MOVIE ROUND-UP: This Week’s New Film Releases, Fri Aug 9-Thu Aug 15

 

NEW RELEASES

Blinded By The Light (12A)

Easily director Gurinder Chadha’s best work since Bend It Like Beckham, this may be predictable and clichéd, but its feelgood crowd pleaser vibe about the power of music to transform lives is impossible to resist. Co-penned by Chadha and husband Paul Mayeda Berges with British journalist Sarfraz Manzoor, it’s based on his book about how the music of Bruce Springsteen spoke to him and as a Luton teenager and rescued him from the late 80s austerity and mass unemployment of Thatcher’s Britain with its riots in response to the rise of neo-Nazi National Front

Here, Javed (star in the making Viveik Kalra) is an Anglicised  Pakistani British teenager with no sense of purpose or direction, he’s never had a girlfriend, writes songs for his best mate neighbour Matt (Dean-Charles Chapman) who is into the emergent synth pop (the soundtrack also features Pet Shop Boys and Cutting Crew) and politically-charged poetry for himself. He wants to be a writer, but his traditionalist factory worker father, Malik (Kulvinder Ghir) is determined he get a proper job as a doctor or lawyer while his mother Noor (Meera Ganatra) takes in piecework so the family, which also includes similarly-Anglicized older sister  Shazia (Nikita Mehta), can scrape by.

Three things happen that turn his life around. His supportive English teacher (Hayley Atwell) is taken with his writing and enters him for a competition. He starts dating activist classmate Eliza (Nell William). And, most importantly, Roops (Aaron Phagura), the only Sikh at his school, introduces him to the music of Bruce Springsteen by way of Born in the U.S.A and Darkness on the Edge of Town. While others, including Matt And the school’s amateur radio presenter, reckon the Boss is old news, it hits Javed like a thousand volts of electricity as he hears Springsteen expressing his own blue collar frustration and dreams (“I check my look in the mirror, I want to change my clothes, my hair, my face”).  Soon he’s wearing check shirts with torn sleeves and his room is full of Springsteen posters.

But then his dad gets laid off, and suddenly any hopes of becoming a writer, even though he’s given a chance to intern at the local newspaper (where he goes on write a front page lead about an attack on a mosque), seem even more remote.

In similar fashion to Sunshine on Leith and, to some extent, Sing Street (and, if you must, Mamma Mia), Chadha uses Springsteen’s songs often projecting the lyrics on screen, to both propel the narrative and mirror both Javed’s personal issues (such as Independence Day reflecting his relationship with his father) and the state of the nation, such as backdropping the 1987 riots to Jungleland. Naturally, they also serve as a romance booster as in both Prove It All Night and an obligatory crowd song and dance sequence where  he sings Thunder Road to Eliza in the local outdoor market, Matt’s dad (Rob Bryden) and everyone else  singing along. Rather inevitably, the highlight comes with Born To Run as Javed, Roos and Eliza dance through the city streets and out into the fields.

Evoking thoughts of Nick Hornby and East Is East, it sets Javed’s struggle to claim his own identity against such familiar tropes as fractured friendships, immigrant generational clashes (those ties that bind!) and triumphing over the odds, giving the film an anthemic thematic and narrative quality that echoes the songs. The various narrative strands are deftly woven together, including a sequence where Shazia reveals an unexpected side to her dutiful daughter image and Javed and Roops stand up to a bunch of NF yobs, variously inducing laughter, tears and, above all, inspiration as it climaxes in speech about family, forgiveness and rock n roll that will have you reaching for the tissues and punching the air at the same time. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric;Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

The Art Of Racing In The Rain (12A)

Kevin Costner adds yet another sports movie to his CV, motor racing, except this time he doesn’t actually appear. Rather, he’s the gravelly voice of Enzo, a golden retriever adopted as a puppy by Seattle-based race car driver Denny Swift (Milo Ventimiglia) who names him after Enzo Ferrari. Co-dependent best buddies, they spend all their time together, at home, at the track so Enzo naturally feels a twinge of jealousy when his owner falls for and marries cute blonde Eve (Amanda Seyfried). It’s short-lived, however (Enzo serves as the ring-bearer at the wedding), especially  when they have daughter, Zoe (Ryan Kiera Armstrong), who he vows to watch over. But hey, what’s that smell of decay he sniffs on Eve?

Adapted from the novel by Garth Stein and directed in efficient manner by Simon Curtis, it does the big three Cs – cancer, custody and canine, Enzo commenting on events and offering his own feeling and philosophies as things move along. Denny struggles to get his dreams of racing in the big leagues off the ground and Eve battles a brain tumour then, when she serenely exits the screenplay, her parents (Martin Donovan and Kathy Baker), termed ‘the twins’ by Enzo, or more particularly her father, decide their son-in-law’s career choice isn’t going to provide a stable life for their granddaughter and move to obtain custody, using a dirty trick to do so.

Driven by Denny’s titular philosophy that, if you want to win on the track, you have to control the environment, it travels a doggedly (pun intended) predictable course with Costner doing the A Dog’s Purpose voiceover bit. There’s a definite touch of Lassie in there too as Enzo learns about court procedure watching TV shows and loves watching car races, the anthropomorphic cuteness balanced by a sequence when, hallucinating after being left alone for a couple of days, he sees Zoe’s stuffed zebra transform into a demonic being and  unwittingly tears all the cuddlies to pieces.

Yet, unabashedly emotionally manipulative as it may be, within its own parameters it works exceedingly well in bringing on the tears, and, while Seyfield and Ventimiglia deliver solid enough work, it’s the loyalty, earnestness and old soul wisdom that Costner brings to Enzo that is the film’s heart, even if, of course, he’s presented more as a human sage in a dog’s body than a dog per se, and if you think that his dream is to come back as a man  isn’t setting up the final scene then this clearly isn’t for you. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Playmobil: The Movie (U)

After the huge commercial success of the Lego feature films, it was probaby inevitable that its rival toy bricks would cash in on things too. Her dreams of setting out on a life of adventure crushed when their parents are killed in an accident, teenage Marla (Anya Taylor Joy) is left to  look after her kid brother  Charlie (Gabriel Bateman), becoming something of a killjoy in the process. Five years later, looking to have some fun, he runs off and winds up in a Playmobil exhibition and, when his sister tracks him down, they’re somehow both mystically transported to the Playmobil world and transformed into claw-handed plastic toy figures, Charlie in the form his favourite Viking warrior toy. Seperated when he’s abducted by pirates, she sets off to find and rescue him, a quest that will involve journeying through the different Playmobil realms, hooking up with Del (Jim Gaffigan), a hipster with a mobile food truck, magic hay and  a big debt problem to a sort of female Jabba the Hutt, ace secret agent  Rex Dasher (Daniel Ratcliffe) and a cute robot, and discovering Charlie’s been kidnapped, along an assortment of other super tough warriors, as fodder for Emperor Maximus (Adam Lambert) and his gladiatorial games.

It doesn’t have the manic energy or knowing and often subversive wit of the Lego movies, but it moves along at  a fair lick, even if it rarely finds room for jokes to keep the grown-ups awake, as it regularly spells out its message about finding who you are and not letting life’s downers prevent you from enjoying it. There’s also a series of eminently forgettable musical numbers, one of which is performed by Meghan Trainor as a fairy godmother, which along with assorted winged horses and unicorns firmly underline that this is very much meant for children. They’ll probably love it, but I wouldn’t hold your breath for The Meccano Movie anytime soon.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

The Sun Is Also A Star  (12A)

Based on Jamaican-American author Nicola Yoon’s 2016 novel, the title taken from a Carl Sagen quote, which also opens the film, although published just prior to Trump’s election, its central plot about enforced deportation of a family that’s lived in America for years resonates with events today, just as the film’s chance 24-hour romantic encounter itself throws up thoughts of Beyond Sunrise.

Directed by Ry Russo-Young there’s a definite Sundance feel to its serendipitous tale of two teenagers from immigrant backgrounds meeting by chance and falling love over the course of a day.  She’s New York born aspiring astronomer Jamaican Natasha Kingsley (Yara Shahidi), who, turning to an immigration lawyer (John Leguizamo), is making a last desperate attempt to reverse the ruling that her family have to leave America the following day. He is Daniel Bae (Charles Melton), a Korean-American who would rather write poetry than follow his father’s wishes to become a doctor.  Seeing her staring at the stars painted on the ceiling at Grand Central Station, wearing a jacket with the words Deus Ex Machina, which he wrote in his notebook that morning, they meet cute when he saves her from being run over, and when she declares she doesn’t believe in love, that’s it all just hormones, he bets he can make her fall for him. Initially, she says he only has an hour, but fate stretches things out as, here evocative of  2017s Columbus,  they spend their time variously hanging out in Chinatown, the Financial District, Greenwich Village, the Upper West Side, Harlem, Koreatown, Roosevelt Island, Downtown Brooklyn, Crown Heights and Queens. A striking moment comes at the Hayden Planetarium at the Museum of Natural History.

Between all this, there’s brief glimpses of their respective families, Daniel has a would be tough guy older brother and his dad, who naturally wants his son to do better, runs a black hair products store (the film offering some interesting historical trivia about Korean hair wigs), but its Shahidi and Melton who fill the screen with their sweet chemistry, making you want for things to turn out okay so, as in Dan’s fantasy montage, they end up together despite inevitable. Let’s just say that, given Yoon is a Jamaican married to a Korean, fate has one final card up its sleeve. (Cineworld NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

 

ALSO PLAYING

Varda by Agnès (15)

Documentary in which the late iconic French cinema filmmaker, photographer and installation artist  Agnès Varda shares her observations on cinema, art and life and she takes the audience on a journey through her remarkable life and career punctuated by archive footage of conversations with her collaborators and installation bringing a personal insight to what she calls “cine-writing”. (Sat-Thu: MAC)

NOW SHOWING

Aladdin (PG)

Released in 1992 and featuring a breathless voice performance by Robin Williams, Disney’s 90-minute animation became an instant classic. Now, the jawdroppingly 130 minute  live  action remake follows the same path as the recent Dumbo in being engagingly enjoyable but not a patch on the spirit of the original.

Directed and co-written by Guy Ritchie without a trace of his own style or personality, it is, of course, set in the fictional Middle eastern city of Agrabah where, along with his trusty monkey,  the orphaned Aladdin (Mena Massoud), plies his trade as a light-fingered thief.  Then he meets and befriends Princess Jasmine (Anglo-Indian Naomi Scott), who’s stolen out of the palace in disguise to see how her people live  and, in the course of fleeing the guards, the pair strike a spark, though he’s under the impression she’s actually the princess’s handmaiden.

Sneaking into the palace to return her bracelet, he’s apprehended by the Vizier (Marwan Kenzari, who could have done with more menace) who reckons he’s the diamond in the rough he needs to retrieve a magic lamp from the cave in which its kept. You should know the rest, Aladdin rubs the lamp and out pops a puff of blue smoke which takes the form of a genie (Will Smith), who grants him three wishes, the first of which is to transform him into a  prince so he can win the Princess, who, Law dictates, can only marry into royalty. For his third wish, he promises to set the genie free. Passing himself as Prince Ali, the romance blossoms, but, of course, Jafar, with the help of his conniving parrot (Alan Tudyk), exposes his deception, sends him to his death and, finally taking possession of the lamp,  sets about his plan to replace Jasmine’s father as the Sultan. Needless today, this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Aladdin or his flying carpet.

The narrative takes the shape of a story told by a father (Smith) to his two kids aboard their boat , which, given how we’ve already seen that there’s an instant attraction between the genie in his human form and the real handmaiden (Nasim Pedrad), rather undercuts the surprise twist. Some of the original songs have been resurrected or repurposed and, in places, given a Bollywood dance sequence makeover, although the new version of A Whole New World never soars, while, in keeping with the current climate, this Jasmine is an empowered woman who wants to take over the sultanate (but oddly never questions why if dad’s so benevolent, the people are living in poverty) and, as such, gets a new Frozen-style number called Speechless about, well, having a voice.

Give the indelible impression left by Williams, Smith has an almost impossible job in making the Genie his own, but generally pulls it off by resorting to his Fresh Prince brand of swaggering, sardonic humour, though the film can’t somehow decide if he has legs or a CGI smoke trail below his waist. Although the overlong running time and repetition (let’s face it, how many times can a magic lamp get dropped and recovered during a chase) will test the patience of younger kids, this manages to have enough action and magic to sustain it to the final feelgood set piece. (Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall)

The Angry Birds Movie 2 (U)

The game may have long since peaked, but with the first film having raked in $350 million, a sequel was inevitable. With erstwhile social outsider  Red (Jason Sudeikis) having become the local hero after having saved Bird Island from the pigs who wanted to steal their eggs, the two islands are now pretty much at peace, Red and his crew, superfast canary Chuck (Josh Gad) and the aptly named Bomb (Danny McBride) protecting the place from the occasional prank launched by oafish pig leader Leonard  (Bill Hader). However, when a giant ice-meteor comes crashing own on Pig Island and Leonard discovers there’s  a third island, populated by eagles,  birds and bacon have to join forces to prevent deranged purple-plumed tropical eagle Zeta (Leslie Jones) who, tired of life on a paradoxically ice-bound volcanic island with  molten lava core, is intending to  drive out her neighbours so she can rebuild their islands as her own twin paradises.

Rehashing the first film’s themes of  family, friendship, self-doubt, repressed feelings, isolationism and teamwork, the follow-up introduces a new character – and some female empowerment – into the mix in the form of Chuck’s science savvy genius sister  and amateur shrink Silver (Rachel Bloom),  she and Red (after meeting on speed dating session) naturally spend their time denying any mutual attraction. Meanwhile, making a return appearance is Mighty Eagle (Peter Dinklage) who, in turns out, has history with Zeta, prompting an amusing  flashback to his days as  a sort of eagle Danny Zuko from Grease

As the birds and pigs, including Leonard’s female teen assistant Courtney (Awkafina)  and his nerdy gadget man Garry (Sterling K. Brown), team up to find a way into Eagle Island and Zeta’s supervillain lair, there’s also a subplot in which three fluffy hatchlings try to recover the unhatched eggs they borrowed for their dress up game which, joined by three piglets, eventually links into the climax as well as provides a mid-credits sequence.

Also featuring the voices of Tiffany Haddish , Nicki Minaj  and the assorted sprogs of Nicole Kidman, Gal Godot and Viola Davis, as well as such feathery puns as a Flockbusters video store and a book called Crazy Rich Avians, it flaps along  in suitably brightly coloured and sugar rush kiddie friendly fashion complete with poop and snot jokes (though parents might wonder where the urinals scene is going) and a knockabout breakdance battle involving Zeta’s guards and several team members hidden, Trojan Horse-style,  inside an eagle costume.  Coming in the wake of the Secret Life of Pets and Toy Story sequels, it’s decidedly featherweight, but even so, the plumage makes for an entertaining display. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Animals (15)

Adapted from her own novel by Emma Jane Unsworth, but relocated from Manchester to Dublin, director Sophie Hyde essentially offers up a female version of Withnail and I as, turning thirty and  marriage sees the bonds of a hitherto inseparable friendship between two party hard women start to unravel.

At 32, reluctant barista Laura (Holliday Grainger) isn’t so much a  failed writer as a stillborn one, constantly jotting down notes,  but not having written more than ten pages in ten years. None of which she’s kept. She shares a flat with her landlady and best friend, Tyler (Alia Shawkat), the Withnail of the two, a somewhat feckless American  come to Ireland to escape  an abusive father and always ready to accompany Laura on her booze-fuelled jaunts round the city’s clubs and bars, and then to push her further.

However, when Laura’s younger sister Jean (Amy Molloy), once a wild child herself, announces she’s expecting, it sounds some sort of alarm bells and when she starts dating Jim (Fra Fee), a far more straitlaced, classical pianist on the rise, she’s the one who proposes.  Her nights she spends with Jim, who gives up drinking (for reasons of guilt revealed later), but still carries on her partying lifestyle. All of which  leaves confirmed caustic singleton and rebel Tyler not just bemused, but confused, resentful and angry, to the extent that, afraid of losing her,  she attempts to break them up by nudging Laura towards an affair with Marty (Dermot Murphy), a soulful poet professor. At the same time, Laura finds herself uncertain that she actually wants the settled and safe lives of Jim, Jean and her parents, yet nor is she sure she can continue down the same hedonistic path as Tyler.

Someone observes that Laura drinks “with a real sense of mortality”, and it’s very much this that the film explores, the search to find something to give life meaning when staring into the abyss, but always doubting if it really does, or if you’re going to go self-destructive  and ruin everything.  While they may be social animals, of a feral nature, Tyler and Laura have created their own hermetic world and are scared of leaving it, or, in Tyler’s case, of being left there on her own.  Liked Laura’s writing, both women’s lives are blocked and neither can move forward, always scribbling but never forming full paragraphs.

The supporting cast are solid and the two leads are terrific, both prickly and riddled with self-doubt, whether they acknowledge it or not, both fearful of being alone. The screenplay and the actresses make no attempt to render them especially likeable, indeed both can be cruelly hurtful and vindictive, ruthlessly selfish and manipulative, lashing out and yet at the same time are achingly vulnerable in their palpable hurt. The important thing is that they feel real and true,

Working with cinematographer Bryan Mason, Hyde and create an atmosphere so thick you can almost smell the streets and the bars, but equally overdoes her ‘animal’ symbolism  with shots of foxes prowling the alleyways looking for scraps to survive. Even so, this is up thre with Booksmart as one of the most  compelling, insightful and emotionally involving female friendship films in many a  year. (Cineworld 5 Ways)

Annabelle Comes Home (15)

Following the wake of Chucky’s revival,  the current devil doll de jour makes a return appearance for a third outing in her bangs and red-bowed pigtails glory that, this time features (albeit in largely bookending appearances), loosely real-life based Conjuring characters Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson,Vera Farmiga) for a haunted-house thriller that pretty much entirely unfolds in their suburban home, where the electricity seems to be somewhat intermittent.  Relieving the  latest unfortunate owners of the doll’s influence, the drive home, when come to a halt by a graveyard, conveniently allows Lorrianne to muse that it’s not evil in itself (though it doesn’t exactly look beneficent, it serves as a conduit for evil. Back home, it’s duly locked away inside a sacred glass cabinet, it and the artefact store room, duly given one of  regular holy blessing. At which point, the devil hunters take their leave, handing the film over for the night to their 10-year daughter, Judy (McKenna Grace) who’s spending it with her high-school babysitters, blonde good girl Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman) and tellingly dark-haired Daniela (Katie Sarife). Fascinated by the Warrens’ reputation and having dead daddy issues, the latter naturally ignores signs like keep out or you’ll die and  don’t touch this or everyone’s fucked, and sneaks into the museum and, naturally, searches for the key to unlock that cabinet.

From which point on, the film works its way through the familiar checklist of  ghostly figures, devils, werewolves, inanimate objects moving, typewriters typing by themselves, lights going out, people doing obviously stupid things, although the scariest moments come with the anticipation rather than the event, before the girls finally manage to get the damned doll back where she belongs. It’s formulaic, but decently acted and delivers pretty much everything you pay your money to see, though you can’t help feeling this and and its associated franchise have been milked until they’re positively dehydrated. (Cineworld 5 Ways;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

The Dead Don’t Die  (15)

Inevitably already tagged an undeadpan comedy, Jim Jarmusch’s latest takes on the zombie genre in self-consciously mannered but disarmingly likeable manner. Driving back after having dutifully broached a recent case of chicken stealing with Hermit Bob (Tom Waits) who lives in the woods, Chief Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray) and deputy Ronnie (Adam Driver), a pair of cops from smalltown Centerville remark on how it’s still daylight despite the lateness of the hour and the radio and their watches are on the frizz. Something odd’s going on which, as Ronnie’s prone to remarking, will “all end badly”. The something turns out to be the result of polar fracking which has tilted the Earth’s axis, affecting the climate and, more importantly, bringing the dead back to life, initially just two (including Iggy Pop) who  turn two women at the local diner as snacks, and eventually the entire graveyard’s worth.

Variously involved in all this are obnoxious racist Farmer Miller (Steve Buscemi, sporting a Keep America White Again baseball cap), gas station film/comic book nerd Bobby  (Caleb Landry Jones),  amiable diner regular Hank (Danny Glover), inept fellow cop Mindy (Chloe Sevigny and the town’s enigmatic new Scottish accented, samurai sword-wielding mortician, Zelda (Tilda Swinton). There’s also three city hipsters (Selena Gomez among them) who make an unfortunate stop over at the town motel while Carol Kane cameos as the town’s lush who corpse revives in the police station cell. However, quite where the three kids in the juvenile correction facility fit into all this is anyone’s guess.

There’s no real plot as such, things just stumble along as the zombie situation just gets worse, the numbers occasionally thinned down by following the ‘kill the head’ mantra (also the name of the production company) while  throwing in a steady stream of references and in jokes. Bobby puts the hipsters right about the cabins in Bates Motel (Psycho having been written by Robert Bloch, who also wrote a short zombies story called The Dead Don’t Die),  George Romero naturally gets a mention, Adam Driver has a Star Wars key ring and makes frequent meta fiction comments, such as how the Sturgill Simpson country track is the theme song and that he’s knows it ends badly because he’s read the script.

Waits’ voice over narration at the end about zombies as a metaphor for consumerism (the teen zombies shuffle along mumbling wi-fi) and greed seems a tad redundant (genre fans know how these things work) and at one point it throws in a completely random and unexplained scene, but the  cast deliver their often witty lines as befits the film’s nature and clearly seem to be having as much fun as the audience. (Mockingbird)

Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw (12A)

The first of the Fast & Furious spin-offs, this reunites alpha male rivals Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) who are forced to reluctantly team up when the latters’s MI6 agent sister,  Hattie (Vanessa Kirby), prevents Snowflake,  a deadly bio-engineered virus, from falling into the hands of dastardly multinational Eteon who want to unleash it on the world by injecting it into her own body. On the run after being framed for killing her own team, L.A.-based Diplomatic Security Service freelancer Hobbs  and London-based Cockney mercenary Shaw  are respectively recruited by agents Locke (Ryan Reynolds, reunited with Deadpool 2 director David Leitch), Hobbs’ former partner and self-appointed best-friend, and Loeb (Rob Delaney) to track her down. Though initially refusing to work together, they have no choice when Hattie’s abducted by Eteon’s bionically-enhanced supersoldier, Brixton Lore (Idris Elba), a veritable ‘black Superman’ with super strength, and bulletproofing,who has history with former partner  Shaw (as in being shot between the eyes when he tried to kill him), which, the pair now framed as international terrorists, means getting the Russian scientist who created Snowflake (Eddie Marsan) to remove it from Hattie’s body before the clock counts down and it goes live.

All of which essentially serves as an excuse from a series of insult trading, dick-measuring banter between the two muscle men, various high speed car/bike/truck chases, over the top fights and globe trotting locations (Chernobyl included) before climaxing back at Hobbs’ home in Samoa, which he’s not seen since leaving (for reasons later explained) 25 years earlier and the family his young daughter Sam (Eliana Sua) doesn’t even know exists. Indeed, family provides the running theme here, Hobbs and Shaw both reconnecting with their respective estranged brother, engineer-whizz Jonah (Cliff Curtis), and sister, while Helen Mirren pops up in a  cameo as the Shaw siblings’ now incarcerated mom (Queenie).

Forever winking at the camera, Johnson and Shaw make for hugely entertaining mismatched buddies, each with their own personal fighting styles (basically bludgeon/martial arts), the latter returning to his roots for the final showdown Samoan style, while Elba strides through with charismatic bad guy cool and Kirby suggests she could handle a franchise of her own., With a Reynolds end credits sequence setting up the sequel, Mirren, Eiza Gonzalez as Russian merc Madame M and a cameoing Chris Tucker as an air marshall keen to get back into the thick of things, all clearly lined up to join the team,  the only question is will there be a popcorn bucket big enough. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric;Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Horrible Histories: The Movie – Rotten Romans (PG)

Terry Deary’s hugely successful book series first translated into  television and then the stage, presenting an irreverent but educationally grounded approach to history, and now takes the inevitable next step (2016’s Bill was never an official spin-off) to the big screen. More Black Adder than Monty Python (though there a sly nod to Life of Brian), this pitched at younger audiences while still slipping in amusing references for the grown-ups and, in the I’m Farticus scene managing to combine both

Opening with Derek Jacobi reprising his iconic role as the stuttering Emperor Claudius, before being poisoned by his wife Agrippina (Kim Cattrall) to enable her buffoon son Nero ( Craig Roberts to take his place, albeit with her as the power behind, and indded on, the throne, it has teenage Roman Atti (Sebastian Croft) finding himself consigned to join the legion in Britain – aka The Stain – as punishment for having passed off a vial of horse urine as gladiator sweat which the British envoy bought as a birthday present for the Emperor.

Over in Britian, where, despite constant references to rain, it seems permanently sunny, he taken prisoner by Orla (EmmaWatson lookalike Emilia Jones), the feisty daughter of Cetic chieftain Arghus (Nick Frost) who, despite dad’s protestations, is desperate to prove herself a warrior, and winds up helping rescue her kleptomaniac gran (Joanna Bacon) from a rival tribe.

Meanwhile, Celtic warrior queen Boudicca (Kate Nash) is  leading a rebellion against the Romans which the incumbent governor, the pompous, prevaricating Paulinus (Rupert Graves), who always refers to himself in the third person, is ordered to crush.

Historical facts and observations are neatly enfolded into the amiable star-crossed lovers narrative that also amusingly involves the lyre-playing Nero’s attempts to kill his mother, his toadying adviser Sycophantus (Alex Macqueen), Legion Commander Decimus (Lee Mack) constantly pining for Rome, an over-stretched don’t shoot the messenger joke, a Roman Legion dubbed the IX Men  and, of course, various toilet-related gags. All interspersed with musical numbers, including a rap battle between Bouidicca and the Romans. In all honesty, it’s probably a bit overstretched as a movie, but the fun is never diluted.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Reel; Vue Star City)

Late Night (15)

The first woman to ever do so, Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson), an icy Englishwoman married to the older Walter Lovell (John Lithgow), a former celebrated pianist now suffering from Parkinson’s, has been hosting her own late-night talk show for 30 years, winning a truckload of Emmys. But, of late, set in her ways, the formula has become stale, the ratings slipping while brasher names like stand-up Daniel Tennant (Ike Barinholtz) and vacuous YouTuber Mimi Mismatch (Annaleigh Ashford) are hoovering up audiences. Informed by the network head (Amy Ryan) that this is her last season, it seems the only chance of  jump-starting her show and hanging on to her career might be new addition to the writing team, huge fan Molly Patel (Mindy Kaling), a former chemical factory troubleshooter with no TV experience who only got the job in the writers’ room as a diversity hire to rebuff claims that the self-absorbed and supposedly feminist Newbury (dubbed by the media at one point the nation’s least favourite aunt) doesn’t hate women. A fish out of water, naturally, she’s not welcomed with open arms by her all white male colleagues, especially not monologue head Tom (Reid Scott), not of whom have ever actually interacted with Newbury who, when she attends a meeting, gives them all numbers rather than bothering to remember their names. Molly is eight.

Reuniting Kaling with her The Mindy Project director Nisha Ganatra, it’s a fairly formulaic mainstream comedy as the two women impact on each other’s lives, but it’s lifted to a higher level by both a narrative that addresses the problems faced by women in the entertainment industry (especially, as a Newbury stand up skit observes, when they reach a certain age) and the workplace in general, and twin terrific serio-comic turns by Thompson and Kaling, not to mention the barbed banter that spikes the latter’s screenplay

Inevitably, it raises 30 Rock comparisons, but muddled in its attempts to reinvent Newbury’s persona, introducing a romantic subplot that simply fizzles out and resolved all too neatly, it ultimately falls short of Tina Fey’s razor sharp classic, but there’s enough laughs and talking points to make it worth staying up for. (Until Wed: MAC)

 

The Lion King (PG)

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

There’s no new additions (though a couple of hyenas are renamed), but all the familiar characters are present and correct with an impressive array of appropriately African-American vocal talent that includes Alfre Woodard as Sarabi, Simba’s mother, John Kani as mandrill shaman Rafiki, Beyoncé, in a slightly expanded role, as Nala, Simba’s childhood best friend and future love interest who not only gets to duet on Can You Feel The Love Tonight but has her own all new song, Spirit, while Shahadi Wright Joseph from the original Broadway cast is the young cub and Chiwetol Ejiofor is superbly sly as Simba’s treacherous uncle, Scar. Whether the revamp has any point beyond the technical accomplishments is open to debate, but it certainly deserves to be a  roaring success. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Marianne and Leonard: Words of Love (12A)

Back in 1960,  a struggling poet and (badly reviewed) novelist, Leonard Cohen invited a woman he saw coming out of store to join him and his friends. She was Marianne Ihlen, a young Norwegian with a small child and a failed marriage who had come to the Greek island of Hydra with its bohemian community of artists to escape. It was to become the start of an eight-year affair and an even longer friendship, and, more importantly she would become Cohen’s muse, the woman who inspired him to write That’s No Way To Say Goodbye, Bird on a Wire,  and, of course, So Long, Marianne (which she never liked).

Directed by Nick Broomfield, who, as a young photographer and filmmaker also went to Hydra in 1968 where he became Marianne’s friend and  another of her lovers (she encouraged him to make his first film), affording him a particular insight in forming this documentary of a love affair that, given Cohen’s later obsessive womanising as he found fame and his inability to settle, was doomed almost from the start.

Having been discovered, he invited her and her son Axel, to join him in Montreal.  As a mutual friend observes, it wasn’t that he wanted them there, it was that he wanted to make the gesture. From the moment she arrived, the romance began to fall apart. At one point, during a concert, he talks of how he would spend half a year with her and half a year away, gradually coming down to just a few weeks. Likewise, having been championed by Judy Collins who recorded Suzanne (a song written for another of his lovers), Marianne sent her a letter saying  “You recorded all his songs and I just want to tell you that you ruined my life.”

Constructed with new to camera interviews with the likes of  Aviva Layton (widow of Cohen’s literary mentor, the Romanian-Canadian poet Irving Layton) and producer-guitarist Ron Cornelius, alongside  archive footage and audio of both Cohen and Marianne, its refusal to stick to a chronological timeline can make it sometimes difficult to follow events, But it is both touching and illuminating (Ihlen seems to have been born to be a muse, also inspiring Julie Felix to write her own songs), casting light on a woman who, for the most part, has only ever been known by the song,  recalling events though her own voice, revealing her struggles with her son’s drug addiction (introduced by his father) but also her contented marriage on return to Oslo. And, of course, there are the asides, how Cohen’s manager embezzelled all his money, how the record company refused to release Hallelujah, declaring ita  terrible record.

Unquestionably, the most moving moment comes with her lying dying in a Norwegian hospital and receiving a letter from Cohen, expressing his last love and gratitude, in which he wrote  “Know that I am so close behind that if you stretch out your hand, I am think you can reach mine … Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road.” Cohen died just three months after Marianne. Death, it seems the only cure for love.  (Electric|)

Midsommar (18)

Given it involves a troubled visitor to a reclusive, isolated community that practices ancient fertility and renewal rites, including a sacrificial offering, it’s hard not to think of this as a Swedish-set version of The Wicker Man. Except that was 88 minutes and this is almost an hour longer.

Written and directed by Ari Aster as his follow-up to Hereditary, it pivots on a terrific performance by Florence Pugh (increasily resembling a  young Kate Winslet) as the traumatised  Dani who, having experienced a family tragedy (a brilliant opening of panic and a wordless reveal that her unbalanced sister’s committed suicide and murdered their parents), is grudgingly invited by her less than committed boyfriend. Christian (Jack Reynor), to join him and his loosely sketched university friends, fellow PhD student Josh (William Jackson Harper),  ever horny Mark (Will Poulter), and the just graduated Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) on a trip to the latter’s Swedish commune. Indeed,  the latter’s especially keen for her to come.

On arrival, they link up with two English tourists, Connie and Simon, who are essentially redundant to the mix other than for body count purposes, and they’re all invited to take part in a nine-day celebration that’s only held once every 90 years. With everyone wearing white, forever waving their hands in the air, an unexplained caged bear and ritualistic group meals, it’s all a bit odd. Things take a rather more startling turn, however, when, following tradition, two elderly members of the community hurl themselves from a cliff to be dashed, in gruseome rubbery rootage, on the rock below.  Dani is understandably rattled, but her travelling companions seem less so, Christian and Josh seeing it as anthropologicaly fascinating and the culturally insensitive Mark, well, frankly not giving a toss since he only appears to have tagged along to get laid. Which will, of course, not turn out for the best.

From hereonin, things start to get creepier, what with all those disturbing paintings in to the communal sleeping quarters, the assorted ululations and hallucinogenic drinks, until the group’s been whittled down to just Dani and the increasingly bemused Christian, the former invited to take part in the dance to choose the May Queen and the other  reluctantly becoming a central player in an impregnation ritual. And, for those unaware of  Edward Woodward’s wicker man fate, we’ve still to find out why the bear’s there.

Making effective use of the constant daylight, Aster takes his time in building the gathering sense of dread, dropping in small suggestions and details, relying on imagery rather than carnage, while the narrative’s peppered with bursts of humour (some more intentional than others as it descends into giggle-inducing silliness) as it finally builds to a  genuinely disturbing finale that gives Pugh the last unsettling freeze frame.

It’s a muddled and mostly predictable journey in which much happens off camera and, as obligatory in such films, no one ever says let’s get the fuck out of here, but while it will try the patience, those last fifteen minutes are well worth the wait. (Cineworld 5 Ways)

 

The Queen’s Corgi (PG)   

Given to the Queen (Julie Walters) by Prince Philip (Tom Courteney) as a present, Rex (Jack Whitellla) becomes her favourite corgi. But, when he disgraces himself during a  state visit by Donald and Melania Trump when they want him to mate with their dog, he’s persuaded by cunning rival Charlie (Matt Lucas), who wants to be topdog (spot the in-joke), to leave the palace and finds himself locked up in an animal shelter. Here he falls for slinky Saluki Wanda (Sheridan Smith), which sees him fall foul of shelter bully Tyson (Ray Winstone). Now he has to persuade the other dogs to help him survive a showdown, escape and get back to Buckingham Palace  before Charlie officially takes his place.

A competently made and functionally written Belgian animation revoiced with an all star English cast, this has its amusing moments (and, of course, pooh and widdle jokes) and the canine capers will entertain younger kids, though parents might have a tough time explaining the Fight Club references, pole dancing and corgi couplings. Not exactly Secret Life of Pets pedigree, but Trump taking a selfie with Liz and telling Melania to ‘grab some puppy’ offer some compensation.(MAC)

Rocketman (15)

The uncredited midwife to Bohemian Rhapsody in its later stages, director Dexter Fletcher now gives birth to another popstar biopic under his own name, albeit one that’s distinctly less feelgood and decidedly more raw. Working with Billy Elliot’s Lee Hall as scriptwriter, it conceives the rise of a young Reginald Kenneth Dwight from childhood piano prodigy to global superstar Elton Hercules John as a musical fantasy that casts its eye over his rise to fame as flashbacks during an AA meeting into which he storms as he resolves to exorcise his demons (wearing, a pointedly unsubtle over-the-top red winged, sequin-horned demon costume) and get clean from a battery of addictions ranging from drink and drugs to sex and shopping. As such, as the rating suggests, there’s a ready supply of family unfriendly moments, whether that be hoovering up mountains of cocaine, gay sex (an aspect Bohemian Rhapsody largely avoided) or a stream of expletives.

Within all this, Hall and Fletcher (under the production auspices of John and David Furnish) offer a portrait of a musical genius crippled by self-doubt and the feeling that he could not be loved, the finger of blame pointing fairly and squarely at his emotionally shut-off homophobic father (Steven Mackintosh) and dismissive, don’t give a toss mother (Bryce Dallas Howard), the only support coming from his gran (Gemma Jones), and subsequently compounded by the toxic relationship with his domineering, exploitative and casually cruel personal manager and sometime lover John Reid (Richard Madden in a fright wig).

Using a mix of fantasy and recreated musical moments involving some of John’s iconic hits, none of this would have worked without the transformative performance by Taron Egerton  as the grown Elton (though special mention must be made of the indelible work by Matthew Illesley and Kit Connor as the younger and adolescent Reggie, the former  scoring an early emotional highlight with the words “aren’t you going to give me a hug”) who not only becomes rather than channels Elton (although the size of the gap in his teeth fluctuates), but, unlike Remi Malek, also does his own singing (you’ll recall he sang I’m Still Standing and other Elton numbers as Guy the Gorilla in Sing). Whether in torment or euphoria, working out notes on the piano or in full-on concert mode, Egerton is quite simply phenomenal.

But, as in Elton’s real life, the screen dynamic works because of the relationship with is long-standing lyricist Bernie Taupin (an unshowy but quietly commanding turn by Jamie Bell) with whom he formed a lifelong platonic friendship and whose lyrics often offer insights into his writing partner’s psychological makeup, just as Fletcher uses the musical sequences in the same way.

All the trappings are there, the meticulously recreated flamboyant costumes, the array of glasses, the tantrums, the self-destructive hedonistic excesses, but the film rises above such narrative props to form an emotionally compelling portrait of a man drowning in his own insecurities and seeking to numb his pain in any number of addictive palliatives.

Although Your Song arrives early into the story, there’s no real attempt to set the songs in anything like chronological order, Daniel most certainly never being an early DJM demo for his first publisher, Dick James (Stephen Graham), such that the teenage Elton morphs into the adult during a local pub performance of Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting, set, of course, to a brawl.

At times, in keeping with classic Hollywood musicals,  Fletcher captures both the actual moment and the feel, such as Elton and the audience levitating to Crocodile Rock during his debut Troubadour performance and blasting into space for Rocket Man. There’s times when it rushes over elements, such as his short-lived marriage to Renate Blauel (Celinde Schoenmaker) which, the film argues triggered his descent to suicidal hell, and, while it does find room to include the recordings of Don’t Go Breaking My Heart with Kiki Dee, none of his long-serving band (which included Ray Cooper, Nigel Olsson and Davey Johnston) with whom he played almost 4000 shows get mentioned by name, but these are minor niggles given such dazzling scenes as the Benny and the Jets sequence or the poignancy of the opening lines to Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. It ends with Egerton taking another stab at I’m Still Standing in a perfect recreation of the original Cannes-set video, where, of course, this film had its premiere and a perfect closing statement of resilience and a testament to almost 30 years of sobriety. Though he still likes to shop. Bohemian what? (MAC)

The Secret Life of Pets 2 (U)

A rare case of the sequel surpassing the original, director Chris Renaud successfully juggles and interweaves three storylines, satisfyingly bringing them together for a thrilling train chase climax.  His owner now married and with a new baby, Jack Russell terrier Max (Patton Oswalt) has bonded with the kid but is now so overcome with helicopter parent anxieties about New York life he’s developed a psychosomatic scratching problem that sees him (following a very funny vets visit) in a plastic cone. He, slobbery shaggy Duke (Eric Stonestreet) and the family head off to an uncle’s farm for a holiday where Max meets up with self-assured gruff but cool sheepdog Rooster (a distinctive Harrison Ford in his animation debut) who helps him overcome his fears.

Meanwhile, he’s left his favourite squeaky toy in the care of Gidgit, the fluffy white Pomeranian (Jenny Slate), who manages to lose in in an apartment wall to wall with feral cats, prompting her to turn to the laid back smugly superior Chloe (Lake Bell), again stealing the film, to help her pass herself off as a cat so she can recover it, a subplot that involves a hilarious sequence with a red laser dot.

Meanwhile, Snowball (Kevin Hart), the deranged white rabbit who’s been dressed up as a superhero bunny by his owner, is enlisted by new character Daisy (Tiffany Haddish), a feisty Shih Tzu, to rescue an abused white tiger cub from a travelling circus. As the narrative finally brings them all back together to New York, the third act entails them working as a team to save the tiger from the wicked Eastern European circus owner, his pack of wolves and a psycho monkey sidekick.

Again, vibrantly colourful, the film features some well-observed moments of animal behaviour, a particular gem being Chloe’s attempts to wake her owner culminating in a furball, and how closely it can resemble that of humans (a point reinforced by the end credit real life pet and owner clips) and their neuroses. Laced with lightly-handled life lessons, mixing together kid-friendly jokes about pooping in boots  and weeing up trees with more anarchic and  subtly subversive adult touches, this is a real treat. Now, can we have a Chloe spin-off please. (Until Wed: MAC)

 

Spider-Man: Far From Home (12A)

Faced with the daunting challenge of being the first outing of the  Marvel Cinematic Universe in the aftermath of the game-changing Avengers: Endgame (it opens with a high school in memoriam tribute to the fallen heroes),  returning director Jon Watts wisely avoids its dramatic and emotional intensity and, for at the first half at least, adopts a playful, light tone with witty repartee and quips as, adjusting to life after returning from ‘the blip’, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is beset with both grief over the death of his mentor, Tony Stark, deep reservations about being touted as his successor and, more importantly, trying to summon up the courage to tell MJ (an endearing sassy Zendaya) how he feels about her. Especially given fellow classmate Brad (Remy Hii), who has become a real hunk in the five years Peter was ‘dead’, is making moves. On top of which he’s not too sure how he feels about the fact that Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) seems to be flirting with Aunt May (Marisa Tomei).

As he tells best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), he intends to take her up the Eiffel tower during the upcoming Europe-trotting school trip and open his heart. Naturally the best laid plans of mice and Spider-man oft gang awry, here thanks to the intervention of Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson), whose calls he’s been avoiding, who turns up in Venice and  recruits him in the fight against the Elementals, creatures that embody the power of the four elements. Or rather the last of them, fire, since the other three, including the water monster that trashed Venice, was taken out, with help from Spidey, by Quentin Beck, or, as the Italian media dubs him, Mysterio (Jack Gyllenhall), the sole survivor of an alternate Earth, a superhero who emits green vapour trails and fires laser beams from his wrists and has joined forces with S.H.I.E.L.D. He and Peter quickly bond over their shared sense of loss. A little interference from Fury sees the trip to Paris relocated to Prague where the fire monster is scheduled to appear, climaxing in the two engaged in another sensational battle, this time with Peter in a new black outfit to avoid anyone putting two and two together that  has Ned christening him Night Monkey.

Given the film is only half-way in, it’s obvious there’s a twist up its sleeve, and without giving too much away, it’s worth remembering the theme of illusion and appearances on which the film’s founded.

Rattling along, it questions what it means to be a reluctant superhero while juggling the romantic suplot, including Ned hooking up with aspirant class reporter Betty Brand (Angourie Rice), comic relief involving dickhead Parker-baiting Spidey fan Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori) while dropping in a  poignant Robert Downey Jr cameo flashback, a crucial plot device in the form of high-tech intelligence system glasses named Edith (with which Peter inadvertently calls in a  drone strike on Brad before passing them on to whom he regards as their true worthy successor) and, yes, the Peter Tingle.

Giving a hugely engaging performance, Holland has really grown into the role as the guileless  boy not sure if he’s ready to become a man while Gylllenhaal juggles earnest and diva to perfection, arguably rendering this the most satisfying Spider-Man movie yet. And ensure you stay for the post-credits sequence which, in addition to reintroducing a cast member from the original Sam Raimi movies (Brant’s a hint), delivers one more slap in the face twist that sets up a whole new nightmare for Peter to face in the eagerly anticipated follow-up.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Mockingbird; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Tolkien (12A)                         

The Tolkien estate has disavowed this biopic of  JRR Tolkien’s early years prior to writing The Lord of the Rings. Which might lead you to think director Dome Karuskowsi has played fast and loose with the author’s legacy. Not so. Unfolding as a journey of experiences that would inspire his fantasy classics, the film does get the chronology wrong in that, on arriving from South Africa, the young John Ronald Reuel (Harry Kilby), brother Hilary (largely absent from the story) and widowed mother Mabel (Laura Donnelly) actually lived in Kings Heath before relocating to the then Worcestershire village of Sarehole (the film having it the other way round) and eventually Rednal, where Mabel died from diabetes, but otherwise it seems fairly factually accurate. It is, however, largely plodding, going to heavy handed lengths to have you associate people, places and events with Tolkien’s famed books.

The story begins in earnest when, after Mabel’s death, the two brothers move into an Edgbaston boarding house and John, who, home schooled by mom. can recite Chaucer from memory, in the original, and has invented his own language, gets accepted into King Edwards and forms a bond with fellow pupils Christopher Wiseman (Ty Tennant/Tom Glynn-Carney), a sensitive poet, aspirant composer Geoffrey Bache Smith (Adam Bregman/Anthony Boyle) and headmaster’s son Robert Gilson (Albie Marber/Patrick Gibson), the four of them forming the T.C.B.S. literary society, named after their favourite local tearoom. Clearly templates for Frodo’s chums,  the fellowship (as the film stresses) continues when Tolkien and Smith go to Oxford and the others to Cambridge.

With Nicholas Hault as the grown Tolkien, the film’s framed between a sick Tolkien searching for an old friend at the battle of the Somme (helped by a soldier tellingly named Sam) and his flashbacks, among these being his growing relationship with future wife Edith Bratt (Lily Collins), a free spirited fellow orphan with a prophetic thing for Wagner’s Ring Cycle, who also lived at the boarding house, working as companion to the prissy Mrs. Faulker (Pam Ferris). They embark on a romance but, when Tolkien fails his first Oxford entrance exam, he’s told by his priest guardian (Colm Meaney) to choose between Edith (who’s a Protestant) and academia.

Cut back to Oxford where, having been sent down after a drunken incident following some bad news, Tolkien gets a second chance when he switches classes to that of Philology Professor Wright (Derek Jacobi) but, no sooner has he done so than war’s declared and all four friends head off to do battle.

The film is good at the small details (John and Edith did actually throw sugar lumps into the hats of fellow tearoom diners) and there’s an amusing Peter Jackson in-joke when one character remarks that six hours is a bit long to tell a story about a  ring, but the framework on which these are hung is all rather predictable and pedestrian. While Hault does his best with the screenplay, there’s not much meat on its bones to feed off and, while he and Collins have chemistry, the romantic spark never ignites, while the battle scenes take off into Tolkien’s hallucinated CGI monsters and dragons designed to evoke his subsequent literary masterpieces, the film ending on the word Hobbit.  Reverential and sympathetic to its subject, it’s a polite addition to the BritLit period canon which could, perhaps, have done with a little more fire to have given the estate grounds for outrage. Still, at least you learn how to actually pronounce Tolkien. (Until Wed: MAC)

Toy Story 4 (U)

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

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

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

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

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

Exploring themes such as finding your purpose, self-worth, abandonment, loyalty, responsibility, selflessness, and that letting go and moving on doesn’t mean you stop loving or being loved, it will touch chords in both children and adults alike while also providing thrilling action sequences, dark and scary moments, affecting poignancy, laughs (not least in Buzz thinking his pre-programmed recordings are his ‘inner voice’) and moments of breathtaking beauty. From a joyful reunion to a moving parting of the ways farewell, this will take your heart to infinity and beyond.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Yesterday (12A)

Another film that comes with an inspired idea but struggles to find anything much to do with it beyond the initial premise and singularly fails to navigate the plot holes it opens up. That premise is that, after 10 years, talented but struggling 27-year-old Anglo-Indian singer-songwriter Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is fed up of playing the same round of Sussex bars to people who don’t want to listen. So, he tells Ellie (Lily James in uber girl next door mode), his childhood best friend and manager (naturally, neither tells the other they love them) that he’s going to pack it in and return to teaching. On the way home, the entire country has a blackout (art mirroring in Argentinean life) and he collides with bus in the dark. He wakes up in hospital missing a tooth. That’s not the only thing that’s gone missing. Down the pub he strums a song on his new guitar his mates and is gobsmacked when they’re greatly impressed with what he’s written. Except he hasn’t. The song is Yesterday, but they’ve never heard it before. Nor have they ever heard of The Beatles. Indeed, racing home to his computer, Jack discovers that, in this new reality, they’ve never existed. He’s the only one who remembers them. And, more importantly, their songs. So, next thing you know he’s scrabbling to remember all the lyrics (he goes to Liverpool to visit Strawberry Fields and Eleanor Rigby’s grave) and passing them off as his own. This first gets him the attention of a smalltime producer and studio owner who invites him to record some demos, which leads to an interview and airing on the in-house TV channel of the supermarket where he works  and, subsequently, none other than Ed Sheeran turning on his doorstep asking him to play  some support slots and, from there, it’s just a short step to Ed’s supercilious, sarcastic American manager, Debra (Kate McKinnon in broad but very funny music exec send-up mode) to sign him up, dollar signs and beachside mansions flashing in her eyes, as she prepares to groom him for superstardom, leaving Ellie behind nursing heartbreak in a rebound romance.

Does Jack get to realise fame built on a lie means nothing? Does he get to realise that wants he really wants his Ellie? Well, since this is written by Richard Curtis of course he does. But, while getting there has its sweet and amusing moments, this is far from his best work. Nor is it a highpoint in director Danny Boyle’s career either.

The narrative is all over the place and, throwing logic to the wind, frequently makes no sense. Jack’s stalked by an elderly couple carrying plastic yellow submarine who, it turns out also remember The Beatles, though quite how or why is never explained.  In this new reality, the Fab Four aren’t the only thing that have vanished. Nobody’s heard of Coca Cola or Harry Potter, or indeed Oasis, which makes nonsense of Ellie’s flashback to watching Jack perform Wonderwall at the school talent show.

There’s a wholly misguided moment when Jack meets a now elderly John Lennon, an artist who, in a telegraphed wake up to call to Jack, got to spend his life with the woman he loved, but there’s no hint of George, Ringo or Paul. Though Jack does get to wear a very familiar cardigan.

Naturally, there’s a generous helping of Beatles hits performed by Jack, including an amusing scene where he attempts to play Let It Be to his distracted parents (Meera Syal, Sanjeev Bhaskar) and a self-effacing moment from Sheeran, who declares himself Salieri to Jack’s Mozart, when he suggests Jack should call his new song Hey Dude while, alongside a pointless James Cordon cameo, Joel Fry offers some running comic relief as Jack’s idiot roadie. But, even in its confess the truth and true love comes together moment, the underwritten screenplay has simply none of the emotional spark Curtis brought to Notting Hill or Love, Actually. A Twilight Zone romcom that ferries across the Merseybeat but never gets to port, this Yesterday’s not here to stay.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC; Empire Great Park; Showcase Walsall)

 

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

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