Ant-Man And The Wasp (12A)
After all the darkness and angst that pervaded Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War, positively zipping along, this breezy sequel comes as welcome light relief, peppered throughout by zingy, laugh out loud one-liners and gleeful humour, of which director Peyton Reed is a master, even if it does have a fair few dark moments of its own. Set immediately prior to the events of Infinity War, it explains the absence of ex-con turned superhero Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) aka Ant-Man, from that shebang on account of him being under house arrest in San Francisco for two years after his involvement with Captain America in Civil War. Instead, inbetween playing digital drums, he’s being a good divorced dad to his daughter, Cassie (Abby Ryder Forston), as his last few days of wearing the ankle tag come to a close. He’s not about to risk breaking curfew or doing anything that might land him with 20 years in jail. However, when he’s abducted by Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), who, now operating as the winged Wasp, arranges for an ant to wear his tracker instead, it seems he might not have any choice.
The film opens with a flashback detailing how the original Ant-Man, downsizing scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and the Wasp, his wife Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer), are called on for a mission which ends up with Janet trapped forever within the sub-atomic Quantum Real. Flash forward 30 years as Lang has a dream of returning to the realm (from which he escaped in the first film) that, in transpires, was actually Janet literally getting into his head, thereby setting up the possibility of Hank and Hope, themselves on the run from the FBI, launching a rescue mission. Hence their need for Scott.
They just need an extra component to build the machine that will open the tunnel to the Quantum Realm. The problem being that black market technology traffiker Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins), who has what they need, wants to get his hands on Pym’s lab (which he can conveniently shrink and carry around the like a portable suitcase) and so too does Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), who, the victim of a rogue S.H.I.E.L.D. lab accident, has the ability to phase through solid objects. Unfortunately, it’s killing her and the only way to survive is to make contact with Janet and syphon off her quantum lifeforce.
All of which, throwing Scott’s security firm partner Luis (Michael Peña, who steals the film with his truth serum scene), FBI agent Jimmy Woo (Randall Park) and Pym’s former colleague Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburne), who was the original Goliath (cue size-comparing gag), into the mix, rollocks along with a constant stream of wonderfully silly size-changing action scenes (including one where the Wasp surfs a carving knife blade and knocks out a thug with an oversized salt cellar), smart-aleck quips (“Do you really just put the word quantum ahead of everything?”) and a sweetly hilarious moment when Rudd channels Pfeiffer.
This is Marvel in full on popcorn mode and you really do want a giant size bucket load of it, and, naturally, there’s the end-credit extras, a throwaway joke which isn’t really worth waiting for, and one which finally links things back to the Thanos plot. It puts the ant into fantastic. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
A Prayer Before Dawn (18)
A Midnight Express for the 21st century, this is Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire’s uncompromising adaptation of the best-selling memoir by Billy Moore, a Liverpudlian junkie, jailbird and amateur bare-knuckle boxer who, busted for drugs in Thailand, ended up in the notorious Bang Kwang Central Prison aka the ‘Bangkok Hilton’, where, in order to survive, he took up Muay Thai boxing and wound up on the prison team.
Founded on a powerful, punishingly physical performance by Peaky Blinders star Joe Cole, it’s equally punishing viewing, the restless camera weaving and bobbing around the cramped prison cell where dozens of heavily tattooed inmates, played by real life former gang members, are forced to pretty much sleep like sardines in a tin and jabber away in Thai, only some of which is subtitled, leaving Billy as much in the dark as the audience.
From discovering the man lying next to him is dead to being forced to watch the brutal sodomising of a new inmate (who duly hangs himself), the film pulls no punches and Moore sweats his way through it all with the look of someone who is under no illusion that one wrong word or action could be his last.
And yet his bloody-minded spirit eventually win over many of his fellow prisoners, most importantly the cell leader, although it’s always clear they could still turn on him on a whim. He also strikes up a relationship with Fame (Pornchanok Mabklang), a ladyboy inmate he persuaded to get him cigarettes he uses for gambling (and to bribe his way on to the team) and who (though the film’s more coy about this) tends to his sexual needs. His other needs are satisfied by one of the corrupt guards who slips him heroin on condition he batters a couple of the Muslim prisoners. However, it’s Moore’s discover of Muay Thai that provides him both an outlet for his anger and the path to redemption, which, ultimately, is what the film is about.
There’s very little dialogue, and even less in English, Cole conveying pretty much all his pain, anger, fear and hope through facial expressions and body language, while the disorienting dreamstate camerawork is mirrored in the sound design and the brutal one-take kickboxing fights. It’s a gruelling watch, but one that comes with a powerful seam of wisdom and compassion without (although the real Moore does cameo in the final screen as his own father) succumbing to easy sentimentality. Not an easy watch and one you may come away from feeling as battered as its protagonist, but well worth putting the gum shield in for. (Mockingbird; Fri/Sat: Electric)
The Butterfly Tree (15)
The first feature from short-film writer/director Priscilla Cameron, this has a tendency to wallow in its more florid, hallucinatory and magic realism moments, not to mention its lepidopterist metaphors, but still engages as a quirky romcom about grief and loss. Thirteen-year-old Fin (Ed Oxenbould) has a butterfly obsession and a secret shrine to his late mother (the truth of her passing not revealed until late in the film) while his English teacher dad, Al (Ewen Leslie), who avoids talking about her, is a schoolteacher having an affair (albeit sexually impotent) with one of his students, Shelley (Sophie Lowe) and, while he’s trying to end it, she won’t take no for an answer.
Unknown to each other, father and son then both fall under the spell of the vivacious Evelyn (Melissa George), a former burlesque dance (who had an act involving roller skates and butterfly wings) who’s newly arrived and opened a florists and gives Fin both a camera and a job, though, as it turns out, she too has a mysterious past and a hidden secret behind her free spirit demeanour. When her two admirers discover they’re both competing for the same woman, it opens old wounds over Fin’s mother (Evelyn both a figure of his maternal and sexual longings) that leads to a very violent fallout between them.
Essentially a film about the illusions we erect to protect ourselves and what happens when they’re peeled away to reveal the truth, it overdoses on sumptuous vibrant colours and assorted dreamlike scenes of butterflies and semi-naked bodies and the upbeat song and dance coda should have been left in the editing room, but there’s enough substance here to make its way over the style. (Fri-Tue: MAC)
In The Fade (18)
It’s not hard to see why Diane Kruger won Best Actress award at last year’s Cannes, but it’s rather more difficult to understand how the film picked up this year’s Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film. A revenge drama directed by Fatih Akin, it is severely unbalanced between the genuinely gripping first two third and a confused and psychologically woolly last act.
Set in Hamburg, Kruger plays Katja, who married Kurdish drug-dealer Nuri Şekerci (Numan Acar) when he was in prison and, now reformed, he works as a legal adviser to the Turkish and Kurdish communities, and they have a young son, Rocco (Rafael Santana). Shortly after dropping the boy off at dad’s office, the place is torn apart by a nail bomb, planted by the woman she saw leaving a bike outside. Both are killed (the graphic description of the boy’s wounds during the court scenes is harrowing) and initially the cops are persuaded Nori was still mixed up in drugs, even more so when they raid Katja’s home and find some smack she was given by her lawyer friend Danilo Fava (Denis Moschitto) to help numb the pain. Even her mother (Karin Neuhauser) blames Nori, leading to a family rift, while she also falls out with the in-laws who want to take his and their grandson’s remains back to Turkey.
Katja’s convinced the bombing was the work of Neo-Nazis and, indeed, just as she committing suicide, she’s proven right when the woman and her equally unrepentant husband accomplice are arrested and brought to trial. It’s here the film is at its strongest as, firstly their obligatorily nasty lawyer (Johannes Krisch) tries to have Katja barred from court as she is both co-plaintiff and witness, and then, despite the overwhelming forensic evidence, sets about playing reasonable doubt.
When she fails to get the justice she seeks, completing the half-finished samurai tattoo on her side and armed with the bomb-making knowlddge she’s gleaned from the trial, Katja decides to take matters into her own hands. The question being, can she go through with it?
Based on the spate of hate-crimes against ethnic minorities in Germany between 2000 and 2007 (as documented on the end credits), it could have either become a German Deathwish or a dramatically weighty liberal meditation on the Islamophobia prevalent today. Instead it falls awkwardly in-between, the ill-formed script throwing in the towel when Katja turns into an implausible avenging angel whose conscience is almost laughably pricked by the sight of a bird fluttering on her intended target. (Sat-Wed: MAC)
Teen Titans Go! To The Movies (PG)
The Cartoon Network TV series is very firmly pitched at the younger end of the superhero audience, but this metafiction big screen spin-off is sufficiently liberally laced with knowing in-jokes and humour to please those who’ve outgrown the fart and poop jokes that are in abundance here. As with the series, the character drawings are basic and the animation minimal, but the subversive wit is sharp enough.
The Teen Titans, for the unaware, are a younger version of DC’s Justice League, comprising transformer Beast Boy (Greg Cipes), Cyborg (Khary Payton), portal-manipulating Raven (Tara Strong), alien princess Starfire (Hynden Walch) and their leader, Batman’s boy wonder sidekick, Robin (Scott Menville). Nursing a wounded ego, he’s getting fed up of no-one taking them seriously, the reason, as Superman (voiced by Nicolas Cage in a wry reference to him almost playing the role in 1997) explains after they fail to stop Balloon Man, being that, unlike himself, Batman, Wonder Woman and even Green Lantern (though we don’t talk about that one) they don’t have their own movies. Indeed, sneaking into the premiere of the latest Batman, they discover that even his car and utility belt have forthcoming movies.
So, Robin resolves to get super-hero director Jade Wilson (Kristen Bell) to make one about him, er, them, but first, they need a nemesis to give them credibility. Enter Slade (Will Arnett), and a running joke about him being mistaken for Deadpool (buffs will know the latter was originally a spoof of Slade’s character Deathstroke) in a plot that variously involves the Titans travelling back in time to prevent the origins of their grown-up counterparts (including a pointed eco nod to plastic pollution of the oceans involving baby Aquaman), Robin abandoning his teammates for personal fame and a world control scheme almost identical to Incredibles 2. Not to mention any number of rap-rock musical numbers and throwaway sight gags such as Beast Boy transforming into Animal from The Muppets.
Rattling energetically along, wall to wall with superheroes, from the famous to the obscure and forgotten (that’ll be the Challengers of the Unknown) the film cheerfully sends up the whole DC Universe as well as cinema clichés such as singing as Upbeat Inspirational Story About Life while knowingly delivering message about friendship and how you don’t have to be super to be a hero. And, just for the cherry on the top, it may not be a Marvel movie, but it still has a Stan Lee cameo. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
The First Purge (15)
Despite having effectively shut down any likely future sequels with the last film, the cash cow continues to graze with this prequel explaining how it all began in the first place under the newly elected NRA—endorsed New Founding Fathers of America facist administration. Conceived as a sort of Stanford Prison-like experiment by psychologist Dr. May Updale (Marisa Tomei) and over seen by NFFA chief of staff, Arlo Sabian (Patch Darragh), the idea is use the self-contained borough of Staten Island, a predominantly poor Black community, as a human rat lab to see how people respond to a 12-hour period in which, motivated by getting paid to break the law (the more the mayhem, the more the payment), they are free to vent their anger and frustrations with no legal comebacks, so, from looting to murder, anything goes. If enough people participate, then the plan is to roll out The Purge on a national level.
A rather inevitable and decidedly perfunctory sidebar is that one drug lord sees it as an opportunity to remove another, while it will come as no surprise, especially for those who’ve seen the other films, to learn that it’s all part of a government plot to reduce overpopulation by culling the poor – and predominantly Black – working class. As such, the film wears it political intent with a distinct lack of subtlety as, when the residents, save for a scarred psychopath called Skeletor (Rotimi Paul) who makes the first kill, would rather party than pillage, Sabian sends in a bunch of mercenaries, racist cops, rabid neo-Nazis and the Klan among them, to give things a nudge and, in the end, embark on a block by block massacre.
Fighting back, there’s righteous dreadlocked African-American anti-Purge activist Nya (Lex Scott Davis) and her younger brother, Isaiah (Joivian Wade), the latter briefly signing up (and getting to wear those luminous contact lens cameras to record footage), partly as some misguided rites of passage and partly to revenge him on Skeletor for cutting him. Meanwhile on the other side of the Projects, there’s Nya’s ex, self-possessed calm under pressure drugs kingpin Dmitri (Y’lan Noel) and his crew get tooled up to fight to protect their neighbourhood. Only in a film where the authorities are the bad guys would a ruthless, cold blooded drug kingpin and murderer be the Ramboesque hero, spouting nonsense like “killing comes from our damaged hearts.”
Clearly looking to zone in on the Black Lives Matter movement as well as anti-Trump sentiments, this would like to think itself in the same socio-political playing field as Get Out, but it has none of the finesse or depth and just winds up a dystopian blaxploitation gangbanger B-movie. Once things kick in, there’s plenty of violence to paper over the thin political satire about modern America, but you can’t help but think that the financial incentive to participate in the Purge has rather more irony than intended. (Cineworld 5 Ways; Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
First Reformed (15)
After two decades of churning out largely disposable fare such as Nic Cage nonsense Dog Eat Dog, writer Paul Schrader returns to something like the form of his classic Txxi Driver and Light Sleeper, also taking on directorial duties for this tale of a troubled priest wracked by inner turmoil anger, grief and frustration.
In a consummate performance by Ethan Hawke, Ernst Toller is a former military chaplain whose life and marriage fell apart when he persuaded his son to enlist. Only for him to be killed in the Iraq War. Now, he’s pastor of the titular historical Dutch Reformed church in a sleepy small town, the sparsity of his congregation making him more of a curator and guide for tourists. He also drinks too much and has what seems likely to be stomach cancer.
He’s approached by one his flock, Mary (Amanda Seyfried), who is being pressured by her despressed environmentalist husband Michael (Philip Ettinger) to get an abortion because, as he explains to Toller, why would you bring a child into a world on the verge of environmental collapse. He counsels hope rather than despair, but receiving a text from Michael to continue the discussion, he drives out to meet him only to find he’s blown his head off with a rifle. He also gets a call from Mary who has discovered a suicide vest in their garage, which he subsequently takes into safekeeping.
Meanwhile, Toller’s under pressure from Jeffers (Cedric the Entertainer), the leader of the church’s headquarters, the more frequented Abundant Life centre, to pull together his part in the church’s upcoming 250th anniversary celebrations as well as the focus of the unwanted concerns of the choir director, Esther (Victoria Hill), with whom he had a brief affair.
Unable to shake Michael’s question as to whether God will forgive humankind screwing up the planet, and finding himself increasingly drawn to Mary, he’s also enraged by the attitude of the church’s main benefactor, Ed Balq (Michael Gaston), a local oil company industrialist Michael had been protesting, who, taking exception to Toller’s part in scattering the dead man’s ashes at a site of pollution to the choir’s accompaniment of a Neil Young song, demands the upcoming celebrations have no political content.
As Toller’s crisis of faith and his environmental fears continue to grow, all recorded in the diary he keeps and narrates in voiceover, he slowly resolves to take up Michael’s activism and make a dramatic statement with the tools that have conveniently fallen into his hands.
Toller is a typical Schrader figure, a lonely, introspective and alienated man facing a dark night of the soul, haunted by the past and plagued by fears for today and Hawke’s performance is up there with the likes of past Schrader collaborators DeNiro and Dafoe in capturing that intensity. Arguably, the screenplay can get a little heavy handed in making its points, and having a pregnant woman called Mary or having the two of them take a hallucinatory voyage floating through the cosmos and over sites of man’s destruction isn’t entirely subtle, but the psychological drama never slackens its grip or sociopolitical thrust, finally climaxing in a powerful and visceral moment that sees Toller confronted by the choice between despair and hope, religion and desire to the backdrop of Esther singing Leaning on the Everlasting Arms. It’s not quite Travis Bickle in a surplus, but it’s close enough to taste the darkness. (Electric; Mon-Thu: Mockingbird)
Hotel Artemis (15)
A strong contender for the year’s worst film, it’s difficult to fathom what persuaded Jodie Foster to make this her return five years on from Elysium. It may have seemed like a good idea at the concept stage, a dystopian future thriller set in LA about an agoraphobic former trauma nurse with a haunted past running a secret hotel come hi-tech hospital (it even prints 3D organs) for criminals who’s faced with a moral dilemma, but that idea clearly got fatally mangled on the way to the screen, leaving an incoherent, uneven, slapdash mess in its place.
But then even the core idea is recycled, partly from John Wick Chapter 2 but more recently Scott Adkins’ video on demand B movie Accident Man about a hotel for assassins. Both of which were far superior to this trainwreck.
It’s set over the course of one night as, his younger brother Lev (Brian Tyree Henry) badly wounded in a failed bank heist during the riots over water shortages, allocated the names of their roomd, Waikiki and Honolulu, Sherman (Sterling K. Brown) takes refuge at Hotel Artemis, a boutique12th floor fortress managed by alcoholic and painkillers addict The Nurse (Foster) and her hulking assistant Everest (Dave Bautista). Also in residence are obnoxious arms dealer Acapulco (Charlie Day) and French female assassin Nice (Sofia Boutella), the former trying to come on to the latter (who has history with Waikiki) and who has engineered her admission in order to carry out a hit. That’ll be on LA crime lord the Wolf King (a cameoing Jeff Goldblum) who, wounded in the riots, is en route to the Artemis, which he actually owns, with his thugs where his deranged, insecure son Crosby (Zachary Quinto) is waiting. Oh and, yes, that pen Lev stole… its filled with liquid diamonds and belongs to guess who.
One of the Artemis rules is that it doesn’t allow in any authority figures, which places Nurse in a quandary when a local cop (Jenny Slate), a former neighbour who knew her late son (who reputedly died of a drugs overdose), turns up on the doorstep. Outside the world continues to go to hell, inside there’s all manner of tensions and secrets.
Directed in a blindfold by Drew Pearce whose screenplay is a litany of clichés, and with inept performances all round, nobody comes out of this well, but especially not Foster sporting prosthetics, old age make up and adopting a bizarre waddle that’s more likely to encourage titters than anything. It mesmerises in the same way as driving past a car crash, the audience as much a victim as the passengers. (Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe; Vue Star City)
Hotel Transylvania 3: A Monster Vacation (U)
The third instalment in the animated series lacks the wit of the original and the emotional notes of the sequel, but it does have more fart jokes. Opening with a sequence showing how Dracula (Adam Sandler) and his fellow monsters have been pursued through the ages by the Van Helsings, it cuts to the present where Drac’s daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) plans an ocean cruise to give dad a break from running the hotel. So, following a hairy flight aboard Gremlins airlines to the Bermuda Triangle, she, her human husband, Johnny (Andy Samberg), son, Dennis, Dracula, his dad (Mel Brooks) and the entire extended family, among them Frankenstein (Kevin James), werewolf Wayne (Steve Buscemi), mummy Murray (Keegan-Michael Key), the Blob and invisible man Griffin (David Spade), not to mention Dennis smuggling aboard his oversized dog, set off on the monster-packed voyage.
Not happy about having getaway break on a floating hotel, Dracula’s in a tetchy mood until, that is, he sees the ship’s glamourous human captain, Ericka (Kathryn Hahn), and is immediately smitten. She too seems to have eyes for him and his fellow monsters do their best to bring them together. But, little do they know that she’s the great-granddaughter of Van Helsing who , now part-man/part-machine, is using the voyage as part of his dastardly plan to eradicate all monsters for ever.
All of which plays out in a series of somewhat repetitive subplots and escapades (Frankenstein has a literal losing hand gambling problem, the werewolves manage to offload their pack of kids to chill out, Drac’s dad sports a mankini to seduce some witches) as they visit the assorted stop-offs before finally arriving at the lost city of Atlantis on which is hidden the device Van Helsing requires to complete his scheme. As such Dracula unknowingly avoids many attempts to kill him, Mavis gets suspicious and it all ends in a dance battle to, among others, the Macarena.
It rattles along with a rapid succession of slapstick, jokes and pop culture references, some of which work and others don’t, there’s a revisiting of the ‘bleh, bleh, bleh’ gag in the original and the animation is as sharp and angular (and fairly primitive) as before, but, unlike its predecessors, there’s no real emotional anchor even if it does once again trot out the messages about the importance of family, love triumphing over everything and tolerance and acceptance of people’s differences. Kids who loved the other two won’t be disappointed, but it’s probably time the franchise had a stake driven through it. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Incredibles 2 (PG)
It’s been 14 years since Pixar’s super-powered Parr family, Mr. Incredible, dad Bob (Craig T.Nelson), Elastigirl, wife Helen (Holly Hunter), daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell) and son Dash (Huck Milner) made their big screen debut, but any doubts that writer-director Brad Bird may have lost some of the mojo between times are immediately dispelled in an opening sequence as the family don their distinctive red uniforms and go into action to tackle returning villain the Underminer. He gets away but, even so, they save the city. The point, however, is that superheroing remains illegal.
But someone wants to change that. Super-rich Winston Deavour (Bob Odenkirk) runs DevTech along with his brilliant scientist sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener) and, a long-time super-hero fan, is, as he explains to Bob, Helen and Lucius, aka Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) on a mission to have them legalised. To do so, he just needs a hero to front his campaign and prove how much the world needs supers. Naturally, Bob assumes he means him, but, in fact, it’s Helen the siblings want. So, persuaded that the times call for some righteous civil disobedience (or as Violet puts it, “Mom is going out illegally to explain why she shouldn’t be illegal?”), while she dons a new costume and mask, Bob has to stay home and look after the kids, including baby Jack-Jack who, he soon discovers, has myriad powers of his own, including teleportation, self-cloning, the ability to shoot lasers from his eyes and transforming into a tantrum-throwing, fire-casting demon when he doesn’t get his own way, or cookies.
So, while Helen’s off on her souped-up motorbike trying to track down and defeat the mysterious Screenslaver, a villain determined to liberate society from its love affair with simulation and virtual experience and discredit superheroes forever, Bob’s having to deal with his bruised ego and the minefield of being a stay at home dad which, aside from attempting to discover the extent of Jack-Jack’s powers and harness them (with the help of Bird as eccentric fashion designer Edna Mode), involves having to handle an understandably sulky Violet who’s discovered that he had a mindwipe carried out on her fledgling boyfriend to remove memory of her alter-ego, inadvertently removing his memory of her altogether.
Although the villain plot twist isn’t too hard to see coming, this never for a moment spoils the film’s sheer exhilaration or intelligence, be that hair-raising action sequences such as Elastigirl trying to stop a runaway train, chasing it on top of the train itself, or its meditations on unethical laws, parenting and gender equality. On top of which there’s also a whole bunch of new super-heroes eager to be legalised, including Reflux, who vomits lava, and Voyd, who idolises Helen, all of whom, along with Bob, Lucius and Helen, fall victim to Screenslaver’s mind control as Winston prepares for the Ambassador (Isabella Rossellini) to sign the legalisation legalising superheroes, setting up the scene for the kids to come to the rescue.
With non-stop thrills and goofy gags for the kids (especially Jack-Jack’s fight with a racoon) and in-jokes and political/parental arguments for the grown-ups, both a breathtaking, breathless family adventure and a Trump-inspired clarion call for right-on anarchy to take on a morally unjust authority (a sentiment surely shared with Captain America), this is, without reservation, the best superhero movie of the year. In Pixar tradition, it’s preceded by a short, Bao, another poignantly thoughtful family-themed film, about a Chinese-Canadian immigrant family and a dumpling that comes to life. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Mockingbird; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (12A)
The Jurassic World theme park abandoned and decayed after events in the previous movie, the surviving dinosaurs are now facing an endangered species extinction level event with the volcano on Isla Nubar threatening to blow its top. Advised by dino expert Ian Malcom (an unusually subdued Jeff Goldblum who bookends the film with his life finds a way message) to let nature takes its course, the American government declines to spend money on saving them. Which is when Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard, complete with in-joke about her absurd high heels in the last film), the park’s former manager turned pro-dino activist gets summoned to the palatial Lockwood estate where Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), right hand man to Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), John Hammond’s former partner in InGen and co-creator of the original genetically cloned dinos (though this is actually the first film the character’s ever mentioned), who explains they intend to rescue 11 of the species and relocate them to a new sanctuary. However, they need her help and that of her now ex-lover, raptor-wrangler Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), because of his special bond with Blue, the intelligent raptor he reared and trained. So, accompanied by dino vet Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda) and nerdy T.Rex phobic systems analyst Franklin Webb (Justice Smith), off they go to, never for a moment thinking that all the military type guys with big guns might be a bad sign.
However, as the opening sequence involving an underwater mercenary team recovering a DNA sample from the now dead hybrid dino Indominus rex has already indicated, there’s another nefarious agenda in play. Yup, unbeknownst to Lockwood, Mills is planning to stage a lucrative animal trafficking auction (managed by Toby Jones) of the rescued species for others to clone, the main attraction being an Indoraptor, reengineered and weaponised (it can even open doors) by series returning geneticist Dr. Wu (B.D.Wong).
Left to die by the mercenaries’ leader, managing to escape the erupting volcano in one of the rolling glass spheres, Claire and Owen, and to a lesser extent Webb and Rodriguez, with, of course, a timely assist from Blue, now have to try and put a stop to this. All of which, after long stretches with no dinosaur action at all, the creatures mostly locked in cages and tranquilised, climaxes with assorted giant lizards running amok around the mansion, bodies being duly thrown through the air, stomped on or eaten. Introduced into the mix is also Lockwood’s dinosaur-loving young granddaughter Maisie (Isabella Sermon), a startling reveal about whom is simply tossed away.
Directed by J.A. Bayona (who made A Monster Calls which gets a sly reference here), visually, what with volcanic eruptions, stampeding dinosaurs, a reworking of the first film’s hunter-prey stalking kitchen scene, this time amid a hall of Jurassic tableaux, it delivers the goods, the murky prologue even offering a Jaws homage to Spielberg. But, since you know none of the good guys are going to get killed off, there’s not a huge amount of tension or, indeed, awe to what is essentially staple disaster movie fodder with some box ticking social messages, while the only notable emotional note is poignant sight of a brachiosaurus, left behind at the jetty, roaring as its swaying neck is swallowed up by smoke and lava. Clearly confident there’s still a huge audience for its narratively preposterous and logically flawed paleothrills, it ends with the auctioned creatures being shipped off to their new owners and Blue surveying a sprawling urban landscape in what seems to be setting up a sort of Planet of the Dinosaurs third act. It might not offer much that’s new, but given its entertaining Rampage in a big house with dinosaurs popcorn fun, the series’ extinction at the box office is likely to be some way off yet. (Empire Great Park; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Leave No Trace (PG)
The first feature by director Debra Granik since Winter Bone, the film that launched Jennifer Lawrence, adapted from My Abandonment, a novel by Peter Rock inspired by the true story of a man and his 12-year-old daughter discovered living illegally in a tent in Portland’s Forest Park, this stars another unknown, New Zealander Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie, as Tom, a bright, determined and skilled survivalist who lives in a nature reserve forest with her fiercely protective but psychologically damaged Iraq War veteran widowed father , Will (Ben Foster), rejecting society and foraging off the land or buying what they need by dad selling the meds he gets for his PTSD. One day, she’s accidentally spotted by a hiker, bringing in the authorities and the intervention of well-meaning social workers splitting them up and having her interact with other people too . They have a point and she’s not against the prospect of joining the world.
Their sympathetic social worker (Dana Millican) finds them a place to live with Will working on a Christmas tree farms and Tom set up for school. She learns to ride a bike and becomes friends with a local boy who raises rabbits; however, while he tries to fit in, Will finds it impossible to settle and, after having had to attend a church service to keep his boss happy, he packs his bag and has the loyal Tom join him as the head back into the woods. Here, following an accident, they’re taken in by a rural cooperative of fellow drifters (among them Dale Dickey from Winter’s Bone as a kindly woman who offers them a trailer to live in) and , finding a hitherto unknown sense of being rooted (there’s a poignant moment when she tells her father that’s she’s rented the trailer to give them a home), Tom starts to develop an awareness that, as she tells her father, ‘what’s wrong with you is not wrong with me” and that, while his search for peace will always leave him restless, she has found hers and, despite the bond between them, their paths are inexorably growing apart as his raising her to be an independent thinker means she starts to questions the fight or flight instincts he’s also instilled in her.
A slow burn coming-of-age story about the need of children to become independent of their parents and find their own lives, there’s no detailed backstory to Will and Tom, we just know her mother died when she was young and he hasn’t been able to shake off the demons of war that haunt him. There’s no bad guys here either, everyone they meet being genuinely concerned about doing the best for the pair, welcome notes of community, stability and positivity in an increasingly divided America . The end is both heartbreaking and affirming, a poignant reminder that sometimes love means letting go. (Fri-Mon: MAC)
Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again! (U)
The first film a screen adaptation of the stage musical hit, this doesn’t have a similar source but, again built around ABBA songs (ones they didn’t get in the first film, like Waterloo and Adante Adante, and even some they did), directed this time by Ol Parker, it serves as both sequel and prequel. Set a year after the death of Donna (which, if that was 2017, would have made her around 53, meaning her daughter is in her late 30s), Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is, having transformed the old hotel with help from her manager, Fernando (Andy Garcia), about to reopen as the Bella Donna in her memory. Unfortunately, fiancé Sky (Dominic Cooper) can’t make it as he’s in New York where, learning the hotel trade, he’s been offered a permanent job, which may put an end to their relationship. Nor can two of her dads, Bill (Stellan Skargard) and Harry (Colin Firth), who have prior commitments. However, Sam (Pierce Brosnan, getting another, semi-spoken stab at SOS) is there, as are her mom’s old university friends and singing partners, Tanya (Christine Baranski) and Rosie (Julie Walters). However, when a storm breaks, meaning the other guests and media can’t get there, it looks like the big day will be a washout.
Parallel to this is the prequel narrative of how, in 1979, the young Donna (Lily James), having graduated from Oxford (to a rendition of When I Kissed the Teacher), sets off to find herself, winding up in Paris and then on the Greek island of Kalokairi and, in quick succession, encountering and sleeping with virginal Harry (Hugh Skinner), charmer Bill (Josh Dylan) and love of her life but, as it transpires, already engaged Sam (Jeremy Irvine), the results of which are made manifest nine months later. She’s also visited by the younger incarnations of Tanya (Jessica Keenan Wynn) and Rosie (Alexa Davies), the latter herself falling for Bill.
All of which sees the film shifting back in forth in time as the two storylines play out and the past resonates with the present, all to the accompaniment of the cast singing and dancing their way through an assortment of ABBA numbers (Benny even puts in a cameo as a café pianist) as it gathers to the launch night party (now attended by a flock of locals and the three men missing from Sophie’s life) and, of course, the suitably over the top unexpected arrival of her absentee celebrity grandmother, Ruby (Cher in a platinum wig), giving rise to yet another reunion of long parted lovers. And, despite Donna’s death, Meryl Streep still puts in an appearance as the film engineers a poignant christening scene between her and Sophie. She also part of the entire ensemble singalong coda of Supertrooper, though, as you would image, while the main cast deliver solid vocal performances (their charismatic younger counterparts can hold a tune but wisely, this time Brosnan, Firth and Skarsgard only sing in group numbers and they still can’t dance). it’s Cher who takes the vocal honours, the music lifting to a whole new level as she breaks out into a duet with Garcia on Fernando.
The casting of the characters’ younger selves is inspired, so much so that as scenes change it’s often only the clothes that indicate if you’re watching James or Seyfried. They, as with everyone, give superb warm and engaging performances, but plaudits are especially due to Keenan Wynn and Davies whose comic timing and banter is a highlight while Omid Djali makes for an amusing passport control officer and there’s a scene stealing moment from Maria Vacratis as the tough old bar owner who gives young Sam a piece of her mind. Massive exuberant fun and more moving than you might expect, how can you resist it! (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; MAC; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Mission: Impossible – Fallout (12A)
The only espionage action franchise that can stand alongside the recent Bond movies, now in its sixth outing, each successive entry has exceeded its predecessor. This doesn’t quite top Rogue Nation, but it’s undeniably every bit its equal. The plot picks up shortly after the previous film in which Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team exposed and dismantled the Syndicate, an organisation headed by rogue agent Solomon Lane (Sean Haris). However, while Lane is held prisoner, the remaining members have formed a new terrorists for hire organisation known as The Apostles. They plan to obtain three stolen plutonium devices to facilitate a plot by the mysterious zealot John Lark who intends to cause mass destruction to create a new world order and bring peace out of the suffering. It’s Hunt’s job to secure the plutonium but, in saving the lives of his team when the set up goes pear-shaped, they’re stolen away, leading icy CIA Director Erica Sloan (Angela Basset) to step in and put her best and most ruthless agent, August Walker (Henry Cavill), on the case to assist in their recovery, and eliminate Hunt if he doesn’t play ball.
The plot thickens with the entry of the White Widow (Vanessa Kirby), a philanthropist and nuclear arms broker who’s arranging a deal with Lark, and Hunt’s sometime romantic interest, MI6 agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) who has her own agenda involving Lane in all this and who bears a striking (and pointed) resemblance to Hunt’s former wife (Michelle Monaghan), who herself plays a part in the film’s revenge narrative and final nail-biting climax.
The first major action moment comes with a single shot skydive by Hunt and Walker over Paris and sets the template for a series of white knuckle sequences that variously embrace a motorbike chase round Paris, a three-way fight in a night club bathroom and, as a fitting finale, a helicopter chase and subsequent crash over the Himalayas followed by a mountain-side struggle.
Being an M:I film there are, of course, any number of misdirections and double or triple crosses with characters not being what or indeed who (given those face masks) they seem, the motives of rival factions clashing with Hunt’s mission to clean up his mess and the personal and moral choices between sides and duty that he’s sometimes forced to make.
Cruise, who famously broke his ankle in one of the stunts (and again he does all his own) is as charismatic a presence as ever, the film offering up some emotional back story notes along the way, but neither he nor writer-director Chris McQuarrie allow that to sideline the support cast of Ferguson, Cavill, Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames as team regulars Benji and Luther, or, getting a bigger role in the field this time round, Alec Baldwin as the head of the IMF.
Globe trotting between Belfast, Berlin, Paris, London (by way of St Pauls, Blackfriars Bridge and the Tate Modern) and Kashmire, building to a quite literal suspenseful last second on the countdown climax, it may play fast and loose with plausibility and the entangled complex narrative may load in one too many moments when things go wrong (actual or otherwise) than may be necessary, but when Sloane snipes that the IMF are a bunch of grown men in rubber masks playing trick or treat, she nails the film’s fulsome pleasures right on the head. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Oceans 8 (12A)
As with the recent Ghostbusters, this is another gender reversal attempt to reboot a franchise, thankfully with rather more successful results. The kid sister of Danny Ocean (apparently deceased), after spending just over five years inside for fraud, Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) smooth talks herself into getting parole. However, no sooner is she back on the New York streets than she’s back into her felonious ways, conning herself a bagful of beauty products and a swanky hotel room. However, she has her sights set on rather bigger game, having spent her time in jail devising a foolproof plan to heist the world’s most valuable diamond necklace, the Toussaint, valued at $150million during the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s annual Met Gala.
For this she needs a crew, starting off with her old partner-in-crime, Lou (Cate Blanchett) and gradually recruiting fading fashion designer Rose Weil (Helena Bonham-Carter), a streetwise hacker and surveillance expert known as Nine Ball (Rhianna), Indian jewellery maker Amita (Mindy Kaling), suburban mom thief Tammy (Sarah Poulson) and slick sleight of hand street hustler Constance (Awkwafina). The plan, by initially seeming as though she’s going to be working with a hot celebrity (Dakota Fanning), is is to get Weil appointed to dress snobby socialite Daphne Kruger (Anne Hathaway) for the Gala, insisting that she wear the Toussaint. With Kruger as the unwitting mule, the necklace will then, via series of ingenuous meticulously planned moves, be switched from under the noses of the security team and replaced by a copy, broken up and smuggled out with each of them getting $16mill.
However, Debbie also has a second agenda, intending to set up her art gallery owner ex-boyfriend Claude Becker (Richard Armitage), engineering it so that he’s Daphne’s date for the Gala, as the fall-guy in revenge for him ratting her out to save his own skin over a scam that got her set down.
As with the previous instalments, the fun is primarily in the interplay between the cast and the ingenuity and split-second timing of the robbery, as well as a couple of unexpected twists and, of course, the flashbacks revealing how things were done. A bosoms buddy screwball comedy, it’s slick, stylish and smart with some sharp and snarky dialogue and perfect comic timing. Bullock who at one point declares she’s not doing this for the money but as inspiration to any budding criminal eight-year-old girls, is every bit as good here as she was in Miss Congeniality, but the whole gang, and that includes Hathaway (who even gets an in-joke about herself), all of whom get their individual turn to shine as well as working as a perfectly synchronised team, are a charismatic delight to watch. On top of that James Corden turns up in a scene-stealing turn as an impish insurance-fraud investigator who has history with the Oceans while, in a nod to the franchise legacy, there’s cameos by both Elliot Gould as Reuben Tishkoff and Shaobo Qin as the acrobatic Yen as well as the likes of Kim Kardashian, Heidi Klum, Common, Serena Williams and Katie Holmes all appearing as themselves for the lavish Gala. Here’s to sequels 9 and 10. (Vue Star City)
Sicario 2:Soldado (15)
Emily Blunt may not be back (but her story was confined to the first film in any event) and Stefano Sollima has replaced Denis Villeneuve in the director’s chair, but Taylor Sheridan remains the screenwriter and both Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro return for what proves to be an incredibly tense and dramatic sequel, even if the testosterone level is bouncing in the red and it takes a while to figure out the what, who and why.
Opening with a night vision filmed scene of American authorities apprehending migrants in the desert as they seek to cross the U.S.-Mexican border, one of them blows himself up. Cut to Kansas City and chillingly matter-of-factly staged and hard to watch suicide bombing of a supermarket, followed by CIA op Matt Graver (Brolin) interrogating a captured terrorist in Somalia to obtain information as to how, it is assumed, the bombers arrived from Mexico. It’s a scene that, in Graver’s by any means necessary approach, foreshadows the comment by the Secretary of Defense (Matthew Modine) that, with Mexican drug gangs now officially added to the terrorist list, “dirty is exactly why you’re here” when Braver’s brought in by his steely boss, Cynthia Foard (Catherine Keener), to clean things up.
To which end, he, in turn, reactivates lawyer turned hitman Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) in a plot to spark a cartels war by abducting Isabela (Isabela Moner), the daughter of Carlos Reyes, the drug lord who was responsible for the murder of Alejandro’s family, and then posing as her liberators.
Running parallel to this, and inevitably crossing paths at a crucial moment, is the story of Miguel (Elijah Rodriguez), an adolescent Mexican-American citizen who, bored with school and looking for excitement and money, is recruited by his cousin to assist in people trafficking.
The core plot takes any number of twists and turns, a shoot-out with corrupt Mexican police leading to Braver being told to shut down the mission and clean the scene of any loose ends. These include Alejandro who, in the foul up during which the girl escaped, has been left in the Mexican desert looking after Isabela and responsible for getting her across the border. Shades of John Ford’s The Searchers are obvious.
Revealing more would spoil the tension and surprise twists, although it is not too hard to see where the narrative strands are leading as they build to the film’s central climax. It’s a grim, politically cynical affair, though not as morally bankrupt as it might first appear as mutually protective captor/captive bonds develop and friendship and duty lock heads. It’s often incredibly violent, but also not without some gritty humour, while both Brolin and Del Toro are magnetic masculine screen presences with both Moner and Rodriguez delivering finely shades performance as both victims of and collaborators in the social tragedies and political webs in which they are ensnared. A compelling, often narratively ruthless thriller with a strong topical intelligence in which there are no clear cut good guys, all of which ends in an unexpected but fascinating set up for the next chapter. (Vue Star City)
Surprisingly something of a relative flop at the box office, even so Dwayne Johnson remains the current king of the blockbusters, a title once held by Bruce Willis, which is all rather ironic given that his latest is basically Die Hard meets Towering Inferno.
The prologue has Johnson’s FBI agent and negotiator Will Sawyer attempting to talk down a family hostage situation when the guy detonates a body bomb, leaving Sawyer some years later with a prosthetic leg, married to his medic, former combat-surgeon Sarah (Neve Campbell) and with two cute kids (McKenna Roberts, Noah Cottrell ). He now runs a one man company advising on security and, thanks to a former member of his squad, he lands the lucrative job of vetting the Pearl, the world’s tallest building, a state of the art 240-storey Hong Kong two-thirds of a mile high project by multi-millionaire developer Zhao (Chin Han) with, as per its name, a giant pearl-like globe at the top containing a virtual-reality space that you just know is going to become the stage for the final showdown.
Having duly confirmed the place is super-safe (though the scene in the trailer with Noah Taylor’s insurance exec questioning his skills is curiously absent), events inevitably set out to prove Sawyer wrong as a team of mercenaries led by ruthless Swedish psycho Kores Botha (Roland Møller) break into the basement, planning to set the place on fire in order to get their hands on something Zhao has locked away in a safe in his Penthouse fortress.
With another part of the team having obtained and hacked into the tablet storing Sawyer’s facial recognition, from which they can control the building’s function from the off-site control centre they’ve stormed, Botha duly shuts down the fire prevention systems, locks down the exits and sets the 96th floor ablaze.
Unfortunately, Sarah and the kids are trapped in the building, which means Will, subject of a poorly conceived manhunt by the Hong Kong cops, has to somehow get inside, rescue them and take out the bad guys, armed only with his prosthetic leg, a lot of duct tape and incredible finger-strength.
Those with an aversion to heights will finds the scenes of Sawyer climbing up a construction crane, leaping a 40-foot chasm, scaling the burning building and dangling precariously from a rope (all captured on the big screen by TV crews for the assembled cheering crowds) or Sarah carrying her son across a plank between two ends of a broken causeway while the fire blazes below hard to watch, but even those without acrophobia will find the stomach tightening as they chew their fingernails, regardless of the fact the characters will naturally survive.
Directed and written by Rawson Marshall Thurber, it’s a tad clunky on the dialogue and the double-crosses are signalled a mile-off while not only does the fire seem to defy all the laws of physics but the building also has the world’s most robust and fireproof sprinklers. But then logic and realism aren’t ingredients listed on the box as, gloriously idiotic and deliriously implausible to the extreme, the film simply gets on with delivering a thrillingly exciting , visually spectacular series of high rise stunts and the sort of sensitive but tough masculinity at which Johnson excels. There’s not a shred of originality in sight, but as family action movie entertainment goes, this is a total conflagration. (Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Swimming With Men (12A)
Oliver Parker has built a career out of directing such innocuous and predictable but amiable British comedies as St. Trinian’s and Dad’s Army, and this, a sort of Full Monty in swimming trunks, adds another to the tally. Rob Brydon is Eric Scott, an account having a mid-life crisis, bored with the mind-numbing nine to five, taken for granted by and living in the shadow of wife Heather (Jane Horrocks in a somewhat unsympathetic role) who’s just been elected o the local council and something of an embarrassment to his moody teenage son.
Persuaded his wife’s having an affair with her smarmy boss (Nathaniel Parker), he walks out in a strop and moves into a hotel. Around much the same time, he also pops in to his local swimming pool where he’s surprised to encounter an all-male amateur synchronised swimming team, among them widower Ted (Jim Carter), insecure builder Colin (Daniel Mays), teenage petty thief likely lad Tom (Thomas Turgoose), the enigmatic Kurt (Adeel Akhtar), divorcee Luke (Rupert Graves), the team backbone, and someone simply known as Silent Bob.
Observing that they’re floundering in the water because the numbers are uneven, he’s invited to join them, having to observe such rules as what happens in the pool stays in the pool and that no one talks about their life outside the club, though clearly all have flaws and vulnerabilities and something in their background that’s led them to form this unlikely bond.
In the time-honoured tradition of underdog sporting movies, they’re persuaded to enter the unofficial make synchronised swimming world championships in Milan, with fellow swimmer Susan (Charlotte Riley) as the coach – and Luke’s potential love interest – who has to knock them into shape in just six weeks. You can pretty much write the rest of the plot from there yourself, the film ending with an overextended men in speedos variation on John Cusak’s classic apology scene in Say Anything.
The metaphor about male friendships helping you to stay afloat when you’re sinking is obvious, but never hammered home and the screenplay’s sprinkled with some amusing one-liners, confessional moments and physical comedy. With very different and much gentler and very British strokes to its brash, vulgar and shallower American counterparts, it’s unlikely to make much of a box office splash, but its easy going chemistry and good natured spirit ensure it never treads water. (Sun-Thu: Electric)
Screenings courtesy of Odeon and Cineworld
Cineworld 5 Ways – 181 Broad St, 0871 200 2000
Cineworld NEC – NEC 0871 200 2000
Cineworld Solihull – Mill Ln, Solihull 0871 200 2000
The Electric Cinema – 47–49 Station Street, 0121 643 7879
Empire – Great Park, Rubery, 0871 471 4714
Empire Sutton 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