Breaking In (15)
A home invasion movie that places a strong woman fighting to protect her kids front and centre, director James McTeigue may not offer any major twists on the well-worn set-up, but, anchored by a powerful turn from Gabrielle Union, this short and sharp thriller delivers solid tension and bursts of bloody action.
Returning to her estranged criminal father’s remote and fortress-like high-tech security mansion after he’s killed in a deliberate hit and run, Shaun (Union), who has had nothing to do with him for years, is just there for the weekend with her two kids, teen daughter Jasmine (Ajiona Alexus) and younger son Glover (Seth Carr), to arrange the sale. However, she’s not the only one. Tipped off that there’s a safe packed with millions of dollars, four thieves, Eddie (Billy Burke) and his associates, tattooed psycho Duncan (Richard Cabral), nervy Sam (Levi Meaden) and former military man Peter (Mark Furze), are determined to get their hands on it. However, they didn’t reckon on anyone else being there.
While Shaun’s outside, they take the kids hostage, setting in motion a taut game of cat and mouse as her maternal instincts take on a Liam Neeson hue (tellingly, it’s written by Ryan Engle who also penned Non Stop and The Commuter), using whatever’s at hand, broken wine glass, toy drone, to turn the tables and take the fight to the assailants who, in time-honoured tradition, prove to be conveniently inept.
Naturally, there’s plenty of sneaking round darkened corridors and lurking in shadows, punctuated by some bloodshedding via Duncan slitting the throat of the unfortunate estate agent and a remarkably resourceful Shaun doing a number on Peter before engineering her way back inside the house.
It’s thinly written and fairly one-dimensional in terms of character, but, for disposable female empowerment action that serves up the payback without troubling the brain cells, this does its job in efficiently effective style. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall)
A Netflix production getting a simultaneous release via Sky Movies, writer-director Andrew Niccol’s’ latest excursion into dystopian sci fi noir parables is perhaps a little too convoluted for its own good. Set in a resolutely digital future where, ostensibly as a warped concept of security, it’s possible to access a ‘record’ of everything the eye sees, data on people and objects popping up as you look at them. It’s a boon for the likes of loner divorcee detective Sal Frieland (Clive Owen) since it’s impossible to hide from any crime, murder included. As such, however, police work is all a bit dull really, his day usually comprising of things like showing a father enquiring about his missing son the moment before he stepped of a tall building. So, he’s particularly intrigued when, in a short space of time, he’s called to the scenes of several murders (death here is termed end of file) but from which all evidence of the killer has been removed, even looking at the recorded memories of the victims up to the moment of death, the record is from the killer’s p.o.v., meaning that they have the ability to hack into another person’s ‘mind’s eye’.
Prime suspect in all this is Anon (Anna Seyfried), a woman Sal registered on the street when she showed no data at all, a digital ghost, an error, off-grid. The only way to get to her is to go undercover and use himself as bait, asking for her services to remove compromising moments from his record and replace them with doctored versions. The risk been that all her previous clients have wound up dead. To assist, what he sees is being monitored by a specialist team back at the station while another colleague tries to triangulate a fix on the suspect when she and Sal meet at his supposed apartment.
It’s an intriguing premise and, by and large, Niccol navigates the logic dexterously, layering the narrative by having Sal a troubled soul, haunted by guilt over the death of his young son and withholding any backstory regarding Anon until the end, further complicating matters by she and Sal having sex and then, after his cover’s blown, all of his precious memories being erased and he quite literally finds himself unable to believe what he’s seeing. To which end, he himself ends up as a suspect in another killing.
With Owen playing familiar hangdog deadpan, Seyfried doing enigmatic and the film carrying a chilly atmosphere redolent of Niccol’s earlier Gattaca, it pulls you even if as it becomes increasingly difficult to follow. Unfortunately, it can’t sustain things to the end, the relationship between Anon and Sal never rings true despite their edgy chemistry while a somewhat rushed last act introduces twists and turns from up Niccol’s sleeve that simply feel like a cheat. (Everyman)
An emotionally brutal examination of a custody tug of war, French writer-director Xavier Legrand’s debut feature is an uncomfortable watch. It opens at a hearing as the attorneys for the mother, Miriam (Léa Drucker), and her ex-husband, Antoine (a physically imposing Denis Ménochet), make their cases to the judge as to what should the arrangements be regarding their 11-year-old son, Julien (Thomas Gioria). The boy’s deposition makes it clear he never wants to see ‘that man’ again, but there’s always the possibility of coaching, while, rejecting accusations of domestic abuse, Antoine’s council makes the case that the boy needs a father’s guiding influence.
Suffice to say, the ruling is that he has access at weekends, though it’s clear that the sullen Julien would rather be anywhere else. Meanwhile, Miriam, gets an apartment in the projects for herself, Julien and his sister, Joséphine (Mathilde Auneveux), who, about to turn 18, is not subject to custody, while still pretending to her ex that they’re living with her parents. Needless to say, with Julien wanting to go to his sister’s birthday party, he becomes a means of each parent punishing the other while offloading the blame, while weighed down with the guilt at being unable to protect his mother and that this somehow all his fault.
While Miriam is no angel, willing to use her children to get her own back, you’re never in any doubt that Antoine, albeit a well-respected hospital administrator, is a malevolent, abusive force, short-fused and intimidating under the firm belief that he has been wronged by being deprive don wife and son, so it’s no real surprise when things eventually turn violent, though that in no way lessens the shock in watching events unfold. All of which firmly places Julien, played with palpable trepidation and a physical sense of real fear by first time actor Gioria, at the film’s emotional centre. Told with raw unsentimentality and a naturalistic approach that recalls the Dardenne brothers, it leaves you drained. (Electric; Until Tue: MAC)
Almost 42 years since the actual incident, Brazilian director José Padilha offers a somewhat pointless revisiting of the attempt by Israeli commandos to rescue the 246, mostly Jewish, passengers from the Air France plane that, hijacked by left wing German radicals, had landed in Uganda, matters complicated by the fact that the country’s famously unstable dictator, Idi Amin, was acting as the go between in negotiations, threatening to kill hostages if no agreement was reached. Israel, of course, had already declared its refusal to negotiate with terrorists.
The incident spawned not one but three quickly made exploitative cash-ins immediately in its wake, variously featuring Anthony Hopkins Charles Bronson, Burt Lancaster and Klaus Kinski. This time round, you get Daniel Brühl and Rosamund Pike as Revolutionary Cell members Wilfried Böse and Brigitte Kuhlmann who, along with two Palestinians, hijack the plane in support of the Popular Front For The Liberation Of Palestine.
Told largely from the passengers;’ perspective, it’s a singularly unthrilling and sluggish affair, overburdened with huge chunks of exposition as the radicals debate ideology (often in risible lines like “I want to throw bombs into the consciousness of the masses”) and the politicians explain things to one another. Brühl is his usual reliable self in the sort of character he’s played countless time but Pike is and looks totally miscast, scenes of her losing it and hacking at her hair or delivering a distracted monologue over the phone convincing for all the wrong reasons. The cast list also wheels on Eddie Marsan as impressively eyebrowed Israeli defence minister, Shimon Peres, Lior Ashkenazi as Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and, relishing the brief opportunity to chew the scenery, Nonso Anozie as Amin, all three of them looking to exploit the situation to their political advantage.
The only thing that injects any interest is the bizarre decision to use the fact that an idealistic commando has a dancer girlfriend to interweave the hostage narrative with a modern dance piece set to a traditional Passover song featuring black clad women and a lot of drumming and chanting. It’s designed to build the tension, but, while undeniably well executed and choreographed, is utterly deflated when the aforementioned soldier declares “I fight so you can dance!” (Cineworld NEC; Empire Great Park; Reel; Vue Star City)
Lean On Pete (15)
Making his American debut, British director Andrew Haigh’s adaption of the existential third novel by Willy Vlautin, frontman with alt-country outfit Richmond Fontaine, with its heady Steinbeck and Cormac McCarthy influences, the film shaping up as an episodic coming of age road movie that provides a contemporary snapshot of the American underclass as it and its young protagonist undertakes its slow-burning, if slightly overstretched journey.
Set in Portland, Oregon, it features a tour de force performance from Charlie Plummer, recently seen in All The Money in The World, as Charley, a 15-year-old from a broken home who, the air recently relocated from Washington, lives with his good-hearted but irresponsible young father Ray (Travis Fimmel). Charley’s drawn to the local racetrack where, in the films longest section, he gets a job helping cantankerous horse owner Del (Steve Buscemi) by looking after the horses and preparing them for the races as they travel the run down racetracks and carnies across the Pacific Northwest.
He forms a particular bond with Lean On Pete, a five-year-old sprinter coming to the end of his days on the track without ever fulfilling what Charley sees as his potential. He also strikes up a friendship with Bonnie (Chloe Sevigny), a jockey who rides for Del and who has seen her own share of knockbacks, pointedly noting how “There are only so many times you can fall off a horse and get up.” Charley wants her to ride Pete, to give him a chance, but she demurs, also warning him “You can’t think of them as pets.”
Two life-charging incidents set Charley on his journey, the death of his father following a run-in with a jealous husband and a hospital foul-up and Del’s decision to sell Pete after his last dismal race, to be shipped off to Mexico to become horsemeat. Faced with the prospect of being taken in by social services, with nothing to keep him in Portland and wanting to save Pete, he steals the horse and Del’s truck and hits the road, heading across the badlands to Wyoming in search of a new home to try and find his dad’s estranged sister, Aunt Margy.
Along the way, on a journey loitered with isolated truck stops and homes, his path variously crosses with a couple of chancers, a kindly waitress on whom he pulls a dine-and-dash, a sad, overweight girl stuck with her verbally abusive grandfather, itinerant Mexican workers and, eventually, Silver (Steve Zahn), a trailer-living street smart guy whose seemingly easy-going nature hides a nastier side.
Directed in a stripped down style given to lingering widescreen vistas of the American West’s landscape, as the two down-on-their luck outcasts make their way together, Charley delivering confessional monologues to the horse as they wander the desert, its narrative centres on one of characters’ remark that “When you don’t have anywhere to go, you’re kinda stuck.” Offering vignettes of small acts of human kindness alongside the harshness and trials that face society’s vulnerable members, it has a haunting poetic resonance and emotional power that, along with Plummer’s soulful, internalised performance sustains it through some of the longueurs as it heads to a redemptive finale, but not without a sudden unexpected shock moment that hits like a hammer blow. It’s a long haul, but the company it keeps make the journey worth it. (Electric)
Life of the Party (12A)
Following on from Amy Schumer’s underachieving I Feel Pretty, now it’s the turn of Melissa McCarthy to misfire in her third teaming with writer-director husband Ben Falcone. Pitched as a mother-daughter slash female buddy back to school comedy, McCarthy plays middle-aged mom Deanna (Melissa McCarthy) who, just minutes after dropping their daughter Maddie (Molly Gordon) off at Decatur University for her senior year, is told my hubbie Dan (Matt Walsh) that he wants a divorce so he can marry high powered real estate agent Marcie (Julie Bowen).
Understandably depressed, back at her parents and confronted with a midlife crisis, Deanne resolves to finally complete her archaeology degree, enrolling at Decatur which she attended years back before dropping out 24 years ago after becoming pregnant. Initially not taken with the idea of having her doting, frumpy mom as a fellow student, Maddie’s soon persuaded, not least since her sorority sisters, most particularly insecure Debbie (Jessie Ennis) and snarky online celeb Helen (Gillian Jacobs), returning after eight years in a coma, think she’s just wonderful.
Before long Deanne’s the campus hit, albeit not with obligatory mean girl Jennifer (Debby Ryan) and her personality-free sidekick, to the extent of embarking on a sexual fling with a much younger fellow student, Jack (Luke Benward), the subject of an awkward reveal later in the movie (but which is never really followed through). Hopping between assorted scenes and set-ups involving parties, sorority initiations, a dance-battle, a class presentation meltdown (that, in character terms makes no sense) before a final fund raiser party top pay for Deanne’s fees which the girls claim Christina Aguilera is going to attend, it never really actually goes anywhere or gets beyond the basic find who you are, be true to yourself, self-reliance messages.
There are some decent moments, notably an 80s themed party at which McCarthy, in a spangled blue jump suit, gives good dance moves and shows her physical comedy skills, but too much is driven by the script rather than the story. McCarthy is fluffily solid enough, but, given surprisingly few sharp one-liners, she’s overshadowed throughout by Heidi Gardner as her weirdo dormmate Leonor, Maya Rudolph as sex-hungry best friend Christine and, especially Jacobs, scene stealing with just a roll of her eyes or a facial expression. A film full of ideas but with no real clue what to do with them and with not enough jokes to satisfy trade descriptions, it flops along watchably enough until it simply runs out of steam and just stops. If you want a truly funny house mother/sorority comedy, then search out Anna Faris in The House Bunny, meanwhile this is the sort of party where you make your excuses and leave early. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
When smug millionaire alpha male Richard (Kevin Janssens) takes his young, lollipop sucking Lolita-ish American mistress Jen (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz) to his luxury isolated desert retreat for the weekend, he’s looking forward to a couple of days of steamy sex before she ships back out and he heads off on his annual hunting trip. However, when his hunting buddies, insecure Stan (Vincent Colombe) and slobbish Dimitri (Guillaume Bouchède) arrive early, things take a dramatic turn when, having given him a somewhat intoxicated body grinding sexy dance the night before, with Richard away getting supplies, Stan corners her and demands to know why she now doesn’t find him attractive. When she explains that he misread things, he brutally rapes her out of wounded male pride while Dimitri turns a blind eye. On his return, learning what’s happened, Richard tries to sweep it under the carpet, offering Jen a hefty pay off and a job in Canada for her silence. When she understandably refuses and threatens to call his wife, he slaps her. She runs off, they give chase and, ultimately, Richard shoves her off a mountain, leaving her impaled on a shrub below.
However, when they come to get the body en route to their hunting, it’s gone. Jen has survived, freed herself and taken off. Now the three have to find her and finish the job. Jen, however, proves far tougher and more resilient than they’d imagined, removing the stake in her stomach and cauterising the wound with a beer can while under the pain-killing influence of peyote (and ending up with a striking gut tattoo), and, eventually, tooled up with a high-powered rifle and knife relieved from one of the men, seeking bloody revenge. And bloody it most certainly is.
Bringing a potent theme of female empowerment in confrontation with testosterone-charged toxic masculinity and its sense of entitlement, making her feature debut, while writer-director Corlaie Fargeat films the rape scene through suggestion and sound rather than explicitly, she doesn’t pull back from the subsequent intense graphic, visceral horror with close up shots of Jen’s blood splashing on to ants, gaping wounds gushing with blood (or indeed a mouth chewing a candy bar), the climax quite literally awash with the stuff.
There’s not too much of a plot once the hunter and prey narrative kicks in, but, while you might question how, given the blood she’s lost, Jen still manages to have such strength (the fire driving her on, one assumes) and some excursions into gory hallucinations with heads being blown apart, Fageat keeps it reasonably well-grounded in realistic terms. That said, she does rather overdo the symbolism (a slowly rotting half-eaten apple, Jen hallucinating Stan as a lizard, the TV screen features macho wrestling and motor racing scenes until, in the final face-off, it switches playfully to a shopping channel) and accusations of fetishisation with a dirty and blood-caked Jen and her striking glowing pink earring are not without foundation.
Building to a tense, blood-soaked finale to a pulsing electro score and shot with intense saturation, Fageat offers up Jen as a reborn angel of retribution in a mysognistic hellish world, a role which Lutz pulls off with explosive charisma. What a pity no one saw this before they remade Tomb Raider. (Cineworld NEC; Thu: Mockingbird
Sherlock Gnomes (U)
The original movie, Gnomeo & Juliet, was a playful, funny, inventive and charming rework of Romeo and Juliet, but with a happy ending. The sequel, which teams the now married lovers with a gnome version of Conan Doyle’s famous sleuth, is none of the above. Settling into their owners’ new London home, Juliet (Emily Blunt) is too busy working to get the garden right to give much time to Gnomeo (James McAvoy), who duly has a major sulk and tries to get her attention back on him. Meanwhile, some dastardly villain is kidnapping all of London’s gnomes, to which end master detective Sherlock Gnomes (Johnny Depp) and his assistant Dr. Watson (Chiwetel Ejiofor) are on the trail, the former’s cruelly dismissive treatment of the latter mirroring the domestic disharmony in the garden. When their friends and relations also get snatched, Gnomeo and Juliet join forces with the detectives to track them down in what is a game of wits played out (Toy Story-like) across London between Holmes and his arch nemesis, the supposedly dead Moriarty (Jamie Demetriou), a garish yellow pie mascot in a purple nappy and bowtie, with just 24 hours before they’re smashed to pieces.
The film’s executive producer is Elton John and don’t you just know it, with an Elton lookalike gnome, either snatches of his songs or in-jokes references to them (Gnomeo’s codename is Tiny Dancer), while, with his teeth, Moriaty even looks a bit like him. It’s well-animated with lots of detail, but unfortunately that attention doesn’t extend to the frantic but meandering plot (though it does have a clever twist) or the bland characters. Devoid of wit, the film thinks the sight of a gnome in a pink mankini flashing his buttocks is so hilarious it keeps returning to him while relegating Michael Caine and Maggie Smith to mere cameos as Lord Redbrick and Lady Blueberry. It also contrives to have a sequence set in a doll museum as an excuse to wheel out Mary J Blige to perform a number as Holmes’ ex, Irene. It’s probably best summed up when, in a TV report about the gnome thefts, the announcer says “Some say it’s a job for Sherlock Gnomes!” before adding, “Others say it’s a slow news day!” Bored kids and adults are likely to opt for the latter. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
A Quiet Place (15)
After Sally Phillips in The Shape of Water, this takes it up a notch by, save for a couple of scenes, having all the characters converse in sign language. One character is deaf, hence why everyone in the family knows how to sign, but the reason why nobody speaks is because this is an apocalyptic future in which the slightest noise will get you killed by marauding monsters who, while blind, hunt their prey through sound.
Directed by John Krasinski, it opens on Day 89 with an eerie scene of the family, father Lee Abbott (Krasinski), mom Evelyn (Krasinski’s real life wife Emily Blunt), adolescent daughter Regan (an outstanding, complex turn by deaf actress Millicent Simmonds) and her younger brothers, Marcus (Noah Jupe) and Beau (Cade Woodward), are silently searching deserted store for medicines. When his sister secretly gives him the battery operated toy he’s been told he can’t have, Beau also picks up the batteries, resulting in a devastating tragedy and the film’s first jolting shock. A year or so later, the rest of the family are still living in their farm house refuge, signal lights surrounding it, walking barefoot on noise-dampening dust-covered pathways, dad working on the shortwave in the basement trying to make contact using Morse Code and trying to create Regan a more powerful cochlear hearing aid – a plot point that proved crucial in the climax. A careless mishap ramps up the tension and serves reminder how precarious their life is, especially so given Evelyn is pregnant, and childbirth and babies are not renewed for quietness.
There’s also tension within the family in that Regan thinks her father blames her for Beau’s death; she certainly blames herself. As such, resentful when dad takes Marcus off on a fishing expedition, she takes off on her own, thereby separating all the characters, leaving mom alone and about to give birth, inevitably placing everyone in peril in scenes that variously entail a nail protruding from the stairs, being trapped in a corn silo and creatures stalking the flooded basement where mother and baby are trapped.
Although there are scenes where characters speak (apparently it’s safe if there’s a louder noise to mask the sounds), this relies very much on conveying emotions through the eyes and facial expressions, something which ratchets up proceedings as Evelyn goes into labour aware that she cannot cry out.
Given the restrictions on speech, exposition is limited to newspaper cuttings about the creatures and the film sometimes plays fast and loose with its own logic (how is there still power, especially as having a generator would create noise?), but these are minor niggles in a film that, in a finale redolent of Aliens, gives a thrilling fresh spin to the monster invasion genre. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Mockingbird; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Avengers: Infinity War (12A)
The movie equivalent of going to an all you can eat buffet and still wanting more, this brings together pretty much every major superhero in the Marvel Universe (or at least the Disney manifestation thereof), and even those not on screen still get a mention, for the ultimate slugfest mashup as they take on the towering, ridged-chin world destroyer Thanos (a surprisingly soulful Josh Brolin) who is out to gather all six of the infinity stones (gems of indescribable power governing Mind, Soul, Time, Power, Space and Reality), so that he can bring balance to the universe by wiping out half of its inhabitants (as a flashback reveals he did to Gamora’s world before adopting her as his daughter), so that the remaining half have a chance to survive. It’s galaxy-wide genocide, but he means well.
Given the showdowns between Thanos and the various ad hoc team ups take place in various parts of the planet and the universe, the massive cast of characters don’t actually all occupy the same scene at any one time. Rather we have different pockets of resistance. After an initial confrontation in New York with Thanos’s icily effete and sadistic factotum and a couple of his enforcers, Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland with fetching new bio-suit) are paired up on both Thanos’s flying wheel and his home planet Titan; Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) and, with a traumatised Hulk reluctant to emerge, Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) face off in Wakanda with the Black Panther (Chadwick Bosemen), ultimately joined by Wanda (Elizabeth Olson) and Vision (Paul Bettany), who, lest you forget, has one of the stones in his forehead. As it turns out, Doctor Strange also has one nestling in his amulet.
After rescuing him from space following the opening massacre of Asgardians, The Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Lord (Chris Pratt), Drax (Dave Bautista), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Mantis (Pom Klementieff), stick-teen Groot (Vin Diesel) and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) join forces with Thor (Chris Hemsworth), described by Drax “like a pirate had a baby with an angel!”. The bruised and battered but still up for it God of Thunder and the ‘rabbit’, as he refers to him, taking off to forge a new hammer (leading to a wryly amusing scene in which Peter Dinklage dwarfs them both), while the others head for Knowhere, home of the Collector (Benicio Del Toro), who’s supposedly got one of the stones. Also in the mix is Thanos’s other ‘daughter, Nebula (Karen Gillan) and pretty much all of the other core characters from Black Panther, along with a Gwyneth Paltrow cameo as Tony Stark’s new fiancée, Pepper Potts and a surprise post-credits appearance of a long absent figure.
If you can get your head round that line-up, then you might just make it through the near three hours of cataclysmic jawdropping, eye-popping action that comes liberally laced with intense emotional beats, pop culture references and the sort of dry and droll humour you’ve come to expect, here primarily in the alpha male arrogance stand-offs between egotistical Stark and supercilious Strange, the testosterone tag match between Thor and an intimidated Peter Quinn (who deepens his voice to assert himself) and the former’s ever hilarious unintended casual put downs. Indeed, Hemsworth pretty much owns every scene he’s in, and his dramatic lightning flashing appearance armed with his new axe, Stormbringer, and a new eye, is one of the film’s major cheer out loud moments
All this directors Anthony and Joe Russo orchestrate with dazzling skill and confidence, never for a moment letting the pace sag, but knowing just when to ease back on the mayhem and introduce Marvel’s trademark tragic notes. Two shocking deaths occur in the opening moments and there’s both sacrifice and sef-sacrifice, while the film concludes in wiping out half of the main cast, though, given that includes the stars of recent new franchises, these don’t have quite the same impact and it’s a safe bet that, as the all knowing Strange implies, they’ll reassemble in a year’s time for the eagerly anticipated sequel. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Very loosely inspired by the so called Beast of Jersey, 60s sex offender Edward John Louis Paisnel, first time writer/director Michael Pearce pulls off a tense and compelling psychological thriller that, despite some flaws, marks him out as a definite person of Hollywood interest.
Set in present day Jersey, it stars Jessie Buckley (who co-starred in Taboo and is currently to be seen in the BBC’s The Woman In White) as tourist guide Moll, an intelligent but wild spirited red-head with a troubled past involving stabbing a school bully and a passive-aggressive mother (Geraldine James) who home schooled her and keeps her on a tight leash, making her look after her sickly father. When her 28th birthday celebrations are upstaged by her sister announcing she’s pregnant, Moll storms off in a strop and heads to a dance club where she hooks up with one of the locals who, on their way home in the early morning, comes on threateningly insistently until he’s scared off by a new arrival, a straggly-bearded and scarred but handsome gun-bearing poacher by the name of Pascal Renouf (folk musician Johnny Flynn) who gives her a lift home.
Much to her mother’s displeasure, Moll asks Pascal back to do some handyman jobs and is increasingly drawn to his air of mystery and danger, and perhaps, also his heady, musky smell. However, she’s not long into the relationship when Clifford (Trystan Gravelle), a local copper who has a thing for her, confides that Pascal, who, a native islander with a criminal record for underage sexual assault, is a bit of an outsider in the more judgemental British community, is on a short list of suspects (which, for some, also includes the influx of seasonal migrant workers) as the potential serial killer who’s raping and murdering young women by shoving soil down their throats. Rebellious to a fault when challenged by authority, Moll gives him an alibi for the night they met, refusing to be shaken even when intimidatingly questioned by a detective (Olwen Fouere) shipped in from the mainland to take on the case. The fact is, Moll, who herself borders on the sociopathic, gets a kick out of the way her involvement with Pascal irritates her mother and her stuffy family circle and, even as she begins to question his innocence, she feels a powerful kinship of personality, one that could have dangerous consequences for them both.
The serial killer aspect is very much just a subplot here to the film’s examination of the characters’ dysfunctional dynamics and wilfully self-destructive rebellion and, while it climaxes with an unexpected and bloody disturbing jolt, it’s arguably stronger in the early going before Pearce starts playing with the audience’s assumptions overstretching the plausibility with a convoluted narrative. Even so, he makes effective use of his Hitchcock influences (Suspicion and The Lodger to be precise) and is well served by big screen career boosting performances from Buckley and Flynn whose chemistry crackles like messing with gunpowder. It ultimately poses more questions than it has answers, but it remains a strikingly impressive debut. (Everyman)
Black Panther (12A)
First seen in Captain America: Civil War, the Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) is T’Challa, who became King of the African nation of Wakanda and took on the animal spirit powers passed down through the generations of its rulers when his father as killed during the attack on the Vienna International Centre. The world believes Wakanda to be Africa’s poorest nation, one of Trump’s shithole countries, but, hidden behind a veil of technological secrecy there exists a hugely advanced and prosperous country, a melding of the futuristic and the ancient dubbed Afrofuturism, complete with sonic-powered railways and insect-inspired aircraft, founded upon vibranium, the hardest metal known to man, from a comet that crashed to Earth millennia ago and gave birth to the purple flower from which the potion endowing the Black Panther’s strength and speed are derived. It’s also the metal that forged Captain America’s shield. However, like his father before him, T’Challa intends to keep all this secret, protecting Wakanda from incursion and subsequent chaos by the outside world.
However, others are of a different opinion. His gutsy sometime girlfriend Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), first seen rescuing kidnapped girls from a Boku Haram-styled scenario, believes it is her responsibility to help less fortunate African countries, though nevertheless respects his wishes. But then there’s Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), a CIA assassin from Brooklyn who, it is revealed, has personal ties to the Wakandan throne and wants to use vibranium to instigate a global race war to over throw those who have oppressed Blacks for centuries, to which end he’s struck a deal with Klaue (Andy Serkis), the rogue Afrikaner mercenary who stole a supply of vibranium way back, from which he’s crafted his weaponised artificial arm, and has been itching to get his hands on the rest.
As such, while the basic oppositions remain true, this isn’t your usual super-hero movie, playing out more in the manner of a Greek tragedy that involves fratricide, flawed fathers, misguided nobility and betrayal alongside issues that embrace isolationism vs internationalism, racism, colonialism, refugees and the opposing policies of passive resistance and militarism that pointedly evokes the contrast in thinking between Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.
Following the historical prologue as to the origins of Wakanda, the film shifts to 1992 Oakland as two men, both of Wakandan origin, ready plans to carry out an armed assault, only to be interrupted by “two Grace Jones lookin’ chicks”, the spear-wielding bodyguards of King T’Chaka (John Kani), T’Challa’s father, who, to protect one of the men kills the other, his own brother, thereby setting in motion a quest for vengeance that will lead to the present day narrative.
It’s directed by Ryan Coogler who made the true-life based Fruitvale Station and Creed, the one dealing with racial tension and prejudice the other about a young black man coming to terms with his heritage, themes which coalesce here in an Afrocentric fusion of the modern and folklore. Save for some minor extras, Serkis and Martin Freeman (returning as CIA agent Everett K. Ross), are the only white characters in a film heavy with black acting talent, which, in addition to those mentioned, includes Danai Gurira as General Okoye, commander of the all female elite bodyguards; Get Out’s Daniel Kaluuya as T’Challa’s allegiance-shifting ally, W’Kabi; Winston Duke as M’Baku, the leader of a rival tribe who challenges T’Challa for the throne in traditional ritual combat on the edge of a steep waterfall; Forest Whitaker as Zuri, basically the Wakandan medicine man; Angela Bassett as T’Challa’s mother, Ramonda; and, especially, Letitia Wright as his wisecracking techno-whizz kid sister Shuri who’s designed the upgraded kinetic energy absorbing version of the Black Panther costume and is essentially Q to his 007.
Boseman provides the film’s gravitas, a conflicted leader faced with difficult decisions regarding the future of his people and, in scenes which involve two visits to a mystical afterlife to meet with T’Chaka, comes to learn his father, faced with similar choices, was not all he had assumed him to be. Naturally, balancing such heavyweight concerns, there’s a ready supply of blockbuster gadgetry and action, including a casino shoot-out, a remotely-driven car case through Busan, South Korea and a final all-out battle between T’Challa and Killmonger’s supporters that involves armour-plated rhinos, finally climaxing in the showdown between the two rivals for Wakanda’s future and its poignant coda.
The Black Panther isn’t Hollywood’s first black super-hero, but, ranking alongside the very best of the Marvel canon, he’s its most important. (Odeon Birmingham; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Funny Cow (15)
A showcase turn for Maxine Peake, director Adrian Shergold’s film takes its influences from 60s British kitchen sink drama and gives them an art house makeover (you can’t miss the symbolic nod to 1956 French short The Red Balloon) in an acerbic comedy about a female stand-up comic that comes leavened with themes of domestic abuse, self-esteem and alcoholic despair. Divided into ‘bits’, it unfolds the life of a woman only ever known as Funny Cow (Peake), journeying from her northern childhood in the backstreets of post-war Britain where she learns to use humour to counter her abusive father (Stephen Graham who also plays Peake’s grown up brother) and the local bullies, through her impulsive teenage romance and subsequent marriage to Bob (Tony Pitts, who also wrote the screenplay), in which the cycle of marital abuse and controlling violence repeats itself, to a relationship with gentle but overly needy bookseller Angus (Paddy Considine) and her rise from playing seedy working men’s clubs with its racist and homophobic gags to comedy stardom in the 70s and 80s (emblemised by a red sports car and flashy clothes). In the latter part of the film, this is narrated with brutal honesty straight to camera through a televised monologue that feels like a far darker Dave Allen or Victoria Wood, herself a major influence on Peake.
It’s often unapologetically grim, most especially in the scenes of domestic violence and those involving Funny Cow’s now aged mother (Lindsay Coulson) who, following her husband’s death, took to the bottle, but also viciously funny, the humour aggressively crude, as in a potent sequence where she delivers put downs to a misogynistic heckler. At times Pitt’s screenplay indulges clichés and stereotypes even as it seeks to deconstruct them, but it never blunts its emotional heft even if it does rather stretch credibility that a bookseller in a northern town would be able to afford such a plush home as Angus owns.
There’s cameos from Vic Reeves as a crap ventriloquist, Corrine Bailey Rae and Richard Hawley (who also wrote the songs) as a singing duo and, in an early pub scene, you may even recognise Kevin Rowlands while Pitts does his writing full justice as the abusive Bob.
As a woman out of whom the ability to love has been beaten, Peake commands the majority of the film with her molten energy and magnetic presence, but the first section and a couple of subsequent flashbacks belong to Macy Shackleton who plays her younger self, Funny Calf, while Alun Armstrong is terrific as Funny Cow’s world-weary mentor whose told the same tired jokes too often and to ever diminishing returns, a state of perpetual misery and unhappiness that also infects Funny Cow’s often defiantly self-destructive life. And yet, perversely, there’s moments, such as a scene in a pub where they sing Mule Train, with Funny Cow bashing herself and others over the head with a beer tray, where she and Bob actually seem to be happy together. In Funny Cow’s world, success and finding yourself doesn’t heal, it simply makes for a sharper punchline. (MAC)
Ghost Stories (15)
Adapted from the successful stage play by writer-directors Andy Nyman and The League of Gentlemen’s Jeremy Dyson, the former reprising his stage role, this sits firmly in the anthology tradition of 60s British portmanteau horror movies, but comes with a connecting thread that culminates in a twist of a very different nature.
Nyman plays Professor Philip Goodman, a Jewish atheist, rationally-minded academic and TV celebrity debunker of the supposed paranormal, first seen here exposing a so-called medium’s tricks. Out of the blue he receives a message from his similarly styled 70sTV hero, Charles Cameron (Leonard Byrne), long vanished and presumed dead, who invites him to disprove three cases that have left him doubting his disbelief in the supernatural.
The first takes Goodman to Tony (Paul Whitehouse), who claims to have witnessed the ghost of a young girl while working as a night watchman at an deserted former psychiatric hospital, the second to Simon (Alex Lawther), a young man who had an encounter with some creature while driving home late one night (and who claims he’s alone in the house despite Goodman seeing his dysfunctional parents), and, thirdly, Mike (Martin Freeman), an ant-Semitic widowed ex-banker apparently haunted by the poltergeist of his unborn child after his wife died in childbirth who, takes Goodman out on the Yorkshire moors and then shoots himself.
Their experiences are all replayed in flashbacks, during which Goodman, who had a harsh childhood and is haunted by an unexplained (and male) guilt and anxiety also experiences flashbacks of his own, gradually linking everything to his own troubles.
The three ghost stories play out with a knowing awareness of the genre clichés they involve, but there’s far more to them than these as, adopting the technique of the unreliable narrator, is eventually explained in the final stretch again involving Freeman’s character and a journey to a traumatic past and a clever if illogical final reveal. (Vue Star City)
The Greatest Showman (12A)
Closer to Baz Luhrman’s Moulin Rouge than La La Land, whose Benj Pasek and Justin Paul also provide the songs here, first time director Michael Gracey and writers Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon (who, having penned Chicago and Dreamgirls, knows his way around a musical) may take any number of liberties with the life of 19th century showman and legendary hoaxer Phineas T Barnum, but succeed in serving up a fabulous sugar rush, candy coloured helping of feelgood family entertainment about the man who pretty much invented modern day entertainment.
Bearing absolutely no resemblance to the real Barnum, who looked more like Mel Smith and didn’t get into show business until he was in his 60s, Hugh Jackman is clearly having the time of his life, positively exploding with energy in the musical routines (and let’s not forget he first made his name in musical theatre and won a Tony for the Broadway production of The Boy From Oz), but also hitting the key emotional notes when needed.
It opens with a brief background prologue, introducing the young Phineas (Ellis Rubin) as the son of a struggling tailor who falls for Charity (Skylar), the daughter of his dad’s stern and snobbish client who sends her away to put an end to the friendship. Barnum’s father dies and the kid’s reduced to stealing food on the streets, until befriended by a disfigured stranger, he’s inspired to become more than he is and chase his Million Dreams.
Fast forward and, having made something of himself as an office clerk, the now grown Barnum marries Charity (Michelle Williams, somewhat underused), again to her father’s disapproval, and they have two cute daughters, Caroline and Helen (Austyn Johnson and Cameron Seely), and, when the shipping company he works for goes belly-up, a flash of inspiration leads Barnum to open his American Museum, a collection of historical wax figures and stuffed exotic animals, in the hope of attracting the curious. A bedtime observation from one of the kids that it could do with an exhibit that’s not dead then prompts him to round up all manner of society’s freaks, among them bearded lady singer Lettie (Keala Settle), a 22-year old dwarf (Sam Humphrey) he dresses up as General Tom Thumb, a giant, Siamese twins, a fat man, the hairy Dog Boy and, brother and sister trapeze artists whose only ‘deformity’ is being African American, exaggerating their ‘freakishness’ for extra effect and nigger ‘humbug’.
Scamming the bank for a loan, he opens his theatre and, proving there’s no such thing as bad publicity, transforms a scathing review into an audience magnet with the New York crowds flocking in, restyling his show as a circus with himself as the ringmaster. Looking to move beyond lowbrow audiences, he then forms a partnership with Philip Caryle (Zac Efron in his first musical role since High School Musical and very loosely based on James Bailey of the Barnum and Bailey Circus), a bored theatrical producer with a hefty trust fund and the sort of connections that can earn the troupe an audience with Queen Victoria.
It’s here Barnum meets Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson), the feted opera singer known as the Swedish Nightingale, and sees an opportunity to move from the peanut to the champagne market. Gambling both his reputation and his wealth, he signs her up for first a New York showcase and then a mammoth American tour. Suffice to say, things do not go well, resulting in a marriage threatening scandal while, back in New York, the bigot mob protests about the ‘freaks’ get out of hand and the tentative road to romance between Philip and Anne (Zendaya), one half of the trapeze act, is hitting some racial prejudice bumps.
Naturally, setbacks are just a spur to bigger and better success and, as such the film is very much a hymn to the underdogs chasing the American Dream, not to mention a clarion cry for diversity that strikes a far more right on contemporary note about those on the margins than would have been the case in Barnum’s day, even if none of the troupe are given anything like a backstory.
But social commentary is secondary to the spectacle and the songs, the rooftop dance routines, the lavish circus ring bombast, and the cast and film deliver with exuberant gusto, standout moments being Ferguson (albeit overdubbed by Loren Allred) singing out the pain of being the outsider with Never Enough, Settle leading the charge with the showstopper This Is Me, Jackman and Efron’s lithe shot glass shifting barroom negotiations dance routine and the literally soaring circus ring Rewrite the Stars sequence with Efron and Zendaya. Climaxing with Jackman leading the rousing cast finale of From Now On, this is a fabulous celebration of the power of unadulterated entertainment to raise the spirits and fill the heart and the transition from screen to the Broadway stage is surely a given. (Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society (12A)
Alexander McCall Smith arguably started the current trend for quirky titles with the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency, finding further expression on the big screen with The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Adapted from the 2008 novel by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, this pitches for much the same audience with its bittersweet account of a tragedy that cast a shadow over the lives of the titular’s society’s members.
Director Mike Newell’s first film in almost six years, it’s set shortly after the end of WWI, as, a celebrated author with the publication of her wartime-set first novel (though her critical study of Anne Bronte sold just 29 copies worldwide), Juliet Ashton (Lily James), writing under the name of Izzy Biggerstaff, receives a letter from Dawsey Adams (Michiel Huisman with a somewhat free floating accent), a Guernsey pig farmer and society member, who, having found her name in a secondhand book and there being no bookshops on the island, wonders if she could secure him a copy of Charles Lamb’s Tales From Shakespeare.
Intrigued by mention of the oddly named society (the potato bit comes from the wartime food shortage), and looking to write something of a less frivolous nature for a commissioned Times article, she informs her supportive agent and friend Sidney (Matthew Goode) that she’s off to the island to find out more. Invited to read at a society meeting (from her Bronte work rather than the bestseller), on mentioning her planned article, one of the circle’s elderly members, Amelia (Penelope Wilson), pointedly refuses to give permission, inevitably setting Juliet on the path of unravelling the mystery and, in the process, just engaged to American officer Mark (Glenn Powell), her feelings about her life in London.
The film opens during the German occupation of the island as, drunkenly returning from a clandestine gathering revealed later, Amelia, Dawsey, postmaster Eben (Tom Courteney), gin-making herbalist wallflower Isola (Katherine Parkinson making the most of an undeveloped character) and firebrand Elizabeth (Jessica Brown Findley) are stopped out by a German patrol and spontaneously come up with the name of the book club as an excuse for being out after curfew, thereby forcing them to actually form it.
Variously flashing back between the occupation and the present day, the circle now joined by Eben’s voracious reader young nephew Eli (Kit Connor) and with Dawsey caring for the absent Elizabeth’s four-year-old daughter, the film, which considerably reworks some of the novel’s elements, is, despite the second half reveal as to why Elizabeth is no longer on the island and narrative touching on the wartime scars of collaboration and betrayals, is as predictable as it is blandly charming. Wilton has a particularly potent moment as the emotionally wounded Amelia, but, dispensing with any ideas about the power of literature early on, the tone generally favours humour and romance rather than tragedy and years. The locations (ironically not in Guernsey) are attractive and the performances are amiable enough, even if the chemistry between Juliet and Dawsey never really fizzes as it should, but, overstretched at two hours, it’s ultimately pleasantly undemanding fare which, like that pie, could have done with considerably more seasoning. (Cineworld Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
I Feel Pretty (12A)
While undeniably flawed, this Amy Schumer comedy, working a similar riff to Trainwreck, is far better than some of the scathing reviews would suggest and comes with book/cover and be who you are/self-esteem messages that would do Disney proud. Schumer plays New Yorker Renee Bennett who works for the online department of mega cosmetics company Lily LeClaire, albeit ferreted away in a dingy Chinatown office with her slobby co-worker (Adrian Martinez) because the company only wants beautiful things in its Fifth Avenue HQ. She and her equally ‘ordinary’ friends, Vivian (Aidy Bryant) and Jane (Busy Philipps) post photos on a dating site but get no views, further persuading Renee that looks are everything (though one wonders how, if they get no views they can be rejected on their appearance) and, one night, after watching bodyswap comedy Big, fed up of being ignored in bars and stores, she impulsively rushes out into the rain and throws a coin into a wishing fountain asking to be beautiful.
The next day, attending Soul Cycle class (basically a keep fit workout on a fixed bike), she falls and bangs her head and, when she comes round and looks in the mirror she sees the figure she wants to be. Physically, she looks exactly the same, but persuaded she’s now drop dead gorgeous, her confidence crawls out from under its shell and she applies for the job of receptionist at Lily LeClaire. As the first face visitors see, she’s understandably not the sort of person the interviewing panel of CFO Helen (Naomi Campbell) and squeaky-voiced CEO Avery LeClaire (Michelle Williams making the most of a gag that rapidly wears thin) are looking for. But, having been recently given an earful by her company founder grandmother (Lauren Hutton) about appealing to the ‘ordinary’ consumer in launching their new budget line, Avery, who has her own self-esteem issues, hires her. And, not only does she land a swanky job, but she also acquires a sensitive boyfriend in the shape of Ethan (Rory Scovel) following a meet cute in the dry cleaners where she takes the initiative. On top of which, she’s also given the eye by Avery’s hunky brother Grant (Tom Hopper), although that subplot never really goes anywhere.
As per narrative requirements, Renee’s elevation to a new social circle, and the fact that the company call on her for her sensible marketing advice for the new product, means she shuts out her old friends (spelled out all too blatantly when she dumps them at a restaurant to gain access to an exclusive party). And, of course, there’s inevitably another bump to the head that removes the ‘magic’, right on the eve of a major conference where she’s supposed to deliver the important pitch. No longer thinking she looks the way she thought she did, she can’t bring herself to face LeClaire or, indeed, Ethan. She first has to realise who she was all along.
Given that Vivian or Jane could easily point out she looks exactly the same despite her saying they probably don’t recognise who she is, it’s a somewhat flawed premise, but, even so, there’s an infectious sweetness to it with Renee a likeable character while Schumer, who has built a stand-up career on ironic self-deprecation and the superficiality of society, always shines when the material doesn’t. Screenwriters Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, who fared far better with He’s Just Not That Into You and How To Be Single, never seem quite sure how to get to the final destination of their positive body-image moral, such as Renee taking part in a bikini contest, which, while amusing, negates the admiration for her balls since she’s oblivious to the fact that he clearly looks nothing like the other curvy contestants.
At the end of the day it’s basically Bridget Jones’ Diary meets The Devil Wears Prada with a dressing of ‘magic’ and all too obvious soundtrack beats like Alicia Keys’ Girl On Fire and Meghan Trainor’s Me Too to point the audience in the right direction, but you shouldn’t judge it just on how it looks. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Mary And The Witch’s Flower (U)
Although Oscar-nominated Japanese animator and director Yonebayashi Hiromasa is working outside the Studio Ghibli set-up, his latest retains pretty much all the trademarks of his work on The Secret World of Arrietty and When Marnie Was There, but with a more light-hearted approach. Adapted from Mary Stewart’s 1971 children’s book The Little Broomstick, which, with its school of magic, predated Harry Potter by several decades, it’s set in Peter Rabbit-like English countryside where Mary (Ruby Barnhill), her parents away on business, is spending the last week of the summer holidays before starting at a new school with her great-aunt Charlotte (Lynda Baron) and the housekeeper (Morweena Banks). Bored with no friends and nothing to do, infuriated with her unmanageable mop of frizzy red hair, and infuriated by the mockery of local boy Peter (Louis Ashbourne Serkis), she takes off into the wood, led by a couple of cats, Tib and Gib, where she chances upon a mysterious blue flower. According to the gardener, it’s a rare species called Fly By Night that was associated with witches. And sure enough, having been led by Tib to discover a broomstick in a tree, accidentally squeezing flower juice over it and her hands, it takes her and the cat off to Endor, a steampunk city in the clouds, where the College of Magic headmistress Madam Mumblechook (Kate Winslet), impressed by Mary’s apparent super class magical skills, wants to enrol her. However, Mary’s a little disturbed by the transformation experiments her associate, Doctor Dee (Jim Broadbent) is carrying out and his talk of failures that he keeps hidden away in a locked vault, and resolves not to return.
But, when Mumblechook learns Mary has found the flowers, a vital ingredient for the experiments (and which links back to the opening sequence of a young witch being chased after stealing gag of seeds), she and Dee kidnap Peter to force Mary to hand them over. Now, Mary has to draw on her own courage and her newfound magic to rescue Peter, save the transformed creatures and put an end to Mumblechook’s plans to create a world of magical beings.
Released in both dubbed and subtitled versions, again exploring the anime concept of the ‘magic girl’, it’s a colourful inventive and fast-paced adventure that carries familiar themes of self-confidence, female empowerment and the dangers of scientific excess that should delight its tweenage girl audience and Studio Ghibli devotees alike. (Odeon Birmingham)
Peter Rabbit (PG)
It’s difficult to know which was the more ludicrous, calls to boycott the film for its scene involving someone with blackberry allergies being pelted with the fruit or director Will Cluck apologising for it. Especially when the real cause for complaint, at least from purists, for whom this will be a case of Myxomatosis , is the way it’s taken Beatrix Potter’s gentle tales about Peter, the flopsy rabbits and the other assorted Windermere wildlife that populated her books and delivered this brash, energetic live action and CGI version looking to put hip into the hop. Here, voiced by James Corden, Peter is a bunny with attitude (and who resents being referred to as a rodent) leading his fellow flop-ears on daring raids into Mr McGregor’s (Sam Neill) garden until one day, just as it seems he’s destined to become pie after finally being caught, the old man keels over and dies. In celebration the animals run free over the land once more and take over the house. But then along comes McGregor’s nephew, Thomas (Domhall Gleeson) who, recently let go from his toy department managers job at Harrods, has inherited the place and intends to fix it up and sell it so he can open his own toy store. He also has an aversion to rabbits, though he’s at pains to keep this from his aspiring artist neighbour, Bea (Rose Byrne who also voices Jemima Puddle-Duck), to whom he’s taken a shine, and who regards Peter and the other bunnies as almost family. What follows is Peter and the other rabbits’ attempt to rid themselves of the new McGregor and then, try and get him to come back when they realise it’s threatened Bea’s happiness and future.
Joined by the voices of Margot Robbie (Flopsy and narrator), Elizabeth Debicki (Mopsy), Daisy Ridley (Cotton-Tail) and Colin Moody (Benjamin) as the other rabbits with Sia as Mrs Tiggy-Winkle, it would love to be a countryside answer to Paddington, but it lacks the same innocent charm and humour, the rabbits’ antics often verging on the cruel (the rabbits wire the house to give Thomas electric shocks).
Even so, if you can put aside thoughts of Potter’s originals (not easy since the flashbacks are in the style of her drawings) , this has enough knockabout fun for the youngsters and several in-jokes (including a Babe reference, a literal deer in the headlights moment and a self-aware nod to movie cliches) even socialist class commentary (Pigling Bland as an actual aristocratic swine gobbling up everything) for the grown-ups to earn its carrots, and comes with an underlying message about the English countryside belonging to those who actually live there. (Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Dwayne Johnson scores two family friendly popcorn triumphs in a row, following Jumanji with this giant monsters destroy cities entry loosely based on the 80s arcade game but also clearly inspired by the likes of King Kong and mutated beast B-movies such as Godzilla. Godzilla and Reuniting with San Andreas director Brad Peyton, Johnson plays Davis Okoye, a San Diego Wildlife Preserve primatologist (and conveniently former military action man) who has a special bond with George, an albino gorilla he rescued from poachers and with whom he converses in sign language. That bond is put to the test, however, when a case containing samples from a covert genetics experiment in a spacelab comes crashing to earth near his compound at the zoo. The experiment, which got out of hand, leading to the destruction of both the spacelab and the escape pod containing the samples, was all about weaponising genetic editing, basically combining aspects of different species, and promoting rapid growth and strength in the subjects.
The morning after inhaling the fumes, George is found in the bears’ compound where he’s not only killed a grizzly but grown several feet and piled on the weight. Unfortunately, he’s not the only one affected. Out in Wyoming, a wolf has also become a giant predator and, although not putting in an appearance until later, so has an alligator in the Everglades. All of this is down to ruthless Clare Wyden (Malin Ackerman), who heads up a genetic corporate along with her brother/husband? Brett (Jake Lacy) and also just happens to have a Rampage game (which featured, that’s right a gorilla, wolf and croc) in her office. They’re out to make a bundle regardless of who gets hurt, so naturally would like to get their hands on one of the creatures to extract the formula, so, when an attempt to bring down the wolf by a bunch of heavily tooled-up mercenaries ends in a bloody mess, she decides to engage a homing beacon atop their Chicago HQ to send out painful sonic signals that will draw the creatures there to shut them down.
On the side of the good guys, you also have Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris), the geneticist whose work was perverted by the Wydens and who ended up doing time in trying to stop them, plus Harvey Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a good’ ole Texas boy from one of those secret government agencies that don’t even have a name, who sums up his role as “When science shits the bed, I’m the guy they call to change the sheets.”
So, there you have it. Driven by a beserker spirit, George, wolf and the alligator all start tearing apart Chicago, Davis and Kate have to try and get their hands on the antidote while avoiding falling buildings (blink and you’ll miss how it gets delivered) and get George back on side before the hard hat military commander calls in the mother of all bombs to level the city.
The CGI is, perhaps, not all it could be (the scene of the wolf leaping through the air to bring down a helicopter is particularly hokey), but in terms of mass destruction the film ably lives up to its title for a third act that is essentially one long set piece. Johnson does his familiar sensitive muscle man routine, also flexing his comic biceps to amusing effect, even if Morgan, a sort of cross between Robert Downey Jr and Jack Nicholson, steals every scene with his droll one liners. Akerman and Lacy play their cartoonish villains with a sly wink at how silly it all is and Harris holds her own as more than just the female sidekick. However, the film’s biggest laughs come courtesy of George’s signed insults, making you root even more for the big guy when the army’s hitting him with all it has. And if you’re wondering about Rampage 2, just ask yourself what happened to that rat in the glass cage. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
The Strangers: Prey at Night (15)
Ten years ago, Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman played a couple terrorised by three strangers while staying in an isolated holiday home. Now, a decade later, comes this sequel in which, being reluctantly taken to boarding school after proving too much of a handful, stroppy teen Kinsey (Bailee Madison), her mom and dad (Christina Hendricks; Martin Henderson) and more conformist older Luke (Lewis Pullman), are taking a brief family vacation stopover at the trailer park run by her grandparents.
Arriving late at night, the place deserted, they settle into their cabin only to be disturbed by a knock at the door by some girl who’s apparently lost. Sulking, Kinsey takes off to explore the park, accompanied by Luke, and the pair wind up at their grandparents’ home only to find them butchered. Racing home, Luke takes dad go off to show what they found and, while they’re away she and mom are attacked by a girl in a mask, Kinsey escaping and running of into the night to find the other two. And, with dad also soon despatched, the film grinds down into the siblings being hunted by the three silent, disguised killers, Dollface (Emma Bellomy), Pinup Girl (Lea Enslin) and, sporting a sack over his head, Man in the Mask (Damian Maffei), as they seek to survive.
A basic no frills slasher movie with a degree of sadistic nastiness that, back in the 70s would have seen it tagged a video nasty, it’s nihilistic and unpleasant, dwelling unnecessarily on the cruelty of the enigmatic assailants, the axe-wielding male proving inevitably almost unkillable in the final climax. 47 Metres Down director Johannes Roberts does a workmanlike job of assembling the characters and action, but fails to bring anything fresh to the genre or, indeed, much by the way of scares, suspense or common sense. Indeed, the scariest thing here is how Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart, Kim Wilde’s Kids in America and Air Supply’s “Making Love Out of Nothing at All seem to have wandered in from the soundtrack of another film entirely. When Kinsey asks Dollface why they’re doing all this she simply says “Why not?” A response that pretty much sums up the film’s own existence. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Truth Or Dare (15)
A conceptual cousin to the Final Destination series, this brings together a cast of unknowns as a clique of houses sharing college kids, BFFs do-gooder Olivia (Lucy Hale) and philandering Markie (Violett Beane), thelatter’s boyfriend Lucas ((Tyler Posey), who secretly fancies the former, Brad (Hayden Szeto), who hasn’t come out to his cop father, prescription-forging wannabe med student Tyson (Nolan Gerard Funk) and his vanilla girlfriend, Penelope (Sophia Ali). Taking a final Spring Break in Mexico, Carter (Landon Liboiron), a guy Olivia meets in a bar, lures them to an abandoned hilltop mission that’s been well and truly trashed, where, joined by obnoxious party crasher fellow student Ronnie ((Sam Lerner), he gets them to play a midnight game of truth or dare, and, when his turn comes round, admits he only got them there because he has no problem with strangers dying so he can live.
Apparently, the rules of the game are that if you cop out, you die, something that, back at college, manifests itself when Ronnie, refusing a dare, immediately falls from a pool table and breaks his neck. One by one the group’s whittled down as they first try to find the girl at the start of the film who set fire to a woman in a Mexican store, then an old hermit ex-nun who was the only survivor of a massacre at the mission and, finally, Carter who is the only one who can make the necessary sacrifice to end the game. And while all this is going on, truths are revealed that threaten to destroy Olivia and Markie’s friendship, especially a big secret about the suicide of the latter’s dad.
Curse movies are usually founded on a fairly silly premise, but this really pushes the boat out, subsequently explaining the game as having been possessed by a demon, changing the rules so two truths in a row must be followed by a dare and having the challenge delivered by possessing people and making them give an evil grin like someone doing a bad impression of the Joker. None of the characters have any personality depths and, although the film is sufficiently workmanlike in setting things up, ultimately frankly, you couldn’t give a toss who lives or dies, as the screenplay flounders around, building to a finale that rather optimistically (and ripping off The Ring) seems to set itself up as franchise that cannot die. Given it arrives stillborn, that seems unlikely. (Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
The third collaboration between director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody reunites them with Young Adult star Charlize Theron as Marlo, a New York mother of two young kids, eight-year-old Sarah (Lia Frankland) and the younger Jonah (Asher Miles Fallica) who’s about to give birth to a third. Her husband Drew (Ron Livingston) works late and helps the kids with their homework before he goes to bed to play video games, but otherwise is oblivious to the demands of being a fulltime mother. On top of which, their son, Jonah, is demandingly ‘quirky’ (for which read autistic, though the film never uses the word) and his elite private school would really like him to have a private tutor (which the couple can’t afford) or place him elsewhere.
The arrival of baby Mia (though her name’s only revealed in passing) just adds to the pressures and, eventually, unable to cope any longer (cue a montage of nappy changing, feeding, etc.), and bearing in mind the never talked about depression she suffered after Jonah’s birth, she gives in and decides to take up the gift from her wealthier brother Craig (Mark Duplass) of a night nanny, someone who will come and take up the strain while she gets some sleep. Enter Tully (Mackenzie Davis) a free spirit in the Juno mould who, Marlo’s very own Mary Poppins, not only looks after Mia at night between feeds but cleans the house, bakes cupcakes, offers a friendly ear and even helps reignite Marlo and Drew’s sex life. She’s well-read, well-informed, speaks different languages and dispenses words of wisdom such as “She’ll grow a little overnight. And so will we!” She is, as Marlo puts it, “a book of fun facts for unpopular fourth graders.” She’s also welcomingly non-judgmental.
Marlo gets to have at least part of her life back (“It’s like I can see colour again”) and no longer feels wiped out every waking moment. But then, following a car accident after a girls’ night out in Marlo’s old stomping grounds, comes a reveal that forces you to reassess everything you’ve just seen, even if, logically, it doesn’t quite hang together.
Littered with Cody’s trademark snappy patter (Elaine Tan, as Craig’s spoiled wife Elyse, benefitting from some of the best) and driven by a raw-nerved, unglamorous and fearless performance from Theron, drained of life through exhaustion one moment, verbally lashing out at the school principal the next, although the dreamlike imagery of mermaids doesn’t quite fit and it overstretches the metaphors in the final stretch, it’s an empathetic, intelligent and insightful examination of the darker side of motherhood they only tend to talk about in the problem pages while putting on that serene glow for the world. At the end of the day, it’s not as hilarious as Juno or as lacerating as Young Adult, but, constituted of a cocktail of ingredients from both, it’s most definitely one that stressed-out moms should drag their husbands to see. (Cineworld 5 Ways, Solihull; Electric; Vue Star City)
Screenings courtesy of Odeon and Cineworld
Cineworld 5 Ways – 181 Broad St, 0871 200 2000
Cineworld NEC – NEC 0871 200 2000
Cineworld Solihull – Mill Ln, Solihull 0871 200 2000
The Electric Cinema – 47–49 Station Street, 0121 643 7879
Empire – Great Park, Rubery, 0871 471 4714
Empire Sutton Coldfield – Maney Corner, Sutton Coldfield
0871 471 4714
The Everyman – The Mailbox 0871 906 9060
MAC – Cannon Hill Park 0121 446 3232
Mockingbird, Custard Factory 0121 224 7456.
Odeon Birmingham -Birmingham, 0871 224 4007
Odeon Broadway Plaza – Ladywood Middleway, 0333 006 7777
Odeon West Bromwich – Cronehills Linkway, West Bromwich 0333 006 7777
Reel – Hagley Rd, Quinton Halesowen 0121 421 5316
Showcase Walsall – Bentley Mill Way, Walsall 0871 220 1000
Vue Star City – Watson Road, 08712 240 240