MOVIE ROUND-UP:This Week’s New Film Releases, Fri May 4-Thu May 10

NEW RELEASES

Tully  (15)

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, NEC, Solihull;  Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham; 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 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.  (Cineworld 5 Ways; Electric; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham)

 

 

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,  Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

 

Also Opening

I Got Life (Aurore) (15)

A French menopause-based dramady  from director Blandine Lenoir, this stars Agnès Jaoui  as Aurore who, as middle-age sets in finds herself adrift in life and, expierencing those hot flushes, reassessing her ideas about  age, race, social status and the importance of sex, compounded by the fact that one of her daughters announces she’s pregnant. She quits her job as a waitress after one too many rows with the boss,  works with an elderly community where she gets a few lessons about how society view men and women’s accomplishments differently as they approach the end of their lives and runs into an old flame (Thibault de Montalembert) and rekindles the spark. Chiming effectively with the #TimesUp movement, it’s a witty and affecting celebration of femininity.  (Fri-Wed: MAC)

NOW PLAYING

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)

 

Beast (15)

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, Molls 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. (Cineworld 5 Ways)

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. (Cineworld 5 Ways; 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 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull;  Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

Isle Of Dogs (PG)

Nine years on from Fantastic Mr Fox, Wes Anderson returns to stop motion animation for what is arguably his most ambitious film and very definitely among his very best. Despite the certificate, this is probably not for younger audiences (especially the hand-drawn kidney transplant), aimed more at the over 10s and adults, especially those with a high level of knowledge regarding Japanese cinema and culture, influences and references being abundant. Putting the pup into puppets and bookending with Taiko drumming, Anderson offers paws for thought about such themes as friendship, prejudice, social outcasts, refugees. (“Everyone is a stray in the last analysis”), government corruption, the environment and animal cruelty all tied up in what is basically a familiar boy and his dog story.

Following a  Noh-theatre like prologue detailing the war between dogs and humans in the period before the Age of Obedience, the story unfolds in a future Japan where dog flu and snout fever  threaten to cross species and infect humans,.  With elections looming,  Kobayashi (co-screenwriter Kunichi Nomura), the tyrannical  and corrupt cat-loving mayor of Megasaki, has exiled all dogs to a rubbish dump island and plans to eventually exterminate the entire species, ruthlessly disposing of  Science Party political rival  Professor Watanabe (Akira Ito) who is seeking  a cure.

However, piloting stolen plane, the mayor’s orphaned young nephew, Atari (Koyu Rankin), bravely comes in search of his personal bodyguard pet, Spots (Liev Schreiber), and joins forces with a canny canine crew comprising Rex (Edward Norton), former baseball mascot Boss (Bill Murray), one-time pet food commercials star King (Bob Balaban), gossipy Duke (Jeff Goldblum), and, although initially reluctant, scrappy stray Chief (Bryan Cranston), in a search to find him and, ultimately, foil the mayor’s plot.

Narrated by Courtney B Vance, the voice cast  that also includes Scarlett Johansson as Nutmeg, a former show dog and  Lauren Bacall-like romantic interest to Chief’s Humphrey Bogart,  who is instrumental in prompting  his  eventual bond with Atari, alongside  Greta Gerwig as Tracy, a human American exchange student heading up the protestors, Tilda Swinton as psychic pug Oracle, Harvey Keitel as the leader of a pack of supposedly cannibal dogs, and even Yoko Ono as a lab assistant  called, er, Yoko Ono. Save for the parts translated by official news commentator Frances McDormand, the human dialogue is all in unsubtitled Japanese, although the dogs’ barks are translated to English.  With a fine score by Alexander Desplat and music that also includes Prokofiev’s Troika (which Greg Lake also borrowed for I Believe in Father Christmas), it’s playful (the end credits list Anjelica Huston as Mute Poodle), waggishly witty, brilliantly animated, hugely detailed (stop-motion sushi making!),  thrilling and at times very  touching, this is an absolute mutts see  (Mockingbird)

Journeyman (15)

Paddy Considine both directs and stars as Matty Burton, a  world middleweight champion from Sheffield who probably has one last fight left in him. That turns out to be the defence of his title, which he gained by default, against mouthy young rival Andre Bryte (Anthony Welsh) who, baiting him in the run-up to the fight, keeps declaring himself to be the future and that, for Matty, it will be a life-changer. As indeed it turns out to be, but in a far darker way than anyone might have imagined. Burton wins on points but, no sooner does he get home than he collapses with a  pain in the head which proves to be a serious cranial trauma that leaves him uncoordinated, his speech slow and slurred, his memory such that he has trouble placing his wife, Emma (Jodie Whittaker) or remembering his baby daughter, Mia.

As  his frustrations increase, and with it his rage, a disturbing incident sees Emma, unable to cope,  leave home with her daughter, at which point Matty’s former team who, through a combination of fear, awkwardness and, perhaps, guilt, having shunned him since the incident, step up try and help nurse him back to health as he battles to regain his identity and sense of masculinity.

It’s not, as you might have assumed, an anti-boxing film, indeed, in one moving movement Matty declares he doesn’t blame Andre or the sport, but rather it’s about his struggle for recovery, about overcoming suicidal despair and being rescued by the power of love, of his team, of Emma and even of Andre, but, more importantly, his own burning desire not to lose that which he values most.

Considine directs at a measured pace, the fairly simple plot punctuated by a  couple of uppercut moments, and delivers a deeply felt, internalised, underplayed but profoundly expressive performance, imbuing the simplest of physical gestures with resonance as he embarks on a gruelling journey to reconnect with who he was. In this, he’s superbly complemented by Whittaker, Walsh and, as his trainer,  Tony Pitts and, if it gathers to a somewhat sentimentally cathartic  last round, it scores enough points along the way to be awarded the match. (Mockingbird)

Love, Simon (12A)

The first teenage gay coming out movie for mainstream audiences, adapted from a young adult novel, director Greg Berlanti strikes a pioneering moment for cinema. And, even if it lacks the emotional nuances of something like Call Me By Your Name it also happens to be very good. As the opening voice over (subsequently revisited later in the film) announces,  Simon (Nick Robinson) is your average all round decent high school teenage son of white liberal middle-class professionals (Jennifer Garner, Josh Duhamel) and supportive brother to his younger sister. The only person he’s told is another anonymous gay classmate calling himself Blue, who’s been posting on a school blog and with whom he he’s virtually fallen in love, except, of course, he’s not used his real name either, calling himself Jacques. Intrigued and looking for clues, Simon starts fantasising who Blue might be – school jock Bram (Kelynan Lonsdale), soulful Cal (Miles Heizer) or perhaps Lyle (Joey Pollari), the ex-student who now works down the local burger joint, but ultimately none seem to fit the bill.

Simon’s also one of a quartet of best buddies that includes Nick (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.), feisty recent school transfer Abby (Alexandra Shipp) and doting childhood chum Leah (Katherine Langford). It’s pretty clear from the start that she has a secret crush on him, while Nick would like his relationship with Abby to be more than platonic. However, she’s also the object of affection for opportunistic show-off weirdo, Martin (Logan Miller), who discovers Simon’s secret when he forgets to log out of his email on a school computer and threatens to out him unless he helps him get close to her. Naturally, when that doesn’t work out (in a gloriously romantic but excruciatingly embarrassing public declaration of his feelings), in a fit of pique he posts Simon’s and Blue’s emails, leading the latter to block communication and Simon’s lies to and manipulations of his friends to be exposed. And, while his folks are hugely supportive, it does of course, make him a target to the school’s resident homophobes.

Since this is a standard high school romcom feelgood funny and poignant crowd pleaser but given a gay slant, it’ll be no surprise that it all ends happily, gently massaging in messages about friendship and having the courage to be who you are along the way. Robinson is slightly bland for a central character, but nevertheless endearingly likeable while the supporting cast are solid, and, if a little of Tony Hale goes a long way as the wannabe down with the kids cool Vice Principal, Clark Moore as Ethan, the only openly out student, a flamboyant cross dresser with a sharp line in put downs, and Natasha Rothwell as the no bullshit drama teacher in charge of the school’s production of Cabaret are both scene stealers. The film’s been previewed to death, but, with its strong repeat watch factor (even when you know who Blue actually is), this should easily pull in both new and returning audiences, of all sexual orientations, to prove one of the year’s biggest hits. (Vue Star City)

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)

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; Odeon Birmingham,  Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Rampage (12A)

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, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

Ready Player One (12A)

Partly filmed in Digbeth (the car chase scenes), Steven Spielberg plunges into the world of virtual reality in this adaptation of Ernest Cline’s bestseller set in 2044, a future world on the brink of chaos and collapse. Here the only escape lies in the OASIS, an expansive virtual reality universe created by the nerdily eccentric James Halliday (Mark Rylance) and his erstwhile partner  Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg) where the only limits are your imagination. When Halliday dies, Willy Wonka-style he leaves his wealth to the first person to find a digital Easter Egg he (in his Anorak avatar) has hidden somewhere in the OASIS, and which requires three keys to unlock, sparking a contest  that grips the entire world.

Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) is a  young gamer , or Gunter, who lives with his aunt and her abusive boyfriend in an Oklahoma  city  shanty town built of high-rise stacked trailer  homes and, via his VR headset,  a regular Oasis visitor in his Parzival avatar guise, where he hangs out with  mechanical genius mechanoid best friend Aech (Lena Waithe), although neither have ever met in their real lives. He decides he wants in on the challenge  (his avatar’s name refers to the Arthurian Knight who found the Holy Grail) , which brings him into contact with  romantic interest feisty motorbike riding Art3mis (Olivia Cook), who, in the real world, as Samantha, is part of a resistance group against  IOI, the corrupt corporate run by the ruthless Sorrento (Ben Mendelssohn) who’ll stop at nothing to take them out and gain control of the Oasis for himself. At which point, it all  turns into a David and Goliath story with Wade seeking clues in the museum holding Halliday’s memories  and the trio, augmented by Japanese players  Daito (Win Morisaki) and Shoto (Philip Zhao)  as the High Five, battling Sorrento and his forces, which include amusing and somewhat neurotic bounty hunter I-Rok (T.J. Miller) with a deadpan dry delivery,  both within and without  the virtual reality.

An eye-popping hyperkinetic crowd-pleaser rush that’s stuffed to overflowing with often blink and you’ll miss it pop culture references (among them a raft of DC superheroes, Back to the Future, Spider-Man, King Kong, Freddy Krueger, Lord of the Rings, Spielberg’s own Jurassic Park, Chucky  and, playing a  key narrative function,  Ted Hughes’ Iron Giant ) not to mention an extended riff on The Shining, this may not have much by way of a soul or character depth (although it does, ultimately, have Spielberg’s trademark sentimentality), but it’s unquestionably a video game adrenaline addict’s dream.  (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull)

 

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.  (Cineworld 5 Ways; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)

 

 

Screenings courtesy of  Odeon and Cineworld

CINEMAS

Cineworld 5 Ways – 181 Broad St, 0871 200 2000

Cineworld NEC – NEC  0871 200 2000

Cineworld Solihull – Mill Ln, Solihull 0871 200 2000

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

Empire – Great Park, Rubery, 0871 471 4714

Empire Sutton Coldfield – Maney Corner, Sutton Coldfield

0871 471 4714

The Everyman – The Mailbox 0871 906 9060

MAC – Cannon Hill Park 0121 446 3232

Mockingbird, Custard Factory  0121 224 7456.

Odeon Birmingham -Birmingham, 0871 224 4007

Odeon Broadway Plaza – Ladywood Middleway, 0333 006 7777

Odeon West Bromwich – Cronehills Linkway, West Bromwich  0333 006 7777

Reel – Hagley Rd, Quinton Halesowen 0121 421 5316

Showcase Walsall – Bentley Mill Way, Walsall 0871 220 1000

Vue Star City – Watson Road, 08712 240 240

 

 

 

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