MOVIE ROUND-UP:This Week’s New Film Releases, Fri Jul 20-Thu Jul 26


Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again! (U)

The first film a screen adaptation of the stage musical hit, this doesn’t have a similar source but, again built around ABBA songs (ones they didn’t get in the first film, like Waterloo and Adante Adante,  and even some they did), directed this time by Ol Parker, it  serves as both sequel and prequel. Set a year after the death of Donna (which, if that was 2017, would have made her around 53, meaning  her daughter is in her late 30s), Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is, having transformed the old hotel with help from her manager, Fernando (Andy Garcia),  about to reopen as the Bella Donna in her memory. Unfortunately, fiancé  Sky (Dominic Cooper) can’t make it as he’s in New York where, learning the hotel trade, he’s been offered a permanent job, which may put an end to their relationship. Nor can two of her dads, Bill (Stellan Skargard) and Harry (Colin Firth), who have prior commitments. However, Sam (Pierce Brosnan, getting another, semi-spoken stab at SOS) is there,  as are her mom’s old university friends and singing partners, Tanya (Christine Baranski) and Rosie (Julie Walters). However, when a  storm breaks, meaning the other guests and media can’t get there, it looks like the big day will be a washout.

Parallel to this is the prequel narrative of how, in 1979,  the young Donna (Lily James), having graduated from Oxford (to a rendition of When I Kissed the Teacher), sets off to find herself, winding up in Paris and then on the Greek island of  Kalokairi and, in quick succession,  encountering and sleeping with virginal Harry (Hugh Skinner), charmer Bill (Josh Dylan) and love of her life but, as it transpires,  already engaged Sam (Jeremy Irvine), the results of which are made manifest nine months later. She’s also visited by the younger incarnations of Tanya (Jessica Keenan Wynn) and Rosie (Alexa Davies), the latter herself falling for Bill.

All of which sees the film shifting back in forth in time as the two storylines play out and the past resonates with the present, all to the accompaniment of the cast singing and dancing their way through an assortment of  ABBA numbers (Benny even puts in a cameo as a café pianist) as it gathers to the launch night party (now attended by a flock of locals and the three men missing from Sophie’s life) and, of course, the suitably over the top unexpected arrival of her absentee celebrity grandmother, Ruby (Cher in a platinum wig), giving rise to yet another reunion of long parted lovers. And, despite Donna’s death, Meryl Streep still puts in an appearance as the film engineers a poignant christening scene between  her and Sophie. She also part of the entire ensemble singalong coda of Supertrooper, though, as you would image, while the main cast deliver solid vocal performances (their charismatic younger counterparts can hold  a tune but wisely, this time Brosnan, Firth and Skarsgard only sing in group numbers and they still can’t dance). it’s Cher who takes the vocal honours, the music lifting to a whole new level as she breaks out into a duet with Garcia on Fernando.

The casting of the characters’ younger selves is inspired, so much so that as scenes change it’s often only the clothes that indicate if you’re watching  James or Seyfried. They, as with everyone, give superb warm and engaging performances, but plaudits are especially due to Keenan Wynn and Davies whose comic timing and banter is a highlight while Omid Djali makes for an amusing passport control  officer and there’s a scene stealing moment from Maria Vacratis  as the tough old bar owner who gives young Sam a piece of her mind. Massive exuberant fun and more moving than you might expect, how can you resist it! (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; MAC; Odeon Birmingham,  Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Escape Plan 2 (15)

“You have to trust your intuition”, says  Ray Breslin (Sylvester Stallone), whose security firm specialises in identifying prisons’ weaknesses, in this sequel to his Schwarzenegger co-starrer. Stallone’s  intuition must be on the blink, because it’s hard to understand why he’d want to be involved in this routine B-movie actioner where he’s essentially just one of the support players.

In the set-up, his team go into rescue a couple of hostages from Chechnan terrorists, but things go wrong and one of the women’s killed in the escape, leading Breslin to fire Jasper Kimbral (Wes Chatham) whose personal agenda over proving some algorithm during the rescue caused her death, stressing how teamwork is essential.

Meanwhile, another of the crew, Shu (Huang Xiaoming) takes off on solo mission, serving as bodyguard to his hi-tech genius cousin, Yusheng (Chen Tang), the pair ending up, as part of a corporate espionage conspiracy, kidnapped and imprisoned in a computer-run impenetrable hidden facility known as Hades where Kimbral is also being held and those in charge want to extract information about a revolutionary satellite system the latter’s devised.  In a plot development that makes no sense at all, rather than simply torturing it out of him, the brutal overseer, Gregor Faust (Titus Welliver), who calls himself the Zookeeper, wants Shu to persuade him to give it up which, inexplicably involves his taking  part in the prison’s ritual bloody combat, the winners getting a two hour rest break in the virtual reality Sanctuary, where they can, chill. With a little help from Breslin’s voice in his head, Shu sets about applying his training in working out an escape, assisted as the plot creaks along by fellow team member Luke (Jesse Metcalfe), some fellow prisoners, including a trio of white-faced, shaven-headed hackers who refer to themselves as Legion and, eventually Breslin himself, the solution coming down to breaking in rather than out.

Meanwhile, on the outside, Breslin’s enlisted an old friend,Trent (an underused Dave Bautista) to track down the source of the funding and the prison’s location while back at their Atlanta HQ, Abigail (Jaimie King) and Hush (50 Cent) are working on their own  infiltration into the systems.

Cloaked in sci-fi rags, none of it makes any logical sense, half-formed ideas, two-dimensional characters, clunky, repetitive action sequences, third rate special effects, uninspired direction and Huang’s stilted English only adding to the problems. It just about gets by as a video on demand knockoff, which is exactly what the teased third part, as Breslin and co go after their mystery rivals, should be. (Reel)


First Reformed (15)

After two decades of churning out largely disposable fare such as Nic Cage nonsense Dog Eat Dog, writer Paul Schrader returns to something like the form of his classic Txxi Driver and Light Sleeper, also taking on directorial duties for this tale of a troubled priest wracked by inner turmoil anger, grief and frustration.

In a consummate performance by Ethan Hawke, Ernst Toller is a former military chaplain whose life and marriage fell apart when he persuaded his son to enlist. Only for him to be killed in the Iraq War. Now, he’s pastor of the titular historical Dutch Reformed church in a sleepy small town, the sparsity of his congregation making him more of a curator and guide for tourists. He also drinks too much and has what seems likely to be stomach cancer.

He’s approached by one his flock, Mary (Amanda Seyfried), who is being pressured by her despressed environmentalist husband Michael (Philip Ettinger) to get an abortion because, as he explains to Toller, why would you bring a child into a world on the verge of environmental collapse. He counsels hope rather than despair, but receiving a text from Michael to continue the discussion, he drives out to meet him only to find he’s blown his head off with a  rifle. He also gets a call from Mary who has discovered a suicide vest in their garage, which he subsequently takes into safekeeping.

Meanwhile, Toller’s under pressure from Jeffers (Cedric the Entertainer), the leader of the church’s headquarters, the more frequented Abundant Life centre, to pull together his part in the church’s upcoming 250th anniversary celebrations as well as the focus of the unwanted concerns of the choir director, Esther (Victoria Hill), with whom he had a brief affair.

Unable to shake Michael’s question as to whether God will forgive humankind screwing up the planet, and finding himself increasingly drawn to Mary, he’s also enraged by the attitude of the church’s main benefactor, Ed Balq (Michael Gaston), a local oil company industrialist Michael had been protesting, who, taking exception to Toller’s part in scattering the dead man’s ashes at a site of pollution to the choir’s accompaniment of a Neil Young song, demands the upcoming celebrations have no political content.

As Toller’s crisis of faith and his environmental fears continue to grow, all recorded in the diary he keeps and narrates in voiceover, he slowly resolves to take up Michael’s activism and make a  dramatic statement with the tools that have conveniently fallen into his hands.

Toller is a typical Schrader figure, a lonely, introspective and alienated man facing a dark night of the soul, haunted by the past and plagued by fears for today and Hawke’s performance is up there with the likes of past Schrader collaborators DeNiro and Dafoe in capturing that intensity. Arguably, the screenplay can get a little heavy handed in making its points, and having a pregnant woman called Mary or having the two of them take a hallucinatory voyage floating through the cosmos and over sites of man’s destruction isn’t entirely subtle, but the psychological drama never slackens its grip or sociopolitical thrust, finally climaxing in a powerful and visceral moment that sees Toller confronted by the choice between despair and hope, religion and desire to the backdrop of Esther singing Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.  It’s not quite Travis Bickle in a surplus, but it’s close enough to taste the darkness. (Electric)


Hotel Artemis (15)

A strong contender for the year’s worst film, it’s difficult to fathom what persuaded Jodie Foster to make this her return five years on from Elysium. It may have seemed like a good idea at the concept stage, a dystopian future thriller set in LA about an agoraphobic  former trauma nurse with a haunted past running a secret hotel come hi-tech hospital (it even prints 3D organs) for criminals who’s faced with a moral dilemma, but that idea clearly got fatally mangled on the way to the screen, leaving an incoherent, uneven, slapdash mess in its place.

But then even the core idea is recycled, partly from John Wick Chapter 2 but more recently Scott Adkins’ video on demand B movie Accident Man about a hotel for assassins. Both of which were far superior to this trainwreck.

It’s set over the course of one night as, his younger brother Lev (Brian Tyree Henry) badly wounded in a  failed bank heist during the riots over water shortages, allocated the names of their roomd, Waikiki and Honolulu, Sherman (Sterling K. Brown) takes refuge at Hotel Artemis, a boutique12th floor fortress managed by alcoholic and painkillers addict The Nurse (Foster) and her hulking assistant Everest (Dave Bautista). Also in residence are obnoxious arms dealer Acapulco (Charlie Day) and French female assassin Nice (Sofia Boutella), the former trying to come on to the latter (who has history with Waikiki) and who has engineered her admission in order to carry out a hit. That’ll be on LA crime lord the Wolf King (a cameoing Jeff Goldblum) who, wounded in the riots, is en route to the Artemis, which he actually owns, with his thugs where his deranged, insecure son Crosby (Zachary Quinto) is waiting. Oh and, yes, that pen Lev stole… its filled with liquid diamonds and belongs to guess who.

One of the Artemis rules is that it doesn’t allow in any authority figures, which places Nurse in  a quandary when a local cop (Jenny Slate), a former neighbour  who knew her late son (who reputedly died of a drugs overdose), turns up on the doorstep. Outside the world continues to go to hell, inside there’s all manner of tensions and secrets.

Directed in a  blindfold by Drew Pearce whose screenplay is a litany of clichés, and with inept performances all round, nobody comes out of this well, but especially not Foster sporting prosthetics, old age make up and adopting a bizarre waddle that’s more likely to encourage titters than anything. It mesmerises in the same was as driving past a car crash, the audience as much a victim as the passengers. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham,  Broadway Plaza Luxe; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)




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. (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;  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.  (Vue Star City)

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)

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;  Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham,  Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Leave No Trace (PG)

The first feature by director Debra Granik  since  Winter Bone, the film that launched Jennifer Lawrence, adapted from My Abandonment, a novel by Peter Rock inspired by the true story of a man and his 12-year-old daughter discovered living illegally in a tent in Portland’s Forest Park, this stars another unknown, New Zealander Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie, as Tom, a bright, determined and skilled survivalist who lives in a nature reserve forest with her fiercely protective but psychologically damaged Iraq War veteran widowed father , Will (Ben Foster), rejecting society and foraging off the land or buying what they need by dad selling the meds he gets for his PTSD. One day, she’s  accidentally spotted by a hiker, bringing in the authorities  and the intervention  of well-meaning social workers splitting them up and having  her interact with other people too . They have a point and she’s not against the prospect of joining the world.

Their sympathetic social worker (Dana Millican)  finds them  a place to live with Will working on a Christmas tree farms and Tom set up for school.  She learns to ride a bike and  becomes friends with a local boy who raises rabbits; however,  while he tries to fit in, Will finds it impossible to settle and, after having had to attend a church service to keep his boss happy, he packs his bag and has the loyal Tom join him as the head back into the woods.  Here, following an accident, they’re taken in by a rural cooperative of fellow drifters (among them Dale Dickey from  Winter’s  Bone as a kindly  woman who offers them a trailer to live in) and , finding a hitherto unknown sense of being rooted (there’s a poignant moment when  she  tells  her father that’s she’s rented the trailer to give them a home), Tom starts to develop an awareness that, as she tells her father, ‘what’s wrong with you is not wrong with me” and that, while his search for peace will always leave him restless, she has found hers and, despite the bond between them, their paths are inexorably growing  apart as  his raising her to be an independent thinker means she starts to questions the fight or flight instincts he’s also instilled in her.

A  slow burn coming-of-age story about  the need of children to become independent of their parents and find their own lives, there’s no detailed backstory to  Will and Tom, we just know her mother died when she was young and he hasn’t been able to shake off the demons of war that haunt him. There’s no  bad guys here either, everyone they meet being genuinely concerned about doing the best for the pair, welcome notes of community, stability and positivity in an increasingly divided America . The end is both heartbreaking and affirming, a poignant reminder that sometimes love means letting go. (Electric)

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)

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;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe; 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.  (Empire Great Park; Showcase Walsall)


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;  Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe; 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 which 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; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Skyscraper (12A)

Surprisingly something of a relative flop at the box office, where it was trounced by Hotel Transylvania 3 in America and, as expected, Incredibles 2 here, even so Dwayne Johnson  remains the current 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)


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.  (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, thisAfrican-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. (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.  (Mockingbird)





Screenings courtesy of  Odeon and Cineworld


Cineworld 5 Ways – 181 Broad St, 0871 200 2000

Cineworld NEC – NEC  0871 200 2000

Cineworld Solihull – Mill Ln, Solihull 0871 200 2000

The Electric Cinema  – 47–49 Station Street,  0121 643 7879

Empire – Great Park, Rubery, 0871 471 4714

Empire Sutton Coldfield – Maney Corner, Sutton Coldfield

0871 471 4714

The Everyman – The Mailbox 0871 906 9060

MAC – Cannon Hill Park 0121 446 3232

Mockingbird, Custard Factory  0121 224 7456.

Odeon Birmingham -Birmingham, 0871 224 4007

Odeon Broadway Plaza 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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