Book Club (12A)
Just when you thought you’d seen the last of Fifty Shades of Grey on the big screen, along comes this senior citizens self-discovery romcom in which E.L. James’ trashy trilogy provides the product placement narrative engine.
Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen and Jane Fonda are, respectively, recently widowed (though the marriage died much earlier) Diane, Sharon, a divorced federal judge whose ex (Ed Begley Jr.) is marrying a much younger bimbo (Mircea Monroe), chef Carol, whose newly retired husband, Bruce (Craig T Nelson), has lost his sexual drive, and hotelier Vivian, a sexually active never married singleton with commitment issues. It’s the latter who introduces James’ novels to their wine-fuelled monthly Los Angeles book club (which began in the 70s with another sexual revolution handbook, Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying) in an attempt to inject a little spice into everyone’s lives, if only vicariously. She’s also thrown a curve when high-flyer Arthur (Don Johnson, a movie in-joke since his daughter Dakota played Anastasia Steele), an old boyfriend she’s not seen in 40 years after walking away from his proposal, turns up the hotel, clearly keen to resume the relationship.
Having set this up, the film flits between the four upscale suburban friends as, inspired by the reading matter, they each look to embrace a new life or fix the one they have. Diane, whose two bossy, overprotective adult daughters (Alicia Silverstone, Katie Aselton) want her to relocate and live with one of them in Arizona, meets cute with charming airline pilot Mitchell (Andy Garcia), Sharon embarks on on-line dating (hooking up with Wallace Shawn and Richard Dreyfuss), Vivian finds herself wondering if maybe she could settle with Arthur and Carol slips Bruce Viagra, with amusingly unfortunate consequences and a confessional catharsis that puts the kybosh on the dance routine they’re supposed to be performing at a charity talent show.
Directed with a workmanlike hand by co-writer Bill Holderman, although there is a smattering of funny one-liners wrapped up in its celebration of older women and that romance and sex shouldn’t end with the menopause, it succeeds solely on account of the sparkling performance by the four leads who, although the dryly amusing Bergen, who delivers a wistfully affective final monologue, arguably, comes out best, all effortlessly balance comedy and poignancy, even if Keaton’s character does channel a fair degree of Annie Hall, right down to the beret. It’s superficial fluff that largely sidesteps any connection with reality, but it’s still hugely enjoyable fun. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
The Young Karl Marx (12A)
Having garnered an Oscar nomination for his I Am Not Your Negro, Haitian director Raoul Peck turns his hand to the biopic genre with this period drama account of the formative years of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels that saw the birth of communism in the mid-19th century. If that sounds rather dry and dull, while there is indeed a lot of talk of philosophy and politics, the film has, a propulsive energy, largely down to the central performances, as well as humour and human interest.
The partnership that could create the Communist Manifesto gets off to a prickly start as, always ready for an argument, Marx (August Diehl), living a hand to mouth existence with his aristocracy drop-out wife Jenny (Vicky Krieps ) takes exception to Engels (Stefan Konarske), the dandyish son of a Manchester-based mill-owner, pontificating on the class struggle. However, Karl a fan of the latter’s book about the English working class and Freidrich, himself married to Mary Burns (Hannah Steele), a fiery Irish millworker sacked by his father, an admirer of Marx’s thinking, the two wind up bosom buddies in a mutual quest to overthrow exploitative capitalism and replace it with a socialist brotherhood, a mood fuelled by philosopher Pierre Proudhon (Olivier Gourmet) and the League of the Just which would, in turn, under the duo’s influence, become the Communist League.
Globetrotting between Brussels, London, Paris and Manchester, with abstract theories being challenged by social realities, it follows a steady and largely unvaried pace, punctuated by assorted vicissitudes in the pair’s personal and political lives, dropping in familiar soundbite Marxist phrases along the way, a particularly notable scene being when Marx confronts an industrialist friend of Engels’ father with the thorny question of child labour and the “relations of production”. You do, of course, need to have an interest in the subject matter, but even those who can’t recite Das Kapital off the top of their heads, might find something to enjoy in this involving tale of politics and friendship. (MAC)
A Quiet Place (15)
After Sally Phillips in The Shape of Water, this takes it up a notch by, save for a couple of scenes, having all the characters converse in sign language. One character is deaf, hence why everyone in the family knows how to sign, but the reason why nobody speaks is because this is an apocalyptic future in which the slightest noise will get you killed by marauding monsters who, while blind, hunt their prey through sound.
Directed by John Krasinski, it opens on Day 89 with an eerie scene of the family, father Lee Abbott (Krasinski), mom Evelyn (Krasinski’s real life wife Emily Blunt), adolescent daughter Regan (an outstanding, complex turn by deaf actress Millicent Simmonds) and her younger brothers, Marcus (Noah Jupe) and Beau (Cade Woodward), are silently searching deserted store for medicines. When his sister secretly gives him the battery operated toy he’s been told he can’t have, Beau also picks up the batteries, resulting in a devastating tragedy and the film’s first jolting shock. A year or so later, the rest of the family are still living in their farm house refuge, signal lights surrounding it, walking barefoot on noise-dampening dust-covered pathways, dad working on the shortwave in the basement trying to make contact using Morse Code and trying to create Regan a more powerful cochlear hearing aid – a plot point that proved crucial in the climax. A careless mishap ramps up the tension and serves reminder how precarious their life is, especially so given Evelyn is pregnant, and childbirth and babies are not renewed for quietness.
There’s also tension within the family in that Regan thinks her father blames her for Beau’s death; she certainly blames herself. As such, resentful when dad takes Marcus off on a fishing expedition, she takes off on her own, thereby separating all the characters, leaving mom alone and about to give birth, inevitably placing everyone in peril in scenes that variously entail a nail protruding from the stairs, being trapped in a corn silo and creatures stalking the flooded basement where mother and baby are trapped.
Although there are scenes where characters speak (apparently it’s safe if there’s a louder noise to mask the sounds), this relies very much on conveying emotions through the eyes and facial expressions, something which ratchets up proceedings as Evelyn goes into labour aware that she cannot cry out.
Given the restrictions on speech, exposition is limited to newspaper cuttings about the creatures and the film sometimes plays fast and loose with its own logic (how is there still power, especially as having a generator would create noise?), but these are minor niggles in a film that, in a finale redolent of Aliens, gives a thrilling fresh spin to the monster invasion genre. (Odeon Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)
Avengers: Infinity War (12A)
The movie equivalent of going to an all you can eat buffet and still wanting more, this brings together pretty much every major superhero in the Marvel Universe (or at least the Disney manifestation thereof), and even those not on screen still get a mention, for the ultimate slugfest mashup as they take on the towering, ridged-chin world destroyer Thanos (a surprisingly soulful Josh Brolin) who is out to gather all six of the infinity stones (gems of indescribable power governing Mind, Soul, Time, Power, Space and Reality), so that he can bring balance to the universe by wiping out half of its inhabitants (as a flashback reveals he did to Gamora’s world before adopting her as his daughter), so that the remaining half have a chance to survive. It’s galaxy-wide genocide, but he means well.
Given the showdowns between Thanos and the various ad hoc team ups take place in various parts of the planet and the universe, the massive cast of characters don’t actually all occupy the same scene at any one time. Rather we have different pockets of resistance. After an initial confrontation in New York with Thanos’s icily effete and sadistic factotum and a couple of his enforcers, Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland with fetching new bio-suit) are paired up on both Thanos’s flying wheel and his home planet Titan; Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) and, with a traumatised Hulk reluctant to emerge, Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) face off in Wakanda with the Black Panther (Chadwick Bosemen), ultimately joined by Wanda (Elizabeth Olson) and Vision (Paul Bettany), who, lest you forget, has one of the stones in his forehead. As it turns out, Doctor Strange also has one nestling in his amulet.
After rescuing him from space following the opening massacre of Asgardians, The Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Lord (Chris Pratt), Drax (Dave Bautista), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Mantis (Pom Klementieff), stick-teen Groot (Vin Diesel) and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) join forces with Thor (Chris Hemsworth), described by Drax “like a pirate had a baby with an angel!”. The bruised and battered but still up for it God of Thunder and the ‘rabbit’, as he refers to him, taking off to forge a new hammer (leading to a wryly amusing scene in which Peter Dinklage dwarfs them both), while the others head for Knowhere, home of the Collector (Benicio Del Toro), who’s supposedly got one of the stones. Also in the mix is Thanos’s other ‘daughter, Nebula (Karen Gillan) and pretty much all of the other core characters from Black Panther, along with a Gwyneth Paltrow cameo as Tony Stark’s new fiancée, Pepper Potts and a surprise post-credits appearance of a long absent figure.
If you can get your head round that line-up, then you might just make it through the near three hours of cataclysmic jawdropping, eye-popping action that comes liberally laced with intense emotional beats, pop culture references and the sort of dry and droll humour you’ve come to expect, here primarily in the alpha male arrogance stand-offs between egotistical Stark and supercilious Strange, the testosterone tag match between Thor and an intimidated Peter Quinn (who deepens his voice to assert himself) and the former’s ever hilarious unintended casual put downs. Indeed, Hemsworth pretty much owns every scene he’s in, and his dramatic lightning flashing appearance armed with his new axe, Stormbringer, and a new eye, is one of the film’s major cheer out loud moments
All this directors Anthony and Joe Russo orchestrate with dazzling skill and confidence, never for a moment letting the pace sag, but knowing just when to ease back on the mayhem and introduce Marvel’s trademark tragic notes. Two shocking deaths occur in the opening moments and there’s both sacrifice and sef-sacrifice, while the film concludes in wiping out half of the main cast, though, given that includes the stars of recent new franchises, these don’t have quite the same impact and it’s a safe bet that, as the all knowing Strange implies, they’ll reassemble in a year’s time for the eagerly anticipated sequel. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Mockingbird; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
The Breadwinner (12A)
Nominated for both the Golden Globes and Oscars, the solo debut of Nora Twomey, who co-directed The Secret of Kells is an animated adaptation of Deborah Ellis’ young adult book, based on interviews with Afghan refugees in Pakistan, about Parvana (voiced by Saara Chaudry) an 11-year-old Afghan girl in 2001 Taliban-occupied Kabul who, when her disabled former teacher father, Nurullah (Ali Badshah), is arrested (by a former pupil) and hauled off to prison, takes it upon herself to keep the family, her mother, sister and baby brother fed. Rather this than see her sister married to as distant cousin offering to take them out of the city and abandon Nurullah,
However, given the Taliban’s brutal control over women’s lives, which forbids women to venture outside without male company and the fact that shopkeepers are too scared to sell to her for fear of retribution, in order to do so – and ultimately to go in search of her father and take him the crutch he need to walk- she has to disguise herself as a boy, because, as Shauzia (Soma Chhaya), a kindred street smart spirit also passing as a boy, points out, boys can go anywhere.
So, she cuts her hair and wears her deceased older brother’s clothes (his story only revealed later) and ventures out into the city markets, earning money by selling what few goods the family has left and in using her literacy skills to read the letters of a friendly illiterate customer (Kawa Ada), who will prove instrumental in her quest. Meanwhile, her mother is planning to escape to the sea.
Among the items for sale is an ornate tunic which, at the start of the film, her father employs to spin a story about Afghanistan’s history, a narrative conceit that develops further in the fables Parvana tells her baby brother and which form a central motif in the film’s message about the power of imagination and the value of traditional culture as the action is punctuated by her tales of a young boy’s courage in confronting and overcoming the terrifying Elephant King, the animation in these moments adopting a stylized and colourful cutout style as opposed to the simple line drawings elsewhere.
With careful attention to cultural accuracy, it balances its hard hitting political content with deep emotion as it recounts background stories alongside that of Paravana and her family, building to a powerful dramatic finale against a backdrop of renewed conflict, pitting the power of love and friendship against the power of hate and division. (Cineworld 5 Ways)
Breaking In (15)
A home invasion movie that places a strong woman fighting to protect her kids front and centre, director James McTeigue may not offer any major twists on the well-worn set-up, but, anchored by a powerful turn from Gabrielle Union, this short and sharp thriller delivers solid tension and bursts of bloody action.
Returning to her estranged criminal father’s remote and fortress-like high-tech security mansion after he’s killed in a deliberate hit and run, Shaun (Union), who has had nothing to do with him for years, is just there for the weekend with her two kids, teen daughter Jasmine (Ajiona Alexus) and younger son Glover (Seth Carr), to arrange the sale. However, she’s not the only one. Tipped off that there’s a safe packed with millions of dollars, four thieves, Eddie (Billy Burke) and his associates, tattooed psycho Duncan (Richard Cabral), nervy Sam (Levi Meaden) and former military man Peter (Mark Furze), are determined to get their hands on it. However, they didn’t reckon on anyone else being there.
While Shaun’s outside, they take the kids hostage, setting in motion a taut game of cat and mouse as her maternal instincts take on a Liam Neeson hue (tellingly, it’s written by Ryan Engle who also penned Non Stop and The Commuter), using whatever’s at hand, broken wine glass, toy drone, to turn the tables and take the fight to the assailants who, in time-honoured tradition, prove to be conveniently inept.
Naturally, there’s plenty of sneaking round darkened corridors and lurking in shadows, punctuated by some bloodshedding via Duncan slitting the throat of the unfortunate estate agent and a remarkably resourceful Shaun doing a number on Peter before engineering her way back inside the house.
It’s thinly written and fairly one-dimensional in terms of character, but, for disposable female empowerment action that serves up the payback without troubling the brain cells, this does its job in efficiently effective style. (Cineworld 5 Ways; Odeon Birmingham)
Deadpool 2 (15)
The original movie made a fortune from taking the mocking piss out of itself and the whole superhero franchise genre, a self-referential orgy of meta-fiction that demolished the fourth wall, winked to the camera and the audiences and bundled together onscreen and offscreen personas (at one point Deadpool signs an autograph as Ryan Reynolds) in a gloriously violent and hilarious WTF of gargantuan proportions. This one tops it. Indeed, directed by Atomic Blonde’s David Leitch (or, as the opening credits have it, One of the Two Guys Who Killed John Wick’s Dog), it starts with scarred cancer victim wade Wilson aka Deadpool (Reynolds) turning on a dead Wolverine musical box before posing on a bunch of gasoline drums, tossing a lit cigarette and blowing himself to pieces. And then backtracking six weeks to explain why as, having gone into the scum-killing business fulltime (cue gallons of blood), the one that got away ends up killing girlfriend Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) just as she and Wade have decided to make a baby, sending him into a guilt-ridden, suicidal funk. Of course, the body parts gathered together by Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapicic) and hauled back to the X-Men’s mansion, he regenerates and the plot kicks in.
It’s fairly simple, joining Colossus, Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) and her new girlfriend (Shioli Kutsuna), he gets to become an X-Men trainee, his first call to action being an attempt to cool down, fireball-hurling teenage mutant Randall (New Zealand’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople breakout star Julian Dennison) who’s threatening to incinerate the mutant hating headmaster (Eddie Marsan) of his orphanage. Suffice to say, things don’t quite work out as planned and both he and the kid end up in the high-tech mutants prison, the Ice-Box. At which point, enter uber-intense Cable (Josh Brolin), a bionic-enhanced super-soldier who’s beamed in from the future intent on killing Randall in revenge for turning his family to cinders. Cue Deadpool resignedly opting to play the surrogate dad (thereby earning his redemption stripes to reunite with Vanessa) and protect Randall, ultimately attempting to change the course of events that will lead to the present scenario.
Along the way there’s the formation of his own mutants spin-off, X-Force (“tough, morally flexible and young enough to carry this franchise another 10 to 12 years”, Bedlam (Terry Crews), Shatterstar (Lewis Tan), Vanisher (a blink of Brad Pitt), Zeigeist (Bill Skarsgård), Domino (a spin-off friendly Zazie Beetz), whose superpower is being lucky, and Peter (Rob Delaney), an ordinary schmuck who just saw the ad. Not that they get to stick around long, only one (and you can guess who from the powers) surviving to take the fight to Cable in one of the many spectacular action sequences, as it gathers to a vaguely Terminator salvational climax.
Bloodier, more visceral and far more foul-mouthed than the original, it sprays pop culture references and in-jokes like nail-bomb confetti, cameos including Alan Tudyk, a glimpse of three X-Men and a very surprising mid-credits appearance of a fourth, alongside returning characters Blind Al (Leslie Uggams), Weasel (T.J.Miller) and taxi driver Dopinder (Karan Soni) who wants in on the mercenary lark, not to mention Wade’s favourite unstoppable villain from the X-Men comics. There’s also deluge of references to and quips about the DC Universe, the Avengers (at one point Deadpool calls Cable Thanos), Robocop, Canada, James Bond , Frozen (how come no one else drew the Yentl comparison!), Annie, Say Anything and a hysterical Green Lantern gag set to Cher’s If I Could Turn Back Time, plus dozens more you’ll have to catch on subsequent viewings as well as its brazen acknowledgement of the plot holes. And the four post-credit scenes that change everything. Basically, it’s everything you loved about Deadpool – on Viagra. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
When, after decades of incapability following a stroke that trapped her in a loveless marriage, her husband finally dies, rather than be dumped in the care home her daughter has in mind, and regretful at her ‘wasted years’, octogenarian Edie (Sheila Hancock, who is onscreen for most of the film) decides to fulfil a trip she and her father once vowed to undertake and heads to Suilven in the outer reaches of Scotland to climb its mountain. To which end, she is inveigled into hiring local camping equipment shop owner Johnny (Kevin Guthrie) to serve as her trainer. Initially in it for the money (his girlfriend and business partner wants to expand the shop), assuming she’ll never go through with it, and despite a somewhat prickly relationship, the closer he becomes to Edie the more he’s inspired by her resolve and courage as a friend rather than a guide.
Directed by Simon Hunter and written by Elizabeth O’Halloran, it’s a fairly formulaic affair that would seem to have an air of Harold and Maude about it, but, thanks to the strength of the central performances, with Guthrie’s easy going charm and Hancock’s superbly nuanced ability to convey Edie’s turbulent emotions and the memories that drive her to rediscover her true self, it rises well above its Scottish Tourist Board picture postcard appearance. (Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
The Greatest Showman (12A)
The year’s most successful film and album, with songs by La La Land’s Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, first time director Michael Gracey and writers Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon may take any number of liberties with the life of 19th century showman and legendary hoaxer Phineas T Barnum, but succeed in serving up a fabulous sugar rush, candy coloured helping of feelgood family entertainment about the man who pretty much invented modern day entertainment.
Bearing absolutely no resemblance to the real Barnum, who looked more like Mel Smith and didn’t get into show business until he was in his 60s, Hugh Jackman is clearly having the time of his life, positively exploding with energy in the musical routines (and let’s not forget he first made his name in musical theatre and won a Tony for the Broadway production of The Boy From Oz), but also hitting the key emotional notes when needed.
It opens with a brief background prologue, introducing the young Phineas (Ellis Rubin) as the son of a struggling tailor who falls for Charity (Skylar), the daughter of his dad’s stern and snobbish client who sends her away to put an end to the friendship. Barnum’s father dies and the kid’s reduced to stealing food on the streets, until befriended by a disfigured stranger, he’s inspired to become more than he is and chase his Million Dreams.
Fast forward and, having made something of himself as an office clerk, the now grown Barnum marries Charity (Michelle Williams, somewhat underused), again to her father’s disapproval, and they have two cute daughters, Caroline and Helen (Austyn Johnson and Cameron Seely), and, when the shipping company he works for goes belly-up, a flash of inspiration leads Barnum to open his American Museum, a collection of historical wax figures and stuffed exotic animals, in the hope of attracting the curious. A bedtime observation from one of the kids that it could do with an exhibit that’s not dead then prompts him to round up all manner of society’s freaks, among them bearded lady singer Lettie (Keala Settle), a 22-year old dwarf (Sam Humphrey) he dresses up as General Tom Thumb, a giant, Siamese twins, a fat man, the hairy Dog Boy and, brother and sister trapeze artists whose only ‘deformity’ is being African American, exaggerating their ‘freakishness’ for extra effect and nigger ‘humbug’.
Scamming the bank for a loan, he opens his theatre and, proving there’s no such thing as bad publicity, transforms a scathing review into an audience magnet with the New York crowds flocking in, restyling his show as a circus with himself as the ringmaster. Looking to move beyond lowbrow audiences, he then forms a partnership with Philip Caryle (Zac Efron in his first musical role since High School Musical and very loosely based on James Bailey of the Barnum and Bailey Circus), a bored theatrical producer with a hefty trust fund and the sort of connections that can earn the troupe an audience with Queen Victoria.
It’s here Barnum meets Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson), the feted opera singer known as the Swedish Nightingale, and sees an opportunity to move from the peanut to the champagne market. Gambling both his reputation and his wealth, he signs her up for first a New York showcase and then a mammoth American tour. Suffice to say, things do not go well, resulting in a marriage threatening scandal while, back in New York, the bigot mob protests about the ‘freaks’ get out of hand and the tentative road to romance between Philip and Anne (Zendaya), one half of the trapeze act, is hitting some racial prejudice bumps.
Naturally, setbacks are just a spur to bigger and better success and, as such the film is very much a hymn to the underdogs chasing the American Dream, not to mention a clarion cry for diversity that strikes a far more right on contemporary note about those on the margins than would have been the case in Barnum’s day, even if none of the troupe are given anything like a backstory.
But social commentary is secondary to the spectacle and the songs, the rooftop dance routines, the lavish circus ring bombast, and the cast and film deliver with exuberant gusto, standout moments being Ferguson (albeit overdubbed by Loren Allred) singing out the pain of being the outsider with Never Enough, Settle leading the charge with the showstopper This Is Me, Jackman and Efron’s lithe shot glass shifting barroom negotiations dance routine and the literally soaring circus ring Rewrite the Stars sequence with Efron and Zendaya. Climaxing with Jackman leading the rousing cast finale of From Now On, this is a fabulous celebration of the power of unadulterated entertainment to raise the spirits and fill the heart which, as predicted here, has been announced as being turned into a Broadway musical. (Vue Star City)
The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society (12A)
Alexander McCall Smith arguably started the current trend for quirky titles with the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency, finding further expression on the big screen with The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Adapted from the 2008 novel by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, this pitches for much the same audience with its bittersweet account of a tragedy that cast a shadow over the lives of the titular’s society’s members.
Director Mike Newell’s first film in almost six years, it’s set shortly after the end of WWI, as, a celebrated author with the publication of her wartime-set first novel (though her critical study of Anne Bronte sold just 29 copies worldwide), Juliet Ashton (Lily James), writing under the name of Izzy Biggerstaff, receives a letter from Dawsey Adams (Michiel Huisman with a somewhat free floating accent), a Guernsey pig farmer and society member, who, having found her name in a secondhand book and there being no bookshops on the island, wonders if she could secure him a copy of Charles Lamb’s Tales From Shakespeare.
Intrigued by mention of the oddly named society (the potato bit comes from the wartime food shortage), and looking to write something of a less frivolous nature for a commissioned Times article, she informs her supportive agent and friend Sidney (Matthew Goode) that she’s off to the island to find out more. Invited to read at a society meeting (from her Bronte work rather than the bestseller), on mentioning her planned article, one of the circle’s elderly members, Amelia (Penelope Wilson), pointedly refuses to give permission, inevitably setting Juliet on the path of unravelling the mystery and, in the process, just engaged to American officer Mark (Glenn Powell), her feelings about her life in London.
The film opens during the German occupation of the island as, drunkenly returning from a clandestine gathering revealed later, Amelia, Dawsey, postmaster Eben (Tom Courteney), gin-making herbalist wallflower Isola (Katherine Parkinson making the most of an undeveloped character) and firebrand Elizabeth (Jessica Brown Findley) are stopped out by a German patrol and spontaneously come up with the name of the book club as an excuse for being out after curfew, thereby forcing them to actually form it.
Variously flashing back between the occupation and the present day, the circle now joined by Eben’s voracious reader young nephew Eli (Kit Connor) and with Dawsey caring for the absent Elizabeth’s four-year-old daughter, the film, which considerably reworks some of the novel’s elements, is, despite the second half reveal as to why Elizabeth is no longer on the island and narrative touching on the wartime scars of collaboration and betrayals, is as predictable as it is blandly charming. Wilton has a particularly potent moment as the emotionally wounded Amelia, but, dispensing with any ideas about the power of literature early on, the tone generally favours humour and romance rather than tragedy and years. The locations (ironically not in Guernsey) are attractive and the performances are amiable enough, even if the chemistry between Juliet and Dawsey never really fizzes as it should, but, overstretched at two hours, it’s ultimately pleasantly undemanding fare which, like that pie, could have done with considerably more seasoning. (MAC)
I Feel Pretty (12A)
While undeniably flawed, this Amy Schumer comedy, working a similar riff to Trainwreck, is far better than some of the scathing reviews would suggest and comes with book/cover and be who you are/self-esteem messages that would do Disney proud. Schumer plays New Yorker Renee Bennett who works for the online department of mega cosmetics company Lily LeClaire, albeit ferreted away in a dingy Chinatown office with her slobby co-worker (Adrian Martinez) because the company only wants beautiful things in its Fifth Avenue HQ. She and her equally ‘ordinary’ friends, Vivian (Aidy Bryant) and Jane (Busy Philipps) post photos on a dating site but get no views, further persuading Renee that looks are everything (though one wonders how, if they get no views they can be rejected on their appearance) and, one night, after watching bodyswap comedy Big, fed up of being ignored in bars and stores, she impulsively rushes out into the rain and throws a coin into a wishing fountain asking to be beautiful.
The next day, attending Soul Cycle class (basically a keep fit workout on a fixed bike), she falls and bangs her head and, when she comes round and looks in the mirror she sees the figure she wants to be. Physically, she looks exactly the same, but persuaded she’s now drop dead gorgeous, her confidence crawls out from under its shell and she applies for the job of receptionist at Lily LeClaire. As the first face visitors see, she’s understandably not the sort of person the interviewing panel of CFO Helen (Naomi Campbell) and squeaky-voiced CEO Avery LeClaire (Michelle Williams making the most of a gag that rapidly wears thin) are looking for. But, having been recently given an earful by her company founder grandmother (Lauren Hutton) about appealing to the ‘ordinary’ consumer in launching their new budget line, Avery, who has her own self-esteem issues, hires her. And, not only does she land a swanky job, but she also acquires a sensitive boyfriend in the shape of Ethan (Rory Scovel) following a meet cute in the dry cleaners where she takes the initiative. On top of which, she’s also given the eye by Avery’s hunky brother Grant (Tom Hopper), although that subplot never really goes anywhere.
As per narrative requirements, Renee’s elevation to a new social circle, and the fact that the company call on her for her sensible marketing advice for the new product, means she shuts out her old friends (spelled out all too blatantly when she dumps them at a restaurant to gain access to an exclusive party). And, of course, there’s inevitably another bump to the head that removes the ‘magic’, right on the eve of a major conference where she’s supposed to deliver the important pitch. No longer thinking she looks the way she thought she did, she can’t bring herself to face LeClaire or, indeed, Ethan. She first has to realise who she was all along.
Given that Vivian or Jane could easily point out she looks exactly the same despite her saying they probably don’t recognise who she is, it’s a somewhat flawed premise, but, even so, there’s an infectious sweetness to it with Renee a likeable character while Schumer, who has built a stand-up career on ironic self-deprecation and the superficiality of society, always shines when the material doesn’t. Screenwriters Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, who fared far better with He’s Just Not That Into You and How To Be Single, never seem quite sure how to get to the final destination of their positive body-image moral, such as Renee taking part in a bikini contest, which, while amusing, negates the admiration for her balls since she’s oblivious to the fact that he clearly looks nothing like the other curvy contestants.
At the end of the day it’s basically Bridget Jones’ Diary meets The Devil Wears Prada with a dressing of ‘magic’ and all too obvious soundtrack beats like Alicia Keys’ Girl On Fire and Meghan Trainor’s Me Too to point the audience in the right direction, but you shouldn’t judge it just on how it looks. (Cineworld Solihull;Empire Great Park; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Life of the Party (12A)
Following on from Amy Schumer’s underachieving I Feel Pretty, now it’s the turn of Melissa McCarthy to misfire in her third teaming with writer-director husband Ben Falcone. Pitched as a mother-daughter slash female buddy back to school comedy, McCarthy plays middle-aged mom Deanna (Melissa McCarthy) who, just minutes after dropping their daughter Maddie (Molly Gordon) off at Decatur University for her senior year, is told my hubbie Dan (Matt Walsh) that he wants a divorce so he can marry high powered real estate agent Marcie (Julie Bowen).
Understandably depressed, back at her parents and confronted with a midlife crisis, Deanne resolves to finally complete her archaeology degree, enrolling at Decatur which she attended years back before dropping out 24 years ago after becoming pregnant. Initially not taken with the idea of having her doting, frumpy mom as a fellow student, Maddie’s soon persuaded, not least since her sorority sisters, most particularly insecure Debbie (Jessie Ennis) and snarky online celeb Helen (Gillian Jacobs), returning after eight years in a coma, think she’s just wonderful.
Before long Deanne’s the campus hit, albeit not with obligatory mean girl Jennifer (Debby Ryan) and her personality-free sidekick, to the extent of embarking on a sexual fling with a much younger fellow student, Jack (Luke Benward), the subject of an awkward reveal later in the movie (but which is never really followed through). Hopping between assorted scenes and set-ups involving parties, sorority initiations, a dance-battle, a class presentation meltdown (that, in character terms makes no sense) before a final fund raiser party top pay for Deanne’s fees which the girls claim Christina Aguilera is going to attend, it never really actually goes anywhere or gets beyond the basic find who you are, be true to yourself, self-reliance messages.
There are some decent moments, notably an 80s themed party at which McCarthy, in a spangled blue jump suit, gives good dance moves and shows her physical comedy skills, but too much is driven by the script rather than the story. McCarthy is fluffily solid enough, but, given surprisingly few sharp one-liners, she’s overshadowed throughout by Heidi Gardner as her weirdo dormmate Leonor, Maya Rudolph as sex-hungry best friend Christine and, especially Jacobs, scene stealing with just a roll of her eyes or a facial expression. A film full of ideas but with no real clue what to do with them and with not enough jokes to satisfy trade descriptions, it flops along watchably enough until it simply runs out of steam and just stops. If you want a truly funny house mother/sorority comedy, then search out Anna Faris in The House Bunny, meanwhile this is the sort of party where you make your excuses and leave early. (Cineworld Solihull; Empire Great Park; Vue Star City)
The Little Vampire (U)
Previously adapted as a live action Uli Edel feature starring Richard E. Grant, Jonathan Lipnicki and Rollo Weeks, here Angela Sommer-Bodenburg’s children’s book gets the animation treatment. The set-up’s different, but the story’s pretty much the same. Having been thirteen for three thousand years, Rudolph (Rasmer Haricker), the youngest of the aristocratic Sackville-Bagg vampire clan, wants to explore the world outside their crypts and coffins, something forbidden by his imperious father (Tim Piggott-Smith) because of the dangers it can present to the family. Such fears are quickly brought home when, secretly following his equally rebellious brother, he ends up having to save him from ruthless vampire hunter Rookery (Jim Carter reprising his role from the original film) and his new super-light weapon. Unfortunately, Rookery and Maney, his bumbling inventor assistant with a father complex, are now able to track them to the family’s lair in an attempt to kill or seal them away forever.
However, in fleeing from Rooker, Rudolph chances upon twelve-year-old Tony (Amy Saville), a young American vacationing in Transylvania with his mom and dad and who has a fascination for vampires. Offering to help Rudolph on condition there’s no neck-biting, the two become friends and, subsequently joined by the former’s sister, Anna (Phoebe Givron-Taylor), engage in a race against the clock to stop Rookery from carrying out his dastardly plans.
The animation’s pretty basic with the figures having a plastic-like quality and the plotting overly repetitive as its goes from one Rookery scheme to the next (at one point involving a mid-air chase between the vampires and the former’s plane) and it rather indulges young children’s amusement at poo jokes by having one character being covered in dung from a vampire cow. That said, it flags up an always useful message about tolerance and understanding and has enough child-friendly humour and slapstick to keep them entertained while the grown ups can appreciate Anna’s borrowing of Lauren Bacall’s classic line about whistling from To Have and Have Not. (Vue Star City)
Mary And The Witch’s Flower (U)
Although Oscar-nominated Japanese animator and director Yonebayashi Hiromasa is working outside the Studio Ghibli set-up, his latest retains pretty much all the trademarks of his work on The Secret World of Arrietty and When Marnie Was There, but with a more light-hearted approach. Adapted from Mary Stewart’s 1971 children’s book The Little Broomstick, which, with its school of magic, predated Harry Potter by several decades, it’s set in Peter Rabbit-like English countryside where Mary (Ruby Barnhill), her parents away on business, is spending the last week of the summer holidays before starting at a new school with her great-aunt Charlotte (Lynda Baron) and the housekeeper (Morweena Banks). Bored with no friends and nothing to do, infuriated with her unmanageable mop of frizzy red hair, and infuriated by the mockery of local boy Peter (Louis Ashbourne Serkis), she takes off into the wood, led by a couple of cats, Tib and Gib, where she chances upon a mysterious blue flower. According to the gardener, it’s a rare species called Fly By Night that was associated with witches. And sure enough, having been led by Tib to discover a broomstick in a tree, accidentally squeezing flower juice over it and her hands, it takes her and the cat off to Endor, a steampunk city in the clouds, where the College of Magic headmistress Madam Mumblechook (Kate Winslet), impressed by Mary’s apparent super class magical skills, wants to enrol her. However, Mary’s a little disturbed by the transformation experiments her associate, Doctor Dee (Jim Broadbent) is carrying out and his talk of failures that he keeps hidden away in a locked vault, and resolves not to return.
But, when Mumblechook learns Mary has found the flowers, a vital ingredient for the experiments (and which links back to the opening sequence of a young witch being chased after stealing gag of seeds), she and Dee kidnap Peter to force Mary to hand them over. Now, Mary has to draw on her own courage and her newfound magic to rescue Peter, save the transformed creatures and put an end to Mumblechook’s plans to create a world of magical beings.
Released in both dubbed and subtitled versions, again exploring the anime concept of the ‘magic girl’, it’s a colourful inventive and fast-paced adventure that carries familiar themes of self-confidence, female empowerment and the dangers of scientific excess that should delight its tweenage girl audience and Studio Ghibli devotees alike. (Mockingbird)
On Chesil Beach (12A)
Adapted by Ian McEwan from his own novel, set predominantly on one Dorset evening in 1962, punctuated with flashbacks and moving on to codas in 1975 and 2007, and the feature debut of theatre director Dominic Cooke, this tells of the wedding night of newlyweds, working class history graduate Edward (Billy Howle) and Florence (Saoirse Ronan), a graduate, CND activist and string quartet leader from a privileged background. It’s not a happy one. From the start, as they look across the table at each other in the honeymoon suite while two of the staff knowingly exchange looks and make innuendo-laced comment as they serve dinner, it is clear there is tension between the pair. As the evening slowly moves towards consummating the marriage, the film flashes back to show how they met (at a CND meeting in Oxord, he anxious to tell someone, anyone, that he’s just got a first) as well as detailing their family settings. He lives in country village with his two younger sisters, his gentle primary shool headmaster father (Adrian Scarborough) and artist mother (Anne-Marie Duff) who has brain damage after being struck by a moving train door, often can’t remember who he is and has a tendency to wander around naked. She, on the other hand, comes from a wealthy family headed up by competitive, toxic male engineering factory owner Geoffrey (Samuel West), with a younger sister and an arrogant, snobbish Oxford don mother (Emily Watson) given to chatting on the phone with Iris Murdoch.
Both are virgins, lacking knowledge about sex (in one scene she reads about erections and penetrations with a sense of horror) and how to handle relationships, with no experience of physical intimacy beyond kissing. So, when they finally fumble their way round to it, it’s not too surprising that it ends in tears, he ejaculating prematurely, she fleeing the room in disgust. Meeting up on the pointedly pebble beach, confessions are made and a proposition of how to handle that side of things put forward. The love lasts forever. The marriage last six hours.
This is the film’s strongest part, a sympathetic and sensitive critique of the British way of love and sex prior to the Swinging Sixties and, dominating the screen, both Ronan and Howle give terrific, she adopting a perfectly clipped English accent and registering profound emotional depths with just an expression. Things are slightly less effective and more narratively contrived in the later scenes, Ed running a record store in the 70s and part of the free love movement, and living by himself in 2007 when he hears of a farewell concert by Florence’s now famous quartet, respectively prompting both a Chuck Berry moment and a sentimental but nevertheless moving scene, each of which has been set up earlier in the film.
The problem is that it’s only in those final moments that the film really finds an emotional beat as opposed to the somewhat distanced gaze – and slightly mannered dialogue – that characterises the bulk of the narrative, even if it is supposed to echo the society of the time when sex wasn’t something discussed in polite families. Very much an art house offering, as underscored by its limited, selective release, it forgoes storms of passion for muted heartbreaks. (Cineworld 5 Ways; Electric; MAC)
Dwayne Johnson scores two family friendly popcorn triumphs in a row, following Jumanji with this giant monsters destroy cities entry loosely based on the 80s arcade game but also clearly inspired by the likes of King Kong and mutated beast B-movies such as Godzilla. Godzilla and Reuniting with San Andreas director Brad Peyton, Johnson plays Davis Okoye, a San Diego Wildlife Preserve primatologist (and conveniently former military action man) who has a special bond with George, an albino gorilla he rescued from poachers and with whom he converses in sign language. That bond is put to the test, however, when a case containing samples from a covert genetics experiment in a spacelab comes crashing to earth near his compound at the zoo. The experiment, which got out of hand, leading to the destruction of both the spacelab and the escape pod containing the samples, was all about weaponising genetic editing, basically combining aspects of different species, and promoting rapid growth and strength in the subjects.
The morning after inhaling the fumes, George is found in the bears’ compound where he’s not only killed a grizzly but grown several feet and piled on the weight. Unfortunately, he’s not the only one affected. Out in Wyoming, a wolf has also become a giant predator and, although not putting in an appearance until later, so has an alligator in the Everglades. All of this is down to ruthless Clare Wyden (Malin Ackerman), who heads up a genetic corporate along with her brother/husband? Brett (Jake Lacy) and also just happens to have a Rampage game (which featured, that’s right a gorilla, wolf and croc) in her office. They’re out to make a bundle regardless of who gets hurt, so naturally would like to get their hands on one of the creatures to extract the formula, so, when an attempt to bring down the wolf by a bunch of heavily tooled-up mercenaries ends in a bloody mess, she decides to engage a homing beacon atop their Chicago HQ to send out painful sonic signals that will draw the creatures there to shut them down.
On the side of the good guys, you also have Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris), the geneticist whose work was perverted by the Wydens and who ended up doing time in trying to stop them, plus Harvey Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a good’ ole Texas boy from one of those secret government agencies that don’t even have a name, who sums up his role as “When science shits the bed, I’m the guy they call to change the sheets.”
So, there you have it. Driven by a beserker spirit, George, wolf and the alligator all start tearing apart Chicago, Davis and Kate have to try and get their hands on the antidote while avoiding falling buildings (blink and you’ll miss how it gets delivered) and get George back on side before the hard hat military commander calls in the mother of all bombs to level the city.
The CGI is, perhaps, not all it could be (the scene of the wolf leaping through the air to bring down a helicopter is particularly hokey), but in terms of mass destruction the film ably lives up to its title for a third act that is essentially one long set piece. Johnson does his familiar sensitive muscle man routine, also flexing his comic biceps to amusing effect, even if Morgan, a sort of cross between Robert Downey Jr and Jack Nicholson, steals every scene with his droll one liners. Akerman and Lacy play their cartoonish villains with a sly wink at how silly it all is and Harris holds her own as more than just the female sidekick. However, the film’s biggest laughs come courtesy of George’s signed insults, making you root even more for the big guy when the army’s hitting him with all it has. And if you’re wondering about Rampage 2, just ask yourself what happened to that rat in the glass cage. (Vue Star City)
Sherlock Gnomes (U)
The original movie, Gnomeo & Juliet, was a playful, funny, inventive and charming rework of Romeo and Juliet, but with a happy ending. The sequel, which teams the now married lovers with a gnome version of Conan Doyle’s famous sleuth, is none of the above. Settling into their owners’ new London home, Juliet (Emily Blunt) is too busy working to get the garden right to give much time to Gnomeo (James McAvoy), who duly has a major sulk and tries to get her attention back on him. Meanwhile, some dastardly villain is kidnapping all of London’s gnomes, to which end master detective Sherlock Gnomes (Johnny Depp) and his assistant Dr. Watson (Chiwetel Ejiofor) are on the trail, the former’s cruelly dismissive treatment of the latter mirroring the domestic disharmony in the garden. When their friends and relations also get snatched, Gnomeo and Juliet join forces with the detectives to track them down in what is a game of wits played out (Toy Story-like) across London between Holmes and his arch nemesis, the supposedly dead Moriarty (Jamie Demetriou), a garish yellow pie mascot in a purple nappy and bowtie, with just 24 hours before they’re smashed to pieces.
The film’s executive producer is Elton John and don’t you just know it, with an Elton lookalike gnome, either snatches of his songs or in-jokes references to them (Gnomeo’s codename is Tiny Dancer), while, with his teeth, Moriaty even looks a bit like him. It’s well-animated with lots of detail, but unfortunately that attention doesn’t extend to the frantic but meandering plot (though it does have a clever twist) or the bland characters. Devoid of wit, the film thinks the sight of a gnome in a pink mankini flashing his buttocks is so hilarious it keeps returning to him while relegating Michael Caine and Maggie Smith to mere cameos as Lord Redbrick and Lady Blueberry. It also contrives to have a sequence set in a doll museum as an excuse to wheel out Mary J Blige to perform a number as Holmes’ ex, Irene. It’s probably best summed up when, in a TV report about the gnome thefts, the announcer says “Some say it’s a job for Sherlock Gnomes!” before adding, “Others say it’s a slow news day!” Bored kids and adults are likely to opt for the latter. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Show Dogs (U)
“No one’s making talking animals movies any more”, bemoans a white Chihuahua in an in-joke to director Raja Gosnel’s previous Beverly Hills Chihuahua. This interminable, mind-numbingly unfunny buddy cop comedy is a good reason why. A Rottweiller with the NYPD, Max (Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges) is on a stakeout involving a stolen baby panda only to accidentally foul-up an FBI sting leading to him and Frank (an understandably embarrassed-looking Will Arnett), the agent involved having to reluctantly work together posing as an owner and his dog entering the prestigious Canini Invitational show at Caesar’s Palace in L.A. to try and flush out the mastermind behind an international animal smuggling ring. Neither much wants to work with the other, and Max reckons the dog show world is full of fakes and poseurs; however, inevitably friendship and mutual respect blooms and Max learns, in the heavy-handedly spelled out message, to not judge others who have a different worldview. In-between there’s supposedly hilarious moments as Max has to submit to being groomed and having his testicles felt in the cause of the competition while having to use his street skills to win each round as they suspect the smugglers are planning to kidnap the eventual Best In Show. A four-pawed Miss Congeniality cross-bred with Tom Hanks’ Turner & Hooch (to which the references seemingly never end), it features an assortment of celebrity voices, among them Stanley Tucci as Max’s mentor, Philippe, an embittered former champion pampered Papillon who went a little crazy; Alan Cumming Dante, a self-important Yorkie who took Philippe’s place; Jordin Sparks as our hero’s romantic interest, Australian Shepherd Elizabeth, owned and entered by FBI grooming consultant Mattie (Natasha Lyonne); RuPaul as fashionista designer mixed breed Persephone; Shaquille O’Neal as Karma, the dreadlocked Zen-spouting Komondor belonging to prime suspect Gabriel (Omar Shaparo) ; and Gabriel Iglesias as Sprinkles, an overly enthusiastic Pug. There’s laboured in jokes (Arnett’s Lego Batman included) and pop culture references, a random Elton John show poster and three especially annoying comic relief pigeons and the whole thing creaks and groans it way to a spectacularly badly staged climax. In discussing Max’s chances as a show dog, although it does have the good grace to save the inevitable dog fart until midway. At one point, discussing Max going undercover as a show dog, someone says “I cannot polish the turd, but perhaps I can roll it in glitter.” Save for Max and Frank in an inspired recreation of that classic Dirty Dancing moment, glitter is in very short supply here. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Vue Star City)
Solo: A Star Wars Story (12A)
A case of Star Wars fatigue perhaps, the box office response to this Han Solo prequel has been decidedly lacklustre, certainly nowhere near the fervour there was for Rogue One. Nor, playing it on a lighter note more along the lines of the Young Indiana Jones than its predecessor’s drama, is it as good a film.
Essentially an origin tale, we first meet Han (Alden Ehrenreich), not yet named Solo, as, having stolen a vial of coaxium, an indescribably valuable spaceship fuel, he and fellow thief romantic interest Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) seek to escape the oppression of Corellia to follow his dream of becoming a pilot. He makes it past the gate, she doesn’t, and, to avoid capture, he impulsively enlists with the Empire, earning his surname in the process, vowing to return for her when he has his own ship.
Some years later, thrown out of the Imperial Fleet for insubordination, he’s a grunt caught up in one of the Empire’s planet conquering wars when he encounters Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and his fellow smugglers, Val (Thandie Newton) and chimp-like multiple-armed pilot Rio Durant (Jon Favreau) with whom, after a brief interlude in a mud pit prison where he teams up with imprisoned Wookiee, Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), he joins forces in a plan to steal a consignment of coaxium from a transport train. This too doesn’t quite work out, both thinning down the gang and leaving them in debt to Beckett’s ruthless gangster employer Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), who fronts the sinister crime cabal the Crimson Dawn, and facing the likely fatal consequences of failing. They do, however, talk him into giving them another opportunity, this time to steal coaxium directly from the mines and then processing it before it has the chance to explode. For this, however, they need a ship. So, enter dandy-ish hustler Lando Calrissian (scene stealer Duncan Glover) who owns, as fans will be aware, the Millennium Falcon (we also learn Hans’ unnamed father used to build Corellian YT-1300 freighters before being laid off) and, along with his sassy droid, L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), agrees to come aboard for a take of the payout. It should also be mentioned that, along the way, Han finds himself unexpectedly reunited with Q’ira who now reluctantly works for Dryden as his top lieutenant. There’s also the slight problem that there’s another gang of thieves, headed up by Beckett’s arch-enemy, who also want the coaxium.
So, there you have it, surname, ship, Wookiee, blaster, trademark clothes, all character’s trademark details ticked off as the core narrative finally kicks in leading to assorted fights, narrow escapes, double crosses, a Warwick Davis cameo, betrayals and surprise twists, including a last act entry by the Alliance rebels and the appearance of a figure from the franchise that doesn’t really actually fit with the timeline.
Although the early chase sequences are suitably kinetic, the narrative’s slow to gather momentum until the gang set off to steal the raw coaxium, involving a tense escape aboard the Falcon through the Maw and Maelstrom as Solo gets to show off his flying skills and L3 turning into a robot Spartacus to liberate her fellow droids from slavery, but even then the who can you really trust plotting gets a bit repetitive. There’s no Force or lightsabres, though Dryden’s weapon does make a slight nod to the latter, but replacement director Ron Howard and father-son screenwriters Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan ensure the Star Wars sensibilities remain well polished. Dropping in plenty of franchise references along with the poetry in-joke character names. And it rarely looks less than amazing.
Ehrenreich is hugely enjoyable channelling the young Han with his rogueish smile, body language, gait, recklessness and charm, so it’s a bit unfortunate that he looks as though he’s more likely to grow up into Dennis Quaid than Harrison Ford. It’s also unfortunate that the chemistry between him and Clarke never fizzles, indeed there’s more spark between Llando and L3 (who reckons her boss has the hots for her). Everyone else is serviceable enough, though sadly Newton’s not round long enough to make good on her first impression, and, at the end of the day, it serves up a fun slice of big screen adventure in the tradition of those Saturday morning matinees that inspired Star Wars in the first place. But whether there’s further adventures for the pre Mos Eisley Han and Chewie rather depends on whether those cinema seats start to fill up. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
The Strangers: Prey at Night (15)
Ten years ago, Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman played a couple terrorised by three strangers while staying in an isolated holiday home. Now, a decade later, comes this sequel in which, being reluctantly taken to boarding school after proving too much of a handful, stroppy teen Kinsey (Bailee Madison), her mom and dad (Christina Hendricks; Martin Henderson) and more conformist older Luke (Lewis Pullman), are taking a brief family vacation stopover at the trailer park run by her grandparents.
Arriving late at night, the place deserted, they settle into their cabin only to be disturbed by a knock at the door by some girl who’s apparently lost. Sulking, Kinsey takes off to explore the park, accompanied by Luke, and the pair wind up at their grandparents’ home only to find them butchered. Racing home, Luke takes dad go off to show what they found and, while they’re away she and mom are attacked by a girl in a mask, Kinsey escaping and running of into the night to find the other two. And, with dad also soon despatched, the film grinds down into the siblings being hunted by the three silent, disguised killers, Dollface (Emma Bellomy), Pinup Girl (Lea Enslin) and, sporting a sack over his head, Man in the Mask (Damian Maffei), as they seek to survive.
A basic no frills slasher movie with a degree of sadistic nastiness that, back in the 70s would have seen it tagged a video nasty, it’s nihilistic and unpleasant, dwelling unnecessarily on the cruelty of the enigmatic assailants, the axe-wielding male proving inevitably almost unkillable in the final climax. 47 Metres Down director Johannes Roberts does a workmanlike job of assembling the characters and action, but fails to bring anything fresh to the genre or, indeed, much by the way of scares, suspense or common sense. Indeed, the scariest thing here is how Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart, Kim Wilde’s Kids in America and Air Supply’s “Making Love Out of Nothing at All seem to have wandered in from the soundtrack of another film entirely. When Kinsey asks Dollface why they’re doing all this she simply says “Why not?” A response that pretty much sums up the film’s own existence. (Vue Star City)
The third collaboration between director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody reunites them with Young Adult star Charlize Theron as Marlo, a New York mother of two young kids, eight-year-old Sarah (Lia Frankland) and the younger Jonah (Asher Miles Fallica) who’s about to give birth to a third. Her husband Drew (Ron Livingston) works late and helps the kids with their homework before he goes to bed to play video games, but otherwise is oblivious to the demands of being a fulltime mother. On top of which, their son, Jonah, is demandingly ‘quirky’ (for which read autistic, though the film never uses the word) and his elite private school would really like him to have a private tutor (which the couple can’t afford) or place him elsewhere.
The arrival of baby Mia (though her name’s only revealed in passing) just adds to the pressures and, eventually, unable to cope any longer (cue a montage of nappy changing, feeding, etc.), and bearing in mind the never talked about depression she suffered after Jonah’s birth, she gives in and decides to take up the gift from her wealthier brother Craig (Mark Duplass) of a night nanny, someone who will come and take up the strain while she gets some sleep. Enter Tully (Mackenzie Davis) a free spirit in the Juno mould who, Marlo’s very own Mary Poppins, not only looks after Mia at night between feeds but cleans the house, bakes cupcakes, offers a friendly ear and even helps reignite Marlo and Drew’s sex life. She’s well-read, well-informed, speaks different languages and dispenses words of wisdom such as “She’ll grow a little overnight. And so will we!” She is, as Marlo puts it, “a book of fun facts for unpopular fourth graders.” She’s also welcomingly non-judgmental.
Marlo gets to have at least part of her life back (“It’s like I can see colour again”) and no longer feels wiped out every waking moment. But then, following a car accident after a girls’ night out in Marlo’s old stomping grounds, comes a reveal that forces you to reassess everything you’ve just seen, even if, logically, it doesn’t quite hang together.
Littered with Cody’s trademark snappy patter (Elaine Tan, as Craig’s spoiled wife Elyse, benefitting from some of the best) and driven by a raw-nerved, unglamorous and fearless performance from Theron, drained of life through exhaustion one moment, verbally lashing out at the school principal the next, although the dreamlike imagery of mermaids doesn’t quite fit and it overstretches the metaphors in the final stretch, it’s an empathetic, intelligent and insightful examination of the darker side of motherhood they only tend to talk about in the problem pages while putting on that serene glow for the world. At the end of the day, it’s not as hilarious as Juno or as lacerating as Young Adult, but, constituted of a cocktail of ingredients from both, it’s most definitely one that stressed-out moms should drag their husbands to see. (Mockingbird)
Screenings courtesy of Odeon and Cineworld
Cineworld 5 Ways – 181 Broad St, 0871 200 2000
Cineworld NEC – NEC 0871 200 2000
Cineworld Solihull – Mill Ln, Solihull 0871 200 2000
The Electric Cinema – 47–49 Station Street, 0121 643 7879
Empire – Great Park, Rubery, 0871 471 4714
Empire Sutton 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 – 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