only one who remembers them. And, more importantly, their songs. So, next thing you know he’s scrabbling to remember all the lyrics (he goes to Liverpool to visit Strawberry Fields and Eleanor Rigby’s grave) and passing them off as his own. This first gets him the attention of a smalltime producer and studio owner who invites him to record some demos, which leads to an interview and airing on the in-house TV channel of the supermarket where he works  and, subsequently, none other than Ed Sheeran turning on his doorstep asking him to play  some support slots and, from there, it’s just a short step to Ed’s supercilious, sarcastic American manager, Debra (Kate McKinnon in broad but very funny music exec send-up mode) to sign him up, dollar signs and beachside mansions flashing in her eyes, as she prepares to groom him for superstardom, leaving Ellie behind nursing heartbreak in a rebound romance.

Does Jack get to realise fame built on a lie means nothing? Does he get to realise that wants he really wants his Ellie? Well, since this is written by Richard Curtis of course he does. But, while getting there has its sweet and amusing moments, this is far from his best work. Nor is it a highpoint in director Danny Boyle’s career either.

The narrative is all over the place and, throwing logic to the wind, frequently makes no sense. Jack’s stalked by an elderly couple carrying plastic yellow submarine who, it turns out also remember The Beatles, though quite how or why is never explained.  In this new reality, the Fab Four aren’t the only thing that have vanished. Nobody’s heard of Coca Cola or Harry Potter, or indeed Oasis, which makes nonsense of Ellie’s flashback to watching Jack perform Wonderwall at the school talent show.

There’s a wholly misguided moment when Jack meets a now elderly John Lennon, an artist who, in a telegraphed wake up to call to Jack, got to spend his life with the woman he loved, but there’s no hint of George, Ringo or Paul. Though Jack does get to wear a very familiar cardigan.

Naturally, there’s a generous helping of Beatles hits performed by Jack, including an amusing scene where he attempts to play Let It Be to his distracted parents (Meera Syal, Sanjeev Bhaskar) and a self-effacing moment from Sheeran, who declares himself Salieri to Jack’s Mozart, when he suggests Jack should call his new song Hey Dude while, alongside a pointless James Cordon cameo, Joel Fry offers some running comic relief as Jack’s idiot roadie. But, even in its confess the truth and true love comes together moment, the underwritten screenplay has simply none of the emotional spark Curtis brought to Notting Hill or Love, Actually. A Twilight Zone romcom that ferries across the Merseybeat but never gets to port, this Yesterday’s not here to stay.  (Cineworld 5 NEC; Empire Great Park; Showcase Walsall)

 

 

Screenings courtesy of  Odeon and Cineworld

CINEMAS

Cineworld 5 Ways – 181 Broad St, 0871 200 2000

Cineworld NEC – NEC  0871 200 2000

Cineworld  – Mill Ln, Solihull 071 200 2000

The Electric Cinema  – 47–49 Station Street,  0121 643 7879

Empire – Great Park, Rubery, 0871 471 4714

Empire  Coldfield – Maney Corner, Sutton Coldfield

0871 471 4714

The Everyman – The Mailbox 0871 906 9060

MAC – Cannon Hill Park 0121 446 3232

Mockingbird, Custard Factory  0121 224 7456.

Odeon Birmingham -Birmingham, 0871 224 4007

Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe – Ladywood Middleway, 0333 006 7777

Odeon West Bromwich – Cronehills Linkway, West Bromwich  0333 006 7777

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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