Dragged Across Concrete (18)
A gritty cop drama from Bone Tomahawk writer-director S. Craig Zahler, this finds grizzled old school Bulwark detective Brett Ridgeman (Mel Gibson) and his slightly more moderate partner Anthony Lurasetti (Zahler’s Brawl In Cell Block 99 star Vince Vaughn) being suspended by the former’s old partner turned boss (Don Johnson) after being accused of using racially motivated excessive force on a suspect during a drugs bust with Ridgeman videoed pushing the guy to the ground with his foot on his neck. Even though he has a black girlfriend, Lurasetti is no less guilty of casual racism in their manhandling and verbally abusing of the perp’s semi-naked Latina girlfriend in the apartment.
Deciding he’s had enough of political correctness stopping them doing their job and, with an ex-cop wife (Laurie Holden) suffering from MS and a teenage daughter, preparing for college and regularly harassed by the local black hoodlums, needing to make some money to move them to a better neighbourhood, following a tip off from an underworld connection (Udo Kier) he decides to intercept a planned heist, his initially reluctant but equally financially strapped partner agreeing to go along for the ride.
The snag is that, as revealed in the film’s parallel plot, looking to forge a better life for his younger crippled brother and mom (who he returns from prison to find on heroin and paying the rent as a whore), African-American career criminal Henry (Tory Kittles) is roped in by childhood friend Biscuit (Michael Jai White) to act as getaway drivers for a bank bullion robbery masterminded by the ruthless Vogelmann (Thomas Kretschmann), ingenuously accepting his word that no-one’s getting killed. Naturally, things get bloody (at one point someone’s disembowelled to get to a key he swallowed), paths cross and nothing ends well.
While Gibson’s own past racist outbursts are clearly intended to resonate with his character, he delivers a compelling and deeply textured performance as a basically good cop sent bad in trying to do right by his job and his family, indeed all three of the central protagonists can make a case for acting in response to the hand life’s dealt them as opposed to the cold vicious streak embodied in Vogelmann.
Stretching past the two-and-a-half-hour mark, it takes its time to unfold, the two partners shooting the breeze on the stakeout or tailing vehicles, but when the action comes its raw and brutal, loading up the tension with the fate of a new mother bank employee (Jennifer Carpenter) unwillingly returning to work on a day she should have indeed stayed home. It’s often a gruelling, nerve-shredding watch, but such is the magnetism of the performances and the intensity of the action that it’s hard to tear your eyes from the screen. (Cineworld 5 Ways, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe; Vue Star City)
There’s a knock at the door of a luxury Tel Aviv apartment and its occupants, Michael (Lior Ashkenazi) and Dafa (Sarah Adler) Feldman are informed that their son, Jonathan, has been killed in the line of duty. She faints and is tranquilized and he sits numbed while a military counsellor explains the funeral arrangements, all of which they’ll take care of, reminding him to keep hydrated. Michael deliberately scalds himself with hot water, his older brother, Avigdor (Yehuda Almagor) arrives and takes over, their Auschwitz-survivor mother, in a home with dementia, is given the news but has no reaction and, told it won’t be possible to view the body, Michael loses it, accusing the military of not even having a corpse to bury. And then they’re told there’s been a mistake. It’s the wrong Jonathan Feldman.
The focus now switches to a remote border checkpoint where Jonathan (Yonatan Shiray) and three other young inexperienced soldiers spend their days watching pretty much nothing, letting through the occasional camel and checking the papers of hapless Arabs passing through. Unlike the first section, filed in unrelenting close-up and heavy with anguish, this is more lighthearted, almost surreal, one of the crew dancing with his rifle to the backdrop of a van with a faded ice cream ad. Until, in a moment of misunderstanding, tragedy strikes and a cover up has to be put in place. Which is when, as demanded by Michael by way of compensation for what they went through, Jonathan is told he’s being sent home.
The third part returns to Tel Aviv, the now estranged Michael and Dafna having just gone through their son’s funeral, this time having been killed for real, again the film suffused with a palpable sense of loss. It ends back with Jonathan for a brief, cruelly absurdist coda that contextualises his death in the line of duty, underlining the randomness and futility of it all with a hollow mocking laugh.
Directed with total assurance by Samuel Maoz with both the dialogue and the mosaic of the Feldmans floor reinforcing the theme of illusion and, in the soldier’s listing trailer, a world off balance, leading you to wonder which Jonathan Feldman’s fate it is you’ve just been watching, but making the point that it’s universal anyway. (Until Tue:MAC)
The struggle of growing up transgender and the trials involved in transitioning provide the bedrock for Belgian filmmaker Lukas Dhont’s utterly engaging debut. Born a boy, 16-year-old Lara (brilliantly played by male dancer turned first time actor Victor Polster) identifies as female and is undergoing treatment in preparation for a sex change operation. Unreservedly accepted by her supportive father (Arieh Worthalter) and young brother (Oliver Bodart), she dresses as a girl, strapping down her penis beneath padding, and, having moved to a new city, enrols in a prestigious ballet school.
The film moves back and forth between consultations regarding the operation and Lara’s attempt to keep up with the other girls in her class, the strain and demands of the one putting increasing pressure on the possibility of the other. Although there’s an emotionally harrowing moment at a party where one of the girls cruelly demands that, since she’s seen them in the showers, she show them her genitals, her gender issues seem to be accepted without question or problems. The narrative and emotional core is Lara’s own self-acceptance, issues that to all extents and purposes leak into self-harm as she battles to come to terms with her nagging inner demons, her impatience at the time things are taking, her disappointment with herself, and her sense of identity and (in one fumbling moment with a neighbouring boy (Tijmen Govaerts)) her sexuality. She just wants to become, to be herself, a girl.
The film takes something of a misstep in the final moments with a shocking moment of self-mutilation, but recovers for an uplifting final open ending freeze frame shot of confidence that you cannot help but applaud. (Sat-Wed: MAC)
It’s been 14 years since director Neil Jordan made anything halfway resembling a decent film. This plodding, overwrought Single White Female-styled stalker psychothriller doesn’t see him turn the corner. Initially, it promises well. Finding an expensive handbag on a New York subway train, upmarket restaurant waitress (Chloë Grace Moretz) doesn’t, as her sensible flatmate Erica (Maika Monroe) berates her, call the bomb squad, but takes it home so she can return it to the owner the next day. This turns out to be Greta (Isabelle Huppert), a French widow whose daughter has gone off to Paris to study. They chat and Frances offers to go dog shopping with her to get a canine companion. Despite Erica’s caution that it’s all a bit weird, they become friends, Frances, having recently lost her mother, in need of a surrogate, Greta wanting a replacement daughter. But then Frances finds something in Greta’s closet that suggests she’s not the first to be lured into her spider’s web. Understandably, she makes her excuses and leaves. But Greta won’t let go and a bombardment of texts is soon followed by her standing outside the restaurant and staring in. All the police can do is advise Frances to ignore her. Naturally, that’s not going to work.
An attempt to make a break winds up with Frances imprisoned in the inevitable hidden room in Greta’s apartment, a grisly discovery in the cellar and the swift despatch of Stephen Rea’s cameoing private investigator.
By this point, after not one but two sleight of hand gotcha scenes, the film and its almost total lack of characterisation has lumbered into ever more ludicrous, logic-challenged B-movie territory with Greta giving Bette Davis’ Baby Jane a run for her money in the demented crazy old woman stakes. There’s even a throwaway moment suggesting she may be a disgraced nurse with a drug habit. It’s almost impossible not to collapse into laughter at the sight of her hysterically pirouetting round her room waving a gun about or reappearing after being knocked out for one more jump moment. And let’s not even mention the yawning chasm of plausibility as she texts Frances photos of Erica as she follows her from a bar, apparently right behind her but nowhere to be seen when Erica turns round. And what self-respecting New Yorker still uses a landline!
Moretz does a reasonable job of the grieving doe-eyed girl looking for maternal comfort and sinking into submission under Greta’s cruelty, but, while this camp nonsense may all be what Jordan intended. But even if it’s a nudge and a wink, the end result is such that, after picking up an Oscar nod and a Golden Globe for 2017’s Elle, Huppert could find herself getting a Golden Raspberry nomination next year. Jordan may well keep her company.(Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Red Joan (12A)
Her name may head up the cast list, but, while Judi Dench does her usual solid work, her role is very much a framing device with Sophie Cookson carrying the bulk of the film as the younger version of her character, Joan Standing, who, at the start of the film, now a widowed octogenarian, is arrested by Special Branch and accused of being a Russian spy.
Directed by Trevor Nunn from his adaptation of Jennie Rooney’s factional novel based on the true story of Melita Norwood who, in 1999, aged 87 and dubbed the ‘granny spy’ confessed to having passed state secrets to the Russians for some 40 years, most notably about the British atomic bomb project codenamed Tube Alloys where she worked as secretary to the project director, but was never prosecuted on account of her age.
That much remains in the film. However, here young Joan is a mousy First Class Physics graduate from Cambridge (as opposed to the University of Southampton) who gets involved with a campus communist group headed up by firebrand Leo (Tom Hughes, a sort of lightweight Benedict Cumberbatch), a Russian emigré German Jew whose manipulative Mata Hari sister, Sonya (Tereza Srbova), brings them together. She’s smitten and they become lovers, even though he remains emotionally unavailable and then disappears off to Russia. When she lands a job as assistant to unhappy married (yes, you can see what’s coming) Prof. Max Davis (Stephen Campbell Moore), the only man not to patronise her, Leo resurfaces looking to get her to pass secrets to the Russians, arguing that, while Allies, they have been shut out of the research. She refuses, but, when Project Manhattan comes to fruition, horrified by the loss of life at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the idealistic if naïve Joan changes her mind and is soon using a standard issue spy camera to snap documents and blueprints and pass then to Sonya.
Meanwhile, back in the present, Joan’s being questioned and denying everything, her high flyer son Nick (Ben Miles looking like the young Terence Stamp) acting as her lawyer until he discovers mom’s been lying all these years and accuses her of betraying her country. Joan, remains unrepentant, her argument being that she did what she did to create a level playing field and in doing so prevent mutually assured destruction, citing the fact of there being no war between the superpowers as evidence of her success.
A cerebral spy story – with somewhat lukewarm romantic interludes – it plays like a cosily polite John Le Carre, glossing over her radicalisation (she’s taken to see Battleship Potemkin) and the script seemingly never quite sure of its stance on Joan’s actions and settling for a fuzzy ‘I did what I did for the living” statement in Dench’s powerful showcase moment front garden press conference. That said, while it may run slow in places, throws in a somewhat pointless and undeveloped revelation about the siblings and the fact that old Cambridge chum William, a high ranker in the Foreign Office, is batting for both sides (both politically and sexually) serves only as clunky final act plot device, it nevertheless holds your interest as it moves back and forth between its authentic period detail timelines, Dench’s consummately underplayed performance impressively complemented by Cookson. (Cineworld NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
The Fight (12A)
Directed, written by and starring Jessica Hynes (Angel Matthews in the Nativity films) alongside Sally Phillips and Anita Dobson, this follows Tina (Hynes), a careworker mother of three in a quiet seaside town beset by domestic problems such as her overbearing mother (Dobson) threatening to leave her father (Christopher Fairbanks), her eldest(Sennia Nanua) being bulled at school (with Liv Hill as the bully) and she and her husband (Shaun Oarkes) juggling jobs and parenthood. Determined to rise above things, she uses boxing to work out her stress and anxieties, but then an old rival from her schooldays (Rhona Mitra) turns up, forcing her to confront difficult memories and fight for herself. Featuring a cameo from Alice Lowe and Russell Brand as the voice of a motivational audiobook, incorporating workplace racism, domestic abuse, parental neglect and even a school talent show, it doesn’t quite make the Mike Leigh family drama grade, but it’s an impressive first attempt. (Mon/Wed: MAC)
Head Full of Honey (12A)
In remaking his own 2014 German language original, partly scripted by Jojo Moyes, director Til Schweiger has lost total control of the steering wheel, resulting in a car crash attempt to address the subject of Alzheimer’s. Suspecting dad Amadeus (Nick Nolte) might be losing it when, at his wife’s funeral, he starts going on about pie and her breasts and seems to be totally oblivious to the fact. So, he’s reluctantly persuaded to move from Connecticut to London and live with his banker son Nick (Matt Dillon) and his stressed out wife Sarah (Emily Mortimer) and, needless to say, this just adds to the family tensions. Dad pisses in the fridge, takes a chainsaw to the garden, sets fire to the kitchen, casually fires off his guns around his young granddaughter, Matilda (Sophia Lane Nolte), her parents apparently oblivious or unconcerned about the danger he might pose, smears butter over his face at a restaurant thinking it’s soap and regularly calls up his dead wife (for whom he hides jars of honey in the barn) on a banana. This should evoke empathy and poignancy, but instead it plays like the endearingly wacky comical exploits of some crazy old coot.
Even more absurdly, young Matilda sneaks out of those one night with grandpa and, the realities of passport control be damned, takes him off to Venice to spark memories of his wedding night where he ends up telling vulgar jokes about cucumbers to a dinner table of nuns! Audiences can only pray for a loss of memory too. (Cineworld 5 Ways; Empire Great Park; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Adapted from a story by Let The Right One In author John Ajvide Lindqvist, who co-wrote the screenplay, this is a Nordic noir with a social commentary subtext and a bizarre twist that sends the narrative off into dark supernatural folklore territory. Scarred by a lightning strike, sporting a scar on her tailbone and with troglodyte features, Tina (Eva Melander under heavy make-up), who has more affinity with wild animals than humans, lives with her good-for-nothing Rottweiler owning boyfriend (Jörgen Thorsson), who’s fonder of his dogs (who don’t get on with Tina) than her, and makes regular visits to her dementia sufferer father. She also works at a Swedish portside border crossing, quite literally sniffing out those with something to hide. It seems she has the sixth sense ability to smell feelings like fear or guilt (not to mention knowing when deer are about to cross the road). It’s a gift that exposes a child pornography ring, a subplot in which she helps police track down the paedophile ring, that proves to have significant bearing on the main narrative. One day she sniffs out Vole (Eero Milonoff) who shares similar features, grunts and says he collects (and eats) live insects. On examination, it’s found he also has female rather than make genitals.
There’s a chemistry between them and Tina invites him to move into their guest cabin. It’s around this point, as they draw closer, that the film introduces its jaw-dropping twist in a truly weird sex scene, about which I can say nothing without spoiling what follows, but suffice to say neither Vole nor Tina are what they seem and that the revelation about Vole ties into the child porn strand, compounded by the fact that Tina’s neighbours have just given birth.
Subverting genres, Iran-born director Ali Abbasi takes his time in teasing out the mystery, building the tension and dropping clues, among which are a naked swim and Tina’s introduction to eating bugs, as she comes to learn more about who she truly is. As unexpectedly touching as it is unsettling, you’re unlikely to seen anything else quite like this year. (Fri/Thu:MAC)
Captain Marvel (12A)
With a new titles sequence that pays homage to Stan Lee, following on from Black Panther, this now flies the feminist flag and introduces the first female superhero to the cinematic Marvel Universe in the form of Vers (Brie Larson), a Kree warrior engaged in her planet’s ongoing war with the shape-changing lizard-like Skrulls and their quest for galactic domination.
When first introduced into the comics, Marvel was a male, Kree soldier Marv-Vell, the character later shifting to become Carol Danvers, a USAF pilot who absorbed his powers. To some extent, this adaptation, co-directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, both of whom are also involved in the screenplay, hews closely to the comic version, except there’s a significant twist to both the nature of the Skrulls and the Mar-Vell character, along with how Danvers acquired her powers.
All she knows is that she’s Vers (pronounced verse) an elite Kree soldier, mentored by her tetchy superior officer, Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), and that she’s been given photon blast powers which glow red and shoot from her hands. But she’s troubled by memories of her younger self that she can’t place and also a military scientist called Wendy Lawson (Annette Bening) who turns up in dreams of both a plane and a shoot-out and whom, unfathomably, is also the shape taken by her visualisation of the Kree Supreme Intelligence, which manifests as someone important to you. As such, the film pivots around her search to find her true identity, the notion that things and people are not always what or who they appear paramount to the plot mechanics.
The events take place back in 1995, long before the arrival of other super powered beings, as Vers finds herself marooned on Earth after an encounter with the Skrulls and seeking to reconnect with her Starforce squad (which includes Djimon Hounsou’s sword-wielding Korath, previously seen, along with Lee Pace’s Ronan The Accuser, in Guardians of the Galaxy), but not before eliminating the Skrulls who, led by Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), have also infiltrated the planet.
As such there’s several jokes about Earth’s backwards technology (pagers, poor internet, etc.) compared with that of the Kree, while Vers’ explosive arrival (through the roof of a Blockbuster video store) attracts the attention of S.H.I.E.L.D in the form of a younger and still two-eyed Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) as well as rookie recruit Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg). Vividly convinced of the existence of aliens, Fury joins forces with Vers who explains she has to locate Lawson’s secret lab and destroy the plans for a lightspeed engine before the Skrulls can get to it. All of which reconnects her with Danvers’ former fellow test pilot and single mom best friend, Maria (Lashana Lynch), and her smart kid daughter Monica (Akira Akbar), both of whom believed her to have died in the crash that killed Lawson. Monica’s also responsible for the transformation of Vers’ Kree uniform into her iconic red and blue get-up. Oh yes. And there’s also a cat called Goose to which Fury takes a liking and which fits right in with the central theme.
While serving to provide a back story to the Tesseract and the Avengers Initiative, the end credits linking it to the upcoming Avengers: Endgame, this is very much focused on Vers’ search to find out who she is and what lies she’s been fed. As such, in true Marvel fashion, the film balances potent character development and emotional core with the dynamic action sequences (one of which is soundtracked by No Doubt’s Just A Girl to reinforce the female empowerment point) and special effects, misdirecting you as to who may or may not be the villains of the piece.
Cool and composed, Larson, all fire (literally at one point), swagger and snappy repartee, is mesmerising in her character’s arc, even eclipsing Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman for screen charisma, while Bening, Law, Jackson, Lynch and Mendelsohn (who also gets to play Fury’s boss when Talos takes his shape) all provide robust and commanding support. In the midst of taking on innumerable foes, Marvel’s eyes flash and she breaks out into a big grin and shouts ‘Yeah’. Chances are you’ll feel like doing the same thing. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Disney’s short but bittersweet fable of the baby elephant whose oversized ears enable him to fly is the latest to get the live action remake treatment, here under the auspices of director Tim Burton. Unfortunately, it’s as drab as it looks onscreen, ponderous and devoid of anything resembling the vibrant colour of the 1941 animation. In the original, it wasn’t until the final moments that Dumbo actually flew, a moment of wonderment, here it happens early on, rendering the subsequent flying scenes increasingly less magical despite the best attempts to build tension.
Set shortly after the end of WWI, Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) returns from the front minus an arm, his wife having died in his absence, to rejoin his two children, science-obsessed Milly (Nico Parker, looking exactly like a young version of mother Thandie Newton), who has her own mini mouse circus in a nod to Dumbo’s talking rodent best friend), and the younger Joe ( Finley Hobbins), and the circus where he was the star trick horse riding attraction.
However, the circus, run by Max Medici (Danny De Vito) has hit hard times, several acts having succumbed to influenza, and audiences dwindling. Medici has staked his fortunes on buying a pregnant elephant, looking to make her baby a draw. To Max’s consternation, Baby Jumbo turns out to be a freak with large flappy ears and Holt is consigned to caring for the them and working the new arrival up as a clown act. When a cruel circus hand causes Mrs Jumbo to cause mayhem, and is killed in the process, she’s sold back to her original owner, sending the baby into depression. In attempting to cheer him up, a stray feather reveals to the kids that the ears enable him to fly, and next thing you know, Dumbo earning his name when a stunt misfires, the crowds are pouring in.
It also attracts the attention of V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton), a circus cum theme park entrepreneur with big ambitions who turns up along with his trophy French (though wouldn’t know it) girlfriend aerial act Collette (Eva Green,), makes Max a partner and ships the entire caboodle off to his Dreamland in New York where he envisions making a fortune by teaming pachyderm and girlfriend as a flying double act.
Needless to say, a calculating heartless exploiter, his promises to Max about his own troupe prove worthless and, discovering Mrs Jumbo is part of his wild beast attraction, Holt and the kids plot to free her and reunite mother and son, resulting in a moderately exciting climax as chaos erupts in the park.
Stuffed with familiar Disney tropes about family, faith in yourself and how being different doesn’t made you a freak, it plays the emotional scales by rote without ever striking and resonant notes, although the scene of Dumbo looking scared in his clown makeup on a circus platform might prompt a slight twinge in the heart while, laudably chiming with animal rights, the coda has Medici declaring how the circus should never have animal acts kept in cages, the message reinforced by a final sequence of Dumbo and his mom rejoining the herd in the wilds of Asia. With big sad blue eyes, the digital Dumbo is impressively rendered, the human cast less so. Keaton hams it up like a pantomime villain, DeVito hobbles the gamut from bluster to befuddled, Green lacks any spark (as does the lacklustre blossoming romance) and Farrell simply walks through the role of the dad who doesn’t know how to respond to his kids (they being at least a breath of fresh air to proceedings), while the circus motley crew support cast is populated by amiable but one-dimensional characters like a kindly snake charmer (Roshan Seth) and the fat lady mermaid (Sharon Rooney),who gets to strum her ukulele and sing the original film’s memorable, tender song Baby Mine. Burton also slips in a reference to When I See An Elephant Fly and does a good job of recreating the surreal Pink Elephants on Parade using shape-shifting soap bubbles, but they never feel more than knowing nods.
Although Dreamland’s science exhibit has some amusing visions of the future of technology, not to mention transgendering, while there are some individual moments of spectacle, such as the parade into Dreamland, given Burton’s past work, imagination is generally as thin on the ground here as is unforced emotion. You might believe an elephant can fly, but the film never does. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Fisherman’s Friends (12A)
Very, very loosely based on the true story of how a bunch of Cornish fishermen from Port Isaac wound up becoming the first traditional folk group to have a Top 10 UK album with their a capella sea shanties, this is an old-fashioned Brassed Off-styled Ealing throwback British family comedy (it has a single four-letter expletive so as to avoid a PG cert) which may be unashamedly cheesy, unsubtle, predictable and clichéd, but is also hugely enjoyable, good-natured fun.
Arriving in Port Isaac for a stag weekend with three obnoxious music publisher colleagues, high-flyer London music exec Danny (Daniel Mays) is wound up by his boss, Troy (Noel Clarke), who tells him to get the local sea shanty singers to sign a deal, because their material is all out of copyright. They then promptly take off back to London to enjoy the joke. However, hearing them sing and getting to know them, Danny starts to really believe they have something different and special that could actually find a big audience.
The fishermen, headed up by proudly Cornish Jim (James Purefoy) and his crusty old dad Jago (David Hayman), naturally think he’s deluded, just another of the tossers from London who come to Cornwall to buy a second home they never live in, but his passionate belief wins them over, just as it alienates the smug Troy who refuses to sanction the signing. So, Danny takes matters into his own hands, flying solo, recording a demo album and hawking it around the majors, to the inevitable non-plussed response. Until that is the group lands a spot on morning TV with a version of the ‘National Anthem’ that goes viral.
Alongside having to persuade the cynical, brooding Jim that he’s not some chancer who’ll change with the wind, the film weaves in a romantic subplot as lonely Danny falls for his landlady, Jim’s divorced single-mom, aspiring photographer daughter Alwyn (Tuppence Middleton), who, after her initial prickliness, begins to warm to him too. And then there’s another strand involving the local pub and its history, the heart of the village, where Jim’s mom, Maggie (Maggie Steed), works behind the bar, but which its young fisherman owner, Rowan (Sam Swainsbury), with a new baby and bills piling up, can no longer afford to keep on, Danny facilitating a sale to a smooth London property developer, who, despite his promises, the locals feel will inevitably trample all over its tradition.
Peppered with groan inducing puns such as the group being called a ‘buoy band’, a line about sucking on a Fisherman’s Friend, a contrived Reservoir Seadogs gag and broad fish out of water comedy when the lads head down to London and are aghast at the price of a pint (not to mention fish), even so it’s hard to resist its soft centre or even the clunky espousal of tradition and community values lost in today’s fast-paced, self-serving world. With the cast that also features I, Daniel Blake star Dave Johns, a balance of laughter and tears (naturally someone has to die), betrayal and redemption, and some lusty singing that includes the group improbably getting a pubful of London Millennials to join in with What Shall We Do With A Drunken Sailor, this is the catch of the week. (Cineworld Solihull; Empire Great Park; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
A reboot of the Mike Mignola comics-based franchise originally brought to the screen by writer/director Guillermo del Toro and star Ron Perlman, Neil Marshall’s version doesn’t take itself seriously. Unfortunately, borderline ludicrous and with some howlingly bad dialogue and third-rate CGI, no one else is likely to either.
For late arrivals, Hellboy is a red, buffed demon summoned to Earth by Nazi occultists in a last ditch attempt to win WWII, but who’s scheme was thwarted byvigilante The Lobster (Thomas Haden Church) and Professor Bruttenholm (Ian McShane, clearly immune to embarrassment), the latter taking the baby demon under his wing and, his horns filed off, rearing him as his adopted son to work for mankind as, armed with great strength and his ‘Right Hand of Doom’, part of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. All of this is variously revisited in assorted flashbacks, but the film actually opens with some excruciatingly bad voiceover narrating how, in a radical departure from her usual embodiment of the Lady of the Lake, the evil sorceress Nimue (Milla Jovovich), aka the Blood Queen, is prevented from destroying mankind by King Arthur who chops her into pieces with the enchanted Excalibur and has the body parts buried in various hidden locations. Things don’t much improve.
Fast forward to the present day where, after an irrelevant second prologue as Hellboy’s mission to bring back a missing agent ends badly, he’s sent off to England by dad to link up with a bizarre secret society who are battling three giants, only to discover the monster they really want to kill is him. It’s all down to some prophecy about him bringing about the apocalypse, which is why a badly rendered, cartoon-accented demonic pig is going about recovering Nimue’s body parts to put her back together so he can get revenge on Hellboy for an incident many years earlier. For reasons that are never particularly well-articulated, he’s pared with the dead-channelling psychic Alice (American Honey star Sasha Lane), who he saved when she was kidnapped by fairies as a baby, and scarred primly Brit-accented M11 agent Daimo (Daniel Dae Kim) who has a secret of his own. Nimue, meanwhile, is determined to get Hellboy to become her consort as their destined are entwined.
Marshall lurches through the plot, tossing plot points aside in abandon but earning the higher certificate with numerous scenes of gratuitous extreme violence and copious bloodshed in some generic, dull and clunky action sequences as Nimue’s demons graphically tear bodies in half. Playing Hellboy as a demon with his own inner demon, Harbour’s saddled with badly written attempts at Perlman’s hardboiled, seen it all sarcasm and is just prosthetic and posture with none of the charisma or wit, while the rest of the cast appear to be trying to make sense of a convoluted over-the-top plot that’s linked together only by the editing as they go, although Jovovich, casting subtlety to the wind, does at least give some decent bitch witch. And then just when you mercifully think it’s all over, there’s a some months later coda with the surviving trio on another mission to set up a sequel introducing one of the more poignant characters from the original films. Hell will have to freeze over first. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
A gender and race spin on the Tom Hanks film Big directed and co-written by Tina Gordon, here, bullied by the mean girl (Eva Carlton) at eighth grade in the 90s, nerdy Jordan Sanders (Marsai Martin) grows up to become the high-flying boss (Regina Hall) of her own tech company and, in a form of twisted revenge for the abuse she suffered , because as her dad told her “no one bullies the boss, a workplace bully in her own right, demandingly making life hell for her employees and especially loyal P.A. April (Issar Rae) who, we’re quickly shown, has her own under-appreciated tech talents and who, although she gives the A for available come on to the studs she meets, also has a secret attraction to fellow worker Preston (Tone Bell) even if that strand never really goes anywhere.
However, when Preston’s rude to Stevie, the daughter (Marley Taylor) of a mobile donut van salesman, who does ‘magic’ tricks outside the office, the weird kid waves her magic wand and wishes Jordan was little. And, indeed, the next day, she wakes up to find herself back in the body of her big hair 13-year-old self, having to delegate running the company to April, just when their obnoxious biggest client (Mikey Day) has given them 48 hours to impress him or he walks, and forced by social services to go to her old school where she’s inevitably once more picked on by the class mean girl (Carlton again), hanging out with the other social rejects and, naturally, learning some life lessons about humility, being who you are, being nice to people, not thinking you have to be a bitch and emotionally aloof to protect yourself from being hurt and generally not becoming the same as those who try to hold you back. Meanwhile, April, who now has to pose as her boss’s aunt, has the chance to vent some hidden feelings about Jordan as well as find courage to let her own light shine.
Along the way, there’s also some amusing/touching moments as the miniaturised Jordan befriends class misfits Riana (Thalia Tran), Isaac (JD McCrary) and Devon (Tucker Meek) and gets to hear her grown up occasional lover, Trevor (Luke James ), who thinks she’s Jordan’s daughter, confess how he feels about her ‘mom’.
The adult/child body transformation genre has been well-worked over the years, but while this is the first black take it never addresses the race or gender aspects as any sort of issue, preferring to follow more of a Devil Wears Prada tack. It repeatedly lays repeats its message right up to the closing line just so you don’t miss the point and it has to be said that the scenes between schoolgirl Jordan making eyes or coming on to both her dreamboat teacher (Justin Hartley), and Trevor are somewhat uncomfortable viewing. It also totally glosses over explaining, especially to the wanna-be step-dad, the disappearance of her ‘daughter’ once Jordan reverts to her grown-up self.
Nonetheless, for all the haphazard plotting and misfiring moments (the gag about the late Diff’rent Strokes child star Gary Coleman gag feels tasteless), there’s breezy laughs to be had about child/adult world clashes (mostly involving booze and Jordan’s BMW) along with the inspirational moments and, inevitable makeover (clothes as confidence statements) and gratuitous song sequences (as April and young Jordan mime to Mary J. Blige’s “I’m Going Down in a restaurant). Even so, it’s the central performances rather than the story or the moral that elevates this, Hall making the most of her bookending appearances, Rae, impressive as the awkward, insecure April, and Martin who, swaggering into school in a hot pink pantsuit, is an absolute dynamo. Having pitched the film’s concept when she was 10 and, at 13, Hollywod youngest ever exec producer, it’s clear she’s already a power play in the industry on an Opra Winfrey trajectory. Here’s hoping she takes the film’s lessons to heart on her journey. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Lords Of Chaos (18)
Back in 1984, Mayhem became the controversial pioneers of Norway’s black metal scene, one which, associated with Satanic worship, spawned a string of church burnings and saw one of their singers commit suicide and a former member murder one of the band. Adapting the biography of the same name, Swedish director Jonas Åkerlund, who has a long history of music videos and founded black metal outfit Bathory, takes a gallows humour black absurdist comedy approach that doesn’t shrink from the dark, nihilistic aspects but which does have considerably more laughs (the bands’ actual answerphone message was “We can’t come to the phone right now because we’re too busy sacrificing children”) than you might expect.
It stars and is narrated by Rory Culkin who brilliantly plays Oystein Aarseth, the band’s founder who originally called himself Destructor before settling on Euronymous, recruiting the unhinged Per Yngve Ohlin (Jack Kilmer), who called himself Dead, worse corpse makeup and would frequently cut himself during gigs, as their vocalist, only for him to commit suicide by blowing his brains out in 1991, leaving behind a note saying “Excuse all the blood, cheers.” Aarseth immediately took photos of the body, one of which later ended up on the cover of a bootleg album.
Dead was replaced by Hungarian singer Attila Csihar while Aarseth also recruited bassist Varg Vikernes (a mesmerisingly unsettling Emory Cohen) on bass, a troubled neo-Nazi sympathiser who took the band into even more extreme territory than Aarseth who, the son of a middle-class family, was all theatrical front and pose rebellion rather than the real thing (he shut his shop when his parents complained), could handle. An argument between the two at Euronymous’s Oslo apartment in 1993 ended in Vang murdering him, allegedly stabbing him twenty-three times, and being subsequently imprisoned for murder and church arson.
Regardless of your feelings about the music and the death metal scene, this is considerably more fun than any film featuring severed pig heads, hung cats and hate-fuelled church burnings deserves to be. (Odeon Broadway Luxe)
Jonah Hill makes his writer-director debut with this (mostly) unsentimental, period-detailed and likely autobiographical but ultimately somewhat underwhelming coming of age story set amid the teenage skater community in a low rent Los Angeles neighbourhood.
Sharing his home with his volatile and messed up elder brother Ian (Lucas Hedges), who beats him up but whose ‘grown up’ cool he quietly worships, and their young out of her parenting depth single mom Dabney (Katherine Waterson, pretty much the film’s only adult), dorky 13-year-old Stevie (Sunny Suljic looking spookily like the young Corey Feldman) steals money from her to get an old skateboard and, desperate for friends, starts loitering around Motor Avenue, the local skate shop, looking to get noticed by the emotionally inarticulate slacker misfits who hang there. That’ll be close-cropped incipient sociopath Ruben (Gio Galacia), the youngest and most out of it, who genuinely thinks saying ‘thank you’ is a gay thing; a blissed-out surfer-dude bi-racial stoner with a halo of ringlets who goes by the name of Fuckshit (Olan Prenatt) because of his usual mode of expression; the acne-riddled introverted Fourth Grade (Ryder McLaughlin), so named on account of his assumed level of intelligence, who spends all his time filming everything on his camcorder on account of; and the ostensible leader Ray (Na-kel Smith), a laid-back, kindly African-American who dreams of becoming a professional skateboarder.
Cocky, enthusiastic and eager to please, Stevie’s taken under their wing (although there’s a subsequent falling out with Ruben), is given a better board, learns to improve his skate moves, give proper conversation, gets drunk and generally tries to join in with their meaningless banter. His impulsive reckless earns him the nickname Sunburn and a reputation of being “crazy as fuck!”
It’s empty braggadocio seeking to impress, but at a house party, while he’s led into a bedroom by a slightly older girl and gets to briefly make out, he’s too scared to go all the way. And that’s pretty much the extent of the narrative. There’s fallings out, moments of reconciliation, emotional catharsis, skating down the L.A. streets, a near tragedy and a soundtrack that includes Dedicated To The One I Love and little known Morrissey track We’ll Let You Know as Hill follows Stevie on the painful path to growing up and perhaps learning a few things about the world.
Shot on 16mm and curiously framed in the middle of the screen and with an almost documentary, improvisational style, you can feel Hill’s empathy for the often annoying but engaging characters (for which full marks to the cast’s naturalism), never judging or condescending to them nor dressing them up in wistful nostalgia. It’s an impressive behind the camera debut for Hill, but it never quite finds its emotional beat in the way that Larry Clark’s similarly themed but more nihilistic Kids, the recent Skate Kitchen or indeed Shane Meadows’s Made In Britain did. (Cineworld 5 Ways;Vue Star City)
Missing Link (PG)
The latest stop-motion animation from Laika, the studio behind Coraline and Kubo & The Two Strings is a much more lighthearted affair, even it does come with some heavy duty messages.
Hugh Jackman voices Sir Lionel Frost, a self-absorbed English Victorian explorer who’s desperate to become part of an exclusive adventurer’s club of ‘great men’ which, headed up by pompous braggart Lord Piggot-Dunceby (Stephen Fry), treats his wild exploits to prove the existence of mythological creatures with disdain.
However, when, following his latest failure, he receives a letter offering to lead him to the fabled Sasquatch, he strikes a deal that, if he can provide proof, and as such validate Darwin’s theory of evolution, Piggot-Dunceby will let him join and duly sets of to the wilds of the Pacific Northwest where he does indeed meet up with the titular missing link (Zach Galifianakis). To his surprise, the hairy creature, is a charmingly affable fellow who speaks excellent English, even if he takes things overly literally, who, rather than wanting Frost to reveal his existence, wants him to help find his Asian cousins, the Yetis, as, one of his kind, he’s rather lonely.
Frost, reckoning he can prove two creatures at one go, agrees and, after some amusing plot padding concerning map to the hidden city of Shangri La in the Himalayas, sets off with Mr. Link (who later decides to name himself Susan) and Adelina Fortlight (Zoe Saldana), the widow of his late partner and, apparently, an old flame.
However, Piggot-Dunceby is taking no chances on having to eat humble pie and has despatched moustachioed varmint Willard Stenk (Timothy Olyphant), an infamous hunter of rare animals, to ensure he never returns.
Taking the form of a road movie involving various modes of transport, countries and run-ins with Stenk, it winds up in the Himalayas where the trio finally come face-to-face with the snow white Yetis, led by the long-haired matriachial Elder (Emma Thompson), only to find, in a comment about isolationism, that not all dreams have happy endings before a literal cliffhanger as their enemies close in.
The backdrops adopt a fairly realistic look while the human characters are all highly stylised with big bellies, long spindly legs, angular features and either pointed or blobby pink glowing noses while Susan is covered in rust-coloured fur that looks like he’s been stitched with rubbery filaments, accentuating the sense of cartoonish fun. Written and directed by Chris Butler, who made ParaNorman, it deals with such familiar concerns as family, belonging, rejecting bigotry, and doing the right thing as Frost offers up his own instance of evolution into a better person.
With David Walliams and Matt Lucas also adding their voices, the emphasis very much on colourful fun with physical comedy blending with fish out of water gags and jokes about wordplay and language, it wisely downplays the romantic interest angle the younger audience might find too soppy, but unerringly hits all the emotional notes. It ends back in London with the promise of future adventures from this unlikely duo, a sort of adventurer version of Holmes and Watson. Get Linked in. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Pet Sematary (15)
Given the success of It, it was inevitable that there would follow further big screen resurrections of Stephen King stories; however, as John Lithgow remarks here, “sometimes they don’t come back the same.” Published in 1983 and first adapted for the screen by King himself in 1989, directed by Mary Lambert, the book is generally regarded as one of King’s scariest, though the same can’t be said for the film. Co-directed by Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kölsch and paring the book to the bare bones, this is an improvement, but not a whole lot.
Arriving at their new country home in rural Maine (where a doctor’s salary apparently also buys you a sprawling forest backlot), Louis (Jason Clarke), wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz) and their two kids, eight-year-old Ellie (Jeté Laurence) and toddler Gage (Hugo and Lucas Lavoie) are looking for a less stressful life with more family time. Even if that does entail daddy discussing death and its finality with Ellie over bedtime.
Such hopes are soon dispelled. First Ellie and Rachel stumble upon an animal graveyard in the woods where kids in scary masks go to bury their furry friends, Rachel starts again having visions of her dead sister Zelda who suffered from a severe spinal deformity, and, having failed to save a black student from a traffic accident is shocked when the kid apparently comes back to life on the gurney and delivers him a warning that “the ground is sour”. And reappears on several other occasions.
The horror firmly sets in when, after being killed by one of the speeding trucks that regularly flash by the house, kindly widowed neighbour Jud (Lithgow) takes Louis to bury Church, the family cat, in land beyond the pet semetary, giving him one of those wait and see explanations, And sure enough, the next day Church’s back as large as life, just not as friendly (cue some guff about the wendigo and cursed land). Louis resolves to dump the malicious moggy. But again it finds its way back, turning up on Ellie’s birthday and prompting her to rush out into the path of an articulated tanker. Needless to say, while Rachel takes Gage to her mother’s, drugging Jud, the hitherto rational Louis digs up Ellie’s body and takes it to the ancient tribal ground from where she too returns. And, like the cat, has developed a decidedly darker side, as Jud and mom soon discover to their cost. As Jud belatedly offers, “sometimes dead is better.”
While trading on well-worn boo moments not to mention a blood oozing nod to The Shining, the film does inject a novel twist in an ending that’s radical departure from the book, although, unfortunately, it comes across as more silly than scary, a sort of Walking Dead joke in which the family that dies together stays together. It’s atmospheric and it’s often very bloody, it’s just that it’s also a touch dull with an ending that feels indecently rushed, capped off by a terrible cover of the Ramones original title song. Impressive cat though. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Showcase Walsall;Vue Star City)
The original Captain Marvel when he first appeared in Whiz Comics 1940, adopting the Shazam name when relaunched by DC in 1972, by which time Marvel had their own Captain. The name comes from the magic word orphaned misfit Billy Batson speaks to transform into his adult super-hero alter ego, taking on the powers transferred to him by the ancient wizard Shazam.
Here, Billy (Asher Angel) isn’t an orphan but, having lost his mother at a fairground when he was much younger, he is a troubled 14-year-old who’s been through an array of foster homes, ending up becoming part of Victor (Cooper Andrews) and Maria (Marta Milans) Vasquez’s extended multi-ethnic Philadelphia foster family which includes gaming nerd Eugene (Ian Chen), college student den mother Mary (Grace Fulton), shy Pedro (Jovan Armand), young but extrovert Darla (a winning Faithe Herman) and disabled sarcastic super-hero nut Freddy (scene-stealing Jack Dylan Granger).
Shortly after Billy intervenes as Freddy’s being set on by the school bullies, he takes the subway train only to suddenly find himself stepping out into a mysterious underground cavern occupied by the aforementioned ancient wizard (Djimon Hounsou) who’s been waiting years to find someone pure of heart to whom he can cede his powers. Indeed, the film opens with him testing another youngster, Thaddeus Sivana, only for the kid to be tempted by the power offered by the stone figures embodying the seven deadly sins. Billy, however, for all his attitude, is the real deal and, commanded in a knowing double entendre to place his hands on the old man’s staff, lighting flares and he finds himself transformed into the buffed adult Shazam (Zachary Levi) sporting the famous red costume with its white cape and yellow lightning bolt insignia.
Revealing himself to Freddy, the latter’s first concern is what super powers he possesses, while Billy tests out his new grown-up self by buying beer, the film having great fun with the concept of an innocent young kid revelling at being inside an adult body, in much the same way as did Tom Hanks in Big. Or Tom Holland’s undisguised glee at being Spider-Man.
The fun, however, comes to an abrupt end when, having spent a lifetime researching stories about those who had a similar experience to himself, now a grown and wealthy scientist estranged from his contemptuous father and brother Sivana (Mark Strong making the most of a so so bad guy) sets out to first become host body to the seven deadly sins, which materialise from him to his biddings, and then wrest Shazam’s power from Billy for himself.
Being honest, it’s not much of a plot and what there is touches familiar bases involving friendship, loyalty, the importance of family alongside the staple slugfests between hero and villain. What makes it such a delight, however, is the sheer exuberant fizz a constantly beaming Levi and director David F. Sandberg bring to proceedings and the knowing self-awareness of its cheesy, corny nature, the film both an irreverent Deadpoolish superhero satire and an unabashed affectionate love letter to the genre complete with plentiful mentions of both Batman and Superman, including a hilarious ‘leap tall buildings at a single bound’ gag.
It’s a little less successful when it plays the emotional cards, such as Billy tracking down the mom who abandoned him and the sentimental family bondings, but, unlike recent DC Universe offerings and the current interwoven Marvel saga, this plays light rather than dark, from a montage of Freddy testing out Billy’s new powers to a last act introduction to the whole Shazam! Family (with cameos that include Adam Brody and Meagan Good) that, along with obligatory end credits scene, sets things up for a welcome sequel. The word is good. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Writer-director Jordan Peele follows up his hugely successful Get Out with another horror, this one a spin on the home invasion/doppelganger genres, laced, as with his previous film, with political, social and racial commentary and the zeitgeist anxiety and fear of the ‘other’.
With title credits explaining how there are thousands of tunnels beneath the USA, the film opens with a 1986 Hands Across America commercial, when six million people formed a human chain to raise money for the homeless, and a shot of dozens of rabbits in a room walled with cages. Cut then to an African-American family’s visit to Santa Cruz beach in which, wearing Michael Jackson Thriller t-shirt, their young daughter, Adelaide (a facially expressive Madison Curry), wanders off into a hall of mirrors attraction inviting visitors to Find Yourself. Inside, she comes face to face (or initially face to back of head) with a child who looks exactly like her. She screams and we next see the parents talking to a shrink about how the girl’s not spoken since she was found.
The film then switches to the present day when the now grown Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o), over enthusiastic husband Gabe (Winston Duke) and their two kids, disaffected Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph and horror obsessive Jason (Evan Alex), the latter always sporting a Halloween Wolfman mask, heading to a Northern California beach house and she being reluctantly persuaded by Gabe to visit the Santa Cruz beach and meet up with their wealthy white neighbours Kitty (Elisabeth Moss) and Josh (Tim Heidecker).
All seems well until night falls when they see four figures standing in the driveway. Dressed in red and each looking exactly like them, carrying golden scissors and, either talking in hoarse gravelly tones or simply howling, they proceed to force their way into the house, sending each family member off in different directions, pursued by their lookalike.
Without giving too much away, it would seem clear that the other-Adelaide is the girl from the mirror maze and, after a dose of blood-letting, the action shifts to the neighbours for another bout of carnage as they are attacked by their own doppelgangers, with, at one point, Zora taking bloody control of the fight. Meanwhile there’s television reports of a wave of similar incidents across the country, with images of figures in red linked hand in hand.
Peele plays the provocative card early on when Adelaide asks her double ‘What are you?” and she replies “We’re Americans”, though she also later refers to themselves as The Tethered, while the film, which is littered with assorted horror movie references, makes sparingly effective use of jump scares while the score and light and shadow build the sense of threat. However, despite an over-explained last act scene in which Adelaide’s double reveals her past and motives, the film is never as thematically direct as Get Out, leaving audiences to draw their own conclusions to what’s going on and what it’s trying to say about, well, whatever, the title pronoun obviously also carrying US resonances in echoing naval commander Oliver Hazard Perry’s 1813 report that “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”
Is it as simple as a convoluted riff on we’re our own worst enemy, or this there more going on beneath the surface (as there is indeed in the film’s narrative). It’s hard to be certain, and the film never seems quite sure either. But either way, you might not look at yourself in the mirror the same way for quite a while afterwards. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC; Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Wild Rose (15)
Named one of the BAFTA Breakthrough Brits in 2017 and a nominee for BAFTA’s 2019 Rising Star award on the back of her performance in Beast, Jessie Buckley consolidates her growing reputation with a knockout performance as a Glaswegian single mother dreaming of making it in country music. Unfortunately, Tom Cooper’s film never matches the fire of its star.
Just out of prison for supplying heroin to the inmates, ankle-tag under her white cowboy boots, bolshie Rose-Lynn Harlan returns home to her two young kids and tough-love mother Marion (Julie Walters), looking to reclaim her job singing at Glasgow’s Grand Ole Opry and still nurturing an ambition to seek fame and fortune in Nashville, despite her mother forever pouring cold water on such ambitions. She gets a cleaning job in an upmarket part of Glasgow, singing as she hoovers away for the wealthy Susannah (Sophie Okonedo) who, having been introduced by Rose to the joys of Dolly Parton and the like improbably becomes her fairy godmother, seeking to further her dreams. This includes sending a demo off to Bob Harris and facilitating meeting at the BBC with him and his producer, Mark Hagen, in quite possibly the most excruciatingly embarrassing five minutes you’ll see on screen this year. In another cloud of wish-fulfilment, a lawyer also manages to convince a judge to have her ankle tag removed so she can further he singing career and provide for her kids.
Despite blowing a fundraising opportunity thrown by Susannah, Rose, thanks to mom, gets to go to Nashville after all (cue a blink and you’ll miss it appearance by Kasey Musgraves) and even sing on the Opry stage before she has yet another epiphany about her parental responsibilities. But, even then, the film still gets to sprinkle fairy dust over things as, Whispering Bob in the audience, she gets to have her cake and eat it by playing one of Scotland’s biggest Americana-based music festivals.
Uncynical and unabashedly feelgood to the point of parody, it almost drowns in clichés about discovering who you are and what truly matters, Walters (clearly there were no actual Scottish actresses available) lays on the Glasgow accent so thickly she’s often impossible to understand and Okenado, a gifted actress, is forced to be so gushy as to make Mary Poppins seem like Nurse Ratched. The saving grace in all this is Buckley, fiercely playing a character who can be blinkered and self-deluded in the selfish single-minded pursuit of her dream but still has you rooting for her. On top of which, doing her own vocal work (a theatrical background, she first came to notice in the TV auditions for Oliver!), while no Lady GaGa, she also turns out to be a pretty good country singer too, the film’s soundtrack album serving as her own musical debut, including the excellent Cigarette Street (Five O’Clock Freedom) written and sung in the film by Darren Hodson and The Southern Companion. A star is indeed born. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham; Vue Star City)
What Men Want (15)
A gender spin remake of Mel Gibson’s 2000 comedy in which he suffers an accident and awakes to find he can hear women’s thoughts, this uses the concept to address themes of boardroom chauvinism, glass ceilings and female empowerment with a sparky turn from Taraji P. Henson as Ali Davis, an Atlanta sports agent who, the only woman in an office of testosterone-fuelled ego-centric wannabes, is constantly passed over for promotion.
Passing out and banging her head after being given spiked tea by an eccentric psychic (Erykah Badu, who dominates the end credits outtakes), Ali wakes to find she can hear what men are thinking, a fact confirmed by her geeky sports fanatic and inevitably gay assistant Brandon (Josh Brener), an ability she can use to get one over on her ultra-competitive rivals as she seeks to sign rising basketball star Jamal Barry (Shane Paul McGhie). This, in turns, leads her to pass off her one night stand too nice to be true widowed single father Will (Aldis Hodge) and his young son as her family because she ‘hears’ the thoughts of Jamal’s manager dad (Tracy Morgan in 30 Rock mode) about not trusting a woman without one.
While Gibson’s character learned to appreciate women, there’s no such intent here, Brandon aside pretty much anyone male proving irredeemable sexists who regard women as their intellectual inferiors. This is about Ali discovering herself and not liking the person she’s become. As such, with a support cast that includes Richard Roundtree as her dad and Phoebe Robinson, Wendi McLendon-Covey and Tamala Jones as her neglected female friends, the film doesn’t really have anywhere to go other than for Ali to prove the capabilities she already possesses and realise that she’s becoming just like her self-absorbed, ruthlessly scheming colleagues in a quest to be one of the boys while the romantic comedy subplot fizzles along. There’s some amusing moments, most notably Ali owning a men only poker game, and Henson gets to finally show off her physical comedy chops in a leading role, but as films about workplace sexism go this is not Hidden Figures.(Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe; Vue Star City)
Wonder Park (PG)
From an early age, June (Brianna Denski) and her mom (Jennifer Garner) made up stories together about Wonderland (it’s never referred to as Wonder Park), a theme park packed with wild rides and run by talking animals, bear greeter Boomer (Ken Hudson Campbell), hyper beaver twins Gus (Kenan Thompson) and Cooper (Ken Jeong), Steve (John Oliver), a neurotic but highly educated (parents should be prepared to explain existentialism to the kids) porcupine who’s lovesick for Greta (Mila Kunis) the warthog who’s de facto in charge and Peanut (Norbert Leo Butz), the chimp who magically creates the rides when June whispers into the ear of his cuddly toy counterpart.
From bedtime tales, Wonderland grows into a model made up of, among other things, cardboard and drinking straws that takes over those house, June even builds a ramshackle thrill ride for real, causing chaos in her neighbourhood.
But then, suddenly, mom gets sick and disappears from the film, leaving an increasingly disconsolate June with her bumbling dad (Matthew Broderick) who, when she packs up her model, puts the toys in a box and burns the lay out plan decides the best thing is to pack her off to a math camp, Camp Awe+Sum (the film’s best gag), for the summer. She never gets there. Instead, abandoning the bus, she heads into the wood planning to return home but a fragment of the burnt map lures her further on where she discovers the park of her imagination, except it’s fallen into disrepair and the animals are being besieged by toy monkeys that have turned into Chimpan-Zombies and are tearing the place apart and feeding it into ‘the darkness’, a huge black cloud hovering over the park, Peanut having hidden himself away since he stopped getting those messages.
Suffice to say, June, realising she’s the source of the darkness in her anger and worry over mom’s illness, decides to fix things and restore Wonderland to its former glory, and, just in case you miss the message, healing herself in the process. But the sentiment is tepid, the laughs few and the emotion never comes near the depth of either A Monster Calls or Inside Out, both of which are obvious touchstones. It’s thrillingly animated and the physical action and animal antics may engage a younger audience, but, despite the worthy idea about dealing with your feelings when someone you care for is ill, the execution is a confused jumble that never coherently hangs together, likely to leave older children and adults wondering what it was all about. Despite the title, this is more a case of bemusement park. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Screenings courtesy of Odeon and Cineworld
Cineworld 5 Ways – 181 Broad St, 0871 200 2000
Cineworld NEC – NEC 0871 200 2000
Cineworld – Mill Ln, Solihull 071 200 2000
The Electric Cinema – 47–49 Station Street, 0121 643 7879
Empire – Great Park, Rubery, 0871 471 4714
Empire Coldfield – Maney Corner, Sutton Coldfield
0871 471 4714
The Everyman – The Mailbox 0871 906 9060
MAC – Cannon Hill Park 0121 446 3232
Mockingbird, Custard Factory 0121 224 7456.
Odeon Birmingham -Birmingham, 0871 224 4007
Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe – Ladywood Middleway, 0333 006 7777
Odeon West Bromwich – Cronehills Linkway, West Bromwich 0333 006 7777
Reel – Hagley Rd, Quinton, Halesowen 0121 421 5316
Showcase Walsall – Bentley Mill Way, Walsall 0871 220 1000
Vue Star City – Watson Road, 08712 240 240