Mission: Impossible – Fallout (12A)
The only espionage action franchise that can stand alongside the recent Bond movies, now in its sixth outing, each successive entry has exceeded its predecessor. This doesn’t quite top Rogue Nation, but it’s undeniably every bit its equal. The plot picks up shortly after the previous film in which Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team exposed and dismantled the Syndicate, an organisation headed by rogue agent Solomon Lane (Sean Haris). However, while Lane is held prisoner, the remaining members have formed a new terrorists for hire organisation known as The Apostles. They plan to obtain three stolen plutonium devices to facilitate a plot by the mysterious zealot John Lark who intends to cause mass destruction to create a new world order and bring peace out of the suffering. It’s Hunt’s job to secure the plutonium but, in saving the lives of his team when the set up goes pear-shaped, they’re stolen away, leading icy CIA Director Erica Sloan (Angela Basset) to step in and put her best and most ruthless agent, August Walker (Henry Cavill), on the case to assist in their recovery, and eliminate Hunt if he doesn’t play ball.
The plot thickens with the entry of the White Widow (Vanessa Kirby), a philanthropist and nuclear arms broker who’s arranging a deal with Lark, and Hunt’s sometime romantic interest, MI6 agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) who has her own agenda involving Lane in all this and who bears a striking (and pointed) resemblance to Hunt’s former wife (Michelle Monaghan), who herself plays a part in the film’s revenge narrative and final nail-biting climax.
The first major action moment comes with a single shot skydive by Hunt and Walker over Paris and sets the template for a series of white knuckle sequences that variously embrace a motorbike chase round Paris, a three-way fight in a night club bathroom and, as a fitting finale, a helicopter chase and subsequent crash over the Himalayas followed by a mountain-side struggle.
Being an M:I film there are, of course, any number of misdirections and double or triple crosses with characters not being what or indeed who (given those face masks) they seem, the motives of rival factions clashing with Hunt’s mission to clean up his mess and the personal and moral choices between sides and duty that he’s sometimes forced to make.
Cruise, who famously broke his ankle in one of the stunts (and again he does all his own) is as charismatic a presence as ever, the film offering up some emotional back story notes along the way, but neither he nor writer-director Chris McQuarrie allow that to sideline the support cast of Ferguson, Cavill, Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames as team regulars Benji and Luther, or, getting a bigger role in the field this time round, Alec Baldwin as the head of the IMF.
Globe trotting between Belfast, Berlin, Paris, London (by way of St Pauls, Blackfriars Bridge and the Tate Modern) and Kashmire, building to a quite literal suspenseful last second on the countdown climax, it may play fast and loose with plausibility and the entangled complex narrative may load in one too many moments when things go wrong (actual or otherwise) than may be necessary, but when Sloane snipes that the IMF are a bunch of grown men in rubber masks playing trick or treat, she nails the film’s fulsome pleasures right on the head. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Hotel Transylvania 3: A Monster Vacation (U)
Surprisingly outperforming Skyscraper on its opening weekend, the third instalment in the animated series lacks the wit of the original and the emotional notes of the sequel, but it does have more fart jokes. Opening with a sequence showing how Dracula (Adam Sandler) and his fellow monsters have been pursued through the ages by the Van Helsings, it cuts to the present where Drac’s daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) plans an ocean cruise to give dad a break from running the hotel. So, following a hairy flight aboard Gremlins airlines to the Bermuda Triangle, she, her human husband, Johnny (Andy Samberg), son, Dennis, Dracula, his dad (Mel Brooks) and the entire extended family, among them Frankenstein (Kevin James), werewolf Wayne (Steve Buscemi), mummy Murray (Keegan-Michael Key), the Blob and invisible man Griffin (David Spade), not to mention Dennis smuggling aboard his oversized dog, set off on the monster-packed voyage.
Not happy about having getaway break on a floating hotel, Dracula’s in a tetchy mood until, that is, he sees the ship’s glamourous human captain, Ericka (Kathryn Hahn), and is immediately smitten. She too seems to have eyes for him and his fellow monsters do their best to bring them together. But, little do they know that she’s the great-granddaughter of Van Helsing who , now part-man/part-machine, is using the voyage as part of his dastardly plan to eradicate all monsters for ever.
All of which plays out in a series of somewhat repetitive subplots and escapades (Frankenstein has a literal losing hand gambling problem, the werewolves manage to offload their pack of kids to chill out, Drac’s dad sports a mankini to seduce some witches) as they visit the assorted stop-offs before finally arriving at the lost city of Atlantis on which is hidden the device Van Helsing requires to complete his scheme. As such Dracula unknowingly avoids many attempts to kill him, Mavis gets suspicious and it all ends in a dance battle to, among others, the Macarena.
It rattles along with a rapid succession of slapstick, jokes and pop culture references, some of which work and others don’t, there’s a revisiting of the ‘bleh, bleh, bleh’ gag in the original and the animation is as sharp and angular (and fairly primitive) as before, but, unlike its predecessors, there’s no real emotional anchor even if it does once again trot out the messages about the importance of family, love triumphing over everything and tolerance and acceptance of people’s differences. Kids who loved the other two won’t be disappointed, but it’s probably time the franchise had a stake driven through it. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
The Old Dark House (PG)
Considered lost for many years, this is Dudley-born director James Whale’s 1932 adaptation of the J.B. Priestley novel Benighted, regarded by many as the template for the spooky house movie. Caught in a storm whilst journeying through a remote region of Wales, a group of travellers take refuge in a sinister mansion inhabited by the bizarre Femm family and their mute butler, Morgan (Boris Karloff). Trying to make the best of a bad situation, the group settles in for the night, but the Femm family have a few skeletons in their closet, and one of them is on the loose. ( Until Fri: Electric)
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; Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
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)
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 way as driving past a car crash, the audience as much a victim as the passengers. (Cineworld 5 Ways, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe; Reel; 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 NEC; Empire Great Park; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
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; 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. (Empire Great Park; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
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. (Electric; 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. (Mockingbird; Vue Star City)
Surprisingly something of a relative flop at the box office, 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; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Reel; Showcase Walsall; 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)
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