Give it’s all a matter of historical record, these aren’t spoilers, but the 1970 Miss World contest of November 20 at the Royal Albert Hall, hosted by Bob Hope, was especially memorable for three reasons. It was the first time a black South African (Miss Africa South) was entered alongside a white contestant in an attempt to defuse anti-apartheid critics like Peter Hain, and the first time a girl of colour, Jennifer Huston, the very first Miss Grenada, was crowned winner but even more so because, broadcasting live across the world on BBC TV, chaos erupted when, midway into Hope’s routine (with a gag about women’s feeling that could have been written with Harvey Weinstein in mind), a group of women (so called ‘women’s libbers’) disrupted proceedings with shouts, rattles, banners, flour bombs and replica guns. Among them were University College London history mature student and middle-class mother Sally Alexander, who hoped to change the system from within, and the more in your face, graffiti spraying working-class feminist activist Jo Robinson, here played, respectively, by Keira Knightly and Jessie Buckley. Initially, at least in this retelling, antagonistic to each other’s attempts to change the patriarchy, the pair first cross paths at a workshop meeting/conference to launch (in not quite historically accurate fashion) Women’s Liberation and then come together through the latter’s feminist group in a mutual fight for female empowerment, central to which was to protest the degrading ‘cattle market’ spectacle of Miss World and beauty contests per se where women were valued for their looks. Indeed, even when Alexander appears before the UCL interview panel, two of the male members write down marks on her looks.
Written by Rebecca Frayn and Gaby Chiappe and directed by Philippa Lowthorpe, while delivering its messages (about both sexism and racism as well as feminism) clearly enough, it plays things in the same dramady vein as Made in Dagenham rather than as some preachy tract and, reinforcing Alexander’s comment during a BBC interview with Robin Day that they were protesting the contest’s nature rather than the contestant, it also turns a lens on those taking part, milking some laughs from the ambivalent bookie’s favourite Miss Sweden (Clara Rosager), prickly over being told what to do, but most specifically hitting emotive notes with Pearl Jansen (Loreece Harrison), Miss Africa South, who came second, and Hosten (an outstanding Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the latter remarking to Alexander in the aftermath that her win would give hope to little girls like herself that they can achieve.
The cast is peppered with familiar faces playing such real life (if not always recognisably so in the case of presenter Michael Aspel) figures as Hope (Greg Kinnear who has the physical mannerisms off pat but little else), his long suffering wife Dolores (Lesley Manville), contest organisers Eric (Rhys Ifans, terrific) and Julia (Keely Hawes) Morley and Phyllis Logan as Sally’s mother while, among Robinson’s crew, the solid supporting cast includes Ruby Bentall and , looking like Rupert Grint’s twin sister, Lily Newmark. Peter Hain
Briskly paced and hugely crowdpleasing viewing, it may simplify complex issues for easy digestion, but it mediates its sense of righteous anger with some unexpectedly touching moments as well as inspiration, the final shots introducing the real-life counterparts, noting that Hosten went on to become High Commissioner to Canada from Grenada, and reminding that, as Alexander says, at the end of the day it’s about having the freedom to make choices and being judged on merit rather than your vital statistics. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Adapted from a second division comic and borrowing heavily from both Universal Soldier and The Matrix, this derivative sci fi affair stars Vin Diesel as Ray Garrison, a Marine who, in the opening sequence, rescues a hostage from a bunch of hostiles and, back home, is later taken prisoner as a result, interrogated for information by Martin Axe (Toby Kebbel) who, dancing his way in to Talking Heads’ Psycho Killer has clearly watched Reservoir Dogs too often, and then, after seeing his wife, Gina (Talulah Riley), killed, is shot dead.
Then he wakes up in a hi-tech lab to be told by Dr. Emil Harting (Guy Pearce), the project overseer with a robotic arm, that he’s the first soldier to be successfully brought back from the dead and enhanced by nanotechnology, giving him super strength, a mega-computer brain and, thanks to the nanites that are now his blood, the ability of his body to quickly repair any injury. On the downside, he has no memory of who is or his past. However, put in the care of KT (Eiza González), who, along with machine man Dalton (Sam Heughan) has been reengineered after combat injuries, on being reintroduced to alcohol he takes a quick shot and images of Gina’s execution come flooding back, prompting him to take off, using his new powers to fly a jet to Budapest , track down Axe and wreak vengeance before, as he always does, heading home.
All relatively clear so far. But then the film swerves off into Matrix/Source Code territory in which, without giving too much away, it turns out that Garrison is being used (in what seems unnecessarily complicated and hugely expensive) as a souped-up assassin as he then proceeds to go through the whole thing again, only this time the face of the wife-killer is different. From here, the whole thing becomes increasingly incoherent and farfetched as, discovering his memories may not be real, and finding an ally among the other enhanced along with babbling genius computer code nerd Wilfred Wigans (a wildly overacting Lamorne Morris), he naturally sets out, chest glowing red, to take down Harding.
Cobbled together from far superior films, first time director David S.F. Wilson uses his visual effects background to striking effect, especially during a duel on a skyscraper’s exoskeletal elevator and the tunnel car chase where Garrison’s face is blown off and reassembles, but even this is just Terminator/Matrix redux. Pearce plays it sneeringly cool, González makes the most of a scrappily written role and Diesel does what Diesel does. Expect nothing else and you won’t be too disappointed, even so you may feel they spelled the title with one letter wrong. (Cineworld NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Calm With Horses (15)
Once a promising young boxer until a tragic incident in one of his fights, Douglas ‘Arm’ Armstrong (Cosmo Jarvis) has been taken in and befriended by the Devers, a drug-dealing family in rural island, ruled with an iron hand by mad dog Paudi (Ned Dennehy) and his ruthless relative Hector (David Wilmot), for whom he serves as enforcer. His latest job is to give a beating to some old soak who, having got pissed at a Drever family party, sexually abused the youngest daughter. He does the job efficiently and the victim accepts his punishment. Unfortunately, that’s not enough for Paudi and Arm and his punky best mate, Dympna (Barry Keoghan), a Drever keen to prove himself to his uncles, are told to finish the job.
Matters are complicated since, while happy to dispense some knuckle-messages, Arm is trying to rebuild his life and be a good father to his five year old autistic son Jack by his estranged ex, Ursula (Niamh Algar), and try and get together the money to send the kid to a special school. He just doesn’t seem equipped to deal with either situation and his attempts to do what’s right just make matters worse on all fronts.
The title coming from how Jack, given to screaming fits, is calm when being around the horses at the riding school run by Ursula’s new boyfriend, adapted from a novella by Colin Barrett), it marks an impressive directorial debut of Nick Rowland who builds the tension and characterisation from the ground up with a gritty realism, never shying away from the brutality but also capturing the conflict, vulnerability and humanity in Arm, exploding into violence but always stronger in the quieter moments before a powerfully poignant downbeat fade away into the end credits. (Cineworld 5 Ways)
First Love (15)
Given this is by Japanese director Takashi Miike and his regular screenwriter Masara Nakamura, the title should not lead you to expect some tender romance. Rather, set over one night in Tokyo, it’s a story of rival drug gang warfare for control of territory and a huge shipment of cocaine in insular young abandoned orphan boxer Leo (Masataka Kubota) finds himself caught up. Chastised by his trainer for not exulting in his victories, Leo’s problem is that he’s simply going through the motions and isn’t fighting for anything other than fighting. That changes, however, when, first he’s diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour, and then his path crosses with Yuri (Sakurako Kanishi), a literally haunted young woman forced into prostitution by a local gang boss to pay off her father’s debts and who is haunted by visions of a middle-age man in white underpants and a sheet.
In striking contrast to her damaged innocence, is her Julie (Becky Rabone), girlfriend of gangster in the employ of samurai sword wielding (decapitations are rife) Kase (Shota Sometani) who’s attempting to play his boss against Chinese rivals so he can take power himself. Naturally, there’s a corrupt cop involved too.
Climaxing in a warehouse showdown between assorted yakuza and Mafioso factions, involving the police, a one-armed crime boss and Chinese assassins with Julie out for revenge for her murdered boyfriend and the two star-crossed putative lovers caught in the crossfire, it’s fairly stock pulp gangster melodrama (played for some occasional laughs like the ‘ghost’ dad dancing on a subway train), but delivered with Miike’s characteristic kinetic propulsion, bloody mayhem and sheer gleeful style that includes a sudden burst of pop art animation. (Fri/Sat: Mockingbird)
The Hunt (15)
Delayed from last year in the wake of the mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso on account of its violent narrative, written by Nick Cuse and Lost creator Damon Lindelof, director Craig Zobel’s finally arrives in cinemas, a vague rework of The Most Dangerous Game (other variants including Hard Target) spliced with the hunted woman fights back set-up of Ready Or Not. And it’s actually rather good.
Following an opening texting sequence in which someone mentions a corporate ‘game’ called the hunt in which, at someplace called The Manor, assorted ‘deplorables’ are killed, and then switching the scene to a plane in which on such deplorable, having awakened from a drugged sleep, is killed by a couple of the other, elite, passengers, the set-up has a bunch of strangers finding themselves go-knows-where with a gag in their mouths. Gathering around a crate in a field, it’s opened to reveal a pig and a small arsenal of guns and a key to remove the gags. Which is when the killings start, several of those kidnapped being blasted from a hidden shooting gallery. Three escape and make it to a small gas station run by an elderly couple (Amy Madigan, Reed Birney) who tell them they’re in Arkansas. Things don’t go well here either. Teasingly, the film introduces several characters you expect to be the lead, only for them to be summarily despatched, eventually whittling things down to Crystal (Betty Gilpin, every bit as good as bride turned bad ass Samara Weaving), a veteran from Afghanistan, who decides to turn the hunt around, eventually teaming up with Don (Wayne Duvall), who may or may not be the victim he claims. Indeed, the premise of the whole narrative involves appearance and reality, Crystal soon discovering that wherever they are, it’s certainly not Arkansas.
On the face of it, it initially seems to be yet another film about a liberal, privileged elite preying on the blue collar classes, a plot that, in different permutations, has served numerous film, most recently Jordan Peele’s Get Out. But, late in the film, things flash back to a corporate boardroom (an a J.C. MacKenzie cameo) shortly after that text that throws a curveball on the whole hunt scenario, which now recasts the victims as less than innocent bystanders who are all virally connected. Save for one, another twist that’s revealed in a bloody, murderous climactic catfight between Crystal and hunt mastermind Athena (Hilary Swank).
Not without a dry humour, there’s some passing socio-political satire on the Second Amendment. But basically it’s a tense, well-engineered, viscerally graphic, cat and mouse exploitation movie in which there’s no easily tagged good guys or bad guys (they’re mostly all ‘deplorables’) that keeps you engaged right up the final self-satisfied smile. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
My Spy (12A)
He’s not yet got the film opening profile of fellow wrestler turned actor Dwayne Johnson, but Dave Bautista is ably proving he has the chops to mix action and deadpan comedy to hugely entertaining effect. Here he’s JJ, a heavily tattooed former Special Forces soldier now with the CIA who’s assigned to a lowly surveillance job after his tough guy actions blew a mission and let a bad guy escape with one half of the means to build a nuclear weapon. Teamed (in an echo of Spy) with nerdy, hero-worshipping tech support analyst Bobbi (Kristen Schaal), his boss (Ken Jeong) gives him one last chance, bugging and watching the Chicago apartment belonging to Kate (Pariza Fitz-Henley) the widow of a dead arms dealer, murdered by his terrorist mastermind brother Marquez (Greg Byrk) on the offchance he turns up. Unfortunately, JJ’s cover is quickly blown by Kate’s precocious nine-year-old, Sophie (Chloe Coleman), who, capturing everything on her phone, threatens to expose them unless, the new kid in town, friendless and bullied at school, he agrees to take her ice-skating. It doesn’t end there, proving easily able to outwit him, he’s then inveigled into being her school show and tell buddy and even teaching her the tricks of the spy trade, such as how to avoid being detected in a lie, at which she’s remarkably adept. And, of course, she’s soon setting him up as prospective romantic interest for mum, self-imposed loner JJ learning once again how to relate to people and get in touch with his feelings. At which point, having been on hold long enough, the nuclear plotline resurfaces when Marquez comes calling.
Directed by Peter Berg, while ostensibly pitched at tweenies, the gay neighbours, a lesbian gag, a witty nod to Indiana Jones and the Lost Ark and the gunplay action clearly have an adult audience in mind too, the comedy (which in places recalls Mr Nann and Kindergarten Cop) appealing to both with some frequent laugh out loud moments as well as sly genre spoofs such as JJ teaching Sophie how to walk away from explosions in slow motion.
Bautista and Coleman share brilliant chemistry and comic timing, even if it’s Schaal who gets the lion’s share of the best one-liners, with Segal succeeding in mining the kid and surrogate dad sentiment without drowning in schmaltz. A reteaming would be most welcome. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Immobilia Crime Story (15)
The UK premiere of the latest from Birmingham-based Egyptian director Khaled El Hagar involves a celebrated writer who, following his wife’s death and his children leaving home, lives alone in Cairo’s famous Immobilia Building, keeping his loneliness and incipient schizophrenia, a secret. One day he invites a young woman he befriends on Facebook to his flat for a temporary escape from the isolation; an accident and a string of mysterious murders ensue. A contemporary psycho-drama examining 21st century loneliness and how social media has taken control over our lives and relationships, the screening will be followed by a Q&A with Roger Shannon and El Hagar, (Sat: MAC)
The ParaPod Movie (15)
The first podcast to be turned into a feature length film, it follows Ian Boldsworth and Barry Dodds as they visit the most haunted village in the world, the home of the world’s most violent poltergeist, the underground labyrinths of Edinburgh, and everywhere in between – as Barry tries with increasing desperation to find some proof to convince his cynical friend that ghosts are real. (Sat: MAC)
Drawn from stories told by director Sam Mendes’ grandfather, this bravura first world war drama is about two young soldiers ordered to take a message across No Man’s Land and behind enemy lines to call off an attack that, lured into a German trap, can only end in disaster.
It’s been misleadingly touted as being one continuous take, whereas it’s actually a series of very lengthy takes (some shot up to eight times to get it right), seamlessly edited together as a fluid travelling narrative. Lance Corporals, Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay) are woken from their peaceful naps and given the task by their General (Colin Firth) to deliver the order to stand down to Colonel Mackenzie (Benjamin Cumberbatch), the officer in charge, who, believing the Germans are on the retreat, intends to launch an assault, unaware of reconnaissance information revealing a new enemy line manned by heavy artillery. If not prevented, it will result in the massacre of the 1,600 men in his division, among them Blake’s older brother (Richard Madden). And they only have until the following morning to do so. To get there involves them crossing a devastated landscape of mud and ruined buildings, strewn with corpses of men and horses, infested with rats, tangled in barbed wire, littered with fallen trees and pitted with shell craters, never quite sure as to whether the Germans have all left or not. And much of it must be undertaken in daylight.
At times unbearably tense and punctuated with sudden jolting moments, it grips throughout as the friends navigate through the exposed countryside and booby trapped abandoned enemy trenches (far better equipped than their own, with even the rats bigger), the camera sometimes following, sometimes in front of them, sometimes panning across the horrors that surround them. Without spoiling it too much, suffice to say that, following a remarkable and agonising scene involving a crashed German plane, ultimately, only one of them makes it to Mackenzie, the perilous trek seeing him shot at by snipers, finding a brief moment of calm with a young Frenchwoman (Claire Duburcq) and a motherless baby (one of several almost surreal moments, another involving cherry trees), having to confront stray enemy soldiers, being swept along in a raging river and racing across a battlefield under bombardment.
In the early part, it’s almost a two-hander between MacKay and Chapman, the film drawing you into their friendship and fears, but as the journey progresses there are several brief cameos, among them Mark Strong as an officer en route with his men to the bombed out village of Écoust, a staging point on the vital mission, that gives way to the surviving messenger stumbling out into night-time vision of hell.
Driven by a swelling score from Thomas Newman, it never trumpets anything resembling glory in wartime (at one point an officer sarcastically observes “Nothing like a patch of ribbons to cheer up a widow”) and its heroism is very much that of the courage of ordinary men facing extraordinary circumstances, and wishing they were anywhere else. Calling to mind other such war classics as Paths of Glory, War Horse and Saving Private Ryan, it’s poignant (most especially the still scene of a lone soldier singing Wayfaring Stranger to his comrades before they go into battle), tragic, thrilling and horrifying all at the same time, the human waste and needless destruction part of the fabric rather than a pointed agenda. Simply breathtakingly brilliant. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham; Showcase Walsall)
Bad Boys For Life (15)
A so so turn in Aladdin aside, Will Smith hasn’t made a truly decent movie since Hancock back in 2008, hardly surprising then to see this reboot of arguably his most successful, though not necessarily best, work. Directed by little known Belgian duo Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, taking over from Michael Bay (who gets a cheeky cameo), with a screenplay that involved three writers, including od hands Peter Draig and Joe Carnahan, he reteams with Martin Lawrence after 17 years to revive the partnership of apparently incredibly well paid maverick Miami narcotics detectives Mike Lowrey (Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Lawrence), still on the streets bringing down the bad guys, even if a few grey hairs and some added weight are showing.
Mike behind the wheel of his blue Porsche, the film kicks off with they swapping banter during a frantic car chase involving several squad cars and bikes, though amusingly (albeit downright recklessly) not in pursuit of some villains but to get Marcus to the hospital where his grandson (who’s named after him) is being born. It’s an epiphany that sees Burnett decide to retire and put his feet up while Lowrey insists on carrying on (cue comparison scenes of the two friends going about their different daily lives), “running down criminals until I’m a hundred.” But then he’s almost killed in a drive-by shooting by a helmeted man in black on a motorbike, leading Marcus to tell God he’ll give up violence if his buddy pulls through and setting in the motion the core narrative in which recent prison escapee Mexican witch Isabel Aretas (Kate del Castillo), the widow of a cartel boss, sends her sociopathic sniper son, Armando (Jacob Scipio), to assassinate everyone involved in the case, leaving Lowrey to last (though he does try and jump the gun), in revenge.
With Marcus now having retired and Mike ordered by the captain (Jo Pantoliano) to get involved, the case is hand over to the newly formed AMMO tactical squad, headed up by one of Lowrey’s old flames, Rita (Paola Núñez), and featuring the regulation mix of one dimensional colourful oddballs, snarky Rafe (Charles Melton), an underused Vanessa Hudgens as ballistics expert Kelly and ripped tech guy Dorn (Alexander Ludwig) who has also renounced violence. Naturally, Mike’s not going to sit back and do nothing, so it’s not long before things are getting blown up and the body count rising as they try and track down who’s responsible.
All of this is formulaic stuff, but it’s given a darker, harder and more emotive edge when the somewhat far-fetched third act reveals Mike’s backstory and a connection between those seeking his death that is about more than it first appears. Smith and Lawrence skip comfortably back into their roles and clearly seem to be having fun rather than just taking the paycheque, riffing on the franchise with constant repeats of their mantra and the theme song. Although most of the target audience were still toddlers when the last instalment came out, there’s no attempt to reinvent anything here, just to reignite the fun and put a little more grit and thought into the fuel. And, as such with the end credits setting up what promises to be an unusual family alliance sequel, it does just that. (Cineworld NEC; Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Birds Of Prey: And The Fantabulous Emancipation Of One Harley Quinn (15)
The latest to give a DC Comics Batman villain their own platform, this puts for shrink turned pasty-faced (with a ‘rotten’ tattoo), pink and blue pig-tailed crazy criminal Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) from the Suicide Squad in the spotlight as a sort of badass poster girl for the #MeToo movement. And a hyena called Bruce (after Wayne) as a pet. Having broken up with The Joker for the last time (though that doesn’t prevent a continuity gaff in the final stretch restoring the J necklace she discards in the opening), Quinn’s now her own psychowoman, though she’s keeping the split on the hush so she still retains her untouchable status in Gotham,. Albeit not for long. And certainly not after she makes very public display of the rift by blowing up the chemical plant courting spot. But let’s not ahead of ourselves since the film, directed in her feature debut by Cathy Yan with a dash of Deadpool’s to camera wall-breaking self-awareness and genre cliché observations, hurtles back and forth along the narrative timeline as its various rage-fuelled women seeking revenge, in some form or another, are introduced. That would be troubled foster kid pickpocket Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), the crossbow-wielding Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, cool astride a motorbike in black leather), promotion-overlooked cop Montoya (Rosie Perez) and Dinah Lance aka Black Canary (Jurnee Smolett-Bell), the hurricane-lunged singer (and subsequent driver after Quinn breaks her predecessor’s leg for falling her dumb, she is, after all, a PhD) for club owner and Gotham crime boss Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor playing it large and even at times seemingly channelling Graham Norton), a psychosadist who doubles as super-villain Black Mask and has a fondness for peeling off people’s faces to send a message. They’re all linked together since Montoya is after Quinn who needs to get to Cain who stole a valuable diamond that Sionis wants to get his hands on which, in turn, has a bloody backstory connected to Huntress, while Canary is Montoya’s inside informant as well as having come to Quinn’s rescue when several of the hundreds of folks with a grievance try to whack her.
Despite the switchbacking, largely between set piece fight scenes and executions, it’s relatively easy to keep track and the film positively rattles along in colourful and noisy manner drawing the women together in some sort of dysfunctional and violent family although, in keeping the audience on board with the deranged kewpie-doll, it’s only bad guys who get seriously hurt (when Quinn invades the precinct she does so with a fungun that shoots out multi-coloured glitter bombs and concussion pads) as the motley crew of misfits unleash their pent-up fury in spectacular mayhem to a soundtrack that romps from L7’s Shitlist, Heart’s Barracuda and an update of Ram Jam’s Black Betty to Smollett-Bell performing It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World, just to reinforce the not so little women reclaiming power feminist message.
While her co-stars undeniably go for it, this is Robbie’s movie, a charismatic force of attitude rampaging through Gotham and taking no shit, rattling off quips and with the hots for bacon, eggs and cheese sandwiches with hot sauce, the coda managing to set up a split into two distinct sequels with Quinn and her new sidekick and the three superheroines Birds of Prey of the title. Unfortunately, the film’s lacklustre box office suggests they won’t take wing. (Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe)
Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island (15)
Yet another warmed over rehash of a trashy 70s American TV series in which guests would arrive on the island, run by the white-suited Ricardo Montalbán and his diminutive assistant Hervé Villechaize, expecting to have a good time and make their deepest wishes come true leave having learned hard-won life lessons. It was resurrected in the 90s with Malcolm McDowell as the mysterious Mr Roarke and this time around the role’s taken by an overacting Michael Peña Pena while his assistant (and, as it turns out rather more) is Julia (Parisa Fitz-Henley). From the moment in the opening minutes when she looks to the sky and enthuses “the plane!”, any hopeful expectations should be discarded.
Directed and co-written by Jeff Wadlow, it sets up a series of individual stories by characters who inevitably prove to have a common connection, namely Gwen (Maggie Q), a businesswoman who wants to take back a regret that spoiled her hopes of domestic bliss, former cop Patrick (Austin Stowell) who wants to be a soldier hero like his late father who died saving his men, Melanie (Lucy Hale), who dreams of getting revenge against high school mean-girl Sloane (Portia Doubleday, quite awful) and J.D. Weaver (Ryan Hansen) and gay stepbrother Brax (Jimmy O. Yang), who just want a taste of the good debauched life.
Each finds themselves living out a fantasy scenario that may or may not give them what they desire (Patrick gets to meet his dad and tries to save him, Melanie finds the torture porn revenge too cruel), but, as things quickly turn creepy (an unkillable scarred sadist surgeon, tooled-up drug dealers who, when they die, ooze blood from their eyes and return to life as zombies), the narratives are contrivedly brought together to link to an incident in the past as the film keeps falsefooting the audience as to whose fantasy it all actually is. In among this, there’s Roarke’s own fantasy and the bewildering appearance of a grizzled private eye, Damon (Michael Rooker), who lives in the jungle, pops up to variously help Patrick, Melanie and Sloane (whose wish is to make things good with her husband) and tells them how to destroy the island’s power, which apparently lies in the water.
Everyone makes stupid decisions as the film fumbles its way towards the incoherent and ludicrous ending, more misfiring comedy than horror, with everyone taking their acting cue from Peña, All concerned should have taken note of Roarke’s warning that “fantasies rarely play out as you would expect” and when, in final frames, he tells the departing guests, or at least those who’ve survived, that they will remember very little of what they went through, comparing it to a dream that fades after you wake up, he may as well be talking to the audience. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Brahms: The Boy II (15)
Anyone remember the original film, back in 2016, when an American nanny found the child an elderly British couple hired her to care for was a devil-doll? Anyone care? A so so knock off from Chucky and Annabelle, it nevertheless earned $64m, sufficient to prompt a sequel. This time, a young family move into a guest house on the same estate, trailing some emotional baggage, where the son (Christopher Convery) finds and makes friends with a life-like doll he calls Brahms and who has a list of rules. Naturally, bad things follow. Still trying to reignite her career post Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes is the mother, TV star Owain Yeoman’s the dad and Ralph Ineson’s there to look creepy while writer-director William Brent Bell, who has made nothing in the interim, is probably grateful to be back behind the camera. (Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe; Vue Star City)
The Call Of The Wild (PG)
Published back in 1903, Jack London’s wilderness novel became an instant classic and, while less read these days, has been adapted for the screen five times. This, the sixth, is the live action debut by How to Train Your Dragon director Chris Sanders and with Spielberg’s go-to cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, though it should be said from the start that all of the animals are CGI. Not that you would know it.
When it opens, Buck (a motion capture performance by Terry Notary), is the huge and highly intelligent St. Bernard/Scotch Collie pet of a Santa Clara judge in 1890s California, his exuberance often causing chaos. Then, one night, he’s dognapped and sold on to become part of a sled team for gold prospectors in the Yukon, Alaska. Arriving in Skagway, it’s here he first encounters grizzled old timer John Thornton (a heavily bearded Harrison Ford, who also narrates), who’s abandoned civilization and his wife following the death of his young son, and is then bought by French-Canadian Perraut (Omar Sy) who, along with wife Françoise (Cara Gee), runs a mail-delivery route for the U.S. government, and becomes part of his dog sled team, eventually progressing to become lead dog after defeating the resentful alpha male Siberian husky, Spitz.
When, after some exhilarating sled scenes, an avalanche and a rescue from a river, the mail route is scrapped, Buck’s path once again crosses paths with Thornton who rescues him from his latest master, a cruel city type (Dan Stevens hamming it with tartan plaid and panto villain moustache) who has come in search of gold with his marginally less unpleasant wife (a virtual cameo by Karen Gillan), but clearly has no idea of how to survive in the outdoors.
The film now spends its remaining time with the tender and often amusing bonding between Buck and Thornton, as the former helps the latter reconnect with life (and stops him drinking), while Buck, feeling his canine heritage (cue frequent appearances by some black wolf spirit guide), also pals up with the local timber wolf pack, among them his white four-footed romantic interest. Meanwhile, Dan is on their trail bent on revenge, though quite how he manages to track them down is a mystery.
The film deviates hugely from the book towards the end, but otherwise remains a faithful adaptation, certainly in spirit, and, even though he’s a digital creation, Buck is utterly adorable while the landscapes are often breathtaking even though they too are largely CGI. Heed the call, this is a real family treat. (Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe; Reel; Vue Star City)
Dark Waters (12A)
Treading corporate malfeasance and courageous lone crusader territory familiar from Erin Brockovich, Silkwood and The Insider, writer-director Todd Haynes turns attention to the DuPont chemical company which, it was revealed had, in the manufacture of Teflon and the chemical it contained, from the early 1950s, been knowingly (from their own research) systematically poisoning its employees and the American public for decades. Naturally, when it comes down to choosing between profit (at one point Teflon products were generating $1 billion per year) and health and safety, human life becomes collateral damage.
Things came to light when Wilbur Tennant (Bill Camp), an Appalachian farmer and one of his grandmother’s West Virginia neighbours in Parkersburg, approached Robert Bilott (Mark Ruffalo, who also produced), a reliable, convention and generally unspectacular soon to be made partner at the high flying law firm of Taft Stettinius & Hollister (headed up by Tim Robbins) specialising in defending chemical companies, asking him to take on his case, claiming that his herd of cattle had been poisoned by pollutants feeding into Dry Run Creek, which DuPont (run by Victor Gerber as the smarmy CEO) used as a waste dump for the nearby plant.
Initially reluctant to get involved, having visited the farm and seen the evidence (“You tell me nothing’s wrong here” growls Tennant), Bilott persuaded the firm to let him take on the case and sue DuPont as a simple case of damage control, expecting for a quick resolution. What happened, as he found more and more evidence in the boxes full of DuPont’s files of their complicity and cover-up, led to a string of whistle-blowing revelation, major courtroom class-action lawsuits, triumphs and reversals that were eventually documented in the New York Times Magazine story The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare on which the film is based. He also had to battle with a resentful community since DuPont, who had no oversight from government, was the biggest employer around Parkersburg and the impact of his single-minded determination to get justice on his own wife and family.
It’s a solid, worthy and predictable piece of work that, setting the sense of unease with an opening 1970s skinny dipping scene in the polluted waters, doggedly ploughs through the timeline of events (17 years from 1998) in documentary-like fashion while, although Anne Hathaway is cast as Bilott’s supportive good Catholic wife, she has so little to do the role could have been played by anyone. However, the more facts it throws up the more horrifying becomes the scale of the poisoning, with pretty much everyone on the planet having some level of residue of the chemical known as PFOA in the body, and which cannot be removed, not only acting as an indictment of corporate greed but also serving as commentary on how willing we are to accept things that make our lives easier, without questioning the science behind it. Ultimately, it’s not up there with the films mentioned earlier, but it is engrossing and full of outrage and, if nothing else, it might make you more wary of those non-stick frying pans in the kitchen. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe; Vue Star City)
On the shelf for two years following troubled production, poor testing and subsequent reshoots by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles director Jonathan Liebesman, helmed by Stephen Gaghan, this messy latest venture for author Hugh Lofting’s vet with the power to speak to animals did little at the box office and is already lining up as one of the year’s biggest flops. Back in 1967, the first adaptation, as a musical saw Rex Harrison in the title role and was nominated for nine Oscars, then thirty years later Eddie Murphy starred in two modern and manic versions. Now, restored to Victorian times, Avengers star Robert Downey Jr swaps technology for zoology but unfortunately opts to ham it to excess with an accent that wanders between mangled Welsh and the unidentifiable, the film itself an ungainly charmless mess punctuated with fart jokes lines about dogs sniffing bottoms and animals spouting such highly anachronistic dialogue as ‘bro’, ‘code red’ and ‘snitches get stitches’, though admittedly a Godfather gag is amusing, even if the reference to Chris Tucker in Rush Hour isn’t.
Having withdrawn from human society following the death of his wife Lily while she was off on an adventure, Dolittle is holed up in the palatial English sanctuary gifted him by the queen, his only companions being his menagerie of animals, along them Poly the macaw (Emma Thompson), scaredy cat gorilla Chee-Chee (Rami Malek), hip polar bear Yoshi (John Cena) and bespectacled dog Jip (Tom Holland). However, his hermit-like world is shattered with the arrival of, first, young Tommy Stubbins (Harry Collett) with a squirrel he accidentally shot and who determines to become his apprentice and then the tweenage Lady Rose (Carmel Laniado) who has been sent by her mother, the sick queen (Jessie Buckley who basically has little to do but lie in bed), to enlist his aid. Told that if she dies, he’ll lose the sanctuary, he ditches the very fake-looking straggly beard, dutifully sets off (on an protesting ostrich) to the palace and discovers the queen has been poisoned and the only remedy involves voyaging to an unknown island to fetch the legendary fruit of the Eden Tree, the same adventure that took his wife’s life. Fortunately, she left a journal, but that means he, Tommy and the animals have to steal it from her grieving father, King Rassouli (Antonio Banderas), who’s not best pleased to have his son-in-law turn up again. On top of which, the crooked Lord Thomas Badgley (a coasting Jim Broadbent), who’s secretly poisoning the queen, has sent Dolittle’s arch rival, palace doctor Dr. Blair Müdfly (Michael Sheen in panto villain mode), to ensure he never returns.
Along with voice cameos by Marion Cotillard and Selena Gomez) as, respectively,a fox and a giraffe, there’s assorted encounters and adventures at sea and on land, variously involving whales, a grieving dragon (Frances de la Tour) needing an enema and a tiger (Ralph Fiennes) with a grudge, accompanied by frequent doses of ungainly and largely unfunny slapstick. There’s some positive messages about dealing with grief and anxiety and about being kind to animals and opening up to others and kids will probably giggle over the flatulence jokes, but, between shaky CGI, limited character development and an exhaustingly frantic pace, this Dolittle ultimately Does Little to entertain. (Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Following swiftly on the heels of Little Women, photographer and video director Autumn de Wilde makes her feature debut with the latest adaptation of Jane Austen’s much loved novel about an inveterate matchmaker who, in trying to pair up others, is oblivious to her own feelings. A faithful account of the novel, it’s stuffed with familiar faces, headed up by Anya Taylor-Joy who transitions from horror to rom-com as the titular heroine, bringing the right amount of insufferable smugness, snobbery and pout while still remaining sympathetic to her blindness regarding the inappropriateness of her self-appointed meddling in others’ lives as “the greatest amusement in the world”. Case in point being her younger and less socially elevated (she doesn’t know who her father is) hero-worshipping friend Harriet (Mia Goth), a student at the local boarding school, who she dissuades from accepting a proposal from tenant farmer Robert Martin (Connor Swindells) convinced that the preening village preacher, Mr. Elton (Josh O’Connor), loves her. It’s just the first of several misreadings that end up causing people heartache, while her cutting comment to the scatterbrained Miss Bates (Miranda Hart) reinforces her unthinking lack of sensitivity to those she considers beneath her.
Even before he finally puts in appearance, Emma’s attracted to Frank Churchill (Callum Turner), the self-absorbed absent son of well-to-do Mr Weston (Rupert Graves), the widower whose marriage to her former governess (Gemma Whelan) she engineered. So, when he does turn up, she’s put out to discover that he’s acquainted with Bates’ niece, Jane Fairfax (Amber Anderson), especially given her resentment of always being disadvantageously compared to her (to be fair, Jane is much better pianist), all the while oblivious to the fact, behind their bickering banter, her handsome gentleman friend and neighbour (and in-law, since he’s the brother to her sister Isabella’s long suffering husband) , George Knightley (actor-musician Johnny Flynn who wrote and sings the end credits song), who, despite recognising and often admonishing her flaws, is besotted with her, though, in strict rom com tradition, it does take time (cue significant dance scene moment) for him to realise it too.
All this plays out with sparkling wit and charm that draws both the humour and subtle social commentary from Austen’s novel, the chemistry among the leads complemented by note perfect support turns from Bill Nighy as Emma’s hypochondriac father and Sex Education star Tanya Reynolds as the pretentious new Mrs.Elton. A candybox delight to the eye as well as enjoyable romantic fluff with just a pinch of spice, it’s well worth a flutter of the heart. (Cineworld Solihull; Empire Great Park; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
The Invisible Man (15)
All the best horror films know that’s it’s what you don’t see is the scariest, letting the imagination build the tension. That’s the premise of writer-director Leigh Whannell’s reimagining of the HG Wells classic as a thriller that, for all its increasingly far-fetched developments and plot holes, is a genuinely suspenseful watch, the use of long shots and empty space adding to the creepiness in suggesting someone watching unseen.
The film opens in the middle of the night with architect Cecilia (Elizabeth Moss) surreptitiously gathering her things and sneaking out of the high-tech and high security house she shares with her controlling, abusive boyfriend, Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen),an inventor who specialises in light, leaving him drugged in bed. She’s met by her sister, Emily (Harriet Dyer), driving off just as Adrian arrived and attacks the car.
Some weeks later, she’s taken refuge at the home of her Bay Area police detective friend James (Aldis Hodge) and his teenage daughter, Sydney (Storm Reid), too scared to step outside the house. But then Emily arrives to say Adrian’s apparently committed suicide, so good news all round. She’s then surprised to learn from his attorney brother Tom (Michael Dorman), that he left her $5million, to be paid in monthly instalments, part of which she immediately puts into an account to pay for Sydney’s college. But then she starts feeling uneasy, as if someone’s watching her and, diagnosed as having excess Diazepam in her blood after fainting at an interview, her architectural drawings mysteriously no longer in her portfolio, she find the pills bottle she dropped in fleeing now in her bathroom and realises that someone Adrian is stalking her, somehow alive and invisible (using a suit and advanced digital imaging it’s later explained) rather than from beyond the grave.
Naturally no-one believes her and given events for which she’s seemingly responsible, including murder, she’s duly diagnosed as crazy and locked up in a mental hospital, unable to clear her name. And it just gets worse until she finally begins to fight back.
While Adrian is clearly gaslighting her, the film makes it clear that she’s not paranoid and imaging things, something that wouldn’t work if Moss, fresh from The Handmaid’s Tale, wasn’t so convincing when she’s shown struggling with an invisible presence throwing her around the room and in also investing Cecilia with such emotional intensity as she, understandably, unravels. The supporting cast are disappointingly one-dimensional and only really there to serve the narrative, Whamell drawing on some tried and tested horror tropes such as doors opening by themselves and blankets being pulled of a bad to add to the chills, but also underlaying the screenplay with a commentary on abuse victims often being invisible themselves and remaining terrorised long after the abuser has vanished from the scene. It falls apart slightly at the all too conveniently pat ending, but otherwise it’s a case of what you don’t see really getting you. (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)
Just Mercy (12A)
Another drama based on real life events, director Destin Daniel Cretton delivers a film that may well be formulaic biopic in its story of the pursuit of justice in the face of prejudice, but is also stirringly inspirational.
In 1985, Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan), a recently Harvard graduated black lawyer, moved to Alabama to head up the regional office of the Southern Center for Human Rights where, working alongside paralegal Eva Ansley (Brie Larson), he founded the non-profit Equal Justice Initiative which guaranteed defence of anyone in Alabama sentenced to the death penalty, the only state that did not provide legal assistance to death row inmates and also having the highest per capita rate of death penalty sentencing.
Ironically unfolding in Monroeville, the home of Harper Lee, whose To Kill A Mockingbird, was a legal drama about race and justice in the Jim Crow South (Stevenson being often advised to visit the museum), one of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx), known as Johnny D, the owner of his own logging company with no prior records who, in 1987 was arrested by newly elected sheriff Tom Tate for the murder of Ronda Harrison, a teenage dry cleaning assistant, and, despite having been at a fish fry at the time of the incident and with no physical evidence was convicted on the word of two compromised witnesses and sentenced to death. He was even placed on Death Row before his trial to get a ‘taste’.
While the film tells a parallel story of Stevenson’s unsuccessful attempt to gain a reprieve for Herbert Richardson (Rob Morgan, superb), an army veteran who was electrocuted for unintentionally killing a young girl with a nail bomb while suffering from PTSD, it’s Willie’s case that is the central focus as Stevenson battles the inflexible new DA, Tommy Champan (Rafe Spall) who refused to grand a new trial, arguing Macmillian’s guilt despite a confession from the only witness, convicted criminal Ralph Myers (Tim Blake Nelson), who was moved off Death Row after he testified, that he had, under pressure from the police, invented his entire story.
Based on Stevenson’s best-selling account of the case, it burns with righteous anger as the extent of the perversion of justice in exposed while Stevenson himself is subjected to harassment by the police bomb threats and even a strip search when he first visits prison to meet his clients. While there are, inevitably, rousing big speeches, much is also conveyed through simple looks, Foxx and Jordan both giving their strongest performances in a while as despair slowly finds a glimmer of hope, only to be rocked by an unbelievable court ruling, while Larson makes the most of an underwritten role. Alongside Nelson weaselling felon and Spall’s morally conflicted DA, there solid support turns too from O’Shea Jackson and Rob Morgan as Willie’s fellow inmates. It’s not a subtle film and some of the dialogue could have been written with a chisel, but as social justice crowdpleaser it’s a soaring triumph. (Sat-Wed: MAC)
Little Joe (12A)
Emily Beecham picked up the Best Actress award at last year’s Cannes for her turn as Alison, the geneticist in Austrian director Jessica Hausner English language debut, a British sci-fi about scientists meddling with nature. She and her colleague Chris (Ben Whishaw) are working on breeding a flower, which they’ve christened Little Joe (named after Alison’s son), that will give off oxytocin, the hormone released in the brain to cement the bond between mother and baby, so as to make people happy. To do so, however, they’ve had to render it incapable of reproducing.
However, things start to get a bit creepy when the dog belonging to childless co-worker Bella (Kerry Fox) starts acting oddly after being stuck in the temperature-controlled greenhouse, where everyone has to wear masks, and she declares it’s no longer the same animal. Naturally, everyone writes this off to her being not quite all there after having had a breakdown and attempted suicide. But when Alison sneaks a plant home for her own Joe (Kit Connor) to look after, telling him to talk to it, and he starts acting weird, the same but somehow different, along with his schoolfriend who’s also exposed to the pollen,she gradually comes to believe the flower is creating its own Midwich Cookoos who will protect it and ensure its survival. The question being, will she be able to stop it?
It’s a promising notion, but the film and performance are so measured, stitled and distant, that the creeping sense of menace it seeks to evoke never materialises to the extent it should, while Alison’s subtext sessions with a shrink (Lindsay Duncan), who suggests she subconsciously wants to offload her son on to her ex-husband, who lives out in the wilds, teases more than it elucidates. Both the cinematography and unsettling score look to add to the effect Hausner’s seeks to create. But in keeping the unease on a slow burn the film is in danger of the flame going out completely. (Until Wed: MAC)
Little Women (U)
Louis May Allcott’s evergreen 19th century novel gets another rework as a coming of age dramady at the hands of Lady Bird director Greta Gerwig. Set during and after the American Civil War, it tells of the four March sisters, the eldest, family beauty Meg (Emma Watson), independent-minded aspiring writer Jo (Saoirse Ronan), petulant Amy (Florence Pugh) and piano-playing Beth (Eliza Scanlen), as they search to find their identities. Here, Jo is already tutoring in New York and working on becoming an author, hot-headed Amy is in Paris studying painting and acting as companion to her cantankerous, imperious spinster aunt (Meryl Streep) who’s attempting to steer her into the marriage market, Meg has given up acting ambitions and is married to impoverished schoolteacher John Brooke (James Norton) with two kids, and Beth, the youngest, well, she’s the sickly tragic one. Laura Dern is quietly excellent as their mother, Marmie, trying to cope in reduced circumstances with her abolitionist husband (Bob Odenkirk) away at war serving as a chaplain, and Timothee Chalamet (who starred with Ronan in Lady Bird) is puckish, childhood friend Laurie who, living a dissolute life having fled to Europe heartbroken when Jo rejected his proposal, may well still be a flame in Amy’s heart, except, of course, she’s resentful of being second best to Jo. Meanwhile, Friedrich Bhaer, the German academic and Jo’s fatherly mentor in has been reinvented as a considerably younger French language professor romantic interest (Louis Garrel), although his forthright opinions on her work don’t get things off to a promising start, while Chris Cooper is perfectly cast as the family neighbour, Laurie’s grandfather, who takes a fatherly interest in Beth.
Its feminist note is struck early one as Jo negotiates the anonymous publication of one of her – or rather’ ‘a friend’s’ stories with Mr. Dashwood (Tracy Letts), editor of the Weekly Volcano, who advises that, if she has a heroine then she has to be married at the end, or dead, opting to retain her own copyright and haggling over the fee. The film’s title, of course, refers to the quasi autobiographical novel about her and her family’s life, one of sibling rivalry (including a particularly vindictive act by Amy) and romantic and health crises, and the scene of Jo watching it being assembled and printed is a wonderful reminder of an almost lost art.
It’s all a bit overly busy early on and the constant switching between past and present can prove confusing, but it eventually settles down, it looks terrific, the performances are uniformly excellent, with Ronan and Pugh especially brilliant, and staying true to the book’s knowing compromise of a happy ending while simultaneously celebrating female empowerment this is destined to become a modern classic. (MAC)
Military Wives (PG)
Following on from Fisherman’s Friends, here’s another feelgood true story adaptation of people coming together to make music. Directed by Peter Cattaneo, whose The Full Monty also serves as a template, as does Calendar Girls, it tells the story of the first group of military wives, later to feature in the Gareth Malone BBC series, to form an amateur choir to help them cope with things while their partners were away on active duty. Indeed, the closing credits feature the dozens of similar choirs that have sprung up worldwide.In the film’s case, it’s the women at a fictional army base where, in the opening, the soldiers are departing for Afghanistan, leaving the spouses to find ways of passing the time and not thinking about what might happen, especially when, as here, communications are down. As, respectively, the starched, prim and proper wife of the ranking officer (Greg Wise) and the down to earth Irish wife of the staff sergeant, it’s the job of Kate (Kristen Scott Thomas), who recently lost her son in combat, and Lisa (Sharon Horgan), who runs the base’s convenience store, to organise activities, such as knitting (a disaster) or painting. Then newly arrived newlywed Sarah (Amy James-Kelly) suggests forming a choir, prompting Kate (who wants to sing classics and hymns) to take charge, ostensibly delegating to Lisa (who favours pop hits, like Only You and Time After Time), but unable to avoid butting in, naturally prompting ongoing friction between the pair that comes to a head as the film launches into its third act.
Utterly predictable (chaotic rehearsals gradually gel into a decent ensemble, personalities clash, someone’s husband dies) and full of stock characters (bossy one, hot-headed one, tone deaf one, Cockney one, shy one with great voice – Welsh, inevitably) that include Jason Flemyng in the thankless underwritten role as the base commander, it winds a path from a public debut that goes horribly wrong to the finale where, after a bust-up between Kate and Lisa over lyrics used in their self-penned song drawn from the wives’ letters sent and received, they head to London after being invited to perform at the Royal Albert Hall Festival of Remembrance, complete with one member’s race against the clock in a clapped out car to join them.
Scrappily told with an undeveloped and unexplained subplot plot involving friction between Lisa and her mouthy teenage daughter (India Ria Amarteifio), nevertheless, for all its manipulative sentimentality and formulaic crowd-pleasing feel good moments, it emerges as a heartwarming, inspirational and touching tale of female friendship and how, as the song has it, they are ‘stronger together’ and that, like the choir, ultimately hits all the right notes. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
The latest outing from Pixar may not reach the emotional heights or inspired storytelling of the Toy Story series, but, even so, it’s still leagues above its rivals in the family animation stakes. It takes a familiar and well-tested coming-of-age scenario about chalk and cheese siblings learning to work together and understand each other as well as dealing with loss and hurt and gives it a fantasy setting in a world where magic once ruled but has fallen into disuse with the rise of technology such as lightbulbs and planes. Now unicorns scavenge in New Mushroomton’s dustbins and dragons are family pets.
Directed by Dan Scanlon the protagonists are elfin brothers Ian Lightfoot (Tom Holland), an awkward, insecure teenager overshadowed by his extrovert stoner-like metal-head older brother Barley (Chris Pratt), a snarky role-playing fantasy gamer and history nut who believes the games are based on old realities and drives a battered van he’s dubbed Gwniver. Together, they live with their outgoing widowed mom, Laurel (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), who’s dating macho centaur cop Colt Bronco (Mel Rodriguez).
On Ian’s 16th birthday, mom presents him with something left by their late father (Scanlon lost his own father when he was one and has no memories of him), which turns out to be a wizard’s staff, a gem and instructions on how to bring dad back to life for a day. Naturally, Barley assumes he has the necessary magic powers, but it turns out that they actually run in Ian’s DNA. Unfortunately, he’s not quite up to the task and the spell falls apart midway, leaving dad as just a pair of legs, prompting the brothers to set off on a quest to find a second gemstone to complete the spell and finally meet and say goodbye to their father before the sun sets.
So, dressing the trousers up Weekend at Bernie’s style with a puffy jacket floppy torso and sunglasses, the pair hit the road (Ian wants to take the shortest route, Barley the path of peril) as the film unfolds into an episodic quest adventure, Bronco and mom in pursuit, that variously involves a run in with a biker gang of tiny flightless pixies, the Manticore (Octavia Spencer), the fabled lion-scorpion-bat warrior whose titular tavern is now a cheesy themed fast food joint that contains the map to the gem’s location (she and mom teaming up as a formidable double act to get to the boys before they unwittingly unleash the curse) and a somewhat rushed climax that pits everyone against a giant rock dragon made up of the town’s demolished school. There’s some delightful moments en route, including a dance scene between brothers and dad’s legs and disguise cloak that only works if the wearer tells the truth (making for an awkward brotherly moment), as Ian learns to become more confident and eventually realise the strength of his relationship with Barley who’s essentially tried to be the dad he never had. It’s not Up, but it’s definitely facing the right direction. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
The first non-English language film to win a Best Picture Oscar, much to Trump’s displeasure, this is a tour de force social satire by South Korean writer-director Bong Joon Ho and his outstanding cast. Evocative of the Japanese family in Shoplifters, this focuses on a morally and financially bankrupt but resourceful Seoul family who live in a squalid semi-basement apartment where the toilet, the only place they can get wi-fi, leached from the neighbours, sits atop of shelf and drunks piss up against their only window. There’s Kim Ki-woo (Choi Woo-sik), his dissolute father Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho), tetchy mother Chung-sook (Chang Hyae-jin) and smart sister, Ki-jung (Park So-dam), all of whom earn a pittance folding pizza delivery boxes.
However, their prospects look up when Ki-woo’s university friend says he’s going abroad and, since he trusts him not to ruin his romantic intentions (a trust very quickly betrayed), suggests he takes over as tutor to his naïve but horny student Da-hye (Jung Ziso), the daughter of wealthy executive, Mr. Park (Lee Sun-kyun), and his attractive but ‘scatterbrained wife Yeon-kyo (Cho Yeo-jeong). With a university diploma forged by his sister (justifying it as receiving the paperwork in advance of actually studying) and a backstory, he quickly suckers his way into the household, impressing the wife with his ‘analysis’ of her traumatised hyper-active, “Indians”-obsessed young son Da-song’s (Jung Hyeon-jun) drawings. Indeed, he also suggests he knows an art teacher who could act as his the kid’s art therapist, his sister, naturally. Before long, taking advantages of the Parks’ social prejudices (the father bangs on about the servants not crossing the line), the family have managed to engineer the dismissal of both their driver and the long-serving loyal live in housekeeper Moon-gwang (Lee Jung-eun) with an unusual and exploitable allergy, substituting the father and mother in their respective positions, the Parks blissfully unaware that they’re all related.
Despite having to navigate a few issues, notably the young son wondering why the new employees all smell the same (from using the same soap), it’s all going swimmingly, the whole family making themselves at home as cuckoos in the nest in the palatial glass and rock mansion with its food and drink, even contemplating Kim-woo becoming the son-in-law, while the Parks are off on a camping trip, when a ring at the door, the reappearance of the housekeeper and the revelation of a secret basement and the secret within it suddenly and brilliantly switches the film’s tone from farcical levity (hiding under tables while the Parks screw on the couch) to pitch blackness and unbearable suspense, culminating in an unexpected climax of carnage. And then there’s the torrential rain serving as both a foreboding of disaster and, in a stunning overhead shot of the flooded streets by cinematographer Hong Kyung-pyo, the physical manifestation of such.
In both script and design, the satire on the gulf in class divisions and the social system is clear, but there’s much more lurking under the film’s surface as Bong questions his audience as to who is the more deserving of sympathy, the Parks are snobs but not especially horrible, and whether the means justify the ends or if the ends are a punishment of the means. Quite gobsmackingly awesome. (Cineworld 5 Ways; Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall)
Queen & Slim (15)
Driving back from a mismatched Tinder date that hasn’t gone as well as it might, though they’re never referred to as such throughout, Slim, god-fearing, teetotal blue collar employee Ernest (Get Out’s Daniel Kaluuya) and Queen (a starmaking turn by Jodie Turner-Smith), Angela, an upscale atheist defence lawyer with commitment issues, are pulled over by a clearly racist trigger-happy Ohio cop (Sturgill Simpson), resulting in Queen being wounded and Slim accidentally shooting the officer dead. With apparently no witnesses, realising two blacks involved in a cop killing aren’t going to get justice, she insists they drive off, refusing to let him call anyone or take her to hospital. But when a dashcam video of the incident goes viral they’re forced on the run, heading to Kentucky and from there to Florida, and are quickly dubbed the black Bonnie and Clyde, although Thelma and Louise would be a better analogy (substituting sexism for bigotry), forced the change their appearance (she ruefully shaving off her braids) and becoming folk heroes among the black community who variously conceal them and enable their journey. Among these are her Uncle Earl (Bokeem Woodbine), a New Orleans pimp who lords it over a harem of scantily-clad but sexually powerful women, a mechanic (Gralen Bryant Banks), his young son Junior (Jahi Di’Allo Winston) who seeks to emulate his outlaw heroes with tragic results, and a liberal white couple (Flea and Chloë Sevigny).
Barely friend at the start, the couple’s relationship develops into something more over the course of their odyssey as they live life to the fullest, video director Malina Matsoukas making her feature debut variously offering comedy (a white store clerk in awe of the Glock Slim’s carrying), tenderness in a juke joint drink and a dance, hope, crushing betrayal and, because the film really has nowhere else to go, the inevitable jarring but inspirational martyrdom ending. Vividly photographed by Tat Radcliffe and with a script by Lena Waithe, the couple’s story serves as emblematic of the Black experience in white America, the latter’s oppression and the former’s sense of community and pride.
Stretched over an episodic 132 minutes, it’s structurally far from perfect, with long aerial montages of cars on roads, little character development, overegged symbolism, a sketchy supporting cast and perhaps too few moments when the emotion truly hits home despite the leads’ powerful chemistry, but the cumulative effect is transfixing. (Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe)
Sonic The Hedgehog (PG)
Surprisingly not the disaster that was anticipated, especially given it had to go back to the drawing board and redesign the look of its titular Sega character after fans were up in arms, this is the latest video game to become a live action feature film, and, mercifully, much better than the abject failure that was Super Mario Bros.
After a cursory back story explaining who this furry blue alien speedball is and why he’s on earth, director Jeff Fowler gets on with the film’s two narratives, the mismatched buddy one as the lonely Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwarz) accidentally causes a major power outage across the entire Pacific Northwest that sees him teaming up with Tom Wachowski (James Marsden), the sheriff in small town of Green Hills who wants to move to San Francisco so he can get to save somebody’s life and who, dubbed the Do-Nut Lord, Sonic has been secretly stalking (along with Tom’s veterinarian wife, an underused Tika Sumpter) in order to feel part of a surrogate family. The second is, of course, the pursuit of the hero by the crazy megalomaniac bad guy, here in the form of cyber-genius Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey in, for once, enjoyably vintage over the top form with black coat and waxed panto villain moustache) and his drones, sent in by the military to capture the alien source.
All of which, after Tom pops Sonic with a tranquilizer dart that causes his bag of transporter rings to fall though a portal, means they have to head for San Francisco and recover them, Robotnik on their tail, bonding while checking off Sonic’s bucket list, which includes starting a bar fight with a bunch of bikers.
Lighthearted and hugely enjoyable, it romps along with some pretty decent visual effects and a constant stream of rapid fire quips from Sonic along with amusing in-jokes like him watching Speed on TV and reading Flash comics, as well as a message about the need for human contact. With a coda that promises a sequel that seems likely (and welcomingly) to happen, this may not be supersonic but it’s infinitely more fun than anyone could possibly have imagined. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Mockingbird; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Screenings courtesy of Odeon and Cineworld
Cineworld 5 Ways – 181 Broad St, 0871 200 2000
Cineworld NEC – NEC 0871 200 2000
Cineworld – Mill Ln, Solihull 071 200 2000
The Electric Cinema – 47–49 Station Street, 0121 643 7879
Empire – Great Park, Rubery, 0871 471 4714
Empire Coldfield – Maney Corner, Sutton Coldfield
0871 471 4714
The Everyman – The Mailbox 0871 906 9060
MAC – Cannon Hill Park 0121 446 3232
Mockingbird, Custard Factory 0121 224 7456.
Odeon Birmingham -Birmingham, 0871 224 4007
Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe – Ladywood Middleway, 0333 006 7777
Odeon West Bromwich – Cronehills Linkway, West Bromwich 0333 006 7777
Reel – Hagley Rd, Quinton, Halesowen 0121 421 5316
Showcase Walsall – Bentley Mill Way, Walsall 0871 220 1000
Vue Star City – Watson Road, 08712 240 240