MOVIE ROUND-UP:This Week’s New Film Releases, Fri Jul 13-Thu Jul 19

 

 

NEW RELEASES

Incredibles 2  (PG)

It’s been 14 years since Pixar’s super-powered Parr family, Mr. Incredible, dad Bob (Craig T.Nelson), Elastigirl, wife Helen (Holly Hunter), daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell) and son Dash (Huck Milner) made their big screen debut, but any doubts that writer-director Brad Bird may have lost some of the mojo between times are immediately dispelled in an opening sequence as the family don their distinctive red uniforms and go into action to tackle returning villain the Underminer. He gets away but, even so, they save the city. The point, however, is that superheroing remains illegal.

But someone wants to change that. Super-rich Winston Deavour (Bob Odenkirk) runs DevTech along with his brilliant scientist sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener) and, a long-time super-hero fan, is, as he explains to Bob, Helen and Lucius, aka Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) on a mission to have them legalised.  To do so, he just needs a hero to front his campaign and prove how much the world needs supers. Naturally, Bob assumes he means him, but, in fact, it’s Helen the siblings want. So, persuaded that the times call for some righteous civil disobedience (or as Violet puts it,  “Mom is going out illegally to explain why she shouldn’t be illegal?”), while she dons a new costume and mask,  Bob has to stay home and look after the kids, including baby Jack-Jack who, he soon discovers, has myriad powers of his own, including teleportation, self-cloning, the ability to shoot lasers from his eyes and transforming into a tantrum-throwing, fire-casting demon when he doesn’t get his own way, or cookies.

So, while  Helen’s off on her souped-up  motorbike trying to track down and defeat the mysterious Screenslaver,  a villain determined to liberate society from its love affair with simulation and virtual experience and discredit superheroes forever, Bob’s having to deal with his bruised ego and the minefield of being a  stay at home dad which, aside from  attempting to discover the extent of Jack-Jack’s powers and harness them  (with the help of Bird as  eccentric fashion designer Edna Mode), involves having to handle an understandably sulky  Violet who’s discovered that he had a mindwipe carried out on her fledgling boyfriend to remove memory of her  alter-ego, inadvertently removing his memory of her altogether.

Although the villain  plot twist isn’t too hard to see coming, this never for a moment spoils the film’s  sheer exhilaration or intelligence, be that hair-raising action sequences such as Elastigirl trying to stop a runaway train,  chasing it on top of the train itself, or its meditations on unethical laws,  parenting and gender equality. On top of which there’s also a whole bunch of new super-heroes eager to be legalised, including Reflux, who vomits lava, and Voyd, who idolises Helen, all of whom, along with Bob, Lucius and Helen, fall victim to Screenslaver’s mind control as Winston prepares for the Ambassador (Isabella Rossellini) to sign the legalisation legalising superheroes, setting up the scene for the kids to come to the rescue.

With non-stop thrills and goofy gags for the kids (especially Jack-Jack’s fight with a racoon) and in-jokes and political/parental arguments for the grown-ups, both a breathtaking, breathless family adventure and a Trump-inspired clarion call for right-on anarchy to take on a morally unjust authority (a sentiment surely shared with Captain America), this is, without reservation, the best superhero movie of the year.  In Pixar tradition, it’s preceded by a short, Bao, another poignantly thoughtful family-themed film, about a Chinese-Canadian immigrant family and a dumpling that comes to life. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham,  Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Freak Show (15)

The directorial debut of Trudie Styler, likely more familiar to most as Mrs. Sting,   this is a terrific Sundance-friendly gender choice dramady about a self-proclaimed sissy high school teenager who, in a touch of Ma Vie en Rose, would rather be a girl than a boy. Encouraged in his flamboyant burlesque extravagances by his blousy, boozehound and self-indulgent mother (Bette Midler), Billy Bloom (Alex Lawther), much to the consternation of his banker father (Larry Pine), life’s fine when his parents divorce until mom vanishes into rehab and Billy’s forced to move from Connecticut into his wealthy dad’s palatial red state home, taking with him his mother’s frocks and make-up, and, worse go to school.

Things get off to a bad start when, on his first day, he swans in dressed pirate-style like Adam Ant. Next, it’s Marilyn Monroe    It’s pretty much downhill from there as his new peers relentlessly bully him while, masking his insecurity,  he defiantly responds with even more outrageous wardrobes.  He does, however, find two allies, a talkative fellow misfit known only a Blah Blah Blah (AnnaSophia Robb) and, unlikely as it may seem, the school’s non-judgemental football star, Flip (Ian Nelson), who himself has identity issues (he would rather be a painter than a jock) who reckons he can turn him into a regular guy’s guy and tries to persuade Billy to tone things down a bit. Maybe even wear regulation blue jeans.

When the bullying gets violent, briefly leaving Billy in a coma with concussions and internal haemorrhaging (when he wakes his joking first request is for lip gloss, remarking that they probably didn’t like the dress) , it only strengths his determination to be who he is (“I didn’t choose fabulous, fabulous chose me!”)  and leads him to announce his candidacy for Homecoming Queen up against bitchy queen bee bigot and head cheerleader Lynette (Abigail Breslin). Her campaign is founded on decency vs. depravity while his slogan is, what else, ‘Let Billy Bloom’, promoting “glamour, pageantry and good hair.” His move sees him aided by a bunch of other fellow outcasts who hide in the shadows, but it does, however, cause a rift between him and Flip.

It’s at this point in the plot that the film shifts into its moral lesson gear climaxing with Billy’s address to the students, appealing to them to embrace difference and fly their own inner freak flag. Last year’s Presidential Election might indicate how this all turns out.

It can feel a little preachy in places, but that never undermines its message about tolerance and standing up for who you are, the last act hitting some particularly powerful emotional notes with its various reconciliations and  personal triumphs,  as well as a devastating scene as Billy’s mother returns and he thinks she’s come for him.

Lawther is mesmerisingly good (never afraid to, at times, make Billy an unsympathetic jerk)  and Breslin is a revelation in a character that’s  the polar opposite of  Little Miss Sunshine (especially good in her scenes opposite Laverne Cox’s local reporter ) , but the entire cast are superb with especially strong supporting turns from Celia Weston as his father’s housekeeper and a true mother to Billy, John McEnroe as the cruelly demanding school coach  and Christopher Dylan White as the student who conceals his sexuality behind brutal homophobia.

Variously hilarious and deeply moving, sporting an inevitable array of  over the top costumes and a soundtrack that includes Perfume Genius, T. Rex, Plastic Bertrand  and, of course, Boy George, it’s one of the year’s best films, all the more a disgrace that it should receive such an ignominious  release, hidden away on a  single screen. Seek it out. (Mon-Thu:Mockingbird)

 

Mary Shelley (12A)

The daughter of  political philosopher William Godwin  and  feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft, the latter dying just a few weeks after giving birth, Shelley, a well-educated and independent spirit homeschooled by her father,  is internationally renowned as the author of the seminal gothic novel Frankenstein, penned when she was just 18.

The English language debut of Saudi female director Haifaa Al-Mansour and written by Emma Jensen, this period drama doggedly charts, albeit in somewhat compressed form,  the tale’s  origins  in Mary’s own life, in particular her somewhat troubled romantic relationship with  the rebellious – and married – poet  Percy Bysshe Shelley.

In this telling, Mary (a finely accented Elle Fanning)  first meets Shelley (Douglas Booth) in Scotland where, having clashed with her brittle stepmother (Joanne Froggatt), she’s been sent by her father (Stephen Dillane) to continue her education and self-discovery under radical thinker William Baxter. A spark immediately flares between them,

Summoned home to care for her supposedly seriously  ill stepsister Claire  Clairmont (Bel Powley), she and Shelley are reunited when he applies to work for her father’s bookshop (offering a welcome payment to bail Godwin out of debt) and, meeting secretly at her mother’s grave,  romance blossoms, only to hit a scandal when, albeit estranged,  it’s revealed he’s married with a child. Broke, ostracised by  English society and given an ultimatum by her father, Mary, accompanied by Claire, chooses to run off with Shelley, embarking on a life that will bring them into contact with the notorious debauchee Lord Byron (Tom Sturridge in rock star eyeliner) , who will get Claire pregnant, and the physician William Polidori (Ben Hardy),  and, of course, during a stay in Geneva in summer 1816 (the same year Shelley’s wife committed suicide), prompt the legendary proposition that they should each pen a ghost story, Mary having already been depicted as having a fascination for the genre.

Without labouring the point (but nevertheless spelled out by Percy when he reveals the book’s authorship and  inspiration), the film underlines how the death of  three of her children, the experiences of rejection and the men in her life, living penniless and the often volatile relationship with Shelley (the couple were often parted as he hid from his creditors while he also had a fling with Clairmont) all fed into Frankenstein; there’s also an early scene where she witnesses a display of galvanism that later  informs her fevered dream).

Impressively shot and finely acted with illuminating insights in the period, even so it tends to plod dutifully along rather than flare into life, never quite capturing the full extent of Mary’s radicalism   and, surprisingly, is somewhat cursory in  detailing her  treatment by the literary circle on account of being a woman. Even so, it’s a solid contribution to the literary biopic genre and should especially be seen by GCSE students studying Frankenstein.  (Electric)

 

Pin Cushion  (15)

Marking the full-length debut of writer-director Deborah Haywood, this  quirky coming-of-age British indie is built upon two stand-out  performances from Joanna Scanlan and Lily Newmark who, respectively, play eccentric mother Lyn and her  gawky ugly duckling teenage daughter Iona.  Cemented by their shared outsider status, they refer to each other as Dafty One and Dafty Two), they  have an intensely close bond that can border on the suffocating .  Although excited about starting a new life in a new village, the former is soon subject to mocking by the local kids on account of her hunchback and having one leg shorter than the other while  the latter inevitably finds difficulty in making friends at her new school, ignoring her fellow misfits in an cringe-inducing attempt to get in with the popular girls. Again, although nice boy Daz (Loris Scarpa) seems to take a shine to Iona, it seems as the  mother-daughter relationship will be their mutual life-support system. However, when  queen bee Keeley (Sacha Cordy-Nice) and her sidekicks  Stacie (Sasika Paige Martin) and Chelsea (Bethany Antonia) switch from hostility to deceptive friendship, like three cats toying with a  mouse, things begin to change, the frenemy trio taking cruel advantage of Iona’s naiveté, especially in matters of sex, for their own amusement   while,  eager to fit in, she slides down a  slippery slope that soon sees her tagged as the local slag. Meanwhile, the mousy and somewhat self-destructive  Lyn is suffering her own humiliations, rejected by the snobbish local community centre  circle who  supposedly help in settling conflicts as being too weird  when she complains about a neighbour refusing to return the stepladders she borrowed.

The further Iona falls, the more the repressed anger simmers inside Lyn, eventually boiling over in an act of parental  revenge on her daughter’s tormentors that is shockingly unexpected.

Iona’s fantasies of having a glamorous air-hostess mother don’t really work, but, otherwise, and especially in a devastating confessional by Lyn, in upending expectations and surrounding Lyn and Iona with  despicably self-serving characters, Haywood  mines very similar misanthropic territory to the films of Todd Soldentz (most notably Welcome to the Dollhouse) and fully serves to be given similar acclaim.  There’s a Q&A with Haywood, Antonia and producer Gavin Humphries following the screening on Monday. (Mon-Thu: MAC: Q&A Mon)

 

The Secret Of Marrowbone  (15)

A well-crafted but ultimately flawed and underwhelming psychological thriller cum ghost story, this sees writer-director Sergio G. Sánchez  (who scripted  The Orphanage) rework a familiar convention with one of those reveal climaxes that, like The Others, The Sixth Sense and The Cement Garden,  make you reassess everything you’ve just seen.

It opens with a mother (Nicolas Harrison) returning to her  overgrown and dilapidated family home in rural America with her four children, youngster Sam (Matthew Stagg), adolescent daughter Jane (Mia Goth), son Billy (Charlie Heaton) and his older brother  Jack (George MacKay), the family reverting to her maiden  name of Marrowbone (also that of the house)  and fleeing from some mysterious scandal involving her husband back in England.

Before long, mom takes sick and dies, leaving Jack having to pretend she’s still alive  until he turns 21 in order to keep the family together. This means forging mom’s signature on deeds to the house, insisting his sibling remain inside the grounds and keeping romantic interest  local librarian Allie (Ana Taylor-Joy), who lives in a  farm over the hill,  from dropping by, meeting her in town or  cutely communicating by semaphore from their respective bedroom windows.

There’s tension in the house, where all the mirrors are covered, with Sam believing there’s a ghost, as its revealed that their father, a serial killer, came after them and they walled him up alive. Matters are further complicated when Porter (Kyle Soller), the ambitious local attorney, becomes suspicious, the plot involving  the money  mom stole from her husbands’ ill-gotten gains and which he came in search of and which Porter now seeks to blackmail Jack for.

With the house’s decayed look and dark recesses and bricked-up rooms, the set design is impressive and atmospheric, intended to reflect the film’s overarching  psychological thread, but neither it nor the acting it can compensate for the increasingly convoluted and gimmicky narrative that, when  all has finally been revealed,  ends with a particularly clunky coda. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham,  Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

 

Skyscraper (12A)

With this making it three in a row, Dwayne Johnson  is the currently undisputed king of the blockbusters, a  title once held by Bruce Willis, which is all rather ironic given that his latest is basically Die Hard meets Towering Inferno.

The prologue has Johnson’s FBI agent and negotiator Will Sawyer attempting to talk down a family hostage situation when the guy detonates a body bomb, leaving Sawyer some years later with a prosthetic leg, married to his medic, former combat-surgeon  Sarah (Neve Campbell) and with two cute kids (McKenna Roberts,  Noah Cottrell ).  He now runs a one man company advising on security and, thanks to a former member of his squad, he lands the lucrative job of  vetting the Pearl, the world’s tallest building, a state of the art 240-storey Hong Kong two-thirds of a mile high project by multi-millionaire developer Zhao (Chin Han) with, as per its name, a giant pearl-like globe at  the top containing a virtual-reality space that you just know is going to become the  stage for the final showdown.

Having duly confirmed the place is super-safe (though the scene in the trailer with Noah Taylor’s insurance exec questioning his skills is curiously absent), events inevitably set out to prove Sawyer wrong as a team of mercenaries led by ruthless Swedish psycho  Kores Botha (Roland Møller) break into the basement, planning to set the place  on fire in order to get their hands on something Zhao has locked away in a safe in his Penthouse fortress.

With another part of the team having obtained and hacked into the tablet storing Sawyer’s facial recognition, from which they can control the building’s function from the off-site control centre they’ve stormed,  Botha duly shuts down the fire prevention systems, locks down the exits and sets the 96th floor ablaze.

Unfortunately, Sarah and the kids are trapped in the building, which means Will, subject of  a poorly conceived manhunt by the Hong Kong cops, has to somehow get inside, rescue them and take out the bad guys, armed only with his prosthetic leg,  a   lot of duct tape and incredible finger-strength.

Those with an aversion to heights will finds the scenes of Sawyer climbing up a construction crane, leaping a 40-foot chasm, scaling the burning building and dangling precariously from a  rope (all captured on the big screen by TV crews for the assembled cheering crowds)  or Sarah carrying  her son across a plank between two ends of a broken causeway while the fire blazes below hard to watch, but even those without acrophobia will find the stomach tightening as they chew their fingernails, regardless of the fact the characters will naturally survive.

Directed and written by Rawson Marshall Thurber, it’s a tad clunky on the dialogue and the double-crosses are signalled a mile-off while not only does the fire seem to defy all the laws of physics but the building also has the world’s most robust and fireproof sprinklers. But then logic and realism aren’t ingredients listed on the box as, gloriously idiotic and deliriously implausible to the extreme, the film simply gets on with delivering a thrillingly exciting , visually spectacular  series of high rise stunts and the sort of sensitive but tough masculinity at which Johnson excels.  There’s not a shred of originality in sight, but as family action movie entertainment goes, this is a total  conflagration.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham,  Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Also Opening

A Ciambra (15)

Produced by Martin Scorsese and set in a small Romani community in Calabria, rebellious adolescent  Pio Amato wants to grow up in a hurry  and is determined  prove he’s ready to step into big brother Cosimo’s shoes and become a man. However, with the region divided between three factions, the Romani, African refugees and Italians, when Cosimo goes missing  and things start to go wrong, Pio finds himself facing an impossible decision. (Fri-Sun:MAC)

 

 

NOW PLAYING

Adrift (12A)

Having directed Everest, Baltasar Kormakur returns for another true survival tale, albeit a rather more intimate affair  that is, almost exclusively, a two-hander about free-spirited 23-year-old American Tami Oldham (Shailene Woodley) and  30sish British yachtsman Richard Sharp (Sam Claflin), based on Red Sky in Mourning, the former’s 1983 memoir of how they met in Tahiti, fell in love and, while sailing a couple’s luxury boat to California, fell victims to one of the worst hurricane ever seen in the Pacific.

Intercut with flashbacks to their romance , it details how, after the storm, Tami finds a barely conscious Richard clinging to a dinghy, gets him back on board and, with his internal injuries  and badly broken leg, nurses him while single-handedly making repairs and trying to  navigate the disabled craft to Hawaii, the only chance of survival.

It’s a compelling story, but not one that, in Kormakur and  the three screenwriters’ handling, translates successfully to the screen. The flashbacks defuse rather than accentuate the tension and claustrophobia, the dialogue is often stilted and, while the storm effects are persuasive, the fact that this is based on Tami’s book rather renders any anticipation of making it redundant. Nor is there very much by way of personal backgrounds to either of them; Tami wanted to get away from home and is no hurry to return, the somewhat blandly depicted Richard built his own boat and set out to sail the world. That said, for those that aren’t familiar with the book or the story, there is a twist that, while a touch cheesy, does underscore how she found the strength to carry on, even abandoning her vegetarian principles to spear some fish for food.

It never attains the power of Robert Redford’s All is Lost or the psychological ideals of Colin Firth misfire The Mercy, there’s no obvious spark between Woodley and Claflin to make the romance convincing, a major problem as this is the core of the survival and self-confidence narrative,  which never finds a satisfying shape leaving the film and its characters, like its title, very much adrift. (Cineworld NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Everyman; Showcase Walsall; 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. (Empire Great Park; Vue Star City)

The Bookshop (PG)

A tale of small town vindictiveness adapted from a Booker-shortlisted novel by Penelope Fitzgerald by Spanish writer-director Isabel Coixet with a voice-over by Julie Christie, this simmers but, save for one memorable but underplayed scene, never really comes to the boil.

In 1959 Suffolk, widowed for some years, middle-aged Florence Green (Emily Mortimer) decides to convert the drafty, damp, rat-infested Old House in the seaside town of Hardborough into a bookshop. This doesn’t sit well with the town’s imperious socialite queen bee, Mrs Violet Gamart (Patricia Clarkson), who wants  to turn the building into an arts centre. Outraged that Florence doesn’t agree to find somewhere else, she sets about bringing every effort and political connection to bear to force her out.

Meanwhile, Florence  takes on Christine (Honor Kneafsey), a self-assured schoolgirl  to help out as her assistant after school , even though she’s too young and professes to not like reading and, after  sending  him a  copy of Farenheit 451 in response to a note requesting suitable books,  strikes up  a friendship with Edmund Brundish (Bill Nighy being very Bill Nighy), a reclusive eccentric widow whose wife, gossip says, drowned in mysterious circumstances.  He has  little time for the townsfolk, but forms a bond with Florence  that, he confesses, might have been something more had he been much younger.  After being sent a copy for his advice, he also encourages Florence to stock Nabokov’s controversial novel, Lolita, which, of course, gets some people’s backs up even more. Also in her orbit  is preeningly self-satisfied and self-serving BBC radio personality Milo North (James Lance, who looks as if he’s to be privy to some joke  no one else is in on). One will fatally attempt to come to her rescue, one will betray her friendship.

A modest and old-fashioned allegory about personal courage, it touches on the serpents that often hide behind polite surfaces, the post-war resistance of the old school to the change represented in the world of feelings embodied in Florence’s rebellious spirit and the pioneering books she stocks as well as the tyranny of British social class and privilege, but the film is too genteel to have much bite even if, in a socio-political moment, it raises the iniquity of compulsory purchase (although the timescale here seems a little skewed) by which Florence is undone.  Cosy and watchable, but one you’d probably put back on the shelf after skimming through.  (Electric; Fri-Wed: MAC)

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. (Empire Great Park; Mockingbird; Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe; Vue Star City)

The First Purge  (15)

Despite having effectively  shut down any likely  future sequels with the last film, the cash cow continues to graze with this prequel explaining how it all began in the first place under the newly elected NRA—endorsed New Founding Fathers of America facist administration.   Conceived as a sort of Stanford Prison-like experiment by  psychologist Dr. May Updale (Marisa Tomei)  and over seen by  NFFA chief of staff, Arlo Sabian (Patch Darragh),  the idea is use the self-contained borough of Staten Island, a predominantly poor Black community,  as a human rat lab  to see how people respond to a 12-hour period in which, motivated by getting paid to break the law (the more the mayhem,  the more the payment),  they are free to vent their anger and frustrations with no legal comebacks, so, from looting to murder, anything goes. If enough people participate, then the plan is to roll out The Purge on a national level.

A rather inevitable and decidedly perfunctory sidebar is that one drug lord sees it as an opportunity to remove another, while it will come as no surprise, especially for those who’ve seen the other films, to learn that it’s all part of a government plot to reduce overpopulation by culling the poor – and predominantly Black – working class. As such, the film wears it political intent  with a distinct lack of subtlety as, when the residents, save for a scarred psychopath called Skeletor (Rotimi Paul) who makes the first kill, would rather  party than pillage, Sabian sends in a bunch  of mercenaries, racist cops, rabid neo-Nazis and the Klan among them, to give things a nudge and, in the end, embark  on a  block by block massacre.

Fighting back, there’s  righteous dreadlocked  African-American anti-Purge activist Nya (Lex Scott Davis) and her younger brother,  Isaiah (Joivian Wade), the latter briefly signing up  (and getting to wear those luminous contact lens cameras to record footage), partly as some misguided rites of passage and partly to  revenge him on Skeletor for cutting him. Meanwhile on the other side of the Projects, there’s Nya’s ex, self-possessed calm under pressure drugs kingpin Dmitri (Y’lan Noel) and his crew get tooled up to fight to protect their neighbourhood. Only in a film where the authorities are the bad guys would a ruthless, cold blooded drug kingpin  and  murderer  be the  Ramboesque  hero, spouting nonsense like  “killing comes from our damaged hearts.”

Clearly looking to zone in on the Black Lives Matter  movement as well as anti-Trump sentiments,  this would like to think itself in the same socio-political playing  field as Get Out, but it has none of the finesse or depth and just winds up a dystopian blaxploitation gangbanger B-movie. Once things kick in, there’s plenty of violence to paper over the thin political satire about modern America, but  you can’t help but think that the financial incentive to participate in the Purge has rather more irony than intended.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham,  Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Hereditary (15)

Don’t believe the hype that this is the scariest horror movie since The Exorcist (that would be the original Ring);  yes, first-timer writer-director Ari Aster gradually builds from unease to a sense of stark terror, but the film also sports well worn clichés of unsettling noises, glimpsed figures, enigmatic symbols, dark rooms and even a bird flying into a window.  And something in the attic.

It opens with the funeral for Ellen Taper Leigh, the highly secretive and not entirely much missed mother of Annie (a monumentally good Toni Collette), a miniaturist artist currently working on a series of  highly detailed small rooms encapsulating her family and its experiences. Indeed, the only member of the family truly upset by the old dear’s passing is her brooding 13-year-old niece, Charlie (Milly Shapiro looking creepily unsettling), a strange autistic child  with an intense gaze and given to making tongue clucking noises whose sketchpad of angry drawings suggests a decidedly troubled psyche, and whom Granma took it upon herself to raise, pretty much shutting Annie out of her daughter’s life. Charlie has her own workshop in her treehouse where she crafts bizarre effigies, at one point decapitating (a portent of much to follow) the aforementioned bird to add to her collection. The rest of the family comprises Annie’s voice of reason husband, Steve (Gabriel Byrne), who has no backstory at all, and their teenage affable stoner son Peter (Alex Wolff) whose role intensifies as the narrative unfolds.

The first inkling of chills comes when Annie thinks she sees her mother’s shade in her workshop and the film spends a considerable time hinting that the spookiness might all be down to Annie’s mental state (she sleepwalks and recounts one finding herself at the foot of her children’s bed with paint stripper and matches). But when, after a horrific accident (of which Annie crafts a model, much to Steve’s understandable revulsion), Peter, consumed with guilt, has his own ‘hallucination’, then it seems external forces are at work. Steve also gets a call to say his mother-in-law’s grave has been desecrated. And then there’s those shimmers of light dancing around Charlie.

All this is made more manifest when, in seeking to deal with her grief when Charlie is killed, Annie (who earlier found one of her mom’s books on spiritualism) is persuaded to take part in a  séance with Joanie (Anne Dowd), a friendly soul who approaches her outside the counselling session where, following her mother’s funeral,  she’d previously revealed her depressed father’s suicide by starvation and how her schizophrenic older brother hung himself, leaving behind a note accusing his mother of “putting people inside him.”  Well, we all know what séances portend in horror movies.

At which point, the film becomes somewhat less successful as its heads into overfamiliar Rosemary’s Baby and The Shining territory involving cults (with both  living and dead members), possession and malevolent demon lords looking for host bodies, at time resorting to dream sequences for exposition (though the one where Annie spills out a shocking highly unmaternal confession to Peter is effective). With the help of his cinematographer, Aster keeps the sense of dread, but can’t prevent the film from touching on the slightly silly even as its themes of dysfunctional family secrets, maternal guilt and mounting hysteria   collide with the supernatural. Well-crafted, well-designed and well-acted, yes it is scary in parts (and has its sudden jolt moments too), but not so much that you won’t sleep at night.  (Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe; Vue Star City)

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (12A)

The Jurassic World theme park abandoned and decayed after events in the previous movie,  the surviving dinosaurs are now facing an endangered species extinction level event with the volcano on Isla Nubar threatening to blow its top. Advised by dino expert Ian Malcom (an unusually subdued Jeff Goldblum who bookends the film with his life finds a way message) to let nature takes its course, the American government declines to spend money on saving them. Which is when Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard, complete with in-joke about her absurd high heels in the last film), the park’s former manager turned pro-dino activist gets summoned to the palatial Lockwood estate where Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), right hand man to Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), John Hammond’s  former partner in InGen and co-creator of the original genetically cloned dinos (though this is actually the first film the character’s ever mentioned), who explains they intend to rescue 11 of the species and relocate them to a new sanctuary. However, they need her help and that of her now ex-lover, raptor-wrangler Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), because of his special bond with Blue, the intelligent raptor he reared and trained. So, accompanied by dino vet Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda) and nerdy T.Rex phobic systems analyst Franklin Webb (Justice Smith), off they go to, never for a moment thinking that all the military type guys with big guns might be a bad sign.

However, as the opening sequence involving an underwater mercenary team  recovering a DNA sample from the now dead hybrid dino Indominus rex  has already indicated, there’s another nefarious agenda in play. Yup, unbeknownst to Lockwood, Mills is planning to stage a lucrative animal trafficking auction (managed by Toby Jones) of the rescued species for others to clone, the main attraction  being an Indoraptor, reengineered and weaponised (it can even open doors) by series returning geneticist Dr. Wu (B.D.Wong).

Left to die by  the mercenaries’ leader, managing to escape the erupting volcano in one of the rolling glass spheres,  Claire and Owen, and to a lesser extent Webb and Rodriguez, with, of course, a  timely assist from Blue, now have to try and put a stop to this. All of which, after long stretches with no dinosaur action at all, the creatures mostly locked in  cages and tranquilised, climaxes with assorted giant lizards running amok around the mansion, bodies being duly thrown through the air, stomped on or eaten. Introduced into the mix is also Lockwood’s dinosaur-loving young granddaughter Maisie (Isabella Sermon), a startling reveal about whom is simply tossed away.

Directed by J.A. Bayona (who made A Monster Calls which gets a sly reference here), visually, what with volcanic eruptions, stampeding dinosaurs, a reworking of the first film’s hunter-prey stalking kitchen scene, this time amid a hall of Jurassic tableaux, it delivers the goods, the murky prologue  even offering a Jaws homage to Spielberg. But, since you know none of the good guys are going to get killed off, there’s not a huge amount of tension or, indeed, awe to what is essentially staple disaster movie fodder with some box ticking social messages, while the only notable emotional note is poignant sight of a brachiosaurus, left behind at the jetty, roaring as its swaying neck is swallowed up by smoke and lava. Clearly confident there’s still a huge audience for its narratively preposterous and logically flawed paleothrills, it ends with the auctioned creatures being shipped off to their new owners and Blue surveying a sprawling urban landscape in what seems to be setting up a sort of Planet of the Dinosaurs third act.  It might not offer much that’s new, but given its entertaining Rampage in a big house with dinosaurs popcorn fun, the series’ extinction at the box office is likely to be some way off yet.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham,  Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Oceans 8 (12A)

As with the recent Ghostbusters, this is another gender reversal attempt to reboot a franchise, thankfully with rather more successful results. The kid sister of Danny Ocean (apparently deceased), after spending just over five years inside for fraud, Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) smooth talks herself into getting parole. However, no sooner is she back on the New York streets than she’s back into her felonious ways, conning herself a bagful of beauty products and a swanky hotel room.  However, she has her sights set on rather bigger game, having spent her time in jail devising a foolproof plan to heist the world’s most valuable diamond necklace, the Toussaint, valued at $150million during the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s annual Met Gala.

For this she needs a crew, starting off with her old partner-in-crime, Lou (Cate Blanchett) and gradually recruiting fading fashion designer Rose Weil (Helena Bonham-Carter),  a streetwise hacker  and surveillance expert known as Nine Ball (Rhianna), Indian jewellery maker Amita (Mindy Kaling), suburban mom  thief Tammy (Sarah Poulson) and  slick sleight of hand street hustler Constance (Awkwafina). The plan, by initially seeming as though she’s going to be working with a hot celebrity (Dakota Fanning), is is to get Weil appointed to dress snobby socialite Daphne Kruger (Anne Hathaway) for the Gala, insisting that she wear the Toussaint. With Kruger as the unwitting mule, the necklace will then, via series of ingenuous meticulously planned moves, be switched from under the noses of the security team and replaced by a copy, broken up and smuggled out with each of them getting $16mill.

However, Debbie also has a second agenda, intending to set up her art gallery owner ex-boyfriend Claude Becker (Richard Armitage), engineering it so that he’s Daphne’s date for the Gala, as the fall-guy in revenge for him ratting her out to save his own skin over a scam that got her set down.

As with the previous instalments, the fun is primarily in the interplay between the cast and the ingenuity and split-second timing of the robbery, as well as a couple of unexpected twists and, of course, the flashbacks revealing how things were done. A bosoms buddy screwball comedy, it’s slick, stylish and smart with some sharp and snarky dialogue and perfect comic timing. Bullock who at one point declares she’s not doing this for the money but as inspiration to any budding criminal eight-year-old girls, is every bit as good here as she was in Miss Congeniality, but the whole gang, and that includes Hathaway (who even gets an in-joke about herself), all of whom get their individual turn to shine as well as working as a perfectly synchronised team, are a charismatic delight to watch. On top of that James Corden turns up in a  scene-stealing turn as an impish insurance-fraud investigator who has history with the Oceans while, in a nod to the franchise legacy, there’s cameos by both Elliot Gould as Reuben Tishkoff  and Shaobo Qin as the acrobatic Yen as well as the likes of Kim Kardashian, Heidi Klum, Common, Serena Williams and Katie Holmes all appearing as themselves for the lavish Gala. Here’s to sequels 9 and 10. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Mockingbird; Odeon Birmingham,  Broadway Plaza Luxe; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Patrick (PG)

The daughter of Jennifer Saunders and Ade Edmondson, Beattie Edmondson first attracted attention in flatshare sitcom Josh and now graduates to a leading big screen role in this  affable but undernourished and sentimental Disney-produced   affair that feels as though its escaped from some second division  70s BritCom timewarp.

She’s Sarah Francis, a confidence-lacking, underachieving  singleton who, dumped by her latest boyfriend just after they started living together in to her Richmond flat, also gets to inherit her late gran’s spoiled pug, Patrick. Unfortunately, her live-in landlord has a strictly no pets policy and she’s just about to start work as a teacher in the local Grange Hill-like secondary, leading her to try and offload her unwanted dog on, first, a neighbour who also has a secret canine and then the school caretaker (Roy Hudd), both ending in disaster.

Patrick is, naturally, a total handful, chasing deer in the local park (presumably having seen the YouTube clip of several years back), eating everything except what he’s fed and chewing up anything resembling a cat. On the plus side, taking Patrick for walks brings her into contact with a hunky if  narcissistically self-absorbed vet (Ed Skrein) and sensitive fellow dog-owner Matt (Tom Bennett).

There’s not much of a plot. She has a disastrous dinner date with the vet, starts a tentative relationship with Matt, enters the school’s 5k fun run to raise money for a pensioner’s mobility scooter  and prove a point to a snidey fellow teacher (Adrian Scarborough) despite being patently physically unsuited to  jogging more than a few yards, surprisingly gets her rowdy class into Jane Eyre, befriending a girl whose stuck in the middle of her parent’s divorce, and, of course, gets to bond with Patrick.

Coming over as low grade Richard Curtis  (there’s even a nod to Notting Hill), it’s inoffensive whimsical and utterly predictable fluff  that makes things like Nativity seem cutting edge, peppered with support turns and cameo appearances by the likes of Peter Davidson,  Gemma Jones, Emily Atack, Bernard Cribbins, Cherie Lunghi, Meera Syal and, inevitably, Jennifer Saunders in what, one assumes, is a fat suit as the school’s quirky cookery teacher.  Lazily written with blissful ignorance of  education protocol, child protection rules and   GCSE exam procedures  and wallowing in eager to please cliches, it has a couple of touching moments, Edmondson is a genuine comic talent and Patrick, who gets several squashed face close-ups,  is infinitely more adorable than was the late Pudsey. It’s also wall to wall with Amy MacDonald songs. Even so, this is really should never have been let off the development lead.  (Cineworld Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Sicario 2:Soldado (15)

Emily Blunt may not be back (but her story was confined to the first film in any event) and Stefano Sollima has replaced Denis Villeneuve in the director’s chair, but Taylor Sheridan remains the screenwriter and  both Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro return for what proves to be an incredibly tense and dramatic sequel, even if the testosterone level is bouncing in the red and it takes a while to figure out the what, who and why.

Opening with a night vision filmed scene of American authorities apprehending migrants in the desert as they seek to cross the U.S.-Mexican border, one of them blows himself up. Cut to Kansas City and chillingly matter-of-factly staged and hard to watch suicide bombing of a supermarket, followed by CIA op Matt Graver (Brolin) interrogating a captured terrorist in Somalia to obtain information as to how, it is assumed, the bombers arrived from Mexico. It’s a scene that, in Graver’s by any means necessary approach, foreshadows the comment by  the Secretary of Defense (Matthew Modine) that, with Mexican drug gangs now officially added to the terrorist list,  “dirty is exactly why you’re here” when Braver’s brought in by his steely boss, Cynthia Foard (Catherine Keener), to clean things up.

To which end, he, in turn, reactivates lawyer turned hitman Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) in a plot to spark a cartels war by abducting Isabela (Isabela Moner), the daughter of Carlos Reyes, the drug lord who was responsible for the murder of Alejandro’s family, and then posing as her liberators.

Running parallel to this, and inevitably crossing paths at a crucial moment, is the story of Miguel (Elijah Rodriguez), an adolescent Mexican-American citizen who, bored with school and looking for excitement and  money, is recruited by his cousin to assist in people trafficking.

The core plot takes any number of twists and turns, a shoot-out with corrupt Mexican police leading to Braver being told to shut down the mission and clean the scene of any loose ends. These include Alejandro who in the foul up during with the girl escaped, has been left in the Mexican desert looking after Isabela and responsible for getting her across the border. Shades of John Ford’s The Searchers are obvious.

Revealing more would spoil the tension and surprise twists, although it is not too hard to see where the narrative strands are leading as they build to the film’s central climax. It’s a grim, politically cynical affair, though not as morally bankrupt as it might first appear as mutually protective captor/captive bonds develop and friendship and duty lock heads.  It’s often incredibly violent, but also not without some gritty humour, while both Brolin and Del Toro are magnetic masculine screen presences with both Moner and Rodriguez delivering finely shades  performance as both victims of and collaborators in the social tragedies and political webs in which they are ensnared. A compelling, often narratively ruthless thriller with a strong topical intelligence in which there are no clear cut good guys, all of which ends in an unexpected but fascinating set up for the next chapter. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham,  Broadway Plaza Luxe; Reel; Showcase Walsall; 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.  However, its disastrous box office means that not only will there not be a sequel but all Star War spins-offs have been put on the back burner. (Empire Great Park; Vue Star City)

Swimming With Men (12A)

Oliver Parker has built a career out of directing such innocuous and predictable but amiable British comedies as St. Trinian’s and  Dad’s Army, and this, a sort of Full Monty in swimming trunks,  adds another to the tally. Rob Brydon is Eric Scott, an account  having a mid-life crisis, bored with the mind-numbing nine to five, taken for granted by and living in the shadow of wife  Heather (Jane Horrocks in a somewhat unsympathetic role) who’s just been elected o the local  council  and something of an embarrassment to his moody teenage son.

Persuaded his wife’s having an affair with her smarmy boss (Nathaniel Parker), he walks out in a strop and moves into a hotel.  Around much the same time, he also pops in to his local swimming pool where he’s surprised to encounter an all-male amateur  synchronised swimming team, among them  widower Ted (Jim Carter),  insecure builder Colin (Daniel Mays), teenage petty thief likely lad Tom (Thomas Turgoose), the enigmatic Kurt (Adeel Akhtar), divorcee Luke (Rupert Graves), the team backbone, and someone  simply known as Silent Bob.

Observing that they’re floundering in the water because the numbers are uneven, he’s invited to join them, having to observe such rules as what happens in the pool stays in the pool and that no one talks about their life outside the club, though clearly all have flaws and vulnerabilities and  something in their background that’s led them to form this unlikely bond.

In the time-honoured tradition of underdog sporting movies,  they’re persuaded to enter the unofficial make synchronised swimming world championships in Milan,  with  fellow swimmer Susan (Charlotte Riley) as the coach – and Luke’s potential love interest – who has to knock them into shape in just six weeks.  You can pretty much write the rest of the plot from there yourself, the film ending with an overextended men in speedos variation on John Cusak’s classic apology scene in Say Anything .

The metaphor about male friendships helping you to stay afloat when you’re sinking is obvious, but never hammered home and the screenplay’s  sprinkled with some amusing one-liners, confessional moments and physical comedy. With very different  and much gentler and very British strokes to its  brash, vulgar and shallower American counterparts, it’s unlikely to make much of a box office splash, but its  easy going chemistry and good natured spirit ensure it never treads water.  (Electric)

Tag (15)

Loosely inspired by a 2013 Wall Street Journal article about  a bunch  of grown men, Americans obviously, who  spent 23 years playing the game of tag they started in high school, here, every May, the friends embark on another round of attempting to ‘tag’ one of the others. This year, Hoagie (Ed Helms) persuades egotistical CEO Callahan (Jon Hamm), stoner divorcee Chilli (Jake Johnson) and paranoid Sable (Hannibal Buress) that this is the year they are finally going to tag alpha fitness start  Jerry (Jeremy Renner), who, he tells them, has announced that he’s retiring from the game as he’s getting married. So, joined by Hoagie’s  aggressive wife (Isla Fisher) and journalist  Rebecca Crosby (Annabelle Wallis), they  decide to crash the wedding to which they’ve not been invited, Jerry persuading them to accept a  series of amendments to the game  so as not to disrupt proceedings and annoy his hard-headed bride to be (Leslie Bibb). Shenanigans ensue, Jerry looking to distract them by inviting along  Cheryl (Rashida Jones), the girl Chilli and Callahan  were love rivals over back in school, as a honeytrap and Renner switching into Bourne Legacy mode when cornered.

Functionally directed and ploddingly scripted, it flirts with notions of male friendships and arrested development (which it seems to regard as a good thing), forever trotting out the  George Bernard Show quote (misattributed to Benjamin Franklin) “we don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing.”  As such it’s pretty much indistinguishable from similar homophobic humour male buddy hanging out and learning about  but not acting on responsibility movies like The Hangover, the guys’ game causing supposed hilarity as they disrupt a mall, an AA meeting and wedding rehearsal dinner, sending things  flying and trampling over bystanders.

Sporadically amusing but ultimately  dullingly repetitive, some scenes, such as Hoagie impersonating a grannie and been tagged at his father’s funeral, are, as seen in the end credits, recreated from the antics of the real life taggers. It’s hard to know whether to laugh or despair.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Uncle Drew (12A)

Featuring a  character originally created for Pepsi Max  commercials in 2012 , following a predicable underdog sports movie arc and featuring NBA All-Stars  swathed in unconvincing old man latex prosthetics, thisBroadway Plaza Luxe,  African-American centric basketball comedy won’t mean much to anyone not a hoops devotee.  Kyrie Irving stars as Uncle Drew, a septuagenarian  legend who dropped out of the game instead of turning pro, who’s persuaded to come out of retirement by Dax (Lil Rel Howery) who’s desperate to win Harlem’s Rucker Classic street ball tournament and its $1000k prize (and hang on to his high maintenance girlfriend,  Tiffany Haddish)  after  sinking all his life savings to enter a team only to have his star player stolen away by his arch rival coach, Mookie (Nick Kroll).

As such, the pair head off on a road trip round up Drew’s old neighbourhood-league squad,  Big Fella, (Shaquille O’Neal), Preacher (Chris Webber), Lights (Reggie Miller) and Boots (Nate Robinson), now, respectively  a martial arts teacher, a hellfire sermon minister,  legally blind and near catatonic and  wheelchair-bound, to take on the cocky young upstarts.  Boots’ granddaughter (Erica Ash) is along to provide Dax’s love interest salvation.

Predictable and formulaic, right down to an obligatory barbershop scene,  it  plays out all the expected moves as the old-timers teach the hotheads a thing or two about basketball and, hey yes, life itself as they themselves get to deal with old grudges, it’s not exactly a slamdunk but  it dances around the moves enjoyably enough. (Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe; Vue Star City)

Whitney (15)

A year on from Nick Broomfield’s documentary, Kevin Macdonald  offers up his take on the rise and tragic fall of Whitney Houston, indisputably one of the finest female singers of the 20th century. Unlike Broomfield, however, Macdonald had official access to her inner circle and family, though former husband Bobby Brown is less than forthcoming when he refuses to talk about her drugs problems and the link to her death, declaring it had nothing to do with her life.

Significantly, it begins with a voiceover extract from an interview in which she talks about a recurring dream of being chased by, according to her mother, Cissy Houston, a devil seeking her soul. It’s an apt metaphor what her life would become: her mother pushing her to the limits to vicariously achieve the success that always eluded her;  her father  taking over her management, siphoning off her money and eventually suing her for $10million,; her two brothers  (who are incredibly candid about their drug use and how they introduced Whitney to cocaine) and other relatives  forming her drugs-addicted entourage;  Brown becoming abusive in his jealousy over her fame; and, ultimately, the media feeding frenzy when her drug problems became public knowledge, even being parodied on the cartoon series Family Guy.  Add to that the infidelity of both her parents and their subsequent divorce, and it’s difficult to see how she could have ever turned out well-adjusted.

As with the Amy Winehouse documentary, the arc is from dazzling potential to massive success and an adoring public to a slide into addiction and self-destructive behaviour that would ultimately cost her life, aged just 40, drowned in a hotel bathtub.

The years on her way to international fame are, for the most, upbeat, at least in terms of her then innocent enthusiasm and thrill of singing, whether in church or  being tipped for greatness on her first television appearance, aged 10, singing and Whitney mastered all three, which gave her tremendous range. Just watching her first TV appearance at 19, singing Home from The Wiz.

But the figure seen in the  footage of I Wanna Dance With Somebody,  How Will I Know and Greatest Love of All  and the vocals for  her unforgettable career-salvaging rendition of the Star Spangled Banner at the  1991 Super Bowl, is s dramatically different from the one seen in the later years when drugs and domestic abuse were taking their toll, Houston looking a gaunt shadow of her former self on an ABC television interview when she’s confronted with the change in her physical appearance and grilled over her cocaine habit. Memories are still strong of her failed comeback tour when audiences walked out of a show in Australia, slamming her vocal performance, or when she was booed during the 1989 Soul Train Awards.

But Macdonald’s insightful documentary  makes it clear  the drugs were a symptom rather than a cause, probing the psychological issues that trace back to childhood, when she earned her family nickname of Nippy,  and, it’s shockingly revealed, sexual abuse by her aunt, Dee Dee Warwick, something that also raises the issue of her own sexual identity problems  and how they connected to her long time creative director and some-time lover Robyn Crawford Crawford and her decision to marry Brown and raise a family.

That too proved a disaster as, aside from the problems with Brown, the film also reveals the devastating impact on their  daughter Bobbi Kristina, who, embraced in the spotlight and privately neglected,  never had  a  chance,  following  her mother down the road of addiction to death. The intercutting of socio-political footage distracts somewhat and never really makes the  contextual points Macdonald clearly intends, but this is a depressingly riveting piece of work that leaves you wanting to point the angry finger of  blame, but with  too many targets to count.  (Electric; Everyman; Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe;  Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

 

 

 

Screenings courtesy of  Odeon and Cineworld

CINEMAS

Cineworld 5 Ways – 181 Broad St, 0871 200 2000

Cineworld NEC – NEC  0871 200 2000

Cineworld 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 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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