Doctor Sleep (15)
It’s almost 40 years since Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novel saw the phrase ‘Heeeere’s Johnny’ enter pop culture legend and launched any number of films involving floods of blood as, possessed by the spirits inhabiting The Overlook Hotel, Jack Nicholson’s alcoholic father tried to take an axe to his wife and son. Six years ago, King published a sequel that had very little to do with the Kubrick film and now writer-director Mike Flanagan combines the two following the story of the now grown Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor), a PTSD-wreck who has attempted to drown his paranormal gifts, the hearing of voices in his head that he calls the shining, in booze and anger, keeping them compartmentalised in mental ‘lockboxes’ as taught to him by spirit mentor Dick Hallorann (Carl Lumbly replacing the late Scatman Crowthers). However, after a night worse than most when he wakes up next to a cokehead woman, he hits the road and ends up in New Hampshire where reformed alcoholic Billy Freeman (Cliff Curtis) stakes him a room in a boarding house and takes him to the town’s AA meeting hosted by Dr. John (Bruce Greenwood) who fixes him up with the job as an orderly in the local hospice, a place where the resident cat can sense when patients re about to shuffle off and he eases their passage with his psychic powers; hence, Doctor Sleep
He also starts to get messages chalked on the wall of his room leading him to become mentally linked with Abra (Kyliegh Curran), a sassy tweenage African-American whose own power to shine is positively luminescent. What brings them together is a group of psychic vampire predators calling themselves the True Knot, who, as seen at the start of the film, are led by Rose the Hat (a mesmerising Rebecca Ferguson looking like some sensual 70s outlaw voodoo gypsy queen) who keep themselves semi-immortal by stealing the life essences, the steam, of psychically gifted children as they die in agonising pain which is then stored in metal thermos flasks, giving rise to the particularly disturbing scene as they murder a young baseball prodigy (a cameo by Jacob Tremblay), an act that brings the super-shiner Abra into both their and Danny’s lives.
From hereon in, the film because a game of supernatural cat and mouse between Rose and her followers and Danny and Abra, as each seeks to destroy the other, all of which, rather inevitably climaxes back in the Colorado Rockies at The Overlook, Danny finally having unlocked the powers he’s sought to repress.
At two and a half hours, it takes a while to find the flow, the early going coming across like a series of unconnected sequences (the whole turning of paedophile stalker Snakebite Andi could have been cut), but as the narrative slowly gels, while not scary horror as such, it casts a decidedly creepy spell as it plays out its predictable good vs evil drama even if having eight years pass before anything really happens seems pointless. While Ferguson steals every scene she’s in (you almost find yourself wanting a spin-off), McGregor is on good form while newcomer Curran is a quietly determined sensation calling to mind Elle from Stranger Things. There are, of course, several direct allusions to the Kubrick film, not least Danny peering through the hole in the hotel room door made by his father, but it was perhaps not the best idea to use not even vague lookalikes for flashbacks to mad Jack (ET.s Henry Thomas plays the bartender Danny speaks to as his father’s ghost) and terrified wife Wendy. That aside, this shines brighter than some reviews would have you expect. (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)
After The Wedding (12A)
An English language remake of Danish director Susanne Bier’s Oscar-nominated 2006 film of the same title, director Bart Freundlich has rewritten it with a gender flip, making it a drama centred around two women, one of whom happens to be his wife, Julianne Moore. The other is Michelle Williams, who all cropped hair, plays Isabel, an idealistic young American whose found peace and purpose working at an Indian orphanage, particularly bonding with Jai (Vir Pachisia), the eight-year-old she’s raised since he was abandoned as an infant. However, orphanages don’t run on good intentions alone so, when she receives a proposal of a $2million donation from Theresa Young (Moore), a self-made wealthy New York City-based businesswoman and philanthropist, she’s thrilled. There’s just one condition, she has to fly to America and meet Young personally.
To this she reluctantly agrees, but, on arrival, put up in a luxury hotel suite, she find Young in no hurry to settle matters, instead she insists Isabel attend her daughter’s upcoming wedding before they finalise arrangements, and offers to up the donation considerably. However, at a pre-wedding party, Isabel’s shaken when she meets Theresa’s sculptor husband, Oscar (Billy Crudup), and it’s soon made clear the two of them have a past about which his wife knows nothing. Or perhaps not, as, during the wedding speech the bride, Grace (Abby Quinn), talks about how she was adopted and subsequent developments reveal Theresa’s own secret and agenda.
It’s all highly contrived and melodramatic (including Grace quickly deciding she’s made a big mistake), but, where Blier and her cast underplayed things, here Moore’s encouraged to go big while Williams delivers intense soulful gazes that almost border on parody while Crudup is so muted as to be almost comatose. And yet for all this, the emotional heft seems to have disappeared beneath the sumptuous packaging and unsubtle symbolism (a bird’s nest fallen from the branches with shattered eggs) and any opportunity to comment on white privilege feels cursory at best, defused in a line about not being judgemental about those with wealth, while, for all the talk of poverty, the scenes back in India feel wholly sanitised. There’s no denying the two female leads deliver first class performances, but the sound of the narrative gears grinding away are likely to drown out any stray sobs that might otherwise have snuffled round the cinema. (Cineworld NEC, Solihull)
The recent story of how an eight-year-old schoolboy, subjected to repeated racist attacks, would avoid moisturising his skin so it would go dry and dusty and appear lighter and also scratch white lines into his skin in a bid to appear whiter, gives writer/director Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s debut a timely resonance beyond the fact its coming-of-age narrative is based on his own childhood.
A spin on This Is England, partly set in the early 80s (and using the same house in which he grew up), it takes its title from the practice, during the 60s and 70s of Nigerian parents to ‘farm-out’ their children to white, usually working-class, foster parents for a fee, often for several years, while they worked and studied. Enitan (Zephan Amissah) is one such boy, reluctantly homed in Tilbury by his parents (Akinnuoye-Agbaje and Genevieve Nnaji) with Ingrid (Kate Beckinsale) and Jack (Lee Ross) a Fagin-like white couple of gypsy background who treat fostering as a business.
Regardless her casually racist comments, Ingrid does seem to have a genuine affection for the girls she takes on, but not, though, for Enitan who, artistic and shy, is regarded as odd and difficult and constantly threatened with being sent back to “Wooga-Wooga Land”. Bullied at school, he grows to hate his blackness, covering his face with talcum powder to appear white, which naturally just makes matters worse. He’s briefly reunited with is parents who take him and his equally farmed sisters back to Nigeria, but, suffering culture shock and proving troublesome, he’s soon packed off back to Ingrid where his mental health begins to suffer. Desperate to be accepted by someone, as a teen (Damson Idris), adopting an “if you can’t beat them, join them” attitude, he seeks this among the Tilbury Skins, the very fascist skinheads that have abused him, their sociopathic leader Levi (John Dalgliesh), fascinated by this unique turn of events, makes him one of them, a black racist who directs his anger at those of the same skin colour, even though it’s always clear he’s regarded as a kind of pet or novelty mascot than a true member of the gang.
He skips school his grades suffer, Ingrid is at a loss, but at least there’s a concerned teacher, Ms. Dapo (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who tries to steer him back on to the right path, but, Enitan is so far estranged from his former self that even she is slapped way in a shockingly violent scene as the film builds to a climax of brutality and criminality with Enitan seeking to rise up the gang ranks and replace Levi.
The very fact that Akinnuoye-Agbaje has made the film tells you he came out from under and turned his life around, but even so it makes for compelling and often harrowing viewing. Coming in the wake of Shola Amoo’s similarly themed crisis of black identity, The Last Tree, it falls short in comparison and the closing redemptive montage feels rushed with too many psychological questions left unanswered, the blame laid firmly on the shoulders of Levi and his skins rather than apportioned to the system that breeds them and such problems. Even so, it’s not one you’ll forget in a hurry. (Until Wed: MAC)
Even were it not for a pig’s head on a spike, it would be hard not to think of Lord of the Flies in director Alejandro Landes’s Colombian thriller about a dysfunctional group of child soldiers in some unnamed South American country as their lives and makeshift family turn to shit.
These are the monos, a small band of teenage guerrilla fighters for the vaguely titled Organisation and known only by nicknames such as Rambo (Sofia Buenaventura), Smurf (Deibi Rueda), Boom Boom (Sneider Castro), Swede (Laura Castrillón) and Dog (Paul Cubides) – who, when the film starts, are first seen playing blindfolded football against just one of the many visually breathtaking landscapes captured by cinematographer Jasper Wolf. There’s an innocence about them and the way they interact, idling away the days on the mountain guarding an abducted American (Julianne Nicholson) they refer to as Doctora and who, while captive, is still invited to join in their games, such as the rather more vicious version of the bumps meted out to one on his birthday. Occasionally, they’re visited by their short, stocky and demanding commanding officer, known only as The Messenger (Wilson Salazar) who puts them through their paces and even gives permission for two of them, Wolf (Julián Giraldo) and Lady (Karen Quinter), to partner up. He also brings them a cow, Shakira, to provide milk, with the strict reminder that it’s only on loan and has to be returned intact and unharmed.
Needless to say, an enthusiasm for strong drink, partying and shooting off their semi-automatics unfortunately puts paid to that and also leads to Wolf, who as leader is responsible, shooting himself and the amoral Bigfoot (Moises Arias) taking over. It’s the start of the disintegration, gathering pace as the group are forced to move to a new location, during which time, trekking through the rainforest, Doctora attempts to escape, resulting in severe punishment or those in charge of her, the unit winding up cut off from the chain of command and gone rogue as civilisation slips further away and chaos gathers to a head.
Driven by Mica Levi’s score (which incorporates the sound of birds and insects), it builds with often unbearable tension and a sense of unpredictability caught up in the hallucinatory delirium of Apocalypse Now, an underwater sequence in a raging river and a terrifying mosquito attack among the several nerve-shredding moments in a film that laces its cruel absurdity with the kids getting high on mushrooms growing in cowshit and TV footage of workers in a German Gummy Bears factory. (Electric)
Sorry We Missed You (15)
Where their previous film, I, Daniel Blake, ultimately found a note of hope among its portrayal of a broken Britain, this latest from Ken Loach and screenwriter Paul Laverty is pretty much relentlessly bleak in its angry portrayal of a zero hours nation. A Newcastle construction worker who lost his job and with it any hope of a mortgage in the crash of 2008, now struggling to meet the rent but proud of never having been on the dole, Ricky (Kris Hitchen) signs up for what looks like a nice little earner as a ‘quasi-freelance’ parcel firm delivery driver for PDF (Parcels Delivered Fast!), run by the pragmatic, empathy-challenged Maloney (Ross Brewster), the self-styled Patron Saint of Nasty Bastards. Meanwhile his devoted and selfless wife, Abbie (Debbie Honeywood), is a contract nurse and in-home carer, on constant call. Because Ricky needs to buy a white van for the job, rather than rent one from the company at exorbitant rates, she has to sell her car and use public transport, paying her own travel costs, to visit her disabled, vulnerable and sometime very demanding old folk clients.
Working impossible hours, neither of them have much time for their two kids, artistic but stroppy Seb (Rhys Stone), who hangs out with a graffiti gang and falls foul of the law and sparks tension with his dad, and his smart kid sister, Liza Jane (Katie Proctor) who eventually takes it upon herself to bear the family’s burdens. But they struggle along, a brief sunny moment being when Ricky takes his daughter out on the round with him.
But, as the pressures mount, Ricky soon comes to learn the pitfalls of being his so called own man. There’s no conventional employment benefits, if he missed deadline, recorded on the scanner ‘gun’, he’s penalised, if he loses the hugely costly gun he has to replace it, if he can’t work he has to arrange another driver and loses his money. He doesn’t even have time for a toilet break, he has to carry a plastic bottle with him. A plot point that sets up the film’s big dramatic turning point as Ricky become subject to more and more of the firm’s ‘sanctions; and the debts pile up and the family begins to fall apart.
A damning indictment of the gig economy where you’re always running just to stand still, even with its flashes of humour, it can feel a little relentless and there’s times when the dialogue seems awkwardly improvised, but the naturalness of the central performances and the warmth of the family connections, even when under duress, draw you in. There is, thankfully, a moment of catharsis courtesy of Debbie, but ultimately, the all too depressingly real message is that there is no new dawn, just the start of another day. (Cineworld 5 Ways, Solihull; Odeon Birmingham)
A Shaun The Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (U)
Having made his spin-off big screen debut in 2015, Aardman Animation’s woolly mischief-maker returns to raise the baa with a second family friendly claymation feature (the title both a typical bad pun but also the name of a haunted house attraction at Farmer Ted’s in Ormskirk) to delight all ages, all without barely a single distinguishable word of dialogue. Life on Mossy Bottom Farm is pretty much business as usual with the farmer’s wardrobe not having extended beyond jumper and red underpants and his dog, Bitzer, clamping down on every attempt by Shaun to engage in any non-sheep activities, one of which, involving Frisbee, ends up in wrecking the combine harvester.
Meanwhile, in the woods, on the way back from the chippy, a man sees an alien spacecraft land, emerging from it a cute kiddie alien with big floppy telekinetic-power ears and a talent for vocal imitation who, it transpires, is called Lu-La and who, playing around back on her own planet, accidentally managed to trigger the family spaceship and has ended up on Earth.
Discovered by Shaun hiding out in the barn and eating his pizza, the thrust of the story is he, the flock and, eventually, Bitzer, trying to help her return home to her parents, meaning they first have to find the device that powers the ship, the problem being that she’s been hunted by the men in yellow from the Ministry of Alien Detection and, for reasons of her own, their alien obsessed boss. Meanwhile, all the talk of aliens has created a local media buzz, attracting all manner of UFO seekers, something Farmer looks to cash in on by getting the sheep to build him a sci-fi theme park, Farmageddon, and charging £30 a pop for admission so he can buy his new dream harvester.
As you would expect, the film is stuffed with sci-fi movie references, notably nodding to the monolith moment in 2001: A Space Odyssey, the coded notes of Close Encounters, the X-Files music and even an appearance by Doctor Who (Tom Baker version) with a portaloo Tardis. On top of which you get a reminder not to overdo those sugar-rush drink, a running gag about poor mobile phone reception in the countryside while the tacky Farmageddon itself nods to all those shoddy pop-up Santa experience rip-offs.
Making up for inspired silent-movie styled physical comedy for what it lacks in dialogue, while subtle claymation facial features impart a wide range of emotional responses, this is glorious and very British fun. Shear enjoyment. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Essentially E.T. but white and furry in marketable plush fashion, this latest from Dreamworks animation opened well in the States, but its success is likely more down to a dearth of other family films rather than any inherent charm. Escaping from the laboratory where it’s being held captive, a young Yeti fetches up on the roof of the Shanghai building where teen loner Yi (Chloe Bennett from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, who, real name Wang, is, in fact American Chinese) lives with her widowed mother and gran, the latter frequently hidden behind the mountain of pork dumplings she’s constantly cooking. Soothing the creature with her late father’s violin (which she claims to have sold), Yi, with the help of vain childhood friend med student Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor, a direct relation to the Sherpa who accompanied Edmund Hillary on his 1953 Everest climb) and his nerdy cousin Peng (Albert Tsai) who live downstairs, sets out to take Everest, the name they’ve given their new chum, back to his home in the Himalayas, travelling across China on a journey her dad always meant to take. However, they’re being chased by a zoologist, Dr Zara (Sarah Poulson), who sports a pet gerbil on her shoulder like a pirate’s parrot and works for Burnish (Eddie Izzard), an aged collector who wants to prove yetis exist to dispel the humiliation he’s suffered for years, and has ordered her and his strongarm hirelings to recapture the creature. Although, it turns out Zara has her own agenda.
Pitched very much at younger kids, it’s all very predictable and, with its repetitive chase sequences, at times, somewhat dull. However, when not focused on the plot as such, the landscapes, including a musical interlude time out (cue Coldplay’s Fix You) at a 233-ft tall cliffside Buddha carved during the Tang dynasty, and the fact that Everest has magical powers to control nature offer some moments of ravishing beauty (and an attack by giant blueberries, prompting one of the film’s butt jokes) as the film dutifully ticks off life lessons about friendship, family, and finding your place in the world. Trailing the far more enjoyable Smallfoot, this has its heart in the right place but seems unlikely leave much of a footprint in the box office snow. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
The Addams Family (PG)
Although the target audience is highly unlikely to be aware of the three 90s live action films two starring Anjelica Huston and one Darryl Hannah, let alone the original 60s TV series, this animated reboot helpfully opens with a quick summary of how vampiric Morticia (Charlize Theron) and rotund Gomez (Oscar Isaac) got wed, but then had to flee the torch-bearing villagers in their Eastern European homeland and, accompanied by Thing, the disembodied hand, fetched up moving into deserted gothic mansion on a hilltop in New Jersey, where they enlisted the soulful piano-playing Frankenstein monster-like Lurch (Conrad Vernon) as their butler and raised their two kids, the oval-faced morbid and cadaverous-looking Wednesday (Chloë Grace Moretz) and the pudgy explosives-obsessed Pugsley (Finn Wolfhard).
Cut to the present and as Pugsley is being reluctantly put through his paces in rehearsal for his family tradition ritual sword-juggling coming of age dance by his dad, grandma (Bette Midler) and Uncle Fester (Nick Kroll) have arrived early to help with the preparations and the family’s thrown into disarray when Wednesday meets Parker (Elsie Fisher), the daughter of big-haired home makeover TV reality show presenter Margaux Needler (Allison Janney) and decides she wants to explore life beyond the mansion’s gates. And even go to school (cue amusing frog dissection class). Inevitably leading an emerging rebellious streak (she takes to wearing tacky accessories and girlie dresses as opposed to her usual black) just as she influences Parker to turn goth, each naturally falling out with their mothers as a result.
All of which comes as the mansion’s revealed to the folk below in Assimilation, the pastel coloured town Margaux is at attempting to create as her piece de resistance and sell off all the properties, the rest of the family and their arriving guests attempt to integrate and Margaux decides to make the Addams house her ultimate fixer-upper and be rid of the family.
Not that it means anything to the kids, but the computer generated animation renders the characters extremely close to the Charles Addams’ cartoons while the theme of being true to yourself rather than conforming (at one point a bunch of Assimilation folk sing about fitting in rather than being individual) is staple for these sorts of films. Unfortunately, its tone is more Hotel Transylvania than the subversive creepy humour of the original and, while some of the lines and throwaways amuse and the voice cast, which includes Snoop Dogg as tiny hairball Cousin It, do their best with the material, aside from a suitably over-the-top Janney, they feel rather muted and the end result is all a bit bland. Unlike Thing’s fingers, it doesn’t really have the snap. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Black And Blue (15)
A black action thriller, Naomie Harris gets to headline as a rookie New Orleans cop who, not only witnessing a pair or corrupt white cops and her black partner’s involvement in the execution of a drug dealer, but also recording it on her body cam, finds herself marked for elimination, not just by the cops who want to destroy the footage but, in a fit up over a shooting, by the city’s black criminal element. Seeking help from the only person she can trust, Milo (Tyrese Gibson), the older brother of a friend, the rest of the black community now see her as ‘one of them’. A serviceable addition to a formulaic genre, it serves up the action and suspense, but never really gets to grips with its social or racial divide message. (Vue Star City)
It seems even ancient demons are going techno these days. At a party, a bunch of teenagers download an app called Countdown which tells you how long you’ve got until you die. One of them (Anne Winters) learns she has three hours left. Well, it’s just prank, anyway. Even so, she decides to walk home rather than risk a lift with her drunk boyfriend. He crashes right on schedule and branch goes through the seat where she would have been sitting. However, at the same exact moment, she’s killed by a mysterious force in her bathroom. But, rather than follow the others at the party, they’re forgotten about as the film focuses on newly qualified nurse Quinn (Elizabeth Lail) who also has the app but doesn’t take it seriously until the aforementioned boyfriend dies in an apparent hospital accident and she checks his phone. With just over two days to go, she cancels a gathering at her mother’s grave with dad and her kid sister (cue guilt issues over mom’s death) and gets a message saying she’s violated the contract. So, since the app won’t delete, it becomes a literal race against the clock to save herself and, naturally, her sister (Talitha Bateman), one which involves Matt (Jordan Calloway), a handsome stranger in the same predicament (and also plagued by guilt over a family member’s death), a phone shop owner (Tom Segura) who hacks the app and, for a moment, seems to have sorted things, and a geeky comic relief demon-enthusiast priest (P.J. Byrne) who obligingly just happens to have an old book explaining the curse’s origin and a means to solve it, either by someone surviving the countdown by one second or dying before their allotted time is up. Oh yes, and there’s also a hospital doctor (Peter Facinelli) with a thing for sexually harassing nurses.
Making his big screen debut, writer-director Justin Dec does a workmanlike job serving up the obligatory flickering lights, sudden appearances by ghostly figures and the usual rote ho hum jump scares, but fails to provide anything resembling backstory or internal logic (why do the good guys get to die young and the creeps and racists live to a ripe old age?) and, while he moves things along at reasonable clip, there’s never any real thrills, sense of atmosphere or much by way of involvement with the half-formed characters. Ending with an overly optimistic promise of an upgrade, although you might take away a message about always reading the terms and conditions small print, the only countdown you’ll be thinking about is the seconds ticking away to the end credits. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
The Day Shall Come (15)
Nine years on from his audacious failed suicide bombers farce Four Lions, writer-director Chris Morris returns with an equally sharp but somewhat slighter political satire the thrust of which can be basically boiled down to the FBI inventing terrorist plots (“pitch me the next 9/11”) to foil and preventing staged fake attempted bombings to make themselves look good, supplying and paying for all the drugs, guns and supposed nuclear explosives deemed necessary. Their unwitting mark is Moses Al Shabaz (Marchánt Davis) a delusional (he talks to God through a duck and at one point he’s convinced God is acting through his horse), off his medication wannabe prophet and revolutionary incensed at the gentrification of Miami and resolved to overturn the “accidental dominance of the white people”. Or at least get enough money to save his farm. His Star of Six army, however, comprises just four people, two deadpan sidekicks, his wife (Danielle Brooks) and young daughter. And, preaching non-violence, he refuses to use any weapons other than sticks and a toy crossbow.
So, he’s prime fodder to be set up by ambitious South Beach FBI agent Kendra Glack (Anna Kendrick) and her bumbling boss (Denis O’Hare), who set up a sting whereby an undercover agent poses as an IS representative offering Moses a ton of cash and Kalashnikovs (he tried to defer accepting the guns) which further extends to supplying him with fake nuclear devices to sell on to a neo-Nazi group so he can then be arrested for terrorism. The further the innocent and oblivious Moses is pulled in, the more ludicrous it all becomes, leading to the incompetent and casually callous FBI having to declare a non-existent nuclear emergency so they can stop it, and radicalising a bunch of harmless oddballs along the way.
At one point, an over-enthusiastic cop asks, faced with an unarmed white man and unarmed black man, which is more likely to have a gun which gives an idea of the thin line the film knowingly walks between satire and reality, just as the buffoonish actions of those supposedly in charge of keeping the world safe are as scary as they are wickedly funny.
Stuffed with barbed lines and ridiculous scenarios, nonetheless it makes some earnestly serious observations about the post 9/11 world and the bureaucratic need to invent enemies to citizenry, wisely never overstretching the plot and reeling it all in at a succinct 87 minutes and final what happened after ironic credits punch that goes a long way to explaining the mentality that put Trump in the White House. (Electric; MAC; Mockingbird)
Downton Abbey (PG)
Three years on from closing the front doors on the long-running TV series, the ensemble cast is back pretty much en masse (though Matthew Goode doesn’t turn up until the last act) for the much anticipated big screen feature. At which point I should admit that, while I’ve caught parts, and am certainly enough to be familiar with the characters and the storyline, I’ve never seen an episode. But, even if you’re not totally au fait, while knowing the backstory to the Crawley family and their staff helps, this works perfectly well as a standalone. The central plot is that, at the start of the film, the Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) receives a letter from Buckingham Palace announcing that King George (Simon Jones) and Queen Mary (Geraldine James) will be descending on Downton for one night as part of their tour of Yorkshire before proceeding to a Grand Ball. Which naturally throws everyone into a flap and Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) deciding that butler Thomas Barrow (Robert James-Collier) isn’t up to snuff asks Carson (Jim Carter), the former master of the house whose palsy seems to have conveniently cleared up, to come back and oversee things.
Around this creator and screenwriter Simon Fellowes juggles numerous subplots, primarily the downstairs staff’s rebellion, led by ladies maid Anna (Joanna Froggatt) and valet Bates (Brendan Coyle), against the imperious takeover by the King’s retinue, most specifically his butler (David Haig), French chef (Phillipe Spall) and mistress of the house (Richenda Carey), the latter two respectively putting Mrs Patmore (Lelsey Nicol) and Mrs Carson’s (Phyllis Logan) noses out of joint; the reluctance by scullery maid Daisy (Sophie McSheera), who turns out to not be a big monarchist, to discuss her wedding to footman Andrew (Michael C.Fox); the unhappy marriage of the Princess Royal (Kate Phillips); the insouciant Mary’s thoughts about calling running Downton a day; and the feud between the Dowager (Maggie Smith with her usual waspish lines) and her estranged cousin, Lady Bagshaw (Imelda Staunton), the Queen’s widowed Lady-in-Waiting to name her maid, Lucy (Tuppence Middleton) as heir rather than Robert, the Earl.
Amid all this, there’s also still room for some half-hearted add ons such as the unmasking of a light-fingered royal servant, Irish widower son-in-law Tom Branson (Allen Leech) to foil an assassination attempt and even a sequence involving a secret gay club in York.
With the returning cast also including Elizabeth McGovern (Countess Grantham), Penelope Wilton (Isobel Grey), Laura Carmichael (Edith Crawley), Kevin Doyle (Joseph Molesley, overcome at the prospect of serving royalty) alongside pivotal sub-plot appearances by Stephen Campbell-Moore and Max Brown, it’s both as lavishly appointed and as frothily superficial as you’d expect with no real drama of any sort that can’t be overcome with the stroke of a computer key, everything ending happily, even given the swan song announcement by one of the major characters should Fellowes contrive a sequel. In a Britain where order seems to have taken leave, it offers a perhaps cosy reassurance of a time when everyone knew their place and duty, and as such its devoted audience will embrace its nostalgia with a big hug. (Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Showcase Walsall)
Gemini Man (12A)
Giving a wholly literal meaning to the phrase about being your own worst enemy, the storyline has been knocking around for over 20 years when it was originally down to be a Tony Scott film, the intervening years having seen other directors and the likes of Harrison Ford and Mel Gibson supposedly attached. Finally, it lands in the lap of Ang Lee with Will Smith as DIA sharpshooter hitman Henry Brogan who, now 51, and carrying increasingly heavy baggage over the 72 kills he’s made, decides to retire to his home in Georgia after one last shot, lying in a field and taking out a Russian bioterrorist who’s aboard a train speeding across Belgium. However, shortly after, he meets up with an old friend and fellow assassin who provides intel that the target wasn’t what he was told and next thing he knows his former agency, led by cold fish Lassister (Linda Emond) are trying to kill him.
Going on the run with Baron (Benedict Wong), another old colleague and crack pilot, and Danny Zakarweski (Mary Elizabeth Winstead holding her ground in what is little more than an appendage role), the DIA agent who’d been assigned to run surveillance on him, they head to Cartegena where he’s attacked by an assassin despatched by his former mentor Clay Verris (Clive Owen creaking through the rote self-justifying bad guy), who now runs high-tech mercenary agency Gemini, and who turns out to look like a younger version of himself. In fact, that’s exactly what he is, a perfect DNA match Brogan clone created by Verris and raised – and trained- as his ‘son’.
It’s an interesting narrative idea, but, ultimately, while loosely touching on themes of nature vs nurture, alienation and technology out of control, there’s not too much you can do with it other than have the older Brogan try and prevent Junior (a computer-generated Fresh Prince era Smith) from making the same life choices mistakes he did and nudge him down the path of redemption.
The relatively thin, predictable and logically flawed cat and mouse plot with its wooden expositionary dialogue are, however, greatly enhanced by Lee shooting at a high frames per second rate, giving it incredibly fine detail and amping up the intensity of the many action sequences, including Junior taking on Henry using motorbike as a weapon. Plus of course the sight of Will Smith fighting Will Smith, both delivering soulful performances, although the older version gets all the quips. The five months later coda feels awkwardly tacked on and the film fizzles out rather than ending, but even so, the action races along and delivers enough of a thrill to keep you engaged. Even so, it’s not the same as seeing Captain America battle himself in Endgame. (Cineworld NEC; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Vue Star City)
Needing to make money to care for her elderly grandmother (Wai Ching Ho scoring an amusing moment telling how she danced with Frankie Valli), Destiny (Constance Wu) takes a job as pole/lap dancer at Moves, a New York strip club where, her tips from the leering creeps are largely taken as ‘commission’ by management and bouncers, she’s taken under the wing of single mother star turn Ramona (Jennifer Lopez) who teachers her how to get Wall Street types in the profitable private session champagne room peeling off those $100 bills and to “Drain the clock, not the cock”. Things are good until the crash of 2008 pretty much wipes out their clientele. For a while the women go their separate ways, Destiny gets pregnant and finds it hard to get employment., But then the two are fortuitously reunited with Ramona introducing her to the art of fishing, luring in their marks, getting them drunk and then maxing out their credit cards. Joined by fellow dancers Annabelle (Lili Reinhart), who can vomit on cue (and also on other less fortunate occasions) and Mercedes (Keke Palmer), they turn from drink to drugs, spiking their marks’ booze and taking them for all they can. Cue shopping, champagne swigging and singing and dancing sequences. Inevitably, at some point, one of the targets decides to bite the bullet of his shame and go to the cops.
Based around the true story of the New York gang of women who, led Samantha Barbash, hustled, drugged and fleeced a string of Wall Street (here soundtracked to Scott Walker’s Next) and adapted from an article by journalist Jessica Pressler (Julia Stiles to whom Lopez and Wu tell their stories), writer-director Lorene Scafaria has crafted a Scorsese-like (though he actually passed on the script)_
female Goodfellas about female empowerment and friendship with bonds that can even survive self-protecting betrayal set in a milieu where, as well as making loads of money, weaponising their sexuality, the women excuse the morality of what they’re doing as a form of modern day Robin Hood (as the press termed it) revenge on the bankers and the like who screwed the public, caused economic disaster and walked away from it unpunished. It’s hard not to feel these guys with their sense of entitlement get all they deserve. Especially when they go back for more. As Ramona puts it, “This whole country’s a strip club. You’ve got people tossing the money and people doing the dance.”
Electrifyingly directed, photographed and acted with razor-sharp dialogue, it’s bolstered by small but hugely effective turns from the likes of Cardi B, Lizzo and Madeleine Brewer as fellow dancer-hustlers, Mercedes Rhuel as the dancers’ protective and complicit mother figure at the club and even a cameo by Usher as himself. However, it’s Wu (who, as the initially innocent Destiny affords the moral centre when she has qualms about one of their marks) and, more particularly, Lopez who are the film’s fierce heart, the latter delivering a commanding performance (and a dazzling display on the pole to Fiona Apple’s Criminal) that obliterates in a moment all the crap she’s appeared in recent years and which is already generating Oscar buzz. A film for the MeToo times and one that, given the end credit notes, makes you want to find out more about the real Samantha and Roselyn Keo and where they are today. (Vue Star City)
Next year’s Best Actor Oscar a foregone conclusion, chances are that, having triumphed at Venice, this will also make strong running for Best Film and Todd Phillips as Best Director. Darker, both tonally and morally, than even that Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, and devoid of any of the flip humour likely to characterise the upcoming Harley Quinn movie, Birds of Prey, it does not arrive without controversy regarding the extreme violence. And yes, yet in a dystopian early 80s Gotham, it is intense, brutal, graphic and bloody, but while Phillips seeks to explain and understand, at no point does he excuse, justify or glorify.
First introduced applying his clown for hire makeup, contorting his face into a deranged smile that might give Stephen King nightmares, Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) is a mentally disturbed, dead inside loser and loner, who, on medication and seeing a social worker counsellor, lives with his single, infirm mother (Frances Conroy) in a crappy apartment and who suffers from a neurological condition that expresses itself as a sort of laughter version of Tourette’s. His Everything Must Go promotional placard snatched by a bunch of kids, he’s left badly beaten, prompting a fellow worker to slip him a gun with which he subsequently kills the three Wall Street bully boys who harass and attack him on a subway train, an act that, seized on my the media with its vigilante clown headlines, ignites the fuse to already simmering unrest in Gotham, and about the glaring divide between the poor (who adopt clown masks a la V for Vendetta) and the rich, as emblemised by Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen who, here a loathsome rather than benevolent figure, is running for mayor having castigated the ‘mob’ as all clowns. Indeed, Phillips introduces several moments to enfold his vision within the Batman mythos and the connections between the Dark Knight and his ultimate nemesis.
An aspirant stand-up, Arthur is also a huge admirer of TV talk show host Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro, the Jerry Langford to Arthur’s Rupert Pupkin, conjuring King of Comedy echoes just as the film channels Mean Streets/Taxi Driver Scorsese) so, despite a clip of a stage act being screened on the show as a humiliating put-down, when he’s invited to appear, he naturally agrees. However, by this point, with yet more bodies to his count, having been confronted with the terrible truth about his childhood and his mother and, increasingly delusional as the joke turns in on itself, when he turns up in the familiar Joker outfit, dancing on his way to the strains of Gary Glitter’s Rock and Roll Part 2, no one in the audience should be expecting this to go well.
Given the impressions made by both Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger in the role, Phoenix clearly had hard acts to follow, but he brings a whole new dimension (and demented cackle) of his own to the character, both, with his skeletal frame and facial expressions, physically (his frequent dance routines infused with the tragic comedy and pathos of Chaplin), emotionally and psychologically, as we understand and empathise with the pain that drives him over the edge, but do not condone the horrific consequences. It’s a staggering performance that can’t help but eclipse those around him (Zazie Beetz particularly suffers from an underwritten role as Arthur’s single-mom neighbour and, we are led to believe, caring lover), but it fits perfectly with the world around him.
Driven by Hildur Gudnadóttir’s brooding score and the ironic use of numbers like That’s Life and Send In The Clowns, like The Purge, the film taps into a disturbing powder keg zeitgeist of civil unrest (set to Cream’s White Room) and looming anarchic class war as, summing things up, Arthur asks Murray “What do you get when you cross a mentally ill loner with a society that abandons him and treats him like trash?” His and the film’s answer is ‘what you fuckin’ deserve’. As Groucho Marx said, “The only real laughter comes from despair”. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Mokcingbird; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Based on Peter Quilter’s Tony-nominated stage play End of the Rainbow about the last months of Judy Garland’s life when she played a colourfully variable season at London’s Talk of the Town (sometimes dazzling, sometimes drunk), inevitably, directed by Rupert Goold and written by first timer Tom Edge, reality and what you see on screen are often very different things. Certainly she was pelted with food by the audience when she appeared late, drunk and slurring, but it’s unlikely, even as a gay icon, she ever went back to a flat shared by two gay fans (for post-show scrambled eggs and the final scene where they boost her in time of mid-song crisis is most certainly fiction. That said, this is very faithful in portraying the desperate loneliness and insecurity that crippled the former child star of The Wizard of Oz, even if Rene Zellweger’s electrifying, note perfect (and inevitably Oscar scooping) performance is far better than the film that contains it.
Opening the story at the tail end of 1968, deep in debt Garland return to her hotel from a show (for which she’s paid the princely sum of $150) featuring her youngest children, Lorna (Bella Ramsey) and Joey (Lewin Lloyd), she’s informed she’s been thrown out because of her unpaid bills. With nowhere else to go, she winds up at the home of her ex-husband, Sidney Luft (Rufus Sewell), with whom she’s involved in a custody wrangle, who makes it very clear what he thinks of her parenting.
Given her reputation of being difficult and unreliable, if she wants to raise the money she needs to keep her children, she has to accept a five week season at the Talk of the Town, under impresario Bernard Delfont (Michael Gambon), although the kids have to remain behind.
Arriving in London, she’s feted as a superstar, but a combination of crippling insecurity, insomnia, pills and drink, leave her refusing to rehearse and having to be frog marched on to the stage by exasperated but sympathetic (real) production assistant Rosalyn Wilder (Jessie Buckley) where, once in the spotlight, she knocks them dead with a rendition of I’ll Go My Way by Myself. It’s kind of downhill from that point, hitting rock bottom when her impulsive brief marriage to the much younger Mickey Deans (Finn Wittrock), a chancer with an eye on making a fortune off her name, blows up in her face and she’s sacked. On top of which, Luft turns up with some unwelcome news about what the children have decided for their future.
All this is regularly punctuated with flashbacks to the young Judy (Darci Shaw) who, as Dorothy Gale won the world’s hearts with Over The Rainbow, but was bullied and verbally (and it was rumoured sexually) abused by tyrannical movie mogul Louis B. Meyer (Richard Cordery) who, to get what wanted on camera had her dosed up with appetite suppressants to keep her thing, amphetamines to keep her awake and sleeping pills for her anxiety-induced insomnia, an addiction that stayed with her as she grew, compounded by alcoholism. If you weren’t already aware Garland’s nightmare existence at MGM, from which she was eventually ‘let go’ in 1950, this is a real wake up call., and further serves to elicit empathy and understanding when you see the adult Judy acts like a diva and collapsing into self-destruction.
The problem is that Zellweger’s performance is so intense, so fierce and so compelling, and her self-performed musical numbers so exhilarating, that the film around her pales into a somewhat rote biopic of underwritten supporting characters (though Buckley does emerge with honours) with brief interactions between Garland and the likes of daughter Liza Minelli (Gemma-Leah Devereux), Talk of the Town musical arranger Burt Rhodes (Royce Pierreson, skiffle star Lonnie Donegan (John Dalgleish), whose show she most definitely did not usurp as seen here, and, as her younger self, frequent co-star Mickey Rooney, a potential young romance rejected here in favour of the roar of the crowd.
Climaxing with a fragile, vulnerable, vocally cracked performance of that song it’s undeniably a compelling and well-crafted portrait of the final days of a tragic star, but other than Best Actress, I suspect next year’s gongs are going to be somewhat thin on the ground. (Empire Great Park; Electric; Mockingbird; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil (PG)
The first film took the story of Sleeping Beauty and the evil fairy Maleficent well beyond the fairy tale and Disney’s own animated telling, telling events from the latter’s perspective and giving her her wings back and a moral makeover in her love for the princess Aurora, returning the Moors to their magical glory and making her god-daughter Queen.
Set five years on, this takes it even further into Game of Thrones territory (one of several obvious influences alongside Lord of the Rings and Avatar) as, not best pleased to learn from Aurora (an impossibly rosy-cheeked pale but interesting (Elle Fanning) that she has accepted the somewhat interrupted marriage proposal by Prince Phillip (a charisma-free Harris Dickinson replacing Brenton Thwaites) and, invited to a meet the parents dinner at the palace by King John (Robert Lindsay) and Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer), Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) throws a stupendous tantrum when the latter says Aurora will now have a real mother, seemingly leaving the King comatose in a curse. Flying off she is, however, shot down and sent crashing into the river by the palace guards using iron balls, a never previously mentioned weakness that, along with the fact a deadly toxin is made from flowers that bloom on the graves of dead fairies, is just one of several narrative contrivances.
All this, as the film is quick to explain, has to do with the scheming, obsessed Ingrith’s plan to start a war between the humans and the fey who live in the Moors so she can destroy their kind for ever. What she hadn’t counted on was Maleficent being saved by the introduction of an origin story involving her hitherto unseen kin of fellow winged and horned Dark Fey, among them peace wanting Connall (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and the more belligerent Borra (Ed Skein), setting the stage for Ingrith’s intended genocide by luring them and the inhabitants of the Moors (among them returning fluttery fairies Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple and Lesley Manville) to the palace for the wedding – and their destruction.
While often undeniably enchanting in its depiction of the assorted fairy folk and other magical beings, given some truly dark moments and brutal deaths, at times reminiscent of Nazi atrocities, this is likely to give younger audiences decidedly sleepless nights, not to mention having them confused over its revisionist account of the infamous spinning wheel and its needle.
Sporting her horned headpiece, black wings and chiselled alabaster cheekbones, the strikingly formidable Jolie plays it to the max yet still managing to not tip things over into excessive camp while, in what is basically a showdown between competing power-dressing alpha mothers-in-law that climaxes in a humdinger of a battle, Pfeiffer delivers icy ruthlessness with aplomb, largely leaving the rest of the cast, a somewhat bland Fanning included, in their shadow with only Sam Riley as Maleficent’s shape shifting sidekick raven Diaval not being eclipsed.
On a basic level, it’s all of an overly busy, overlong and often incoherent if visually dazzling mess in search of a story and complete with final scene of a maternal Maleficent that should never have left the editing room, but there’s no denying there are still copious pleasures here. And those cheekbones. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Official Secrets (15)
In 2003, as the Blair government prepared to join the United States in a war on Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein, Katharine Gun (Kiera Knightly), a British GCHQ translator, read a memo sent by a high ranking American official about monitoring certain members of the UK Security Council so they could obtain material they could use to blackmail them into voting in favour of a war. Her conscience troubled by the fact that Tony Blair was lying to the British public about the threat Hussein posed (“Just because you’re Prime Minister, it doesn’t mean you get to make up your own facts!” she rails at the TV even more reading the memo) and that the United States was trying to strongarm its way into a second Gulf War, she leaked the memo to an anti-war activist friend and it eventually found its way into the hands of Martin Bright (Matt Smith), an investigative reporter at The Observer, a paper which, up to that point, had been supporting the government’s stance.
When, after validating its authenticity, they ran a front page splash about US dirty tricks, an investigation as to the whistleblower naturally followed with Gun, to save her co-workers being put under constant pressure and surveillance, eventually declaring what she had done (noting that her loyalty was to the British public not the British government), and that she had acted to try and prevent an illegal war and save potentially thousands of lives. She did so knowing that she could be imprisoned for breaking the Official Secrets Act and potentially putting her immigrant husband Yasar (Adam Bakri), a Kurdish refugee from Turkey, at risk of being deported, a situation prompting a race against the clock sequence here that may or may not be dramatic licence.
Give it’s all public record, it’s no spoiler to say that no less dramatic but entirely true is the fact that, less than half an hour into her trial, the prosecutor announced they were withdrawing all charges, the reasons having to do with damaging information her lawyer, Ben Emmerson (Ralph Fiennes) had gathered about Lord Goldsmith’s volte face to declare the war legal.
Directed and co-written by Gavin Hood, while no All The President’s Men or, indeed Vice, which also addressed the manipulation of the war, and far less flashy than either, it is a solid political conspiracy thriller about events that continue to reverberate and provoke righteous outrage about the collusion between Bush and Blair to blatantly lie about weapons of mass destruction and imminent threat (an Official Secrets Act loophole Gun’s lawyers used to validate her actions in practical terms) to justify the war. It does sag slightly midway, but once the decision to charge Gun is made, the urgency, intensity and the sense of threat (notably in her meeting with a Scotland Yard inspector) crank up. Supported by a dishevelled Rhys Ifans as The Observer’s vocally volatile D.C. correspondent Ed Vulliamy, Matthew Goode as Bright’s war-correspondent colleague Peter Beaumont and Conleth Hill as the paper’s truculent editor Roger Alton, it’s Knightley’s well-nuanced performance, part moral indignation, part scared and vulnerable, that lift the film and keeps you engaged, even if you know how it all ended. Here, as Gun, she declares that her only regret in doing what she did was that she failed. To stop the war perhaps, but to open the public’s eyes to the duplicity and corruption of their governments, far from it. And a reminder to be careful of using spellcheck. (Cineworld 5 Ways; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham; Vue Star City)
The Peanut Butter Falcon (12A)
Clearly informed with the spirit of Mark Twain (who is referenced in the dialogue), this charming tale of a growing friendship between two society outsiders could prove the year’s biggest sleeper indie hit in much the same way that films like Juno and The Station Agent did before.
Dumped in an underfunded Richmond nursing home after being dumped by his parents, Zak (Zack Gottsagen), a wrestling-obsessed Down syndrome 22-year-old is constantly trying to escape, finally managing to run off into the night, clad in only his underpants, with the help of his aged, slyly surly roommate, Carl (Bruce Dern).
Hiding out under a canvas sheet on a boat belonging to Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), a troubled crab fisherman who’s poaching from fellow fisherman Duncan (John Hawkes) and Ratboy (Yelawolf),when Tyler’s forced to take off after setting fire to his rivals’ traps, the accidental buddies find themselves embarking on an odyssey by foot and raft down the Southeast coast after the initially reluctant Tyler promises to take him to a wrestling school in the Florida bayou run by his idol, The Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Hayden Church). On the run, Tyler’s being pursued by Duncan and Ratboy looking for revenge while Zak’s volunteer carer, Eleanor (Dakota Johnson), has been ordered to find him and take him back.
As crafted by writer-directors Tyler Nilson and Mike Schwartz, it charts a well-worn coming of age, self-worth discovery road movie path with the friendship growing between the two unlikely travelling companions through their shared feelings of worthlessness and isolation as they head for their destination, try and evade their pursuers, encounter assorted adventures and eccentrics along the way and Zak takes up the wrestling name of the title. The comedy is gentle and affectionate, with only Zak ever mentioning his affliction, poignantly describing how he’s referred to as a retard but never losing his resolve or determination to follow his dream while, as self-appointed protector, Tyler gets to come to terms with the guilt that’s been haunting him. Eleanor’s impulsive decision to join them on the journey feels a touch narratively contrived, but the blossoming romance between her and Tyler and the building of a new family is never forced. The chemistry between the two leads feels organic and genuine, their banter and interaction of an improvisational nature, a guileless La Beouf winningly low key as the irascible but warm-hearted Tyler while the more extrovert Gottsagen, with his good-natured humour and emotional nuances, engages empathy without ever asking for pity. It has a simple charm that lingers long after the end credits. (Electric)
Terminator: Dark Fate (15)
Ok, forget Genisys, Rise of the Machines and Salvation, consign them to another timeline, this reboot, the sixth in the series, directed by Tim Miller, comes more or less as a follow-up to T2, although, in terms of plot elements, it’s also essentially a rerun of the first film, and even some of its classic lines. It wastes no time in getting down to the action as a naked, crop-haired woman, Grace (Mackenzie Davis from Blade Runner 2049), a bad ass female empowerment bionically-enhanced human, arrives in Mexico City from the future with a mission to search out Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes, conjuring Michelle Rodriguez), a young woman working with on a car factory assembly line with her brother, who’s ironically about to be replaced by a machine. Grace is soon followed by another figure, a Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna), an all-new, creepily smiling state of the art Terminator, who’s on the same mission. Except the former is there to protect her and the latter to kill her. And, having already dispatched her father and brother, it looks like he’s about to succeed when, bang, enter the now much older, but equally bad ass Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), all shades, fuck off guns and terse dialogue, who, since her son John was killed by the original T-800 in the post-Judgment Day prologue, has, thanks to receiving anonymous texts, spent her life living, as she puts it, off drink and vengeance while tracking down and destroying other machines sent back from the future.
So, now we have her and Grace both out to keep Dani alive, although no one thinks to ask why she’s so important or offer any explanation until well into the film, but, suffice to say, her role in the great scheme is as basically the surrogate Sarah from the first film. Well, kind of. The problem is that the new Terminator, a robotic cocktail of T-1000 and T-800, seems pretty much unstoppable; blow it up and it turns into black lava and reassembles and also has the twofer ability to separate its human form from its endoskeleton with both of them functioning independently.
So, they’re going to need some help and, therefore, welcome the much anticipated reappearance of Arnold Schwarzenegger as, with Skynet destroyed (to be supplanted by an AI called Legion with the same destroy humanity agenda), the now reformed T-800 who’s not only got himself a family (who don’t know what he is) but calls himself Carl and (giving rise to some particularly amusing lines) runs a drapery business. But still has a shedful of guns.
As anyone familiar with the franchise will expect, there’s any number of timeline twists regarding Grace and Dani, their connection and the real reasons she’s so important to the fight in the future, but that ultimately just dressing on the constant stream of action as the foursome and the Rev-9 go at it hammer and tongs, things blowing up or being sliced and diced left, right and centre, and including a hairy zero-gravity mid-air assault and escape on a parachuted Humvee that then plunges into a reservoir before the power plant showdown.
There’s a welcome vein of humour as well as some charged socio-political commentary with the scenes set around the Mexican border and the core cast all deliver strong performances and, while Arnie is, well Arnie (“I’m very funny”, he quips), there’s a soulfulness between him and Hamilton who, returning to the franchise after 30 years, is sensational. Which is a good thing since, with this ending with a Logan moment, and hinting at a new beginning rather than a conclusion, it seems those Sarah Connor Chronicles might be in for at least one more chapter. She’ll be back. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Zombieland: Double Tap (15)
A knowingly self-referencing sequel to the 2009 gleefully politically incorrect Stateside Shaun of the Dead styled cult hit, narrated direct to the audience in voiceover by Jesse Eisenberg, this reunites the original characters, all named for their hometowns, neurotic rules-obsessed Columbus (Eisenberg), NRA poster boy redneck Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), snarky, moody Wichita (Emma Stone) and her sister Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) who, at the start of the film, decide to hole up in the White House. The zombies, as a quick rundown and a nod to The Walking Dead explains, have evolved and, while there’s still the clueless Homers, there’s now seemingly indestructible T-800s, named, of course, after The Terminator in just one of the film’s countless pop-culture gags.
Less of a plot and more of a string of road movie encounters punctuated by a steady stream of hilarious, banter-riddled dialogue, things get underway when, Little Rock wanting to find someone her own age and Wichita nonplussed by Columbus’s proposal, the pair take off. However, when the former hooks up with Berkeley (Avan Jogia), a pothead pacifist hippie – and worse, a musician – steals the car and heads out for a like-minded safety zone community called Babylon (after the David Grey song), Wichita returns to the fold to get help finding her, except, in her brief absence, Columbus has acquired himself a dumb-blonde pink-clad airhead girlfriend named Madison (a terrific scene stealing Zoey Deutch) who’s been hiding out in a Mall freezer, rather naturally making for somewhat awkward tension between him and Wichita as they all set off after Little Rock, a journey that will take them to a decayed Graceland and an Elvis museum saloon run by the feisty Elvis-obsessed Nevada (Rosario Dawson) and a brief encounter with Columbus and Tallahassee’s mirror images, monster truck driving Alpha-male Albuquerque (Luke Wilson) and the twitchy Flagstaff (Thomas Middleditch) before the final apocalyptic showdown with a horde of T-800s.
Barely a second goes by without some quip, sarcastic put down or visual gag, hitting the target more often than not, among them Elvis’s blue suede shoes, the animated on screen appearance of Columbus’s rules, a running gag about their minivan, a throwaway Zombie Kill of the Year moment, and an amusing revelation about the fate of Bill Murray. Yes, it essentially plays as a rerun of the original with some added quirky characters, but written by Deadpool duo Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese, directed by Venom’s Ruben Fleischer and gleefully acted by all concerned with tongues firmly in cheek, it has verve, energy, irreverent hilarity and, of course, copious amounts of head-popping gore. All topped off with an inspired surprise cameo credits sequence. Like the zombies, switch off your brain and enjoy. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; 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