MOVIE ROUND-UP: This Week’s New Film Releases, Fri Jun 22-Thu Jun 28

 

 

NEW RELEASES

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 acrobaticYen 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. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham,  Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

The Happy Prince (15)

Writer, director and star, this has been a long gestating personal project for Rupert Everett and his tenacity in bringing it to the screen pays ample dividends. Oscar Wilde has been the subject of feature films before, but these have focused on events leading up to and including his trial for ‘gross indecency’  after his disastrous libel action against the Marquess of Queensberry, the father of his homosexual lover, Lord Alfred ‘Bosie’ Douglas.

Everett sets events after Wilde’s release from Reading Goal, where he served two years as prisoner C33 and wrote a 50,000 word self-examining letter to Douglas that would be eventually published as De Profundis,  and his disgraced exile in Naples and Paris, virtually penniless, under the name of Sebastian Melmoth. Once out of prison, he’s befriended by old allies Robbie Ross (Edwin Thomas), his literary executor and another former lover who crusaded to restore Wilde’s reputation,  and Reggie Turner (Colin Firth), both of whom he inevitably treats with ingratitude and disregard, and to everyone’s horror and despite being aware it will cost him the small allowances granted by his estranged wife Constance (Emily Watson), he resumes his destructive toxic relationship with the self-serving Bosie (a mesmerisingly contemptible Colin Morgan). As history records, it all ended miserably, a destitute Wilde eventually dying of meningitis, possibly brought on by a surgical procedure, in November 1900, administered to here by Tom Wilkinson’s Catholic priest, a surely intentional touch of irony given he  played Queensbury opposite Stephen Fry in the 1997 Wilde.

The time in exile interspersed with flashbacks to both happier days and his incarceration (a particularly powerful scene had him being jeered and spat at by a homophobic mob at a railway station en route to Reading), it’s also punctuated by scenes of Wilde telling his titular ironically personally prophetic children’s fairytale of human suffering to a Paris rent boy (Benjamin Voisin) and his younger brother, which, in turn, gives rise to Wilde’s memories and hallucinations of his two sons.

His screenplay subtly touching on themes of  hypocrisy and class, shunning any vanity, Everett, who previously undertook the role in David Hare’s 1998 stage play The Judas Kiss, delivers a career-best performance, playing Wilde as dark and dissolute, living in squalor and coming physically and mentally undone in the aftershock his time in prison, but also with the sort of defiant if reckless courage Dylan Thomas spoke of in raging against the dying of the light. The direction bears the influence of Visconti, especially his film of Thomas Mann’s Death In Venice, and the script, which has some moments of black humour, is, of course, liberally peppered with such Wilde epithets as “Each man kills the things he loves”  as well as a terrific and poignant set piece of a drunken Wilde regaling a low life Paris saloon with a rendition of The Boy I Love Is Up In The Gallery.  Wilde famously said, “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars”; Everett’s film casts its gaze to the sky. (Electric; Empire Great Park)

 

Let The Sunshine In (15)

Something of a minor misstep for French director Claire Denis, loosely adapted from Roland Barthes’ A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments in collaboration with novelist and playwright Christine Angot, this stars Juliette Binoche in a bittersweet feminist romantic comedy meditation on mid-life dating, love and sex that, inevitably, comes laden with lengthy intellectual conversations.

A divorced artist, Isabelle (Binoche) ends her affair with married banker Vincent (Xavier Beauvois) when he announces he’s not about to get a divorce because “You are charming, but my wife is extraordinary”, but even so, he persists in trying to reconcile and even turns up at her apartment after a business trip  declaring “I just got in from Brazil and felt like banging you.”

Like a  moth drawn to a flame, in this and her other dalliances, she’s almost masochistic in her disparate choice of lovers with whom she has nothing in common and who only seem to want to use her for their own sexual or, as with an unnamed married stage actor (Nicolas Duvauchelle) with a drinking problem, emotional crutches. She’s picked up by a working stiff (Paul Blain) while drunkenly dancing at a bar to Etta James’ At Last, and, for a while, things seem to be going well, but that too ends badly. She even continues to have sex with her ex-husband. After each relationship disintegrates, she’s forever blaming herself, ever more persuaded she’ll never find something lasting while at the same time always embarking on liaisons doomed to fail, unable to find the sunshine within.

Deftly balancing acid comedy and vulnerable angst, Binoche is consummate in portraying Isabelle’s inner turmoil, her poor self-esteem, confused desires and turbulent emotional life, often simply etching it with a look on her face., but, rather like her suitors you never truly connect with her. While there are notes of humour and poignancy, the film’s general tone is dry, only really loosening up and sparking for the end-credits sequence as she visits Gerard Depardieu’s new age relationship therapist who spouts vague advice about having to be emotionally open in a way that amusingly suggests he’s proposing himself as her next move, though it’s already been made clear that he’s as emotionally non-committal as everyone else. Something likely to be shared by audiences. (Mon/Tue: MAC)

Thoroughbreds (15)

A dark, dysfunctional friendship teenage black comedy redolent of Heathers but, perhaps more closely, Heavenly Creatures, Cory Finley’s directorial debut, working from his own unproduced play, opens with an Equus-evoking shot of high school senior Amanda (Olivia Cooke) staring blankly at a family horse and then taking out a knife. The narrative then gets underway with her arriving at the sprawling palatial Connecticut estate of estranged childhood friend Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) who, it turns out, is being paid to tutor Amanda who’s become something of a social pariah after the horse incident, she herself having been kicked out of her expensive prep-school for plagiarism.

On the surface they have nothing in common other than privileged backgrounds and a shared lack of empathy. Amanda declares herself incapable of any emotions, explaining “I’ve a perfectly healthy brain. “It just doesn’t contain feelings”, but has learned how to fake it (on her arrival at the house we see her practising a smile in the mirror and later she demonstrates how to cry on cue), while the prim and proper narcissistic Lily is overly intense, but they’re both at odds with the world. Lily is particularly at odds with her new, obscenely rich controlling fitness freak step-dad (Paul Sparks) who regards her as unwanted baggage. “Do you ever think about just killing him?” muses Amanda as the sound of his rowing machine drones through the house, And, realising she can confess her darkest thoughts to Amanda, who can clearly see through the surface genteelness, without being judged Lily duly enquires as to how you’d go about that. To which end, as their poisonous relationship develops,  they blackmail delusional low-rent drugs dealer Tim (the late Anton Yelchin) as a hitman, but, when that misfires, Lily resolves that they’ll murder him themselves.

Finely crafted, especially as regards its sound design,  and terrifically acted by its two English-born leads as well as representing a brief but beautifully played swan song from Yelchin as the deludedly overconfident sad sack loser, while it may, at times, maintain an ironic distance, it gathers riveting momentum as shifts into adolescent noir  thriller mode, Lily proving far more ruthless and conniving than she initially seems, setting up and ending that, if you’re alert to one of her conversations with Amanda, you can see coming and which serves as a sort of release for both girls from lives they find unsupportable. It ends on a prolonged close up stare, one which, like the film will haunt you long after the end credits. (Fri-Sun: MAC)

Also Opening

 

Together (12A)

Another pitched at the senior citizen market, this pairs Peter Bowles and Sylvia Syms  as Philip and Rosemary Twain as an elderly Cockney couple who’ve just celebrated their 60th anniversary when she  breaks a leg and is taken into hospital. While she’s there, the social workers persuade Philip to go into a nursing home. However, it turns out they have a hidden agenda buried in the small print that, as a result of an incident many years earlier, results in his not being allowed within 50 yards of his wife. Written and directed by Paul Duddridge, it’s a sentimental black comedy about NHS bureaucracy with social workers clearly cast as the villains of the piece. (Odeon Birmingham; Showcase Walsall)

 

NOW PLAYING

A Quiet Place (15)

After Sally Phillips in The Shape of Water, this takes it up a notch by, save for a couple of scenes, having all the characters converse in sign language. One character is deaf, hence why everyone in the family knows how to sign, but the reason why nobody speaks is because this is an apocalyptic future in which the slightest noise will get you killed by marauding monsters who, while blind, hunt their prey through sound.

Directed by John Krasinski, it opens on Day 89 with an eerie scene of the family, father  Lee Abbott (Krasinski), mom Evelyn (Krasinski’s real life wife Emily Blunt), adolescent daughter Regan (an outstanding, complex turn by deaf actress Millicent Simmonds) and her younger brothers, Marcus (Noah Jupe) and Beau (Cade Woodward), are silently searching  deserted store for medicines. When his sister secretly gives him the battery operated toy he’s been told he can’t have, Beau also picks up the batteries, resulting in a devastating tragedy and the film’s first jolting shock. A year or so later, the rest of the family are still living in their farm house refuge, signal lights surrounding it, walking barefoot on noise-dampening dust-covered pathways, dad working on the shortwave in the basement trying to make contact using Morse Code and trying to create Regan a more powerful cochlear hearing aid – a plot point that proved crucial in the climax. A careless mishap ramps up the tension and serves reminder how precarious their life is, especially so given Evelyn is pregnant, and childbirth and babies are not renewed for quietness.

There’s also tension within the family in that Regan thinks her father blames her for Beau’s death; she certainly blames herself. As such, resentful when dad takes Marcus off on a fishing expedition, she takes off on her own, thereby separating all the characters, leaving mom alone and about to give birth, inevitably placing everyone in peril in scenes that variously entail a nail protruding from the stairs, being trapped in a corn silo and creatures stalking the flooded basement where mother and baby are trapped.

Although there are scenes where characters speak (apparently it’s safe if there’s a louder noise to mask the sounds), this relies very much on conveying emotions through the eyes and facial expressions, something which ratchets up proceedings as Evelyn goes into labour aware that she cannot cry out.

Given the restrictions on speech, exposition is limited to newspaper cuttings about the creatures  and the film sometimes plays fast and loose with its own  logic (how is there still power, especially as having a generator would create noise?), but these are minor niggles in a film that, in a finale redolent of Aliens, gives a thrilling fresh spin to the monster invasion genre. (Vue Star City)

 

Avengers: Infinity War (12A)

The movie equivalent of going to an all you can eat buffet and  still wanting more, this brings together pretty much every major  superhero in the Marvel Universe (or at least the Disney manifestation thereof), and even those not on screen still get a mention,  for the ultimate slugfest mashup as they take on the towering, ridged-chin world destroyer Thanos (a surprisingly soulful Josh Brolin) who is out to gather all six of the infinity stones (gems of indescribable power governing Mind, Soul, Time, Power, Space and Reality), so that he can bring balance to the universe by wiping out half of its inhabitants (as a flashback reveals he did to Gamora’s world before adopting her as his daughter), so that the remaining half have a chance to survive. It’s galaxy-wide genocide, but he means well.

Given the showdowns between Thanos and the various ad hoc team ups take place in various parts of the planet and the universe, the massive cast of characters don’t actually all occupy the same scene at any one time. Rather we have different pockets of resistance. After an initial confrontation in New York with Thanos’s icily effete and sadistic factotum and a couple of his enforcers, Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland with fetching new bio-suit) are paired up on both Thanos’s flying wheel and his home planet Titan;  Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) and, with a traumatised Hulk reluctant to emerge, Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) face off in Wakanda with the Black Panther (Chadwick Bosemen), ultimately joined by Wanda (Elizabeth Olson) and Vision  (Paul Bettany), who, lest you forget, has one of the stones in  his forehead. As it turns out, Doctor Strange also has one nestling in his amulet.

After rescuing him from space following the opening massacre of Asgardians, The Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Lord (Chris Pratt), Drax (Dave Bautista), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Mantis (Pom Klementieff), stick-teen Groot (Vin Diesel) and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) join forces with Thor (Chris Hemsworth), described by Drax “like a pirate had a baby with an angel!”. The bruised and battered but still up for it God of Thunder  and the ‘rabbit’, as he refers to him, taking off to forge a new hammer  (leading to a wryly amusing scene in which Peter Dinklage dwarfs them both), while the others head for Knowhere, home of the Collector (Benicio Del Toro), who’s supposedly got one of the stones. Also in the mix is Thanos’s other ‘daughter, Nebula (Karen Gillan) and pretty much all of the other core characters from Black Panther, along with a Gwyneth Paltrow cameo as Tony Stark’s new fiancée, Pepper Potts and a surprise post-credits appearance of a long absent figure.

If you can get your head round that line-up, then you might just make it through the near three hours of  cataclysmic jawdropping, eye-popping action that comes liberally laced with intense emotional beats, pop culture references and the sort of dry and droll humour you’ve come to expect, here primarily in the alpha male arrogance stand-offs between egotistical Stark and supercilious Strange, the testosterone tag match between Thor and an intimidated Peter Quinn (who deepens his voice to assert himself) and the former’s ever hilarious unintended casual put downs. Indeed, Hemsworth pretty much owns every scene he’s in, and his dramatic lightning flashing appearance armed with his new axe, Stormbringer, and a new eye, is one of the film’s major cheer out loud moments

All this directors Anthony and Joe Russo orchestrate with dazzling skill and confidence, never for a moment letting the pace sag, but knowing just when to ease back on the mayhem and introduce Marvel’s trademark tragic notes. Two shocking deaths occur in the opening moments and there’s both sacrifice and sef-sacrifice, while the film concludes in wiping out half of the main cast, though, given that includes the stars of recent new franchises,  these don’t have quite the same impact and it’s a safe bet that, as the all knowing Strange implies, they’ll reassemble in a year’s time for the eagerly anticipated sequel. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham,  Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Book Club (12A)

Just when you thought you’d seen the last of Fifty Shades of Grey on the big screen, along comes this senior citizens self-discovery romcom in which E.L. James’ trashy trilogy provides the  product placement narrative engine.

Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen and Jane Fonda are, respectively,  recently widowed (though the marriage died much earlier) Diane, Sharon, a divorced federal judge whose ex (Ed Begley Jr.) is marrying a much younger bimbo (Mircea Monroe), chef Carol, whose newly retired husband, Bruce (Craig T Nelson), has lost his sexual drive, and hotelier Vivian, a sexually active never married singleton with commitment issues. It’s the latter who introduces James’ novels to their wine-fuelled monthly Los Angeles book club (which began in the 70s with another sexual revolution handbook, Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying) in an attempt to inject a little spice into everyone’s lives, if only vicariously. She’s also thrown a curve when high-flyer Arthur (Don Johnson, a movie in-joke since his daughter Dakota  played Anastasia Steele), an old boyfriend she’s not seen in 40 years after walking away from his proposal, turns up the hotel, clearly keen to resume the relationship.

Having set this up the film flits between the four upscale suburban friends as, inspired by the reading matter, they each look to embrace  a new life or fix the one they have. Diane, whose two bossy, overprotective adult daughters (Alicia Silverstone, Katie Aselton) want her to relocate and live with one of them in Arizona, meets cute with charming airline pilot Mitchell (Andy Garcia), Sharon embarks on on-line dating (hooking up with Wallace Shawn and Richard Dreyfuss), Vivian finds herself wondering if maybe she could settle with Arthur and Carol slips Bruce Viagra, with amusingly unfortunate consequences and a confessional catharsis that puts the kybosh on the dance routine they’re supposed to be performing at a charity talent show.

Directed with a workmanlike hand by co-writer Bill Holderman, although there is a smattering of funny one-liners wrapped up in its celebration of older women and that romance and sex shouldn’t end with the menopause, it succeeds solely on account of the sparkling performance by the four leads who, although the dryly amusing Bergen, who delivers a wistfully affective final monologue, arguably, comes out best, all effortlessly balance comedy and poignancy, even if Keaton’s character does channel a fair degree of Annie Hall, right down to the beret. It’s superficial fluff that largely sidesteps any connection with reality, but it’s still hugely enjoyable fun. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

                          

Breaking In (15)

A home invasion movie that places a strong woman fighting to protect her kids front and centre, director  James McTeigue may not offer any major twists on the well-worn set-up, but, anchored by a  powerful turn from Gabrielle Union,  this short and sharp thriller delivers solid tension and bursts of bloody action.

Returning to her estranged criminal father’s remote and fortress-like high-tech security mansion after he’s killed in a deliberate hit and run, Shaun (Union), who has had nothing to do with him for years, is just there for the weekend with her two kids, teen daughter Jasmine (Ajiona Alexus) and younger son Glover (Seth Carr), to arrange the sale. However, she’s not the only one. Tipped off that there’s a safe packed with millions of dollars, four thieves, Eddie (Billy Burke) and his associates, tattooed psycho Duncan (Richard Cabral), nervy  Sam (Levi Meaden) and former military man Peter (Mark Furze), are determined to get their hands on it. However, they didn’t reckon on anyone else being there.

While Shaun’s outside, they take the kids hostage, setting in motion a taut game of cat and mouse as her maternal instincts take on a  Liam Neeson hue (tellingly, it’s written by Ryan Engle who also penned Non Stop and The Commuter), using whatever’s at hand, broken wine glass, toy drone,  to turn the tables and take the fight to the assailants who, in time-honoured tradition, prove to be conveniently inept.

Naturally, there’s plenty of sneaking round darkened corridors and lurking in shadows, punctuated by some bloodshedding via Duncan slitting the throat of the unfortunate estate agent and a remarkably resourceful Shaun doing a  number on Peter before engineering her way back inside the house.

It’s thinly written and fairly one-dimensional in terms of character, but, for disposable female empowerment action that serves up the payback without troubling the brain cells, this does its job in efficiently effective style.  (Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza)

Deadpool 2 (15)

The original movie made a fortune from  taking the mocking piss out of itself and the whole superhero franchise genre, a self-referential orgy of meta-fiction that demolished the fourth wall, winked to the camera and the audiences  and bundled together onscreen and offscreen personas (at one point Deadpool signs an autograph as  Ryan Reynolds) in a gloriously violent and hilarious WTF of gargantuan proportions. This one tops it. Indeed, directed by Atomic Blonde’s David Leitch (or, as the opening credits have it, One of the Two Guys Who Killed John Wick’s Dog), it starts with scarred cancer victim wade Wilson aka Deadpool (Reynolds) turning on a  dead Wolverine musical box before posing on a bunch of gasoline drums, tossing a lit cigarette and blowing himself to pieces. And then backtracking six weeks to explain why as, having gone into the scum-killing business fulltime (cue gallons of blood), the one that got away ends up killing  girlfriend Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) just as she and Wade have decided to make a baby, sending him into a guilt-ridden, suicidal funk. Of course, the body parts gathered together by Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapicic) and hauled back to the X-Men’s mansion, he regenerates and the plot kicks in.

It’s fairly simple, joining  Colossus, Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) and her new girlfriend (Shioli Kutsuna), he gets to become an X-Men trainee, his first call to action being an attempt to cool down, fireball-hurling teenage mutant Randall (New Zealand’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople breakout star Julian Dennison) who’s threatening to incinerate the mutant hating headmaster (Eddie Marsan) of his orphanage. Suffice to say, things don’t quite work out as planned and both he and the kid end up  in the high-tech mutants prison, the Ice-Box. At which point, enter uber-intense Cable (Josh Brolin), a bionic-enhanced super-soldier who’s beamed in from the future intent on killing Randall in revenge for turning his family to cinders. Cue Deadpool resignedly opting to play the surrogate dad (thereby earning his redemption stripes to reunite with Vanessa) and protect Randall, ultimately attempting to change the course of events that will lead to the present scenario.

Along the way there’s the formation of   his own mutants spin-off, X-Force (“tough, morally flexible and young enough to carry this franchise another 10 to 12 years”, Bedlam (Terry Crews), Shatterstar (Lewis Tan), Vanisher (a blink of Brad Pitt), Zeigeist (Bill Skarsgård), Domino (a spin-off friendly Zazie Beetz), whose superpower is being lucky, and Peter (Rob Delaney), an ordinary schmuck who just saw the ad. Not that they get to stick around long, only one (and you can guess who from the powers) surviving to take the fight to Cable in one of the many spectacular action sequences, as it gathers to a vaguely Terminator salvational climax.

Bloodier, more visceral and far more foul-mouthed than the original, it sprays pop culture references and in-jokes like nail-bomb confetti, cameos including Alan Tudyk, a glimpse of three X-Men and a very surprising mid-credits appearance of a fourth, alongside returning characters Blind Al (Leslie Uggams), Weasel (T.J.Miller)  and taxi driver Dopinder (Karan Soni) who wants in on the mercenary lark, not to mention Wade’s favourite  unstoppable villain from the X-Men comics. There’s also deluge of references to and quips about the DC Universe, the Avengers (at one point Deadpool calls Cable Thanos), Robocop, Canada, James Bond , Frozen (how come no one else drew the Yentl comparison!), Annie, Say Anything and a hysterical Green Lantern gag set to Cher’s If I Could Turn Back Time, plus dozens more you’ll have to catch on subsequent viewings as well as its brazen acknowledgement of  the plot holes. And the four post-credit scenes that change everything. Basically, it’s everything you loved about Deadpool – on Viagra. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham,  Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Hereditary (15)

Don’t believe the hype that this is the scariest horror movie since The Exorcist (that would be the original Ring);  yes, first-timer writer-director Ari Aster gradually builds from unease to a sense of stark terror, but the film also sports well worn clichés of unsettling noises, glimpsed figures, enigmatic symbols, dark rooms and even a bird flying into a window.  And something in the attic.

It opens with the funeral for Ellen Taper Leigh, the highly secretive and not entirely much missed mother of Annie (a monumentally good Toni Collette), a miniaturist artist currently working on a series of  highly detailed small rooms encapsulating her family and its experiences. Indeed, the only member of the family truly upset by the old dear’s passing is her brooding 13-year-old niece, Charlie (Milly Shapiro looking creepily unsettling), a strange autistic child  with an intense gaze and given to making tongue clucking noises whose sketchpad of angry drawings suggests a decidedly troubled psyche, and whom Granma took it upon herself to raise, pretty much shutting Annie out of her daughter’s life. Charlie has her own workshop in her treehouse where she crafts bizarre effigies, at one point decapitating (a portent of much to follow) the aforementioned bird to add to her collection. The rest of the family comprises Annie’s voice of reason husband, Steve (Gabriel Byrne), who has no backstory at all, and their teenage affable stoner son Peter (Alex Wolff) whose role intensifies as the narrative unfolds.

The first inkling of chills comes when Annie thinks she sees her mother’s shade in her workshop and the film spends a considerable time hinting that the spookiness might all be down to Annie’s mental state (she sleepwalks and recounts one finding herself at the foot of her children’s bed with paint stripper and matches). But when, after a horrific accident (of which Annie crafts a model, much to Steve’s understandable revulsion), Peter, consumed with guilt, has his own ‘hallucination’, then it seems external forces are at work. Steve also gets a call to say his mother-in-law’s grave has been desecrated. And then there’s those shimmers of light dancing around Charlie.

All this is made more manifest when, in seeking to deal with her grief when Charlie is killed, Annie (who earlier found one of her mom’s books on spiritualism) is persuaded to take part in a  séance with Joanie (Anne Dowd), a friendly soul who approaches her outside the counselling session where, following her mother’s funeral,  she’d previously revealed her depressed father’s suicide by starvation and how her schizophrenic older brother hung himself, leaving behind a note accusing his mother of “putting people inside him.”  Well, we all know what séances portend in horror movies.

At which point, the film becomes somewhat less successful as its heads into overfamiliar Rosemary’s Baby and The Shining territory involving cults (with both  living and dead members), possession and malevolent demon lords looking for host bodies, at time resorting to dream sequences for exposition (though the one where Annie spills out a shocking highly unmaternal confession to Peter is effective). With the help of his cinematographer, Aster keeps the sense of dread, but can’t prevent the film from touching on the slightly silly even as its themes of dysfunctional family secrets, maternal guilt and mounting hysteria   collide with the supernatural. Well-crafted, well-designed and well-acted, yes it is scary in parts (and has its sudden jolt moments too), but not so much that you won’t sleep at night.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham,  Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

I Feel Pretty (12A)

While undeniably flawed, this Amy Schumer comedy, working a  similar riff to Trainwreck,   is far better than some of the scathing reviews would suggest and comes with book/cover and be who you are/self-esteem messages that would do Disney proud. Schumer plays New Yorker Renee Bennett who works for the online department of mega cosmetics company Lily LeClaire, albeit ferreted away in a  dingy Chinatown office with her slobby co-worker (Adrian Martinez) because the company only wants beautiful things in its Fifth Avenue HQ. She and her equally ‘ordinary’ friends, Vivian (Aidy Bryant) and Jane (Busy Philipps) post photos on a dating site but get no views, further persuading Renee that looks are everything (though one wonders how, if they  get no views they can be rejected on their appearance) and, one night, after watching bodyswap comedy Big, fed up of being ignored in bars and stores, she impulsively rushes out into the rain and throws a coin into a wishing fountain asking to be beautiful.

The next day, attending Soul Cycle class (basically a keep fit workout on a fixed bike), she falls and bangs her head and, when she comes round and looks in the mirror she sees the figure she wants to be. Physically, she looks exactly the same, but persuaded she’s now drop dead gorgeous, her confidence crawls out from under its shell and she applies for the job of receptionist at Lily LeClaire. As the first face visitors see, she’s understandably not the sort of person the interviewing panel of CFO Helen  (Naomi Campbell) and squeaky-voiced CEO Avery LeClaire (Michelle Williams making the most of a gag that rapidly wears thin) are looking for. But, having been recently given an earful by her company founder grandmother (Lauren Hutton) about appealing to the ‘ordinary’ consumer in launching their new budget line, Avery, who has her own self-esteem issues, hires her. And, not only does she land a swanky job, but she also acquires a sensitive boyfriend in the shape of Ethan (Rory Scovel) following a  meet cute in the dry cleaners where she takes the initiative. On top of which, she’s also given the eye by Avery’s hunky brother Grant (Tom Hopper), although that subplot never really goes anywhere.

As per narrative requirements, Renee’s elevation to a new social circle, and the fact that the company call on her for her sensible marketing advice for the new product, means she shuts out her old friends (spelled out all too blatantly when she dumps them at a restaurant to gain access to an exclusive party). And, of course, there’s inevitably another bump to the head that removes the ‘magic’, right on the eve of a major conference where she’s supposed to deliver the important pitch. No longer thinking she looks the way she thought she did, she can’t bring herself to face LeClaire or, indeed, Ethan. She first has to realise who she was all along.

Given that  Vivian or Jane could easily point out she looks exactly the same despite her saying they probably don’t recognise who she is, it’s a somewhat flawed premise, but, even so, there’s an infectious sweetness to it with Renee a likeable character while Schumer, who has built a stand-up career on ironic self-deprecation and the superficiality of society, always shines when the material doesn’t. Screenwriters Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, who fared far better with He’s Just Not That Into You and How To Be Single, never seem quite sure how to get to the final destination of their positive body-image moral, such as Renee taking part in a bikini contest, which, while amusing, negates the admiration for her balls  since she’s oblivious to the fact that he clearly looks nothing like the other curvy contestants.

At the end of the day it’s basically Bridget Jones’ Diary meets The Devil Wears Prada with a dressing of ‘magic’ and all too obvious soundtrack beats like Alicia Keys’ Girl On Fire and Meghan Trainor’s Me Too to point the audience in the right direction, but you shouldn’t judge it just on how it looks.  (Cineworld NEC; Odeon Broadway Plaza)

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.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham,  Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

McQueen (15)

Colourful and controversial in equal measure, Lee Alexander McQueen was constantly shocking the fashion world, but no more so than when, age 40,  he hung himself on 11 February 2010, a week after the death of the mother he adored. Directed by Ian Bonhote and Peter Ettedgui, this documentary makes extensive use of talking heads from the fashion world, both new and archive, among them Isabella Blow (who’s generally credited with discovering him), Jodie Kidd, Alice Smith, designer nephew Gary James McQueen, as well as family members and interview footage of McQueen himself, tracing his career chronologically, from his startling debut show Jack The Ripper Stalks His Victims to his gradual slide into drugs, mental deterioration and suicide.

A workaholic, gay East End working class lad with no formal training other than a brief stint working for a Savile Row tailor and a spell at Central St. Martin’s art college, driven by both resolute determination and huge insecurity, McQueen’s unique, often dark visions and radical styles, using materials such as plastics and feathers, transformed the industry as he became both artistic director of Givenchy and launched his own successful label, a skull the signature motif of his McQueen design house.

The footage of collections such as 1995’s Highland Rape, vilified in the media for its supposed misogyny, 2001’s Voss, and 2007’s elegy to Blow,  La Dame Bleue, all underscore his declaration that he wanted audiences to be either exhilarated or repulsed, while the interviews afford an insight into both his creative genius and the demons that stalked it. There’s omissions, no mention, for example, of his unofficial husband George Forsyth, but, powered by a score from Michael Nyman, himself a McQueen collaborator, this is a fascinating and illuminating portrait of one of the most important and influential figures in fashion in the last two decades.(Electric)

 

Sherlock Gnomes (U)

The original movie, Gnomeo & Juliet, was a playful, funny, inventive and charming rework of Romeo and Juliet, but with a happy ending. The sequel, which teams the now married lovers with a  gnome version of Conan Doyle’s famous sleuth, is none of the above. Settling into their owners’ new London home, Juliet (Emily Blunt) is too busy working to get the garden right to give much time to Gnomeo (James McAvoy), who duly has a major sulk and tries to get her attention back on him. Meanwhile, some dastardly villain is kidnapping all of London’s gnomes, to which end master detective Sherlock Gnomes (Johnny Depp) and his assistant Dr. Watson (Chiwetel Ejiofor) are on the trail, the former’s cruelly dismissive treatment of the latter mirroring the domestic disharmony in the garden. When their friends and relations also get snatched, Gnomeo and Juliet join forces with the detectives to track them down in what is a game of wits played out (Toy Story-like) across London between Holmes and his arch nemesis, the supposedly dead Moriarty (Jamie Demetriou), a garish yellow pie mascot in a purple nappy and bowtie, with just 24 hours before they’re smashed to pieces.

The film’s executive producer is Elton John and don’t you just know it, with an Elton lookalike gnome, either snatches of his songs or in-jokes references to them (Gnomeo’s codename is Tiny Dancer), while, with his teeth,  Moriaty even looks a bit like him. It’s well-animated with lots of detail, but unfortunately that attention doesn’t extend to the frantic but meandering plot (though it does have a clever twist) or the bland characters. Devoid of wit, the film thinks the sight of a gnome in a pink mankini flashing his buttocks is so hilarious it keeps returning to him while relegating Michael Caine and Maggie Smith to mere cameos as Lord Redbrick and Lady Blueberry. It also contrives to have a sequence set in a  doll museum as an excuse to wheel out Mary J Blige to perform a number as Holmes’ ex, Irene. It’s probably best summed up when, in a TV report about the gnome thefts, the announcer says “Some say it’s a job for Sherlock Gnomes!” before adding, “Others say it’s a slow news day!” Bored kids and adults are likely to opt for the latter.  (Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Show Dogs (U)

“No one’s making talking animals movies any more”, bemoans a white Chihuahua in an in-joke to director Raja Gosnel’s previous Beverly Hills Chihuahua. This interminable, mind-numbingly unfunny buddy cop comedy is a good reason why. A Rottweiller with the NYPD, Max (Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges) is on a stakeout involving a stolen baby panda only to accidentally foul-up an FBI sting leading to him and Frank (an understandably embarrassed-looking Will Arnett), the agent involved having to reluctantly work together posing as an owner and his dog entering the prestigious Canini Invitational show at Caesar’s Palace in L.A. to try and flush out the mastermind behind an international animal smuggling ring. Neither much wants to work with the other, and Max reckons the dog show world is full of fakes and poseurs; however, inevitably friendship and mutual respect blooms and Max learns, in the heavy-handedly spelled out message, to not judge others who have a different worldview. In-between there’s supposedly hilarious moments as Max has to submit to being groomed and having his testicles felt in the cause of the competition while having to use his street skills to win each round as they suspect the smugglers are planning to kidnap the eventual Best In Show. A four-pawed Miss Congeniality cross-bred with Tom Hanks’ Turner & Hooch (to which the references seemingly never end), it features an assortment of celebrity voices, among them Stanley Tucci as Max’s mentor, Philippe, an embittered former champion pampered Papillon who went a little crazy; Alan Cumming Dante, a self-important Yorkie who took Philippe’s place; Jordin Sparks as our hero’s romantic interest, Australian Shepherd Elizabeth, owned and entered by FBI grooming consultant Mattie (Natasha Lyonne); RuPaul as fashionista designer mixed breed Persephone; Shaquille O’Neal as Karma, the dreadlocked Zen-spouting Komondor belonging to prime suspect Gabriel (Omar Shaparo) ; and Gabriel Iglesias as Sprinkles, an overly enthusiastic Pug. There’s laboured in jokes (Arnett’s Lego Batman included) and pop culture references, a random Elton John show poster and three especially annoying comic relief pigeons and the whole thing creaks and groans it way to a spectacularly badly staged climax. In discussing Max’s chances as a show dog, although it does have the good grace to save the inevitable dog fart until midway. At one point, discussing Max going undercover as a show dog, someone says “I cannot polish the turd, but perhaps I can roll it in glitter.” Save for Max and Frank in an inspired recreation of that classic Dirty Dancing moment, glitter is in very short supply here. (Cineworld 5 Ways; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)

Solo: A Star Wars Story (12A)

A case of Star Wars fatigue perhaps, the box office response to this Han Solo prequel has been decidedly lacklustre, certainly nowhere near the fervour there was for Rogue One. Nor, playing it on a lighter note more along the lines of the Young Indiana Jones than its predecessor’s drama, is it as good a film.

Essentially an origin tale, we first meet Han (Alden Ehrenreich), not yet named Solo, as, having stolen a vial of  coaxium, an indescribably  valuable spaceship fuel, he and fellow thief romantic interest  Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) seek to escape the oppression of Corellia to follow his dream of becoming a  pilot. He makes it past the gate, she doesn’t, and, to avoid capture, he impulsively enlists with the Empire, earning his surname in the process, vowing to return for her when he has his own ship.

Some years later, thrown out of the Imperial Fleet for insubordination, he’s a grunt caught up in one of the Empire’s planet conquering wars when he encounters Tobias  Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and his fellow smugglers, Val (Thandie Newton) and chimp-like multiple-armed pilot Rio Durant (Jon Favreau) with whom, after a brief interlude in a mud pit prison where he teams up with imprisoned Wookiee, Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), he joins forces in a plan to steal a consignment of coaxium from a transport train. This too doesn’t quite work out, both thinning down the gang and leaving them in debt to Beckett’s ruthless gangster employer Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), who fronts the sinister crime cabal the Crimson Dawn,  and facing the likely fatal consequences of failing. They do, however, talk him into giving them another opportunity, this time to steal coaxium directly from the mines  and then processing it before it has the chance to explode.  For this, however, they need a ship. So, enter dandy-ish hustler Lando Calrissian (scene stealer Duncan Glover) who owns, as fans will be aware, the Millennium Falcon (we also learn Hans’ unnamed father used to build Corellian YT-1300 freighters before being laid off) and, along with his sassy droid, L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge),  agrees to come aboard for a take of the payout.  It should also be mentioned that, along the way, Han finds himself unexpectedly reunited with Q’ira who now reluctantly works for Dryden as his top lieutenant. There’s also the slight problem that there’s another gang of thieves, headed up by Beckett’s arch-enemy, who also want the coaxium.

So, there you have it, surname, ship, Wookiee, blaster, trademark clothes, all character’s trademark details ticked off as the core narrative finally kicks in leading to assorted fights, narrow escapes, double crosses, a Warwick Davis cameo, betrayals and surprise twists, including a last act entry by the Alliance rebels and the appearance of a figure from the franchise that doesn’t really actually fit with the timeline.

Although the early chase sequences are suitably kinetic, the narrative’s slow to gather momentum until the gang set off to steal the raw coaxium, involving a tense escape aboard the Falcon through the Maw and Maelstrom as Solo gets to show off his flying skills and  L3 turning into a robot Spartacus to liberate her fellow droids from slavery, but even then the who can you really trust plotting gets a bit repetitive. There’s no Force or lightsabres, though Dryden’s weapon does make a slight nod to the latter, but replacement director Ron Howard and father-son screenwriters  Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan ensure the Star Wars sensibilities remain well polished. Dropping in plenty of franchise references along with the poetry  in-joke character names. And it rarely looks less than amazing.

Ehrenreich is hugely enjoyable channelling the young Han with his rogueish smile, body language, gait, recklessness and charm, so it’s a bit unfortunate that he looks as though he’s more likely to grow up into Dennis Quaid than Harrison Ford. It’s also unfortunate that the chemistry between him and Clarke never fizzles, indeed there’s more spark between Llando and L3 (who reckons her boss has the hots for her). Everyone else is serviceable enough, though sadly Newton’s not round long enough to make good on her first impression, and, at the end of the day, it serves up a fun slice of big screen adventure in the tradition of those Saturday morning matinees that inspired Star Wars in the first place.  However, given the dramatic fall off in bums on seats after the opening week, the likelihood of  further adventures for the pre Mos Eisley Han  and Chewie  seems increasingly unlikely. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Mockingbird; Odeon Birmingham,  Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Super Troopers 2 (15)

Had the sequel appeared a couple of years after the Broken Lizard troupe’s 2002 comedy about a bunch of incompetent prankster cops, it would have still been redundant. That it surfaces 16 years on, many of the target audience not having been born when the original appeared, makes it even more so. Again directed by Jay Chandrasekhar, it opens promisingly with a new cast headed by Sean William Scott and Marlon Wayans, Jr. and a chaotic and violent showdown. Unfortunately, that’s just a dream sequence and   the film proper begins with the five Vermont state troopers now working construction after being fired for causing Fred Savage’s death on a ridealong. However, the discovery that, due to a cock up in the historical maps department, a huge chunk of Quebec is actually American, they’re reinstated, under their long-suffering chief (Brian Cox, at a loose end)  and stationed in a log-cabin to patrol the borders until the switchover from Canada to the US is finalised.

Of course, many of the locals, especially the Quebecois, are not exactly thrilled at becoming Americans, nor are the Mounties eager to let the troopers take over their jobs. Cue a wind-up war between them as the film recycles much of the same jokes and plot set ups that felt tired the first time round. So, sampling a drugs bust with hilarious results, the Americans impersonating the Mounties to ruin their reputation, speaking to American motorists in Pythonesque French, a steady stream of Canadian stereotypes (including Emmanuelle Chriqui’s cartoonish accent as a female cop) and cultural insults (though it does give Rob Lowe, as a Canadian mayor, the chance to slap a prosthetic penis) and, well, more of the same really, only more fitful and less funny. Had this been made 14 years ago, when the first film was still riding on the back of a surprise box office hit, then you could understand why. Today, it’s just inexplicable.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull)

 

 

 

Screenings courtesy of  Odeon and Cineworld

CINEMAS

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 – 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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