MOVIE ROUND-UP: This Week’s New Film Reviews, Fri Feb 14-Thu Feb 20

 

NEW RELEASES

Emma. (U)

Following swiftly on the heels of Little Women, photographer and video director Autumn de Wilde makes her feature debut with the latest adaptation of Jane Austen’s much loved novel about an inveterate matchmaker who, in trying to pair up others, is oblivious to  her own feelings. A faithful account of the novel, it’s stuffed with familiar faces, headed up by Anya Taylor-Joy who transitions from horror to rom-com as the titular heroine, bringing the right amount of insufferable smugness, snobbery and pout while still remaining sympathetic to her blindness regarding the inappropriateness of her self-appointed meddling in others’ lives as “the greatest amusement in the world”.  Case in point being her younger and less socially elevated (she doesn’t know who her father is) hero-worshipping friend Harriet (Mia Goth), a student at the local boarding school, who she dissuades from accepting a proposal from  tenant farmer Robert Martin (Connor Swindells) convinced that the preening village preacher, Mr. Elton (Josh O’Connor), loves her. It’s just the first of several misreadings  that end up causing people heartache, while her cutting comment to the scatterbrained Miss Bates (Miranda Hart) reinforces her unthinking lack of sensitivity to those she considers beneath her.

Even before he finally puts in appearance, Emma’s attracted to Frank Churchill (Callum Turner), the self-absorbed absent son of well-to-do Mr Weston (Rupert Graves), the widower whose marriage to her former governess (Gemma Whelan) she engineered. So, when he does turn up, she’s put out to discover that he’s acquainted with Bates’ niece, Jane Fairfax (Amber Anderson), especially given her resentment of always being disadvantageously compared to her (to be fair, Jane is much better pianist), all the while oblivious to the fact that, behind their bickering banter, her handsome gentleman friend and neighbour (and in-law, since he’s the brother to her sister Isabella’s long suffering husband) , George Knightley (actor-musician Johnny Flynn who wrote and sings the end credits song), who, despite recognising and often admonishing her flaws, is besotted with her, though, in strict rom com tradition,  it does take time (cue significant dance scene moment) for him to realise it too.

All this plays out with sparkling wit and charm that draws both the humour and subtle social commentary from Austen’s novel, the chemistry among the leads complemented by note perfect support turns from Bill Nighy as Emma’s hypochondriac father and Sex Education star Tanya Reynolds as the pretentious new Mrs.Elton. A candybox delight to the eye as well as enjoyable romantic fluff with just a pinch of spice, it’s well worth a flutter of the heart. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield;  Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Sonic The Hedgehog (PG)

Surprisingly not the disaster that was anticipated, especially given it had to go back to the drawing board and redesign the look of its titular Sega character after fans were up in arms, this is the latest video game to become a live action feature film, and, mercifully, much better than the abject failure that was Super Mario Bros.

After a cursory back story explaining who this furry blue alien speedball is and why he’s on earth, director Jeff Fowler gets on with the film’s two narratives, the mismatched buddy one as the lonely Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwarz) accidentally causes a major power outage across the entire Pacific  Northwest that sees him teaming up with Tom Wachowski (James Marsden), the sheriff in small town of Green Hills who wants to move to San Francisco so he can get to save somebody’s life and who, dubbed the Do-Nut Lord, Sonic has been secretly stalking (along with Tom’s veterinarian wife, an underused Tika Sumpter) in order to feel part of a surrogate family. The second is, of course, the pursuit of the hero by the crazy megalomaniac bad guy, here in the form of  cyber-genius Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey in, for once, enjoyably vintage over the top form with black coat  and waxed panto villain moustache) and his drones, sent in by the military to capture the alien source.

All of which, after Tom pops Sonic with a  tranquilizer dart that causes his bag of transporter rings to fall though a portal, means they have to head for San Francisco and recover them, Robotnik on their tail, bonding while checking off Sonic’s bucket list, which includes starting a bar fight with a bunch of bikers.

Lighthearted and hugely enjoyable, it romps along with some pretty decent visual effects and a constant stream of rapid fire quips from Sonic along with amusing in-jokes like him watching Speed on TV and reading Flash comics, as well as a message about the need for human contact. With a coda that promises a sequel that seems likely (and welcomingly) to happen,  this may not be supersonic but it’s infinitely more fun  than anyone could possibly have imagined. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield;  Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

NOW SHOWING

1917 (15)

BAFTA winner for Best Film,  Director and Cinematographer, but with only DP Roger Deakins picking up an Oscar, drawn from stories told by director Sam Mendes’ grandfather, this bravura first world war drama is about two young soldiers ordered to take a message across No Man’s Land and behind enemy lines to call off an attack that, lured into a German trap, can only end in disaster.

It’s been misleadingly touted as being one continuous take, whereas it’s actually a series of very lengthy takes (some shot up to eight times to get it right), seamlessly edited together as a fluid travelling narrative. Lance Corporals, Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay) are woken from their peaceful naps and given the task by their General (Colin Firth) to deliver the order to stand down to Colonel Mackenzie (Benjamin Cumberbatch), the officer in charge, who, believing the Germans are on the retreat, intends to launch an assault, unaware of reconnaissance information revealing a new enemy line manned by heavy artillery. If not prevented, it will result in the massacre of the 1,600 men in his division, among them Blake’s older brother (Richard Madden). And they only have until the following morning to do so. To get there involves them crossing a devastated landscape of mud and ruined buildings, strewn with corpses of men and horses, infested with rats, tangled in barbed wire, littered with fallen trees  and pitted with shell craters, never quite sure as to whether the Germans have all left or not. And much of it must be undertaken in daylight.

At times unbearably tense and punctuated with sudden jolting moments, it grips throughout as the friends navigate through the exposed countryside and booby trapped abandoned enemy trenches (far better equipped than their own, with even the rats bigger), the camera sometimes following, sometimes in front of them, sometimes panning across the horrors that surround them. Without spoiling it too much, suffice to say that, following a  remarkable and agonising scene involving a crashed German plane, ultimately, only one of them makes it to Mackenzie, the perilous trek seeing him shot at by snipers, finding a brief moment of calm with a young Frenchwoman (Claire Duburcq) and a motherless baby (one of several almost surreal moments, another involving cherry trees), having to confront stray enemy soldiers, being swept along in a  raging river and racing across a battlefield under bombardment.

In the early part, it’s almost a two-hander between MacKay and Chapman, the film drawing you into their friendship and fears, but as the journey progresses there are several brief cameos, among them Mark Strong as an officer en route with his men to the bombed out village of Écoust, a staging point on the vital mission, that gives way to the surviving messenger stumbling out into night-time vision of hell.

Driven by a swelling score from Thomas Newman, it never trumpets anything resembling glory in wartime (at one point an officer sarcastically observes “Nothing like a patch of ribbons to cheer up a widow”) and its heroism is very much that of the courage of ordinary men facing extraordinary circumstances, and wishing they were anywhere else. Calling to mind other such war classics as Paths of Glory, War Horse and Saving Private Ryan, it’s poignant (most especially the still scene of a lone soldier singing Wayfaring Stranger to his comrades before they go into battle), tragic, thrilling and horrifying all at the same time, the human waste and needless destruction part of the fabric rather than a pointed agenda. Simply breathtakingly brilliant. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield;  Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Bad Boys For Life (15)

A so so turn in Aladdin aside, Will Smith hasn’t made a truly decent movie since Hancock back in 2008, hardly surprising then to see this reboot of arguably his most successful, though not necessarily best,  work. Directed by little known Belgian duo Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, taking over from Michael Bay (who gets a cheeky cameo), with a screenplay that involved three writers, including od hands Peter Draig and Joe Carnahan, he reteams with Martin Lawrence after 17 years to revive the partnership of apparently incredibly well paid maverick Miami narcotics detectives Mike Lowrey (Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Lawrence), still on the streets bringing down the bad guys, even if a few grey hairs and some added weight are showing.

Mike behind the wheel of his blue Porsche, the film kicks off with they swapping banter during a frantic car chase involving several squad cars and bikes, though amusingly (albeit downright recklessly) not in pursuit of some villains but to get Marcus to the hospital where his grandson (who’s named after him) is being born. It’s an epiphany that sees Burnett decide to retire and put his feet up while Lowrey insists on carrying on (cue comparison scenes of the two friends going about their different daily lives), “running down criminals until I’m a hundred.” But then he’s almost killed in a drive-by shooting by a helmeted man in black on a motorbike, leading Marcus to tell God he’ll give up violence if his buddy pulls through and setting in the motion the core narrative in which recent  prison escapee Mexican witch Isabel Aretas (Kate del Castillo), the widow of a cartel boss, sends her sociopathic  sniper son, Armando (Jacob Scipio), to assassinate everyone involved in the case, leaving Lowrey to last (though he does try and jump the gun), in revenge.

With Marcus now having retired and Mike ordered by the captain (Jo Pantoliano) to get involved, the case is hand over to the newly formed AMMO tactical squad, headed up by one of Lowrey’s old flames, Rita (Paola Núñez), and featuring the regulation mix of one dimensional colourful oddballs, snarky Rafe (Charles Melton), an underused Vanessa Hudgens as ballistics expert Kelly  and  ripped tech guy Dorn (Alexander Ludwig) who has also renounced violence. Naturally, Mike’s not going to sit back and do nothing, so it’s not long before things are getting blown up and the body count rising as they try and track down who’s responsible.

All of this is formulaic stuff, but it’s given a darker, harder and more emotive edge when the somewhat far-fetched third act reveals Mike’s backstory and a connection between those seeking his death that is about more than it first appears. Smith and Lawrence skip comfortably back into their roles and clearly seem to be having fun rather than just taking the paycheque, riffing on the franchise  with constant repeats of their mantra and the theme song. Although most of the target audience were still toddlers when the last instalment came out, there’s no attempt to reinvent anything here, just to reignite the fun and put a little more grit and thought into the fuel. And, as such with the end credits setting up what promises to be an unusual family alliance  sequel, it does just that. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

A Beautiful Day In The Neighbourhood (PG)

Though largely unknown over here, Fred Rogers was a household name as the creator and presenter of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, a children’s television show featuring songs and puppets that ran from  1968 to 2001. A relentlessly genial small screen saint who radiated compassion, kindliness, warmth and humility and never patronised his young viewers, his story was profiled by journalist Tom Junod’s 1998 Esquire cover feature ‘Can you say… hero?’  and it’s this which serves as the jumping off point for director Marielle Heller’s follow-up to her previous true-life drama, Can You Ever Forgive Me? Matthew Rhys plays world-weary and cynical journalist Lloyd Vogel who’s estranged from his boorish alcoholic father, Jerry (Chris Cooper), and his new girlfriend (Wendy Makenna), over his cheating on and abandoning his mother when she was dying, their volatile relationship shown early on in a confrontation at his sister’s wedding, and is unable to be a real father to his own infant son. Although his father apologises and seeks reconciliation, Vogel will have none of it.

Regarding himself as a serious investigative journalist, he baulks when his editor (Christine Lahti) assigns him to go to Pittsburgh and write a profile of Rogers (Tom Hanks) for the magazine’s upcoming Heroes issue. Reluctantly agreeing, on meeting him, Rogers asks how he got the bruise on his eye (during the fight with his dad) and seems genuinely concerned. And, although initially looking to find  some catch to Rogers’ behaviour, some dark flaw in the man, he gradually comes to realise that what you see is what you get and a friendship develops between them as Rogers turns things around and starts questioning Vogel about what’s troubling him, about a  special toy he had called Old Rabbit (cue a dream sequence on the show’s set) and the relationship with his dad,  eventually bringing about a catharsis, self-therapy and a healing as he learns about his father’s ailing health.

As narratives go, it’s a slim and somewhat very predictable one, but, like Hanks, whose soft, mannered speech perfectly captures Rogers’ distinctive unhurried singsong way of talking and his gentle sincerity, it offers a welcome touchy-feely fuzziness in a world where cynicism and scepticism tend to be the default mode; indeed, as Rogers asks Vogel to close his eyes and think of “all the people who loved you into existence” as an act of self-acceptance, Hanks gazes into the lens and the audience are invited to do the same.

Aside from confessing to sometimes banging on the piano to vent frustrations, the film never really looks behind Rogers’ public persona, but you’re left with the sense that there was very little difference to him off-screen. In many ways almost a therapist-patient bromance between the two men, with their respective wives (Maryann Plunkett, Susan Kelechi Watson) supporting players in their stories, the dynamic between the perfectly cast Hanks’s amiability and Rhys’s wounded cynicism is utterly engaging. Unlike Heller’s previous films, this has absolutely no edge and establishing scenes that play out within the miniature modelling look of the show’s set add an almost make-believe touch, but its effect is a soothing balm in a troubled world where the values Rogers espoused and embodied seem to have been forgotten.  (Cineworld 5 Ways; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Birds Of Prey: And The Fantabulous Emancipation Of One Harley Quinn (15)

The latest to give a DC Comics Batman villain their own platform, this puts for shrink turned pasty-faced (with a ‘rotten’ tattoo), pink and blue pig-tailed crazy criminal Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) from the Suicide Squad in the spotlight as a sort of badass poster girl for the #MeToo  movement. And a hyena called Bruce (after Wayne) as a pet. Having broken up with The Joker for the last time (though that doesn’t prevent a continuity gaff in the final stretch restoring the J necklace she discards in the opening), Quinn’s now her own psychowoman, though she’s keeping the split on the hush so she still retains her untouchable status in Gotham,. Albeit not for long. And certainly not after she makes very public display of the rift by blowing up the chemical plant courting spot.  But let’s not ahead of ourselves since the film, directed in her feature debut by Cathy Yan with a  dash of Deadpool’s to camera wall-breaking self-awareness and genre cliché observations, hurtles back and forth along the narrative timeline as its various rage-fuelled women seeking revenge, in some form or another, are introduced. That would be troubled foster kid pickpocket Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), the crossbow-wielding Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, cool astride a motorbike in black leather), promotion-overlooked cop Montoya (Rosie Perez) and Dinah Lance aka Black Canary (Jurnee Smolett-Bell), the hurricane-lunged singer (and subsequent driver after Quinn breaks her predecessor’s leg for falling her dumb, she is, after all, a PhD) for club owner and Gotham crime boss Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor playing it large and even at times seemingly channelling Graham Norton), a psychosadist who doubles as super-villain Black Mask and has a fondness for peeling off people’s faces to send a message. They’re all linked together since Montoya is after Quinn who needs to get to Cain who stole a valuable diamond that Sionis wants to get his hands on which, in turn, has a bloody backstory connected to Huntress, while Canary is Montoya’s inside informant as well as having come to Quinn’s rescue when several of the hundreds of folks with a grievance try to whack her.

Despite the switchbacking, largely between set piece fight scenes and executions, it’s relatively easy to keep track and the film positively rattles along in colourful and noisy manner   drawing the women together in some sort of dysfunctional and violent family although, in keeping the audience on board with the deranged kewpie-doll, it’s only bad guys who get seriously hurt (when Quinn invades the precinct she does so with a fungun that shoots out multi-coloured glitter bombs and concussion pads) as the motley crew of misfits  unleash their pent-up fury in spectacular mayhem to a soundtrack that romps from L7’s Shitlist, Heart’s Barracuda and an update of  Ram Jam’s Black Betty to Smollett-Bell performing It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World, just to reinforce the not so little women reclaiming power feminist message.

While her co-stars undeniably go for it, this is Robbie’s movie, a charismatic force of attitude rampaging through Gotham and taking no shit, rattling off quips and with the hots for bacon, eggs and cheese sandwiches with hot sauce, the coda managing to set up a split into two distinct sequels with Quinn and her new sidekick and the three superheroines Birds of Prey of the title. Unfortunately, the film’s lacklustre box office suggests they won’t take wing. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield;  Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Bombshell (15)

Charlize Theron, Margot Robbie  and Nicole Kidman deliver fabulous turns in director Jay Roach and screenwriter Charles Randolph’s   terrific account of one of the formative moments of the #MeToo movement. Set in 2016, with prosthetic making her look unnervingly like her character, Theron plays Megyn Kelly, one of the then star anchors on Fox News who, along with fellow presenter Gretchen Carlson (Kidman), the host of Fox & Friends (a position she saw a demotion), were responsible for the demise of Roger Ailes (John Lithgow in fat suit), the right wing Fox network boss who, seemingly paternalistic, conducted a systematic campaign of sexual harassment, trading promotion for sexual favours.

Audaciously breaking down the fourth wall, the film opens with Kelly, a former lawyer, offering the viewer a guided tour around, introducing various players and showing the executive offices home to owner Rupert Murdoch (Malcolm McDowell putting in a last act appearance) and his sons Lachlan and Miles, and Ailes’ high security second floor with its private elevator to his lair so his chosen women can come and go unseen. The story itself gets underway with the Fox News-hosted  Republican debate in the 2016 presidential campaign with Kelly’s confrontation with Donald Trump over his misogyny (seamlessly stitching in actual footage)  prompting him to subsequently make a  veiled remark about her menstrual cycle, resulting in even bigger headlines. And yet, at this point, she’s still ready to play nice for the Network and Ailes, going relatively easier on Trump in a subsequent one-to-one interview.

Although it’s later revealed that Kelly’s also been subjected to Ailes lechery and sexual tyranny (he insisted his female presenters wear short skirts and sit behind plexiglass desks that exposed their legs), it’s Carlson who first calls him out, almost inevitably seeing her frozen out by her co-workers, the men especially but also women who, while they may to be victims, aren’t going to risk their careers. Eventually fired, she enlists lawyers to sue not Fox, but Ailes personally in a strategy that is more meticulously planned than it may first appear. However, to succeed, she needs other women to come forward. Which, when someone like Jeanine Pirro (Alanna Ubach) is demanding everyone be on Team Roger, might prove hard.

The third player in the events is Kayla Pospisil (Robbie), a fictional composite character, who, arriving at the network as a naive but ambitious  Christian millennial initially works alongside Carlson but swiftly engineers a move to Bill O’Reilly’s (Kevin Dorff) Fox News team, mentored by Jess (Kate McKinnon), a closet lesbian (and even more closet Hillary Clinton supporter) while, looking to move up the ladder and on-air, getting in with Ailes’ personal assistant  (Holland Taylor), wheedling an ‘audition’ with the big man and discovering what it will take – euphemistic ‘loyalty’ – behind closed to open the doors she wants. The scene as he asks her to keep lifting her skirt a little higher is genuinely horrific.

As the ball gathers speed, all three women will eventually come together in a united crusade, that ultimately resulted in Murdoch sacrificing Ailes to save the network (though notably his pay-off was far greater than the compensation paid to the women), but not without a cost to themselves.

With a supporting cast that also includes Mark Duplass as Kelly’s husband and Allison Janney in terrific form as Ailes’ ferocious lawyer, Susan Estrich and Connie Britton as his wife, the film freewheels along balancing gripping drama and sharp humour to masterful effect and while its three  female leads are outstanding in the emotional shadings they bring to their characters, Lithgow also deserves special mention for making Ailes both terrifyingly corrupt and pathetically human just as the women are often guilty of self-interest and selfishness, underlining the observation of how such toxic environment cannot thrive without a degree of complicity. As the title suggests, this is explosive. (MAC)

Dolittle (PG)

On the shelf for two years following troubled production, poor testing and subsequent reshoots by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles director Jonathan Liebesman, helmed by Stephen Gaghan, this messy latest venture  for author Hugh Lofting’s vet with the power to speak to animals did little at the box office and is already lining up as one of the year’s biggest flops. Back in 1967, the first adaptation, as a musical saw Rex Harrison in the title role and was nominated for nine Oscars, then thirty years later Eddie Murphy starred in two modern and manic versions. Now, restored to Victorian times, Avengers star Robert Downey Jr swaps technology for zoology but unfortunately opts to ham it to excess with an accent that wanders between mangled Welsh and the unidentifiable, the film itself an ungainly charmless mess punctuated with fart jokes lines about dogs sniffing bottoms and animals spouting such highly anachronistic dialogue as ‘bro’,  ‘code red’ and ‘snitches get stitches’, though admittedly a Godfather gag is amusing, even if the reference to Chris Tucker in Rush Hour isn’t.

Having withdrawn from human society following the death of his wife  Lily while she was off on an adventure, Dolittle is holed up in the palatial English sanctuary gifted him by the queen, his only companions being his menagerie of animals, along them Poly the macaw (Emma Thompson), scaredy cat gorilla Chee-Chee (Rami Malek), hip polar bear Yoshi (John Cena) and bespectacled dog Jip (Tom Holland). However, his hermit-like world is shattered with the arrival of, first, young Tommy Stubbins (Harry Collett) with a squirrel he accidentally shot and who determines to become his apprentice and then the tweenage Lady Rose (Carmel Laniado) who has been sent by her mother, the sick queen (Jessie Buckley who basically has little to do but lie in bed), to enlist his aid. Told that if she dies, he’ll lose the sanctuary, he ditches the very fake-looking straggly beard, dutifully sets off (on an protesting ostrich) to the palace and discovers the queen has been poisoned and the only remedy involves voyaging to an unknown island to fetch the legendary fruit of the Eden Tree, the same adventure that took his wife’s life. Fortunately, she left a journal, but that means he, Tommy and the animals have to steal it from her grieving father, King Rassouli (Antonio Banderas), who’s not best pleased to have his son-in-law turn up again. On top of which, the crooked Lord Thomas Badgley (a coasting Jim Broadbent), who’s secretly poisoning the queen, has sent Dolittle’s arch rival, palace doctor Dr. Blair Müdfly (Michael Sheen in panto villain mode), to ensure he never returns.

Along with voice cameos by Marion Cotillard and Selena Gomez) as, respectively,a  fox and a giraffe, there’s assorted  encounters and adventures at sea and on land, variously involving whales, a grieving dragon (Frances de la Tour) needing an enema and a tiger (Ralph Fiennes) with a grudge, accompanied by frequent doses of ungainly and largely unfunny slapstick. There’s some positive messages about dealing with grief and anxiety and about being kind to animals and opening up to others and kids will probably giggle over the flatulence jokes, but, between shaky CGI, limited character development and an exhaustingly frantic pace, this Dolittle ultimately Does Little to entertain. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield;  Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Frozen II (U)

Let’s say this from the start, neither the film nor the songs are a patch on the original. Show Yourself seem destined to be  favourite, but it’s no Let it Go. Set three years on, Elsa (Idina Menzel), still romantically unattached,  now rules Arendell,  snowman Olaf (Josh Gad) is now all permafrost and the hunky but still somewhat oafish Kristoff is trying to summon up courage to propose to the apparently insecure Anna (Kristen Bell). Not that you need reminding, but Elsa’s the one with the magic ice powers. However, why her? That’s the engine that drives the narrative, the film opening with a childhood flashback as their now late parents, King Agnarr (Alfred Molina) and Queen Iduna (Evan Rachel Wood),  tell them a bedtime story about  Ahtohalla, an enchanted forest to the north, ruled by the spirits of  earth, air, fire and water and how, 34 years earlier, their grandfather sought to forge a pact with the indigenous Northuldra, building a dam to hold back the sacred river mentioned in mum’s lullaby, only for hostilities to inexplicably break out, leading the forest and its inhabitants to be imprisoned by a wall of mist, but not before the young Agnarr was rescued by a girl from the tribe.

Now, the grown Elsa is hearing a voice calling her, so she determines to set off, as the other vaguely memorable song puts it, Into The Unknown, accompanied, naturally by Anna, Olaf, Kristoff and Sven the reindeer. As such, it’s a sort of origin story, though the revelations are unlikely to come as much of a surprise to any alert six year old, while getting there and learning the truth of what happened, albeit  featuring  a cute flaming salamander and a water horse, is something of a plodding and slightly incohesive affair, punctuated by a running gag about Kristoff’s failed attempts to propose.

The first film’s theme of finding yourself gets a retread, this time in the context of growing up and transitions (indeed, Olaf sings When I Am Older and philosophises on impermanence and the core cast warble how Some Things Never Change) and characters find themselves in mortal peril in protecting others (it flirts with darkness but  anything bad that happens ultimately unhappens), but it’s not until the final act that the thing really catches fire.  The animation is, of course, first rate, especially the scenes underwater, the characters remain likeable and  the mix of sentiment, action and humour is about right (though Anna’s remark about preferring Kristoff in leather was probably not intended to be as kinky as it sounds), but, when, at the end,  someone asks Elsa if they’re going to lead them into any more dangers, you kind of hope Disney means it when she says no. It’s been cool, but the thaw is setting in. (Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

The Gentlemen (18)

Having played nice for the family with the live action Aladdin, Guy Ritchie returns to his Lock  Stock mockney roots for  a swaggeringly stylised and convolutedly plotted London gangster  action comedy with a surprisingly low body count but a through the roof tally of four letter expletives, mostly C bombs.

It’s largely told in flashback via a duologue between  sleazy, goateed  and camp tabloid private eye Fletcher (Hugh Grant on top form, relishing the irony) and the softly spoken Raymond (Charlie Hunnam) as he offers to bury all the damning evidence he’s acquired for an expose of his Oxford educated, marijuana magnate American boss, Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey in smirk mode), for £20 million.  The basic plot is that, looking to retire, Mickey wants to sell his business (a nationwide empire built through deals with financially impoverished British aristocrats to use their estates as cannabis farms) to well-connected would-be buyer, Jewish-American billionaire Matthew Berger (Jeremy Strong) for£400 million. But ambitious Chinese rival Dry Eye (Henry Golding) wants to take control and, as such, the narrative power play jockeys back and forth across assorted time jumps for a steady stream of new twists, revelations, misdirections, double crosses and set-ups, with a colourful cast of characters that include junkies, assorted musclemen, a rapping crew of boxers, Chinese drug lords, teenage thugs with cameraphones and Russians with Eddie Marsan as the newspaper editor with a personal vendetta against Mickey, Colin Farrell in a plaid tracksuit as the handy with his fists Irish club boxing coach and Michelle Dockery as Rosalind, Mickey’s Essex ice queen who runs a chop shop business.

Ritchie packs it full of self-referential film jokes, from Fletcher pitching his story as a screenplay for a movie called Bush shot old school on 35mm to allusions to Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation and London gangster classic, The Long Good Friday as well as a poster for  Ritchie’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E. on an office wall inside Miramax, the film’s distributor. It rattles anecdotedly along, constantly shooting off knowing witticisms and  mannered dialogue, backdropped in Tarantino fashion by a cool soundtrack.  “If you wish to be the king of the jungle, it’s not enough to act like the king, you must be the king”, observes McConaughey. Ritchie has come back for the crown.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

The Grudge (15)

Originating in Japan in 2002 in the stream of J-horror movies that followed in the wake of The Ring, writer-director Takashi Shimizu’s film concerned a cursed house possessed by rage-filled spirits who bring about the death of any who enter. He himself helmed the 2004 American remake which was followed by a sequel two years later. Now  arthouse director Nicolas Pesce presents a second remake which, while opening in Tokyo, shifts events to America as, in the film’s creepiest moment involving an arm reaching out of a white plastic trash bag, Fiona Landers (Tara Westwood) leaves Japan and returns home to 44 Reyburn Drive, in Cross River, Pennsylvania, unwittingly taking the curse with her, where she proceeded to brutally murder her husband and young daughter before killing herself, thereby transferring the curse to their house.

In due course, this is inflicted on estate agent Peter Spencer (John Cho) and his wife (Nina Spencer), elderly occupants Faith (Lin Shaye) and husband William (Frankie Faison), Lorna Moody (Jacqi Weaver), the assisted suicide specialist he asks to help his demented wife, and even one of the detectives (William Sadler) investigating the Landers killings. Thrown into this is recently widowed, and newly arrived with a young son, Detective Muldoon (Andrea Riseborough) who is taken along by fellow cop Goodman (Demien Bichir) when a car is discovered in the woods containing Moody’s long decayed body.

Discovering the link to Reyburn Drive and the previous deaths, and intrigued that Goodman refuses to enter and wants her to drop the case, she duly goes along and finds Faith in the process of some serious self-mutilation and a rotting corpse in another room.  Of course, now Muldoon too is a target of the curse and it’s not long before she starts seeing ghostly figures.

Shifting across three different time periods in a not always easy to follow manner, it makes it clear that the curse draws on the characters’ feelings of grief, sadness and anger at the cards they’ve been dealt (the Spencers’ story is, perhaps, the hardest to bear) to manifest the hauntings, but never really capitalises on this. Riseborough is far better than the material deserves and Pesce does deliver some icy shivers (usually involving the appearance of the murdered girl in a pool of blood) among the generic jump moments and such series’ trademarks as guttural croaks and inexplicably wet figures with blacked out eyes, but ultimately, ponderously along, it’s more unsettling that scary, the real grudge being that of audiences who shelled out to see it. (Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Jojo Rabbit (12A)

Making a satirical comedy about Nazi Germany isn’t easy, Chaplin pulled it off with The Great Dictator as did Mel Brooks in The Producers, whereas, Oscars notwithstanding, Roberto Benigni’s Life Is Beautiful was squirm-inducing schmaltz. Now, following up on Thor:Ragnorak,  writer-director Taika Watiti throws his hat into the Third Reich ring and,  taking  from Christine Leunens’s decidedly serious novel Caging Skies, comes up trumps with an audaciously absurd Oscar winning Best Adapted Screenplay coming of age tale of a young member of the Hitler Youth whose imaginary friend is none other than Adolf himself.

Set in a small German town in the last year of the war, ten-year-old Jojo Betzler (winning newcomer Roman Griffin Davis), so nicknamed because he wouldn’t bring himself to bill a bunny during a youth camp exercise, really wants to be an exemplary fascist but, despite encouragement from his petulant fantasy Führer  (cartoonishly played with relish by Watiti channelling Michael Palin with a stream of hipster anachronisms) whenever he needs counselling, when it comes down to the wire, his heart’s just not in it. An unfortunate face-scarring accident with a grenade and at the insistence of his mother Rosie (nicely underplayed Scarlett Johannsen), means he’s now relegated to carrying out postman duties for the swaggering one-eyed gay squad commander, Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell) whose psychotic underlings include Rebel Wilson and Alfie Allen, while his bespectacled chubby best friend, Yorki (Archie Yates) gets to play proper soldiers.

Humiliation, however, soon becomes the least of his worries as the film takes a turn into Anne Frank territory when he discovers his mother, who’s less a fan of the Fatherland than he is,  is hiding Elsa Korr (Thomasin McKenzie, the film’s calm, measured centre),  a Jewish girl, in a secret compartment in their attic. When she warns that turning her in will mean both her and his mother’s death, instead he decides to hang out and learn more about Jews from the source, compiling a notebook and sketches  to answer such pressing questions as “Where does the queen Jew lay the eggs?”  Inevitably, a friendship begins to form as she tells him he’s not a Nazi, just “a 10-year-old boy who likes dressing up in a funny uniform” and he comes to understand the lies he’s been fed (Jews have scales and horns) and the suffering that’s been inflicted.

Opening with documentary clips of World War II Germany accompanied by the Beatles’ German-language version of I Want to Hold Your Hand (Bowie’s Helden also features), at times calling to mind   Wes Anderson, Chris Morris and Armando Iannucci, Watiti underscores his ridiculing of anti-Semitism through absurdist off-beat humour while playing the film’s Nazis, as epitomised by Klenzendorf, as buffoons, although he does upend the caricature and clowning with sympathy in unexpected ways. Which isn’t to say, there isn’t also an air of chilling threat, manifested in the parodic portrayal of the black clad Sieg Heiling Gestapo (headed up by an unctuous Stephen Merchant) who descend on Jojo’ house while, pivoting on a pair of shoes, things suddenly switch from hilarity to gut punch horror as the tone shifts in a heartbeat.

Clearly designed to strike a timely chord with the disturbing rise of neo-Nazism, it’s a provocative anti-hate dark satire with heart, humanity, hilarity and, in its moving final moments, hope. Not to mention an hysterical German Shepherd gag. (Cineworld 5 Ways; Odeon Birmingham)

Jumanji: The Next Level (12A)

The gang’s all back when, set some time after the last film, they get together to celebrate Bethany’s (Madison Iseman) return from her study abroad and Spencer (Alex Wolff) never shows. Going to his uncle’s house, they discover he’s gone back into Jumanji and decide to follow and rescue him. The drums start pounding, but this time their avatars get all mixed up. Insecure Martha (Morgan Turner), whose relationship with Spencer has hit a speed bump, is still Lara Croft-like Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan), but high school sports star Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain) is now zoologist Professor Sheldon Oberon (Jack Black) and, instead of Spencer, Dr Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson) is now his infirm cranky uncle Eddie (Danny DeVito) whose estranged best friend and former restaurant partner Milo (Danny Glover) is backpack man Mouse (Kevin Hart). And Bethany’s not there at all.

Greeted as before by game host Nigel (Rhys Darby), they learn that this time they have to save Jumanji from Jurgen the Brutal (Rory McGann), a warlord who killed Bravestone’s parents and has stolen a precious stone, and unless it is again exposed to the sun, Jumanji and its people are doomed.

In many ways this serves up much the same as before with the cast  sending themselves up (such as Bravestone’s habit of breaking out into smouldering intensity), but now Johnson and Hart also get to channel DeVito and Glover who are delighted at the new lease of life (and, for the former, sexy lover) their avatars have given them.

Again directed by Jake Kasden, it romps along through a series of  set pieces, including a floating rope bridges encounter with a horde of angry mandrills and a desert chase pursued by a flock of ostriches before they arrive at Jurgen’s fortress, all down to their last life, during which further amusing avatar swaps occur (notably between Ruby and Sheldon), including the introduction of lockpicking Ming (Awkafeena), a whole new character,  and Bethany finally puts in a  very unexpected appearance along with Alex (Colin Hanks), the man they rescued last time round.

It takes a while to find its feet and it can be a bit shouty (Black, naturally), but once in the swing it romps along in hugely entertaining fashion and make sure you hang around for when, having all declared they’ll never go back, a mid-credits scene suggests that, for the next sequel, they won’t have to.  (Cineworld NEC; Odeon West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City; From Mon: MAC)

Just Mercy (12A)

Another drama based on real life events, director Destin Daniel Cretton delivers a film that may well be formulaic biopic in its story of the pursuit of justice in the face of prejudice, but is also stirringly inspirational.

In 1985, Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan), a recently Harvard graduated black lawyer, moved to Alabama to head up the regional office of the Southern Center for Human Rights where, working alongside  paralegal Eva Ansley (Brie Larson), he founded the non-profit Equal Justice Initiative which  guaranteed  defence of anyone in Alabama sentenced to the death penalty, the only state that did not provide legal assistance to death row inmates and also having the highest per capita rate of death penalty sentencing.

Ironically unfolding in Monroeville, the home of Harper Lee, whose To Kill A Mockingbird, was a legal drama about race and justice in the Jim Crow South (Stevenson being often advised to visit the museum), one of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx), known as Johnny D,  the owner of his own logging company with no prior records who, in 1987 was arrested by newly elected sheriff Tom Tate for the murder of  Ronda Harrison, a teenage dry cleaning assistant, and, despite having been at a fish fry at the time of the incident and with no physical evidence was convicted on the word of two compromised witnesses and sentenced to death. He was even placed on Death Row before his trial to get a ‘taste’.

While the film tells a parallel story of Stevenson’s unsuccessful attempt to gain a reprieve for Herbert Richardson (Rob Morgan, superb), an army veteran who was electrocuted for unintentionally killing a young girl with a nail bomb while suffering from PTSD, it’s Willie’s case that is the central focus as Stevenson battles the inflexible new DA, Tommy Champan (Rafe Spall) who refused to grand a new trial, arguing Macmillian’s guilt despite a confession from the only witness, convicted criminal Ralph Myers (Tim Blake Nelson), who was moved off Death Row after he testified, that he had, under pressure from the police, invented his entire story.

Based on Stevenson’s best-selling account of the case, it burns with righteous anger as the extent of the perversion of justice in exposed while Stevenson himself is subjected to harassment by the police bomb threats and even a strip search when he first visits prison to meet his clients.  While there are, inevitably, rousing big speeches, much is also conveyed through simple looks, Foxx and Jordan both giving their strongest performances in a while as despair slowly finds a glimmer of hope, only to be rocked by an unbelievable court ruling, while Larson makes the most of an underwritten role. Alongside Nelson weaselling felon and Spall’s morally conflicted DA, there solid support turns too from O’Shea Jackson and Rob Morgan as Willie’s fellow inmates. It’s not a subtle film and some of the dialogue could have been written with a chisel, but as social justice crowdpleaser it’s a soaring triumph. (Cineworld 5 Ways; Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe)

The Lighthouse (15)

Shot in stark black and white, strikingly captured by Jarin Blaschke’s cinematography, writer-director Robin Eggars’ follow-up to his period horror The Witch is an altogether far more existential and expressionist affair, a two hander starring Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson set in a 19th-century Maine lighthouse that has been not unreasonably described as Beckett’s Waiting For Godot with a lot more swearing and some added mermaid sex.

Dafoe is Tom Wake, the grizzled, limping old seadog veteran ‘wickie’ of the lighthouse, the flexibly-accented Pattison the less-bearded rookie Ephraim Winslow who, new to the job after lumberjacking in Canada, is replacing the former assistant who reportedly went mad and died. If he did, it’s understandable given that Wake has a hair-trigger personality that switches from jocularity to despotic in an instant, not something that bodes well for the month the men have to spend together. He also claims access to the light itself as his personal province, refusing Winslow to venture any higher than the mechanisms he has to keep clean and oiled.  When not doing that his menial duties entail carrying up the coal, collecting firewood, emptying the chamberpots, and whitewashing the tower.

Variously drawing on influences such as Coleridge, Herman Melville, German expressionist cinema,  Shakespeare and the writings of writings New England poet Sarah Orne Jewett, it’s a challenging but compelling affair as the two men circle each other in a toxic and homo-erotic dance of masculinity and power, drunk on kerosene when the booze runs out,  the gloweringly resentful Winslow having harrowing nightmares, furiously masturbating in the engine room to an ivory mermaid figure, and hallucinating sex with an actual mermaid and hauling up lobster pots containing drowned heads. Overwhelmed with rage, Winslow’s smashes hell out of an unfortunate seagull, which as anyone who knows their sea lore will anticipate, means he unleashes damnation itself.

Highly theatrical, oppressively claustrophobic (it’s show in the square-like 1.19:1 aspect ratio) and psychologically terrifying, it’s decidedly more art house territory than Eggars’ previous film but the experience is well worth the challenges it presents. (Cineworld 5 Ways; Electric; MAC)

Little Women (U)

Louis May Allcott’s evergreen 19th century novel gets another rework as a coming of age dramady at the hands of  Lady Bird director Greta Gerwig. Set during and after the American Civil War, it tells of the four March sisters, the eldest, family beauty Meg (Emma Watson), independent-minded aspiring writer Jo (Saoirse Ronan), petulant Amy (Florence Pugh) and  piano-playing Beth (Eliza Scanlen), as they search to find their identities. Here, Jo is already tutoring in New York and working on becoming an author, hot-headed Amy is in Paris studying painting and acting as companion to her cantankerous, imperious spinster aunt (Meryl Streep) who’s attempting to steer her into  the marriage market, Meg has given up acting ambitions and is married to impoverished schoolteacher John Brooke (James Norton) with two kids, and Beth, the youngest, well, she’s the sickly tragic one. Laura Dern is quietly excellent as their mother, Marmie,  trying to cope in reduced circumstances with her abolitionist husband (Bob Odenkirk) away at war serving as a chaplain, and Timothee Chalamet (who starred with Ronan in Lady Bird) is puckish, childhood friend Laurie who, living a dissolute life having fled to Europe heartbroken  when Jo rejected his proposal, may well still be a flame in Amy’s heart, except, of course, she’s resentful of being second best to Jo.  Meanwhile,  Friedrich Bhaer, the German academic and Jo’s fatherly mentor in  has been reinvented as a considerably younger French language professor romantic interest (Louis Garrel), although his forthright opinions on her work don’t get things off to a promising start,  while Chris Cooper is perfectly cast as the family neighbour,  Laurie’s grandfather, who takes a fatherly interest in Beth.

Its feminist note is struck early one as Jo negotiates the anonymous publication of one of her – or rather’ ‘a friend’s’ stories with Mr. Dashwood (Tracy Letts), editor of the Weekly Volcano, who advises that, if she has a heroine then she has to be married at the end, or dead, opting to retain her own copyright and haggling over the fee. The film’s title, of course, refers to the quasi autobiographical novel about her and her family’s life, one of sibling rivalry (including a particularly vindictive act by Amy) and romantic and health crises, and the scene of Jo watching it being assembled and printed is a wonderful reminder of  an almost lost art.

 

It’s all a bit overly busy early on and the constant switching between past and present can prove confusing, but it eventually settles down, it looks terrific, the performances are uniformly excellent, with Ronan and Pugh especially brilliant, and staying true to the book’s knowing  compromise of a happy ending while simultaneously celebrating female empowerment this is destined to become a modern classic. (Cineworld Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Showcase Walsall)

Parasite (15)

BAFTA winner for Best Foreign Language and Screenplay and now the first non-English language film to win  a Best Picture Oscar as well as scooping Best Director, Forein Language and Screenplay awards, this is a tour de force social satire by South Korean writer-director Bong Joon Ho and his outstanding cast. Evocative of the Japanese family in Shoplifters, this focuses on a morally and financially bankrupt  but resourceful Seoul family who live in a  squalid semi-basement apartment where the toilet, the only place they can get wi-fi, leached from the neighbours, sits atop of shelf and drunks piss up against their only window. There’s Kim Ki-woo (Choi Woo-sik), his dissolute father Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho), tetchy mother Chung-sook (Chang Hyae-jin) and smart sister, Ki-jung (Park So-dam), all of whom earn a  pittance folding pizza delivery boxes.

However, their prospects look up when Ki-woo’s university friend says he’s going abroad and, since he trusts him not to ruin his romantic intentions (a trust very quickly betrayed), suggests he takes over as tutor to his naïve but horny student Da-hye (Jung Ziso), the daughter of wealthy executive, Mr. Park (Lee Sun-kyun), and his attractive but ‘scatterbrained wife Yeon-kyo (Cho Yeo-jeong). With a university diploma forged by his sister (justifying it as receiving the paperwork  in advance of actually studying) and a backstory, he quickly suckers his way into the household, impressing the wife with his ‘analysis’ of her traumatised hyper-active, “Indians”-obsessed young son Da-song’s (Jung Hyeon-jun) drawings. Indeed, he also suggests he knows an art teacher who could act as his the kid’s art therapist, his sister, naturally. Before long, taking advantages of the Parks’ social prejudices (the father bangs on about the servants not crossing the line), the family have managed to engineer the dismissal of both their driver and the long-serving loyal live in housekeeper Moon-gwang (Lee Jung-eun) with an unusual and exploitable allergy, substituting the father and mother in their respective positions, the Parks blissfully unaware that they’re all related.

Despite having to navigate a few issues, notably the young son wondering why the new employees all smell the same (from using the same soap), it’s all going swimmingly, the whole family making themselves at home as cuckoos in the nest in the palatial glass and rock mansion with  its food and drink, even contemplating Kim-woo becoming the son-in-law, while the Parks are off on a camping trip, when a ring at the door,  the reappearance of the housekeeper and the revelation of a secret basement and the secret within it suddenly and brilliantly switches the film’s tone from farcical levity (hiding under tables while the Parks screw on the couch)  to pitch blackness and unbearable suspense, culminating in an unexpected climax of carnage. And then there’s the torrential rain serving as both a foreboding of disaster and, in a stunning overhead shot of the flooded streets by cinematographer Hong Kyung-pyo, the physical manifestation of such.

In both script and design, the satire on the gulf in class divisions and the social system is clear, but there’s much more lurking under the film’s surface as Bong questions his audience as to who is the more deserving of sympathy, the Parks are snobs but not especially horrible, and whether the means justify the ends or if the ends are a punishment of the means. Quite gobsmackingly awesome.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park;  Everyman; Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

The Personal History Of David Copperfield (PG)

After the BBC’s sweary adaptation of A Christmas Carol, director Armando Iannucci’s take on Dickens’ sprawling class-themed picaresque classic comes as a true joy. While not entirely faithful to the original in its narrative, such is the exuberant joy and good humour, even in its darker moments, that it’s close enough not to quibble over the fate of assorted characters. On top of which, it adopts colourblind casting without making a fuss about it, such that the older David is played with puppy dog charm by the wonderful Dev Patel while several other characters, including Agnes (Rosalind Eleazar), the daughter of his forever sozzled landlord, Mr Wickfield (Benedict Wong), his aunt’s lawyer, who’s secretly in love with him, star racially diverse actors.

The story is framed by David presenting his life story in a  theatre, the hero of his own tale, and the film has a lot do with the art of storytelling, often appearing as an adult observing flashbacks to his younger self (Ranveer Jaiswal). He even races to Blunderstone Rookery to see himself born. Following his journey to find where he fits in, who he is and, jotting down his thoughts and people’s sayings, becoming a nascent author along the way, the film’s populated with an array of larger than life characters. On the upbeat side, there’s such  eccentrics as the kindly houseboat-dwelling housekeeper Peggotty (Daisy May Cooper) and her husband (Paul Whitehouse) who care for their ‘niece’ Emily (Aimée Kelly) and ‘nephew’ Ham (Anthony Welch) , the permanently debt-ridden Mr. Micawber (Peter Capaldi in knowingly broad form) forever trying to escape his creditors, temperamental donkey-hating aunt benefactor Betsey Trotwood (the marvellously comic Tilda Swinton), her slightly deranged cousin Mr. Dick (Hugh Laurie) who believes all of Charles I’s troubled thoughts now occupy his mind, and future wife Dora (Morfydd Clark, who also, following comparisons in the novel, plays David’s mother) as the wholly incompatible bubble-brained daughter of his employer, with whom he falls in love, though, in a nice touch,  her fate in the novel is quite literally rewritten out of the story. On the other side of the fence there’s his cruel stepfather Murdstone (Darren Boyd), who, abetted by his loathsome sister (Gwendoline Christie), beats him and send him to work in a  bottle factory, Steerforth (Aneurin Barnard), the snobbish student friend (whose black mother’s played by Nikki Amuka-Bird) who betrays his trust in seducing Emily, who’s engaged to Ham, and Wickfield’s obsequious and ambitious clerk Uriah Heep (a creepily unctuous Ben Wishaw in a bowl cut) who wheedles his way up the class ladder he despises.

Fizzingly delivered with a delightful sense of whimsy (not least having giant hands intrude into one of the scenes) and many laugh-out-loud moments, with David variously referred to as Trot, Daisy and Doady by different characters, this is an absolute joy that both softens Iannucci’s more familiar acerbic comedy and brings out the novel’s often overlooked humour And, if they ever decide to turn  the Dexy’s Midnight Runners story into a film, the sight of him shooing off a donkey suggests Patel is a shoo-in for Eileen-era Kevin Rowland. (Cineworld 5 Ways, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Mockingbird; Showcase Walsall)

Queen & Slim (15)

Driving back from a mismatched Tinder date that hasn’t gone as well as it might, though they’re never referred to as such throughout,  Slim,  god-fearing, teetotal blue collar employee Ernest (Get Out’s Daniel Kaluuya) and Queen (a starmaking turn by Jodie Turner-Smith), Angela, an upscale atheist defence lawyer with commitment issues, are pulled over by a clearly racist trigger-happy Ohio cop (Sturgill Simpson), resulting in Queen being wounded and Slim accidentally shooting the officer dead. With apparently no witnesses, realising two blacks involved in a cop killing aren’t going to get justice, she insists they drive off, refusing to let him call anyone or take her to hospital. But when a dashcam video of the incident goes viral they’re forced on the run, heading to Kentucky and from there to Florida, and are quickly dubbed the black Bonnie and Clyde, although Thelma and Louise would be a better analogy (substituting sexism for bigotry), forced the change their appearance (she ruefully shaving off her braids) and becoming folk heroes among the black community who variously conceal them and enable their journey. Among these are her Uncle Earl (Bokeem Woodbine), a New Orleans pimp who lords it over a harem of scantily-clad but sexually powerful women, a mechanic (Gralen Bryant Banks), his young son Junior (Jahi Di’Allo Winston) who seeks to emulate his outlaw heroes with tragic results, and a liberal white couple (Flea and Chloë Sevigny).

Barely friend at the start, the couple’s relationship develops into something more over the course of their odyssey as they live life to the fullest, video director Malina Matsoukas making her feature debut variously offering comedy (a white store clerk in awe of the Glock Slim’s carrying), tenderness in a juke joint drink and a dance, hope, crushing betrayal and, because the film really has nowhere else to go, the inevitable jarring but inspirational martyrdom ending. Vividly photographed by Tat Radcliffe and with a script by Lena Waithe, the couple’s story serves as emblematic of the Black experience in white America, the latter’s oppression and the former’s sense of community and pride.

Stretched over an episodic 132 minutes, it’s structurally far from perfect, with long aerial montages of cars on roads, little character development, overegged symbolism, a sketchy supporting cast and perhaps too few moments when the emotion truly hits home despite the leads’ powerful chemistry, but the cumulative effect is transfixing.  (Cineworld 5 Ways; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Underwater (15)

Shot three years ago and part of the waterlogged baggage acquired by Disney when the bought 20th Century Fox, basically an underwater retread of Alien this is yet another good reason why Kristen Stewart should consider changing her agent.   Here, sporting cropped blonde hair, she’s Norah, an engineer with a deep sea drilling facility seven miles below the surface which, as the film opens with her brushing her teeth, suffers a rupture that has water flooding in and things blowing up, leaving just her, stoical Captain Lucien (Vincent Cassel), nervous Rodrigo (Mamoudou Athie), lovestruck dad Smith (John Gallagher Jr), scared rookie Emily (Jessica Henwick), and wiseass Paul (TJ Miller) as the only survivors.

That number’s quickly whittled down to just five as Lucien determines the only way to escape is to walk across the ocean bed in their cumbersome diving suits to a neighbouring station. In complete darkness, with limited oxygen, malfunctioning equipment, surrounded by debris and, as it soon transpires, been hunted by some mutant form of sea creatures.

The design of the destruction is impressive and the cast, Stewart especially, do their best with the rote material, looking to bring some sort of emotional depth, but surmounting the lack of any developed relationships or fully dimensional characters is a near impossible task. That pretty much all of the film is blanketed in darkness doesn’t help in following what’s going on or building much suspense, even when the translucent creatures suddenly appear in their searchlights and any message about disturbing things that should be best left alone is drowned in the end credit cover-up news reports in which the announcement of a new project suggests that somehow the filmmakers actually thought there might be sequel potential. (Cineworld NEC; Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

 

 

Screenings courtesy of  Odeon and Cineworld

CINEMAS

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

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here