MOVIE ROUND-UP: This Week’s New Film Releases, Fri Oct 4-Thu Oct 10



Joker (15)

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 (Franes Conroy) in a crappy apartment and who suffers from a  neurological  condition that expresses itself as a sort of laughter version of Tourettes. 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 harrass 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;Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Hitsville: The Making of Motown (12A)

Unquestionably the most iconic, most successful and most influential record company in the history of black music, Motown was founded by Berry Gordy, a Detroit kid and budding entrepreneur who saw no reason why blacks and whites couldn’t share a love of the same music. A budding songwriter, he borrowed $800 from his father and sisters and acquired a small house at 2648 West Grand Boulevard in Detroit, joined forces with a guy named Smokey Robinson and changed the face of music. Taking its title from the name given to the label’s home as well as the punch line in the company song (sung, after other embarrassed former employees demur, claiming to have forgotten the lines, by the two men over the end credits), this documentary by British filmmakers Ben and Gabe Turner charts how the label, modelled on the Ford Motor Company production line where Gordy worked, became an assembly line turning out hit records and stars in a well machined manner with company divisions all responsible for certain aspects. Archive sound recordings of company meetings (such as Gordy, Robinson and A&R head as Mickey Stephenson arguing over releases) and vintage footage of recording sessions are just part of this fascinating insight that includes rare film of The Temptations rehearsing My Guy, electrifying film of the young Michael Jackson and Diana Ross performing two very different live takes on You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You on a Motown Revue tour, a song that almost saw her and Gordy parting company.

It doesn’t touch on her decision to quit The Supremes or other darker moments like Marvin Gaye’s murder or David Ruffin’s drug problems and prison terms but it doesn’t shy away from how Stevie Wonder demanded his the terms of relationship with the label be rewritten when he turned 21 so he could do what he wanted or how Gordy, who remarks how he only gave artists freedom within certain parameters, didn’t want Gaye to go protest with What’s Goin’ On. However, while personal politics and issues of behind the scenes control are interesting, it’s the way the film brings the creation of the music alive and forgotten facts such as how I Heard It Through The Grapevine was a No 1 for Gladys Knight before Gaye, who originally only released it on an album before going on to become the label’s biggest selling record ever, that the Supremes had a  string of flops before they recorded You Can’t Hurry Love after Martha Reeves had turned it down or, indeed that a pre-Buffalo Springfield Neil Young was signed to the label as part of The Mynah Birds fronted by Rick James. Essential viewing for anyone with even the vaguest interest in the history of modern music.  (Tue: Mockingbird)

Judy (12A)

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

Rojo (15)

Set in 1975 in the period shortly before Argentina’s coup d’etat, director  Benjamin Naishtat offers a portrait of a country about to tear itself apart, opening with a silent scene as various people emerge from a shuttered, detached and abandoned house, carrying with them various piece of furniture.  Cut to a restaurant where, sitting at table waiting or his wife, balding well-known local lawyer Claudio (Dario Grandinetti) is harangued by a stranger (Diego Cremonesi) wanting to order. The counsellor gives up his seat but, bristling under the humiliation, launches into a tirade against the man, who then erupts, starts calling everyone Nazis and is thrown out. Leaving the restaurant later with his wife, the couple encounter the man again who attacks the lawyer and then shoots himself,  culminating in the former driving the body out to the desert and dumping it.

The fractured but ultimately interlinked narrative then involves Claudio being approached by a friend, Vivas (Claudio Martínez Bel), who wants his help in a dodgy real estate deal involving the house seen at the start, along with a troupe of American rodeo performers who become political pawns, Claudio’s teenage dance student daughter Paula (Laura Grandinetti), her jealous boyfriend and an abduction. Then, to add further tension to Claudio’s life, along comes a Columbo-like celebrity TV detective (Alfredo Castro) from Chile investigating the disappearance of  Vivas’s briother-in-law, who, of course, is the suicide from earlier. And, of course, there’s the eclipse which gives rise to the film’s title ‘red’.

Run through with images of  people disappearing and musing on middle-class moral corruption and hypocrisy, it has a seam of dark humour to compound the unease, but will the central theme is obvious enough,you’ll need an awareness of  Argentina’s political climate in the mid-70s to  appreciate the deeper nuances and the perplexing ending (Mon-Wed: MAC)


Bait (15)

When his brother Steven (Giles King) repurposes their father’s vessel to use for tourist trips,  gruff Cornish cove fisherman Martin (Edward Rowe) was left without a boat and the pair fell out. His childhood home now a get-away for wealthy Londoners, Martin is displaced to the estate above the harbour as his struggle to restore the family to their traditional place creates increasing friction with tourists and locals alike in a film about a modern community facing unwelcome change. (Fri-Tue: MAC)

Bridge (12A)

Shown in partnership with the Birmingham Indian Film Festival for BEDLAM Arts and Mental Health Festival, this is an . award-winning film about the chance meeting of two suicidal strangers on a bridge over the River Ganges that brings great challenges but eventually healing to their  lives. (Sun:MAC)


Inna de Yard (12A)

Documentary set in Kingston about a gathering of reggae legends, among them Ken Boothe, and Judy Mowatt as they convene  to record an unplugged album of hits, featuring personal testimonies and histories alongside the history of reggae music and its continuing relevance.(Sat 5/Wed:9: MAC)



Ad Astra (12A)

Essentially Apocalypse Now in space stirred with Solaris’s meditation on humanity and human emotion and a side helping of father-son issues,  director and co-writer James Grayhas crafted a slow, psychologically taut existential sci-fi anchored by a pared back, internalised performance from Brad Pitt that should earn him a place among the Oscar nominations.

The son of fabled veteran  astronaut Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones), Roy (Pitt) is established in  his opening voice over narration as a focused, emotionally compartmentalised stoic loner whose pulse rate never rises under pressure, which, as we soon learn, has caused his childless marriage (to Liv Tyler) to collapse. The film opens in a vertigo-inducing sequence with him carrying out repairs on the  International Space Antenna, towering up from the earth, when an electrical surge hits, sending fellow workers plunging to earth, Roy turning off the power before he follows, eventually opening his parachute.

At the debriefing, he’s made privy to classified information regarding the mission to Neptune  in search of intelligent life on which his father disappeared 30 years earlier, the top brass informing him that they think his dad’s till alive and, likely having had a Col. Kurtz-like meltdown, is responsible for sending these power surges that may have the potential to wipe out all life in the universe. Now they want Roy, as the film’s Willard,  to undertake a top secret mission to Mars, via the regular lunar shuttle with its overpriced inflatable pillows,  to ostensibly send  a personal message out to his father, track down his Lima Project craft and bring him home.

In the process, as things go wrong and with an array of psychological evaluations, Roy finds himself increasingly contemplating  his own failings (“I’ve let so many people down”), the ambiguous relationship with his equally emotionally distant father,  the admiration that led him to pursue the same career and the fear of becoming the same emotionally closed, single-minded person. In the final act, in what has now become a rogue one-man search and destroy mission to Neptune (“In the end the son suffers the sins of the father” muses Roy as he prepares to face his demons), the two are reunited and abandonment issues are faced.

As such, despite moments such as a moon buggy mining war battle on the lunar surface (the Moon a tourist’s microcosm of Earth complete with Virgin Atlantic), a spacecraft confrontation with two crazed baboons,  and Roy’s need to escape from Mars,  it’s a fairly narratively simple affair, but one handled with a sense of measured, at times clinical, control and attention to detail that calls Kubrick to mind. It isn’t all smooth running, Donald Sutherland is briefly introduced as an old friend of  Roy’s father who’s intended to accompany him and summarily removed from the plot once he’s delivered the necessary information, but, driven by the interior monologues, its visual and psychological ambition is huge, proferring the notion that  setting out in search of new frontiers is not to explore but to escape. If you’re expecting some galactic action movie then steer clear, but if you want to take a journey into the mind’s inner space, then these stars will guide your path.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Angel Has Fallen (15)

The first film, Olympus Has Fallen, a knock off White House Down, the second essentially the same but in London, Gerard Butler returns for a third time as Secret Service Agent Mike Banning, personal bodyguard to Allan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) who has moved up the political ladder to become President. Although still a one-man army, this time round, directed as by directed by ex-stuntman Ric Roman Waugh, Banning is feeling the effects of his close combat career, afflicted by an array of aches and pains (which he’s kept under wraps), and wondering whether he should take a desk job as the Secret Service Director, not that this seems to stop him racking up a small war bodycount as the film progresses.

While out on a fishing trip, along with numerous agents, the President is attacked by dozens of armed drones that leave everyone dead save for Banning (although targeted, the strike is cancelled); however, with Trumbull in a coma, having been saved by Banning, there’s no way to refute FBI  agent Thomson’s (Jada Pinkett Smith) assertion that he was responsible for the assassination attempt, especially given his DNA’s all over the van used for the launch and that he’s got millions in a secret offshore account, apparently funded by the Russians.

Escaping when his detail is ambushed en route to prison, the rest of the film sees him setting out to clear his name, take down those who’ve set him up, prevent a second attempt on Trumbull’s life and, in the process, reuniting with his estranged, conspiracy theory off the grid dad (a heavily bewhiskered scene-stealing Nick Nolte) from whom Banning clearly inherited an affinity or firearms and explosives.

Opening with a mock exercise testing out a training ground for best friend turned private contractor Wade Jennings (Danny Huston), you don’t need a degree in film analysis to know he’s going to be the bad guy (indeed, the film reveals as much early in), just as Tim Blake Nelson as the hawk-like acting President who, opposed Trumbull’s refusal to involve for-profit private contractors to supplement the military and wants to go to war with Russia is patently not to be trusted.

Although Banning’s wife is now played by Piper Perado rather than Rhada Mitchell (and rather shortchanged in the screenplay), pretty much everything else follows the template laid down in the previous films and as such delivers exactly what you expect, climaxing with an extended explosive hospital shoot out and  the bad guy’s wince-inducing last line. Generic nonsense, but Angel has sufficiently strong wings to keep it aloft.  (Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)


Dora And The Lost City Of Gold (PG)

Debuting in 2000, while probably unlikely to have been named for the Stackridge song, the first animation to star a female Latina protagonist, part adventure, part educational, Dora the Explorer, a sort of junior wide-eyed innocent Lara Croft,  ran on Nickelodeon for six years and is still screened as reruns. Now, directed by James Bobin, she makes her live action debut starring an indefatigably charismatic Isabela Moner, recently seen in Instant Family. Initially a seven year old, as in the TV series, after a brief set-up, this cuts to her as a young teen, living in the South American jungle with her archaeology professor explorer parents (Eva Longoria and Michael Peña), who are about to embark on a quest to find the fabled lost Inca city of Parapata. She’s hoping to join them, so is disappointed to find she’s being sent on a different adventure, exploring the world of American high school in Los Angeles where’s she’s reunited her cousin and childhood best friend Diego (Jeff Wahlberg).

Suffice to say, after a brief dalliance with familiar high school misfit sequences, during a trip to the local museum she’s abducted by a trio of mercenaries looking to track down her parents and seize the fabled treasure. She’s not alone, also taken captive are Diego and two classmates, nerdy outsider Randy (Nicholas Coombe) and bitchy, insecure queen bee Sammy (Madeleine Madden) who feels threatened by Dora’s intelligence. Arriving back in South America, they’re swiftly rescued by Alejandro (Eugenio Derbez), an old friend of Dora’s parents and, joined by Dora’s pet monkey, Boots (voiced by Danny Trejo),  they set off to find Cole and Elena before the treasure hunters do.

Needless to say, the journey will involve an assortment of be yourself life lessons, a betrayal and,  inevitably, Dora’s penchant for bursting into spontaneous made up songs (including one about doing a poo in the jungle) before climaxing in the lost city as they’re confronted by its guardians, led by an ancient Inca princess (Q’orianka Kilcher).

Resolutely pitched at a young audience, there’s virtually no concessions for the grown ups, who may well find Dora’s resolutely irrepressible upbeat  nature and energy a tad irritating. Kids, on the other hand, should be swept up by what is, in essence, a return to the old days of Saturday matinees that also inspired the like of Indian Jones.  In addition the puzzles to be solved, there’s nods to the original series when the characters inhale an hallucinatory pollen and find themselves transformed into cartoons, Boots retains his far from realistic-looking appearance and,  along with early scenes of Dora talking to the camera, dispensing with any notions of reality, the bad guys are abetted by Swiper (voiced be Benicio Del Toro), the masked, talking fox from the cartoons. The film even sneaks in Dora’s talking backpack. Great fun. (Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

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.  (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 Farewell (PG)

“Based on an actual lie” reads the opening statement, writer-director Lulu Wang’s second feature, the dialogue mostly in Mandarin with some English,  an expansion of a true story about Wang’s own grandmother already told as an episode of the This American Life TV series. The lie in question is the decision by her extended, scattered family not to tell  family matriarch Nai Nai (Shuzhen Zhou) that, as her younger sister, Little Nai Nai (Lu Hong), informs them, has stage 4 lung cancer terminal cancer and only   months to live.

Instead, they use the excuse of a  grandson’s’ wedding to his Japanese girlfriend of three months (Aoi Mizuhara) to variously return home from America and Japan to Changchun for the marriage and the banquet Nai Nai is organising, to say their goodbyes, everyone under strict instructions not to let the cat out of the bag. That, most especially, includes her granddaughter Billi (Awkwafina) who moved to New York with her family when she was a child, but has kept up a close relationship. She’s horrified that Chinese practise means the diagnosis is being kept secret and, while her parents,  boozy, hangdog-looking father (Tzi Ma) and acerbic, emotionally distant  (“Chinese people have a saying: When you get cancer, you die”) mother (Diana Lin) insist she stay behind because she can’t hide her emotions, although financially strapped (and having just heard she’s not getting a  Guggenheim Foundation grant), she flies out anyway.

As such, what ensues is a finely judged farce of  deceptions that takes in a whole range of prickly family dynamics involving long simmering resentments, jealousies, snobbery and snide put downs, all of which Billi looks upon with increasing frustration and annoyance while also having to deal with her feelings of guilt,  detachment from her native country and what family and home really mean.

Hitherto best known for her broad comic turns in Crazy Rich Asians and Ocean’s Eight, Awkwafina proves she can also be a finely nuanced serious actress, conveying her emotional struggles with a look or a hesitation in the way she speaks. But she’s also supported by a  superb ensemble cast, most notably the wonderful Zhou as the granny who long since stopped filtering her feelings (and, given she did the same with her late husband, likely knows what’s going on but plays long), Lin with her barely contained hostility towards her China-based sister-in-law’s hypocritical social pretensions,  and, in a largely physical performance involving a drunken wedding karaoke session, Chen Han as  Hao,  the dim bulb son of   Hiyai’s elder brother, whose wedding  has been swiftly arranged (in an amusing scene Nai Nai insists they say they’ve been dating for a year so people don’t think the bride’s pregnant).

Bittersweet with a gentle disarming humour, it’s an affectionate portrait of family  and cultural identity that deftly steers clear of sentimentality to end on a swelling slo mo euphoria and feelgood dramatic irony note in the final credits, a film that leaves you with a warm, fuzzy glow and perhaps the feeling to reconnect with those distant elderly relatives you’ve not seen in years. (Cineworld 5 Ways; Electric)

The Goldfinch (15)

Predicted to be one of the biggest flops in cinema history, while it has its flaws it’s hard to fathom why American audiences didn’t flock watch the birdy. However, likely more discerning literary-minded viewers here will better embrace this adaptation of Donna Tartt’s award-winning serendipitous novel. Opening with his adult self (Ansel Elgort) washing blood from his shirt and lining up a fatal overdose in his hotel room, the film flashes back to 13-year-old Theo (Oakes Fegley) admiring both the titular 17th century painting of a chained bird by Fabritius and the girl standing next to him at  the  New York Metropolitan Museum of Art when a terrorist bombing kills his mother, leading to him being taken in by the wealthy family of   nerdy schoolfriend Andy (Ryan Foust) where he grows close to art-loving matriarch Samantha Barbour (Nicole Kidman in familiar chilly mode). He also strikes up a friendship with Hobie (Jeffrey Wright), an antique furniture restorer whose business partner was killed in in the same explosion and who is now guardian to his granddaughter, Pippa (Aimée Lawrence), the girl from the museum who also suffered trauma.

However, just at the point it seems likely the Barbours will adopt him, his errant father Larry (Luke Wilson) re-emerges along with his trashy girlfriend Xandra (Sarah Paulson) and carts him off to an otherwise unoccupied road at the edge of the desert where he strikes up a friendship with fellow outsider Boris (Finn Wolfhard), a Ukrainian whose abusive father’s work has seen him move from country to country, who introduces him to both drink and drugs, the latter for which he develops  a particular fondness.  But then yet another family upheaval sees him flee back to New York where he reunites with Hobie and, as the film switches focus to the adult Theo, become his new salesman partner cum surrogate son and, eventually become engaged to the Barbour’s daughter, Kitsy (Willa Fitzgerald). Through all of this, Theo carries with him a yellow bag contaiing a package wrapped in newspaper, which he clutches close when in need of comfort. Inside is the Fabritius painting, a link to his mother but also a mark of the guilt he feels about her death. How he came to take it and obtain the ring he first presents to Hobie are explained towards the end, by which time Theo is being threatened by a client (Denis O’Hare) to whom he sold a doctored ‘antique’ and who has worked out that he has the painting, which has apparently been used as collateral by a Miami drug gang.

It’s a tangled storyline into which also arrives the now grown Boris (Aneurin Barnard) whose dodgy dealings have made him quite a success as well as the return of Pippa (Ashleigh Cummings) to a life reforged but build on deceptions, just as his impending marriage is looking more about the head than the heart.  However, despite the fractured narrative and, even if things slip into the melodramatic in the last act, director John Crowley and screenwriter Peter Straughan keep you involved and wanting to know where Theo’s journey is taking him and what has led him there, the strong core performances carrying it over some of the more uneven patches and the admittedly emotional coldness for much of its running time. At the end of the day, it warrants ignoring the sour word of mouth and giving it your trust.  (Cineworld 5 Ways; Electric; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe)

Hustlers (15)

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. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

It: Chapter Two (15)

Doggedly nudging well past the two and half hour mark, returning director Andy Muschietti’s sequel to the film that prompted the Stephen King screen revival picks things up 27 years on from the original, a somewhat random period time that will mark the return of Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård, not given as much to do this time round), the fearmongering supernatural killer clown. So when, following the clown’s return in the wake of a gay bashing murder (that’s never mentioned again),  kids start vanishing again from the Maine town of Derry, the now grown Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) gets back in touch with his fellow former members of the Losers Club, all of whom left Derry and forged new lives. So, that’s former fat kid Ben (Jay Ryan) who’s become a hunky, wealthy property developer, the ever nervous hypochondriac Eddie (James Ransone), now a risk assessor,   Bill (James McAvoy), who’s parlayed  a career as a bestselling novelist into a Hollywood screenwriter (who, in an in-joke about criticism of King, can’t write a satisfactory ending),  bespectacled Richie (Bill Hader) is a bitter stand-up comic, while erstwhile  tomboy Beverly (Jessica Chastain) is stuck in a marriage to a rich but abusive husband.

Getting the call to return to Derry, all duly gather in the local Chinese, the only one of the original crew missing being Stan (Andy Bean), for reasons presaged early one, revealed later and given resonance in the final scenes, but it seems none them can actually clearly remember what happened back when they were kids. Now, this might be because It’s not dead, it might be they repressed the trauma or perhaps because the screenwriters want to pad out the narrative with subplots in which each of them have to face the ghosts of their past (such as Ben still blaming himself for his brother’s death and seeking redemption by trying to save the kid who now lives in his old house) in order to gather the personal ‘artefacts’ needed to complete the ancient Native American ritual Michael says will kill It forever.

Suffice to say that after the five diversions, they all gather at It’s hidey hole (the creature having been revealed as arriving from outer space millennia ago) to carry out the ritual. Naturally, it doesn’t go smoothly.

Interspersed with flashbacks to their younger days (reuniting the original young cast of  Jaeden Martell, Wyatt Oleff. Jack Dylan Grazer, Finn Wolfhard. Sophia Lillis, Chosen Jacobs and Jeremy Ray Taylor), it explores the personal traumas and demons that haunt them still while also, in a somewhat unnecessary tangent, also reintroducing  the murderous Henry Bowers (Teach Grant) who’s been locked up in a  mental institution since the first film.

There’s some effective CGO in the film’s many hallucinatory moments such as the creepy creatures emerging from fortune cookies, the old dear in Bev’s childhood apartment who transforms into a naked  monster hag, a decapitated head on spider legs  and, of course, the various forms Pennywise takes on. Along the way, there’s numerous references to other horror series, such as Nightmare On Elm Street and even a reprise of that famous line from The Shining as Bev finds herself in a toilet filling with blood, the film, variously scary and comic, finally resolving itself as a story of  friendship,  self-acceptance (with a half-hearted romantic triangle tossed in) and finding closure, for not just the Losers but the saga itself. And, while the ride’s compelling, not before time.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

The Lion King (PG)

Given, there being no human characters unlike director Jon Favreau’s previous revamp of The Jungle Book, the fact that this is all CGI  makes it a little disingenuous to call it a live action remake. However, such is the degree of photorealism as regards both the landscapes and animals, that it would be easy to believe this is actual flesh and fur, earth and water. It’s hard to imagine anyone who isn’t familiar with the 1994 animated original, itself a riff on Hamlet,  so, again opening with the Circle of Life gathering at Pride Rock,  this virtual shot by shot, line by line update  won’t hold any narrative surprises surprises, indeed the main difference lies in ditching the annoying Morning Report song, rendered here as dialogue from Zazu, the red-billed hornbill factotum. The thrill comes, instead, from seeing the characters in such three-dimensional  form, the hyenas even more scary-looking while the CGI incarnations of warthog Puumba Seith Rogan) and meerkat Timon (Billy Eichner) are a delight, especially in the way the former, all bristles and tusk, trots along like  dainty ballerina. They still sing Hakuna Matata and even get to make a filmic in joke about how, having fled the Pridelands believing himself responsible for the death of his father, Mufasa (James Earl Jones reprising his role), in stampede, the young Simba (JD McCrary) grows into the adult lion (Donald Glover) in the course of the song while they still look the same. They also sing a snatch of Be Our Guest from Beauty and the Beast.

There’s no new additions (though a couple of hyenas are renamed), but all the familiar characters are present and correct with an impressive array of appropriately African-American vocal talent that includes Alfre Woodard as Sarabi, Simba’s mother, John Kani as mandrill shaman Rafiki, Beyoncé, in a slightly expanded role, as Nala, Simba’s childhood best friend and future love interest who not only gets to duet on Can You Feel The Love Tonight but has her own all new song, Spirit, while Shahadi Wright Joseph from the original Broadway cast is the young cub and Chiwetol Ejiofor is superbly sly as Simba’s treacherous uncle, Scar. Whether the revamp has any point beyond the technical accomplishments is open to debate, but it certainly deserves to be a  roaring success. (Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

The Mustang (12A)

Produced by Robert Redford (who, it should be remembered starred in and directed The Horse Whisperer) and helmed by first timer Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, this draws on the real-life facts that 100,000 wild horses still roam America and many are rounded up and used as occupational therapy for prisoners who break and train them ready to be auctioned. As such, it’s not hard to see where the story is going when, serving time in a remote prison compound in the Nevada desert for a crime not revealed until a scene towards the end, sporting shaved head and goatee, Roman Coleman (Matthias Schoenaerts), a brooding loner (“I’m not good with people”) inmate with anger management issues encounters an equally wilful new equine arrival.

Initially assigned by the grizzled programme manager (Bruce Dern)  to shovel up horse shit, he’s then given a chance to assist fellow inmate Henry (Jason Mitchell) in the training (although he briefly blows it when he loses his temper and punches the horse) and comes to bond with the animal he names  Marquis, each taming the rage within the other.

The narrative is  expanded with subplots involving a cellmate who gets Roman to smuggle drugs out of the horse infirmary, scenes between inmates and the prison counsellor (Connie Britton)  and three sequences between Roman and his estranged, pregnant young daughter (Gideon Adlon) that climax in a powerful emotional catharsis, but otherwise this focuses on the dynamic between man and horse. It’s less well-rounded than The Rider, to which it inevitably bears comparison,  but Schoenart’s soulful performance, always threatening to erupt, ensures the humanism at the film’s heart is never dimmed, the first sequence when the horse nuzzles up to him in his isolation profoundly moving. (MAC)

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (18)          

Reuniting with both Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio, and teaming them together (in masterclass performances steeped in gleeful self-irony) on screen for the first time, Quentin Tarantino’s  ninth film is again awash with 60s pop culture references, from the music of the era to spaghetti Westerns and vintage American TV shows.   Some are obvious, others, such as a brief glimpse of a Kid Colt comic are throwaways while others let savvy audiences draw the dots, such as a Playboy Mansion party that (aside from a cameo by Damien Lewis as Steve McQueen) captions Michelle Phillips from the Mamas and Papas knowing that viewers will automatically know her more amply proportioned friend is Mama Cass.

A revisionist take on Hollywood lore and history, the loose plot pivots around Rick Dalton (DiCaprio), the this functioning alcoholic faded star of a TV Western called Bounty Law  whose action movie career never took off and is now reduced to playing the bad guy opposite the new rising names, and his long-time stunt-double, driver, general gofer and best buddy Cliff Booth (Pitt) an easy going,  self-assured war hero (and, echoes of Natalie Wood, wife killing) who lives in a crappy trailer next to a drive-in with his Rottweiler, Brandy.

Currently being directed by Sam Wanamaker (Nicholas Hammond) as the guest villain to Timothy Olyphant’s hero in a Western series called Lancer (which also features Scoot McNairy and the late Luke Perry), although initially reluctant, an opportunity for Rick to reinvent himself comes via fan and agent Marvin Schwarz (Al Pacino) who hooks him up with the second best director of Spaghetti Westerns to make things like Kill Me Quick, Ringo, Said the Gringo and Bond knockoff Operazione Dyn-o-mite, and from which he returns a married man.

Running parallel to this is a storyline involving Rick’s new neighbours on Cielo Drive, hot new director Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha) and his actress wife Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) the latter of whom was murdered (while heavily pregnant) along with four friends (including ex-fiance, Jay Sebring, here played by Emile Hirsch) by four of Charlie Manson’s followers on, as the Neil Diamond song presages, a hot August night which was regarded as the end of an era. The narratives are further interlinked when (as allegedly did Dennis Wilson from The Beach Boys) Cliff gives Pussycat (Margaret Qualley) a toke-dealing hippie a lift to her commune on the disused Spahn Movie Ranch where he has a run-in with her fellow cult members, notably the intimidating Squeaky (Dakota Fanning), and a brief cameo with Bruce Dern.

Littered with vintage clips, pastiches, billboards, posters, cinema marquees (at one point Tate goes to watch herself in a Dean Martin Matt Helm movie) and punctuated with a wealth of songs from the era, as the film builds nail-bitingly to its climax, Tarantino, brilliantly abetted by  cinematographer Robbie Richardson, production designer Barbara Ling and costumer Arianne Phillips, delivers one knockout sequence after another. Notable standouts among these include a fight between Cliff and a smug Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) on the set of The Green Hornet (which also features a Kurt Russell cameo) and a backlot moment involving Rick and  a precocious eight-year-old method actor (Julia Butters) on the set of Lancer, which, after he flubs his lines due to too much booze, results in a gripping take which she tells him was the best acting she’s ever seen. You’re inclined to agree.

In a breathtakingly audacious move only Tarantino would have the nerve and the ability to bring off, the accumulating tension ends with the bloodbath of August 8, 1969 as, armed with knives and a pistol,  Family member Tex and three girls make their way up Cielo Drive. Real movie stars, a real director, a helluva movie. (Cineworld NEC)

Rambo: Last Blood  (18)

Eleven years on from the underwhelming eponymous fourth and supposedly final entry into the franchise, Sly Stallone resurrects his troubled army vet  for yet another final outing. Now retired and living in his ranch which he shares with family friend, Maria (Adriana Barraza), and her granddaughter Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal), who, after being abandoned by her dad, he treats like his own niece, when she says she’s tracked her father down and wants to visit him in Mexico to get closure he forcefully advises against it. Naturally, she goes anyway and, betrayed  by a  supposed friend, winds up being abducted by a sex trafficking cartel. Inevitably Rambo goes after her and, after exerting some bone cracking pressure on the middleman supplier,  tracks down the gang headed up by the ruthless Martinez brothers, Hugo (Sergio Peris-Mencheta) and Victor (Óscar Jaenada),only to end up getting a  bludgeoning, leaving him with a vicious scar on his face (same cheek as in First Blood Part II), a punishment also afflicted, along with a forced drug addition, by Gabrielle, and left alive by  Hugo to endure the pain of knowing her fate.

However, patched up (though warning of concussion effects are summarily forgotten) with the help of an investigative journalist (a cursorily functional Paz Vega) who has her own grudge with the cartel, he returns, smashes a few skulls, decapitates Victor and takes off with the girl, who dies in in the seat next to him. Knowing Hugo will come after him, he plans out his revenge booby-trapping the farm, the house and the tunnels under the land (it’s never explained why he actually has tunnels or why the place is like a small armoury) and then, like the audience, sits back to await the Mexicans as they rush to their bloody deaths in a  sort of grislier version of Home Alone.

There’s  a cursory moment where he confesses that his savage side’s never gone away, just kept pushed down (cue swallowing handfuls  of pills), and is duly let  loose for yet another killing spree.  With the Mexicans all utterly despicable sadistic bad guys who patently deserve that they get, while Stallone taking the occasional moments to soulfully emote his emotional pain, once it gets to the third the film moves efficiently (and with a concise 89 minutes running time) from bloody and gruesome death to the next, head being blown off, bodies skewered, riddled with bullets, set aflame dismembered while saving Hugo to the last to he can feel his heart being ripped out like Rambo did.

The fact that he keeps his shirt on throughout signifies this as Stallone in serious dramatic rather than muscleman mode and there’s some affecting moments between him and his niece, but otherwise this is standard  revenge-thriller stuff, albeit with the carnage and gore amped up to the max, ending  a bizarre credits montage of clips from the earlier films he rides off  the classic Western hero into the sunset and, presumably, given the likely box office, yet another final final arterial spray. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park;   Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Ready Or Not (18)

When orphaned Grace (Samara Weaving) married Alex Le Domas (Mark O’Brien), scion of the blueblood Le Domas games dynasty, she never thought till death us do part would apply so literally or so soon.  As part of the initiation into the family, at midnight new members are required to play one of the many games the family has devised or marketed over the years. And everyone has to abide by the rules, established by the great grandfather Victor in a deal with mysterious benefactor Le Bail, so as to avoid unspecified consequences. The card the new arrival most certainly does not want to draw is hide and seek. Which unfortunately, is precisely what Grace does, for the first time since the events of the 30-years earlier prologue.  She just has to stay hidden until dawn. The problem is that, while her husband, only just returned to the family fold, demurs and tries to help,  everyone else in the family, armed to the teeth with old-time crossbows, axes and guns,   is required to hunt her down so she can become  ritual sacrifice in the ‘games room’. So now, Grace, still in her full and increasingly torn and bloodied wedding get-up has to try and avoid demented patriarch Tony (Henry Czerny), Alex’s indifferent mother  (Andie MacDowell), ambivalent black-sheep brother Daniel (Adam Brody), his sisters, cokehead  Emilie (Melanie Scrofano) and the ill-named Charity  (Elyse Levesque),  her  numbskull husband  Fitch (Kristiann Bruun) and,  looking like a refugee from the Addams Family, the coldblooded Aunt Helene (a gloweringly wonderful Nicky Guadagni),  not to mention Emilie’s two kids and the butler (John Ralston), and stay alive. Something the   three maids, through a series of mishaps, find rather harder to accomplish. If she succeeds, legend has it that the family, in some sort of diabolic deal, will pay the price instead.

Essentially, this is another in spooky house cat and mouse genre, but, as written by Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murphy and directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, it marries the often bloody horror with the sort of sardonic  Gothic pastiche that distinguished the likes of  What We Do in the Shadows and  Tucker and Dale Meet Evil, the gallows humour (notably a scene involving Grace trying to steal a car that’s overriden by the service agent) increasing along with the blood and a rather gruesome encounter with the Goat Pit as it gathers to its confessedly Heathers-inspired climax.

You can read it as social/class satire, but it’s best enjoyed by just sitting back and watch the excellent, playing it knowingly straight Weaving transform from wide-eyed blonde to fuck you female rage and delivering the final line with crowd applauding aplomb.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Toy Story 4 (U)

The fourth and final entry sees the Toy Story out on an emotional high as it pulls together the themes that have run throughout the saga for a finale that will have audiences welling up. It opens several years earlier when Woody (Tom Hanks) and the other toys, among them Jessie (Joan Cusack), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), Rex (Wallace Shawn) and Hamm (John Ratzenberger), were still owned by Andy as Woody (motto ‘leave no toy behind’) daringly rescues a toy car that has got lost and is about to be washed away in the gutter. However, before Woody can climb back through the window, it’s slammed shut as he watches Bo Peep (Annie Potts) and her three-headed sheep, Billy, Goat and Gruff, the porcelain lamp belonging to Andy’s sister Molly, being boxed up to go to a new home.  He attempts to rescue her, but she insists it’s time to move on to a new child and invites him to join her. Loyal to his kid, Woody refuses.

Fast forward to the present and his new kid, Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw) is off to kindergarten orientation and, ignoring the advice from the other toys, Woody, who she hasn’t played with in weeks (indeed, she even gives his badge to Jessie) and has lost his lost his role as keeper of the room to Dolly (Bonnie Hunt), sneaks into her backpack to ensure she’s ok. At school, he helps by providing her materials from which she makes herself a new plaything, Forky (Tony Hale), a plastic spork with pipe-cleaner arms, popsicle-stick feet and googly eyes. He’s her new favourite toy, but it takes a real effort for Woody to convince him that he’s a toy not trash (he keeps trying to get into the rubbish bins in a montage set to Randy Newman’s I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away) and that he’s important to Bonnie. The ironic symmetry is obvious, one is a toy who fears becoming trash, one is trash who doesn’t want to be a toy.

At which point, the family take a road trip to Grand Basin National Park and an amusement park where, separated from the others while he explains things to Forky, Woody comes across Second Chance Antiques and spots Bo Peep’s lamp in the window. For the past seven years, in turns out she has embraced the life of a lost toy, enjoying the freedom of the park and become something of feisty kick ass (another of Disney’s female empowerment touches), riding around the park in a motorised skunk.  “Who needs a kid’s room,” she asks, showing Woody the panoramic view of the park, “When you can have all of this?”

The reunion is, however, overshadowed by the fact that the store also contains Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), a creepy vintage 1950s pull-string doll who, assisted by four Chucky-like ventriloquist dummy henchdolls, takes Forky hostage because she wants to replace her broken pull string voice box with Woody’s in the hope of getting a kid of her own.

What ensues are two extended rescue missions variously involving Bo, Buzz and Jessie (Joan Cusack) alongside new characters joined at the paw plushies Bunny (Jordan Peele) and Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key), mini-toy rescue cop Giggle McDimples (Ally Maki) and Canadian stunt biker Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves) whose plagued by a sense of failure after being discarded when his abilities didn’t measure up to his marketing.

Exploring themes such as finding your purpose, self-worth, abandonment, loyalty, responsibility, selflessness, and that letting go and moving on doesn’t mean you stop loving or being loved, it will touch chords in both children and adults alike while also providing thrilling action sequences, dark and scary moments, affecting poignancy, laughs (not least in Buzz thinking his pre-programmed recordings are his ‘inner voice’) and moments of breathtaking beauty. From a joyful reunion to a moving parting of the ways farewell, this will take your heart to infinity and beyond.  (Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; 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


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