MOVIE ROUND-UP: This Week’s New Film Releases, Fri Mar 6-Thu Mar 12



Onward (PG)

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)


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, Sutton Coldfield;  Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Escape from Pretoria (15)

While celebrated in certain circles, the fact is that Tim Jenkin and Stephen Lee remain a little known part of the anti-apartheid history. And are likely to remain so given the one-screen release of director Francis Annan’s solid but stolid film. White South African members of the African National Congress in the fight against apartheid in the 70s, Jenkin (Daniel Ratcliffe, who also provides the voiceover) and Lee (Daniel Webber) were arrested for planting leaflet bombs and sentenced to twelve and eight years, respectively, in the notorious Pretoria Local Prison. Here they quickly resolved to escape and, aided by Denis Goldberg (Ian Hart), a leading anti-apartheid figure an top dog inmate, using the prison workshop and closely observing the guards’ key chains, Jenkin ingeniously, fashioned wooden keys to unlock the cell doors, he, Lee and a third prisoner (here fictional French activist Leonard Fontaine  missing his young son who he’s only allowed to see for half an hour a year, but, in reality, Greek political prisoner Alex Moumbaris) unlocked 11 doors and literally walked out of the place in December 1979.

Loosely based on Jenkin’s autobiography ,Annan plods through the narrative and the wavering South African accents in workmanlike manner as Jenkin fashions his keys and practices opening the doors (for one, he has to lean through his cell window with the key on a pole and open it from the outside), all the while avoiding being discovered by Mongo (Nathan Page), the obligatory sadistic prison officer. Toning down the actual cruelty and brutality in the prison, there’s a degree of tension (especially when the final door refuses to unlock), but nothing to whiten the knuckles and, bearded and bespectacled, Radcliffe’s understated performance (he arrived in prison with a cigar tube of money up his arse and often acts like it) and Webber’s downplayed involvement don’t exactly help, leading Hart to be the most striking figure. There’s also a brief appearance by Jenkin’s black girlfriend, but she’s then totally forgotten until a mention in the end titles. The chisel they use to break down the front door was, in fact, the actual one used by Jenkin. A little more of that authenticity amid the formulaic telling wouldn’t have gone amiss.  (Reel)

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, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

The Photograph (12A)

Released in the States on Valentine’s Day but finding little love at the box office, this is actually a well-acted and well-paced story of guarded individuals whose learn to love again. Mae Eames (Issa Rae) is a curator at the Queens Museum in New York, Michael Block (LaKeith Stanfield) is a reporter for The Republic, a prestigious magazine, their paths crossing when he’s in New Orleans researching for a profile on a Isaac (Rob Morgan), an ex-oil rig worker turned crab fisherman, when he spots a photograph of a young African-American woman starting into the camera. This, it transpires, was taken in the 1980s by Christina (Chanté Adams), the woman he once loved but who moved away to New York to become a photographer. She was also Mae’s estranged late mother and has left her daughter, who’s curating her work for an exhibition, two letters explaining why she did what she did.

When, intrigued by the photograph, Michael and Mae meet there’s an obvious connection, but, he bruised by a past failed affair, both are wary of involvement (he likes Kendrick Lamar, she prefers Drake) and the film, written and directed by Stella Meghie, not only moves back and forth between the present day tentative romance and the relationship between Isaac (played by Y’lan Noel as a young man) and Christina, but also that between the young Christina (Dakota Paradise) and her own mother, Violet (Marsha Stephanie Blake) who also abandoned her. There is, inevitably, a family secret to be revealed in one of the letters.

It’s an slightly underdeveloped but, warmed by the jazz influenced score,  engagingly understated slow burn tale that eschews dramatic moments for more subtly developed emotions, the chemistry between the two leads perfectly complemented by solid supporting performances from Jasmine Cephas Jones as Mae’s co-worker who strikes up her own romance with Michael’s intern Andy (Kelvin Harrison Jr) and Lil Rel Howery and Teyonah Parris as his irascible brother and sister-in-law. It’s a minor work, but one that lingers. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC; Empire Great Park;  Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)


1917 (15)

BAFTA winner for Best Film, Director and Cinematographer, but with only DP Roger Deakins picking up an Oscar, 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; Vue Star City)

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. (Cineworld 5 Ways;  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. All reviews were embargoed until the day it opened, so draw your own conclusions. (Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; 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.  (Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Reel; Showcase Walsall; 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 Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Dolittle (PG)

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. (Cineworld NEC; Empire Great Park;  Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Downhill (12A)

Another good reason why Americans should not be allowed to remake foreign language hits, this time the finger of shame being directed at  writer-director duo  Nat Faxon and Jim Rash who, along with co-writer Jesse Armstrong, have given 2014 Swedish dramedy masterpiece and Cannes jury prize winner Force Majeure a makeover.  Like the original, it pivots around a scene when, at a ski resort in the Austrian Alps, a family sees what they don’t know is a controlled avalanche heading towards them. The husband panics, grabs his phone, and runs away, leaving wife and two sons to face what might, in other circumstances, be certain death.  Rather naturally, this creates a degree of tension in what is already a troubled marriage (she’s having an affair), especially given the husband denies he abandoned the family.

Here, making her first feature appearance in seven years,  the attorney wife, Billie is played by the excellent Julia Louise-Dreyfus. However, the alarm bells instantly sound on learning her husband, Pete, is Will Ferrell. Despite proving he can do heavy lifting emotional drama in Stranger Than Fiction (albeit that was 14 years ago), feelings that he’s been miscast are rapidly confirmed as he resorts to standard Ferrell comedic man-panic shtick, making light of what is, in fact, a dark  and thorny issue, denying his actions and passing it off as a misunderstanding. All of which renders any self-examination superficial at best. On top of which, taking her cue from Ferrell, Miranda Otto turns up going over the top as a sex-mad Euro-ash Austrian, firmly putting the nail in the coffin of any potential for an examination of a marriage in crisis, masculinity or whatever. The film does have two things in its favour. Louise-Dreyfuss and the fact it’s only 85 minutes. (Cineworld NEC; Empire Great Park)


Emma. (U)

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;  Mockingbird; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; 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; Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman;  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. (Mon: Odeon Birmingham)

Parasite (15)

BAFTA winner for Best Foreign Language and Screenplay and now the first non-English language film to win  a Best Picture Oscar as well as scooping Best Director, Foreign Language and Screenplay awards, 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; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Portrait Of A Lady On Fire (15)

A multiple awards nominee and festooned with prizes from last year’s Cannes Film Festival, writer-director Céline Sciamma’s period drama is a subtly erotic and softly sensual story of the awakening of lesbian love in 1770 in a remote corner of Brittany. Opening with Marianne (Noémie Merlant) posing for a group of young girls and aspiring artists, one of them asks about a painting in the studio which she says is called Portrait of a Lady on Fire ae filmn flashes back to recount the story behind it.

Arriving by boat, an apprentice to her faher, she’s been commissioned to paint the portrait of the high born Héloïse (Adele Haenel) by her Countess mother (Valeria Golino), who wants to send it to her daughter’s intended husband in Milan since he’s not yet seen her. The only snag is, since she refused to pose for a previous artist, she can’t know the purpose of Marianne’s visit, believing her to be just a temporary companion to ease her grief over the recent suicide of her sister. So, her face has to be painted  on to the emerald green dress on the canvas from observation and memory, which, rather, inevitably, involves Marianne in long and often surreptitious intimate gazes at her subject and, in the process, a gradual building of both friendship and desire that, with a scene to delight armpit fetishists, is eventually consummated in bed.

Pun intended, it’s a slow burn film that, at one point, sees Héloïse’s gown literally catch fire, almost in a metaphor for the smouldering desire, with both a controlled formality to the structure and symbolism and its use of  Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, but also a powerfully beating heart as the portrait slowly takes shape, a first scrapped and the second, more collaborative,  capturing the transition in Héloïse’s emotions while Marianne’s plagued by sudden visions of her in her white wedding dress. Visually, it’s often breathtaking, not least in a  striking moment when, asked to paint her own portrait, Marianne studies her reflection in a mirror positioned in front of Héloïse’s genitals. It also extends to a story of female friendship beyond the couple as they befriend the family’s maid Sophie (Luàna Bajrami), when she finds herself pregnant and needs to take desperate measures. Closing some years later in first an art gallery and then a poignant opera house scene, rarely has the female gaze been so consummately captured on screen. (Electric)

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.  (Mockingbird; Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe)

Richard Jewell (15)

Back in 1996, working as a security guard at the Atlanta Olympics, Richard Jewell discovered a suspicious backpack that eventually exploded, killing two and wounding many. Were it not for his actions, the toll would have been higher. He was initially hailed as a hero, until, following a call from the head of a college from where Jewell had been fired for using excessive enthusiasm as campus security, the FBI stepped in and decided that, a Forrest Gump-like overweight wannabe cop who lived with his mother, he fitted the profile of the attention seeking lone bomber who then plays the saviour and made him the prime suspect. This got out to the media and Jewell’s life fell apart, eventually turning to Watson Bryant, who he knew from once working as stationery supply clerk at a law firm, as the only lawyer he knew to call. What followed under the glare of the media spotlight was a fight to clear Jewell’s name and get him justice.

His story, with some inevitable adjustments to the facts, including controversy over implying that Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde), a reporter for the  Atlanta Journal-Constitution, traded sex with her FBI contact (here Jon Hamm playing composite figure Tom Shaw) in exchange for information, now comes to the screen directed by Clint Eastwood. Working from a screenplay by Billy Ray, based on Marie Brenner’s 1997 Vanity Fair article, it stars Paul Walter Hauser as Jewell with a familiarly sardonic Sam Rockwell as his lawyer and the Oscar nominated (for her press conference speech) Kathy Bates as Jewell’s mother, and with the FBI and the media seen as distorting the facts, both intentionally (Shaw and his colleague try and coerce Jewell into giving a  false confession) and for the sake of headlines, while Eastwood has made clear his Republican sentiments, this and a sticker in Watson’s office declaring “I fear government more than I fear terrorism”, gives it a political edge in which the American Everyman becomes the victim of the system, trial by media and abuse of power.

As such, it travels a suitably crowdpleasing route with Rockwell always worth watching and Hauser excellent as a man whose blind deference to authority and inability to shut up often made him his own worst enemy, but even so it’s an uneven affair that, in the last act sees Scruggs, who now realises Jewell’s innocence,  pretty much vanish from the storyline while, as it splutters to a conclusion, there’s never indication as to what happened to the agents who sought to frame him, and remained convinced of his guilt, rather than track down the real bomber. Watchable, but it’s no Sully. (Sat-Wed: MAC)

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;  Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

True History of the Kelly Gang (18)

Adapted from Peter Carey’s Booker prize-winning novel (which brings the word ‘true’ into conjecture), this sees Macbeth director Justin Kurzel back on solid ground after his Assassin’s Creed misfire, delivering an often hallucinatory account of the infamous Australian folk hero previously portrayed by both Mick Jagger and Heath Ledger and here essayed in mad-eyed form by 1917 star George Mackay turned vengeful outlaw as a victim of abuse and the system.

The conceit here is that it’s told in three chapters – Boy, Man, Monitor – through Kelly’s memoirs to be left as  a legacy for his children in repudiation of what they might hear about him. It opens with an aerial shot of Kelly, wearing a red chiffon dress, galloping through a landscape of scorched, dead trees before flashbacking to the 12-year-old Ned (brilliantly played with an air of derangement by Orlando Schwerdt), the eldest of the mercurially tempered Ellen (a ferociously charismatic Essie Davis) and her soon to be despatched Irish husband Red (Ben Corbett). It’s a toxic childhood surrounded by toxic masculinity, not least the corrupt Sergeant O’Neil (Charlie Hunnam) who comes on to Ellen and gives Ned an early contempt for the law. His childhood’s cut short, however, when his mother sells him to real life bushranger Harry Power (a grizzled Russell Crowe), who educates him the way of the gun, leading to the now grown Ned forming his own gang with young brother Dan (Earl Cave) and two friends to put the Kelly name on the map in the most violent ways possible.

Introduced at this point is another corrupt lawman, cruel colonial constable Fitzpatrick (a leeringly louche Nicholas Hoult) who runs the brothel where Ned falls for Mary (Thomasin McKenzie),  seduces Kelly’s sister Kate (Josephine Blazier) and, quite possibly, given the passive-aggressive sexual tension between them, Ned himself.

While elements such as the gang wearing women’s dresses (Ned sports a sexy black lace number) to both scare the enemy and give themselves a sensual thrill and, of course, the iconic homemade iron armour Kelly forged for the gang to wear are all factually correct, taking the cue from Kelly’s voiceover instructions to his daughter to “Write your own history, for you are my future now”, other aspects of the narrative clearly entail some considerable  re-envisionings of the ‘true’  history in the name of compelling storytelling, climaxing with the notorious Glenrowan shootout filmed as a fever dream nightmare. Riveting stuff. (Cineworld 5 Ways; Electric)


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


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